Imagine a priesthood where they wear uniforms like the Navy's, are disciplined like Marines, do as much real work to advance a mission as any nonner in the Air Force, and are worked like Army privates with none of the pay and benefits. If that sounds appealing, you're ready for Scientology's Sea Org, a paramilitary "fraternal organization" comprised of the most devoted Scientology has to offer.
With a reported 6,000 members, the Sea Org is Scientology's version of a religious order. The symbol of two palm fronds around a star is supposedly the emblem of the Galactic Confederacy seventy-five million years ago. Led by the space lord Xenu, the Galactic Confederacy killed a bunch of people with hydrogen bombs in a volcano. Or something. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but so do a lot of religions if you think about it. We're not here to make fun of religion, we're here to talk about this particular one's Xenu-damned Navy.
Where would any service be without its creation story? The wild blue yonder, the halls of Montezuma, Valley Forge, Custer's Ranks, Last night on shore, drinking to the foam and all that. No service is complete without its mythology. Keep in mind, the Sea Org is only twenty years younger than the Air Force and probably richer, since Scientology isn't developing a trillion dollar fighter that ignites on takeoff.
The Sea Org began in 1967 when founder L. Ron Hubbard (or LRH to his followers), science fiction writer and Navy veteran (like his father) who served during World War II, launched his own private naval force and declared himself commodore. The Church of Scientology was founded just 13 years prior, and Hubbard staffed his ships with volunteer Scientologists, reportedly looking for buried treasure from one of LRH's previous lifetimes.
Scientology defector Janis Grady, a former Sea Org member, told the New Yorker, "I was on the bridge with him, sailing past Greek islands. There were crosses lining one island. He told me that under each cross is buried treasure." Hubbard commanded four ships, the Diana, Athena, Apollo, and Excalibur for eight years, cruising the Mediterranean, either existing on a diet of a lot of drugs, evading UK taxes, or looking for a safe haven for his beliefs, depending on who you ask.
The Sea Org actively seeks young, able-bodied individuals to fill its ranks. In her book Troublemaker, actress Leah Remini, who was born into Scientology, notes she was recruited into the Sea Org at age thirteen. According to Remini, Scientologists consider minors to be spiritual beings responsible for their own condition in life and can make decisions for themselves. As a result, many don't go to traditional schools and instead attend Scientology schools. This might not be so bad, if a Sea Org member could retire after doing their twenty, but they don't. Ever. Retire at all.
Sea Org members don't do just twenty years. Remember how incensed some people in basic training were complaining how their recruiters lied to them? Sea Org recruiters at least have the decency to tell you the truth when you sign a billion-year enlistment contract. Since Sea Org members are expected to reincarnate, they owe all their next lives to the Sea Org for the next billion years. Way to Blue Falcon your future selves. I hope the reenlistment bonus is worth it.
Trainees are sent to the Estates Project Force, or EPF, at a dumpy motel in Clearwater, Florida (called "Flag"), doing 12 hours of manual labor a day and two and a half hours of Scientology study until they complete the courses. They eat rice and beans or liquid eggs every day.
Leah Remini recalled having to steal food because she wasn't fed enough. Twenty years later, she would admit it in a "transgression session" (which is way less fun than it sounds), and was voluntold to repay three months of custard and hamburgers to the tune of $40,000 so she could level up. So just like Uncle Sam, when you owe Scientology, they take what you owe them without mercy. It's called a "Freeloader's Debt." Nothing beats a Leave and Earnings Statement (or LES — a military pay stub) with fifty cents on it.
Imagine spending three months cleaning and managing a Days Inn you don't own with people you hate while going to night school the rest of the time and being forced to do things like "scrubbing a dumpster with a toothbrush till late at night," then "getting up at six to do laundry."
With the exception of Sea Org pay being a far cry from E-1 pay (around $50 a week), Sea Org basic training may still sound a little familiar, except it sometimes never ends. One defector describes the order as "pseduo-military butlers."
But seriously, the only reason it isn't slavery is because they volunteered. For a billion years. The good news is there are plenty of ranks to move up to. It's unclear just how one moves up in rank, except for the obvious Scientology method of paying a ton of money for the privilege.
Remini, like many others, say they joined the Sea Org to help "clear the planet." Or save the world. They're young and idealistic. They believe LRH has secrets to save the world and the Sea Org is central to those secrets and they really want to help you. They come in to the Sea Org and start learning right away. Unlike the real Navy, no one ever gets to become a "salty" NCO.
Since members of the Sea Org get very little in the way of education and are entirely devoted to the Church and its functions, those who leave (or "blow") find themselves unable to manage even the most basic of adult tasks, like keeping a job or paying their bills. Many have little to no formal education or skills with which to get a job in the first place.
In her book, Remini reminisced about playing pranks on other Sea Org members. I wonder if they ever sent a recruit out to get a box of grid squares, to get some prop wash, or to find Shelly Miscavige.
Sea Org Members are not allowed to have premarital sex. They can marry but if they want to have kids, they have to leave the Sea Org, because if LRH wanted you to have a family, he would have issued you one.
They have medals
In 2004, Tom Cruise was awarded the Freedom Medal of Valor, which sounds stupid the first time you hear it. And also the second.
They have their own slang and acronyms
Scientology doesn't have POGs, but they have their own version of it. According to Remini, Tom Cruise was once served a chipped tea cup. His response: "'You served me tea in a chipped mug? Do you know who gets served with a mug that's chipped? F*cking DBs." DB, in Scientology parlance, means Degraded Being, Someone so infested with Body Thetans, evil spirits, as to be unauditable or insane.
Cruise's ex-wife Nicole Kidman, and now Remini, along with many others, and probably myself now too, are called SPs, or Suppressive Persons, which is funny because in the actual military, if being openly hostile to the service or to the people with whom you serve gets you declared a social outcast, then everyone in the military would have to ignore each other for the next billion years.
The Sea Org developed its own acronyms over the years, you know, to keep things simple. There are thing like: KSW - Keeping Scientology Working, LRH - L. Ron Hubbard, PTS - Potential Trouble Source, COB - Chairman of the Board (David Miscavige), RPF - Rehabilitation Project Force, MAA - Master at Arms, etc.
For example, if an EPF member messes up bad enough, the MAA will send them to RPF, where they'll do MEST (Matter, Energy, Space, and Time) work. Did you find that sentence confusing? That's what you sound like to civilians.
The only ship left in Scientology's fleet is the Freewinds, an asbestos-ridden heap anchored at Curacao, causing irreparable environmental damage. Unfortunately for the locals there, the Freewinds is the only place a Scientologist can learn Operating Thetan Level VIII, the highest operating level. This is where you can reportedly drop thoughts into people's heads and talk to plants and animals.
It turns out most of the modern Sea Org doesn't even serve on the ocean. When researching their training regimen, "sailing" or "seamanship" or "ships" never really came up. The only time "water" appears is when the Sea Org is trying to discipline people, they throw them into the ocean. That's esprit de corps right there.
So, potential Sea Org cadet, until we meet once more, here's wishing you a happy voyage home... Now go clean my toilet and get me a new coffee mug, you f*cking DB, before I have you sent to Gold Base so fast you'll wish the COB would just RPF you to death.