Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Sailor in the Navy

One Big Ship! USS Abraham Lincoln

What Was I Thinking?

Have you ever had someone tell you that you couldn't do something, and then you did that something that they told you you couldn't do? Well, that's how I got to be a sailor! Now, don't get me wrong, this wasn't the complete determining factor, but it helped to push my decision. "Why navy," you ask? Well, I have no idea! I originally signed up for the air force (my dad had been in the air force, so maybe that would have been a better fit than the navy), and when I decided that I wanted to enjoy the summer right after graduating from high school instead of going to boot camp, I gave up the opportunity to have a job that may have potentially led me to working for NASA! So, I decided to ditch the air force and go navy. Well, you live and you learn, and you end up working with a bunch of guys in the bottom of the USS Abraham Lincoln, standing boring and tiresome watches, while at the same time experiencing some pretty amazing adventures and destinations!
Unfortunately, I don't know where my photos are from when I was on the ship. They may be at my parent's house in their computer files, so, for now, I have to use photos from the internet :( I will try to post them as I find them!

CVN 72

I went to navy boot camp in March 2005, 10 months after graduating from high school. I was 19, and very naive! Looking back, I feel like I was pretty sheltered. Don't get me wrong, my parents did a great job of raising me and my 2 brothers, but I grew up oblivious to the reality of what I was to experience at boot camp and later on the Stinkin' Lincoln, or the Devil's Flag Ship (as I heard others call the huge aircraft carrier that I would later choose to be stationed on. I'll talk more about my time on the USS Abraham Lincoln later, but this time around, I'll just be talking about my time at boot camp). I knew I was naive, especially looking back, knowing what I know now; close to 9 years later. I was miserable at boot camp! Was it hard physically? No. Emotionally? Oh yeah! I can honestly say that I grew up during those 3 months at boot camp, and the 3 months following, while I attended Machinist's Mate A School, both of which were in Great Lakes, Illinois.
Boot Camp
My brain has decided to shelter me from the majority of what I experienced at boot camp, because it was such a traumatic experience! I know that it was either really late at night or really early in the morning in March 2005 when I arrived off the bus at boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois.  All of us new arrivals had to change out of our civilian clothing into smurfs, or blue navy sweats, from almost the moment we got there. Shortly after that we went through a mandatory urinalysis. I was so nervous about having to pee in front of others, especially the mean woman who was doing the urinalysis for the women. I had to walk around the room visiting the drinking fountain every time I passed it, until I could finally go to the bathroom. I remember going through a line with medical personal who were wearing hoods who, as you walk down the line, vaccinated you as you went along. I remember getting what we called the peanut butter shot in our behinds, and recall dumbfoundly looking around the room at the other medical beds where other recruits had their rear ends sticking up ready for the shot!

I remember bits and pieces of being in Ship's Staff (a group of selected recruits who stood watches and had jobs outside of the berthing (sleeping compartment) and watch standing, and then writing the watch bill for Ship's Staff. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watches are kind of like short jobs. Watch standing involved roaming p-ways (passageways, or hallways) checking on temperatures and making sure that no one was out and about at 2 o'clock in the morning! It also involved colors (raising the flag in the morning or lowering the flag at night), greeting those who entered the building (often just the officer in the morning, while at boot camp. This always had me stumbling over my words, and made me want to throw up). Thankfully, but maybe not so much, I soon was moved to the position of watch bill writer. As watch bill writer, I was able to keep myself off the watch bill, which made some people complain. One of the RDC (recruit division commanders) told me that I shouldn't worry about the complainers, because I was doing more work than they were. I still felt guilty though, and ended up  putting myself on the bill more often. Most of the other recruits stood watch strictly inside the berthing, while Ship's Staff stood watch everywhere else, and did other jobs, like cleaning the heads (bathrooms) outside of the berthing.


You might be wondering what the berthing compartment was like, as you might have seen various depictions of them on movies. I do remember it being very similar, in many respects, to what I've seen in the movies. The rack tossing, which involved the RDC throwing everything in your rack into the middle of the berthing. The racks that we had at boot camp had coffin lockers; you lift up the top of your bed like a lid, and all your gear is folded inside. Rack tossing usually happened when things weren't properly folded. We learned to fold our skivies (underwear), socks, white t-shirts, and our uniforms, among other things. The berthing compartment was huge, in my opinion. There was enough room for about 24 bunks, with plenty of room down the middle, if they had wanted to add more bunks. There was also a large laundry room, a row of toilet stalls, a small communal shower space, and an office with a glass window looking into the berthing.

Fire Fighting
In order to graduate from boot camp, I had to pass a series of tests. I got points for how straight I was able to make my bed, fold my clothes, pass uniform inspections, written tests, the gas chamber, shoot a gun, march, run a mile, and various tasks in the water, as well as passing a swim test. I hate to swim, and I am still not a strong swimmer. Thankfully, though, I was able to pass the swim test after 1 additional remedial session, and in the 4 years that I was in the navy I never had to put my swimming ability to the test. At boot camp, I also had to go through damage control training, where I learned about shoring (or patching holes) that could happen on the ship, as well as fire fighting. Again, thankfully, I didn't have to use these skills on the ship, either! As a division, we had to work together to pass the 12-hour long Battle Stations, which required us to put our newly learned skills to the test. To finish up boot camp, we had one final assignment as a division, to get through the pass-in-review, or what I would consider graduation, where we marched in our dress uniforms in front of family, friends, and the chiefs, officers, and other military personal who mattered for our passing.

Boot Camp Graduation

After Boot Camp Graduation

My parents and grandma were able to make it to my boot camp graduation, and I remember being so happy, relieved, and quite a bit traumatized when we were allowed to finally meet up with family. My grandma couldn't stay for long, but my parents stayed for a few days. We spent a few hours catching up, and then I had to check into my "ship" (or next base, or living place) at Machinist Mate A-school "across the street" (which was literally across the street) from boot camp. Once I got through the rest of Friday's obligations, I was released for the weekend. Unfortunately, because of the standing that all new sailors start with at A-school, I had to wear my uniform the entire weekend. My parents took me out to dinner that night, sleep in a hotel (and the first bed that I'd slept in for the past 2 months that wasn't a bunk), and visit the botanical gardens the next day. My parents and I ended that day with a trip to the NEX (the Navy Exchange) store, where we bought a few items that would help me adjust a little better. They got me signed up for a cell phone, so I could better keep in touch. I was still pretty traumatized after the past 2 months of being away from home, and I couldn't help, even at 19 years old old, to cry when my parents had to head to the airport.

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