Although WestPac deployments can send you all over the Pacific, we’ve really ended up in Yokosuka somany times. But, that said, I really enjoy Yokosuka and Japan. Now that it’s not a weird and strange place like it was when I first visited, Japan has some really enjoyable moments.
Pendergrass, Miller, Barnett, and Lowry all teamed up to explore Roppangi, a district of Tokyo. We spent a lot of time eating strange (and delicious) food. We also did a fair bit of drinking along the way. It’s always pretty fun when you team up with the guys and relax. We got a hotel in Tokyo and then Yokosuka the following night, and generally just wandered the streets bar and restaurant hopping.
I assume this will be the last time I’m ever in Japan, and I think we made the most of it. It was nice to just hang out and experience things.
More importantly, coming out from this port call, I am just looking forward to the end. It’s coming, and soon. Unless we get extended again (hah…).
Happy New Year. When I think back to all of my new years, this one will always stand out as the worst. It’s not to say that it was an awful day in the context of being on the submarine, but in the context of celebration, it definitely was. I work the night shift, called “Mids”, so I was up for the switch to 2015. It consisted of the cooks frying up some jalapeno poppers and frozen burritos. Don’t get me wrong here — that’s a real feast when it comes down to food at sea, but I try to think about all the other good times instead. If anything, it will always be the New Years I spent out to sea away from the real world (and stone sober!).
Most importantly, I think about my New Years with Carissa, at home, doing nothing except hanging out, and I am thankful for those times because they are my favorite New Years. I sent Carissa an e-mail through a service called LetterMeLater, telling her to go out and have fun; I really hope she did. I also recall all the parties with Mikey over Christmas break in college; those were good times too, though I regretted every morning after.
New Years was a couple weeks ago now, strung loosely together in my mind by a container of C4 (the popular pre-workout energy supplement we use to stay awake), burned coffee, and administrative work. Time is continuing to warp as the days go on. I know that I’ve been at sea for a long time but I can’t explain where the time has gone. To me, it is still August 8th and I am trapped in the same day. It makes me wonder if things have changed in the real world. Seven months is a long time to be away. I don’t know how people make this a career.
It’s a bummer knowing that you’re going to be stuck out to sea, so when something breaks on-board, most people optimistically hope it’ll be broken enough to have us pull in. (In reality, though, we do our jobs to fix the boat and apparently we’re good at it, which is why we’re one of the few boats able to support what we’re doing right now). It’s more of a fantasty dream than anything; if only we got to pull into blah port for x days. When we do get news of a schedule change, it starts up as a collection of rumors pieced together from the radiomen, cryptic squadron e-mails, and occasionally chain of command updates. All these things mix together for a very unstable schedule, and everyone is clinging on the next big news.
Well, we ended up stopping in Sasebo, Japan for Christmas. It was a good break and a little bit of time to relax before we headed back out for more. I think Japan is an especially strange place for Americans though. Everything is just so different, even when they try to make it American for us. (For example, our hotel breakfast was hot dogs and french fries, just like home. Haha.)
It’s hard being gone for Christmas, but at least I did get to talk to Carissa a fair bit. The time differences and our weird schedules make it pretty frustrating. I was sitting on top of my boat in 30 degree weather with no coat for hours talking to her, just because that’s the only real option. People will do anything to spend just a few more minutes talking to the people that they love.
I only had two real days off here. The first was spent stocking up on supplies, getting food, and drinking off the previous underway. It doesn’t help that all my buddies enjoy the same amount of drinking as I do. In fact, I always feel like I meet the most interesting people at bars and end up finding new places I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.
My other day off I just did some Christmas shopping and walked around the area. I kind of regret not taking the trip to Nagasaki, but I don’t think I mind that much. It seems sort of distasteful and weird (much the same way I find Japanese people making cute poses on the USS Missouri — but again, it’s a cultural thing lost in translation).
It was nice just doing nothing for a little while. It’s an opportunity that you rarely get, so I was very pleased with that at least. But, now it’s back out to sea for a while longer. It’s a shame to think that I would be getting back in two months otherwise, but now I have even more to go. Oh well, every day closer is a good thing.
So, after taking the Navy advancement exam six times, I finally made E-5 off the test as opposed to re-enlisting for it. It’s nice finally getting a pay raise and moving up in the Navy. If I don’t re-enlist in the future, this will be my rank when I get out of the Navy too because I don’t have enough time left on my contract to make E-6. For those of you that this sounds Greek to, I was the equivalent of a Corporal in the Army, and now I’m at the rank of a Sergent. Navy ranks are strange to most. Now I’m a Petty Officer Second Class, which makes my title MM2(SS) now, or Machinist’s Mate Second Class Submarine Qualified. Yep, it’s kind of confusing to have so many words and titles. The Navy is pretty good at that.
Also unique to the Navy is getting Frocked. I’m not sure if this is just a tradition, or just a way to save some money, but getting frocked means that you are given the rank of a second class, but you’re still paid as a third class for a few months. You accept all the duties and responsibilities of a second class, but with no benefits. And if you do get in trouble, you’ll be bumped down two ranks instead of one. Hah, that would be a pretty huge downer.
Speaking of huge downers, getting the news of an extension on deployment is a lot like being kicked in the gut when you’re already down. Almost every division on board has a deployment tracker on the ship’s internet, and it was horrifying to see our percentage complete drop more than 10% after the news of our imminent extension. One more month out to sea. 37 days more, to be precise. It was a huge blow to hear this news.
Carissa was already planning events and vacations for when I was supposed to come home, and now all that has to wait. It’s a shame that I have to be apart from my family even more than I already was supposed to be. But, what can I do but do my job and continue on?
At least in my job, things are not as tremendously confusing and hectic as I used to think they were. Amazingly, doing the same thing day on day, week on week, month on month, makes you pretty proficient at getting things done. I have no idea how many chemistry samples I’ve done, but it has to be in the upper hundreds. By the time deployment is finished, I’ll have completed around two thousand maintenance items by myself. That’s kind of hard to believe. Downing is constantly thanking me for doing a good job and praising my dedication to the division. Although the rest of the boat just assumes I sleep all day because of my weird schedule, I’ve made sure that reactor laboratory division is a quiet success. If people don’t know about us, it means that we’re doing things right. I like to keep it that way.
So, Guam has always been described to me as a more ghetto Hawaii with nothing to do but go to strip clubs and bars. After visiting Guam for a total of a day, I can say that this seemed accurate. There are clubs and bars all over, and it kind of felt like the wild west of the pacific. It is strange to think of this as America, as it felt even less American than Hawaii (or Australia, for that matter.)
When we pulled in, we were actually moored to a submarine tender, the USS Frank Cable, which we had to cross to get out to the pier. I’m obviously not a surface guy because it seemed like an entirely foreign concept. There are special passageways just for officers. And, certain lingo that I wasn’t really familiar with. I got shouted at “DOG ZEBRA” when walking through their ship. I had no idea what this meant until I had some boot camp flash back about shutting, or “dogging”, certain doors with big red “Z” markers on them. Strange folk, those surface guys.
It’s hard to come up with much to say about the place besides that it was a much needed opportunity to get a beer or three and just be off the boat. I ate at Outback Steakhouse (Ha, just like Australia right?) and that’s my only real memorable highlight.
I will say it was neat going to the famous Submariner bar, the Horse and Cow, a bar filled with all sorts of submarine gear presumably stolen, er, borrowed, from boats coming and going. There was even a USS Hawaii banner from the last time the boat was there on Westpac 2012. I made sure to sign it so that when I never go back, I can have Pendergrass tell me if it’s still there during Westpac 2017. Haha. Their notable drink is a bluish bottle of something strong called “Nukewaste”, which was delicious and deadly. Very fitting, I suppose.
There’s probably more to Guam, but we pulled in and left in a hurry. When you’re a Nuke, it means you’re working the entire shutdown and then the entire start up, losing essentially another day all together. I’d have almost rather not pulled in because it wasn’t worth the hassle. But, the beers did taste good.
Some years ago, I first traveled to Perth, Australia to do a semester abroad. When, of course, would I ever have the opportunity to go to Australia ever again, right? Well, welcome to the Navy where the world’s most unlikely coincidence is somehow possible. As soon as we got word on the boat that we would be pulling into Australia, the crew’s morale was insanely high.
From the few people who have been there, Australia is know as the world’s best liberty port. Historically speaking, it has been. In World War II, girls used to line up at the pier as American submarines pulled in. It’s not as glamorous now as it used to be, but the reputation still precedes it. These days, only one, maybe two, submarines even pull into Australia anymore. We were actually the first Virginia class boat to come to the country — and this led to pretty much every Aussie on their Navy base coming over for a tour. As a perk of being submarine qualified, I got to give tours. Me and Pendergrass and Miller slammed out some impressive tours; I hope they were very impressed with our professionalism and tact. I traded all sorts of cool things with the Aussies, including a pair of their warfare pins.
And back to the unlikely coincidence — I pull into the one place I lived just down the street from, Fremantle, Australia. Immediately I took to contacting Chloe and Osca from many years ago. Osca was traveling through South America, but Chloe was still there. It was great to meet up and see each other after so much time. How strange to be back. I even saw Osca’s sister just by coincidence. I think she was surprised to see me hah.
Because I had lived there, I was able to give the crew lots of tips for places to eat and drink. And that’s pretty much all I did. We managed to get some great stories, and also get kicked out of the same bars I had some seven years ago. It was like home sweet home. I had 3 real free days in Australia, and I made sure to make the most of it. I was allowed to stay in a hotel for this port. Although we shared a room, getting to sleep on a fold out bed was a true highlight. Taking a real shower, wow, what an experience. It’s amazing how much you appreciate the little things after not having them. I still haven’t managed to sleep under a set of sheets since August, but maybe in a port down the road.
Anyway, being our friendly selves, we linked up with a huge posse of the friendliest lesbians known to man. They became our tour guides and drove us places and even took us home to their families. Australians are time and time again the most hospitable, friendly people on this earth. No one else on this planet could take a bunch of cursing drunk insane sailors in, and then do it again for the recovery the next morning. I am truly impressed with Australia, yet again.
Unlike the first port call in Japan, this port was pretty much the exact opposite. For starters, it was a working port for us, meaning that we worked full hours and didn’t have much time to do anything. Because of our schedule, I only managed some five hours off the boat. When I actually did have a free day, the most ill-planned storage load I’ve ever experienced took place. Basically, after some long times at sea, stocking up on food becomes critical. The whole boat pitches in to load everything at the expense of our liberty. So, we slammed down crate after crate of frozen things, eventually loading too much, and having to dump a bunch of stuff back on the pier. Everyone was worn out and frustrated, and it made getting time to talk to Carissa essentially impossible.
Getting bad news in port is also hard. I had been out to sea for so long that I’ve missed all the good, and bad, things that went on in my absence. The news isn’t important to this blog, but it weighed on me heavily. Being trapped without any communication, now wondering only the worst things over and over can be haunting. I imagine this is something similar to prison, where you reflect on things, over and over, in almost total isolation. Maybe a submarine is even more isolated than prison, however. I often feel like it’s a really great social experience. Take 150 dudes and cram them into a highest stress environment possible, with little sleep, and hardly any personal space, and no connection to the outside world, and put huge expectations on them, and then do this for a period of… one deployment. Wow, it’s even more strange when I typed it all out and reread it. Can you believe people do more than one of these — some people on board have done five! Although re-enlistment crosses my mind from time to time, not doing another deployment sounds nice too…