Right out of high school I joined the military. Unlike most young men in our church, I did not serve a two year mission. To be honest, my faith was a little shaky at the time. Like most young men of that age, I just wanted out.
My parents didn't make enough money to send me to college, and the military seemed like a great way to get experience, and an education. I wanted to keep playing my trumpet. I had passed my entrance audition for the Marine Corps band program and so I signed up. Based on my test scores, they offered me a career in electronics, along with a healthy signing bonus, but I would have none of it. I wanted to be a musician.
Three days after graduation I shipped out to MCRD San Diego and began my short career as a United States Marine. All of my cooking came to an end as I became engulfed in the training and duties of a Marine.
After boot camp, I was shipped off to the Armed Forces School of Music at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach. I really loved the long white sand beaches, the water, and the insanely tall trees. It was all so very different from the suburbs of Salt Lake City that I had left behind.
Truth be told, I fell in love with the ocean. I'd got to the beach, or the docks on base, as often as I could, just to be close to the water, to smell the ocean air, and hear the lapping of the waves. Twilight was my favorite time, as the sun went down and cast golden shadows across the water.
Being a Marine had a few benefits, food wise, too. I learned that Navy cooks are actually really good. I had always shied away from cafeteria food, with public school being my only real experience with it. The food at the base mess hall was pretty darned good, though. I was pleasantly surprised.
Being assigned to the east coast didn't hurt, either. The coastal chefs know how to cook seafood. I still remember the first time I had lobster and vichyssoie, as a 19 year old, at the Three Ships Inn. Who knew cold potato soup would be so delicious? Then again, the lovely lady I took with me may have had something to do with how much I enjoyed the evening.
Part of what I remember from that evening was that I was wearing a cast from my hip to my toe. I had broken my knee while exercising and ended up having surgery on it. I didn't know it at the time, but that injury would bring an end to my military career.
Three days after returning from a month of sick leave after my knee operation I had a final audition. A 3.0 was required to graduate and I got a 2.95. I was transferred to a “transient platoon” at LFTC-LANT (Landing Force Training Command – Atlantic) while I went through physical therapy, waiting for my knee to heal.
The “transient platoon” was a group of Marines that were either waiting to go to their basic schools, just getting out of them, or otherwise awaiting duty assignments. There were a couple of people like me, as well. Doing therapy and biding our time.
During my time in Virginia I was meritoriously promoted – twice. Once for recruiting efforts while I was on leave from boot camp, and once for exceptional duty while in the transient platoon. I eventually became the defacto platoon leader, having all orders relayed through me. I learned a lot about leadership there. I made my share of mistakes, don't get me wrong, but I'm grateful for how the experience shaped me.
One thing I didn't like about Virginia was the amount of heat I took for being LDS. In my ward, I had been given the calling to be one of the teachers in the Elders quorum. As I sat in a small park-like area we had in the barracks, preparing my lesson for the following day, I was approached by a Petty Officer who worked as part of the barracks staff.
“I see you're reading the good book,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied. “Just preparing for tomorrow.”
“It's good to see people reading the Bible,” he continued. Actually, I had my Book of Mormon open, but my Bible was sitting next to me on the bench, and he outranked me, so I wasn't going to correct him.
“I'd like to invite you to church,” he said. “We've got a bus that comes to the main gate on Sundays to take people to services, if you'd like to come,” and then handed me a square of paper advertising services at a local Baptist church.
“Thank you,” I said. I had no problem with him asking. In a way, I appreciated how friendly and open he was. Proselyting is an organized effort in many churches, including my own. He left and I thought no more of it.
When Sunday came I went to my own church meetings, of course, and taught the lesson according to my calling. That evening, I decided to go to bed early. I knew I'd be very busy the next day and wanted to get an early start. My bunkmates were out, thankfully, and so I had our small room to myself.
Just as I was about to hit the sack, I heard the knock on the door. Flustered and tired, I opened the door to find the Petty Officer I'd met the day before, along with two older men in suits. The first words out of his mouth were, “You're going to hell.”