Mathew Benson

I've been a stutterer for about 20 years, and I now realize that I will always be a stutterer. I knew I would have to learn to deal with my problem myself. When I turned 18 I enlisted in the US Navy, mostly to get money for college, but partly to prove to myself and everyone else that I could do it .

I still remember riding that bus from the airport to bootcamp. I was so terrified. What would they do when they found out I stuttered? What would I do when they told me to leave? It wasn't until the next day that I even had to talk to anyone.

After one hour of sleep my CCs, or Company Commanders, switched the lights on and started yelling at us to form two lines and count off. Luckily my number was thirty something and very easy to say. I dodged the bullet this time, but for the next 8 weeks I was number 2. Every morning the count seemed to stop after number 1, but I pretended not to hear the laughing and snickering from down the line.

For 4 weeks, I passed all my inspections, and excelled in all my classes. I was terrifed to stand watches, fearing that I would have to sound off whe n a CC walked through the door, but I never made a fuss about standing watches. By this time our company had slimmed down from 85 down to 75 people.

I signed up for the nuclear propulsion field when I enlisted and really had my heart set on it. All us "nukes" had to go through rigorous medical examinations for the first 4 weeks. On one of my last medical examinations , I had to fill out a questionaire and one of the questions was "Do you stutter or stammer?" This wasn't the first time I answered the question an d so I thought nothing of it as I checked yes. An hour later the doctor calle d me into his office.

"This is the hardest part of my job, son. But I have to reject you from the nuke field. In fact, I can't accept you into the military. I'm going to recommend you be discharged."

My world crashed down before me. It finally happened. What would I do now? If I couldn't make it here, how could I make it anywhere in the outside world. That was one of the worst days of my life. I was so afraid of the future, tears began to well up in my eyes. I couldn't let the guys see me cry, after all what kind of a man was I? I found the nearest bathroom and sat down to think alone for almost an hour.

When I regained my composure, I found the rest of my company and marched back to the barracks compartment. I had the next watch and stood there by my post in a perfect military manner. I stared straight ahead, showing no emotion, as my insides twisted and turned. The guys would walk by me and say hi or jokingly comment at my statue-like stance not knowing what was going on in my mind. Eventually they figured out something was bothering m e and one of the guys took it upon himself to find out. I couldn't take it anymore and I broke down again telling them what happened.

They told my CC, and she brought me into her office and asked me to explain what happened. She then asked me if I wanted to stay in or get out . Of course I told her I wanted to stay in. So she said "then you will." They swept the discharge recommendations under the rug and I never heard about it again. From that day on I was a new man.

All my life I had been rejected because of my speech and for the first time I was accepted. That was only the first of many battles. By the way, I was still rejected from the nuclear propulsion field, and the job they gave was Weapons Technician. I served two years in Guam and was awarded a few commendations and awards including the Navy Achievement Medal. I'm 22 years old now and serving in Strike Fighter Squadron 151 as a Aviation Ordnanceman (another story in itself). I've made 4 or 5 cruises including a 6 month WestPac cruise aboard the USS Constellation. I have 7 more months left on my enlistment and then I'll finally go to college. (Mathew Benson)

submitted November 6, 1995