For many, the early 20s are when you graduate from college. That is not the case with 23-year-old Navy veteran Allen Hooper.
Hooper is from Redford, Mich., and after graduating from Winston Churchill High School, he enlisted in the United States Navy on June 12, 2012.
“I’ve always wanted to see what being in the military was like [and] I think being in Boy Scouts played a big role; the structure is pretty much the same,” said Hooper, “Also [I] didn’t want to waste a bunch of money going to college not knowing what I wanted to do. Being stuck in Redford my whole life didn’t sound like the best plan for me.
Hooper explained that the process of enlisting in the military is extremely long because of all the background checks, paperwork and drug tests that are required. After swearing in, he went to bootcamp in Chicago, Ill., for eight weeks.
“The last week before I left I was so nervous!” explained Hooper, “I barely ate [because] I always felt so sick to my stomach.”
Hooper said that as soon as everyone got off the bus, they were being yelled at for everything.
“Then they make you pull out a phone if you had it with you and call your parents or whomever to say you made it and you love them. You only had like 20 seconds.”
Bootcamp was brutal but some of the best times he has had, according to Hooper.
“Yeah it sucked, but it sucked with everyone…you become a family,” he said.
Hooper said that the worst day in boot camp was when they were getting beat by their Recruit Division Commander instructors, a.k.a doing workouts.
“They made everyone chug their water and then workout and repeat,” said Hooper, “I watched this girl throw up right back into her bottle.”
Hooper explained that the bathrooms were blocked with their bunks so that no one could use them. That led to people peeing their pants.
“Then they made us sit straight up on our knees and hold our water bottle out in front of us as we watched this video of this little girl talking about how her dad was killed in 9/11.”
Watching that video made Hooper realize what he was meant to do; he said that it made him stronger.
After graduating, he was sent to the Naval Station in Norfolk, VA., and became a boatswain’s mate and was assigned to the USS Kearsarge LHD3.
“It’s an amphibious ship, so it’s about 200 feet shorter than an aircraft carrier,” explained Hooper. “Our main mission is to taxi marines to certain areas of the world.”
A boatswain’s mate is mostly all about the evolutions: such as anchoring, small boat operations, launching LCACs (a.k.a hover crafts) into the ocean for marine debarkation and cargo replenishment, according to Hooper.
“Those evolutions didn’t happen everyday, so we had to fill in the blank with extra ship maintenance.”
Hooper had a strict schedule everyday. He would skip breakfast to sleep longer, clean the ship, go to work, get lunch, back to work and then five hours of standing watch.
“So, my routine was work, watch, gym, email, Sons of Anarchy, then sleep and repeat everyday,” said Hooper.
Hooper was deployed twice during his four years of service. The first time for 10 months and the second for seven months.
“The first time I was deployed was in 2013, and I went to the Mediterranean Sea. I got to see Spain, Israel, Jordan, Dubai and Cyprus. Then I was deployed again in 2015 and went to Spain, Jordan, Oman, Dubai and Bahrain.”
The first deployment was uneventful, according to Hooper.
“The second deployment we were supporting Operation Inherent Resolve,” said Hooper, “While we were still stateside, we did a short search and rescue mission for two boys that were lost off the coast of Florida. We searched until we needed to go across the Atlantic.”
After his four-year term was up, he declined the offer to re-enlist for another term.
“The navy changed a lot, even in the few years I was in. I loved it at first! It was amazing and so much fun, but then I got new bosses and you can only put up with so much.”
Hooper said that if he could do it all again, he would not change anything. The activities he has done, places he has seen and people he has met have forever changed his life.
“It’s an experience that only few will understand, and many will wonder what it’s like. When you are in the military, you grow a bond with people that you’ve never had before.”
After retiring from the Navy, Hooper is now working in Washington as a groundsman for fiber optic cables.