What made my High School years tolerable.

I don’t pretend that my own High School experiences will map well to that of others, but I do think those years could’ve been much worse if I had not made the important decision to join Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps when I did starting my Freshman year and sticking with it all four years. My senior year, I earned the rank of “Cadet Lieutenant, Junior Grade”, owing to my position as Drill Team Commander. Here we are (were) in action {apologies in advance for the length of the video}:

It was a long time ago, but I still take a fair bit of pride in rising up through the ranks to earn this position of considerable responsibility as one of the highest ranked officers in the entire NJROTC unit that year. My junior year, I had been the senior-most Cadet NCO, with the title of Cadet Master Chief Petty Officer of the Command (C/MCPOC).

Looking back on those years through the lens of Asperger’s syndrome, I can see now how much NJROTC benefited me and helped me “fit in” in High School. Most JROTC students tend to be of the geeky variety, whether NT or Aspie alike. They tend to look out for each other. Most units require cadets to wear the NJROTC uniform at least one day during the school week and stand for inspection (part of one’s overall JROTC grade for each six-week period).

One thing that especially stands out for me looking back as an Aspie–our ANSI & NSI would open up the NJROTC classroom early, before school formally started each day. While the general student population had to wait down below in the very noisy commons/cafeteria area, we in the NJROTC were allowed to come upstairs to the NJROTC classroom if we abided by a general rule to study quietly and keep talking to a minimum. I always took advantage of this, since I found the commons below so intimidating and loud and crowded and I hated crowds then as much as I do now. It was a safe haven for this undiagnosed Aspie kid. I also soon made friends in the NJROTC, many of whom became the best friends I’ve ever had in my life, and I was happy to spend time with them in the NJROTC classroom before & after school rather than amidst the mass confusion of the noisy commons area.

The JROTC unit provided me with after-school extracurricular activities like the Air Pistol team and later Drill Team and Color Guard. Moreover, our benevolent NSI and ANSI emphasized the importance of academics and urged us to consider college rather than going straight into the military after graduation–and to consider college ROTC and going in as a commissioned officer if we remained interested in military life. We took tours of actual military installations on special school-sponsored trips every year at Spring Break. I have lived one week at Norfolk Naval Base, Camp Lejune Marine Corps Base, as well as the San Diego Naval Base. If I recall correctly, my senior year the unit opted to visit Fort Hood Army Base closer to home here in Texas and I bowed out owing to a severe case of “senioritis” (and general antipathy towards all things Army–based in an aesthetic revulsion to their uniforms and a generally immature pro-Navy/Beat Army mindset). While our ANSI (who later took over as NSI) did urge some cadets to consider joining the Texas National Guard the summer after our Junior year, or barring that the summer after our Senior year, I never did. Since I was strongly determined to become a Naval officer, I did not want to learn a different set of military protocols that National Guard Service would necessarily entail. That and I was a bit chicken, not really keen on attending actual Army Boot Camp, though it might’ve been good preparation for the 24/7 College ROTC experience that was life as a fish in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M, which was brutally difficult. I’m glad I went through it and feel a sense of pride at having earned my Corps Brass and earned my transition to becoming a Sophomore cadet. When I was ruled physically disqualified to be commissioned via ROTC, I saw no purpose for sticking with the Corps life any further. It was a great experience, but I moved on to better things, like studying abroad in Germany.

We did win an outfit level award my Freshman year at Texas A&M, which was pretty cool.

True, I did not stay in long enough to earn my “Senior Boots”, but in hindsight, it really doesn’t matter. A friend in the Corps, a fellow Aggie Democrat (rare!) who was in an Army unit, urged me to consider going back to my old unit but under an ARMY ROTC 2-year contract, chasing a reserve commission, as the eyesight physical standards for the Army were more lax than either Air Force or Navy requirements in those days, but I demurred, though not until after a lot of soul searching and visiting the Trigon to pick up the paperwork that would be needed if I decided to follow my friend’s advice. I’m glad I didn’t, because goodness only knows what turn my life might have taken if I’d held a reserve commission in the Army Reserve or Texas National Guard come 9/11/01. I shudder to think what that alternate future might have been like.

I don’t know why I didn’t consider Navy OCS more seriously for a restricted line job like Intelligence Officer, but I think it was because I got negative vibes/feedback from the Navy officers of the NROTC unit, indicating that despite the lower standards for Navy OCS versus NROTC, they weren’t going to be low enough for me to successfully get in that way either, back in those pre-Lasik days. Army might have taken me, but on the other hand, maybe they wouldn’t have.

My military ambitions thwarted, I soon became more active in the TAMU German Club, and greatly admired and looked up to my German professors and decided I wanted to be just like them someday. I’ve always felt more “at home” in Academia, in Higher Ed, than anywhere out in the “real world”; I still felt awkward there, of course, but at least in Academia my Aspergian awkwardness could be passed off as a charming eccentricity which could be more readily accepted. Alas, my attempts to find gainful employment AS an Academic (as opposed to seeking degrees in Higher Ed subjects) have been considerably less successful. I will elaborate on these (failed) attempts in a future post, perhaps.

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2 thoughts on “What made my High School years tolerable.

  1. Wow, what memories you generated for this NT ! My NROTC experiences, like yours, saved my butt when I got to Rice U, where I thought I’d walked into a buzz saw. Fortunately, I enrolled in the NROTC program and was invited to join the Navy drill team.

    I’d never done a rifle manual before and didn’t know how to march, so was taught all of this on the parking lot near the NROTC building and became an early-learning Freshman in the art of marching and doing some really neat rifle manuals. This made me begin feeling like maybe I actually belonged at Rice and gave me an entree which was most needed.

    We marched and drilled at the halftime of all the Rice home football games and also got to go to New Orleans and march in the Mardi Gras parade. Since I’d had no ROTC exposure in high school, this was really cool stuff for me and helped me become a part of something at a school where I felt like everything was over my head.

  2. BTW, Quin, I did briefly try out for the TAMU Fish Drill Team, but I didn’t stick with it because I decided that just regular Corps life was plenty crazy for me. FDT also required different protocols for addressing superiors, etc, and I would have to learn to switch back and forth between two differing sets of protocols to get by from then on…and that was just a little too overwhelming to me–and only NOW can I attribute that decision (and the anxiety that induced it) to Aspergers! Plus FDT required some of the most intense physical training and psychological intensity the Corps had to offer at that time. Like I said, just average, everyday Corps life was plenty tough for me, so I walked away from FDT.

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