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.

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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.