It is February 1966. My Bootcamp company and I, a Seaman Recruit, marched to face the classification officer, who would determine our future.
My turn came, and I sat across from him. I would recreate the actual conversation, but honestly, I can’t. However, I remember the significant parts.
The classification officer commented on my Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) scores, especially the language score. The language test used verb declension and sentence structure familiar to me from my three years of French and four of Latin. So my good score was a matter of recognizing the test design.
The officer asked me what I thought about becoming an interpreter in Chinese or Vietnamese. I was not enthused and asked for alternatives.
He saw me coming, for he had one alternative. I could extend my enlistment by two years for the Advance Electronics Field (AEF.) So I executed the extension, and he placed me in the Electronics Technician (ET) pipeline, a twisty pipeline leading to over twenty-five years in the Navy.
I graduated from Bootcamp, took leave, and returned to San Diego, California, for school. The first school to become an ET was the Basic Electricity and Electronics School. The course modules weren’t memorable, but the classroom was since it was on the top floor of a building directly under a flight path for the San Diego airport. So many times, instruction was interrupted by a plane passing closely and loudly when landing.
I graduated six weeks later and transferred to Naval Technical Training Center Treasure Island, California, for ETA schools. Treasure Island is an artificial island in San Francisco bay, reached via an exit off the Oakland Bridge.
The school I attended had three sections. Memory suffers. I don’t remember particulars regarding what they taught in phases A-1 and A-2. Still, somewhere I learned about resistance to current flow and capacitance, reading the value of a resister using its color bands. It was likely then.
What I remember of A-3 was troubleshooting equipment. First, the theory side of the class addressed how the significant elements of the hardware worked. Then, The module ended with a written test followed by a practical test.
I must have done okay on the written tests since they kept me in school. However, I remember particularly enjoying the practicals. Each involved finding three failures in the equipment within a specific time limit. We had a grace period before they took off points. Grades depended on how long one needed to find the problems and return the unit to operation.
I managed to ace, scoring 100, on several prior practicals. However, this test was on the R-390 receiver, which consisted of replaceable modules. So, I stood before my receiver this day, and the instructor started the timer.
I removed the receiver’s cover and laughed. The instructor had removed several modules—leaving me with a bare chassis. Then, the instructor brought over a box with the missing parts. He said to hurry since my time had started. The laugh soon fell on him as I reassembled the unit and located the problems within the grace period. Score 100!
The school was on weekdays. So weekends were ours unless we had the duty section. The duty I disliked the most was standing mid-watches around the warehouses near the docks. Often, a cold wind blew off the bay, and the only distraction was the view of Alcatraz, another island in the bay. When not on duty, we could explore Oakland or San Francisco.
I preferred San Francisco for the many things it offered. The bus into town was twenty-five cents. I usually asked for a transfer ticket for the cable cars and spent part of a day riding around the city.
One theatre on Market Street allowed me to watch all the movies on a single admission. The restriction was if you left, you had to pay to reenter. One time, I watched Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and Hawaii while snacking on popcorn, candy, and soda—for less than a dollar. (Those were the days!)
I was walking in the city one day when I encountered my first Hippies. I sought Golden Gate Park and ended up in Haight Asbury. My short hair attracted as much attention to me as their dress/undress drew my attention to them. However, I don’t remember any specific interaction with them.
Years later, in 1987, I was ordered to a conference in Skaggs Island, California. My wife joined me, and we spent a day in the city. We rode the cable cars and visited Fisherman’s Wharf—everything I had done over twenty years earlier.
I visited San Francisco one more time in the early 2000s. The city had changed from what I remembered. It was dirtier, and I did not appreciate the people accosting me as I walked, seeking my money. I prefer the memories from the earlier visits.
I was asked one day to attend a briefing. The briefer requested volunteers to change their ratings from Electronics Technician to Communications Technician Maintenance (CTM.) He offered little information except it required a high-level clearance and little likelihood one would go to sea. He also said that many officers couldn’t qualify to be a CTM, but our ASVAB scores were high enough to be an officer.
I agreed to change rates, as did several of my classmates. Eventually, the rating changed from Communications Technician to Cryptologic Technician Maintenance.
Having bought a pig-in-a-poke by agreeing to the change, I found how hard it was to learn what I had purchased. My instructors wouldn’t provide information about the rating. Instead, they told us we would know more when we received orders at the end of phase A-3. So, remain patient and curious.
My orders were to Pensacola to the CP-771/UYK-3 school. However, my classmates received orders to a different school. So, I became concerned about why only I received the computer school. Though I asked, no one suggested a reason. I finished A-3, took some leave, and found myself in Pensacola in December.
Bootcamp and schools filled my 1967. Of course, a school would start 1968, but that is fodder for another time.