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Culture shock in Orlando, Florida

I used to stand on the deck of big gray boat and watch a black horizon for enemies foreign and domestic.

I served in the Navy from 1991 to 1995. Although, at the time, I generally despised my situation and the choice I made to serve my country, I now look back upon those years as being an important part of my life.

In July '91, I boarded an airplane bound for Orlando, Fla., and boot camp. I suppose I envisioned some nine-week summer camp. After all this wasn't the Marines or Army.

Well, they push you out of bed at four o'clock in the morning. Not with their hands, of course, but with their voices. Loud, obnoxious and seemingly all around you even though there are only a pair of them. CCs. Company Commanders. The Navy's version of drill instructors. Mean times two.

You're hauled out of bed, disorientated and sleepy, and rushed into the bathroom - henceforth from that day referred to as the &#8220head” - where you nervously scrabble a razor across your face with 20 other mates around you, all staring into the same mirror and trying their best not to slice a jugular. Similar shavings are taking place all around. (I can't remember why that ‘head' lacked for so many mirrors and sinks. But it wasn't nearly enough for all the people.)

20 blank and frightened faces, some who had never shaved a day in the life, emerging from the head with wild little pieces of toilet paper clinging to bloody facial wounds. All the while, the CCs are yelling and screaming and you haven't been there long enough to do anything wrong so you wonder what you're getting yelled at for.

It's culture shock. No doubt.

Then, it's off to breakfast. But who can eat. A sailor - at least he looks like a sailor, but as you find out later one that's really in his fifth week of training - comes over, writes down the time on the table with a grease pencil and says you have 10 minutes to finish your meal.

But still, who can eat.

From there it's hair cutting time. You're run through like a herd of sheep. Three or four zips and you're as skinned as Bruce Willis.

The first week is spent processing. You're issued your uniforms, learn the rules, and collect your wits. Not until the second week are the CCs allowed to discipline you with PT. Physical torture.

Push-ups. Leg lifts. Running in place. Heavy marching. I sweated more that second week than I have my entire life. I weighed close to 200 when I went in. I weighed 160 when I came out.

The first time my father saw me, he didn't recognize me. The first time my mother saw me, she cried.

&#8220What have they done to you?” She asked.

Nothing, I thought. That I didn't ask for.

Kevin Pearcey is Group Managing Editor of Greenville Newspapers, LLC. He can be reached by phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or by email at: editor@greenville.advocate.com.