In the U.S. military, “frocking” is the practice of a commissioned officer selected for promotion wearing the insignia of the higher grade before the official date of promotion. An officer who has been selected for promotion may, under specific authorization be “frocked” to the next grade.
September 16, 2023, will mark forty years since I marched across the NAS Pensacola Parade Grounds onto a stage where I smartly saluted CDR. Scully, USN, shook his hand and received my U.S. Naval Officer Commission as an Ensign. On the stage were all kinds of brass and VIP’s whose names have long ago receded from memory. My Dad was in the audience along with dozens of other proud parents and fiancés and family members of Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) Class 24-83. My Dad watched incredulously, as his once out-of-control, insouciant son carried himself with an actual modicum of military bearing.
The haircut, white dress uniform, sparkling brass and sword at my side did not alone, transform me into a military officer. It was Gunnery Sergeant Hawks, USMC and Gunnery Sergeant Walker, USMC that had broken me down to the lowest form of existence. The term they affectionately used on us was “Poopies.” Then they proceeded to build us up into a well-oiled, cohesive group of disparate young men, whose attention to detail drilled into us during every waking hour would greatly enhance our survival rate as we went on to fly our respective aircraft.
The only hitch? A political showdown between the usual suspects in D.C. There was no budget for FY ’84. An Admiral at the podium explained to the gathered guests and the graduating class that we were no longer considered Officer Candidates, nor were we officially designated Ensigns either. We were victims in limbo of bureaucratic idiocy and political gamesmanship. No one was happy with the situation. We were assured, though, that by October 1, Congress and the Administration would sign a budget, fund the military, and get us our “Butter Bars.”
Earlier, in my fourth week at AOCS, I had proposed to Renae in an afterhours, 15-minute allotted phone call. Before hanging up we set the date for the wedding for September 23, one week after my scheduled AOCS Graduation. She only had a few months to arrange the wedding, the reception and rehearsal dinner. I would not be there to help.
I landed at ORD on Monday, two days after graduation. On Friday all of Renae’s planning came together and we exchanged vows in Century Chapel. She was radiant in her V-neck, drop waist gown; I looked serious in my choker whites… and Ensign Insignia.
Zack Taylor, a fellow 24-83 alum, attended the wedding. We had decided to wear the Ensign Bars that we had rightfully earned, despite Washington’s dithering. Someone at the reception snapped a picture of us, and gave me a copy before we headed back to Florida.
The following week we were in Pensacola as a married couple. I still had to report to the AOCS Command, due to the lingering budgetary limbo. There was not much for us to do, and, of course, the Gunnys and officers all treated us as newly minted O-1’s even though it wasn’t official. During a bull session, I proudly showed off some of the wedding pictures. Shortly thereafter, Zack and I were summoned to CDR. Scully’s office. He ordered us to attention, then began berating us for violating “Regulations This,” and “Rules That” and threatening us with a court martial for “Impersonating an Officer!”
We both thought our naval aviator careers were over before even strapping into a cockpit.
But then CDR. Scully slowly grinned, and the Gunnys chuckled as did the other officers assembled in the room.
CDR. Scully said, “At ease, men. Let’s just call this a Wedding Frock. But keep those photos under wraps until the budget is passed. Dismissed!”
My Navy career went well, and my marriage is stronger than ever. Unfortunately, neither can be said of the Poopies in DC.