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Why does the military not allow people with high functioning autism to enlist?

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Each branch of the military has a few areas where those with high functioning autism can (and DO, if they’re undiagnosed) thrive. An example, at least through the ‘80s, is in the Navy Submarine Service.

Before I enlisted, in the ‘70s, I talked about the Navy with a member of my church, who was a Navy Commander. He told me that I would probably get kicked out, so don’t bother. When I told him I planned on volunteering for submarine duty, he said “You could probably make it, there. Submariners are all a bunch of individuals, just like you.”

He was right. My first two years were aboard surface ships (frigates), and I almost got busted a couple of times in my first year, until somebody recognized my ability to focus and stay on track without supervision. They gave me special jobs that nobody else wanted to do, because they’re so boring. Then, they transferred me to submarines.

At the time, submarine duty was totally different from the surface fleet. Most of the restrictions and military hierarchy simply didn’t exist. Some examples:

  • Cleaning and Field Day. EVERYONE cleans, from the CPOs, on down. That included seeing a Chief (E7) on his hands and knees in Crew’s Mess, sponging the deck (our Chief Cook).
  • Normal Working Hours. When underway, there’s no such thing. On a surface ship, EVERYONE is up, and working during the day, even if there’s nothing to do. That was in addition to standing a four-hour watch (such as operating the RADAR, or running the boilers) in a three-watch rotation. No sleeping until Taps at twenty-two hundred (10:00 PM).
  • On submarines, there is also a three-watch rotation, but it’s a six-hour watch, and during the off-time, you did what you needed to do (equipment maintenance, compartment cleaning, studying for quals). If your work was done, your time was your own. The only exceptions to this were daily all-hands drills (fire, flooding, toxic gas, battlestations), weekly classroom-style training and weekly Field Day (everyone is up and cleaning the ship). The only way you knew what part of the day you were in was by which meals were being served (breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight sandwiches).
  • Uniforms. Everyone wore issued coveralls (invented by submariners and initially called “FBM Coveralls” or “Poopey-suits”) with NO rank insignia or name tags. The only “rank” difference was that Officers and Chiefs wore a khaki belt, E-6 and below wore a black one. Nobody wore black shoes. They wore “patrol shoes” which were usually sneakers, because they don’t make any noise when you walk. You also learn a habit of always walking quietly (At home, it always startles my wife when I silently appear. If I touch her from behind while she’s doing something, like washing the dishes, she always jobs a few feet! LOL).
  • Titles. Except for “Captain” and “XO” the only non-watch-station titles are “Mister”, “Chief” and “Sir”. Everyone else is nick-name, first name or last name. And watch out with “Chief”! I once walked into Chief’s Quarters, looking for MY Chief, and said “Hey, Chief, “ Six heads turned in my direction. LOL!
  • Damage Control. Surface ships have specific Repair Lockers and Damage Control Parties. On submarines, EVERY casualty (fire, flooding, collision, whatever) is an ALL HANDS affair. When first detected, the watch section starts to combat it, the off-going section runs to relieve them (so the watch-section can return to the job of running the boat), and the on-coming section musters in Crew’s Mess to form a second Damage Control Party.

This environment is favorable for the Autistic with few social skills and high individuality.

In the ‘90s, many of these differences were being eliminated, starting with the Trident SSBN fleet. 25 years later, I don’t know how much things have changed.

Maybe there’s no place for us, anymore. I really don’t know.


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