Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day, Or, Why You Don't Want Me Navigating the Ship

I can't get through a Veterans Day without wondering how my life would've been different if I had lasted in the military long enough to be considered a veteran.

Not long after I graduated from High School, I was accepted as a midshipman at Kings Point, which is officially known as the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  It's run much like the other military academies: West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs and New London (that's the Coast Guard Academy).  Sorry, the Marines don't have their own military academy.

I went into Kings Point's version of boot camp shortly after the Fourth of July.  I left in November, shortly before Thanksgiving, after the grades for the first academic quarter came out.

By then, it was obvious that I would have made a terrible officer.  (Graduates are commissioned as a Lieutenant in either the Naval or Marine Reserve.)  Back then, Kings Point offered only two academic tracks: Deck Officer or Engineering.

I am heavily dyslexic with numbers and directions, have ADD, and am afflicted with multiple sleep disorders.  I couldn't sleep (except in class), couldn't concentrate, and have difficulty telling left from right.

The ONLY way I could follow directional orders when marching was to cross my forefinger over my middle finger.  When I did, I could feel the writer's callus on my right middle finger.  THAT was on my right!  "Right face?" Turn towards that finger!

We marched in parades every Wednesday and Sunday.  To this day I hate parades.

On the basis of my dyslexia alone, I should've been excluded from being a deck officer - a job that is heavily involved with navigation.  Yes, that was me: a navigator who didn't know port from starboard!  Being a dyslexic engineer wasn't much safer.

Oddly, one of the classes I flunked was English.  But I've always been a procrastinator, and it was made worse by sleep deprivation.  The Kings Point English Department had a strict policy on turning in papers late.  My exasperated professor returned a paper I wrote on "King Lear" with this note:
This is the best paper I've received from a student all year.  But, because it's late, I have to grade it 'F.'
I wasn't surprised.  I knew the department's policy, and already knew I was good at English.  The other midshipmen asked me to proof their papers before they turned them in.

(By the way, dyslexia, ADD and sleep disorders are medical conditions.  But I've always considered my procrastination a moral failing - the sort of thing that one cures by reading Marcus Aurelius or Zig Ziglar.  They didn't help; procrastination is something I still struggle with, day after day.)

Once the grades for our first academic quarter came out, it was obvious that this wasn't going to work out.  I was allowed (encouraged?) to resign my commission.

But at least I tried a military career.  If I hadn't, I'd still be wondering.

Happy Veterans Day!

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