There are many things I wish I'd known before I signed the dotted line and joined the Navy.
This article includes information people who are considering joining the Navy should know, things I wish I knew before I took the oath to defend this nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic. This article is not intended to scare people away or to influence their final decision whether or not to sign the dotted line. Here, I just provide insight about what will be expected of those who join the Navy.
Why I Joined the Navy
I joined the Navy less than a month after I graduated high school in 2007 because, besides not having the grades nor the money to attend college, I didn't want to sit in a classroom for another four or more years trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I just wanted to do something with my life. So watching the commercials, reading the posters, and talking to the recruiters who promised me glory and riches, I fell victim to the propaganda.
The term propaganda usually carries with it a negative connotation in that it's perceived to have the intent to deceive and brainwash people into believing something that, regardless of the information's validity, is used to further someone else's agenda. I'm not intending this to be negative, I'm simply doing this to inform people of how and why it seems joining the military is so glamorized. The commercials play exciting music in the background while what appears to be a SEAL coming up out of the water with a knife in his mouth; the posters portray patriotic and inspiring pictures and quotes; the recruiters, well they're just trying to meet a quota, so they'll feed you whatever nonsense they need to in order to get you to sign your life away (I know that may have sounded mean, but I didn't mean it to be; joining the military is not something to take lightly).
So I watched the commercials, I read the posters, and eventually, I found myself at the recruiter's office telling them that I was interested. When asked why, I told them that I was interested in travel, education, doing something meaningful, and making money doing it all. After numerous trips to the office, signing more papers than there are stars in the sky, graduating high school, I was shipped off to boot camp in Great Lakes, IL.
Picking Your Rate (Job) at the Recruiter's Office
When you first go to the recruiter's office and you tell them that you're interested in joining the fleet, one of the first things they'll ask you is what job you'd like to do or are interested in doing.
How do you know which rate or job you want to do?
If you don't know what you'd like to do or you're not sure what jobs the Navy offers, ask to see a catalog of ratings (Navy's term for job position). Every recruiter will have some sort of archive, usually a huge three-ring binder, detailing every job in the Navy. More often than not, the recruiter will ask if you've taken the ASVAB test yet and, if so, what your score was. The higher your score, the more jobs you'll qualify for. Once they find out your score, the recruiter will usually recommend a rate for you and will do a good job of selling it to you, but I recommend finding one for yourself.
If I don't know, should I sign as "Undesignated Seaman"?
Remember, recruiters have a quota to meet every month and they will try to get you to sign onto something that helps them meet that quota. Under NO circumstances should you sign a contract as an Undesignated Seaman (someone who doesn't have a specified job). Just trust me on this. Every person I have talked to who had signed up as Undesignated has regretted every day of it. A lot of people get talked into doing this, being told that it will give them a chance to experience different jobs in the navy before they make a decision, etc, etc. It's all nonsense. So take your time and browse through the jobs and duties the Navy has.
The Recruiter's Quota
A lot of times when you pick a job that doesn't help the recruiter meet his/her quota, they'll tell you some crap about how there aren't any seats available or that particular rate is overmanned and they can't put you in as that rating. By this point, you will have signed some papers and agreed to some things that the recruiter will use to coerce you into helping him/her meet their quota. They may tell you something along the lines of "You signed these papers and I need to put you in this month and here are the rates I have for you", and they'll make you feel that you have to pick from one of those rates to avoid some unspecified consequences. When talking to a recruiter about anything, remember this one thing: Until you go to MEPS and swear in, you have absolutely NO obligation to the navy. You can walk away anytime, no matter how many papers you sign at the recruiter's office. You'll be told otherwise, but that is just the recruiter trying to meet quota and get a good evaluation. Take your time and pick a job you want that you qualify for, and stick with it. If you're told that you can't be put in as that rate, tell the recruiter to call you when that position opens, and walk away.
Think of recruiters as car salesmen; they will tell you whatever you want to hear just to get you to sign the dotted line. If there is a job you want but your ASVAB score is too low, ask to take the test again. There really isn't any way to study for the test, but you can take it as many times as you'd like. Recruiters will have practice tests you can take if that helps you, but I see that as just a waste of time.
What Boot Camp Will Be Like
Now, we've all seen the documentary on the Discovery Channel following new recruits as they make their way through the Marine Corps boot camp. We've also seen the nightmare individuals must go through in order to become a Navy SEAL. But I don't recall Navy boot camp ever making it to television. And that's because there really isn't anything fascinating about it.
Honestly, I feel that the hardest thing about navy boot camp was simply waking up in the morning. Sure, we did our share of doing ridiculous amounts of grunting and sweating, but if you are in really good shape, you will leave boot camp in worst shape. For the most part, you will be in a classroom fighting to stay awake. If it ever got to the point that there was no way we were going to stay awake for the entire lesson, we would take trips to the bathroom and fall asleep in the stalls. If you find yourself in this position, be sure to tell a reliable person on your way out where you're going so when the session ends they can come get you. And yes, I've been left in the bathroom before. It's not awesome when you get back to your division; a period of what's called ITE (intensive training exercise) will ensue.
The First Seven Days: P-Days
The first several days of boot camp are called "P-Days". This is a period of time where you are measured for your uniforms, issued your uniforms, signing papers, getting acquainted with the compound, receiving your immunizations (if you have no fear of needles, you will after about P-3 Day), getting your hair cut, setting up your bank account, and other administrative stuff that effectively separates you from your parents and the rest of the world.
The first night at Great Lakes, you will be issued a set of PT (physical training) gear consisting of shoes, socks, shorts, and a shirt. You will spend a majority of your time in boot camp dressed in these clothes. This is the night you get rid of your soul; you take all the clothes and anything else you came to boot camp with, box it up, and send it home. Imagine the look on your mother's face when she gets a box dropped off at her doorstep containing the clothes you were wearing on the last day she had to heartbreakingly send you away to defend this country, not knowing when or if she was ever going to see you again. Of course, you won't be thinking about that then because you'll be getting yelled at by the RDCs (Recruit Training Commander; the navy's version of a drill instructor). Yes, you will be yelled at regardless of how much of a kiss-ass you are, so just get over it now. A piece of advice: do NOT yell back at any time for any reason. I've seen recruits yell back before and it didn't turn out well for anyone within eyesight of that RDC. Just don't do it, and if you see it happening, hide.
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A Typical Day in Bootcamp
To wrap this section up, a typical day in boot camp consists of waking up promptly at 6 am, eating breakfast, sitting in a classroom, exercising, lunch, more of fighting to stay awake in a classroom, exercising, dinner, maybe some more classroom time and/or exercising, then in bed at 10 pm. Be advised, it's not always in that order nor that simple, but that's the general outline of what you will experience, Monday through Saturday,
What Weekends and Holidays Are Like in the Navy
Sundays in boot camp are usually more relaxed with time to write to your family and friends, church services, and general time to yourself for studying, shining your shoes, ironing your uniforms, and other things of that nature. You will not, however, be allowed to sleep in. You will still be woken up in the morning and you will do essentially the same things you would do on any other day of the week, up until after breakfast. Between breakfast and lunch is when you will be given time to so the things mentioned above. After lunch, things return to normal with exercising and classroom instruction.
Do yourself a favor, during your free time in the morning write to your friends and family. The RDCs will allow you to keep an address book if you bring one with you to boot camp. You will not be allowed to use a computer nor phone your loved ones whenever you want, so be sure to get the addresses of everyone you wish to communicate with during your time in boot camp before you leave for Great Lakes. People these days don't normally communicate via snail mail and it might be hard for you to accept this idea, but it will literally save you from going insane because you won't really know how much you miss someone until you don't have the luxury of calling them or sending them an email.
A & C Schools
I can't get real specific here since every A and C school is different, and not all people who join the Navy go to A-school and even fewer go on to C-school. But here is what those schools are all about. If you join the navy as an Undesignated Seaman, you will not attend either of these schools right away, if ever.
After boot camp, if you went in with a rate, then you will attend an A-school. No A-school is the same as they differ depending on what rate you choose. In boot camp, you learn to be a sailor. A-school is where you'll go to learn how to do your specific job in the Navy. A-schools vary in length and location. It seems that most rated personnel stay in Great Lakes after boot camp and attend an A-school there. People with other rates may go to Pensacola, FL or Virginia Beach, VA. It really all depends on what rate people pick when they join.
C-schools are usually attended after the completion of A-school, but not every rate has a C-school. These schools provide instruction that is specific to a particular field of study in a rate.
For example: A person who joins the Navy rated as an Intelligence Specialist (IS) will attend both A and C school. At A-school, they will learn general duties about being an IS and anything else every IS must know. Towards the end of A-school, potential IS's will pick an NEC (can't remember what that stands for, but it's essentially a more specific field about a rate). NEC's for IS's include Imagery, Strike, Opintel, and Ground. I won't get into describing the NEC's because I don't want to run the risk of divulging any information that I'm not supposed to. So, after picking an NEC, A-school graduates will then attend a C-school tailored to whatever NEC they pick. Most of the time, C-schools for a particular rate will be in the same location as that rate's A-school
When you pick your rate at the recruiter's office, you will be informed of any schools you are required to attend before you will be shipped out to your permanent duty station.
At some point during your schooling, usually A-school, you'll have the opportunity to "put in for orders". That is just the military's way of saying that you can request where you want to work. For example, you can pick shore duty (working on a base) in Japan, or sea duty (stationed on a ship) in San Diego. Some rates have higher sea duty requirements than other rates, and vice-versa. If your rate has different NEC's, when you put in for orders, you'll tell the Navy which NEC you desire and where you'd like to be stationed. Then you'll be asked which is more important to you, the NEC or the location. You'll rarely get exactly what you want, so when you're picking orders for your first time, consider if you'd rather do a job you hate in a place you love, or doing a job you love in a place you hate. You'll be told that having your desired NEC is a better choice, but don't take their word for it. I picked my NEC over the location and I really wish I had done the opposite. It all depends on what you want to do.
Navy Terms to Know
The Navy has a language of it's own that civilians, and even members from other branches, won't understand. below is a list of the most commonly used terms in the Navy.
- Head - Bathroom
- Bulkhead - Wall
- Overhead - Ceiling
- Deck - Floor / ground
- Scuttlebutt - Drinking fountain / rumor
- Hatch - Door
- Scuttle - Little door
- Ladder - Stairway or ladder
- Bird - Jet or airplane
- Aft - Rear
- Forward - Front
- Starboard - Right side
- Port - Left side
- PRD - Projected Rotation Date (when you're supposed to check out from a command)
- ROB - Reported on Board (when you got to the command)
- EAOS - End of Active Obligation of Service, or something like that (last day in the military, unless you choose to re-enlist)
Some commands may have different terms and acronyms from other commands, but they are generally ubiquitous to avoid confusion. You'll learn more during your time in, but the above terms are the most used, in my experience.
Conclusion and Final Tips
That about wraps it up. If anyone has any questions, feel free to comment and I will answer them to the best of my ability.
A couple pieces of advice:
1. If you're intent on joining the military, go officer.
2. Until you swear in at MEPS, you have zero obligation to the military, regardless of what your recruiter tells you. If you can afford it and get all fancy, have a lawyer review everything before you sign.
3. The military will not make you rich. Do not join for the money. Unless, of course, you heed my advice about getting a commission and going in as an officer.
4. Do some research and outline exactly what you want to do in the military before you go to the recruiter's office. When you get there, tell them exactly what you want. If they say that they can't do that for you or try to talk you into something else, walk away. You are dealing with your future and career, not theirs.
Hopefully, readers have acquired some valuable insight after reading this article and I wish you all the best of luck in all your endeavors.
I will be glad to address and questions or concerns anyone may have.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Steven Banker (author) from Fairfield, OH on October 28, 2018:
That's more difficult of a question to answer than folks may think. For starters, everyone who goes to boot camp in the navy will be assigned to a "ship" which is really just a building where they will spend most of their time. Each "ship" will focus on things that other "ships" won't. For example, I was in a 900 division which was mostly comprised of people who have band experience or know how to spin rifles, etc. So when it came to graduation, we were the ones who presented the colors and played the music. Furthermore, each person will have their own experience. Myself, for example, spent a lot of time doing paperwork and making phone calls to references for my background investigation because my rating required me to have a top secret clearance. Because of that, I missed a lot of class time and drills. Also, the manner in which boot camp is conducted changes over time. For example, after I graduated I began hearing rumors of "stress cards" that recruits could use to signify that they were feeling too stressed and needed a break from whatever activity they were engaged in at the time. I've never seen these stress cards so I can't speak about them much more. With all that said, the most I can do is provide a general outline of what people can expect when going to boot camp, but I can't get too specific as things are always changing and individual experiences will vary.
Also, sorry for the late reply; stopped getting notifications for comments a while back. I'll have to check my settings again.
ser0725 on August 01, 2018:
Could you go into more whats in the boot amp????
Alain Tabangin-Valena on July 22, 2018:
You can study for the advab. The asvab study books actually had harder question and do a great job explaing each section you will be taking a test on. On the practice asvab I got 32 and the real asvab after I studied for 2 weeks I got 67.
Alli Cormier on November 18, 2017:
Your article really gave me some ideas and advice about the navy because i'm thinking about being a photographer for 4 years. Then after i'm done, going to college. Should i do that?
Jose on August 06, 2016:
The article was very informative, I would like to know information if I want to become a seal
Steven Banker (author) from Fairfield, OH on May 13, 2016:
Thanks for reading; glad you enjoyed it.
After graduation you'll immediately get sent to your A-school. If your schooling happens to go through the holidays, the school will allow you to take leave to visit friends or family.
If your school is short and no holidays come and go during your studies, then you might be able to see them before your first duty station. Even then, if you're not on deployment or stationed overseas you'll have the chance to take leave to visit them.
To be honest though, get used to being without familial ties. That isn't to say forget about your family, but get used to making friends with strangers quickly. If you keep waiting for your next chance to see your family, then your enlistment will grueling.
JinxTheNeko on May 13, 2016:
I enjoyed this article. Very informative.
I'm worried about going into this because I'm so tied with my parents.
After boot camp and graduation when can you stay with your parents for a bit? Or do you get to hang out with them at all?
Abdulrahman on May 06, 2016:
I've just written my WASSCE, and am seeking for advise in my future career which is NNAVY
kimberly on August 12, 2015:
My parents are signing me into the navy tomorrow. I am on my last year of high school and my biggest fear is not making it though boot camp is there any advice you can give me to help me prepare for boot camp?
Steven Banker (author) from Fairfield, OH on May 03, 2015:
Are you going in as officer or enlisted? With a family I suggest do what you can to get a commission.
jg on April 19, 2015:
I am joining with 2 kids and a wife..what are my chances of living on base when I am permanently stationed somewhere.??
JC on January 25, 2015:
Thank you. appreciate the help.
Steven Banker (author) from Fairfield, OH on January 23, 2015:
JC, yes, reveille is at 0600, Taps is 2200. Coffee is served on the mess decks and you can help yourself to it.
JC on January 22, 2015:
shipping in a couple of months. Thanks for the write up. soaking up all the info before i go. wake up is generally at 06:00? i want to get my sleep clock set before i get there. Is coffee available? if i need to ween myself i want to do it before i get there.
Steven Banker (author) from Fairfield, OH on September 23, 2014:
Ben, thanks for commenting.
To answer your questions: unless the rules have changed, the highest you'd be able to enlist as would be an E3. Rarely are people ever awarded E4 upon entry. I've only ever seen it once.
Yes, you can become an officer after enlisting. But there are a few hoops to jump through. For instance, you'd have to be enlisted a certain amount of time, I think minimum is two years, but I'm gonna have to look that one up. In any case, there are a number of routes you can take to earn a commission, each with it's own set of criteria. You can take the path to warrant officer, LDO, or full on officer by going to OCS (officer candidate school). There's also the seaman to admiral (STA) program.
I'd give you more info but I'm writing this from my phone. I recommend googling different ways to go officer or calling a recruiter. Recruiters are wells of information; it's kind of their job to know these things.
If memory serves there is an age limit, at least for attending the Naval Academy.
Later this week, if I find the time and I remember, I'll write a hub on this topic. You bring up some good questions.
Ben on September 23, 2014:
I have an AAS in network technologies, I hear I can start as an E4, is this true? I don't have the opportunity to get a bachelors and but know the officer job I want. Can I become an officer after joining the Navy? Is there an age limit to becoming an officer after joining?