"In 1986, I joined the US Navy right out of high school.   Growing up poor, with little or no chance at attending a college or university, I walked into the US Navy Recruiting Station in Bend, Oregon and signed up.  I recall feeling several emotions that day.  Excitement predominated the gamut, but there was a distinct amount of fear at becoming a Navy Sailor." 

The people at PRIER come from diverse backgrounds, from all walks of life, and always with an interesting story.  Our newest Regional Sales Manager, John Cooper, is taking us back to 1986, when he began his journey into the US Navy and straight into the tough lessons of submarine life.

Knot So Small Beginnings

Boot camp was in Orlando, Florida for me.  I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test and scored a perfect 99th percentile, which enabled me to pick from any of the fields available.  The recruiter suggested either medicine (no way, absolutely not) or nuclear engineering.  Growing up with a father that was a mechanical genius, this decision was a no-brainer for me, and since Orlando was also the location for the Navy’s Nuclear Engineering school, off to the Sunshine State I went.

I entered Nuclear school after boot camp with 213 other candidates in my class.  Thousands of pages of notes, countless hours of study, and seven months later, I graduated with a class of seven.  Yeah, seven.  The math washed most of them out.  Behavior and discipline issues took most of the rest.  One guy drowned on a weekend, and another guy wrecked his motorcycle into a tree.  At the end, 214 became seven. 

They put me in Submarine school.  Even though I’m 6 feet 4 inches tall, which is about 4 inches too tall for Submarine duty, I was assigned to the USS Dallas after more schooling and training.  As a nuclear powerplant operator, my field of expertise was in great demand for the fleet, so they made an exception to their height requirement.   

On my first cruise, I earned a new nickname on the boat.  We were 3 days out to sea and I was carrying a box of valve parts to the engine room of the Dallas.  As I stepped through a hatch and stood up on the other side, my noggin came into full contact with a large pipe in the overhead, knocking me unconscious.   I woke up in Sick Bay, a huge bump on my skull, and the doctor looking at me with a grin.  

“How you feeling, Knots?”   The name stuck.  I was Knots on the boat for the rest of my time on the Dallas.

Lessons Not Found in Textbooks

As a member of Dallas Blue, a team of nearly 130 crewmen, I participated in three rotations out to sea.  On each successive cruise, I learned more about my crew, and myself.  I’ve thought about everything I learned since then, and there are a handful of important lessons that I’ve carried with me.  Each has made a significant impact on my life.

1.  The ocean is full of life.  Super delicious and tasty life.  Our cook on board would clean the seawater intake filters and cook the fresh tuna, shark, and squid that it sucked up.  If you've never had fresh squid steaks with garlic, butter and herbs, you're completely missing out.

2.  If you're tall, remember where your head is at all times.  Seriously.

3.  130 people, from all walks of life and backgrounds, can come together and do amazing things.  They also smell pretty bad after six months at sea.

4.  Education is important.  It opens doors that you never knew existed, and it changes the way you think about everything.

5.  Swimming in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of the night, in over 10,000 feet of water is an exhilarating experience.  However, when they say it's time to get out of the water and back on the boat, you don't really waste any time doing just that.

6.  I'm really grateful for my opportunity to serve in the US Navy, and I'm especially thankful for everyone else that has served or is currently serving this country in the military.  Freedom isn't free.  

There are so many stories to tell about my time in the US Navy.  If you get stuck in a room, or travel in a car with me, you’ll probably get to hear a few of them.  Isn’t that right, Scott Livingston?