The men of the first co-ed class at Gunnery School.
Naval Training Center, 1995.
We didn’t know anything about octopus love or donkeys falling for emus in captivity.
We knew about boot camp hook-ups and A-school weddings.
We knew, from our childhoods, about Salisbury steak with a small square of molten cake
on a TV dinner tray.
We knew all we needed to know about the Mark 45 and that hazing trick about bulkhead
We knew Seaman Recruit Jeter knew everything about small arms and porn.
We knew Seaman Recruit Driscoll was born in Canada and belonged on Saturday Night
We knew Petty Officer Coleman was under investigation for fooling around with half the
women under his command in Basic, and nobody, including the women, wanted
that for him.
We knew Seaman Apprentice Jackson as Jason, because he was a genuine sea scout who
inspired us to remember the concept of first names.
Jason wanted to make SEAL and he had a real chance. We knew that.
We knew Seaman Recruit Kronner had barely made the height requirement and was the
last person who should be teasing Seaman Williams about her mustache.
We knew two sailors from Germany, six from Australia, and one from Djibouti would be
coming to train with us soon.
We were looking forward to that, even though we knew Seaman Williams would
probably rather date one of them.
We knew Seaman Scotts wasn’t quite the Christian he had been when he joined, and his
girlfriend was on the verge of leaving him because of it.
We knew there were five women and 482 men in the barracks.
We knew Petty Officer Mills was a father, a husband, and the first person to whom we
should report any and all concerns.
We knew Chief Miller was a salty dog who didn’t think women belonged at Gun School.
We knew all the other chiefs agreed except Banville, who thought women were good for
We didn’t know Chief Banville had asked Williams to babysit, and when she said yes,
asked if the kids had to be there.
We knew Jason’s wife was pregnant and ugly in the face.
We knew Jason could have done much better, so we knew—we absolutely knew—that
he must have knocked her up while drunk, then married out of honor, and we
We knew men crammed into Jeter’s room two or three nights a week to watch whatever
skin flick he’d rented.
We knew every detail of those movies, even if we hadn’t personally viewed them, due to
the descriptive powers of our shipmates.
We knew Mills had a stepdaughter he liked the look of.
We knew Driscoll really liked it when a girl said, IT HURTS, but didn’t tell him to stop.
We knew Petty Officer Third Class Bradley had asked each of us in turn to describe the
circumstances under which a man could reasonably consider copulating with
Cindy Crawford’s dead body.
We knew most guys answered that if the body was still warm, they would do it, but only
if there was zero chance of getting caught.
We knew Seaman Recruit Jeffries had been in a car accident that rendered him clinically
dead for a whole minute, and he didn’t see any light or any tunnel and so
didn’t believe in God or an afterlife.
We knew Seaman Recruit Gaylord was not Gay, but the jokes continued.
We knew Petty Officer Bennett was tasked with training us about sexual harassment, and
he wasn’t happy about it, but he did his best to warn us and define
what a woman could do to a man’s career, if she had a mind.
Kathleen Balma is a Fulbright Fellow and veteran of the US Navy. She has published widely in journals and anthologies, including Ecotone, Missouri Review, New Ohio Review, Spillway, the Montreal International Prize Anthology, and the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize Anthology. She has been awarded scholarships from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, and Rivendell Writers’ Colony. In 2013 she received a Pushcart Prize. She works at New Orleans Public Library.