Rites of Passage


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We are watching Star Wars with our daughter as she sees it for the first time. This is the first movie, or rather the fourth one…the one with young Luke. It is fun to watch her face as she tries to absorb the story and special effects. I am sure I had the same look on my face the first time I saw it too.

It is almost a rite of passage to see that movie for the first time. It is fun.

Which is not at all like the rites of passage that the military serves up. Military rites have an element of suffering in them that make them more significant.

Did you know, for example, that in certain aviation communities, the first one to use the in-air facilities has to clean them when they land? I’m not sure if that qualifies as a rite of passage, but I’ll bet new aviators get introduced to that custom shortly after reporting.

Crossing the line, arguably the most recognizable rite of passage out there, marks the moment a sailor crosses the equator for the first time. The ceremony used to involve crawling through rotten garbage, getting your face pushed into the greasy belly button of the fattest shellback on the ship, and getting whipped mercilessly by sections of fire hose (called shillelaghs). It is more civilized now. The most painful part of today’s ceremonies is having to endure the ceaseless “when I crossed the line” stories from the old guys.

The SEALs certainly have the military’s most difficult rite of passage in the form of a little indoctrination called BUDS. SEAL wannabees sometimes get together for head shaving parties the day before BUDS begins, establishing camaraderie and preparing themselves for the tough time ahead.

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Other traditions, although less visible, are really rites of passage too. Like being assigned to duty in the crew’s mess, something most junior Sailors must endure before being allowed to work in their own rates.

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Qualification boards signify the metamorphosis from newbie to seasoned crew member. In many cases, boards are just as painful as getting whipped with a shillelagh.

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Retirement, when you think about it, is a sort of rite too, celebrating the transition from the military to the civilian world.

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Even ships go through their own trials in the form of inspections. When the inspecting team leaves, the crew celebrates the certification of the ship’s readiness to deploy and fight.

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So as I sit next to my daughter and watch her soak in the wonder of Star Wars, I can’t help but appreciate the special moment taking place right in our own living room.

And when it is all over, I think I will make her clean her room. After all, rites of passage aren’t any good if they’re too easy.


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