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Military teaches time, alphabet

Thank goodness the last of the fireworks have been set off. They gave our dogs conniption fits, and I'm not too fond of them, either.

The fireworks, not the dogs.

I like everything else that comes with the Fourth of July, and I guess that in a military town, fireworks are an inevitable part of festivities that remind us of our war for independence.

The military was a mystery to me until I joined up.

As a kid, the only uniform I ever got close to was the web belt and shoulder sash worn by pupils chosen to perform as hallway and bus monitors.

It was a badge of honor to be selected, no matter how much grief it brought from the unruly kids who stampeded in the school like the bulls of Pamplona.

What little I knew about the armed services, I had learned from watching war movies.

I knew that generals and admirals were pretty high on the list of military hierarchy, but I also learned that grizzled sergeants could push baby-faced lieutenants around -- and that John Wayne trumped them all.

I didn't know there was an actual line drawn in the sand between enlisted warriors such as sergeants and officers such as lieutenants.

Only after I joined up did I discover that my chances of making admiral during my hitch were less than zero.

That was one of the first things I learned in boot camp -- that and to salute first and to ask questions later. (Well, a lowly seaman never got to ask questions.)

When I was transferred to a training school in the middle of the night, we got our hopes up as our bus full of freshly minted sailors pulled onto the new base.

"You will spend the next few months living in Barracks Hotel," our leader said.

All right! A hotel -- after months in a crowded, cramped boot camp barracks -- would be heaven. Then we saw that next door to Barracks Hotel was Barracks Golf, and our training brought us back to Earth.

"Hotel" was just the Navy's way of saying H, because radiotelephone talkers and other sailors in communications had to avoid mistakes.

It was safer, for example, to say bravo than B, which otherwise might easily get confused for C or D or E or G or P or T or V or Z. In an alphabet that began alfa, bravo, charlie, a place called Barracks Hotel provided no room service and Barracks Golf promised no tee times.

Speaking of time, that was another thing I learned in the service. Like much of the world, our military uses 24-hour time instead of the 12-hour time that civilians are used to.

Military time starts at midnight and runs to midnight, or, as is usually the case, a minute before midnight. It begins at 0000 hours and ends at 2359 hours, so 3:30 a.m. is called 0330 hours, but 3:30 p.m. is 1530 hours.

Twenty-four-hour time isn't hard to learn, but it stymies civilians who aren't used to it.

I've tried to explain it to my wife, but she says it's simply not worth learning a new language at this point in life. As with French, either you need it or you don't.

For the same reason, I never tried to learn to identify Army, Air Force and Marine people by their uniforms, insignia, patches and stripes. I just knew to salute first and take my chances.

(Glynn Moore is the News Editor for The Augusta Chronicle. Reach him at (706) 823-3419 or">

Web posted on Thursday, July 08, 2010

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