Those *@#% Reservists!

By Ted McCormack

 

Of all those thrown into the melting pot of Boot Camp in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the individuals who received a lot of admiration from their fellow recruits were those with the pink ID Cards - Reservists. Even though your Company Commander would often refer to them as *@#% Reservists or worse, many recruits would have changed places in an instant. Sure, the Reservists had to endure the hardships of Boot Camp along with you, but they would be home with family and friends at the end of six months. Their drills one weekend a month or one night a week for the next six years were minor inconveniences compared to what you faced on Ocean Station Bravo in December or semi-isolated duty at some lonely small boat station. It was small comfort that after you were discharged, the Reservists still had two more years of drills to perform.

All Reservists with a military obligation had to attend 90% of their scheduled drills each year; it was the law. In order to enforce this regulation, someone came up with the bright idea that any Reservists who did not maintain "satisfactory" performance would be transferred to active duty immediately. In the Coast Guard's case, reservists that were problems typically served the remainder of their enlistment on a "White One," preferably a cutter that was underway as much as possible. 

No one bothered to ask the question, "If the fellow is such a misfit in the Reserves, what makes you think his performance will improve when he is on active duty?"

While I served aboard the USCGC Westwind, one of the Coast Guard's fleet of icebreakers, I was associated with one of those *@#% Reservists that had been ordered to active duty. His name was Joe, and it was rumored that he hailed from a city somewhere in the Midwest where his family owned a large business and were prominent in their community. Joe never talked much about the reason why he could not bring himself to attend drills, all we knew was that he had been assigned to the Westwind as punishment.  

Most of us on the Deck Force considered Joe to be an old man (he was likely in his late 20s) and he was probably a college graduate. You see, Joe was pretty quiet and kept to himself a lot. We also noticed that Joe was different from the average Westwind sailor of that period. He read magazines like Harpers, New Yorker, and New Republic; he listened to classical music; and while the Westwind was in her home port near Baltimore, Joe would usually go on liberty by himself. Some said that he traveled to New York or Washington to see plays or visit museums. No one really knew.

Prior to my arrival aboard the Westwind, the First Lieutenant in charge of the Deck Force and the Chief Boatswain Mate had concluded that Joe was such a screw-up that the best place for that *@#% Reservist was in the paint locker. They had not been overly impressed with his respect for their authority and they did not want his attitude to contaminate the rest of their division. Joe gladly made the paint locker in the bow of the ship his home away from home. Cleaning paint brushes and rollers at the end of the day gave him a convenient excuse to avoid the chores that were always assigned to the Deck Force after evening chow. Another of his favorite pastimes was to repaint the deck of the compartment adjacent to the paint locker, which trapped him in there. Typical *@#% Reservist! However, no one could get to the paint locker over the wet deck either, so he stayed in there reading his magazines and listening to his music until the paint dried. He was able to pull that trick several times before the Chief Boatswain Mate caught on.  

Joe's enlistment was up in the Spring of 1970 following the Westwind's voyage to the Great Lakes. In those days, the Coast Guard sent one of the East Coast icebreakers through the St. Lawrence Seaway to help open the shipping season as early as possible. The highlight of our Great Lakes cruise that year was liberty in Montreal, Canada, and the ship's arrival coincided with the Mardi Gras-like festivities of Easter week. It was one big party for all hands, and a tired but happy crew left Montreal after several days to continue our month-long mission.

At the end of the patrol, the Westwind stopped in Montreal again, but only for one night and limited liberty was granted to expire at midnight. The next morning there was a conspicuous absence among the Deck Force; Joe was missing. The Master At Arms searched the obvious places, like Joe's rack and the paint locker, and then he checked all the other locations on the ship where non-rates hid when they were "skating" out of work. Joe was nowhere to be found, so the Westwind left Montreal without him. Since he had less than a month to go before his discharge, many were concerned for his safety but most thought he was dumb to go AWOL so near the end of his enlistment. Typical *@#% Reservist.

At morning muster a week after returning to Curtis Bay, Maryland, word swept through the ranks; Joe was back. The First Lieutenant and the Chief Boats hurried to the forward berthing area to check on the rumor. Sure enough, they found Joe asleep in his rack. They both demanded in a loud voice that Joe get up and explain himself. With his characteristic devil-may-care attitude, Joe proudly proclaimed that he had returned, and then he rolled over and went back to sleep. After several minutes of shouting, the First Lieutenant and the Chief gave up on their efforts to rouse the sleeping figure since they knew that their chance would come at his Captain's Mast.  

Everyone wanted to know where Joe had been and why he went AWOL. All he would reveal was that he had met a young lady during our first stopover in Montreal, and since he was having such a good time with her during the second port call, he could not bring himself to leave her apartment when the Westwind sailed. What a guy!

After much discussion between the Captain, the Executive Officer, the First Lieutenant, the Chief and several other senior petty officers, it was decided to charge Joe with a lesser offence of missing movement, to dock his pay, and to extend his enlistment for the ten days of unauthorized absences. It was rumored that a certain chief wanted to throw the book at Joe, but cooler heads reasoned that it would be of no use. The quicker the Coast Guard got rid of that *@#% Reservist, the better. Joe accepted his punishment gladly and was discharged from the Westwind something of a legend among her non-rates.

 

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