There's not really a way for me to exaggerate how shocked everybody in my life was to hear that I had willingly enlisted in the military. Given my background, it doesn't appear that there was any reason to be taken aback by the decision. During my first year of college I had expanded my consciousness greatly through reading. I was enthralled with the transcendentalist and read Emerson and Thoreau. I also developed an interest in ritual magic. I would have actually begun practicing it at this point in my life had I not been living with my Christian mother. When we moved to California I did begin studying the Tarot as well as practicing many different visualization meditations. One day, while taking a mid day siesta, I woke up to sleep paralysis and subsequently exited my body into a full blown out of body experience (O.B.E.). I was still writing "An Institution Known As Truth" at the time, and this new revelation changed the course of the book drastically. It also sparked an intense writing session that lasted about a week and allowed me to finish the book. This was about the time I decided to enlist in the military. Looking back it's easy to see how this was the workings of fate.
Military Entrance Processing (MEPS) should have been a wake up call. I scored a 79 on the ASVAB (armed service vocational battery), which is basically the military's SAT. A score of 79 isn't really the sign of a genius, more just the sign of a little bit of intelligence. But when you have a large portion of the wanna-be recruits scoring in the low 20's, a 79 seems like a god send. This score sparked a whole chain of events that would change my life irrevocably. The next thing I know I'm being pulled out of the herd of ratards at MEPS to be interviewed by a team of "elite" personnel about my "intelligence" behind closed doors. These nukes were treating me a lot better than the buffoons at MEPS had been treating us. They were treating me like I was royalty, and they were very friendly. "Just take this other test for us and see what you score." They shuffle me into another room and sit me in front of a computer to take another test. I had to score a 58 on the test to meet the requirements for nukehood based on my ASVAB score. I guessed, approximated, guestimated, reconated, ruminated, marinated, and otherwise bullshitted all of the multiple choice questions and scored a 58. Not one point more or less than I needed to insure my passage through the whale.
They were overjoyed at my success. I tried to explain to them that I sucked at math, and that I'd never once thought about being an engineer in my life, and that there was good reason. They assured me that I didn't know what I was talking about. They offered me a 12,000 dollar sign on bonus, a guaranteed petty officer 3rd class (E-4) after "A" school, and a chance to re-enlist at two years in for an extra two years of service (on top of the six I would have to agree to) for a grand tax free total of 60,000 dollars. You take any 19 year old and offer him 72,000 dollars and he's gonna cave. I still had enough wherewithal to stand my ground. "No, I don't think this is a good idea, and anyways I just want to be a deep sea diver." They assured me I could do both, which wasn't quite a lie, but it wasn't true either. After enough assuring, bribing, ego inflation, and ass sucking I finally agreed to nukedom and signed the last bit of my freedom away.
I thought I knew the game I was headed to. I had four years of JROTC, and while not quite the military, I reckoned it was close enough. I thought I could maintain my individuality at boot camp. I didn't know shit. In the first couple days of boot camp I was informed that there would be no deep sea diving for me. In the first days of boot camp they sat us down and we watched a presentation on S.W.I.C.K (a special bad ass tactical boat to shuffle seals around in), EOD (navy's bomb squad), the SEALS, and the deep sea divers. To be part of any of those teams you have to partake in a more rigorous physical training regimen while in boot. The RDC (the navy's version of a drill sergeant) in charge of the presentation asked if anybody was interested in joining any of these teams to stand up. I stood up, and he pointed his finger at me, "aren't you a nuke McCarty?"
"Sit the fuck back down, you're a nuke and that's all you're ever going to be." All of my reason for being there had been instantly vaporized by these words. Now I was quite literally an indentured servant to the military. The next two years were to be my own personal impersonal hell.
As time went on in boot camp I became slowly brainwashed into a sailor. I know this from reading the letters that I wrote to my family while I was in boot camp. It was a slow progression, and it's quit visible upon reading these letters. When I got out I was proud to be a sailor. After two weeks of leave it was time to report to the naval weapons base in Goose Creek SC just outside of Charleston for the "A" school phase of Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC). "A" school was a breeze and it was about four months long. This was just basic conventional engine room mechanics. After "A" school came NNPTC. I'll try to summarize what NNPTC was like. It's the hardest school the military has to offer academically. Due to the nature of the information it's all classified. This means that no reading materials or notes could leave the building. We lived in dorms on base and class started at 0645 hrs. We had a half hour for lunch and then it was back to class. The day ended at 1630 hrs, and that was followed by physical training, dinner, and then logged study time back in the classroom. How long you had to study depended on your grades. I had to put in an average of 15 extra hours a week. That meant a couple hours a day plus some weekend time. Some people would spend four hours a day back in class plus the entire weekend. The amount of information we had to learn was astronomical. It was all brute memorization as well. Full steam plant diagrams had to be memorized and drawn from memory. Calculus equations involved with such things as neutron life cycles had to be memorized. It was nuts. Did I mention that math is not my strong suit. They didn't give a shit if you understood the math either, just so long as you could shit out equations and answers and pass the tests.
After NNPTC came "prototype," which was another six month phase of on the job training in a nuclear power plant. I went to Upstate NY to a place called Boston Spa for this training. It sucked even worse than NNPTC. We worked first, second, and third shift cyclically with some time off in between. We had to stand watch in the power plant as well as learn how to do maintenance on the engine room equipment. We had a book that was called "quals" for qualifications that was full of thousands of subjects that had to be signed off on. That composed of studying everything about a specific nuclear power related thing, say a valve, and then answering questions about it until staff felt you were "qualified," and then they would sign off. We had to do this for thousands of things. You had no life. You had no time for friends outside of the nuclear world. When we had time off we got as drunk as possible in an attempt to not deal with how shitty our lives were. After six months it was finally over. I was attached to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson in Bremerton Washington just outside of Seattle. Two weeks of leave, and a month in port, and it was off to the Persian Gulf for Westpac. It was June of 2001. My life screeched closer to 911. I had no idea what was bout to happen to me.