Thursday, January 27, 2011

It takes a village

One of my jobs was the Commanding Officer, Navy Recruiting District, Seattle.  I had the largest geographically dispursed territory (ie, Washington states, Northern Idaho, Montana and Alaska).  Trying to recruit the youth of America from these diverse areas each presented their own challenges.   
So, when my recruiters from Alaska told me we had a young man (native Inuit) who had scored exceptionally well on the practice aptitude exam, I was excited for the recruiters and the young man.  He can from a very remote village on the northern shore of Alaska, far above the Arctic Circle.  A rare potential recruit.
Once I had review the paperwork and saw the test scores I authorized the young man to travel to Anchorage, Alaska on the Navy’s dime.  A few days later, he arrived in Anchorage.  The recruiters met him at the “bush plane” terminal at the airport.  The bush planes take off from a “pond” a little ways from the Anchorage Main terminal.  You see the pond as you approach main terminal.  It is surrounded by little shacks, each shack sheltering the pilots for the different destinations. 
The recruiters make sure the young man is delivered to the hotel to spend the night.  They make sure is fed and understands when they will pick him up for breakfast and take him to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).  Then he is left there in his room. 
The next day bright and early, he is picked up.  He is allowed to eat just a light breakfast.  The recruiters take him down to the MEPS for his in-processing.  The first stop is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam.  The ASVAB measures your aptitude for different vocations.  It will be used to determine several things.  The applicant’s possible vocational fields as the name suggests but more importantly, his eligibility to join the military.  He must score at least a 35 to be eligible to join the US Navy.  However, by all indications of the practice test, he should score well above 50.  A score above 50 will open lots of doors of opportunity for this young man.  We all wait in anticipation.
The exam is over.  The grades revealed.  The frantic call to me. 
“Skipper (the affectionate name given to a commanding officer), the applicant scored a 25.”
“25!  What was the score on the practice exam?”
“Well, then he should have score much better.  What is wrong? “
“Don’t know.  What do you want us to do?”
Of course, the recruiters wanted to know what to do now.  Haha!  Things didn’t go as planned.  Skipper, what do we do?  Well, my first thought is something wasn’t right with our applicant.  He was from a very small village.  This might have been his first and only night in the BIG city.  Maybe he didn’t get enough sleep.  Maybe he ate way too much for breakfast.  Maybe he was confused by the questions.  The answers came back from my recruiter quickly that none of these were the reason for the low score.  I had two options.  1. Put the young man back on the plane and perhaps bring him back to Anchorage at a later date to be tested again.  OR 2. Request a retest of the young man.  This second option would mean one more night in the hotel.  A cheaper option if I could be convinced he would do better on the second try.  More questions needed to be asked.
“When you went to the village to meet with the young man, how did you administer the practice exam?”
“I didn’t travel to the village.  I just sent the exam up to the village to be taken.   We got the school teacher to administer it to the applicant.”
“Ok.  Ask him if there was anything unusual about the way the exam was given.”

Silence for a few minutes.  Then the answer came.
“No, he described the conduct of the exam.  It all sounds pretty normal, Skipper.  The teacher gave it to him in the school room on the school’s computer.  He said, it was a big event in the village.  Everyone turned out.”

I thought about that last statement before answering.
“What do you mean the whole village turned out?  It is the middle of winter.  It is way below zero in the village.  Where did they all ‘turn out’???”

Then came the answer for which I was searching.  The village people were so excited the young man was taking the test which would determine if he the US Navy would have him travel to Anchorage to join, they all attended the examination – they would all proctor the exam.  They all (50 people strong) stood in the one room schoolhouse as the young man sat at the computer.  The young man would read the question and all of the possible answers aloud.  He would announce in a loud voice his answer.  If someone in village didn’t think it was right, they would make a sound until he chose correctly.   The village had scored a 45.  Individually, the young man had scored only 25 of those points.  Perhaps, even less. 
Unfortunately, I had to send the young man back to his village.   It took a village to earn this young man a trip to Anchorage.  It might be the only time he will ever see a city that big.  He never returned to take the exam again while I was in command.   I asked my recruiters to check on him and see how he was doing.  They told me he was doing well.  I often wonder what he is doing.  I am sure he is surrounded by a loving village who only wanted him to do well. 
He is one of my favorite applicants.  I wonder if he knows how much he touch my life even though I never met him in person.