Lords of Discipline

A view of the Citadel

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated. Kings Bay has been a great experience, and I’m learning a lot about the town. Work has been laid back from the start and I’ve been enjoying it, even when I have to stand some stupid watch. Last Saturday I got called up right as I was going to bed. I laid my head down on the pillow and as soon as I closed my eyes, I got a call from the quarter deck asking where I was and why I was late for watch. Someone had apparently penciled my name into the watch bill and never bothered to, you know, tell me about it. I explained it to the Petty Officer of the Watch and he says, “Oh, well, in that case… Surprise!” So, I stood that. Tonight I have the 1:30 AM watch in an empty building. Eh, oh well. (As a side note, I wanted to update this to mention that I got a call at 11:30 PM asking where the the guy before me was — and the guy they wanted had broken his leg, and it’s been broken for a month — so I ended up standing watch for a ridiculous amount of time. Love this stuff!)

So, I’ve been doing some reading in my down time and it’s really turned out to the be the best book I’ve read in years. I’ve read a few books since I’ve been in the Navy, but this is far the best. I’ve been name dropping it to everyone I see, but I’m not sure anyone will share in the zeal that I’ve accumulated. But, I’ll rub it in your face once more and talk about how it relates to me. It’s called “The Lords of Discipline” and it’s by Pat Conroy. It’s hard to describe in one sentence because it does so many things. The book is about Charleston in the 1960s, the Citadel (a military university in the city), how the city’s social politics work. But, at heart, it’s about becoming a man (or growing up, I suppose), fighting the system, and how it changes you. Definitely something that anyone who has lived in Charleston should check out, and it applies to everyone who has been in the military — but it also just appeals to anyone’s memories about growing up too. Like I said, hard to characterize it fully until you’ve read it for yourself.

It does a good job of showing Charleston in a different light. As a Nuke, I was stationed in Goose Creek, a ways up north into a swampy, stinky area (largely due to the nearby sewage processing plant). I’d have to drive into the city to see the city, and what I usually saw was a bunch of tourist traps by day and a bunch of expensive bars with stuck up girls by night. I’ve ran into some true Charlestonians before and they really do have an attitude that they are God’s only gift to this Earth, and especially much more sophisticated and cultured than the Navy folk stationed there. I remember talking to a girl when I was first going downtown and she told me she didn’t like to associate with us because we’re dumb little kids who could not make it in college. I explained to her that I had a degree and that I was older, but I think my words were lost on her. People just have their ways set about them. And, the author explains it far better than I could.

Observers have described Charlestonians as vainglorious, obstinate, mercurial, verbose, xenophobic, and congenitally gracious. Most of all, they elude facile description, but they do possess a municipal character that has a lot to do with two centuries of scriptural belief that they are simply superior to other people of the earth. If you do not subscribe to this theory or are even offended by it, well, it simply means that you are from “away”, that you are obviously not a Charlestonian.

Go out and buy this book right now.

The book describes some of this, though it romanticizes it to the point where I was I could experience Charleston the way that the characters did — the sights, sounds, and even smells of the city. Somehow he even makes the world’s worst humidity into something beautiful (and I’m thankful he mentioned the hordes of mosquitoes and biting gnats). Or perhaps the author is just nostalgic and remembers it in a fond light. I similarly think of San Antonio and the King William District, where there was such an old culture of money surrounded by a sprawling city. That city will always have a place in my heart, and I would give anything to live in it again. Then again, maybe I am just craving cheap Mexican food, dollar wells at Crabby Jacks with Christian, frat parties at Sam’s house, and drunken club adventures with Faber. Those memories are more dear to me because I spent four hard years at Trinity, some of the best years of my life with some of the best people.

I imagine everyone has this kind of nostalgia about the moments when they transition from being a kid fresh out of their hometown and thrust into a new environment. The longer I stayed, the more I grew as a person and moved on. Then I ended up in the Navy, ready to be a grown up, and then ultimately treated much like a kid again. I’m eager to “grow up” in the Navy and get to the point I want to be. Even as stupid as the Navy can be, I’m learning to love it very fast. I might not have memories tied to a specific city, but I have them tied to my buddies and the experiences we have.

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Kings Bay

Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. Our subs are so advanced they operate underground.

Update: This is my most viewed post by several thousand, so let me add some clarifying detail since I assume you are reading this because you just got orders here (lucky!). So here’s a better heads up: the traffic in the morning can be really frustrating; cops sit around waiting to pull people over too, since they know you’re running late. They generally don’t like the Navy guys here; don’t get drunk and drive. The food is great: try Sharkbites (in St. Mary’s), which was my favorite place to go. It’s a bar and they have crab cake burger and lobster mac and cheese. Intense. Aunt B’s has the best buffet style country cooking anywhere that I’ve found in the South. You gotta try it. There’s a tiny bar on you way into St. Mary’s that gets a lot of skanky girls and drunk military dudes, but it’s a good time in general. You’re also really close to two cool beaches — the first is Fernandina beach, which is right across the Florida Georgia line. The second is on Cumberland island, which you can take a ferry from St. Mary’s (military has a free state park pass), and then hike through a little forest, abandoned mansion ruins with wild horses, and end up on a pristine white-sand beach with hardly a soul in sight. If you want a bigger city experience, you can head to Jacksonville, Florida, which is just under an hour to get to. There’s plenty to do and see, especially in terms of night life. But, if you have a family, or just like animals, their zoo is one of the best I’ve seen anywhere.

 

The Original Post: Well, I’ve been at Kings Bay for a few weeks and everything has been going well. As I was told, Kings Bay is exceptionally laid back and much easier on my heart and soul than NNPTC was. Although I miss the city of Charleston, Kings Bay is, overall, a much better dynamic. It’s hard to say where to start because literally every aspect of this place is better than where I was.

The galley, for one, is delicious. No longer am I trying to find excuses to avoid the galley, but rather I like eating there. That’s kind of strange to say when you think about Navy galleys, but this one just does it right. It’s even pirate themed. And the fish is actually good. My mind is blown! The rooms are excellent, and we get a “Petty Officer suite” to ourselves. No roommate and we can have alcohol in the rooms and even have guests over. For once my mattress is comfortable to sleep on.

The Trident Training Facility. I work here!

The main difference is that the people here are laid back and won’t get in your face over the tiniest thing. As long as you do your job, you’ll be okay. No one is getting masted right and left, and I actually feel like I’m halfway in the Navy, even though I’m working at the TTF, the Trident Training Facility (the nuclear missiles that will start and end WWIII on a whim).  The schedule is okay (no longer having 18 hour days…) and I work as the supply Petty Officer with a retired Chief. Which means I just mess around on the computer and track packages and supply numbers. Not so bad at all!

Otherwise, I’ve hit the beach with Carissa once and been to downtown St Mary’s (the town close by). There’s still a lot to do so I’ll make sure to do it. I still haven’t been to Jacksonville, and it’s only a short drive from here. What I have been doing is hitting the gym — hard. Hoping to get fit like I was pre-Navy, but we’ll see. I’m definitely drinking more beer than usual here, but it’s hard not to when everyone is going out nearly every night.

I guess, most importantly, I’m happy for the first time since I’ve been in the Navy. Being here is not torture and waking up and enjoying my job is amazing. When you want to go to work, it’s a magical thing. Sadly, now I never want to leave this beautiful place!