In Navy boot camp, there are divisions of new recruits that are led normally by three to four higher enlisted personnel called Recruit Division Commanders or RDCs. One of my RDCs was a Chief which is among one of the top ranks that are in charge of the lower enlisted. His name was Chief Williams. He was a man from Texas, dedicated to two things: God and his country. In boot camp there are strict rules that the RDCs are given to teach the new recruits proper military barring and etiquette. One of the rules is to be honest when a higher enlisted asks you a question and you always answer the question followed by the higher enlisted person’s rank. For example, “What division are you from, recruit?” “I am from division 023, Chief.”
Chief Williams was a man who played by his own rules. Our division was his second to last before he could retire, so he rarely cared if he broke the rules. One day he was explaining that we are family and by extension, about to be a part of Chief William’s family. Therefore, we are no longer from our hometowns. If anyone asked where we were from we were told to say “Texas” because Chief was from Texas. We must also pronounce Chief as “Chayf.” He said that if he ever caught us not saying “Chayf” or that we weren’t from Texas, then he would “beat us until the red lights came on,” or in other words, he would make us exercise until we had to be in bed.
That same day, my division lined up in the hall outside of the galley for chow and a different Chief walked by. The first person in line started the proper greeting when seeing a Chief, but said, “Good morning, Chayf.” Thus began the sixty-person line of people saying, “Good morning, Chayf.” Once the Chief got to the end of the line, he was visibly upset.
“Are you saying CHAYF,” he asked the recruits in front of me.
“Because I’m from Texas, Chayf,” replied the recruit.
The Chief shook his head and moved to the next person.
“Good morning, Chayf,” the recruit greeted.
“Are you from Texas too?”
The Chief then got to me, who was at the end of the line. “Good morning, Chayf,” I said, staring straight ahead.
“Where are you from, recruit,”
“I swear to Christ if you say you are from Texas, I will beat your ass,” he seethed. “So, recruit. Where are you from?”
“Really?! So if I go pull your Hard Card it will say you are from Texas?”
My mind momentarily flashed to Chief William’s promise. “Yes, Chayf,” I replied.
“Fine! Where is your yeoman?!”
The Chief charged to the front of the line, grabbed my records and shouted, “That’s what I fucking thought!”
Still staring straight ahead, the Chief’s voice boomed in my ear: “Cincinnati, Ohio huh? Go take this shit to your Chayyyf”.
“Yes, Chayf,” I replied, turning around to go back to my compartment for the beating of my life.
As I walked in, my Chief was in the office with another one of my RDCs doing paperwork.
“What do you want, recruit?”
I handed him my Hard Card, now stained with discipline.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS, RECRUIT? WHAT DID YOU DO??”
I took a breath and calmly replied, “I called a Chayf Chayf, Chayf.”
Chief Williams was stunned for a moment and then burst out laughing. He pulled out a white-out marker and wrote over the mark, not caring that it was against the rules.
“Go to chow, recruit.”