When I was stationed in Maryland back in 96-99, I would sometimes have to report for duty up at Ft Meade, MD. Due to the high profile of my duty station at the time, Commander, Naval Security Group, I was required to wear my dress uniform more often than not. I had no problem wearing it, but the Navy summer dress uniform had a major problem: the shirt tended to creep up and become untucked over the work day. The solution? Elastic!
I purchased shirt stays from the local NEX (Naval Exchange), and here’s how they work: You attach the top parts to the front tails of your shirt, both on the left and right side, then the other two are snapped to the left and right rear tails of your dress shirt. Once attached to your shirt, you would put on your socks, and pull down the elastic bands and attach to the top of your socks. Once they were properly attached, you’d put on your dress pants and shoes.
To make it even more secure, us sailors would wrap the shirt stays around our legs. I would attach the upper clasp to the front-left tail of my shirt, and wrap the elastic down around my leg and attach it to my sock on the back of my thigh. Then the front-right tail of my shirt would be attached to the back of my right sock. Then I’d reverse it for the rear tails…attach them to the front of my socks. It kept my shirt tucked in at all times, and it looked AWESOME.
I used shirt stays safely for about three or four years without incident. Hell, I just typed “used without incident”. Back then, my brain never thought that there would ever be an incident. I was sadly mistaken.
I don’t remember exactly who I was with, but one fateful day I went out on a smoke break with a buddy (from here on out known as Buddy). Buddy and I had to walk almost a full city block from our office at CNSG to the smoking area out in the front of the building. Buddy and I were about halfway to the smoking area and I felt a little nudge on my right sock. The front part of my right sock felt like it sagged a little bit. I kind of looked down, acknowledging that something was a bit off kilter, and then Buddy said “Dan, are you listening?”
“Oh, sorry…what was that?”, I said as we turned a corner in the basement of the building. The hallway got a bit brighter, and Buddy got quiet…we were walking up on the quarterdeck of CNSG.
To those not in the Navy, when approaching/crossing the quarterdeck of any Navy ship or shore station, you always show respect. Think of it as walking into a church/library combination where you are on your best behavior, and also talking with your lowest voice.
Buddy said “Hold on…”, as we walked towards the quarterdeck. The Officer Of the Day (OOD) just happened to be walking back from the cafeteria (I know, “galley” in Naval terms, but we were on a shore site….and the Philly Cheese Steaks were better than anything you’d get on a ship!) with his lunch, so we moved out of his way.
This is when my life was truly altered. I remember Buddy walking along side of me on my right, and the Lieutenant acknowledged Buddy and I as he walked past. As I moved to my right, I felt something move on my right sock…
Then everything happened in slow motion.
I felt the clasp become undone on my sock and then felt physics come into play. Upon reflection there was no sound to what happened next, but if it were a movie, it certainly would have sounded like a balloon popping. The metal clasp on the front of my right sock opened and the elastic contracted at damn near light speed, inside my pant leg, as I was walking.
My right leg was extended forward and I felt the metal clasp shoot up my leg, again, remembering this all in slow motion. The lower clasp shot up and…doing what elastic does…it didn’t just stop once the elasticity was expended. It continued further up.
My right foot touched the ground just as the metal clasp finished its slingshot journey up my leg, right into the worst possible location: My boys.
If you are a male, imagine the feel of a rubber band being extended and shot onto your boys from a distance of three feet. If you are female, think of…uh…I dunno….the worst rubber band pain? I honestly don’t know.
The next thing I know, I’m laying on the ground in front of an admiral’s quarterdeck, in a fetal position, with tears coming down my face. My mouth is wide open in a cry of pain, but there is absolutely no sound coming from me. I am cupping what I think is left of my twigs and berries. At that point, I honestly thought, due to the pain, that everything had been cleanly severed and I’d never ever have kids.
My next memory is the LT kneeling down and…I smell his cheese steak. Yeah, that’s my thought process…FOOD.
“Petty Officer Gilmore, are you OK? What’s wrong?”, said the LT.
He’s holding my shoulder in one hand, and his carryout cheese steak in the other. I tried to stand up and just kind of laid there, whimpering.
“Sir, I’m fine…I just had a…uniform accident. My shirt stay…kind of….didn’t”
Once I said that, I heard a guffaw from Buddy. I rolled over (still laying on the ground in dress whites) and saw Buddy laughing so hard he was crying and doubling over. I can’t blame him, as I would have probably laughed my ass off as well.
So, a few minutes later, there I am, outside an admiral’s quarterdeck, sitting in a leather bound chair. Many a sailor has already passed by me, giving me a weird look, mainly because I was still holding my junk in pain.
In conclusion, Buddy and I went and smoked, I stopped wearing shirt stays, and I missed out on that Philly cheese steak for lunch….