May 20, 2012

First Salute

At university, I have tried not to make a big point of my military career. I didn't keep it secret by any means, but I didn't want to be "that guy". One of my fellow MA students was in ROTC, and she didn't make a big point of her ongoing military training either. We had many classes in common, as the two of us were developing similar specialties. (Not military history, interestingly enough.) We also had the same adviser, again because we were working on somewhat similar projects. I'll call this fellow student "M".

The half-dozen of us working with that professor, who I will now call "Dr. S", were hanging out waiting for our final meetings, near the end of the semester. The chatter turned to how busy we all were, what with the impending end of the semester, due dates, graduation, et cetera. M mentioned that a week after graduation, she would be getting commissioned. I asked who was giving her her first salute, and she paused a moment then asked if I would! I was a bit surprised, but I immediately accepted.

That meant I needed to get my uniform back together. For a very formal military event like that, dress blue bravos seemed like the appropriate uniform. They're just about the coolest looking, the most iconically Marine, and also somewhat forgiving of the fact that I've not quite as shipshape as I was when I got out.

With only a week to go before the ceremony, I pulled together all my uniform components. But I couldn't find my ribbon rack! Somehow between moving from Okinawa back to my father's house, and then to my university apartment, my built-up ribbon rack disappeared. I had a handful of random individual ribbons, but not all the ones I needed.

The internet to the rescue! There are now lots of places that can produce fully-equiped ribbon racks and mail them to the customer. It took some doing (and some money) to find one that could do the job fast enough, but in the end I got myself squared away just in time.

Sadly, my GF was working the day of the commissioning, but she made sure to get a photo of me before I left that morning, all kitted out. It was a thirty-minute drive through the city to get to the site, but other drivers were unusually good about yielding to me, as soon as they noticed what I was wearing. "The clothes make the man", eh?

The ceremony itself was in an old church that has been converted to a "cultural center", full of gorgeous hand tilework. I met my friend and then her family, who I sat with during the speeches by the various VIPs invited. The family included a teenager who grilled the heck out of me, as he was considering a military career too and was still pondering which branch to select.

After all the speeches were over, the candidates all swore the commissioning oath together. Technically, that was it; they were now second lieutenants in the Army. However, that's like pointing out that a college graduate becomes graduated when the chancellor says so; people march across the stage for a reason! So, too, was the case at the commissioning. Each new officer got to march on to the stage individually, and have the shoulder tabs that signify their new rank clipped on, usually by family members. Then the walked to the edge of the stage and received a first salute from an enlisted person that they particularly respected. After the salute, the officer and the enlisted shake hands, during which a silver dollar is slipped from one hand to the other. About a third of the candidates received salutes from the senior SNCO of the training cadre, presumably because they didn't know any other enlisted well.

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