I joined the Navy, November of 1980. I was 22.
I didn’t divulge anything pertaining to my medical history nor of my drug escapades to the military. It was my only way out of the hood, and so I believe God just kept my past from being uncovered so I could make it out. Good thing I left when I did, because all of my home crew started dying off from their fast-lane self-destructive lifestyles. I lost Jimmy to Hepatitis. Lucky and his brother Ray died two weeks apart from AIDS. Their younger brother, Carlos also caught the monster and died a year later. Once again God intervened and in His infinite wisdom allowed me to join the Navy to avoid my dying prematurely as well.
I went to Great Lakes, Illinois, Naval Training Command for my basic training. It was a cold winter there that year. It had dropped as low as 40 below, when they had to classify it code blue. They allowed us to march with our gloved hands in our pockets to avoid hypothermia that day. I discovered leadership qualities in me I didn’t even know I had, when they placed me in charge of five other men in my squad. We were like the Wild Bunch, the Dirty Dozen, and the Devil’s Brigade all rolled up into one unit. Half of our company was from the north…the other half from the south. In the beginning we were all constantly fighting and having our own private civil war. By the time our Company Commander Chief Hidalgo got through with us we became one well greased machine. Chief Hidalgo was from the Philippines, and no more than five feet tall. We thought the Japanese Navy had shanghaied us all when he so tenderly woke us up that first frosty morning, “Get up; get up, you sons o’ b——”. We instantly bonded. He was a small midget, but tough. He would not settle for anything less but pure excellence. That’s exactly what it took to whip us all into tip-top shape, and made us pull together as one unit. After winning most of the competitive flags we graduated with honors being the top company graduating from Boot Camp that year. I went on to ‘A’ School stationed at a Naval Air Base in Millington, Tennessee. I joined the Navy Boxing Team and also ran in their Track Team. I tried out for the SEALS, but washed out during the initial swimming phase. One had to pass an underwater obstacle course, and out of 200 participants only about 20 made it. Then it was off to “Hell’s Week”.
It actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because “Operation Desert Storm” was just on the horizon. I finished BEEP (Basic Electricity and Electronics Preliminary) School, and proceeded to go home for two weeks on ARP (Assistant Recruiting Program) Duty. When I returned to Millington I entered into the Advanced Electronics Program. It was an extensive program where I attempted to fit 2 years of advanced electronics training into six months. Being the overachiever that I am, I was doubling up the workload and taking two manuals instead of just one. Whatever you took with you to study, you were expected to know fully. I was being tested the following day on each manual, and passing was nothing less than 100%. You were expected to ace every test. Once you passed the written test, then you would be practically tested on the actual circuitry. I was doing it for two months, taking two manuals to my barracks, and studying them all night. Being tested the next day, after maybe jus t a couple of hours of sleep, and acing both tests. It eventually took its toll on me, and I inevitably blew a fuse.
The blinking lights on most of the complex circuits I was being tested on must have tripped something in my mind’s circuitry to short circuit. That and maybe all the stress and duress I unnecessarily placed on myself caused a great strain on my brain. All these combined may have contributed highly to my central nervous system shutting down and thus causing a seizure.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also going through a spiritual metamorphosis. The Lord was calling me out of that dark religious, ritualistic closet into His marvelous light! I had went to a Sunday Service during Boot Camp one morning, assuming it was a Catholic Mass. When I arrived at this Navy drill hall, I discovered a Chief Petty Officer preaching the Word of God. Men were singing and raising their arms up to God in surrender, and once again I sensed the Holy Spirit but with more intensity. I didn’t know what I had just stepped into, but it almost felt like the Twilight Zone. I knew this definitely wasn’t a Catholic Mass, but I was glued to the seat and I just couldn’t move from there. There was such a tugging at my heart that I seemed paralyzed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I was fighting back the tears when one of the men seated behind me placed his hand on my shoulder and proceeded to say, “It’s alright man, let it go!” When I looked to see who it was, it just happened to be a co-sailor from my company. A New Yorican homeboy from the Bronx named Negron. The dam broke and I began to cry out. I was hugged by the surrounding men and prayed for by the Protestant Chaplain. What a release of old pent up emotions. I never sensed anything like that in my life. I was hooked and curious of such a liberating experience. I couldn’t wait to graduate from Boot Camp to attend some of these powerful Protestant Services.
I had been so brainwashed by the ideological supremacy of the Catholic Church being “the only true and Apostolic Church” that I almost felt like I was committing some kind of sin against God. Although, I was being compelled by the Holy Spirit to attend services at The First Baptist Church of Millington and I eventually was baptized again. I just didn’t feel like my initial infant baptism counted, after all I couldn’t even remember the occasion. This time I was dressed in a white robe and literally dunked in total immersion of water. It was so great the second time and refreshingly invigorating. I actually began sensing the Holy Spirit cleansing me of all past sins. Being the good Catholic that I was, I still couldn’t help but do the sign of the cross just before getting fully immersed by the Minister. When asked by the other converts, why I did that, I simply responded, “Last Rites.”
I believe when I experienced the seizure, I was actually being delivered from demonic oppression.
At the Naval Hospital, I was stripped of all my clothing and told to put on one of their skimpy hospital gowns. When they asked me to take off the rosary beads I always wore, I hesitated and told them that it belonged to my Grandmother who had it blessed. They insisted I remove it from around my neck, but when I went to do so I was compelled to kiss the crucifix like I must have done a million times before. This time something incredible happened. When I closed my eyes, the crucifix transformed into a giant cross with Jesus hanging from it just above my head and bleeding all over me. This all happened in a blink of an eye. In that split second that it took for me to close my eyes and reopen them I envisioned Christ on the cross at Calvary. It must have been drummed into my head by nuns and priests for so many previous years during Religious Instructions and Catholic Mass, but it never took. I never was able to figure out in my finite little mind how an infinite God who’s so infinitely holy and righteous would come in the form of a broken man two thousand years ago and die for me.
It just wouldn’t register. Why me? He didn’t know me then, or did He? It took for me to see him on the cross for it to finally sink in…from my head into my heart, hitting me like a thunderbolt. I grabbed the closest hospital Corpsman and with tears in my eyes began yelling, “He died for me…Jesus really did die for me!” On the verge of hysteria, I attempted to describe what I had just envisioned to the other med techs, as they made a gesture toward the Quiet Room. It was no bigger than a Janitor’s storage closet with nothing but a cold bare plastic mattress on the floor, and a very small wired window letting minimal sun into that cold dark room.
It was Good Friday, and they had explained to me that the Medical Officer had already left for the day, and he wouldn’t be back on duty until the following Monday. I proceeded to spend the entire weekend in that small 10 by 20 room. But God met me there. I was crucified with Christ on Friday…feeling the merciless pain and shame that Christ must’ve endured for me on that bloody rugged cross. They issued me a strong sedative that put me out till Saturday afternoon. The Spirit brought to memory all the illicit, hateful, malicious sin in my life…the times I broke my mother’s heart…the times I had taken advantage of some girl…all the times I viciously lied, connived, and hurt those closest to me. I felt so convicted, yet Christ assured me by His Spirit that He had already paid the price for it all. Then came Sunday, and I felt resurrected with Christ, the Passover Lamb…Halleluyah!
“Crying may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!” I found myself, or shall I say they found me, stark naked as a jaybird dancing a dance of victory unto the LORD on Resurrection Sunday.
There had been such a release from so much excess baggage that I was carrying around, such an elated feeling of uninhibited freedom, and an overwhelming feeling of “joy inexpressible and full of glory.” I really couldn’t begin to understand nor explain it, all I knew that I was so helplessly lost, and for once in my life I felt I was finally found…by God.
I sensed the Spirit continue to endow me with His Holy Presence as I cried rivers of joy…
”The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
I heard Him so clearly say, in that small still yet strongly reassuring voice,
“Rejoice… do not be discouraged…
For I have not called you into man’s army…but into mine!”