(One thing) I did in the Navy
I was cleaning my office the other day and came upon a folder full of stuff I wrote for the weekly newspaper, “The Navigator,” at the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Fla. many, many moons ago. This column, entitled “Have you hugged your roadguard today?” is a true, if slightly hyperbolic account of one slice of my Navy life there. It ran in our March 1, 1990 issue, and was met with such acclaim – or at least a lack of anger from high-ranking Navy officers – that I eventually wrote two more such pieces. I’m not sure if the final two chapters of my “Roadguard Trilogy” will make it into The Woodford Sun, but here’s hoping you like this one. Roadguarding – it’s not for everyone, but it should be. Most everyone in the Navy has a collateral duty of some sort, whether it be taking care of the coffee mess or taking out the garbage. I, however, have a weekly task that’s a little more visible. I am a roadguard. Every Friday morning, Navy Band Orlando marches to the front of NTC headquarters, plays a selection of patriotic music, then strikes up the national anthem as the colors are hoisted before marching back to the band hall. They are led by the Naval Training Station Color Guard, and most observers agree that it’s an impressive display. Without roadguards, though, the whole ceremony would be impossible. We protect the color guard and band from wayward motorists, mostly, though we’re also prepared for pedestrians, bicyclists, animals and even terrorists. My post is next to the dental clinic, across from the bowling alley. By 7:45 a.m., I’m standing at parade rest, my reflective international orange vest visible at great distances, even on foggy mornings. The color guard and band march up Fourth Avenue, take a right onto Kumquat Place and stop in front of the headquarters. After three or four songs, the flag is raised at 8 a.m. and the national anthem echoes down the street. All this time, I stand there at parade rest, a lonely sentinel, guarding against whatever may threaten the serenity of morning colors. The biggest threats are otherwise harmless dental patients. They approach from either direction on Third Avenue, wanting to take a parking space in front of the dental clinic. If a spot is open, I’m posed with a dilemma -- do I let them have it, knowing the accelerator may stick and scatter the color guard and band pell mell? Don’t laugh – a roadguard has to think of these things. Generally, I let them go, but stay poised, ready to grab onto the bumper if the car should pass the parking spot and head towards the band. At about 8:05 a.m., the color guard and band begin marching toward me. The music gets louder as the shadows of the color guard’s flags fall over my shoulder. At precisely the correct moment (which I’ve adjudged, by the volume of the music and position of the shadows), I pop to attention and march 10 steps forward, left face, come to attention again, then to parade rest. I stop the approaching cars. After a prescribed number of seconds (usually between 11 and 13), I come to attention, about face, and salute the flag. The color guard finishes their right turn, the band a few yards behind, and heads east on Third Avenue. I turn around again and hold the accumulating cars and trucks at bay until both units turn into the band’s parking lot. I then come to attention one final time, left face, and head back to the headquarters building, the morning’s excitement slowly fading until next week, when I’ll again take my place on the corner of Kumquat Place and Third Avenue. I’ve been a roadguard on Friday mornings for more than a year now, and no one’s yet been hit by an onrushing vehicle. I’m more than a little proud of that. P.S. No one ever was struck by a vehicle when I was roadguarding at NTC Orlando, thus my honorable discharge in December 1991. Several years later, the base closed, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t my fault.