What time is it?

I was talking to a woman who works with military personnel. She asked if I could schedule an event from 13:00 to 16:00 for her. Then she apologized for using military time. I laughed. I learned to tell time by military time.

When my first-grade class was learning to tell time, we were strictly analog. The teacher asked me what time it would be if the big hand was on 12 and the little hand was on one. I asked if it was daytime or nighttime. Mrs. Damon said, “Nighttime.” I told her it would be oh one hundred hours . So Mrs. Damon said, “And daytime?” I told her 13 hundred hours. She took me to the teacher’s lounge to show the other teachers what she was up against.

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Now, my dad was not military. However, he worked on governmental contracts and field tested equipment, went on maneuvers, and traveled for long periods of time with the military. He had regularly scheduled meeting with the brass at the Pentagon and at various military installations across the country. We had military personnel at our dinner table from the time I was an infant. As a toddler, I had a little storybook that I would take to every one of those men, plop it on their lap, and say, “Read.” They all did! Mom tried to stop that practice, but neither the men nor I were interested.

When I would take the book to my mom or dad to read, they would try to skip pages. I’d say, “No, no, no,” and turn back to the page before the ones skipped. The service members had no problem reading every single page.

There was a trade-off. I learned military time and alphabet. My dad and the servicemen considered those my parlor tricks. I could tell them, across all branches of service, who outranked the others in the room; I could tell them what time it was in military time; I could say the alphabet using the military alphabet, and I knew the the military ranks on sight. In another year, I was able to properly use the term “need to know.”

Mom was not a fan of military culture bleeding over into civilian culture. A colonel called one day, asking for dad. Dad was not home, so mom said she would take a message. It did not end well for the colonel:

“Thank you, Mr. X, I will give him the message.”

“That’s Col. X!”

“Excuse me. Of course. The title “Mr.” is used for gentlemen. Goodbye.”

Col. X was especially polite to my mom from that point on, but I understand he changed his tone and behavior for the better to all civilians from that point forward.

By the time I hit my tweens, dad would come home after a month or more on maneuvers and say “I want you home by 18 hundred hours,” which raised my mom’s hackles, I would respond “In civilian time, please.” Mom would smile and dad would say, “You’re really going to start that now?” I’d nod to mom and dad would say, “6:00. That’s PM.”

This has been charlie, alpha, tango, papa, alpha. Out.

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