On a Mediterranean deployment aboard USS PETERSON (DD-969) thirty years ago, I visited an Irish pub in Limassol, Cyprus. While a tourist destination for many British and Irish citizens, the island has had its share of trouble and even war, with the northern part of the island dominated by Turkish Cypriots and in the south, Greek Cypriots. For decades, the United Nations has maintained a truce between the two halves of the disputed island as a result. Though I got to see firsthand the uneasy relations between the two NATO countries (while conducting naval exercises with one country’s navy, we were overflown by jets of the other!), the port city of Limassol catered to tourists as well as the UN troops on liberty. Although my 2 shipmates and I were as versed as any about the political situation (given we were cryptologists), we followed command direction to blend in with other tourists (ballcaps, collared shirts, and short hair) to not stand out as Americans and to avoid any discussion of politics or our missions. We were just looking for a few beers and to explore the beach after several weeks at sea since our last port.
Sean’s Irish Pub was run by an Irishman and his daughter, serving both British and Irish beers and liquor. Talk about soccer teams was as peaceably divisive as with any sports fans in the USA. One of the patrons we chatted with was a Dublin businessman who amiably offered that Muammar Ghaddafi was a pleasant fellow he had business dealings (this was 1994, eight years after the US retaliated against him for sponsoring terrorism). It was best to let that slide. Being of Polish descent (dad) but Irish on my mother’s side (I neglected to mention they were Protestants), Sean made a couple of toasts over good Irish whiskey. We met and had a couple of drinks with one of the UN troops there – I forget whether he was Irish or British. The thing I do remember is that this pub catered to both the Irish and the Brits, but they came by at different hours. And the pub would either have a more “independent Ireland” or “welcome British” atmosphere (both Irish and UK flags displayed, ) depending on the clientele hosted.
Several years of High School Spanish, as well as years living in southern Arizona near the Mexican border, made travel in Latin America easier. Traveling to Spain, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge. Though I had a Freshman year of castellano, Madrid-dialect Spanish, I soon found that they do not necessarily speak “Spanglish” or the Sonoran (Mexico) dialect there.
My second Mediterranean deployment on the USS PETERSON, a SPRUANCE-class guided-missile destroyer, began in October, 1994. One of the first ports we visited was Cartagena, Spain. Located in the state of Murcia, it is a port city that has seen sailors on its streets for a few thousand years. Having lived in or visited modern cities, from San Francisco to New York City, seeing a Roman-era coliseum and medieval architecture – much of it incorporated into modern structures- made some of the oldest American buildings practically new.
I ventured out on liberty alone, trusting that my Spanish would help me get around. Being adventurous and with an affinity for foreign languages, Europeans were more open and chatty to me (Except for a Northern Italian shopkeeper who must have assumed I was an arrogant German -but that’s for another story). A family-run cafe, Restaurante Casa Pepe, (a small lighter I kept all these years in trinket box, reminds me of that port visit), welcomed me. I learned that eggs and bacon are served a little differently there. Chatting with the family, the son who was about my age, offered to show me around his city. He enjoyed correcting my pronunciation, teasing my accent. I teased him that he didn’t speak Spanish either. Murcia has a distinct dialect from Castilian or other Latin dialects, where “c”s often are spoken pallatized (a “th” sound), e.g., “Mur’th’ia ” . One of the buildings in the older part of the city near the waterfront was elevated to display a site that I recall pre-dated the Roman times. It may have been Phoenician. I should plan to visit the places I saw while in the Navy. Now that I am thirty years older, I imagine my acquaintances have long forgotten one Spanish-speaking American sailor, but I still long to revisit these ports of call with my wife. Though I think I will upgrade our mode of travel to a cruise ship. With no intentional disrespect to the Navy, anything will be more luxurious than a destroyer.
Ed: this revised post was originally published here in August, 2021
At age 17, I enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program, to pursue training in electronics and an accelerated advancement upon graduation. I had only some idea of what I was selecting from a few courses in my last year of high school. After completing a career in the Navy, the experiences and the training I earned have provided me security and satisfaction with the career I was afforded. Young men and women today have many more opportunities to learn life-changing skills and gain experience through military service. Yet, the career a young person embarks is still to a large degree dependent on the goals, aptitude and motivation of each individual. Though I know few who regretted their choice of career, with a well-reasoned, thoughtful approach to potential careers, the military does enable many to avoid the pitfalls of a loan-financed education with few real-world opportunities.
In 2023, the lure of a college education as a means to provide more security and career options to young people is recognized by many as failing to live up to the billing. Those whose aptitude and college credentials provide them access to biotech, engineering, computer programming and related careers will do well generally. Many of these students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields have opportunity to intern with companies, and get real-world experiences prior to graduation. The Navy, as well as the other military services, as well as other government organizations offer internships to highly motivated young people, even before deciding to embark on an enlisted or commissioned career.
Here are some of the opportunities that exist today in the Navy:
STEM internship for select high school or college students
Warrant Officer (Aerial Vehicle Operator) program for current enlisted personnel to attend OCS and become advanced technical specialists
For those students seeking post-graduate education in the medical or dental fields, a Navy scholarship program can pay those costs, so students can focus on their education and providing real-world experience in the Navy or Marine Corps
Current college undergraduates whose career ambitions may be in the Active Duty or in the Reserve, seeking a Commission, or to pursue Nursing, Civil Engineering, or the nuclear power field have options
I began an early draft of this post discussing the merits of self-employment, and about small businesses finding a niche in which to grow more successful. Coming home from a meeting of a local Rotary Club today (a friend is a member), I found another “why” for growing our business which is also a tenet of our faith: being generous toward others. Organizations like the Rotary Club donate time and money to a variety of causes. This week, we heard from a local charity chair, about a national effort, sponsored by a celebrity benefactor (Dolly Parton), to encourage literacy among children and young adults. I had believed, that this was an issue for other parts of the work, yet a surprising percentage of the population in the United States does not meet the literacy standards predicted by completion of Grade 12. This charity seeks to reverse the limitations that illiteracy holds over people. Another community program, funded by donations and community grants, helps feed and connect with isolated seniors and disabled adults. And lastly, we heard from a Rotarian who has spent a lifetime supporting an organization that, in one of the world’s poorest countries. directly educates life skills and provides training in a trade and material support to engage in self-employment.
I wonder what good news I will learn about the next time the Rotarians meet.
Ask any Navy veteran about the barter economy, and most of us have engaged in it. We knew it as “comshaw”, which was anything we obtained outside of official channels, generally by bartering items we may have more abundantly, or obtained as something we might use to trade with another division, department, station or military branch for an item we needed. I experienced this firsthand when I was authorized by my department to shop at the DOD/ GSA store at the shipyard for items we needed before deploying. A fellow Petty Officer on a ship across the pier needed an item we were authorized to purchase, but his shopping manifest did not authorize it. We managed to do a little third party transfers with other shoppers to trade up to what he needed. And it came with a guarantee to provide me with something when needed in return. Sometimes, a supply Petty Officer must use forward thinking to anticipate what is a good trade and whom to count on to return a favor.
What brings this to mind many years later is the current state of our economy. It seems that just about everything that homeowners and entrepreneurs may find necessary (or effective) is either prohibited by the State, too costly, or comes with excessive taxes, permits or other fees. A solvent for a barbecue grill, legal in many states, was returned to the shipper, and my purchase rescinded (Amazon). Or another example, a preservative that is effective for concrete in extreme environments is not legal here; however, a less-effective preservative with many of the same “aerosols”, is legal, but requires double or triple applications during the same multi-year effectiveness of the former single application. Sometimes it is just a little difficult to obtain something – the toilet paper or meat and egg supply issues in recent years come to mind- while others may have a sufficiency. Perhaps they might be willing to trade these for another item or service of value? It was not all that long ago that I read about a champion of barter, who had started with an older but valuable item (I think it was a musical instrument) and successively traded up to obtain real estate.
Many years ago, our accommodations in the seaside Mexican town where my buddies and I went scuba diving were paid for with equipment and other goods from the United States that then were difficult to obtain in Mexico. Today, as the cost of maintenance and repair for household or mechanical items escalate, and the government continues to find additional ways to collect sales and income taxes from the middle class, I wonder whether a barter system that circumvents cash and credit transactions will become more popular.
As my wife and ISIC (Immediate Superior In Command), reminds me, opining, responding to, or worse, instigating a diatribe via social media is bad for business. In the last century, word of mouth, newspaper, radio and television advertising, storefronts and mail order were means to get products and services to consumers. Developing repeat business from clients was more easily obtained and was often a local market. It is almost exclusively through social media or websites that consumers are aware of an entrepreneur’s product or service today. Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Meta (Google), Tik-Tok or distributors such as Amazon are the primary means to advertise an entrepreneur’s wares. Inciting negative publicity can diminish a product or service’s availability on these platforms. (These companies also depend on consumers to regularly return to their platforms for profitability.)
As a result, when an inflammatory post, or even something innocuous that may appeal to an entrepreneur’s morals and personal beliefs, social media can quickly become a murky pool in which the original intent or comment is lost. As we have seen frequently, companies such as Facebook or Twitter can limit exposure for certain content. It might be a battle of wills with one claiming censorship and the other inflammatory rhetoric, but small businesses cannot afford loss of market share. This is the unfortunate reality today that we be friendly toward all.
The stranger I met at the Walgreens pharmacy line was in a relationship for 55 years and gave it up, he said. I could see the pain in his face as he continued, “I’ve been for riding motorcycles for 55 years, ” he said, ” but my wife asked me, and I love her far more. So for Valentine’s Day, I quit riding.”
A Chinese high altitude balloon carrying equipment has been carried along in the atmosphere over the United States this past week causing all sorts of ruckus. Their government has responded to United States that it was accidental, and not intentional, violation of our national sovereignty. While the balloon has maneuvering capability and seems to possess a sophisticated payload, the Chinese government claim, that it is an off-course weather balloon, is laughable. It would have been more credible had they claimed it was high altitude survey of their investments in the United States (the Chinese have invested some $200 Billion in the past quarter-century in US businesses and real estate). Though the U.S. Defense Department says the balloon has not ventured over sensitive military installations, and the Government has not ordered it to be shot down, one wonders whom is leading who on. At a time when the Chinese government has trillions of dollars at their disposal, building aircraft carriers, orbiting space platforms, and conducts espionage via HUMINT (spying on government officials, theft of intellectual property and technology by foreign agents) and COMINT (intercepting radio transmissions and hacking into computer networks), this balloon seems to be very low tech espionage for an adversary.
To gain military or economic advantage, nations have engaged in surveillance or intelligence gathering of their rivals for millennia. With the invention of radio communications, ELINT (electronic intelligence) grew exponentially as each nation devised more sophisticated means to mask their operations. With the satellite era, FISINT (foreign signal intelligence) was developed to intercept and analyze telemetry, determining a potential adversary’s capabilities and intentions. All of these have prompted increasingly sophisticated means of securing them from observers.
Determined adversaries view the long game to achieve their objectives. Years before the Second World War, Imperial Japan was sizing up the military capabilities of the United States to thwart their territorial ambitions. The US was then also decrypting their communications, which facilitated the Allies in reversing their early military successes and shortened the war in the Pacific. Since the end of World War II, the Cold War competition between two nuclear-armed adversaries seemed only to conclude when the economic cost to the Soviet Union became unsupportable. At the same time, China has also developed nuclear weapons, and provided enormous support to North Korea and North Vietnam militarily and economically, in two conflicts with the United States. In negotiations beginning with the Nixon Administration in the early 1970s, the economic benefit of a global market open to China has created their global power.
China is a different economic competitor and adversary. More students in China pursue engineering and science training than in the US or in Europe. International corporations with offices in the PRC have nationals working around the globe. With wealth from international consumers, the PRC has provided foreign aid to build (Chinese) militarily and politically-useful seaports, industrial capacity, and resource development around the globe. A balloon floating over the United States might be calculated to test our response, as a metric to China’s long-term foreign policy objectives. Two years of a global pandemic that originated in the PRC due to a failure at a government virology lab, and subsequent obfuscation by their government and officials in foreign nations (with ties to the PRC), lend themselves to being tools of future conflict. Another balloon carrying a biological agent does not seem farfetched.
The PRC has conducted increasingly bold military maneuvers near Taiwan, and is likely monitoring regional powers’ response to its client, North Korea’s, missile tests. However preoccupied the United States is with domestic problem, overt military action against Taiwan in the coming year may be a last option in their Party chambers. Through a century of international agreements, should an adversary attack a treaty partner (Taiwan), the United States will enter the fray. A surveillance balloon over the United States might be a metric to gauge whether the United States populace would be prepared to support that.
After this was published, it appears that the United States did shoot down the balloon as it crossed over into the Atlantic airspace. -February 4,2023. We know it had no civilian-use payload, as it would otherwise have been launched from a Walmart or an Amazon facility – the route most Chinese products go through.
A beautiful afternoon in San Diego seemed like a nice opportunity to enjoy a cigar and watch birds from my front patio. These are some of the perks of being self- employed.
A young guy – anyone appearing under 45 is looking young – approached me with a flyer advertising his real estate business. We got to talking about cigars, work, dogs, and the benefits of being self-employed. He, too, is a Navy veteran who worked in electronics engineering, deciding there was a better way to earn a living in San Diego. He started buying and fixing up houses and then went the additional step of becoming a realtor.
As a video interview via Facebook, with actor Morgan Freeman, also a veteran, affirmed, we limit ourselves and make excuses. He absolutely confirmed the American Dream is possible if one is willing to put in the work.
It does not take much to get old Salts, or two military veterans chatting like old friends. As a perk of his new job at the San DIego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, our son and his co-workers invited parents to go on a “safari” with them yesterday. Seeing giraffes, buffalo, zebras and gazelles in a more natural environment of several hundred acres, from the inside, was awesome.
In the course of getting to know our fellow travelers, I met Dave whom I instantly recognized shared a Navy connection with me. Though a submariner, a “bubblehead”, his quip “I could tell you what I did but I’d have to kill you,” is humorous code for those of us who performed duties that are still governed by national security regulations. As “spooks”, intelligence and cryptologist specialties, we just shared some laughs about those times over lunch after the tour.
For more than 25 years, I wore a command ballcap as a working uniform item with dungarees and BDUs. And kept the caps as mementos long after retiring. I hardly go anywhere without wearing one. And they always start a conversation with another veteran.
Do you have a favorite that you wear still? A company in the Carolinas makes embroidered shirts for my employees, and last month, I contracted them to create these to spread the word about my blog dedicated to veterans and families of vets.
Long before the “sand Navy” was an actual thing – those Navy servicemembers who did a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq during the war- I remember a man who was building a boat in the Arizona desert in the 1980s. While the region is still subject to monsoon flooding (late summer thundershowers that over centuries carved riverbeds flowing west and north from Tucson and elsewhere), I think the builder was overly optimistic. Until I saw what I presume was the same boat launched from the bay in San Diego some twenty years ago. There are other latter-day Noahs still building boats in a parched land. Yet, owning a boat seems to be a short-lived experience for most would-be mariners. While there are many sailing and power boats moored in marina slips all along the San Diego bays, I have seen many hundreds high and dry in storage yards far from the sea. And I live the experience through others. One of my friends, a Navy veteran, invited me out on his boat. Though I enjoyed the experience, I have not had the urge to buy one myself. It would also be another frequent chore to master; between financial and maintenance needs of boats, or cars, or homes, there are rare times to enjoy one. Perhaps, it is why I remember movies where a boat owner was spending an afternoon drinking beer, in his boat while it was stored in his driveway. But having a boat sitting in my driveway in El Cajon most of the year would remind me of one of my running jokes from long ago.
What still causes me to chuckle forty years later is my years spent at the University of Arizona when I would frequently tease a former submariner and fellow student about his participation in the “Rillito River fleet”. The Rillito is, and has been for most of the last several decades, dry but for the previously mentioned “monsoons”. Also, it was the closest non-body of water near both of our homes during that period. That he was a drilling Navy Reservist at the center located on the Davis Monthan Air Force Base at the southern end of Tucson, was amusing to me then. However, the “bubblehead” may have had the last laugh, as I too, became a Reservist there. Within less than I year, I submitted a request to return to Active Duty and subsequently spent the next twenty-three years on ships, and shore sites, from Middle East desert to tropical jungle. From performing observation and interdiction of narco-traffickers in Latin American waters, seizing smuggler’s vessels during a Haitian revolution, supporting Allied efforts in the Serbian – Croatian war, supporting no-fly zones over Kurdish Iraq, I fulfilled my promise to get back out of Arizona and go to sea.
These days I do not make light of any veteran’s membership in the “sand Navy”. They have seen and done some stuff. Whether Reservist or Active Duty Sailor, female or male, if they would have me, I would be willing to crew with them even in the dry washes of southern Arizona.