Moving Forward While Looking Back
em>Noel Wheeler, United States Navy
I always knew I would join the Navy. As a kid I had the usual thoughts of being a doctor, nurse, or veterinarian. As I watched my friends worry about Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) exams and college application essays, I rested easily knowing that the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a recruiter’s screening, and a medical exam was all that was between me and my career of choice.
A few days after my 17th birthday, my dad and I visited my local Navy recruiter’s office. By this time, December 1988, my dad had already been active duty, a reservist, and active duty again. He eventually settled into the reserves to round out his twenty years, but that’s his story; let’s get back to mine… The recruiter hemmed and hawed, intimating that his usual rhetoric could not be used in my situation since I had a seasoned sailor sitting by my side. The Delayed Entry Program (DEP) was disorganized and pretty much nonfunctional back then. For the next nine months I finished high school and enjoyed my last free summer break.
Once my career began, I started to ask questions about my dad’s time in the Navy. I now know that he spent the majority of his time in the administrative component of a Navy SEAL Team. My dad enlisted in 1968 during the height of the draft of the Vietnam conflict. He served on a destroyer and later spent some time at the Pentagon before settling into his role with the SEAL Team. Like many from his generation, he never spoke too much about his time in the service and still doesn’t. I don’t take it personally or hold it against him. I think it is how his generation stays humble about their contribution during a very difficult time in our country’s history – the Vietnam Conflict era.
As I grew into an adult, I spoke to my grandfather George. He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1945. I started to see a rich naval history emerge. When the opportunity arose for me to share a story about my family history in regards to the military, I had more questions than answers. I asked my father to tell me more about our military history that I never would have known had I not asked. I must give credit to my father, Michael, and his sister, my Aunt Janet. She serves as the family historian – the keeper of the knowledge. I am thankful that she has done this, because as our family grows older and passes away, all their stories and experiences go with them.
Here is a brief synopsis of my family military history. I guess I will start with myself, Noel. I served as a Hospital Corpsman (HM) in the Navy from 1989-2009. My father served in the Navy as a Yeoman (YN) from 1968-1993. His father, George, served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman from 1943-1945. He had a brother that served as a Radioman (RM) in Turkey. His three brothers-in-law (my Grandmother’s brothers) were also Navy. One was a Boatswain’s Mate (BM) and two were Yeoman. They all served in the early 1950’s. I also learned that my grandfather’s father, Romaine, was in the Army during WWI.
After all of that history spanning four generations back, I find myself in the present and looking to the future, to the legacy that I will pass onto my children. I am so proud to report that my three sons have picked up where I left off. They are all presently serving in the Navy and just look at how they have chosen to carry on the tradition. My sons Bradley and Christopher enlisted in 2012; one of them is a Yeoman and one is a Hospital Corpsman. Sound familiar? What about my third child, my youngest son, Nick? He enlisted in 2015 and is also a Yeoman.
It is hard to put into words, the amount of pride I feel in knowing that my family has served our country so well and for so long. It is this history that I present to my children. Now I can sit back and watch as they carry it into the future.
Noel Wheeler served as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy from 1989 to 2009. After Recruit Training in Orlando, FL, she spent her first couple years at Naval Training Commands as a student in Great Lakes, IL and San Diego, CA. She then served at Naval Hospitals in Yokosuka, Japan and Great Lakes, IL as a Medical Laboratory Technician. The last eight years of her career were spent at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, NC with the Marines and Sailors of Marine Wing Support Squadron 271. She rounded out her twenty years soon after Naval Hospital Cherry Point’s transition to Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point.