The barracks were dark except for a dim light above the stairwell, and all was silent except for the loud whir of the large fan at the opposite end of the room, stirring around the hot, dry heat from the summer day, slowly incorporating the cool relief that only followed sunset. As soon as the lights had gone out, I heard several girls sniffling, but one by one, they all grew quiet as they cried themselves to sleep. My petty officer came up the stairs after her shower, spoke briefly in barely audible tones to the two females on watch, switched off the fan, and then retired to her room for the night.
I, however, lay awake, for the ache in my heart could not be consoled. I was homesick, and I felt entirely weary. Never before had I been challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally to such a great extent as I had there. I thought of all the men and women in the service who had each graduated from the real boot camp, and I thought to myself, “If they can do the real thing, you can do this small thing. It’s only two weeks.” Still, I wondered, “Am I just especially weak to feel so challenged by this experience?”
I turned over onto my stomach in my rack and pulled my bath towel and utility jacket around me to keep warm. Just that morning, all of the Bravo females had painstakingly ironed our sheets, pulled them taught, measured the folds, created the precise angles for the hospital corners, folded our scratchy green blankets uniformly at the foot of our beds, and I was much too scared to destroy all the work, for fear I could not reproduce it the next day in the time allotted for the task. If I didn’t use my blanket or sheets at night, all I would have to do in the morning was slide under my rack and pull everything taught once more. A little chill in the night was necessary to spare me and the rest of the Bravo Company females from punishment.
I closed my eyes for a moment and enjoyed the feel of the cool nighttime air rushing in, providing relief from the suffocating heat of the day. As I opened them, I looked heavenward to see but a few of the brightest stars that could outshine the flickering green-blue light of the lamp below, and I wondered if any of my family members had looked at the stars that night. I let my hand drop to the side of my bed, and I clutched the emails I had left there on the floor for this very purpose. Just holding words written to me by people at home who loved me was a solace. I bit back tears and glanced down at an army officer standing guard with his gun, pacing casually beneath the lamp. For a moment, I let my imagination take me to images from history class involving concentration camps, and I wondered if there were any similarities.
I released the emails with the utmost care and gentleness, as if they were small treasures, and turned to my side, drawing my knees up toward my chest like I always do just before falling asleep.
I whispered the quiet prayer I had been saying multiple times throughout each day thus far:
“Abba, I need your strength. I can’t do this on my own. Be with me.”
I closed my eyes and listened to an unfamiliar yet enchanting sound that drifted in with the nighttime breeze. It was a rhythmic beat, slow, and steady, and I recognized it to be the sound of marching. As the sound grew closer, I could hear machinery growling and whining as it rolled past the barracks, and for a few moments it drowned out the footsteps. But as soon as my ears could once more lock on to the sound of the marching that I had found to be so calming and captivating, I realized what made it unique was that it sounded like a heartbeat. I later learned that to make this sound, everybody stomps one foot slightly harder when making contact with the ground, thus eliminating the necessity of a person calling cadence. So that night, for whatever reason, the heartbeat created by arriving army troops became a soothing lullaby, a steady, dependable rhythm that beat with power, confidence, and courage.
I realize now, it was the heartbeat of freedom.
The Sea Cadets has given me a sense of patriotism and great respect for the men and women who serve our country, defending our freedom and our rights with the sacrifice of their lives both in life and in death.
I have tasted the honor and the pride that accompanies the uniform, and I have been privileged to represent the United States Naval Sea Cadets and all that it represents while wearing my uniform.
I have also learned some of the most valuable life lessons through my participation in Pyro Division that I might not have learned otherwise, or could have learned under different settings that would have deprived me of a certain depth of insight that I gained because of my position as a cadet. For example, I have learned the importance and value of self-discipline. I recognize the importance of self-discipline in every aspect of my life, not only in regards to the military, but in my schoolwork, my potential career, my health (diet and exercise), and my relationships. I recognize the importance of respect and honor. I see that obedience is not just following orders, but doing so in a prompt manner without complaining. I know how strong I can be, a strength that stems from my faith in God and belief in myself and my abilities. There is power behind the words, “I can; I will.”
The term “team,” has been redefined for me as I completed boot camp and returned to the regular monthly trainings with Pyro Division. Being an individual with unique skill sets and abilities what each person seems to be very capable of, but what makes a person most valuable to a team is when a person is able to not lose those determining characteristics while still being able to blend perfectly with those around him or her and work as a team. This requires patience, leadership, humility, understanding, and communication.
As a cadet, I was given opportunities that most young adults will never have. I had the honor of being aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, standing beside a dignified looking man from the French military, and observing a display that reenacted the invasion at Normandy, a display which contained the very sand those men shed their blood upon for my freedom.
I watched as wreaths were tossed beside the ship onto the ocean’s dark and somewhat reflective waters as the men who served our country and gave their lives for their nation were remembered. I stood among a crowd that contained many of these men’s widows and loved ones that they left behind.
I learned to shoot a gun, swing dance, march, balance a checkbook, follow rules of etiquette, tie knots, interpret and produce semaphore, offer first aid help, etc. By completing my Basic Military Requirements, I learned about response aboard a ship in the case of biological, chemical, or nuclear warfare. I learned the names of parts of ships, how to best help somebody who has been injured, about land navigation, identifying various ranks, and much more.
I also developed positive friendships with a group of young people who have excellent aspirations to serve our country. I have met young men and women who are determined to use their careers to protect and provide for the people of the United States of America, and who have taken the step to set themselves a higher standard than that of their peers by taking part in the US Naval Sea Cadets. I admire them and am grateful to them for their kindness, their encouragement, their comradery, and their friendships.
I wish to thank Lieutenant junior grade G and Ensign F for the time, energy, and effort the two of you have invested not only in me, but in each cadet who has passed under your care. You’ve brought me from one place to the next by your great sacrifice, and I appreciate everything you have taught me. This past year has been and honor and a privilege, and I am immensely grateful to you for the valuable lessons I have learned because of you both. Thank you for your patience as you have worked with me, your flexibility, your helpfulness, and your generosity. The two of you are excellent role models and example setters for the rest of the unit and I appreciate you greatly. Thank you for making a difference not only in my life, but in the lives of each young person in Pyro Division.
Thank you for tuning my ear to the patriot’s song, the rhythm of those who have gone before me and bought my freedom at great cost, because now, I hear the heartbeat of freedom.