Stories From Those Who Serve (5)

April is “The Month of the Military Child.” The perfect time for another interview with a soldier. Chuck Ritz and his wife, Sue, had their first daughter during Chuck’s service in the Navy. I would grow up to be good friends with her. My parents were (and still are) great friends with Chuck and Sue. Our families would vacation together. And I would occasionally wish that they were my parents, when my mom and dad grounded me from something I’m positive was completely UNFAIR! I think I was in my twenties when I realized Chuck used to be a member of JAG. If you like political intrigue novels, this two-part post is for you!  Had I known what stories Uncle Chuck was storing away, I would have asked sooner. Because he gave me so much great material, there will be two parts to this post. In this one, he answers my questions. In the next one, he shares a few specific cases he worked – the kind of stuff that if I put in a book, people would say, “that’s too unbelievable,” but really it would be true. So, come back tomorrow for that.

Part I. Here we go:

Jody: Please tell us what branch you were in and why you chose it.  Why the military.

Chuck: I was in the military because my Uncle Sam sent me a letter with an invitation I couldn’t easily refuse.  My local draft board said I had a very low number in the national draft lottery and would I please come see them to become part of the U.S. Army in 1971.  Being an astute college student when sober, I realized I needed to check on alternatives to Army green.  As I had already been accepted to law school, it only made sense to check on legal related options.  The U. S. Navy had a direct commission program for lawyers and I quickly made application.  Being somewhat naïve, I had no idea what the selection process or time would be.  I took a Navy physical in the Indy AFEES station (walked the yellow line, bent over and coughed on command with 50 strangers) and two weeks later my local draft board suggested I take their physical as well.  Walked the same yellow line, bent over etc in the same building, same docs, different strangers all within two weeks.  Then two months passed without further activity.  Then on June 29 the dreaded letter arrived—report to the AFEES station on July 7 to be inducted into the Army.  I called the Navy recruiter that same day.  He reported I had been selected into the Navy JAG program and would I please come to the recruiting station to be sworn in and to sign the appropriate papers.  Thus I became an instant Ensign in the U.S. Navy Reserve.   I served three years of my commitment on inactive duty while in law school and 4 years on active duty.

Jody: Enlisted or Officer.  Explain your job.

Chuck: I was an officer.  The progression was I was an Ensign (without ever putting on a uniform) during my first year of law school.  In May, just short of 1 year after joining the USNR, I was promoted to Lt. Junior Grade and sent to Newport, Rhode Island for two months of Officer Indoctrination School (a.k.a. knife and fork school) where they taught us how to buy and wear our uniforms and to salute.  (That took two months.  Officer Indoctrination School or OIS is much like boot camp for the MASH movie cast.  More about that later.)  Ultimately, I served as a judge advocate at the Naval Legal Service Office, Pensacola, Florida, where I served as a legal assistance officer (6 mos), the Senior Defense Counsel for Navy and Marine components in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama  and the panhandle of Florida (1 year) and Senior Trial Counsel (Navy lingo for prosecutor) for the same region (2 years) and Court Martial Review Officer for 6 months.

Jody: When and how long were you on active duty?

Chuck: I was on active duty for two months in 1972, six months in 1973 and from 1974 to 1978.

Jody: What was the hardest part of boot camp?  The best part?

Chuck: As I mentioned in my initial reply to your request for this interview, my experience was not that of the typical recruit.  The closest thing I had to what might be “boot camp” was the two months of Officer Indoctrination School.  The purpose of OIS was to teach lawyers, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and chaplains how to act like officers and gentlemen.  It was a daunting challenge for the staff.  Physically, the OIS was located across the street from the Naval War College.  When we were appropriately attired in military uniforms (that took a couple of days for our MASH-like group), the staff directed us to go outside the building and to line up on the street (the same street adjacent to the Naval War College).  The staff commenced to try to teach us how to line up and to march.  About an hour into this exercise, the Officer in Charge of the OIS came out and spoke to staff who then dismissed us.  At the bar later we were told we marched so poorly, the Vice Admiral in charge of the Naval War College told our OIC that we would likely never learn to march and thus we went off to other training.  Our course work included naval history, naval courtesy (these were based on Ensign Bentson movies teaching us how to eat, address our seniors, how to behave in a wardroom environment and how to salute the flag and the quarterdeck when going on to a Naval vessel.)  We also attended fire fighting school, damage control school and ship handling using 100 foot Yard Patrol Boats in Buzzard Bay off Newport, RI.

Although I make light of some of the incidents, OIC did give us the fundamentals to be a serving Naval officer.  The only bad experience was on the in-door firing range where, for the first time in my life, I was staring down the wrong end of a loaded 45 caliber pistol.  A fellow student had a jam in his pistol, turned sideways (not down range), pointed the gun to the left and I was on the left.  I am sure it only took a second for the range safety officer to respond but it felt like 10 minutes.  (There was a second similar experience—more later).

Jody: Do you have any funny stories?

Chuck: There are any number of stories.  My second trip to Newport, RI for training was for Naval Justice School.  Following Naval Justice School, the Navy decided all judge advocates should experience ship-board duty for two weeks following Naval Justice School  I was assigned to training on the USS Iwo Jima, a helicopter carrier at the Norfolk Naval Station   The timing was such that my wife flew back to Indiana for a family Christmas while I sent to Norfolk.  It was a long drive from Newport to Norfolk and I arrived at the ship about 2:00 a.m.  Feeling confident about my OIS skills for checking aboard ship, I went to the quarter deck and went through the ritual without a hitch – I thought.  No one had told the Officer of the Deck that I would be arriving, so he took my service record (about 4 inches thick due to an almost infinite number of mimeographed copies of my orders) and assigned me to quarters for the night.  I went to bed and fell into a deep sleep.  My quarters were in the interior of the ship and the lights were off to sleep.  I was undressed and sleeping in my underwear.  I awoke to a pounding on my door and I stumbled to the door and the light switch.  When I finally got the door open, there was a Marine with a 45 pointed at me asking if I was an intruder.   No one at OIS had briefed us about intruders, but being a well trained judge advocate,  I promptly denied any such intruder status.  Three hours later, having gone through my 4 inch thick service record page by page several times, with the OOD, they finally told me that the CO of the Norfolk Naval Station would try to infiltrate an intruder on a ship once a month and they were convinced I was the “guy”.  Finally, at 6:00 a.m., they decided to call the ship’s XO to report about me and to ask for further direction since they could not find any indication in my service record that I was an intruder drill guy.  The XO, after getting over being awakened early, reported he had received a message the day before that I would be arriving and that I was “legitimate” and not an intruder.

One of my duties as a judge advocate in the military justice section of the NLSO was to conduct summary courts martial.   These are the lowest level of court martial and would be much like a misdemeanor court in the civilian world.  As my trial district included Mississippi, I was required to go the Pascagoula Naval Shipyard where a nuclear submarine was under repair and upgrade. To conduct a summary court martial for three sailors who robbed a pizza delivery driver.  The crew was off the ship and assigned to barracks on the shipyard.  There not being a huge work assignment for the crew during the repairs, three of the sailors (I still remember their names but they shall go nameless) decided to imbibe in too many adult beverages.  This resulted in a burning desire to provide pizza for themselves and several of their friends.  However, it being several days before the next pay, they were short on funds.  Never-the-less, they placed the delivery order, provided their names and service numbers along with the base address for deliver and proceeded to wait for the delivery.  When the driver arrived, they confessed their lack of funds, grabbed the pizzas and ran.  They forgot that they had given their names and i.d. numbers when the order was made.  In short order, the Master at Arms was having a not so friendly conversation with the trio who were still having some trouble understanding the gravity of their solution to easing their hunger pangs.   Typically, our submariners are among and brightest of sailors—however, this trio must have killed several brain cells that day.  I imposed an appropriate punishment, tried very hard to keep a straight face when the evidence was presented and the three tried to explain their motives that night.

One of my collateral duties was to be the Command Duty Officer (CDO) for the Naval Education and Training Command from time to time.  On one of the days I had that duty, the Blue Angels flight demonstration team was having their homecoming and season final air show.  In my role as the CDO, I carried communications that allowed me to monitor the radio traffic at the air show site at the Naval Air Station Pensacola.  There were approximately 100,000 visitors present to watch the air show.  As one of the preliminary events, the Marines flew in a Harrier jet.   The Harrier was relatively new at the time and folks were interested in seeing a jet aircraft that could hover, land and take off vertically and fly like a typical jet attach aircraft.  NAS Pensacola has two parallel runways with a grass median between them.  The show was in late August or early September and the grass was a bit dry.  The harrier flew in and hovered between the runways.  Almost immediately, the grass caught fire and fire trucks responded.  I heard radio traffic from the “show boss” about “move the G….D…. airplane.”  The pilot slowly moved the harrier sideways and forward to hover over a taxi way.  Well, the taxi way was asphalt.  And yes, it too caught fire.  I immediately became familiar with language on the radio from the “show boss” to the harrier about what was going to happen to that GD marine pilot as soon as he could get his hands on him.   I doubt the show boss bought him a beer at the officers club bar.

Jody: Have you experienced combat?

Chuck: No, just two close up views of the barrel of 45 caliber pistols and a bit of hand to hand combat with upset sailors and marines I was prosecuting.

Jody: How many places has/did the military send you and which has been your favorite?

Chuck: I had two periods of training at the Naval Station Newport, RI, one training period at the Naval Station Norfolk (the ship was tied to the pier the whole time—so much for “sea duty”) and the rest of the time serving at the NLSO Pensacola which included the 3.5 states it served.  Pensacola was my favorite—white sand beaches, great seafood, interesting and challenging work.

Jody: How has serving in the military changed you the most?

Chuck: Given the work I was assigned to do, I received a substantial amount of training and experience in handling trial work.  Although some of the procedures in courts martial are different than civilian courts, the principles and trial skills are very similar.  Naval Justice School provided hands on training in trial advocacy that many law schools at the time did not offer.  Over my period of active duty,  I handled approximately 600 trials of various types, including serious assaults, major drug cases and espionage cases.  This is an unusual level of experience for a young lawyer less than 5 years out of law school.

Big thanks to Chuck Ritz for providing such a great interview. Make sure you read Part II, also.

Published by jody sparks

Jody Sparks Mugele spent her first career in marketing writing and leading teams of writers and editors. After her son came out as transgender in 2015, she dedicated herself to advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. For two years, she led the Indianapolis regional chapter of PFLAG, a nationally renowned LGBTQ+ advocacy group. She has given many conference talks about parenting trans kids, healthcare in the trans community, and suicidality among LGBTQ+ youth. And with GenderNexus, an Indianapolis-based advocacy organization, she created programming and led support groups to work with parents to help their children through all aspects of gender transition. She recently moved to Northeast Georgia where she is excited to develop opportunities to continue to strongly and proudly advocate for LGBTQ+ members of our society. She also LOVES kitschy Christmas crafting!

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