I had never been to the other side of the Grinder. NTCSD had been built to supply a much larger Navy with recruits than the one I was in. The buildings over there turned out to be a mirror image of the side where I had been living. A doube row of open bay barracks with a wide concrete breezeway in between. One was clearly being used as an administration center. One I could tell by the sound, was the home of the band. Many looked empty. All of the recruit companies on Worm Island could be housed on the other side and there were empty barracks over there too.
I went to the building indicated by Chief Smith. It did not appear to be in use. Additionally, all of the windows had been painted over in Navy Haze Grey, to match the walls. Above the front door was a small sign, RECRUIT BRIG. I made sure my seabag was balanced securely on my shoulder, stood tall, braced and knocked three times. I heard the word enter, so I did. It didn't look any different from any other navy office. There were a few young enlisted in dungaree uniforms, behind a counter, doing clerical work. The smell of coffee was in the air. Pretty non threatening. I took a chance, I relaxed.
" I'm here to see Master Chief Daggett."
" Down that hall to the end, turn right, first door on the right. You can leave your seabag here, behind the counter. It'll be OK."
Found it, no problem. Door closed. Loud yelling was going on inside. I waited for it to stop. It didn't stop. I tucked my shirt in as far as it would go, smoothed out my pants. Squared my shoulders and knocked three times loudly. The yelling stopped, then an answering bellow.
I opened the door. Marched in two steps, stamping my feet loudly and braced. Indoors, so no salute.
" SEAMAN RECRUIT TOPMAN, SIR, REPORTING AS ORDERED, SIR!"
Behind a steel desk, sat a bulldog of a man, jowls quivering, regarding me with a jaundiced eye. He turned to the three recruits lined up to my right. I could see the large Ps stencelled on the backs of their shirts.
" Do you three worthless, lowlife scumbags see this man?"
" Sir, yes sir!"
" Sir, yes sir!"
" Sir, yes sir!"
" That's what a squared away sailor's supposed to look like. Now get the fuck out of my sight!"
They scuttled to the door, the last two slamming into the first as he fumbled with the door knob. Then they were gone. As they left Master Chief was transformed into a kindly, benevolent, grandfatherly personage. He smiled at me with the warmth of the morning Sun. It was one of the scariest things I had ever seen.
" Welcome to my little establishment. I just want to let you know that you're not in any trouble. We pull some recruits out of their companies to help us here in the brig. I've heard good things about you. Just do what you're told and you'll be fine. If you have any problems, just come and see me. I'll straighten things out. You're now a member of a very special group. Nobody is going to give you any shit, unless it's me and that's the one thing you don't want."
I had no doubt that everything he had said to me was true.
The brig chasers, as we were called, occupied an entire upstairs squad bay, that would normally house up to 60 recruits. There were 5 of them, I made 6. They were a rough and taciturn bunch but accepted me immediately and completely. They were very tight knit. They believed, to a man, that they were an elite group and that being chosen for this duty, was an honor that would be positively reflected in their records. There was no supervision of the chasers, in quarters, and they were much given to gossipy, late night bull sessions. It turned out that all of them had been highly motivated recruits who had been pulled out of their companies after zealously attempting to enforce company discipline, 3 of the 5, with their fists.
For the next couple of days I was busy. I went around taking all the tests, academic and physical that would normally be included in the last 8 weeks of boot camp. I filled out a lot of scantrons, ran the obstacle course and completed the 2 mile run within the required time, barely. At night, I returned to bunk with the chasers. It turned out they really didn't do that much. One of us would always be present during the calisthetics with rifle sessions, that were assigned as punishment for any infraction of the rules, at the rockpile (yes, they actually had a rockpile), during the daily hard labour shifts and at meals. The prisoners walked everywhere in step, they were never allowed to talk, unless addressed by staff, and they were never alone. During these activities, we were superfluous, there were always staff present as well. They only really needed us for 2 things. We escorted prisoners, 1:1, when they left for medical or legal appointments and we watched them while they slept. We sat at a table in their barracks between the bunkroom and the head. We made sure they were in their bunks and no talking. We made sure that only one was up at a time for the toilet. We did not have to punish them, just record the infraction. Two hours of calisthetics with a Springfield rifle, with extended rest periods where you got to hold the rifle out in front of you at arms length, for each infraction, was punishment enough.
I had been with the chasers for only a couple of days and stood only a couple of watches, when I was summoned back to Master Chief Daggett. He was in his kindly grandfather mode.
" You know, Topman, it's important that the chasers do their jobs well and are happy with the work. We both know, you're not the kind of guy that we can use here in the brig. I have a job for you that I think you will be happy with. Pack up your seabag, go across the breezeway and introduce yourself to Dowling. Tell him you're going to be his replacement. He'll show you around and explain what to do."
" Sir, yes sir."
So off I went. I was turning out to have a most unusual bootcamp experiance.