Dec 11, 2007

A Missed Opportunity

It was July of 1967 and I was nearing the end of my active duty in the navy. I was stationed at the naval ROTC unit at the University of Oklahoma. As I sat at my desk one day, I became aware of someone standing in front of my desk. I looked up and rose to my feet to greet the navy captain facing me. He asked my name and introduced himself as Captain So-and-so, commanding officer of the Naval Intelligence unit in Oklahoma City. He wanted to talk to me about an unusual opportunity. I invited him to sit down.

About a year earlier, my brother Bill, a U.S. Marine Corps captain at the time, had called me to tell me about a fascinating test he had taken, the Foreign Language Aptitude Test (FLAT). He told me I ought to take it just to see how well I might do on it. I had followed up by applying to take the test and subsequently completing it. Bill was right; it was a very interesting test, based on an imaginary language. After I completed it I didn't think much more about it.

I was surprised when the Captain said to me, "You took the FLAT a few months ago and you placed in the 99th percentile. I'm here to make you an offer. If you're willing to change your designator from 1100 (Naval Line Officer) to 1630 (Naval Intelligence Officer), I'm prepared to guarantee you a two-year total immersion program in the Chinese language at the Army Language Institute in Monterey, California. Are you interested?"

I was totally surprised. First of all, I had no inkling as to how well I had done on the language exam. Secondly, I had no idea there was a Naval Intelligence unit within 1,000 miles of Oklahoma City. Thirdly, I had submitted my letter of resignation several months before and it was well known that I was leaving the service. I pointed this last fact out to the Captain and explained that submitting one's letter of resignation was the kiss of death for a career officer. He assured me that if I accepted his offer, he would ensure that every copy of my letter would be expunged from navy records. I remember telling him that I didn't think that was possible.

I then proceeded to tell the Captain that I was not interested in his offer. I pointed out that we had not had normal diplomatic relations with the Chinese government since the Communists had taken over and that I couldn't imagine a more useless language skill. I remember telling him, "There's no way we'll have normal relations with China in the foreseeable future."

I closed the door on this opportunity. Less than five years later, President Nixon made his groundbreaking visit to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai and met with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao Zedong. Normalized relations gradually developed. I have often wondered what might have been...


Jepp said...

Sounds like you've done some real living. I'm a musician as well and in recovery too. As a recovering addict I have an addiction info/support blog for addicts (recovering or not) and their loved ones. I started an addiction forum discussion group related to the blog and am looking for knowledgeable people to post and respond there. I also would like to set up a link exchange with others whose blogs content is similar to mine. The link to the group is in the sidebar at the blog Yesterdays Fears. Happy Holidays - Jepp

James said...

See see said the blind man!

Sue said...

I am back to blogging, Uncle Bob!!! I hope you are well. I'm looking forward to reading your blog. Merry Christmas - love, Sue