The Marine recruiter

During our Junior Year of high school, my high school buddy, who was limited when he could drive (longer story), asked me to take him to the Marine recruiter’s office; he had an appointment.

“What, I said disdainfully? Why would you want to go to the recruiters, you are a ‘pretty boy’ (and he was, although it was more of a thought than a statement), you went to Harvard for summer school, why would you consider the military; who does that?” no answer from him “OK – I’ll give you a ride, but don’t expect me to go in.”

So, we went in.

The recruiter was an impressively built, uniformed jar-head” and explained to Steve (I sat as far away as possible, just in earshot) the potential for a full-paid college scholarship and the possibility of flying helicopters or maybe if he was good enough, flying fighter jets. But then he caveated, “Before we can even talk to you about those possibilities, you must take this Marine entry exam?” Steve nodded like he fully understood.

Hey you…” he was pointing at me, “Why don’t you take the test as well?”

Well, “there I was – staring at my watch”, so what else do I have to do? “Sure, why not.”

So he sat us in the back room and pulled out the bubble sheets and two tests. There were some basic English word associations, grammar, and a set of rapid-fire “simple” math problems; which is all I remember today. I mean, we are talking “the Marines” … (please forgive me my future military compatriots – with a meek, but hallowed “Semper Fi”)

After we finished the test, the Marine recruiter sent us to the main room and went on to score it. He shouted for his buddy (recruiters always work with wingmen). They came out and made some phone calls and eventually approached us. I was already disgusted with the test. It was sixth-grade level – my arrogant self thought.

“Men, (we were not men) we can’t score these tests here in Littleton. You guys exceeded our chart. We need to take you downtown to finish the evaluation. It won’t take long, come with me.”

He stared at Steve, who got up to comply.

Hey, we weren’t in Denmark and this story was sounding fishy. I thought, if I get in that van, I’m not getting back here until I’m a Marine. I’m not sure what scoring system they are using downtown, but I’m sure it involves some type of physical and recruitment process that includes a signature and ultimately commits me to Marine-dom. No way, Jose!

“Steve, I’m not going. You can go, but you’ll have to get your own ride home.” (A classic teenage manipulation, I got car and you don’t) Steve looked at the Marine and narrowed his eyes a little. I saw the gears starting to turn in his head as well. The pieces were coming together. So…

We darted out of that office in quick action, out of the ole-Woodlawn shopping center. (As a side, years later, that office became a coffee shop, but I deviate) We high-fived our good luck and laughed at the issue. “Did he think we were stupid?”

And, we passed the Air Force recruiters office next door – windows ablaze with fighter planes posters. Nope, the military is not going to trick me into joining!.

But the recruiter did put those subliminal messages into my mind … “pay for school” … “serve my country” … “fly fighter jets” … “look swole in uniform and pick up chicks ” (Hey, I just had seen Officer and a Gentleman)

So – I went back to school, did my work, and unconsciously traped into my future. A future defined by a lack of intentions and a vision without inspiration.

Until a few months later that is…

It was a Christmas party during my Senior Year.    I was bored – of course, I was bored, I was 17 and had an on switch and an off switch.   I was trapped by this parental gathering and I was hanging out somewhere between the TV and the hor-devours.   Yes, it was my Senior Year and my body had finally decided to up to my peers and was demanding a constant intake of food and food related substitutes; like Taco Bell mostly.

I was approached by some older man. I don’t remember what he looked like, but he looked bored too.

“Hey, what year of school are you in?” he surprised me but acknowledging my presence.

“Uh, I’m a Senior” – his eyebrows raised, probably wondering how someone so “let’s say delayed or perhaps short” could be a Senior.

“What are you doing when you graduate?” – he made conversation.

I looked around … “I’m going to college to be an engineer – a petroleum engineer – like my Dad.” I nonchalantly eek’d out.

“Is that what you want to do?” – he said with determination.   He must have noted my lack of care.    I think he just shook me awake.

“Uh, I don’t know, maybe,” I responded, and I felt blood gushing toward my brain, leaving my gut.

Then the line came, a line that changed my life – “If you could do anything, anything at all, what would you do?”

And, surprisingly, I blurted, “I would fly fighter jets in the Air Force.”

Before that moment, that dream did not exist. I’m not even sure where it came from. I loved building model airplanes and rockets and reading science fiction, but flying jets wasn’t even in my rubicon of possibility.   You never know what someone will say that will change someone else’s life.     But the next words out of his mouth changed mine…

He picked up his cracker, looked into my eyes, and said  “Ok, why don’t you do that?” and then stuffed it into his mouth.

And I did…

But, the story doesn’t end there. I sent this story to my buddy Steve; who has had a very successful career. He informed me that I got an 87% recollection. I’m sure the pretty boy stuff cost me 13%; but I’m ok with that.

He informed me that he still tells the story as well. And, as serendipity goes, his 20-year-old son is now a Marine! Wow – those recruiters were pretty damn good! Semper Fi – Blake!