Two saliors sat among society's wounded here at the welfare office, waiting to see someone in authority about getting food stamps.
This would have been an unusual sight a couple of years ago, but it is not anymore. The supervisor at the Little Creek branch office said one of every 10 food stamp applicants is a sailor from the U.S. navel base at Norfolk.
"There has been a big upsurge -- triple what it was 1 1/2 years ago," said Georgia Jarvis, manager of the food stamp center. Navy applicants now come in at the rate of about 40 a week.
"They make the typcial plea," she said, "insufficient funds. Their expenses keep going up. Service people are overextendeding themselves."
All around this Navy town, sailors, chiefs and their wives hoot at President Carter's memo to Defense Secretary Harold Brown, recently revealed by Navy Times, in which the president said pay raises are not the answer to military personnel problems.
"You should assess other factors involved in reenlistment problems," ex-Navy lieutenant Carter wrote, rejecting the Joint Chiefs of Staff plea for pay raises. "When I was in the Navy, pay was not the major factor."
Carter was commissioned an ensign in 1946 and left the service as a lieutenant in 1953, opting against making the Navy a career.
The joint chiefs contend that service people should get 6.6 percent pay increases annually for the next three years to make up for what they have lost due to inflation since 1972. The president rejected the proposal.
"Where's Carter been?" asked a boatswain's mate as he went from counter to counter at the welfare center here, trying to get food stamps for himself and his wife, who is pregnant.
"I bring home $584 a month, pay $150 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Little Creek, $90 for electricity, $40 a month for our TV, and $82 a month for my used car," he said.
That leaves this sailor about $55 a week for gasoline, food and everything else -- including some medical bills the Navy does not cover.
"We can't make it," said the sailor who did not want his name used. He has been in the Navy five years and plans to leave it next year when his elistment is up.
"A lot of our Navy friends would be down here applying with us," said his wife bitterly, "excepting they don't want to go through the s--- we just went through."
What that means is going from one receptionist to another, filling out forms and waiting for a turn to make the plea for food stamps. After all that, a welfare official at the Little Creek branch said the sailor makes too much money -- gross -- to qualify. Many others have qualified.
"They should have lied," said one bureaucrat afterward."He could have claimed his wife needs, special medicine, which would bring down their income to qualify. Sailors and old people, who really need the help, don't know how to work the system."
The second sailor who was filling out forms for food stamps -- apparently fearful that he might sound like an out-of-work welfare case -- left the office hurriedly without telling his story.
A few blocks away, Shirley Corley, 21, a Navy wife was ringing up sales at the K mart, where she earns $3.50 and hour as a cashier.
"We don't even get to meet anybody," said Mrs. Corley an outgoing native of Muskegon, Mich., who went to college for 1 1/2 years before marrying Seaman Norman Corley Jr., 23. "He works and I work. We have exactley $68 in the bank, which I'm putting toward the [$141] Vepco bill."
Their unfurnished apartment, she continuted, cost $195 a month. Other monthy expenses, she said, are $120 for their child's baby sitter, $105 for the Ford van, $36 in furniture payments, $120 a month for gas to commute to the Norfork naval base and $50 to Sears.
That comes to $767 before the Conleys have bought food, clothes or paid doctors for medical care the Navy does not cover. No movies, no dinning out. Seaman Corley's after-taxes monthy paycheck is $600. His wife's job gets them by.
Mrs. Corley said the Navy is so short of trained people that it cannot find anybody to replace her husband to run technical equipment on the base, so his requests to do something different keep being rejected.
"He doesn't like it," she said, "but the way the United States is going, it is a sure job. He'll probably reenlist in 1982, even though he doesn't like it."
She said that about 80 percent of the workers at the K mart are young Navy wives like herself, trapped into the same routine for lack of enough money to do little more than work and watch television.
Fear of the economic furture keeps some people in the Navy. A recession is good for recruiting volunteers and raises reenlistment rates, but thousands of other sailors the Navy would like to keep are eager to take their chances on the outside.
"I don't like that sea duty, being confined, no freedom, no time to yourself," said Ken Russell, 22, of Miami, as he pumped gas at his after-duty job. And, continued Russell, who is a hull technician third class -- another skilled person the Navy would like to keep -- the $700 a month he takes home does not cover his expenses.
"The Navy just pays my bills. If I didn't work here, I wouldn't eat," said Russell of his $3.40-an-hour evening job at the Amoco station.
Come July, when his enlistment ends. Russell will practice the welding trade he learned in the service. "I've got nothing against the Navy," he said, even thouth the workdays at sea ran up to 22 hours. "I joined to learn a trade, establish myself as a man."
The Navy helped him do that, Russell said.
"Some of the guys don't want anything better," he continued. "But I do. I'm from a middle-class family. Maybe that's a lot of my problems." He expects to make $14 an hour as a civilian welder.
Navy Fireman, Bill Esposito, 23, pushes a broom in Hechinger's warehouse here after he gets off work at the navel base, where he repairs tugboat diesel engines. Like his friend Russell, Esposito is single but still cannot get by on his $600 monthly Navy pay. He works four nights a week at Hechinger's for $3.70 an hour.
Being away from the family and having to move a lot compounds the pay problem for married petty officers, like Ralph E. Myers Jr., 26, a second class petty officer trained and experienced in operating the nuclear power plants in Navy submarines. He is a highly skilled electronics instructor at the Navy school on the base.
After serving four years on the attack submarine Robert E. Lee, including patrols where he was out of touch for 30 days at a time, he said, "I began to get disillusioned with the Navy."
His disillusionment with the tediousness and loneliness of Navy life aboard a nuclear submarine deepened after he was married in 1976. He plans to leave the Navy next year after finishing his six-year hitch, despite the offer of an $11,000 bonus to re-enlist.
Myers said he can easily double his $9,000 a year Navy salary by joining a civilian nuclear power company or working on electronic gear the Navy sends to a company such as Raytheon for repair. As a husband and the father of two children, Myers hates the long family separations built into Navy life. He said he cannot resist a job that keeps him at home, and probably will start at $14,000 a year with prospects of soon moving up to about $35,000.
Even the big raises that the joint chiefs want and Carter opposes would not bring Myers' pay in line with what private industry offers for skilled technicians.
In the Navy, the chief petty officers have answers to everything, as interviews in their bar at the base demonstrated.
Between gulps of draft beer at 50 cents a glass, the chiefs talked about today's All Volunteer Force.
"Carter doesn't know what he is talking about when he wrote that thing about money not being important," one chief said. "This is 1980. My wife says my neighbor drives a tank truck for Texaco, and makes twice as much as you do."
"But it is true pay wouldn't be the whole thing," he added. "The junior officers today are afraid. They won't back us up. They're afraid if they back us up and discipline somebody, he won't reenlist."
"Cowards?" asked one chief in referring to some officers. "We're loaded with them. If you've got a dirt-ball get rid of him."
The chiefs complained that the Navy brass, by grading an officer on how many of his people reenlist, has undermined the foundation of discipline.
"We're losing middle management's cutting edge," said another chief.
The chiefs interviewed agreed that higher pay would attract and hold more qualified people; that the draft shoud be reinstituted; that the system for rating officers should encourage, rather than discourage a fair but firm hand; that Navy people should take over many of the jobs now held by civilians on the military payroll. With more shore billets filled by Navy people, they reasoned, six-month tours at sea could be reduced to three months through the larger pool of experienced officers and sailors.
Of course, not everybody the Navy trains is quitting. There are some bright spots in the generally dark picture.
At The Washington Post's request, Navy officals produced a highly skilled boiler technician who has decided to reenlist.
Alan T. Thackeray, 26, of Goshen, Mass., son of a golf course greens-keeper, joined the Navy in 1971 right after high school in hopes of learning a trade and bettering himself. He has done all the dirty jobs, in 100-degree temperatures in ship's boiler rooms and currently is an instructor at the Navy firefighting school here, with the rank of boiler technician first class.
He married his hometown sweetheart, Carlotta, in 1975 and they had a baby, Thomas born 2 1/2 months early. The infant weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces at birth and had to be placed in the incubator at a Navy hospital.
From all she has been able to learn about her son's case, Mrs. Thackeray said, he received too much oxygen. He became blind and developed so much scar tissue in his nose and throat that he must be kept alive by having tubes inserted in a hole in his throat.
"He smiles all the time," said Mrs. Thackeray. "That makes up for a lot of his problems."
Thackeray signed up for another four years last week, partly to get the $12,000 renlistment bonus he hopes to use to buy a house. He said the main reason, however, was to make sure the money and medical benefits for his son keep coming in.
"I have nothing to look forward to but five years at sea," said Thackeray in a flat, but not bitter, observation about his future. "I don't enjoy sea duty at all. I enjoy being with my family.
"But my father worked at the same golf course for 20 years and somebody bought it. Zip! He was out. There's a lot of hard times out there. With the boy and everything, I'm trying to do the right thing without taking chances." CAPTION: Picture, Petty Officer Ken Russell pumps gas at night to supplement his Navy pay; Chart, Although the names for various pay grades differ among the services, all the military branches pay the same. For example, 0-10 is the pay grade for both an admiral and a general, while E-1 is the pay grade for a Navy seaman recruit, Army or Marine Corps private, or a basic airman in the Air force. Officers also receive $67.21 a month for food -- designated as their basic allowance for subsistence -- and enlisted personnel are paid $3.21 a day when they are authorized to buy their meals outside the service mess halls. The Washington Post