Navy OCS Graduation (Class 01.14), a set on Flickr.
Even though I’ve always viewed this blog as an online extension of me, rather than as a business tool, I’ve rarely been too “personal” about myself here–and even more rarely, personal about my family.
However, today is one of those occasions. Yesterday, my wife and I attended a ceremony in Newport, RI, during which our son and 83 other young men and women graduated from the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School and were commissioned as Navy officers. (OCS is one of three ways to become an officer in the Navy. The other two are (1) Navy ROTC and (2) attending the U.S. Naval Academy). On Tuesday, Ensign Hammock reports to Pensacola, Fla., for Naval aviation training. (In the Navy, they don’t say, “pilot,” they say “aviator” — but not with the Oscar-winning dramatic cadence and pronunciation (A-vee-A-tor) of Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.) in the ultimate Navy OCS flick, An Officer and a Gentleman.)
For the past several months, at the now-ensign’s request (demand), I have been embargoed from posting any photos or mentions of him or his personal journey to become a Naval officer and aviator. He wanted to make it through his commissioning before allowing me to burst with pride (although I did a couple of early-warning status updates for friends on Facebook). Having now fulfilled that embargo, I have posted a set of photographs on Flickr that I took in Newport during the past few days.
Ensign Hammock is not the first member of his family to serve in the military; he has great uncles who served as officers in both the Navy and Army on my wife’s and my side of his family. His maternal grandfather was in the Army in the late 1940s and while not actually in the service, his grandmother, my mother, spent most of WWII as a civilian dietician in VA and military-related hospitals in New York City, something my two brothers and I still have a challenge imagining being done by our 5’3″ tall, Alabama and Texas reared mother.
Despite the service of those forebears, it’s still accurate to say that like most kids of his age today, our son did not grow up in a military family. And despite the fact that one of the most formative events of his young life was September 11, 2001, and its aftermath, he still did not grow up in an era or in a community context where military service is the norm.
In May, after our son had already committed to becoming a Navy officer, I bookmarked this op-ed piece in the New York Times to save for this post. While I neither agree or disagree with the authors’ recommendations, I wanted to include it one day in such a post as this as the statistics it includes underscore how service in the U.S. military is so rare these days.
“For nearly two generations, no American has been obligated to join up, and few do. Less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II. Even fewer of the privileged and powerful shoulder arms. In 1975, 70 percent of members of Congress had some military service; today, just 20 percent do, and only a handful of their children are in uniform. In sharp contrast, so many officers have sons and daughters serving that they speak, with pride and anxiety, about war as a “family business.” Here are the makings of a self-perpetuating military caste, sharply segregated from the larger society and with its enlisted ranks disproportionately recruited from the disadvantaged. History suggests that such scenarios don’t end well.”
My son was fortunate enough to be blessed with the natural gifts and family circumstances that allowed him to attend remarkable schools from pre-school to college graduation. He has the wit, warm heart and charm that make him a friend to all he meets. His academic skills and math major opened several doors to finance institution opportunities when he was considering post-college options. And yes, with his skills and background — and even a contact, or two — he’d seem to be a natural for a startup.
But from somewhere that I can only describe as a calling, he was compelled to start considering the Navy during his Junior year in college. As any parent knows, even when a son is at that point in college, you never respond too adamantly to things they may say, knowing it could change momentarily. And during those early months of consideration, he never mentioned the “aviator” part.
Since being selected to be a Navy officer candidate is a long process that requires lots of testing and consideration, he continued to leave out the part about becoming a pilot whenever he brought up becoming an officer.
Long story short, we were already comfortable with the idea of him being in the Navy — maybe Naval Intelligence or something in Cyber Warfare? we imaged. My wife and I were practically learning the words to Anchors Aweigh when our son got word that he’d been accepted “into the Navy aviation community.”
Wait? we both said. You mean like landing on an aircraft carrier?”
It took a while for that possibility to sink in. But it finally sunk in. (And he still has a lot to do to get that opportunity.)
But now our entire family has joined the Navy, and we get it.
And we’re very proud of Ensign Hammock. And we can’t thank enough all of our friends who sent him letters and told us how proud they are of him while he was in OCS and learning what it was like back in the old days with one didn’t have smartphones and email.
We don’t know where his journey will take him, but we know it’s a journey for which he feels called and committed.
And he is committed and damn proud to serve his country and the Navy and those with whom he serves, wherever that journey leads.
I know I feel better knowing that — as a Dad, and as an American.