The Shoulder Problem

At the Submarine Birthday Ball, 2015.
At the Submarine Birthday Ball, 2015.

Well, deployment, of course, wasn’t all fun and games (wait, it wasn’t any fun and games…). In Japan II (October), I fell in the engineering space and tore my right arm out of the socket, so much so that it was literally on my back. It got jammed back in and since then I’ve been dealing with it.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I was able to see a doctor and get an x-ray. After that, they upgraded me to an MRI and now I am waiting to see if I need surgery and physical therapy or just physical therapy. It’s been a constant pain and hurts me even when I do the smallest things at work or at home, so I am mixed about getting it fixed. On one hand, I don’t want to be a crippled dude for the rest of my life. On the other, this has been a hugely limiting factor for doing anything physical.

I’m still waiting to see what the results will be, but I’m nervous to see what is said. All in all, though, I get a few days off work because of this so I’ll take that as a win in the mean time. Molly and I are flopping around on the couch and I’m watching movies all day while Carissa works. Not a bad day out of context.

In other news, we had another successful Submarine Birthday Ball, which was pretty fun. Basically you get hammered drunk and wander around Honolulu. There’s some guest speakers, but I don’t remember literally anything from them. Hooyah?

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.

Guam II

Guam can be beautiful, but only when I'm drinking a beer at the ocean.
Guam can be beautiful, but only when I’m drinking a beer at the ocean.

Jeez, what is there to say about Guam that I haven’t already said the first time around? It’s hard to summarize this place when I’ve only had 7 days total in port, but I’ll try my best. Guam is a filthy shithole of an island; besides its strategic location, I’m not sure why this place is even “America”. It feels somewhat like America, and English is spoken by almost all (even if it’s hard to understand), but it’s just not really the United States.

Essentially, Guam is a big strip of expensive shops that Japanese tourists come to; signs are mostly in English with Japanese translations, and the people are 90% Japanese in this area. Very strange. Next, as soon as you’re away from the expensive shops, the rest of the island, from what I can see, is a ghetto full of strip clubs and bars, with little distinction between the two.

Let me talk about this strange cultural custom: the “Mama-san”. Essentially, all restaurants and bars have a fat 40+ Asian woman that is the “big boss” of the store. Not necessarily the manager or owner, but a middle-man between you and the drinks, you and the food, or you and whatever product. They exist, for some reason, but I don’t understand why. Their goal is to make you buy them drinks, food, etc., and to spend more money. They come to you and hassle you for the entire duration you are there, and will get greatly offended if you don’t play her games.

“Oh you don’t care about Mama? You give me a tip! You buy me drink!”

“No. I don’t care about Mama.”

Then they tell you to leave. Screw that noise. The only thing I accomplished in Guam was shopping at the NEX, Navy Exchange, and getting drunk off their over-priced drinks in town. It is somehow far more expensive to do anything in Guam than it is Hawaii, which is already too expensive. This in spite of the people in Guam seemingly having nothing to their name and a run down, filthy town. If I never go back to Guam, it’ll be too soon.

Yokosuka III

A drunken selfie on the Train in Tokyo
A drunken selfie on the Train in Tokyo

Although WestPac deployments can send you all over the Pacific, we’ve really ended up in Yokosuka so many 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

Hurray.
Hurray.

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.

So who really knows where to and when next.

Frocked and Frustration

Pierside in Japan with Pendergrass
Pierside in Japan with Pendergrass

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.

Well, here’s to an extra month of that, I guess.

Welcome to Guam

It's like Hawaii, only Guam
It’s like Hawaii, only Guam

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.

The USS Hawaii Banner at the Horse and Cow
The USS Hawaii Banner at the Horse and Cow

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.