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…).

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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.

Merry Christmas From Sasebo, Japan

In Japan, girls dress up in funny Christmas outfits. Weird.
In Japan, girls dress up in funny Christmas outfits. Weird.

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.

Buying things in Japan can be pretty confusing at first...
Buying things in Japan can be pretty confusing at first…

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).

These guys dragged me all over Sasebo to drink!
These guys dragged me all over Sasebo to drink!

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.

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.

Yokosuka, Part II

In a bar in the Honcho
In a bar in the Honcho

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…

Deployment, Starting with Japan.

The "Honcho" in Yokosuka
The “Honcho” in Yokosuka

So, it finally came. I never really thought that it would, but it did. I always had figured that I’d get out of it, or that it wasn’t a real thing. It was hard to finally realize that I was gone.

So far we’ve been out only for a few days, but it already feels like a really, really long time. I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of the longer missions we’ll be doing. To be honest, I don’t even care what we’re doing. I’m more focused on my job and on my division. I just want to be done with my quals, and be good at what I do.

It was a little hectic when I was first standing underway ELT because I have only done most of my time on the boat in port. But, now it’s becoming more habitual and I’m working to make everything I do a routine. I can almost get all of my maintenance for the whole week done on Monday — if there’s not too much else going on. It’s hard to get a sense of time out to sea when there is no real time here, just work and sleep, in random times and at no real schedule. Apart from certain maintenance items, I almost have no clue what time or day it is.

Delicious mysterious meat we found in a back alley
Delicious mysterious meat we found in a back alley

So far we’ve only hit Yokosuka, Japan, but hopefully we go to more ports. I was really fascinated with Japan because the culture is that much different than our own. While Hawaii has a lot of Japanese, it was nothing like all the craziness I’ve seen in the last few days. When not on duty and stuck on the boat, I went to the “Honch”, an area outside the base that is full of bars — and shore patrol (the Navy police, basically). We managed to stay out of trouble, but the habusaki (snake wine) was pretty intense and instantly made me drunker than I could have imagined.

The other area we went was Tokyo, about 40 minutes by express train. The first day we went to Rappongi to see the “party district”. Unfortunately, nothing was open during the day and we kind of felt like it was a waste. The next day, we ended up in Akubari, the “nerd” district with strange porn stores and anime things everywhere.

Wearing an offensive shirt, drinking heavily
Wearing an offensive shirt, drinking heavily

I got a shirt with Japanese Kanji on it that apparently says, “I love big breasts”, and wore it around. The Japanese people all laughed as they saw it. I figure it’s a lot like Japanese tourists wearing a bunch of English sayings that don’t make any sense.

Girls dressed up like maids and had special cafes all over. We had to visit one just to see. It was full of nerdy Japanese guys, and us. I was drunkenly selected for a “birthday” celebration, where I got on stage and screamed things but had no clue what was going on. I’m not sure what the point of these cafes are, but it was definitely an experience.

Just one of the girls dressed like a maid. Weird stuff.
Just one of the girls dressed like a maid. Weird stuff.

Whenever I think about home, it hurts. Just mentioning my wife makes me all kinds of sad. She is truly the most special woman in the world to me and I love her so very, very much. I can’t even believe that I’ll miss Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, AND her birthday and our anniversary. It’s pretty terrible to be alone for the holidays. I hope that she can have fun.

Hearing her crying voice on the phone is when it finally set in. I know now that I can never, ever leave her again. Except if I have a child and need the extra money, I can’t see myself re-enlisting — I never want to put her through this again.

By the time anyone reads this, we will be long since gone from Japan. Right now all I hear are the voices of loud sailors outside my rack. It’s not comforting, but it will become the only sound I hear for so long.
I miss Carissa and I miss my animal family. Carissa is letting Molly sleep in the bed — at least she has someone to keep her company.

I’ve been sad since we left Japan — it’s a hard place to be when every day is the same thing. It gives you time to think, and it’s terrible where a person’s mind can take you. I am praying on getting a sailor mail (the e-mail service used on submarines), but it can be extremely unlikely when we are out doing things.

I keep thinking that it’s just a few more weeks until I get to talk to Carissa, but I don’t really know. I keep hoping and praying to get home safely. This isn’t easy on anyone.