Joining the Navy introduced me to a lot of terms I had never used before–terms like “bulkhead,” “swab,” and “muster.” The most perplexing term, however, was introduced to me at aviation A-school in Pensacola, Florida.
The first time I heard this expression, I thought it was a joke. We were all standing still and not speaking, which is the culmination of much of our early training. A Very Important Person announced, “Tomorrow will be mandatory fun. You will be there, and you will have fun for a minimum of two hours. Petty Officers will be walking among you, in civilian clothes, to ensure that everyone has fun. If you are caught not having fun, you will be posted to the Petty Officer in Charge of the barracks, and disciplined.”
The following day, I showed up for mandatory fun and was introduced to another deeply held naval tradition–complaining. They say the only happy sailor is a complaining sailor, and, if that is true, we must have all been nearly out of minds with bliss. The galley was closed, so we all had to eat “fun” chow at the bar-b-q. There were flies. Picnic tables had been set up for our convenience. They were hot. It was a clear, sunny day on the coast in Florida. There were ants.
The first acronym a sailor learns–before DRB, MAF, SDC or anything else–is N.A.V.Y. Never Again Volunteer Yourself. The idea is to maintain as low a profile as possible, refrain from making eye contact with anyone, and move throughout the crowd in such an inconspicuous manner that nobody would ever be able to swear for certain whether you were actually there.
I spent the first hour of my two mandatory fun hours skulking through the crowd, practicing these evasive maneuvers. Suddenly, my roommate appeared out of nowhere (which proves she had mastered the technique), grabbed my arm, and hissed, “Move.”
She spirited me into the center of the crowd, where we tried to look invisible as she told me, “They’re starting a three-legged race, and they’re taking volunteers! You almost got taken.”
The United States Armed Forces lend a whole new meaning to the phrase “Taking” volunteers.
In addition to the occasional mandatory fun day, sometimes they will have a fun day for PT. You would think we would all be happy for a chance to play some kickball or baseball, instead of doing bear crawls or a sand run, but most people crank up the whining to level ten on these days.
I must admit, there is an added level of difficulty to playing a sport where both teams are wearing the exact same outfit, but to hear us whine, you would think we were being lined up for an annual “shoot your puppy” event.
One pleasant spring day in C-school, we were all driven onto the field, sniveling and complaining, for an hour of kickball. The rules were changed several times, mid-game, by the petty officer in charge, which did nothing to alleviate the discontent. We were standing on the outfield, making occasional half-hearted motions to avoid being hit by the ball, when one player pointed out the obvious.
“Those guys in the infield are a bunch of Blue Falcons.” She said, “If they cared about their shipmates, they’d throw the game, so we could leave.”
We concentrated all our efforts on staring down the guy up to kick. He received the message and kicked a wild foul ball that ended the game. The day was saved!
A couple weeks later, after a similarly motivated game of touch football, I texted one of my Marine buddies to complain. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Just got out of PT. It was awful!
Him: Mine, too! We did a ten-mile desert run in full gear, then an obstacle course.
Me: They made us play touch football!
Him: Wait…they let you play football for PT?
Me: They MADE us play football. There’s a difference.
Me: For HALF AN HOUR!
The commands never seem to understand that it is impossible to mandate fun. That no matter how fun something should be, the minute you add the word “mandatory” is the moment of its death. If they want us to have an hour of fun, they should give us an hour of liberty.
It sounds good, but our culture of complaining would possibly latch onto that in two seconds flat, and you might begin to hear things like “I can’t believe I’m getting this hour of liberty… this is awful… I wish they’d just make us all run three-legged races instead.”
…yeah, probably not. But we’re not likely to ever have the chance to find out for sure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m on liberty, and I want to go enjoy myself as much as possible before I’m required to start having fun again.