Fifteen Years of Commissioned Service
I'm not sure what to say about the last fifteen years, except "wow!" I was on my way to the Red Sea for DESERT STORM just six months after being commissioned, and the pace hasn't stopped. The next deployment came one short year after returning for MARITIME MONITOR off of Bosnia. I wasn't the best division officer, and I saw it pretty clearly and knew the implications of my shortcomings, so when the Captain said he was going to extend me to deploy a third time for Somalia, I dropped my papers and got out. It took about two years to realize what a mistake that was.
Three years later I was finally able to get into the reserves and start rebuilding my record and watch for openings to get back on active duty. In the spring of 1999 the war in Kosovo came along with a set of orders attached to augment the AFSOUTH staff in Naples. Finally, in early 2000, the Surface Navy realized how desperate they were for department heads and I was accepted for recall. Department Head School was a challenge, not because the material was so difficult, but because I was by then over six years distant from the Navy I knew. I made a decent showing in the end, though, and just following graduation I got a sign of things to come.
My family and I were in Spangdahlem, Germany, visiting my sister-in-law at the American air base there. We were busily making lunch and packing so we could run out the door to play tourist. CNN was on in the background. My attention was caught by some breaking news about renewed fighting in the Israeli Occupied Territories, so I started actually listening to the newscaster as I stuffed things in my backpack. Camera, check; sunglasses, check; extra film, check; American destroyer bombed in Yemen, che…. It seemed like time slowed in the room and I looked at my wife. The look on her face said, “what have I let him get in to?” She was supportive of my decision to return to active duty, but I knew she didn’t like it. We quickly lost interest in playing tourist that afternoon.
Two weeks later, I reported aboard a frigate for my first department head tour. I was going to be the Combat Systems Officer and very soon after I reported we were underway for a VANDALEX. In seven times on the firing line, there were seven equipment or training failures and the ship couldn’t get a missile off the rail. All the Captain could say to me for four days was, “fix it”, and all I could think for four days was, "what have I gotten myself into?" For the next six months leading up to deployment, we were underway for just over half the time, and for the remaining time I was working half days – six in the morning to six at night. Six months and twenty or so CASREPs later, we got it fixed, and we departed on time for the Mediterranean.
The deployment went remarkably well until the end. Five weeks prior to return to homeport, we were on the second day of a port visit in the Mediterranean. It was my duty day, and I was nursing a hangover that would have been memorable even if the phone had not rung in the middle of my third cup of coffee during a visit from the harbor master. The phone call was from our NCIS liaison, and he informed me that a plane just crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Ten or so minutes later, I got another call from him and you can guess how the remainder of the day went (and the kind of e-mails I got from my wife for the next six weeks).
Eventually my time as a Destroyerman came to an end, and I reported to the big deck upon which I still serve today. Ten days after I reported, and sixteen months after my last deployment ended, I deployed again. I really loved being First Lieutenant, and no, there’s no sarcasm intended. When landlubbers picture Sailors in their minds, traditional seafarers are what they imagine, and there’s still a lot of that in today’s Boatswain’s Mate. The deployment was busy and enjoyable, despite cutting circles in a box off of Djibouti for four months, but as it drew to a close yet another storm was on the horizon. The night before we were supposed to sail for home, the Captain called all hands to quarters on the flight deck.
He was a great Captain, and he never broke bad news over the 1MC. As we all expected, we were to sail north and land our Marines instead of going home. Six months ended up being nine months and six days, and I got to have a hand in finishing what we started in Iraq in 1991. I also have a strip of a homeward bound pennant that will likely get pride of place in a shadow box some day.
Homecoming was amazing, as it was on another ship twelve years and one war in Iraq earlier. Everyone was standing a little taller that day, and those we had left behind asked us to keep our uniforms on a little longer than usual after a homecoming. One monthe later, the ship moved to the yards for nine months, and when orders time rolled around, the Captain - who had been XO during deployment - pulled me aside for a little talk. He wanted me to stay and be the next navigator. That was a nice piece of professional validation.
Being a navigator has been my first opportunity to have a big impact on a large number of officers, and it’s the most satisfying thing I’ve every done. But after a year of crunching requirements to keep the ship on station, and helping build quite a few good ship drivers along the way, my time here is getting short. So here I sit, with fifteen years of great memories and experiences in my seabag, waiting for yet another set of orders to yet another ship. I can’t wait to get there….