Home, Forever

The stuff I earned on deployment.
The stuff I earned on deployment.

After what seemed like the longest time imaginable, deployment is over and I am home with Carissa and Molly. It was one of the hardest times being away. Personal issues aside, it’s not easy on anyone. Coming back can be a little jarring and I felt disoriented for a couple of weeks. But now I’ve been home for a while and things are slowly becoming like they were pre-deployment. Just two more years and I’ll be out of the Navy and living my life, doing something different. At least I know that I will never go back out to sea again.

Enjoying some drinks off the coast of Maui.
Enjoying some drinks off the coast of Maui.

However, when I first got back, I did my best to go back out to sea — that is, Carissa and I went on a seven day Hawaiian island cruise. (I’ve been asked why I would want to get on another boat, but this time around I’m not working days straight in their engine room either!) The cruise was pretty reasonable to do since we didn’t have to deal with flying or getting passports to go out of the country. Definitely a good deal, and I could see myself being a frequent cruiser in the future.

The still active volcano on the big island.
The still active volcano on the big island.

I had never seen a volcano, or even kayaked, so now I can say I’ve done that. And, it was Carissa’s first time snorkeling. The food was amazing the whole way through too. We never made it to the big parties at night because we were so full from dinner and tired from hiking up and down the Hawaiian islands. I don’t think we missed much because the median age on the boat was probably 50, or a little more. That said, I was kind of thankful because hanging out with Carissa was really my only goal.

The Town of Kona on the Big Island; our favorite spot on the cruise.
The Town of Kona on the Big Island; our favorite spot on the cruise.

A few people from work went to Vegas, but I’ve already done that one and all I ended up doing was getting myself broke. This was much more relaxing. I’ve spent the remainder of my time hanging out with Carissa and Molly non-stop. It’s insane how much I’ve missed them; the three of us are a family. It’s even hard for me to go into work knowing I have to be away. When I see the boat in the morning, I get a little sense of sadness in my stomach. I think that’s probably normal though.

Molly fights hard not to fall asleep, but I rubbed her belly for too long.
Molly fights hard not to fall asleep, but I rubbed her belly for too long.

Since getting some time off, work is already getting pretty intense to get us into a maintenance period, but then hopefully things will calm down and everything will be quiet until I get out. I’m looking forward to getting my mom and dad out here to Hawaii around Christmas and showing them the island. I also want to spend more time finding new places on the island — we always just hang out when there’s so much out there.

In the end, I’m just happy to be home, finally.

Thoughts Out to Sea

Looking particularly bearded on a long time between ports
Looking particularly bearded on a long time between ports

Today is just one of the first hard days that I have to deal with. On September 22, 2012, I was stuffing my face full of tuna sandwiches and downing beer after beer in a nervous panic while sitting outside of Pearlz in downtown Charleston, SC. In my pocket, I had a ring and in my mind I had a smooth plan. But, actually doing it in person was a pretty huge step.

So, I headed to the restroom, splashed some water in my face, and walked back out to get on one knee and propose to Carissa. She said yes, of course, but it really was nerve-wracking. I’ll never forget how big her smile was — probably the biggest smile possible. The people sitting next to us even picked up our tab before we left.

But, September 22, 2014, I am on Westpac and away from her. I’m currently writing this in my rack after having little sleep and just finishing a monitored primary sample. It’s a far cry from that day, and even harder when I’ve been out of contact with her for over a month. I’m ready to come back into port. I keep having terrible nightmares about things going wrong back home and me not being able to find out.

I know everything is probably fine, but it’s amazing how sad I can get when I have a dream about home. On one hand, I’ll have a nightmare about something bad happening, and I wake up sad and terrified. On the other hand, I’ll have a normal dream about something fun with my friends and family, and I wake up sad and angry. I’m not sure which is worse.

I keep wishing I had Molly to hang out with. She’s such a good dog. I think she’d make a good submariner.

Welcome to/Goodbye to Hawaii

Hawaii really is this beautiful, even in the winter.
Hawaii really is this beautiful, even in the winter.

Well, we finally made it to Hawaii, which has been an adventure in itself. It’s so hard to say goodbye to leave and start back up after a month of getting to be with Carissa, seeing Texas, and exploring Hawaii. It really is even more beautiful than the pictures. It’s paradise and I’m so thankful that I’ve got the chance to be stationed here. We’ve been to great beaches, hiked into the rainforest to see a waterfall, and eaten a lot of Spam in between. (They really do love the stuff here.)

Introducing Molly. She's pretty cute.
Introducing Molly. She’s pretty cute.

Since my last post, we got in to Honolulu, stayed at a nice hotel and eaten a lot of good meals. Then, we got our first house, one to actually be our home. It’s a great feeling having a place that is just for us, even if base housing is a little bit of a run down mess. I got to experience most of the holiday stand down, which effectively extended my leave by a few days. And, during that time, we bought a brand new bed, a nice couch, and even a puppy, named Molly. (She’s great at laying down and getting rubbed, so she’s good for Carissa.)

It’s such a shame that I can’t be here longer to get the house broken in, spend some more time with Carissa, and get used to my job. Soon, I’ll be out to sea and jumping face first into submarine life, and hopefully getting some good progress on my qualifications so that I can stand watch and be somewhat productive.

Seeing the sights.
Seeing the sights.

It’s amazing to think that this is actually harder for me than joining the Navy, going to boot camp, or anything else I’ve done — it’s hard because of Carissa. I never thought about what going to sea would mean for a family, and even though it’s just the two of us (well, three now, I guess), it’s an awful feeling inside to leave her. But, I will be back and then we can pick up where we left off. Right now, however, it seems daunting and insurmountable, but I’m sure that getting the privilege of being an unqualified junior sailor will absolutely keep me busy.

Until then…

Heading to Hawaii

So I bought myself a little something...
So I bought myself a little something…

Well, the day finally came, and I’m really in the Navy now. I just got orders to the USS Hawaii, a fast attack submarine out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It’s really amazing to think it’s been nearly three years of school and qualifications, but now I’m done with both Mechanical Operator and Engineering Laboratory Technician qualifications.

ELT school was actually pretty rough; a lot of mistakes and a lot of frustrations. I constantly felt like I was making mistakes and not being able to figure out how to fix them — but in the end, I was able to push through and actually start to get better at chemistry and the basis behind what we do.

Anyway, I ended up splurging just a little bit and getting something to replace my Mustang. It’s a 2013 Camaro, the V6 in a standard, and I pretty much love to drive it. I make up excuses to get out of the house I think. Definitely living the American Dream now — two car loans! Woo! It’s weird being an adult, that’s for sure.

The whole task of getting all of our furniture and cars out to Hawaii seems pretty daunting at the moment. I’m really not sure how that process really goes, but I do know that we’ll be paying out of pocket to ship Carissa’s new car over there. Anywhere from 1-3 thousand dollars; it’s still cheaper to buy the car here and ship it, however. The downside is that’s just another thing on the credit card. On the plus side, the future is looking bright when it comes to money — we’ll be getting base pay, submarine pay (including around 30 months of back pay), nuclear pay, housing, subsistence, and cost of living allowance. And, I’ll probably re-enlist and get a promotion on top of it. Pretty weird to think of having all that!

She's Snow White and I'm a "sexy" cop.
She’s Snow White and I’m a “sexy” cop.

Anyway, being done has its perks — I get to pretty much do nothing at work for a couple of weeks (good for getting all of our stuff in order before we go). We went to a pretty fun Halloween party on the weekend, now that I have weekends back. And, we even had an NFL get together on Sunday. All in all, very relaxing lately!

I’ll try to keep this updated on moving to Hawaii, and all the adventures we will likely get into. Before we head out, however, we’re definitely heading back to Texas. I will eat at least one full brisket before going to island paradise!

ELT School

Here's the 2013 Chevy Spark. It actually looks pretty cool compared to the best of the cars this size.
Here’s the 2013 Chevy Spark. It actually looks pretty cool compared to the best of the cars this size.

Well, I finished the classroom and basic laboratory stuff for the ELT (Engineering Laboratory Technician) school I’m in. Just a few more weeks and I’ll actually be done and qualified, with a projection of October 25th. Our boat is going to be going up and down for some maintenance, so who knows just when things will really be finished. We’re both really excited to leave South Carolina and try our luck out in Hawaii, Guam, or wherever else the Navy might send us.

In preparation for that, and after a lot of research, we traded in my Mustang, which was a hard thing to do. Now we have a 2013 Chevy Spark, a cool little mix between a hatchback and a smart car. We didn’t get all of the features I was looking for initially, but the deal was almost too good to pass up. It’s nice to finally have something new though. Until we can figure out when we move and to where, I’ll be driving it mostly because it gets amazing gas mileage. After that, I’ll get my reenlistment bonus and I’ll finish paying off my loans and put down a good amount on something cool.

Just another 4 or 5 hours and I'll be done!
Just another 4 or 5 hours and I’ll be done!

Apart from that, I still just have a little longer to go on the tattoo. It’s looking pretty good, even though I had to switch artists because mine ran off somewhere. Oh well. Either way, I have another on the way if things work out.

Because of my transition back to the submarine crew, I manage to get a 3 day weekend, which is pretty nice. Sadly, it starts out with a long day and a lot of work, but it’s a shorter light at the end of the tunnel as compared to my original mechanic qualifications. In the mean time, it’s time to get some steaks on the grill and enjoy the weekend!

Qualified.

Cleaning guns and drinking beer. Pretty good stress reliefs if I say so myself.
Cleaning guns and drinking beer. Pretty good stress reliefs if I say so myself.

Well, it finally happened. After over two years of time spent in the pipeline, today I’m officially a qualified mechanical nuclear operator. This means I’m officially done with the training pipeline (well, almost), and I’m no longer the lowest on the nuclear Navy totem pole. In order to qualify, I had to pass a two hour final oral board with a Nuclear Reactors civilian and a senior enlisted mechanic. They asked so many things, things that even went back to A School, which was about two years ago. Thankfully, I was able to fumble my way through and now I’m done. The relief I’m feeling is so amazing.

Sadly, my break isn’t going to last because I’ve been selected for ELT, or Engineering Laboratory Technician. Basically, an ELT is an upgraded mechanical operator who has had lab and chemistry training, as well as on the boat training for different radiological and chemical concerns. It’s generally said to be pretty good job that most mechanics (at least at some times) wish they could be doing. I’ll still always be a mechanic, but this will be my primary duty for the rest of my time in the Navy.

It’s kind of hard to explain to my friends and family what exactly I did to get here, or what I’ll be doing, or where I’m going. Unless you’ve been in, most of this is probably just a words that have some meaning — but without some connection behind them. I guess you’d have to read all two years of my Navy-related posts and try to piece it together. It seems like a distant dream and it’s still weird to think I’m no longer just an unqualified student. That said, I’m about to get another set of qualifications to deal with so I’ll still be a student for a little while longer.

After that, I have two real options. One is that I can become a junior staff instructor and remain in Charleston, or the other is that I can go to the fleet and be an ELT on a submarine or a carrier, wherever the Navy decides to send me. I’ve listed Guam, Hawaii, Kings Bay GA, and San Diego as my top selection, but who knows what will actually happen to me. Right now, I’d much rather just go to the fleet, get qualified in the fleet, and start my career. I like Charleston, but I’m ready for the real experience.

Our new cat Peepers. Shes really nice when she's asleep.
Our new cat Peepers. Shes really nice when she’s asleep.

Anyway, weirdly, my birthday is once again coming up and hopefully I may actually have a light work load to celebrate it. It’s been weird not having any real free time for the last 7 or so months, and I’m dying for a little leave. But, after I finish ELT school, I’ll get 30 days of transfer leave, which I can’t wait to experience. In what little free time I’ve had, I’ve been going to the gun range and pondering some new purchases. But, nothing so far.

Carissa begged me to adopt a baby cat and so now we have a cat. I’m not the biggest fan of cats, and this cat is nothing but trouble. Biting, scratching, freaking out around people. Soon I feel like it’ll be an outside cat. As soon as we have the chance, we’re getting a dog of my choosing.

Until then, we’ll see how it goes.

Seeing the Light

Me with Carissa. Not in a uniform and drinking beer. The best kind of day.
Me with Carissa. Not in a uniform and drinking beer. The best kind of day.

Well, it’s been a couple months, although it doesn’t really feel like it. Time flies when you’re not really asleep or awake, and you end up drifting through the days on rotating shift work feeling like every day is Wednesday. The “on crew” phase of prototype has been considerably harder and more frustrating. Most of my time has still been begging people for “check outs” on casualty procedures. I’d say that unlike college where the more you learn, the more interested in subjects you become, in prototype it’s completely the opposite.

I’ve been fighting through to the end and right now I’m about 80% complete in my qualifications. I’ve remained the top mechanic on my crew and managed to keep myself in the positive through some tough weeks, but it’s starting become more about getting signatures than about the amount of points you’re trying to make a day. (Every check out is assigned a point value, and you are required to make a certain amount of points a day, called a “delta”, the symbol denoting change.) It’s a pretty miserable experience but finally I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Theoretically, our graduation date is in June or early July, but we’ll see if that’s reasonable. At the moment, we have to switch boats due to limitations, which will complicate most things down the road. I’m currently “steam limited”, or in other words, I have to have the reactor at power to finish my assignments on the boat. So, until then, I am stuck in a no talking study area for 8.5-12 hours a day trying to get the last of my check outs completed. Then I take my final comprehensive test, and then stand watches, and then take my final oral board. All of these things are terrifying. If there ever was a job that makes me feel absolutely stupid every day, it’s nuclear power.

About 2/3 completed. It's looking amazing!
About 2/3 completed. It’s looking amazing!

All that said, I do get some time off here and there. On one of our “t-weeks” (short for training week, I believe), I was able to go to Savannah with Carissa and have a few good nights. Since then, however, I usually just want to sleep and not be in a uniform for a while. Also, I spent another 9 hours getting my tattoo worked on. It’s not complete yet, but it’s getting there.

Hopefully I’ll be in the light soon.