A few weeks ago, while standing in line at the San Diego airport to catch my flight back to Columbus, I found myself standing beside a tall young man (about 6’5”) who was wearing a peacoat and whose hair was cut quite short. I asked him if he was in the service and he said that he had ten years in, and was off the USS Ronald Reagan. When I asked his rate, he said ABM, which an old seadog like myself means, “Aviation Bosun’s Mate.” He added, “I’m a grape.” Those of us who have been on board aircraft carriers know that the crewmen assigned to the flight deck wear different-colored turtleneck shirts. Plane handlers wear white, catapult people wear yellow, ordnance men wear red and fuel handlers wear purple. (That’s why they’re called “grapes.”)
We chatted for a bit. I told him about my experience teaching college classes on board Navy ships with the PACE (Program for Afloat College Education). I commented that I hope he never missed a chance to take a college class because life tends to go a whole lot easier if you have a Bachelor’s degree. He gave a good-natured chuckle and said, “Tell me about it. I just finished up my Master’s in psychology. I haven’t used all my GI Bill benefits, but I hope to finish my doctorate when I get out.”
Moral of the story: do not ever underestimate the intelligence of the people we have serving in our Armed Forces.