Paula Reid’s management of the Secret Service prostitution scandal brought an old memory to surface.
I found myself, without purpose, in life’s doldrums at 22. Escape through enlistment seemed like a reasonable plan. Immediacy ruled life in my 20s. I called all of the services to see which could accommodate an expeditious departure. The Coast Guard made me a recruit in seven days.
At 22, I’d been on my own for 4 years, at least 1500 miles away from family and as far as 9400 miles away. Following boot camp I was stationed on the Great Lakes. It was a popular station for COs (commanding officers) on their “twilight” tours, set to retire, biding their time.
Despite early independence I was sheltered, unaware of deviant behaviors. Smitty, a good natured guy from Oregon, who married his high school sweetheart, worked on the same boat crew as I did. He was also unfamiliar with the smutty side of life.
I was on watch. Smitty needed to return some weapons to the armory, in the CO’s office, next to the watch room. When he replaced the weapons, he discovered bestiality porn and revealing photographs of our current CO stored there. We kept the secret to ourselves. We didn’t know what to think.
A couple of months later, I was off duty, at the station retrieving my stored personal belongings to take to my apartment. The crew was out on the lake and the watch stander was in another part of the building. The CO was sitting in a chair at the foot of the stairs as I brought my boxes down. I looked over to speak to him, only to see that he was gratifying himself in the open air. I burst into tears from the shocking, personal affront. It was a memorable occasion.
I told Smitty, as well as my friends Steve and Cindy. Steve and Cindy had married after being stationed with us. We decided to remain silent until the information became useful in some way. I felt I could handle the situation given that the CO was not a physically imposing person. Although, the johnson looked way out of proportion to the rest of him.
A few weeks later, I was standing watch while the boats were out. The CO was the only other person at the station. I was on the radio. He walked out his office door, johnson in hand. After the radio communication terminated, with all the disdain I could muster, I said, “I’d put that away if I were you. Think of your career and retirement.” I was angry. By that time, everyone knew what had happened, except the XO (executive officer). I had a lot of support. We were patient. It is remarkable that we were so clever.
I got married and ended my illustrious enlistment. Meanwhile, Cindy was pregnant. I was living in California when she and Steve called me. Cindy had been on watch, just days away from delivery, with a basketball belly, too uncomfortable to do much other than stand watch when the CO came out of his office, johnson first. She told Steve. He and his baseball bat had a chat with the CO. They got orders to their dream station and Steve miraculously moved up on the list for flight school.
The CO had a part time job in town. He made a similar overture to a civilian woman. She went up the chain of command with her complaint. His nearly twenty year career was acknowledged. He was transferred to an isolated duty station for the remainder of his tour. His wife, a lovely woman, divorced him.
I remember, clearly, evaluating seeking charges against the CO at the time. We decided against that course, because women, who brought charges of any kind, were stigmatized as whiners. At the time, I thought I chose the best option and retrospectively my choice was the right one. Twenty-five years ago sexual harassment was one of the consequences of women intruding upon a “man’s world”. The command swept the CO’s perverse behavior under the rug to avoid scandal. Cindy and I were strong individuals; although, unwilling to endure the persecution and ostracism that surely would have accompanied a formal complaint.
Paula Reid should be congratulated for her work ethic, dignity, and fearlessness in the Secret Service prostitution scandal. She deserves nothing less.