Return to Australia

At Little Creatures, one of my favorite places to eat and drink at in the world
At Little Creatures, one of my favorite places to eat and drink at in the world

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.

Delicious kangaroo tail kebabs
Delicious kangaroo tail kebabs

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.

Our giant posse of lesbian tour guides.
Our giant posse of lesbian tour guides.

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.

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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…

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.

Fish

Getting my fish pinned on by Downing with Pendergrass
Getting my fish pinned on by Downing with Pendergrass

Today is an important day for me in my Navy  career because now I am finally qualified in submarines. It’s hard to explain the significance of this event because to Nukes, it’s not significant in the same way as it is to most of the guys who work up forward. But it’s also hard to explain to normal people reading this blog too, because what does qualified in submarines really mean? And what does it mean to people who are on surface ships? (I’m not sure about the second one.)

So, first I should try to explain what it means to normal people not tied up with the Navy. Getting your submarine warfare pin is an additional item you wear on your uniform, and it signifies a tradition in which submarine sailors learn and qualify themselves to perform damage control and to be able to understand all the systems on board and how they work together. After completing a number of “check outs” on these topics, and completing an oral board, you become “qualified in submarines” and get to wear this pin on your uniform (or patch, if you’re wearing Navy Working Uniform, i.e., the camo uniform, or the coveralls, i.e. the “poopy suit” that we wear out to sea). You also have a little ceremony in which you get to pick a quote to be read from a WWII deck log. And then you go about your business doing other job specific qualifications.

Now, that’s a description of what they are, but not what they mean. To the submarine force, they represent that you are a qualified body, no longer a “nub” (new useless body or similar connotation). It means that in a casualty, I can be trusted to do my best to save lives. But it also means that I can now watch movies in crew’s mess and I don’t have to carry around a notebook and pretend to be studying when I’m up forward. It means that, hopefully, I will get less shit and finally seem like one of the crew.

In terms of Nukes, it means a little less probably. After all, we’ve been called a nub from the moment we got to nuke school (that was 2011!). We’ve been used to it and we get called it even after passing A school, Power School, and becoming a qualified nuclear operator in Prototype school. Then, we show up to the boat and people who’ve been in the Navy less than a year and know nothing about what we’ve been through will say nub like we are fresh out of boot camp. I can imagine it’s especially annoying for the Prototype staff pick ups, who end up spending an extra two or three years teaching as a qualified instructor before hitting the fleet. On top of that, our qualifications for the nuclear side of things are incredibly intensive and stressful — so warfare qualifications often seem like a minor thing to us.

All this said, it was good to get done with this. Downing pinned me and Barfuss read — the same goes for Pendergrass. I think it’s amazing and very fortunate that Pendergrass has been with me since the first day of boot camp. He’s been with me through that, A school, Power School, most of prototype and ELT school, and now here on the USS Hawaii. We even managed to finish our qualifications at roughly the same time. Together we’ve had a lot of good times and cold beers. We’ve kept each other sane and supported each other though shitty situations and life events. It’s pretty rare to have a true friend, and even more rare to have one with you all through your time in the Navy. I don’t take that for granted.

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.

Hawaii Life

Here I am thoroughly drunk at sub ball in downtown Honolulu
Here I am thoroughly drunk at sub ball in downtown Honolulu

Well, after my last downer of a post, I stopped posting for a while out of anger, being out to sea, and working my ass off. As it turns out, submarine life is pretty hard, but it seems doable (some days more than others). I’ve made good progress on all of my qualifications, getting phone talker, primary valve operator, and engineering laboratory technician finished ahead of schedule. I’m just a few more days away from standing shutdown roving watch and engine room lower level, which are most of the key qualifications I’ll need to be a decent ELT. It’s hard to think that I’ve been on board since January — most of the people on-board hardly even know I’ve been around so long (I was recently told they thought I had just got on last month!). I pretty much keep to myself and my division, except when I need to interact with other divisions for maintenance, training, or check outs.

My division is full of people I enjoy that are knowledgeable and helpful, and they provide good backup when I make a mistake — which is a pretty common for a new ELT. Most of what I’ve been doing recently is trying to enjoy my weekends and free time after work; deployment is looming closer and closer. I’m sort of looking forward to the idea of going to sea and having a deployment under my belt, but also dreading leaving Carissa. If I was single, I would be so much happier at sea because I wouldn’t have my wife at home alone to worry about. It really has been tough trying to balance work and home life.

My dog plays hard...
My dog plays hard…

Since I last updated, Molly, our new puppy, has gotten much bigger and slightly smarter. We also have a cat, named Cat, which Molly absolutely dominates. I feel like they are my children and it will actually be hard to leave them behind as well. I’ll have to have Carissa send me dog and cat updates when I am able to actually get e-mails. I’ve done a few underways, which definitely makes leaving easier, but it will never be fun to leave my family for half a year (or more).

... And sleeps even harder!
… And sleeps even harder!

In other news, I’m still a third class petty officer, even after taking the test six times for advancement. Instead, a guy who just got to the boat got it. Amazingly, the other new person on my boat is Pendergrass, a guy I went to boot camp, A-school, Power School, Prototype, and almost ELT school with. It’s pretty amazing that we ended up on the same boat after 3 years of being together through the pipeline.

Right now, I consider this the calm before the storm. I’m more focused on getting things done at home and relaxing than hard charging at work. I have so much more time to do that when we leave. By the time I come home, I certainly hope everything is just as I left it (except my bank account, which I hope to be full of money!).

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…