If you know me well, you probably know I got - well, several, to be honest - really raw deals out of the Navy. Partly this is because my family had a rather distinguished history of battling the NIS over the circumstances of my namesake's death in Vietnam... and I went into the most politically sensitive POSSIBLE rate; partly this is because I was just a really poor fit for what the Navy was looking for personally... ESPECIALLY in said most politically sensitive possible rate; and partly this is just because, well, I was really pretty damn difficult back then no matter how you sliced it.
The thing is... I was a horrible fit for the Navy, and the Navy itself was a horrible fit for who I was, regardless of the political sensitivity issues surrounding my personal circumstances. But you know what? A brick wall to pound my head against repeatedly was exactly what I needed at that age. And one way or another, whether I knew it or not (and believe me, I didn't) it was what I was bound and determined to seek out. And I really can't think of anything that serves as a better head-pounding brick wall than a Navy that doesn't think you fit the bill it wants you to. I needed that. I really did. And if I hadn't been someplace so hard and unyielding - not necessarily "firm and just," mind you, the outfit DID do some really fucked up things and DID (and probably does) have some drastically... imperfect... ethical standards in place - well, I don't think I'd be better off for it now. I think I'd still have banged my head against the wall I was determined to find no matter where I was - and I might still be doing it to this day if the Navy hadn't obliged me by letting me beat myself perfectly bloody until I got it out of my system and learned what I needed to learn.
So, yeah. I got screwed out of a $6,000 enlistment bonus in the most heinous, last minute, and flat-out crooked way possible. I got forced into being a freaking WELDER in circumstances so downright bizarre that I had extreme difficulty convincing other sailors that it had been forced on me, rather than me volunteering for it - because involuntary rate crossovers just didn't happen. I got denied on every request for an early out that I put in, in an era where all around me sailors were getting paid gigantic bonuses to leave the Navy early to meet downsizing goals. I got left with no visible path to any kind of career I was suited for because my DD-214 proclaimed to the world that I had been a welder for the last six years.
But... I learned the most valuable (and rare) computer-related skills I currently possess in the process of learning how to troubleshoot discrete analog circuits in Electronics Technician A School. I learned so much about mechanical engineering in Nuclear Power School that I went from being the most mechanically clueless guy on the face of the planet to being able to lift the hood on a car and identify with a few glances what everything there was and what function it served - not because NNPS taught me about cars - but just by knowing what had to be there and the basics of how it would have to work, from basic principles. I learned - at times very painfully - how to earn respect from people who work for you and start out with none. I learned how not to get nailed to the wall by people who, for whatever reason, are bound and determined to do so. And, although the lessons didn't really take until a couple of years after I got out, I learned a lot about how to actually get along with and earn the trust of existing authority... even when there are things you disagree with them strongly about.
I've known for a long time that I probably wouldn't have done anywhere near as well at college when I was a kid as I have been now. And I've known that I did, in fact, learn a lot of good things in the Navy. But what I never quite cottoned to until tonight - what I maybe wasn't ready to realize until tonight - is that aside from the obvious good things - the broad if informal and not-that-great-on-a-resume education, the chance to be self-sufficient when I desperately wanted to be, the great "sea stories" to tell at parties, the pride in being able to say I served my country honorably, etc. - I really needed exactly what the Navy was to me: a big, ugly, fucked-up brick wall to beat my head into. And I'm a lot better off for it having been there for me, in all its imperfect, unchangeable glory, when I needed it.