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‘Grandpa’ makes it through Navy boot camp

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Updated: January 16, 2013 1:56AM

GREAT LAKES — The hardest thing for 40-year-old recruit Clifford Bentley during Navy boot camp was not the physical aspect of training, but the mental.

That’s because Bentley, who graduated Friday as Seaman 1st Class (E3), left his wife, Annette, of 18 years, his daughter Halie Siveres, 26, and twin daughters Monique and Monisha, 15, and the business he and Annette started together eight years ago, for nine weeks of training at Naval Station Great Lakes.

“I got a few grandpa (remarks),” he said, but he became a mentor to some of the younger recruits.

“Thing is you can’t prepare for missing your family,” he said, which was different than missing your parents because your family is someone you choose.

“We had two telephone calls in a nine-week period,” said his wife. “The first one was 38 minutes and the second one was 40 minutes.”

Bentley was in the 900 Division, the command division, where recruits got less time for phone calls and time to write letters than the other trainees. He was the master-at-arms and is going to continue his training to become a military police officer after he attends school in San Antonio, Texas.

“What was so hard was not talking over each other because you both have so much to say,” he said of the phone calls. “ It turns into just ‘blah, blah, blah’ and the calls over. It makes it hard.”

Navy Public Affairs Lt. Liza Swart said having an older recruit is “not a very frequent thing.” She said that as long as recruits you can put in 20 years in the Navy before they turn 60 years old, they can join. Bentley just made it under the wire.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Tom Jones, deputy public affairs of Navy Recruit Command, said it’s “not epic rare. It is certainly unique.”

“I would categorize it as more unique than anything else,” because the Navy does recruit doctors, lawyers, chaplains and even musicians, who are naturally older. Plus, there is a difference between active enlisted and active reserve. Bentley will finish his Navy schooling and then join a local reserve unit, where he hopes to work full time.

Jones said for active Navy enlisted in 2011, out of the 33,400 recruits, 85 were 34 years old or older and the average over the past six years is more like 115. When he joined at 19, there was a musician with a master’s degree that came through boot camp with him who was over 30. He did not have the age numbers for the 8,255 active reserve recruits, but they tend to be older.

“My hats off to someone in that age group bracket starting off in the Navy,” said Jones, who also happens to be 40.

Bentley, of Owatonna, Minn., said enlisting in the Navy was just something he always wanted to do. His father, Harold “Hal” Bentley, had gone into the military for the first time when he was 35. His father died last spring and he began to think of it more, but there was another reason, too.

He attended the graduations of his sister-in-law’s two children when they graduated from Army boot camp. Theresa Griffiths, 50, said both her son, Bradley, 24, and Sarah, 22, urged him to join.

“He listened to my son’s tales (two years ago) and he said he always wanted to do that and my son encouraged him. Then last June my daughter graduated from basic training and they were both telling him ‘We know you can do it,’ “ said Griffiths. Sarah, who studied criminal justice to become a police officer, is now serving in Afghanistan in military intelligence.

Bentley laughed and shook his head. “I kept saying, ‘Yea, I could do that.’” But he was too old for the Army, Coast Guard and Marines. It took him all summer to get into the Navy and he reported to boot camp just three days before his 40th birthday.

“I think they expedited it,” he joked while spending time after the graduation in the lobby of the Red Roof Inn in Waukegan. His wife believes it’s part of his bucket list. “I was wondering if he was dying or something,” she said with a laugh. She wrote him every day he was gone.

He always wanted to scuba dive, so he and daughter Monisha did that. He always wanted to be a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, so he’s working on that with daughter Monique and he is up to a blue belt, which is the sixth of 10 stages to becoming a black belt.

People were surprised about his decision.

“I was shocked,” said his father-in-law, Darrell White, who came to the graduation with his wife, Nancy, from Hartland, Minn. His best friend, David Leigh, 40, of Rochester, Minn., knew a little earlier than most because they grew up together and at one time were both going to serve, but he joined the Army. “He was definitely fit enough, that as not an issue,” he said.

His brother-in-law Joe White, 48, also of Rochester, thought Bentley was having a mid-life crisis.

“But when I thought about it, it was pretty neat,” he said.

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