Brushes with military and government service


[Story by Mike Foley, originally published January 21, 2010]

First, let me pay tribute to all those currently serving and who have served in the military, especially including my dad, the late F. W. “Mike” Foley — who met my mom while he was stationed at the U.S. Army’s Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was also a member of the motorcycle honor guard when President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, Nevada, on September 30, 1935; and my brothers-in-law, Jimmy and the late Eddie McShane, who served in the U.S. Army in Viet Nam.

Next, let me note that I appreciate the service and sacrifice of all those in the military, but I was never one of them [although I enjoyed the JROTC class we were required to take in high school, in which I achieved the rank of sergeant]. Coming of age during the Viet Nam war, however, I came close a couple of times to the real thing, and was willing to serve if called . . . which forms the basis of my following recollections:

During my first year at East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, the local Department of Education instituted the requirement that all boys had to split each semester of their sophomore year between taking physical education and Junior ROTC — the U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, led by a couple of retired sergeants who had both served in World War II and Korea. This requirement to take “rot-C,” as the less inclined called it, was generally quite unpopular among many of my preppy classmates; but I actually liked it, was a member of the drill team, and for my enthusiasm achieved the rank of staff sergeant by the end of the school year (hence the illustration above). Unlike the really dedicated, however, I did not continue with JROTC during the remainder of my high school days.

Soon after graduating from East, like all young men I was required to register with the U.S. Selective Service, which assigned us a draft board and status. Since I was attending the University of Utah, I was classified II-S — read 2-S, until I began to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) in Samoa, for which time I was classified IV-D.

Returning from Samoa in 1967, I re-enrolled briefly at the University of Utah, was re-classified II-S, and I was also called up for my first “pre-induction physical” and battery of exams. I remember taking the tests with some of my old high school classmates. I also explored the possibility of joining the Air Force ROTC as a means to pay for the rest of my education, and took pre-service physical and other exams at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah.

Before the year was out, however, I made one of the best decisions in my life and transferred to the Church College of Hawaii (now BYU–Hawaii). Eventually I also transferred my draft board from Salt Lake City to Kaneohe, which oversaw draft-age men in Laie in those days. By this time the war in Viet Nam had really heated up, and I was ordered to report for another round of pre-induction tests, this time at Fort DeRussey in Waikiki. During those years quite a few people in Hawaii who didn’t have II-S deferrals were either drafted or volunteered, many of the latter realizing it was just a matter of time before they received the summons from the Army.

As I drew near the completion of my undergraduate studies at CCH in January 1970 and the subsequent end of my II-S deferral, being reclassified I-A — or draftable — was inevitable, but I also had several other options:

All military services at the time offered college graduates (and the soon-to-graduate) opportunities to enlist directly into officer training programs. The U.S. Air Force offered the one that was the most attractive to me: Eight or 12 weeks (I can’t remember which) of basic OCS — Officer Candidate School — training at Lackland AFB near San Antonio, Texas, at the equivalent rank of a sergeant, with graduates being commissioned second lieutenants and going on to as much as a year-and-a-half of pilot training, most likely in Florida and a minimum four-year commitment beyond that . . . or in another words a total of about six years of service, while flunkies got dropped down to basic airmen rank with a total four-year commitment.

I remember taking lengthy tests at Hickam AFB in Honolulu that, among other things, consisted of a multiple choice written exam that required us without using our hands or anything else to predict the attitude (i.e. end position) of an airplane after it had gone through a series of maneuvers. Doing well enough on that, plus the fact I was just barely not too tall to fit into a cockpit, they actually sent me a notice and instructions with the details and date I was supposed to report to Lackland.

Because of my family, mission and educational background, however, I was really more interested in foreign languages and possibly going to the Army’s highly regarded language school in Monterrey, California. Consequently, I was asked to report to the Army intelligence service, which in those days operated out of a plain building on the present site of the Prince Kuhio Federal Building in Honolulu.

From what I can recall it all seemed rather clandestine. For example, I was escorted everywhere in the building, including the bathroom, and none of the people I interacted with there wore uniforms. Indeed, I was told if I was invited to join that I would also be required to wear very haole-looking civilian clothes almost all of the time. In addition to a battery of other exams, because of my interest in foreign languages they also gave me the MLAT — the military language aptitude test . . . with very interesting results. Let me explain:

As part of my TESOL [teaching English to speakers of other languages] major at CCH, I had just completed taking Sister Alice Pack’s morphology class. In linguistics, morphology is the study of word structure, and the multiple choice written MLAT at that time consisted of translating and composing a pseudo-language based entirely upon grasping and manipulating its morphology. I scored 59 out of 60, and during my interview afterward, I think they must have thought I somehow cheated, because the passing score, if I remember correctly, was something like 15. In any case, they were suitably astounded, but explained there was a catch for me as far as the Monterrey language school was concerned:

The Army considered language skills akin to any other technical skills, such as fixing a jeep, which didn’t require one to be an officer . . . or, here private, translate this. As a college graduate I could enlist as an officer candidate, but after OTS [Officer Training School] I would be sent wherever they needed me, most likely the infantry or artillery, and they would not guarantee I would be sent to Monterrey; OR, I could enlist as a private and they would guarantee I went to Monterrey for a year or more, but afterward there would be no further guarantee I could get into OTS, despite having a college degree.

So even though the Army only required a four-year commitment vs. up to six from the Air Force, the Army was a little too iffy for me, and I was leaning toward Lackland . . . BUT there were several other very important reasons I really didn’t want to do any of the above:

I loved living in Hawaii and didn’t want to leave; I also loved a certain hula dancer who I worked with at the Polynesian Cultural Center, and we got engaged in December 1969; and I thought I had a pretty good chance to win a prestigious American Fellowship at the East-West Center to attend graduate school at the University of Hawaii/Manoa in the Fall of 1970. The East-West Center was associated with the U.S. State Department, and I had also previously won two National Defense Foreign Language Scholarships to the University of Hawaii. Of course, overarching all my future objectives was the fact that I would soon be reclassified I-A.

About that same time, due to the unpopularity of conscripting men to serve in Viet Nam and the uncertainty of it all, the U.S. instituted a lottery in December 1969 which assigned each date of the year a number, with the ascending numbers determining the prioritized order young I-A men with those birthdates would be drafted. All these years later, I thought my number fell somewhere in the middle, but Google shows my number was really in the first 20 percent or so . . . which, on one hand, wasn’t good. On the other hand, Hawaii had a very high number of volunteers, and some thought that even with my relatively low number it wasn’t likely I would be drafted. Still, the odds were somewhat troublesome: So, chance ’em, or go for officer training?

Also about the same time, another critical incident in this whole story took place, but first, just a bit of back-story: During my undergraduate days at CCH I couldn’t afford a car, but I did have a motorcycle that Sally and I rode everywhere on Oahu, rain or shine. One morning, zipping through the gap (though I wasn’t supposed to) between the CCH McKay Building and the Library, my motorcycle slipped on the wet grass and I reflexively stuck  my right leg out to keep from falling over — pranging my knee pretty good in the process. It bothered me off-and-on for some time.

Meanwhile, Sally and I spent our honeymoon on the mainland after we got married on March 26, 1970 — her very first visit there — where we met my old deacon’s quorum advisor, an orthopedic surgeon for the U.S. Selective Service, at our reception in Salt Lake City. He examined my knee, then wrote me a letter which I took to my next pre-induction physical at Fort DeRussey. After that, I  never heard from the draft board again, and when U.S. President Richard M. Nixon took office in 1973, he discontinued the draft.

Let me reiterate: I was not trying to get out of military service, but I didn’t particularly want to go, either, and some aspects of government-related service actually appealed to me. For example, soon after getting married I received the East-West Center fellowship, a quasi-government/academic experience which led to many other adventures, some of which I’ve written about in early blog entries. After graduating and returning from my EWC field study in the Pacific islands, I also actually tried to get a job with the U.S. Peace Corps — preferably in Samoa, but they only seemed interested in staffers who had been previous volunteers.

During the 1975-76 school year, the U.S. Department of State awarded me a Fulbright Lectureship in Indonesia, which I’ve also blogged about: I was attached to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, in the U.S. Information Service (or USIS, but called the U.S. Information Agency or USIA domestically), and shared some resources with the Department of Defense contingent in Bandung, West Java, which was all quite fascinating.

Returning to Hawaii, I had two more limited brushes with government service: Before changing careers from TESOL to mass communications, I answered an advertisement from the Central Intelligence Agency and was sent a 30-page application. It took hours to fill out, and somewhat like my previous experience with the Army Intelligence outfit, it all seemed rather clandestine, but I did get a call-back, instructing me to report to a hotel room in Waikiki where a man would conduct my interview. I was told not to discuss this with anyone or mention the alphabet-agency, or read certain books about the CIA. Initially, the interviewer  seemed interested in my Indonesian experience, but nothing ever came of this (as far as I know) — perhaps it was because I read one of the books I wasn’t supposed to read . . . and I still wonder if, perhaps, my application file is still buried deep in some government warehouse, somewhere — like the one where they put Indiana Jones‘ stuff.

Finally, a year or so later, when I was retooling for my new profession with a second bachelor’s degree from BYU Provo, I got tired of being a starving student again . . . and answered an ad from the National Security Agency. The NSA was looking for people with foreign language skills who had lived abroad. Unlike the CIA, they were definitely interested in me. When I told them I really wanted to live in Hawaii, they said they had people working here and many other places in the world, but that most of their staff — and almost all newbies — worked out of  headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, near Baltimore, and that the majority of an NSA career would be spent on the East Coast.

A little later, after we had returned to Honolulu, they sent me a round-trip ticket to Baltimore to continue the interview process, but by then I knew for sure I was home: It felt so good — so right. I had to admit I really didn’t want to live in Maryland, or any place else for that matter; and thus I cemented my decision to forego any further government-related service in favor of living in the best place on earth, Hawaii Nei.

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