Putting your heart where your crow used to be

Anybody who wears their feelings on their sleeve and has a harder, crusty shell – like I do – is definitely protecting an inner sensitivity.

Fred Durst, rapper, actor, musician (Limp Bizkit)

It has been more than twenty years since I was a crewman aboard a Navy ship putting to sea. With nearly eight and half years of sea time, all but several months of which was continually away from homeport, I relished having that connection to loved ones that the mail might bring. Where an actual package might take a month to be delivered, letters normally took half that time. And when email became possible, it seemed like those were almost instantaneous messages and response. Even during a busy OPTEMPO, Sailors need that connection to be reminded that what they are doing is important and that people back home have them in mind. We used to call articles shipped from home CARE packages. Moms or wives, or girlfriends (and now husbands, boyfriends and family) sent letters, cookies, magazines, and other mementos to their loved one afloat halfway around the world.

As former shipmates know, deployments and remote duty assignments can negatively influence marriages, relationships and personal conduct. Home life as a single parent is difficult without preplanning and a support network; many young marriages are tested by months of separation, and relocation every few years to different states or even countries. Sometimes poor decisions at home, or while on deployment causes emotional and financial distress. Away from one’s family or church, personal accountability is challenged. Working and living 24 hours a day among those who may believe playing “hard” is as important as working “hard”, personal accountability is tested (“poured into” one’s rack after drinking all day with your Liberty buddies, is overlooked once or twice by your leadership, but can be career-limiting as well as unhealthy). It is for that reason that connection with one of those families or young servicemembers, having walked myself in those boondockers, is so important to me.

The idea to continuing to serve our active duty men and women while they are away from home is not new. Legion and VFW halls, and USOs have done that for a century. But what eats at me is what am I doing to help encourage others? It is fairly easy to be someone who says they support such n such. And if someone says they are a supporter, do they provide some form of material support? A donor to a cause is needed, but asks little of that person. Putting additional “skin in the game”, is the one who participates in some activity, whether writing a letter, making a phone call, or taking a CARE package to the post office and mailing it. And then there is the one who is spurred to coordinate these efforts, obtaining the names of those service members your group or organization wants to help. Like the Chief, a job needs doing, and it is the Chief who sees it through. Sometimes your sweat, tears, and time makes it seem little is being accomplished. And yet there are those who will remember how there were people who helped make the separation – deployment – bearable. Being a Chief looking after the well-being of ‘your’ people never changes whether on Active Duty or retired for more than a decade. For the last couple decades, it is the members of my church family, neighbors, friends and former co-workers I have kept in my heart. Wearing my heart on my sleeve, though I no longer have khakis or dress uniform is still to help those serving today.

Ask the Chief: if it didn’t come in your seabag you won’t need it

I still remember a young sailor reporting aboard our ship who had been in the Navy about six months. A member assigned to our division, he was assigned a bunk in our berthing compartment. Aboard any vessel, but particularly a warship, space is at a premium and quarters for the crew are no exception. In the Navy, a crewmember has a very limited amount of space in which to store his or her belongings, and are designed to hold the contents of one’s seabag plus a small amount of toiletries we fit into a “ditty bag”. In this compartment, the three tiered bunks (“racks”) doubled also as lockers for each member’s gear. There were exactly the same ratio of racks to crew in every compartment aboard ship. (Only the Executive Officer, Commanding Officer and any visiting Flag Officer or dignitary had individual quarters.)

It was the second or perhaps, third garment bag he started to unpack, in addition to his seabag’s contents that drew the loudest “WTF!” from his immediate supervisor getting him settled in the berthing, No less than three color-coordinated suits – 1 green, 1 red and 1 yellow, came out of those garment bags. That he assumed that he would store them in adjacent lockers became a training opportunity. Thirty years ago, we were not as progressive in our attitude nor counseling methods as in 2022; in hindsight, we might not today be forgiven for thinking Gary (Indiana) was missing a pimp. He was advised to remove from the ship every item of civilian clothing that did not fit in his own bunk, after having stowed everything prescribed by Navy regulations for shipboard use.

Not that he was the only person to have belongings in excess of places to put them. Officers, Chiefs and blueshirts (junior enlisted sailors) having accumulated a few bulky items (Turkish and Persian rugs) when on liberty overseas, were known to conduct a lot of horsetrading with Supply, Medical, cooks, and Engineering peers to find cubbyholes when returning to the USA from deployment to the Mediterranean and Suez.


From the current Uniform Requirements for Men, in Paygrades E-1 to E-6, the following items are issued as regular uniform items and when precisely folded, will fit within a standard issue seabag. Some of the items are rank and other insignia which are affixed to uniforms in a prescribed manner. :

  • All-Weather Coat, Blue 1
  • Bag, Duffel 1
  • Belt, Web, Black, W/Silver Clip 2
  • Belt, Web, White, W/Silver Clip 1
  • Blousing, Straps 2
  • Boots, 9″ 1
  • Buckle, Silver 2
  • Cap, Ball 2
  • Cap, Garrison 1
  • Cap, Knit 1
  • Cap, 8-Point, with ACE logo 2
  • Cold Weather Parka 1
  • Coveralls (Navy), Blue 1
  • Gloves, Leather, Black 1 pr.
  • Group Rate Mark, Black 1
  • Group Rate Mark, White 1
  • Hat, White 2
  • Insignia, NWU (E4 – E6) 1
  • Insignia, Service Uniform Collar (E2 – E6) 1
  • Jumper, Blue Dress 1
  • Jumper, White Dress 1
  • Liner, Fleece 1
  • Mock “T” Neck 1
  • Neckerchief 1
  • Parka, NWU 1
  • Peacoat 1
  • Shirt, Khaki 2
  • Shirt, NWU 3
  • Shirt, PTU 2
  • Shoes, Athletic 1 pr.
  • Shoes, Dress Black 1 pr.
  • Shorts, PTU 2
  • Socks, Cotton/Nylon, Black 3 pr.
  • Socks, Cushion Sole, Boots 5
  • Towel, Bath1 4
  • Trouser, Broadfall, Blue 1 pr.
  • Trousers, NWU 3 pr.
  • Trousers, Poly/Wool, SU 1 pr.
  • Trousers, White Jumper 1 pr.
  • Undergarments As Needed
  • Undershirts, White 4
  • Undershirts, Brown 4

To my shame, now retired a dozen years, and more than fifteen since I last got underway on a Navy warship, I no longer practice the rigorous methods to stow my belongings. Then, neither do I have to stencil my clothes and underwear with my last name so they will return to the rightful owner from the laundry.

Disney veterans

Taking responsibility for those under my authority is a natural inclination for a career military man. When my grandchild’s bag of snacks crushed and spilled onto the gift shop floor at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, having nothing else available I started to scoop it up with my hands. My wife helped me. The castmember was taken aback. “I’ve called custodial”, the employee told us.

An “old Navy habit,” I said. “I’ve cleaned up a lot of things just with my hands.”

The woman extended her hand. “Army veteran.” As the young custodian swept the remaining dust, she continued, “We don’t get a lot of this. Most just walk away.” We thanked each other for serving, and as we parted I asked how she liked working at Disney. “A lot like the Army. Very disciplined.”

Port o’ call: Manta Ecuador

A periodic cleaning of closets and garage allows me to reminisce over photographs and memorabilia of travels while I was in the Navy. In the 1990s, deployment aboard the USS TEXAS (CGN39) and later, USS PETERSON (DD969), gave me opportunities to use Spanish, French and Russian I learned in school in the prior decade. However, it was Spanish that gave me some “street cred” with my shipmates when we visited Central and South America. Though deployments from West Coast bases or East Coast bases tend to visit the same ports, my opportunity to visit Ecuador twice, was as result of being aboard these two ships. The USS TEXAS was a cruiser based out of Alameda, California, and the USS PETERSON was based out of Norfolk, Virginia.

Looking at some images, it does seem incredible that thirty years has passed since I made the first of four Navy transits of the Panama Canal. On the way to Ecuador, I became a Shellback, in a ceremony while crossing the equator just east of the Galapagos Islands. Though the Manta I recall is likely to have changed – this image from Pinterest suggests it is more brightly lit, I wonder what an orphanage we served – entertaining kids, bringing skateboards and games, is like in 2022? I do imagine that the orphans have a much more modern – or well-painted facility. On my second visit, the nuns told me that the classroom I painted (two years earlier I painted a clown with balloons there) had seen several coats of paint from other ship visits!

Manta, Ecuador beachfront (date unk), from Pinterest
US Navy’s “Operation Handclasp” doesn’t clown around

Two people we encountered spoke English; one was a retired US Marine who moved there with his Ecuador-born wife, and a kid from New York City, who became our tour guide in Manta. We stopped for a cold Pepsi at a shop, and the kid -speaking English with a Brooklyn accent- greeted us. He was spending the summer with his uncle, the shop owner. While I spoke Spanish well enough to negotiate hotel accommodations at the beach and bargain with the street vendors, it was good to have a streetwise negotiator on hand. I think it was he who told me about carved tagua nut carvings and Panama hats being made in Manta. Thirty years later, I have thrown away or lost among the boxes of trinkets, a fishnet hammock, a “vegetable ivory” carved tarantula and a “Panama hat”.

Local boys making wicker items

Travel was always the biggest perk in the Navy, though as I learned from my travels, some world-travelers set foot on different continents by having a valuable skill and a sense for adventure. In Manta, there was a British man who was going around the world, using his Fisheries Science education to help with protecting and preserving the fishing industries in countries like New Zealand where he had last lived for a few years to Ecuador where he was now employing those skills. I imagine it was a little easier than traveling from hostel to hostel with a few dollars in ones pocket. That sort of vagabond life, at my age is a non-starter; and don’t get my wife started on bring a tent along.

folding clothes and other lost habits

A popular video that still makes the rounds on the Internet, a now-retired Admiral and Commander of Naval Special Warfare (SEAL), shared that your best days begin by making your bed. Today, I read a post on Facebook from the Naval History and Heritage command which reminded me of my early Navy days. It has a series of illustrations of how a Sailor’s uniforms were folded so they would fit in a seabag. Folding precisely was necessary to fit in the minimum space provided (shipboard life has exacting space for each member). While many of us had parents who modeled that sort of self-discipline of making your bed, folding your clothes, taking out your laundry to be washed and dried, and other household chores growing up, many did not. But the military service branches, when we all entered recruit training, would change us all into the sort that had an eye for detail, precision in our activities, and ability to stow our military uniforms and personal effects in the space we were given.

More than two decades have passed since I was part of a shipboard crew, and half that since I last wore the uniform. While the attention to detail and attitude about priorities and performance may still be part of my DNA, sadly other habits have gotten sloppier. No sharp creases in my skivvies, nor do my belongings neatly fit in my much larger “coffin locker” (the small storage space below each sailor’s bunk aboard ship) closets and a 5 -drawer dresser. Linens on my made-up bed would never bounce a quarter, nor do I take 3-minute showers (spray to wet, soap down, spray to rinse, get dressed). I do not stencil my underwear, nor do I fastidiously clean floors, walls, showers to Navy standards. While standards have been stretched over the years, the habits of nearly 30 years do result in frequent “field days”. And I still have Army, Navy and Marine veterans who may visit from time to time. Informal inspections can happen at any time (and my spouse keeps me mindful that a clean home is an inviting home) so I am well-stocked with cleaning agents.

status symbol

I, like most veterans I know frequently wear at least one article of pride to commemorate our prior military service. Some wear articles that support a veterans’ organization, or something with embroidered patches that convey their affiliation. Some like me wear a t-shirt with a bald eagle and “veteran” statement. Others may display a seal for their particular branch of service and “Retired”, or the service mascot and commentary. A veteran’s favorite may sometimes take a good-natured jab at a rival service. We have bumper stickers, license plate frames, or a coffee mug with something that tells others we were in the military. Most veterans I know rarely go anywhere uncovered, which for the uninitiated means we wear a ballcap (or other head covering) we first adopted in the military as part of the uniform. And at least once a day in my travels around San Diego, I will see and acknowledge another veteran wearing a “Desert Storm” or “Vietnam” or “Afghanistan” service commemorative cap or window sticker on their vehicle.

What is your favorite way to commemorate your service, or for that of a family member?

Sunday underway

Our plans for an after-church lunch with friends at our house was almost cancelled today. “Almost”, in that the guest list coming for lunch, as well as one of the hosts (me) changed. Friends who were planning to come felt ill this morning and asked for a raincheck. With no plan, or so I thought, just as church concluded, another Navyman like me, invited me to come out on his boat that afternoon.

I immediately accepted. I hadn’t spent a lot of time in recent years with Mike other than at church. Plus, he said, getting a little “sea” time, for me, a retired Navy Chief, would put a little saltwater back into my veins. Another of our friends, also a Navy veteran, was supposed to be joining us. However, calling to verify he was on his way, we learned his spouse had also made lunch plans. Her guests were at their house.

This Senior Chief and “Cap’n” Mike went bouncing across San Diego Bay in the powerboat and getting some needed fellowship. The time put much needed salt spray back in this Old Salt.

Where’s the Photography Mate? Sailors piloting a boat is a lot easier than taking selfies.

US Navy’s soft sugar cookie recipe from WWII, and how to make it at home | Fox News

https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/us-navy-soft-sugar-cookie-recipe-wwii

As a retired Sailor with 8 years spent at sea, I remember my initial introduction to Navy chow was not very appetizing. From breakfast where hot sauce was the most-prized condiment for the scrambled (rubbery) eggs, to the other meals that were often recycled leftovers, especially sliders that became the meat in spaghetti dinners the following day. But these soft sugar cookies were probably the tastiest of any dessert. Before I earned the rank to eat with the Chiefs’ Mess, when the menu items were planned and paid for – by the members of the Mess, those cookies were a treat.

Just like a show I remember from years ago, when “Cookie”, a onetime cook aboard an Aircraft Carrier was reciting a recipe for his friends, the recipe reprinted in the linked article is crew-sized quantity. You may want to follow the pared-down version.

The Fox article was from material originally published by the Naval History and Heritage Command in April, 2021.

no Minion is an island

A four-hundred year old English poet understood how badly human beings need connection in their lives. I have been thinking of the movie “Castaway” (Tom Hanks), a scene in “Iron Man”, and a phrase John Donne penned centuries ago. As 2020 comes to an end, looking backward over the last twenty-something years, the world has had a difficult time finding things to be joyful. I do think mankind, in general, mean well of their fellow human beings. We were formed to be social creatures to associate and cooperate together. However, two thousand years after Jesus walked, and five thousand years since Mankind’s first civilizations started conquering neighbors, our social invention, Government, is forcing individuals back to isolation and competition.

No man is an island entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and Seuerall Steps in my Sicknes – Meditation XVII, 1624

Our little community in unincorporated El Cajon, California, like many communities across the world, has rallied to brightly decorate their neighborhoods in the holiday season. In the United States, preparations for Christmas begin right after the November Thanksgiving holiday. This year has been exceedingly draconian for everyone worldwide particularly children. As such, my wife encouraged us to start decorating early, putting up lights and inflatable yard decorations, and she decorated inside. Since then, as people drive through the holiday-decorated neighborhoods, or walk “socially distant”, I hope they get some extra cheer from one walking Minion, my spouse, chattering “Merry Christmas” and “Banana!”

If the squeals of delight from kids and adults, and their picture-taking are any indication, Mankind will survive and eventually, thrive again. Tune out Government and the media for a little while. Look at the stars. Think of others more than oneself. Share responsibly. Practice hospitality however that may be this year. Visit a neighborhood lit up for Christmas. And perhaps, take a picture with a dancing Minion.

John Donne’s poem continues:

 If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as any manor of thy friend's,
Or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

You have two basic rights

I am dusting off and republishing a few of my oldest efforts blogging. Rough around the edges. Originally published in July, 2009.

My old Senior Chief back in the days before political correctness blanched most of the testosterone from the military, used to introduce himself to his charges, “You have two rights in this world, one, to live, and another, to die. Gentlemen, when you f*** up, I will take one of them away from you!” I was the Petty Officer assigned to escort restricted and brig confinement -bound men at the NTC San Diego Correctional Custody unit, when the Navy Training Center and not an artsy community/ civic center.

It was his responsibility – and by delegation, mine as well, to attempt through proper application of discipline and hard work to turn last-chance misfits – clowns, chronic whiners, and immature boy-sailors into rule-followers, and rehabilitated men. There were of course, two alternatives that several ended finding – discharge at the convenience of the government, or hard time at the Navy Brig – and then discharge.

After those formative days of my youth, I see my responsibility as training young people in my charge, Sailors in my Reserve unit, recent graduate-engineers at work, and especially my sons, to help them develop along the right course. There is a culture in the military that juniors respect the senior enlisted mentors, as this is how the former progress to becoming the latter. In the civilian workforce, particularly in companies which nurture and reward excellence among all employees, there is a lot of the same cameraderie, cross-training, and shared purpose.

As a parent, though, raising boys who were as independent-minded and stubborn as mules, was work! These teens were self-disciplined only to the extent of things which held their interest – guitars, skateboards, and motocross bikes. Perhaps memory of similar behavior in those young men from the Correctional Custody days, urged me to impart some cautionary pearl of wisdom. Often the effect was wrath and counter-accusation, and exasperated red-faces. It would have been so much easier to find “a fan room”. (a Fan Room is a noisy air handling compartment where 2 could a disagreement with a few fists, without a public display). But political correctness has broken down all the means to apply discipline at any age.
Too much is thought of individual liberties, psyches, and others well-being, to the detriment of everyone from classroom pupil, to those helmsmen of a warship or even public transport operators. Policy which prohibits certain behavior (texting on cell phones while operating a train) is only effective when the individual has ingrained self-discipline.

Were it within my ability, I would like to see a return to the days of the old Senior Chief at NTC. A good butt-kicking would nip a lot of these problem behaviors.

Cold War service certificate

A veteran friend of mine reminded me that veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who served during the period of the “Cold War”,   September 2, 1945  – December 26, 1991,  can apply to receive a certificate of recognition.   The Department of the Army Human Resources Command is managing the issue of these certificates (there is NO DOD medal nor ribbon associated with this.)   I thought it would make a nice addition to my “I Love Me” wall.

Following normal online searching methods,  I went to the Department of the Navy public website, and entered a query.  Information returned on “Cold War Certificate” – among many other search returns- indicates that the Department of the Army manages the issue of these certificates for all military branches.  However,  the link provided leads nowhere.  Even when entered with an “https://”  it still is a broken path.

Going to the main official Army website, does not provide a link – though every search term does return a series of possible websites that are not “cold war”  but “cold” weather, or “war” or personnel certificates for various education achievement.   Fortunately,  I had a clue where to look.  The Human Resources Command of the US Army.

And in that specific website, when I entered the same search terms I had used all along, I found the application for Cold War service recognition.

And you, my fellow veterans, continue to hope that the Federal Government  – or any bureaucracy for that matter – has the tools and wherewithal to manage our earned benefits?

You have to know where to look.