Training is Only Bootcamp, Right? Wrong.

by Tricia Menke, Curator of Education at the National Museum of the American Sailor

Here are the National Museum of the American Sailor, our staff has the unique opportunity to work directly with the Navy’s enlisted sailors, stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes. At any given time, the museum has one to three working party sailors who help out at the museum. They do odd jobs, including cleaning, assisting with exhibit builds, and greeting the public. These sailors are on hold, usually waiting for orders between the completion of A School at Great Lakes and moving on to C School or out to the fleet.

Before he left for C School in Dahlgren, Virginia, I sat down with one of our working party sailors, Fire Controlman Third Class Andrew Wallace.

Fire Controlman Third Class Andrew Wallace poses at the National Museum of the American Sailor, where he worked while waiting to ship out to his C School in Virginia. Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Sailor.

The Basics

From St. Joseph, Michigan, twenty-three year old Wallace signed up for the Navy in December 2021. He shipped out in January 2022 and arrived at Naval Station Great Lakes for bootcamp and A School.

On Joining the Navy

“The major reason why I joined the Navy was to set me up for the future. Even with certifications and experience, [my career] wasn’t going to lead me anywhere. I needed more education and a more solid background.” Despite having two brothers currently serving in the U.S. Army, Wallace followed the footsteps of his uncle, a 28-year Navy veteran.

On Bootcamp

“Bootcamp was a weird experience. It was both the hardest and the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It was mainly the mental part. I was very out of shape so the physical part was hard, but it was trying to convince yourself that you can do it and no matter what you’re going through, you’re just getting through the next step. Basically being able to be broken down, like they do in bootcamp, and then build yourself back up. ‘No, I can do this, I can keep going.’ It was an interesting experience.”

Wallace’s biggest takeaway from bootcamp was, “Generally, you can do anything you set your mind to. If you have a little bit of discipline and hope and actually try something. Even if you’re not good at it. For example, pushups and my first run. In the pre-assessment, I ran a mile and a half in 18.47 [minutes] and I was only able to do 10 pushups. [Thanks to training] even through a knee injury, [in] my official PFA (Physical Fitness Assessment) I ran a 12.35 and did 70 pushups. In a two month time period! If a 245 lbs, out of shape guy can go into bootcamp and can go from 18.47 to 12.35… as long as you put in the effort and try your best, you can make it through.”

In order to successfully complete bootcamp, male recruits ages 17-19 must be able to run 1.5 miles in 13.15 minutes. Female recruits, ages 17-19, must do it in 14.45 minutes. Recruits over 20, like Wallace, have an extra minute to complete their runs. Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Choosing a Rate

When Wallace first joined, he wanted to follow his uncle’s path as an Intelligence Specialist (IS), but IS was full in December 2021 and it would be a year-long wait. With Wallace’s high ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test) scores, the Navy offered him opportunities as a Nuclear Technician, Information Systems Technician or the Advanced Electronics Computer Field. After conferring with his uncle about the job propects outside the Navy in these fields, Wallace chose the Advanced Electronics Computer Field (AECF).

About A School

Upon choosing a rate, sailors advance to A (or Accession) School for training in their specific job. For Wallace, that meant staying at Naval Station Great Lakes. “A School was again, interesting. Just like bootcamp. [But] it was a lot easier. The education here is especially fast paced, but the majority of what they’re teaching you is simple. It’s just that they take so much information, in a military manner, and just throw it at you and expect you to try and take it and retain some of it. Overall, A School was really nice. It was a lot of hands-on stuff. You have labs, you’re working on the actual equipment. You’re taking stuff apart and putting it back together. I learned a lot. I thought I knew a lot about electronics, but then you actually go to school for it and go ‘oh maybe I dont.'”

Fire Controlmen, like FC3 Wallace, complete A School at Naval Station Great Lakes at the Center for Surface Combat Systems Unit (CSCSU). The students in this image are changing over heat exchanges. Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

What’s Next

As the museum bids Wallace fair winds and following seas, he’s off to Dahlgren, VA to complete C School. This is how Wallace explained the difference between A School and C School to his family: “It’s like working in a restaurant. So you’re working in a restaurant. You got the general restaurant field. You’ve got servers, cooks, managers, etc. Those are all the different NECs (Navy Enlisted Classification, also known as rates). A School is like teaching you to work in a restaurant. All the general stuff. Here’s how the restaurant functions. Here’s the basics of all the jobs. But then C School is ok, now we’re going to train you to work on this specific grill or how to be a bartender. So C School is getting down to the nitty gritty of the exact equipment you’re going to be working on, learning it in and out, front and back.”

So what is he actually doing out in Dahlgren? Well, that’s mostly classified. But here’s what he could tell us. “My NEC is ACNT so Aegis Computer Network Technician. I don’t know much about the specifics because my schoolhouse is a classified building. Even my notes won’t be able to leave. But from what I know, it’s basically working on the servers, computers, and hard drives that our network and algorithms function on.

These are the computers that would be aboard a ship. There’s a network on all of our ships, but specifically cruisers and destroyers. There’s a network that takes information from the radars, processes it, and sends it to the displays of the computer where you can see it and see the targets and then be able to lock onto them, send that information to the weapons system and fire. So the network is the one that communicates and does the calculations between the weapons system.”

He may not know much yet, but he’ll learn quickly! Please join the museum in wishing FC3 Wallace best of luck as he continues in his career. We have a suspicion that he’s going to do great things!

Want to know more about becoming a Fire Controlman?

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