Sea tales from an old salt…..Part 3…Conclusion.

Well, here I am, committed to one more year of sea duty and ready to get married. The chances of spending even half of that time at home with my new wife were not good. After checking around with more senior officers, a possible solution was suggested; contacting a detailer in the Navy Department to make some kind of deal! Detailers are the ones in Washington, D.C. who are responsible for assigning junior officers to various commands. I called and I agreed to extend my active duty commitment for one year, in return for a shore duty assignment of two years. I was ordered back to Newport, R.I. as an instructor in cryptographic systems at U.S. Naval Communications School, exactly the same classes I had taken two years prior.

No one in the navy just walks right in and starts instructing. Instead, I had to attend a four-week Instructor Training course. I learned some valuable lessons about teaching fellow human beings in that class. In one particular class I had probably the best visual example ever. It was about assuming you are teaching one idea, yet the student understanding something completely different. The instructor called on me to teach him how to sharpen a pencil. He was to use one of those old fashion sharpeners fastened to a wall with a crank handle. It went something like this:

Instructor (I): Tell me how to sharpen this pencil.

Me: Put the pencil in the sharpener.

(I): Tries to put pencil in side with no holes.

Me: No, insert it in the hole in the other side.

(I): Puts pencil in hole, eraser first.

Me: No, put pencil in lead first and then turn the crank to sharpen it.

(I): Inserts pencil and turns the crank counter-clockwise. Nothing happens.

Me: No, turn the crank clockwise to sharpen the pencil. Then remove the pencil.

(I): Sharpens pencil then removes by lifting it straight up, leaving half the pencil in the sharpener!

“And you say you have a college degree, Mr. Hood?”

Moral: When you are teaching a class, be as specific as possible and don’t just assume people know what you mean.

So, I began a new job and marriage at the same time. Apartments were scarce in Newport and I had to find one on my own before I returned to Virginia Beach for my wedding. I picked one in a large ivy-covered estate in old Newport. It was a two-room apartment, but not your classic two-room. This had one room on top of another. The entrance was on the third floor of the estate and the first room was the living/dining area, a kitchenette (barely) and a bathroom. Upstairs was the bedroom, the only fourth floor room in the entire estate. It had a magnificent skylight. It was actually quite romantic. But there were no closets, so I fashioned one out of a window well and a curtain rod with a shower curtain over the front. Three months later we found out that the sun had bleached out my wife’s entire trousseau! My marriage was close to being one of the shortest on record at that point. My new bride was also a bit appalled at the price and the smallness of the apartment, but it was a cozy dwelling, in a grand estate in a historical area with beautiful grounds and all that stuff you love to reminisce about in your twilight years. Over forty years later, when we vacationed to Newport, it was the first place we wanted to see!

“This is the actual estate of which I speak. Our two rooms were in the tower at top left.”

I really enjoyed my new duties and I was now a “full” Lieutenant in rank. My tenure at Communications School was relatively uneventful, with the exception of one of my students. He was just another new Ensign, but with a slight twist. He was the son of the Chief of Naval Operations, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. Navy! I had visions of being court-martialed for “failure to impart adequate knowledge!” My nerves were quickly calmed when I realized he was going to be one of the most agreeable and pleasant students I had the entire time.

After four years of active duty, I quietly slipped back into my role as “Al Hood, super civilian.” However, I did remain in the reserves for 7 more years. I drilled at reserve centers once every month, and for two weeks of the year I left my civilian job to spend two weeks on active duty. I’ll relate a few interesting “two-week cruises” as we called them.

One summer I was assigned to the Pentagon to help one of their departments outfit the communications gear for a new ship design. It was similar to a PT boat but a lot more sophisticated. I had to take a boat from my room across the river at the Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ) over to the dock at the Pentagon. If you don’t know already, the Pentagon is the largest office building in the world, still to this day. I learned only how to get to my office, the head and the lunchroom for obvious reasons.

“That’s me, 4th window in, 2nd floor, far right!”

Another summer I was assigned to a destroyer in Charleston, SC. Finally, a chance to work aboard my first choice after OCS! One problem, it was in dry-dock! All of the electrical systems were being overhauled, including the air-conditioning. The average temperature in Charleston during those two weeks hovered around 99 degrees. I spent one night aboard and immediately requisitioned a room at the BOQ for the remaining 13 days, only reporting aboard during working hours. It was the most boring two weeks of my life.

“Hoist the mainsail! Prepare to get underway!”

They made up for this by assigning me the next year to the USS John F. Kennedy, a super aircraft carrier, since decommissioned. It was a delight to be a part of the crew of such a famous and majestic ship. I enjoyed my work and the opportunity to go topside to observe the air operations of some of the navy’s most advanced jets. Of course, getting lost on a ship that size was again a possibility and I didn’t want to be unaccounted for when my two weeks were finally up. Once again, I was treated to being a passenger on a mail plane launch as the ship was still at sea when my two weeks expired.

My “home” for two weeks.

I achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander while in the reserves, but due to family responsibilities, I finally had to muster out far short of the twenty years needed for any retirement pay.

So there you have it. My unexceptional, but devoted tour of duty in the U.S. Navy. I would be remiss if I did not mention that during this time of service, others were fighting and dying in the fields and jungles of Viet Nam. I was one of the fortunate ones not assigned to that theater. Just as some of you reading this, I lost friends from high school, college and the navy in that unpopular conflict, and I take this opportunity to honor and salute them and all who served over there. I still have the greatest respect for all who serve now. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!