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The Junior Sailor by thadeusz
My parents, Marc and Sonia Liebert, are both intellectual who don’t like the military. My father is an MD specialized in Neurology and my mother is a high school teacher: she teaches economy in classes for learners preparing their Entrance Exam in what the French name "the Great Schools".
They waited a long time for me and finally I was there. They called me Emmanuel because for them I had arrived as "God among us". This means that they gave me lots of freedoms and lots of presents. My friends call me "Manu" and I prefer that !
My parents wanted me to be happy, and they thought that material comfort would do the job. I had a big room with a long and large bed, a computer desk and a very nice and old "learner desk". With that came a nice library and next to my room, my own private bathroom. I was really privileged but I did not realize that.
I was what some people might call a "nice boy": at 16 I was good looking (according to my girlfriend), tall and slim. I measured 172 cm which is about 5 ft 7. I had long red curly hair, this colour being my only visible defect (according to my teachers). My parents let me choose my haircut and I chose to let my hair come down to my shoulders.
I had many friends and loved doing sports, especially running and swimming. I am not going to tell here what Nathalie, my girlfriend, and me were already doing as frequently as possible.
In order to please Nathalie, I had already a mustache with two points, inspired by the mustache worn by Napoleon III. I had also a nascent beard, a goatee, also inspired by the emperor I liked.
All my teachers agreed: I was very intelligent and I learned very fast, despite all my sport activities. They strongly suggested to my parents to let me move several grades beyond my age. Their argument was: "Otherwise he will get bored and stop studying." As a result, I got my BAC (with first class honors) when I turned 16: I was two years ahead of schedule with respect to my school friends … and Nathalie.
I wanted to join the military "to see action". I even wanted to join as officer, but at 16 I was much too young. My parents did not like the idea. Considering my very good grades, they wanted me to study further. My father was very proud of my results, so he wanted me to go to the famous "Ecole Polytechnique" which trains very selected young people to become highly specialized engineers … earning lots of money. In order to let me be accepted, and since I was only 16, he wanted me to go to a high school with special classes preparing for the entrance exam. That’s in fact where my mother was teaching, but in Economy, not my chosen domain !
I really did not want any of that. I wanted to become an officer and go to Saint Cyr but at my age it was too early. In fact, as the boy that I still was, I wanted mud, coldness, hardship, and physical pain. I wanted to have to do chores. I wanted to feel that I existed through a difficult life: everything had been so easy for me until now and I had led such a protected life with my parents. I had had a very easy life with very little discipline and I was striving to get a difficult life with lots of discipline. At 16, I assumed that this would prepare me for a real military life.
I discovered that the French Navy had created a school for "Junior Sailors". The aim was to prepare boys and girls with no high school diploma to serve in the Navy. The course was a one year course, with lots of sports and military training. This school was accessible at the age of 16 provided you had a junior high diploma. Moreover Junior Sailors had no real obligation to continue in the Navy. In any cases, those who were admitted had to stay in the school as like was a boarding school with no leave. Exactly what then appealed to me.
I decided to go there. I filled out an application form. I did not mention my BAC, but only my junior high diploma. I added that I skipped school after that. Moreover, I forged my parents signature to let me go to these Junior Sailors School.
As soon as I got a positive answer, I told the truth to my parents. My father was furious and locked me in my room saying :
"We are not going to say that you forged our signature, that would make a crook of you. But since you have chosen to be locked up in a barracks, you will now be locked in your room without phone and without computer."
He took me by the arm and pulled me up to my room where he indeed locked me up. The door was only open when my mother came to bring me my not very good meals. She said:
"You want to go to the military ! Well learn now how they eat."
I spent all my hollidays in my room, without any contact with Nathalie ! When the big day arrived, the departure day, my father opened the door and asked me:
"Do you still want to go THERE ?"
"Yes, of course Dad."
"Well, it is time for you to go." He checked the bag I had prepared and took away some of the things I had placed in it, saying that they were "irrelevant" for a future sailor. He also gave me my train ticket and 20 Euros, which was not much if I had to take a taxi.
He simply added:
"Emmanuel, you are still a minor. So I closed the bank account I had opened for you and I keep all the money which was on it. For the time being, you won’t need it. Good luck future sailor."
I did not see my mother on that day: she was angry because she wanted me to go a civilian school in order to get ready for the entrance exams of the Ecole Polytechnique. My hair was still long and curly: I had planned to go to the barber and have him reduce it to be more acceptable for my new school, but my father had locked me up and I could do nothing.
So I left my home, walked to the train station (I had no money for a taxi) and jumped on the train to Brest where blue Navy busses marked with a huge white "Junior Sailors School" were waiting for the new Junior Sailors.
As soon as I arrived at the Junior Sailor Schools, a Marine officer checked my name and sent me in a file where I had to wait with others. Most new boys and girls had come with their parents who gave them a last kiss. I was alone and so was another boy who seemed pleased to be there and also slightly frightened. His name was, and still is, Lionel Farel and we became immediately friends. I had always liked to make jokes. The fact that I was now in a file waiting to become a Junior Sailor did not stop me. This was my first mistake. All the others were very serious and I was the only clown of the group. The fact that I was about to enter a real military school did not stop me. I did not notice that some of our future officers were looking at me.
Many boys and girls kept arriving. As soon as we were all present and carefully waiting in neat files, one of the officers of the school blew his whistle. All the other ones stopped moving, but I kept making (stupid) remarks. After a long time, an officer with lots of golden stripes appeared. He told us that he was commanding the school and that his title was Commander. He also made a short welcome speech insisting a lot on discipline as an essential element of our future studies.
We then rapidly got what I considered as a "home uniform" despite the fact that it was called "study uniform": a plain blue training suit marked with the letters Junior Sailors School printed in white just below our name. After that, we were immediately sent to the barber.
A Petty Officer Second Class (PO2) was going to take care of me. His name, Lopez, was visible on his uniform. PO2 Lopez made me sit in his barber chair, facing a wall without mirror. He caped me. I more or less expected what was going to happen: PO2 Lopez was going to reduce my long curly hair to very little and I might even lose all my curls in this adventure. In fact I expected to have, from now on and for one year, a Navy regulation haircut: 1 mm on the sides and back and 2 mm or 3 mm (at best) on the top of the head.
Things changed when a Chief Petty Officer (CPO for the future) approached. I read his name on his vest: Reiding. PO2 Lopez had only red stripes on his uniform but CPO Reiding had golden stripes and a different cap. I remembered immediately that he had been one of the officers looking at me while I made the clown.
CPO Reiding first looked at my mustache and my nascent beard. He instructed PO2 Lopez to get me rid of "that". That’s when I made my second mistake: I objected. I objected politely but I was not yet fully incorporated as Junior Sailor and I dared object to an order given by a CPO. The Chief reacted immediately:
"Liebert," (he had quickly looked on the name printed on my training suit), "you are not here to object but to execute all orders given by higher ranking men."
"But Chief, beards are allowed in the Navy."
"Liebert, if you want to complain on your first day, I promise that you will suffer many punishments before the end of this year, supposing that you stay till the end of the year. In any cases, I have many punishments in store for you, and I will not forget you. You must know that I hate red haired people, and worse red haired boys with long hair."
I realized that I better keep quiet, but that was not enough. CPO Reiding addressed himself directly to the PO2 Lopez, my barber, and gave him the following order:
"I will take care myself of this mustache. You will reduce all the rest to zero. Completely zero. I want this boy to be bold. Use your biggest clippers without any guard and take the time you need to transform this little Lord Fauntleroy into a decent future seaman, without hair ! UNDERSTOOD ?"
And PO2 Lopez replied immediately: "Yes Chief ! At your command."
The CPO took possession of my head and pushed it brutally backwards to such an extent that my face was nearly horizontal. I can assure you that such a strong move done with the energy CPO Reiding put in it really hurt. The CPO barked then: "Scissors !"
Lopez gave him immediately the required object: long scissors with huge cutting blades.
The CPO passed the object in front of my terrified eyes and simply cut the fine points of my mustache. He then cut the lower point of my Napoléon III beard. He brutally raised my head and said: "This is the type of beard and mustache you might have later in the Navy. But for the time being you are simply in the process of becoming a Junior Sailor and you are placed under my authority. UNDERSTOOD ?"
I immediately replied: "YES, Chief", and stupidly added "I thank you for the lesson."
"You keep quiet, young red haired Fauntleroy and learn to obey orders"
The CPO told then PO2 Lopez to continue to "clean this clown’s head without precautions".
Lopez was apparently a well trained barber. He started to use the scissors to cut the excess mass of hair which was still on my head. After this rapid operation, he showed a mirror and I could see that my haircut was a mess. The PO2 continued with the clippers and started to push my chin on my chest so that he could shave a big path from front to nape. He passed then slightly on the left and after that slightly on the right. I started to feel some fresh air on my skull. The barber-PO2 pushed brutally my head on my left shoulder (the CPO was still looking). He shaved then my right side. This took him a certain time, but after a few passages he was pleased and brutally again he pushed my head from left shoulder to right shoulder in order to continue on my left side. After a few minutes, he was pleased with his work and forced me to raise my head. He came back with smaller clippers to make sure that he had cleaned everything along my ears and all along the hairline on my head. He then took some foam in his left hand and a long mechanical razor in order to destroy what remained of my mustache and of my beard. All this process took less time than the time you probably took to read it.
When the PO2 had finished his demolition work, he placed a mirror in front of me and asked me: "Do you like your new haircut, Junior Sailor ?"
I looked and I nearly did not recognize my own face. It was still the same old face, but on top of it there was not a single hair left, nor on the sides and my mustache and beard had left, leaving now a bare surface above my lips and on my chin. I felt as if I was a prisoner now, like those I had seen in some American films about a penitentiary.
The CPO simply said: "Now you look decent, Liebert. You will come back here every Saturday afternoon and get PO2 Lopez give you the same haircut. Of course you will pay for that with your own pay and you will be deprived of any leave in order to be able to have a clean head. DISMISS !"
I sprung from the chair, got rid of the cape and went to the next incorporation step: receiving my uniform. I had now a completely naked head with a few stubbles. I also knew that I had to go every Saturday afternoon to have a complete head shave and also a beard and mustache check ! This would cost me a little bit of my small pay, but it would also prohibit me to have the benefit of a weekend leave !
I was sad when I started to receive the rest of my equipment, but I felt so good at the idea to be finally in uniform that this sad feeling disappeared. I was only a 16 year old boy.
My uniform consisted of my blue training, a sport short and shirt, a BDU, a jean with a denim shirt for the chores, and best of all, of a full sailor uniform called "parade uniform": a blue bell bottom trousers, a sort of white t-shirt with a square opening and a blue lining marking this opening and a sailor vest with no buttons but simply an opening for the head and a wide blue and white collar to be attached to this sailor vest. With these pieces of equipment came two pairs of black and heavy rangers and one pair of tennis shoes for the sport activities. It was of course emphasized that all this had to be perfectly clean and perfectly ironed. Luckily, all these pieces of equipment came by two: one to wear and one to wash and iron.
Finally I got, like the others, a sailor’s cover: a white flat cover with a blue ribbon mentioning in golden letters "Junior Sailors School" and on top of it, a sailor’s red pompom.
All the pieces of equipment were marked with my name and my Junior Sailors School matricule: 2009.1042. I was told to put all of them in two big blue bags and to take them to my room IMMEDIATELY.
Another PO2 appeared from nowhere and started to form groups of six. I learned quickly his name: PO2 Polben. I discovered with pleasure that I was in the same group as Lionel Farel, my new friend. The PO2 ordered "MARCH" and gave the tempo of this waltz: "Left, Right, Left, Right, …". He tried to make us march in step, but that was a little bit early. He finally dropped us in front of what he called "Your room".
It was a reasonably large room, slightly smaller than my room at my parents’ home. There were six beds perpendicular to the walls, three on one side and three on the other side. Bedding was placed on the beds which were not made according to French Military uses. There was a big window without drapes. PO2 Polben simply said: "Bathroom at the end of the passage. YOU ALL, I want to see you in parade uniform, beds made and cupboards in perfect order according to indications placed inside. All that in 15 minutes. Inspection will follow. MOVE." And then he left the room.
I looked at what was from now on my new domain, compared to my room at what I still called "home". I was suddenly in a state of shock seeing how small my new domain was, and how little privacy I was going to have. I looked at my 5 roommates: they had probably been very different individuals. I clearly remembered that Farel was wearing a red and green sweater with a yellowish jean. But now they were all identical copies of the traditional image of a sailor. They were nearly indistinguishable. There was no mirror available, but I assumed that I was now also an identical copy of the same ideal image. I realized that I had now lost my individuality and before that I was so proud of being an individual, and not a mere element of a huge group. I nearly decided to resign immediately and go home to my parents, but that would mean that I was conceding defeat, accepting that they were right and that I was wrong. I decided to stay in the Junior Sailors School even as a small indistinguishable unit of a big whole. In fact, I decided to stay for one year and to leave the Navy after that, but I didn’t say it aloud.
Lionel came towards me. He was completely ready and told me:
"Let me help you. First you put on your parade uniform and you let me organize your bed. Then we will take care of your cupboard."
I nodded in acceptance with a smile and started to change clothes. I rapidly threw my comfortable training in my cupboard, with all the things I did not actually need, and I changed into my nice, but uncomfortable, parade uniform. Finally, I placed in my cupboard all the pieces of equipment, more or less, as I thought it would be fit. Luckily for me, Lionel had made my bed. Lionel was perfectly dressed, I was not sure I was as well dressed as he was, despite the simplicity of our parade uniform.
That’s when PO2 Polben entered our room for the promised inspection. He firstly looked around, approvingly. Then he looked at me and said: "Uniform badly put, blue collar badly attached, Bachi (that’s our sailor’s hat) not in the proper position". He started barking, like Reiding had done before: "Give me fifty. NOW."
I looked at him not knowing what he meant, but he explained: "Stupid boy, give me now 50 push-ups."
I had seen on TV what that was and I started energetically to do what had been ordered. During that time, PO2 Polben checked my cupboard and said, nearly as a matter of fact:
"Cupboard not properly organized. Give me 50 more. AND FAST Liebert. CPO Reiding told me that I had a bum, a lame duck in my lot. A stupid buffon, a comedian, he said, a red haired one !"
I finished my 100 pumps, stood up and tried to arrange my parade uniform and go near my bed but Polben started to shout:
"Who told you to move, badass ? Give me 50 more."
I started to be tired but luckily I had been well trained as far as sports were concerned, so I succeeded to do what I had been told and then I stood up, instinctively taking the position of attention as I had seen it in movies. Polben spoke now normally:
"That’s better, maybe we are going to make a real sailor of you. Your uniform is dirty, put on the second one and clean this one later. Join the others in the courtyard."
I was ready to cry, but I didn't do it and cleaned myself before marching with my roommates to the main courtyard. There we joined all the others and the whole staff for the lowering of the flag, a ceremony we would have to do every day. And also the raising of the flag every morning.
During this nice ceremony, I thought a lot. It was now obvious for me that CPO Reiding hated and despised me for a reason I did not know. It was also obvious that he had given orders to PO2 Polben to treat me as badly as possible.
After dinner, which took place from 06:00 to 06:30 with military precision, I went back with the others to our common study room where we were told to read the Navy Disciplinary Code. Instead of reading that, I started thinking once again about going home. I wept also a bit and Lionel was the only one to see it. Eventually, I decided to stay and not to give up, not to let my parents win. I started to read the Disciplinary Code I had inflicted upon me !
Later that night, Lionel who had the bed next to mine asked me what had happened. He too had noticed that I was not of the obeying kind. So he asked me to explain him what had forced me to join the Junior Sailors School. Sobbing, as a 16 year old can be, and proud of being nearly an adult, I told him my complete story. The first words that he said were:
"So you are 16 and you already have your BAC ?"
"Yes Lionel, but for the time being I don’t care."
"And you could have gone to one of these schools preparing you to become officer ?"
"Yes, but I did not want too: it was too easy for me. I wanted sweat, and mud and discipline and pain."
"Well, you probably got more than what you bargained for."
"No I think I got what I deserved."
And then I asked him:
"And you, why did you come here ?"
He seemed embarrassed but then started to speak and there was no way to stop him for hours. He described his home. His father had deserted the family when he was very young. His mother tried to raise and feed the four children she had, but that appeared very difficult. So long before he had finished Junior High School, Lionel, the eldest of the kids, left school and started to work. He could only find odd jobs that did not pay a lot, but he tried to keep studying. Finally, working as shoe cleaner, he met a soldier who told him that Army life would be a wonderful solution for him. He tried, but he was rejected being too young and not having the minimal level of instruction required by the French Army. Finally he discovered the Junior Sailors School, which was for him his last possibility to join the military. He was not definitely accepted like I was, but only provisionally accepted: he was warned that if he did not have satisfactory results for the theoretical courses, he would be expelled from the school. With that, he would lose all his hopes to join the military and have a decent position in life.
He was not sobbing, as I had been. He was resolute. He had a chance to get through and he wanted to play that card as much as he could. If he won, he would be a proud sailor, if he lost he would be something else but first and for all a beggar. In a few seconds I realized that I, "the intellectual" could help him. So I told him:
"I guess I will be frequently punished after what happened today. But if you don’t mind being with a punished boy hated by CPO Reiding, I can try to help you with the theoretical courses."
"How much are you going to charge me for that ?"
"Nothing, Lionel, I am only a JS like you."
"No, you have a solid education, even if you did not mention it in order to be accepted. In the world where I come from, everything has to be paid for."
"In that case, pay me with your friendship."
That’s how I started to help Lionel … who really needed it !
The next day, our training started. Discipline was very strict and our PO2, PO2 Polben took a real pleasure in humiliating me, in giving me more chores than the others and in punishing me as often and as much as he could. But during study hours, I always managed to help Lionel since the courses were really too difficult for him and too easy for me.
On my first Saturday after incorporation, I spontaneously went to the barber and asked to be completely shaved, which the barber did. It implied lots of pushing the head, pulling it, turning it and bending it, it was not pleasant but it was done neatly. After that, the barber pushed my head completely backwards, again a brisk move which hurt me. I did not say a word: I knew he wanted to inspect my mustache and my beard, even underneath the chin. He found nothing and suddenly declared to someone I could not see:
"This junior sailor is clean, CPO."
I understood that CPO Reiding had been looking all the time and I hated him a little bit more for that.
After that I wrote a kind and respectuous letter to my parents, who never replied. I wrote such letters several times but they never, never, never replied so I abandoned them. On the contrary, I created time to write to Nathalie as often as possible and she always answered my long loving letters.
I also spent lots of my free time to help Lionel who learned fast: he was very intelligent and it was a pity that he had been abandoned to himself without the possibility to get a BAC, this key opening so many doors in France.
But the discipline was dreadful for all of us, and especially for me. I was frequently punished and I knew, it was written in the Disciplinary Code, that after a certain number of punishments a Junior Sailor could be expelled. I got very close to that number about three months after incorporation. That’s when I was summoned to the Commander’s office. This was very unusual and always for bad news, including a solid scolding. I had already seen other Junior Sailors, boys and girls, coming out of that office in tears.
I was rather anxious: being summoned by the Commander was never a good thing. I put on my parade uniform and I entered this dreaded office. I saluted the Commander as we had been told, took of my cover and took the position of attention, facing the Commander.
This commanding officer told me:
"Junior Sailor Liebert, you have nearly reached the limit in terms of number of punishments. You are a disgrace as far as disciplinary behaviour is concerned. Your direct chief, CPO Reiding requests your immediate expulsion because you give a bad example to the other Junior Sailors. Do you have something to say for your defense ?"
"Not really Commander, except that I love this Junior Sailors School. This is really the place where I wanted to be. I hope to prove that I can be better than that."
"In that case, I give you a last chance. You are on probation as of now. You will be expelled immediately at the first punishment your chiefs feel they must give you. DISMISS NOW."
I put on my cover with trembling hands, saluted my Commander, made an about face, as well as my fear to be expelled enabled me to do. Then I left this office but I succeeded not cry, hoping to hide my fear and my shame.
When I arrived to our room, Lionel was the only one to be present. He looked at me and said:
"What happened ? You look so bleak and pale. You are nearly crying. Did you get a solid scolding ?"
"I am now on probation. Nearly expelled for bad behaviour as far as discipline is concerned. The Commander gave me one last chance, but I feel that Reiding hates me so much that he will punish me for any stupid reason he can imagine and that will be it. I will be expelled ! I am a failure !"
"No, Manu, you are not a failure. First of all you helped me a lot with theory: I just learned that I passed the last theory evaluation we had. I had already passed one before. If I just need another pass and I will no longer be on probation. And it is you who did it. So now, I am going to help you with discipline. Consider me as your chief and obey all my orders."
"Are you really going to do that ?"
"Of course, you required my friendship in payment for your help: you have it now."
"So what should I do now, Chief ?"
"Put some real order in your cupboard, according to regulations. And try to think why the chiefs punish you so frequently."
I tried to think, but the only things that came to my mind were my red hair and the fact that I objected to CPO Reiding order to cut my mustache and my beard. Nevertheless, I started to put some order in my cupboard and, following Lionel’s advice, to wash all my clothes properly and to iron them perfectly .
This went on during a certain time, Lionel getting better marks for the theoretical courses after my "lessons" and me getting no punishments anymore, and less and less remarks or advices from my superiors, thanks to Lionel teaching. He kept playing as if he was my real Chief and from time to time barked some orders which I hurriedly accomplished. I started to call him jokingly, when nobody else could hear us, "Chief Lionel".
I also realized that Lionel was a born Chief: his orders were short and clear and that always pushed me to obey them immediately. His grades as far as theory was concerned, were not excellent but satisfactory. But as soon as he had to do practical exercises or to give orders, he was another man. That made me think a lot.
We then reached the Christmas period and most Junior Sailors got a one week leave. Several did not get that leave because of their unsatisfactory grades as far as theory was concerned. I had also to stay in the Junior Sailors School because of my lack of respect for the disciplinary rules. A few stayed because they had no other place where to go: Lionel was one of them, but these Junior Sailors had a permanent day pass which enabled them to go to town.
Lionel chose to stay permanently. On the one hand, he wanted to study more, on the other hand he wanted to supervise me during my numerous chores. And as promised he gave me orders which I now obeyed without thinking. CPO Reiding looked several time at our team and he did not say that he disapproved what we were doing. That made me thinking alot about what I was learning in this school.
I felt more and more restrained as if finally I was entering the mold imposed by the Junior Sailors School and the very strict rules imposed by the Disciplinary Code. But I did not forget my plans for a bright future as an Army officer. I still wanted to leave the Navy at the end of the year, but not as a failure. So I started to do what was expected from me: learn to be disciplined and obey all orders rapidly, well and without thinking.
During this 8 days "leave", there were two Saturdays. I carefully went each time to the barber and asked PO2 Lopez to shave my head and face "as usual". CPO Reiding looked every time but said nothing.
About two months later, we went for a one week trip on a small brick, learning to man this brick. There were 12 Junior Sailors aboard, boys and girls. We had been told to put on our "chores" uniform. We had to cast off the heavy moorings, hoist the sails and control the rudder. All this with a sea that was not very calm. On top of this, we had to find our way on the map, learning to use the GPS position and the orientation devices placed on board. The last part was easy for me, but I was not the top man, Lionel was chosen to lead the manoeuvres. He really excelled at leading the group. It rained a lot and there was wind. I was cold and wet, exactly what I wanted before I came to this Junior Sailors School.
When we came back to the harbor, I had only one idea in mind: go to my room, change clothes and get a nap: I had nearly never slept on the brick. I had nearly forgotten that this was a Saturday. But CPO Reiding was on the pier looking at me. That reminded me of my duty. So when the CPO asked me: "Liebert, what are you going to do now ?"
I saluted the CPO and replied: "CPO Reiding, this Junior sailor will first go to the barber, as ordered by you. Then with your permission he will go to his room, change into dry clothes, wash and iron these since they really need it and then be at your command."
"That’s good, Junior Sailor, but I don’t want you to catch a cold. So you will first go and change clothes, and then do all the rest."
I did as ordered, starting confusedly to understand why the CPO had treated me so roughly. I rushed to my room, grabbed in a hurry my training, ran to the barber, saluted the barber as it had to be done and sat in the chair where PO2 Lopez was already waiting for me. All this had taken 5 or 6 minutes. CPO Reiding was looking at his watch, gave a nod to the barber and said "Good." After that, he left.
PO2 Lopez started to do his job. He pushed my chin forward, until it touched my chest, and started to shave my head. But it was different today. The little push had nearly been kind, not brutal. The clippers were still without guard and I could feel the metal, but there was nothing brutal in this action. The movements the barber imposed on my head, turning to the left or to the right, pushing my head on a shoulder, all these movements which had always been brutal were now calm and it didn’t hurt me anymore. When the barber reached my face and wanted to shave it, as usual, he simply raised a little my head. I had had no time to shave at sea, so I was not really "beard clean". The PO2 checked my upper lip and then my chin and said: "It is good for me, you can go."
I had to interfere: "PO2 Lopez, CPO Reiding ordered me to be shaved by you every week. I know I am not as clean as I should, but we were at sea."
"No problem, Liebert, you can go now."
"PO2, please, I have been during one week at sea and I did not have any opportunity to get a real shaving. Please shave my face and don’t report me to CPO Reiding. Otherwise he will give me a well deserved punishment and I will be expelled."
I was really in a true panic.
"I can see that your face is not perfectly shaved, Junior Sailor Liebert, but the CPO said that this is quite normal after one week at sea without rest. So, go now and do your duty."
I was astonished, flabbergasted, but I left the chair, went to my room and started to shave myself.
Suddenly, from nowhere, CPO Reiding appeared and said something which really astonished me: "Very good, JS Liebert. But don’t forget to take a nap." It was the first time the CPO was not barking at me !
The year continued, I still had more chores than the others and I continued to help Lionel for his theory. Lionel helped me by actually barking orders at me. Something strange happened: as soon as Lionel started to bark, I stopped viewing him as a fellow Junior Sailor and a friend, but I considered him as a superior and I automatically obeyed his orders, immediately, rapidly and without thinking. I even started to salute him, but he said nothing.
I was no longer punished and the chiefs did no longer make remarks about my behaviour and my attitude toward discipline: I suddenly realized that obeying orders, being disciplined, was now ingrained in me.
I thought a little bit and I concluded that this was the aim all my superiors were striving to reach: transform the unruly teen that I was when I arrived into a well oiled mechanism, fit to be a sailor.
The most strangest part of this was that I actually liked this life. I still had plans to go to special school in order to get prepared for my entrance exam in an officer school, but I also felt very well in my Junior Sailors School, obeying blindly orders which were given to me.
Finally, I was not expelled and got a pass for all my tests. Lionel was told that he would graduate with honors !
Since we had reached the end of our time in the Junior Sailors School, I thought that it would be elegant to tell in advance to the Commander that I would not sign the four year contract foreseen for me as a sailor. I asked for an appointment and was told that the Commander expected me on the day before graduation. I entered his office in parade uniform, saluted the Commander and said:
"Junior Sailor Liebert requesting permission to speak, Commander."
I waited in the position of attention during several minutes until the Commander told me:
"What do you have to tell me, Junior Sailor Liebert ?"
"Sir, I wanted to tell you that I don’t want to sign a 4 year contract. In fact I have …" and the Commander interrupted me, continuing my sentence:
"You wanted to tell me that you got your BAC at the age of 16, with honors. You also refused then to keep studying because you were too young for the Army, but you asked recently to be admitted in one of the schools organized by the Army in order to prepare yourself for the entrance exam of Saint Cyr, the Army military school. Correct ?"
"Yes Commander" was all I could say.
"You see, Liebert, I am not as stupid as you think. When I told you that you were placed on probation, I noted that you were sad. So I checked and discovered facts you had hidden when you applied here. That’s why you were treated so roughly. But you survived. Did you dislike your stay in this school ?"
"No Commander. In fact I loved it."
"Including the moments when you had to obey without thinking ?"
"Including these moments, Commander, and they are probably the moments I will most regret."
"In that case, Liebert, you are going to sign tomorrow this 4 year contract, simultaneously with your friend Lionel Farel. In fact you are the two best Junior Sailors who were trained this year, but for Navy purposes Farel is slightly better since he obeys more easily and give well orders when he has too. You form an excellent pair and the Navy wants to keep you."
"Commander, I thank you but I wanted to wait until I could become an officer."
"Liebert, there are also Navy Officers and you have what it takes to become one, but before that I suggest you sign for four years as Marine Fusilier. Your basic training will be short since you have already one year of training. After six months at most you will also become a Paratrooper and then join the Special Forces. All that with your friend Lionel, who in the beginning will be your superior. The rest depends on you. Are you going to sign now ?"
"Commander, is Farel going to sign too ?"
"Yes Liebert, provided you are placed with him."
"Commander, may I have one hour to think about all that ?"
"Junior Sailor, DISMISS, but be back with Farel within one hour."
I left the Commander’s office and in order to think I went to the barber and asked PO2 Lopez to give me a complete head shave, as ordered by CPO Reiding. The barber told me that it was no longer necessary to have such serious haircut since I was in the Navy now. I told him that I wanted to be very neat for the signing ceremony. So he did what I had asked and when I was done I noticed CPO Reiding who told me:
"Congratulations Liebert, Marine Fusilier is a good choice for you. You were intelligent, and still are, but you also learned to be humble and to obey orders. You can thank your friend Farel for that. The Navy will be proud to have a pair like you as new Seamen."
I think my face became completely red and I could not say more, so I simply saluted my ex ennemi. A few minutes later, I was with Lionel in the Commander’s office and we both said that we accepted his offer. The Commander simply said:
"Farel, you will be a good chief, I am convinced of that. Liebert, you wanted to get cold and wet, and to be somehow brutalized. You got all that and with Farel, who will be your chief, you will get more of that. Now boys for the last day, DISMISS. You have a town leave until midnight."
We went and had a wonderful evening. I also called Nathalie and told her that I loved her but that I was not going to become an Army officer. She approved all that. The next day, each of us signed proudly his contract. We then left the School for a well deserved 2 weeks leave. I knew my parents did not want me back, but Nathalie was ready to give me shelter. Since Lionel had nowhere to go, I asked her (and her parents) to accept both of us in their house. It was a wonderful stay.
After that we went for a very short time to basic training and then to the paratrooper school. Six months later we were both selected to serve in the Special Forces where ranks are similar to Army ranks.
I am now a married Sergeant. Nathalie, my wife, and me have a little girl. I kept the a very short haircut and CPO Reiding would like it, but as far as the beard and mustache are concerned, I let them grow the Navy way: Nathalie would be too sad otherwise.
I am now in the Special Forces and I am under the direct authority my teammate Lionel, who by the way is already Staff Sergeant. We form a good team, but our Lieutenant wants me to try to become officer in the same force. Lionel is in favor of that change: he would then finally serve under my authority, Nathalie is also in favor of it. But I like now very much my life as Sergeant with very little administrative tasks and a lot of action, but I don’t mind giving orders to some of the lower ranking men.
What do you advise me to choose ?