ANNAPOLIS - Had someone been called a "maggot" or been forced to do 50 push-ups in the mud, yesterday's parade rehearsal at the Naval Academy might have brought back
disturbing boot camp flashbacks.
After all, the last time most of the 1,800 Navy veterans of Operation Desert Storm tried to march in unison was back in basic training. Endearing orders like "Eat the dirt and give me 50, dog-breath" tend to leave a lasting impression on a guy.
But these servicemen, ranging from middle-aged officers in trademark khaki uniforms to youthful seamen in blue denim shirts and bell-bottoms, commanded greater respect than they ever did as recruits. To their relief, drill instruction turned out to be a light-hearted affair - at least by military standards.
"These sailors are some of the finest. They're beyond that sort of thing," said Marine Sgt. Maj. John R. Holmes, 45, a drill instructor with a resume that includes stints in Parris Island, S.C., and Quantico, Va.
However, the veteran instructor added, "Since they are Navy, I've had to work on my cadence of 'port-star board, port-starboard.'
All in all, it was kind of a genial day in Annapolis as about 30 busloads of Desert Storm vets arrived for the start of their three-night stay in preparation for tomorrow's National Victory Celebration in Washington.
Many of the first hours of remedial drill instruction were spent learning such basics as left and right, not always with complete success. "Marching aboard ship is not one of the things we do a whole bunch of," a Navy officer observed.
Bunked at the academy's sprawling Bancroft Hall, the sailors will spend a few hours practicing their marching again today before heading out for a generous liberty schedule that includes free tickets to the Orioles-Toronto Blue Jays game at Memorial Stadium and professional wrestling at the Baltimore Arena.
"I didn't know it was going to be this big," said Chris Felty, 20, of Pine Grove, Pa., an aircraft mechanic on the John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier during the war. "This is great."
Even the enlisted men and women seemed happy to be at the Navy's elite officer training school and looked forward to their walk down Constitution Avenue in Washington. Just four months ago, many were working 12-hour shifts, seven-days-a-week in a combat zone.
"What do they say? Hours of boredom punctuated by a few seconds of sheer terror," said Master Chief Mark A. Bazemore, 37, of Virginia Beach, Va., who served on the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy. "It was mostly boring, waiting for something to happen."
For Kim Allen, 31, a reservist in naval intelligence, walking in the parade will mean he doesn't have to stand on the other side of the barricades. In civilian life, he is a District police officer and would likely have been assigned crowd control.
"It'll be a hell of a lot of fun to be on the other side for once," said Mr. Allen, a district resident.
Seabee reservists Sean Carr, 22, of Glen Burnie and Tom Heikkinen, 23, of Laurel said they volunteered for parade duty to earn a few more days of military pay before returning to civilian unemployment.
"The toughest part of the war was being away from family and friends over the holidays," said Mr. Carr, a former machinist in civilian life who was stationed in Guam loading ships with B-52 ordinance during the war. "This will be a good time."
The sailors said they were impressed by the warm reception they have received since returning home from the Persian Gulf. Few of the veterans served in Vietnam; many are too young to even remember it.
"I wish some of my buddies in Vietnam could get the kind of reception I've received," said Sergeant Holmes, who returned to cheers in Boston this spring but in August 1968 saw riots in Los Angeles. "The difference is night and day."