When I re-entered the naval reserve ranks at the Aurora Armory, things were very different. In the time before my stint in the real, active duty, Navy I had no rank. A seaman apprentice has the distinction of surviving basic (boot) training, and pretty much nothing else. As such I simply went with the flow; progressing through the initial training, the selection of a service school – in my case “Class A” Engineman School (I had chosen to become a diesel engine mechanic), and a single two-week “cruise” aboard an aging destroyer escort on Lake Michigan.
Weekly meetings had been mostly about instilling in us the regimen and discipline of Navy life and attending general training classes. For engineering strikers (like me) this meant mostly shipboard safety and (because the bitter lessons of the Second World War were still fresh in the collective mind of the Navy) damage control and firefighting.
But when I returned – a third class petty officer, and veteran of the “conflict overseas” – I felt a bit jaded and dismissive of this “simplistic” environment. Plus there was really nothing much to do. I did not have the rank, or the internal political connections at the Armory, to assume a leadership role – and of course my attitude didn’t help.
Relief from the situation came when I, and several other returnees – of engineering rating – were assigned to a young, but veteran, Lieutenant who I think was in pretty much the same situation that we were. This turned out to be a pretty good move. The Lieutenant took his mission seriously, and molded the group into a team (largely loyal to him), and worked at creating projects which not only filled the time, but captured our interest and were broadly instructive.
We also took on engineering projects supporting, in a limited way, the Armory, its physical plant, and its various machineries. But there was more. Being an officer, and a college graduate (and of course a gentleman), he broadened his assignment to include discussions of national and international events, and politics. We even had homework. During the 1968 presidential campaign, we were each assigned to research and objectively evaluate each of the candidates. A surprisingly interesting project; one which fueled in me a nascent interest in national politics. So Thursday nights at the Armory became a looked forward to event.
The reserves proved useful to me in a couple of additional ways, as well. The meager pay, for three hours each week, was not much but at the same time very welcome. Additionally, I learned that while a two week ACDUTRA (active duty for training) was required annually, we were not limited to this one annual event. I therefore began to take advantage of the additional training (and travel) opportunities posted on the Yoeman’s bulletin board, which led to several grand adventures.