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  • Writer's picturerichelletanner

A foreign land within our borders

No, I'm not talking about Chinatown or Deep South Alabama. I'm talking about an institution that defines our country, yet is so alien to civilians: the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. When I got assigned to this base with the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP), I figured that its status as a graduate school would mean that I could find more familiarity within the campus. I was very wrong, and found myself out of my depth almost immediately.

Let's start with getting onto the base. This isn't somewhere you can just waltz into, and all points of entry are heavily monitored by personnel, cameras, and I'm sure a plethora of other methods I wasn't even aware of. On top of this, two events that occurred during my tenure at NPS made this significantly more complicated. First, the July 16th attack on service members in Chattanooga, TN prompted increased security on base. This took the form of mandatory carry for all active duty members and the tripling of staff at entry points (including their canine counterparts). Coming from a state that is not pro-gun, I had never seen an AK-47 in person, much less 20+ of them ready at a moments notice to fire. This was unnerving for me, to say the least. My temporary base pass was under extreme scrutiny, especially since I had chosen this time to switch my drivers license from WA to CA. Having a hole punched through your old license and only a paper replacement for the new one does not sit well with naval officers on high alert. My boss had to retrieve me from the gates on multiple occasions, an embarrassing affair indeed.

Ok, assuming that you've managed to park your car in the very back parking lot reserved for those not important enough to be close to any buildings, now you have to worry about what time it is. Not because you cannot be late, but because at 8 AM on the dot, the campus becomes a stone garden. Everyone turns to face an invisible flag and salutes for the entirety of the National Anthem. Imagine my surprise coming onto campus for my first day on assignment *before* any orientation. Bear in mind, if you do not observe this as everyone else does, higher order officials will have no problem stopping you in your tracks and giving you a knowing look, as if this is something that happens everywhere. At the orientation we were shown the location of the flag that everyone is turning to and told to always, always observe this tradition. So naturally, I decided that I would always arrive in my office by 7:55 AM to avoid the inevitable embarrassment of taking a step after the first bell chime signaling the beginning of the National Anthem.

Ironically my boss was a much of a hippie as you could get, so my job at NPS was similar to any other computer coding experience at a university. The only difference was that we seemed to be stuck in the early 1990's, technology-wise. This experience has taught me the ins and outs of Fortran and I actually have a physical room full of computing power downstairs that I would send my code to in order for it to be completed. Think NASA during the Cold War. The dress code is certainly reminiscent of that era - no exposed toes, heels, shoulders, or thighs. Heaven forbid you accidentally broke two of these rules! No matter that it's the middle of the summer and the men have no dress code...

Now I can't discuss what I actual do here, but I can say this experience has taught me a lot about military life. I don't think I am cut out for the rigidity of the lifestyle, nor do I believe my personal views sit well with this population. I can tell you, though - I have perfected my stoic expression to wear while the National Anthem blares over the loudspeaker. Am I seriously in a movie or something?

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