The veteran EXPERIENCE

By Jalen Black

Hello youth radio listeners, my name is Jalen black and today I’m here with a special guest Bill Hayden who formerly served in the military. He served in 1977 after his junior year in highschool and worked in the navy and marines. 

I wanted to ask him a few questions about that and basically to demystify the military for young people who might want to join and learn about the good or the bad. Bill Hayden grew up in New York where there wasn’t really much diversity but all of that changed when he joined the military and he met people of all different races from different countries across the world.. Currently the military is facing the biggest decline in recruiting hurdles in 50 years. A lot of the veterans now are not from the U.S. So I hope this is interesting for you guys to learn

This interview has been edited for clarity and length 

BH: Well I’m glad to be here Jalen glad to help out. 

JB: First question is when did you join the military? 

BH: So this is going back, 1977 is when I joined it and I actually joined after my junior year in high school so in the summer break between Junior and Senior and I entered on a delayed enlistment so I had to go back and finish my high school degree, but I graduated early in January and then went to boot camp right from there. 

JB: So the next question is, what was your rank? 

BH: Okay. So I’m a little bit unusual in that when I went into the military, I joined the Navy. I had an older brother. I come from a big family of seven kids. My oldest brother went in the Marine Corps and my next older brother went in the Navy. I was number three out of the seven and I couldn’t make up my mind if I wanted to go into the Marine Corps, the Navy but I opted to go into the Navy. I did achieve the rank of B 4 which is a third class petty officer in the Navy to answer your question specifically. But then I did four years, active duty in the Navy and got out and I still wanted to try the Marines, so then I joined the Marines and start it all over again and went through Parris Island boot camp and achieved E4 rank in the Marines when I was there, which is in the E4 in the Marines they call that Corporal. So I was a Corporal but that was my highest rank. I was just a realistic guy and like a lot of young guys, I was in and out of trouble a few times. So My oldest brother went into the Marine Corps. He got out as he was a meritorious surgeon and he was more well behaved than I was when he was in. 

JB: I was also wondering, did you ever do combat? 

BH: You know I did not and I know a lot of guys that did including relatives of my own and you may have some yourself a lot of guys that do combat they don’t like to talk about. the combat you know, it’s a tough one but I was fortunate in the eight years that I was in the four years that I was in the Navy was the time when they had the Iranian hostage crisis and we were over in the Gulf at that time, but no answer your question and I never was in combat when I was in the Marines, I was in aircraft wing and so we Go out on detachments but no, I did not see combat.

JB: Next question I wanted to know is what is a memory that most stands out to you from your time? 

BH: Oh there’s so many. It’s really hard to choose one that I always like to tell this because it’s kind of funny when I was in the Navy. We used to do Burial at Sea because one of your benefits as a veteran is if you choose to, you can have Ariel at sea and sometimes that would be from a casket and we would have a ceremony on the ship with a 21-gun salute middle of the ocean and they just tip it up and drop the casket into water and shoot holes in the gasket. One time, they did it and it was Cremation and I happened to be where I worked on the ship. There was the main deck and then we were on the O2 level. The next level up and so the guys that do the 21-gun salute and they do the funeral, The Burial at Sea, I should say. For the veteran they stand down and when they get in their dress uniforms they stand down on the main deck. And so, of course, we were up on the next stack up, and we thought it was really cool. So we go over to the side on the railing and sit and watch the ceremony as they do it but this particular time, it was Cremation. And when it came time where they would drop it, through the Chute into the ocean, the ashes caught the wind and it blew up. We were all fresh in the ashes for me, it seemed like it was kind of a funny thing I’m sure not to be disrespectful but just one of those things. Well, there’s so many memories that you have over the course of the time that you serve. 

JB: I’m pretty sure there were definitely a lot more. 

JB: Would you recommend joining the military? Why or why not? 

BH: That’s a good question because everybody’s different and the times are different and so I always rather than tell somebody else what they should do, I look at it through the eyes of would I do that today and I’ll tell you some of the factors in the reasons why I joined because number one, I couldn’t wait to get out of school and I wanted the adventure. I wanted to see the world. Both of my older brothers had gone into the military. I saw what they were doing and I wanted that. I wanted to travel, it’s a great place to learn a trade because there’s so many military occupational specialties that you can get into and you get paid to travel and see the world but of course, because it is the military you have to believe number one in what you’re doing, because if you get called to go into combat make sure that you take the oath this soon as you enlist and you go in and you got to make sure that you believe in the purpose of the military in defending freedom and part of that means you’re willing to go out there and do whatever they tell you have to do to defend your country including going into combat. So would I do it again today under the circumstances I was at that time? Yes, because I didn’t want to go to college. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of school. So for me, it was an adventure. 

JB: If people were treated differently, how differently were they treated based on their race or gender? 

BH: When I went into the military, one thing you have to understand, when you go in the military, you’ve heard the saying, there’s no I in team. It is even more true when it comes to the military. Meaning, the first thing you do when you go in the military, is you go to basic training. That’s boot camp and they’re everything about you, including your freedom as you become government property. There are no individuals, there are no races, colors, religions, you still have them but as far as the government is concerned, basic training is getting everybody including you get your hair all cut off, you get uniforms, everybody looks the same. You’re trained to act as you get to a basic level so that they can then build you up. They have to break you down to build you up, they have to get everybody at that same level where now when they train you on, you know, going out to the rifle range and getting qualified learning the history because they put you through the classes. So you learn about the history of your country, in the history of the military, the branch that you’re in. And they get everybody up to the same level before you finish basic training. So to answer your question and this was true in the Navy, it’s true in all the branches. I mean you work side by side and you work for all different kinds of people, all different colors, all different religions, different races, people from different countries because we had women, we had people from different countries who served in the military earn their citizenship. 

JB: What were the roles of women in the military and what’s your opinion about it? 

BH: I was in the Navy board ship from 77 to 81 when I reported to the ship, the ship was just coming out of dry dock. That’s when they rebuilt everything and modernized the ship. So at that time when I first joined there were women that served but it was still new and they were very limited to the occupational Specialties that they could serve in. So on the ship’s, there were the women who didn’t go out and serve. They were like submarines, tenders that didn’t go out and go out in the middle of the ocean for extended periods of time didn’t serve at that time and that’s changed over the years. Now you have women in combat, they didn’t have that when I was in. As far as my opinion of it I’m going to be to be honest with you I wouldn’t want to be in combat and have women in combat just because I think there is a big difference between men and women. So, no, I’m not for it, it’s not that I’m against women in the military because women have an access to do whatever. They should have the freedom to choose to do whatever they want. But there are some practical realities when it comes to infantry in combat so I’m not in favor of that for women in combat.

 JB: My last final question is what should a young person know before signing up for the military?

 BH: So I would come back to that point where there’s a lot of opportunity in the military but you have to start with accepting that you’re there for one purpose and that is to defend your country and that means being willing to die going into combat. I think a mistake that a lot of people make who have never been in the military is thinking that people who go in the military means you wanted to go into combat. In reality it is in fact the last people that want to see worse are the people who are in the military. They’re prepared for it, they’ve trained for it. So I think that’s a misconception sometimes with people who are not in the military that see veterans and say, well, you know that, somebody who wants to go fight, that’s not really true. The opportunities that are available for young people in the military as far as the training that you can get any equipment and the responsibilities that you’re given in the military. When you get out, it becomes valuable. People like to hire Veterans for, and there’s a good reason for it. Not just because they’re veterans. So you can get some great experiences. You can pick up some great traits and you get paid along the way and you get to see the world and that’s what attracted me. 

JB: Okay, well, looks like we reach the end of our time. I wanted to thank you youth radio for listening to this interview and want to thank Bill Hayden for helping me in joining me to learn more about the military. 

BH: Happy to do it with you and I’m sure with each person that you talk to you get a different experience and you gain a lot of different views, different perspectives from all kinds of people. Thank you and wish you guys all the best.