2007

Homecoming 2009 - A Reunion of Wild Things

By Ensign Colin Raunig '07, USN

To the other patrons at “Chick and Ruth’s Delly” that Sunday morning, from their vantage point, we must have appeared unruly, unkempt even, and devoid of the ability to maintain “inside voices.” We created a stir even there: amidst the din of rush hour at a place known as much for its informality as its six-pound milkshake. We were Wild Things, hoodlums, a gang of short-haired creatures yelling and gesturing about what appeared to be nonsense as if it was everything in the world to us. It was. We were entrenched in our respective sides of the debate, and no hastily lobbed argument was going to budge our positions. Never underestimating our ability to absorb ridicule, we were each forced to fling merciless insults at each other in voices of increasingly escalated volume in an attempt to force the other into submission.

My argument was this: the pancake has its limitations. Sure, it will sustain you for a while, and provide your body with much needed carbohydrates, syrup, chocolate chips, pecans and any fruit topping of your choice. But if you really wanted a sugary breakfast item that would fill you up and never let you down, you are better served by eating french toast. It is the best of both worlds: from the bread you get the carbohydrates your body needs minus the pancake-induced food coma, while also the protein, substance and endurance of the cinnamon-laced egg. French toast is energy that lasts.

“But what if I want an omelet?” Will Davidson asked.

“Well, then, you’re an idiot,” I said.

“That means a lot, coming from you.”

 “I guess if you’re in the mood for an omelet and not syrup, then there is nothing else I can really say to dissuade you.”
“Hmm,” said Will. “I’m going with the chocolate chip pancakes. You?"

“The french toast.”

“You would. If you want a bite of my pancakes, just let me know.”

“Don’t patronize me.” 

Will and I made up two of the six person party sitting stuffed into the back corner of “Chick and Ruth’s” on the Sunday after the 2009 Navy Homecoming game, a delicatessen located halfway up Main Street in downtown Annapolis, Maryland. The other four people—Peter Goodman, Daniel Hood, Greg Lynch and Phil Rodriguez—had also made the journey from their respective parts of the country to meet in Annapolis for the Navy’s 2009 Homecoming football game against Wake Forest.  We had been discussing the game for quite some time.

 From as far away as Phil and Greg’s respective deployments in Iraq and Pete’s in the Mediterranean and through email, facebook, cell phones and inappropriately worded text messages, we had taken the better part of 2009 coordinating an 11th Company reunion in Annapolis during the Homecoming football game that October, just two and a half years after we walked the stage at the Navy Memorial Stadium on 25 May 2007. I was skeptical; in the planning periods, as far as eight months out, I didn’t see any more than two of us having the needed time slot to make the journey. I suggested a more long-term, albeit loftier goal, which would better suit our busy schedules, for example, the 2012 Olympics in London.

“Think about it, fellas,” I wrote in an email to them, “We will all be on our Shore Tours. Plus, it’s the Olympics. ”

“The Olympics has nothing on Navy football,” Daniel “Doc” Hood wrote back. “You will be at the game. And you will like it." As evident by my presence at “Chick and Ruth’s,” Dan was correct in his assumption that I would make it. In fact, a lot of us did.

Due to operational requirements of our respective Naval and Marine Corps communities, most of us couldn’t confirm plans for the game until the week of, so, the Monday before the game, I volunteered Doc to track down the closest available Hotel in downtown Annapolis.  Daniel’s email to us began with the admission that trying to find a hotel in downtown Annapolis the week of Homecoming wasn’t the wisest move on our part, and that the closest hotel to downtown that he was able to reserve on such short notice was the “Quality Inn” 10 miles north of Annapolis on Route 50. I selected the “Reply All” function in my email back to them, “Doc Sucks!” I wrote. No one refuted my claim.

The concept of Homecoming is an American tradition as deep-rooted as the Naval Academy itself. It invites any and all from years past to circle back around the hearth and cheer as the spirit of their respective alma mater burns bright under the stadium lights. One weekend, once a year, we have the opportunity to temporarily transplant ourselves from our daily lives across the country, dust off the blue and gold’s and reconnect with people that in many ways have changed, and in many ways haven’t. It’s weird, the transition that occurs on graduation day. More complex than a promotion from midshipman to officer, it is a cultural shift that requires one to change completely their approach to doing business. From things as simple as bills and laundry, to bigger things, like choosing between french toast and pancakes.

Once our food was served to us late that Sunday morning, we scavenged our egg or bread based decisions that lay on the plate below our faces and reflected, in one way or another, the weekend that had just passed. Around the table was one Marine Corps logistics officer, one Marine Corps communications officer, One Marine Corps pilot in training, an E-2 naval flight officer, and one surface warfare officer.

In one sense we had nothing in common. Our jobs and personalities are scattered across the spectrum, as was our experience in the fleet, from being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, to still making headway through flight school. Compared to many other graduating classes, the two years that had passed since our graduation is a paltry figure, but the combined experiences of our respective journeys felt significant. Maybe because we only graduated two years ago, once reunited we, in many ways, fell back into our same routine: Phil would make fun of me; everyone would join in; I would get defensive; I would make fun of Phil; and so on. But, as much as we were sincere about our efforts to recreate a midshipmen experience, at a very real level we knew that life was past now, though it still is a very real part of us. We had left and gone our separate ways out into the great beyond and now we were back for a brief respite from it all. Though we couldn’t quite grab a hold onto our Naval Academy existence, we could at least, for a little while, celebrate the common bond that brought us back.  In this case, football.

And food.

 “Thanks a lot guys,” said, Phil, interrupting our meals, “Way to eat in front of me. I haven’t even gotten my food yet.”

“That’s what you get man,” I said. “Should have ordered the french toast.”

“Colin, I’m sorry if I’m not like you in every way, ok? Not everyone can be so privileged.”

“Well, you are a Marine,” I said. “That’s probably what did it. They can sense things like that around here.”

“You’re just mad you can’t do more than ten pushups.”

“I do have my French Toast, though. Don’t worry, Phil. They’re making an order special for you. The waitress is going to bring out The Phil Rodriguez. It’s a plate with nothing on it.”

“Do you want me to beat you up again?”

I contemplated carefully the weight of Phil’s words, and the weight of Phil, before I spoke.

“The Navy teaches me martial arts, too, but in a different way. Look,” I said, grabbing some silverware, “With my mind, I can bend this spoon.”

“What—”

“Heads up. Food is incoming.”

Phil accepted his Eggel Deluxe with a side of grits and joined the rest of us in our quest to ravage our meals. I checked my watch to see that it was no longer morning, and I knew that we were going to have to wrap up things soon. More than that, I could almost immediately feel the weight of what waited for me back in Oklahoma City, compared to the care-free weekend that had just transpired. For two days, as we walked through the Yard, the town, and in the stadium, I would often only reflect, by myself, and with my friends, on the best memories. A lot of times, though, it seems that what actually was the hardest part of the Naval Academy was what we remembered best, and the fact that we helped each other get through these hard times, was what made them the best memories, the good stuff. Nostalgia can be misleading, but the ability to reflect on a past event with the same people you experienced it with, helps to create meaning out of something that otherwise might have been misinterpreted. Sitting with the friends that I raised my right hand with six and half years earlier, I realized that, though only two and a half years out, they would be here for the long haul. These are friendships that are meant to last.

In a way, we spent four years trying to graduate from a place, that, now, we were trying to hold onto. Now that we are officers, we had new places, jobs and friends that we belonged to. No matter where we were, though, we would always be graduates and as I walked onto the plane that would bridge the gap between Annapolis, where I was from, and Oklahoma City, where I am now, I realized that Homecoming is, in many ways, a state mind. Our place is as much out there as it is back in Annapolis. We weren’t born on Induction Day to sit idly by as the world spins around us. We are part of that movement. And whether it’s out in the wilderness of our daily lives, or back watching a football game among friends, no one can take that calling away from us. We exist to make a difference, and that change starts now. This is a much a lesson for me as I hope it is for you, that whatever or wherever our place in the world, as midshipmen, officers, Wild Things; we are home.

 

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