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
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.
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.
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.
The Nuremberg trials concluded 75 years ago, obtaining convictions for Nazi officials, commanders and death camp overseers, those who orchestrated and committed genocide in World War II. World War II veteran Ben Ferencz prosecuted 22 Nazi death squad leaders for their role in murdering a million Jews. During his life he helped create the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and secure compensation for the survivors and families of Holocaust victims. At nearly 103, he is still dedicated to making the world better. Read his fascinating story, published by NBCNews January 15, 2023, here.
I do not recall Sailors or Marines scrubbing, polishing or sweeping (on hands and knees) featured in recruiting or Hollywood military movies. But cleaning living quarters with keen eye to removing specks of dust or a random human hair helped turned generations of civilians into military personnel. Being a just-promoted Navy seaman (or fireman or airman) apprentice (E-2) or seaman (E-3) attending a Navy “Class A” fundamentals school, the officer and enlisted managers of the schools and the barracks ran them as an extension of recruit training. These school managers were fastidious in weekly inspections of barracks rooms and our uniforms; we grumbled among ourselves to prefer being sent straight to the “Fleet”.
“A School” was just as much about learning Navy “life hacks” as it was about acquiring one’s trade fundamentals. And acquiring a perspective how to work “smarter, instead of harder”. After the first or second inspection, we would seek out the ‘skinny’ to obtain best result with the minimum output of effort. For dress uniform inspections, we learned of a local shop that specialized in neckerchief rolling, or ribbon-mounting (having only one, a National Defense ribbon as a recent enlistee, the shop catered primarily to senior military enlisted and officers). Though we had some who proudly shined their leather shoes to perfection, most of us purchased Corframs, patent-leather shoes as soon as we could.
It was some of our “Fleet returnees”, sailors and Marines returning for formal training, who gave us techniques to dazzle the inspectors. We learned quickly. Knowing that even a “spotless” room might receive an arbitrary review for “uneven” sheen using the Navy-standard floor wax and electric floor buffer, the secret these “salty” E-4s and E-5s passed us, involved the use of an acrylic liquid wax like Mop-N-Glo. Both techniques required ‘elbow grease’ and an absolutely clean, cleanser-free, surface. But the latter was applied with sponges. As the acrylic would be as easily marred by shoe scuffs, we all agreed to walk in our socks once inside the doorway.
Sometimes we might make two consecutive inspections before having to deep clean and reapply acrylic. As we learned later, many of the school staff would be more diligent when inspecting a barracks room that had a “Fleet returnee” in it. These were the first of many ‘life hacks’ I would acquire as a result of military experiences. Though I have not used a buffer nor Mop-N-Glo in 30 years, memories return when I visit a home where the resident has a sign requesting shoes to be left at the doorway. And if I have an appointment at an office building or military base, the sheen on the floor triggers silent appreciation for the “buffer technician”.
Everywhere I go, I meet a veteran with a story that teaches me something about us as Americans. Some I meet are veterans of WWII and Korea, and some are quite a bit younger as veterans of combat tours in Afghanistan or Iraq. Others recall some detestable conduct they experienced from fellow Americans – incidents of racism, bigotry, or suspicion- but joined the military because of the promise that America meant to them. Some gave up promising careers to go defend America after September 11th. And quite a few I meet are immigrants who were willing to give up everything including their lives, to join the military, fight for the United States and earn citizenship.
Do you know the meaning of each fold of a properly folded American flag?
-George x, veteran and filmmaker
In a little motel office not far outside Yosemite National Park, my wife and I met the “staff”, George, who today was the snow shoveler, registration clerk and information concierge. We chatted this evening when we went looking for hot water to make cocoa, and he was very proud to share with us a story and a video about the American Flag. As a foreign-born American soldier, he earned citizenship through his wartime service. As a film student not long after his enlistment ended, a conversation with a Vietnam veteran sparked the momentum to make a documentary on the meaning of the Flag. With the participation of several notable Hollywood actors and military veterans, he produced the film directed by John Duffy. George gave us a DVD copy of “The Flag” which he promised “gives something to watch when the TV reception here is not good”.
Even as a retired Navy Senior Chief, I couldn’t immediately recall what the 13 individual folds of the flag I lowered and folded 3 decades ago meant, when it was my duty to execute with precision at Evening Colors. But the United States ensign has meant a great deal to me and my family for generations. Like one of the scenes in the film recreated what spurred a Vietnam vet’s interest in getting this film made. The idea that Americans would think it appropriate to burn an American flag, for whatever protest they have with our Government’s bureaucrats and elected officials, still wells up the same response from veterans. Like me, it might be fury at the disrespect shown veterans who have defended the principles, people, and homeland of the United States; and disappointment that people, never having suffered what most of the world has endured, trash symbols that give them more freedoms and choices than most.
First Fold: A Symbol of Life
Second Fold: Symbol of our belief in eternal life
Third: made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world
Fourth: represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is Him we turn to in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance
Fifth: tribute to our country. In the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
Sixth: is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Seventh: is a tribute to our Armed Forces for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
Eighth: is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
Ninth: a tribute to womanhood. It has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that has molded the character of the men and women who have made this country great.
Tenth: a tribute to father, who has also given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.
Eleventh: represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies God of Abraham (honored by Jew or Muslim)
Twelfth: represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.
Thirteenth: when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”
Ed: This list is explained in the documentary, and this same description is given on military.com; some websites, including government sites, incorrectly attribute the folds to represent the original 13 colonies.
Veterans and their families must take the initiative to obtain healthcare we are due as a result of military service. Veterans must recognize that any large bureaucracy moves slowly as a result of myriad policies, procedures, and claimants seeking redress. But recognition of one’s “adversary” does not mean avoiding redress of wrongs. As history taught, determined veterans and others exposed to ionizing radiation associated with nuclear weapons used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Nevada desert and Pacific atoll ranges, were determined to obtain treatment from the Government. Similarly, civilians, shipyard workers and veterans’ exposure to asbestos insulation dust caused lung damage and incidents of cancer; public pressure resulted in nationwide asbestos removal and medical treatment for the afflicted. Certain cleaning solvents (e.g., trichloroethylene up through the 1970s) and repeated exposure for decades to PCBs – Polychlorinated biphenyl – used as insulating and coolant agents, sickened people and forced cleanup and care for those affected. Toxics leached into drinking water within military installations, exemplified by the Camp Lejeune Marine Base and elsewhere originating decades ago have become legal issues. Recently, the Government was forced to assume responsibility for troops exposed to toxics from Burn pits, disposal of trash and sewage with ignited diesel fuel – at camps during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among veterans who were deployed to the Mid-East since the Gulf War in 1991, a number have maladies that resist determining a cause. Since the 1990s, medical professionals have identified about a third of Gulf War veterans suffering problems grouped as Gulf War Syndrome.
Recent data studied by the U.S. Census Bureau (2018) indicates that living veterans number about 7 percent of the U.S. population. While servicemembers might risk injury and death from combat, many faced hazards from the conditions they worked within while working and living with toxic substances. These substances may contribute or aggravate, even decades later, health conditions. While it seems logical that these should be diagnosed and treated as the responsibility of the Government, it is an unfortunate necessity to apply political pressure and bring public scrutiny when an illness is as a result of military service. In the modern era, many voices clamor for Government services. Veterans who do not clamor louder that other constituents may not get heard.
As a Christmas gift, one of our sons gave me a book, The Sea & Civilization: a Maritime History of the World, (2013) by Lincoln Paine. I have always been interested in history, and yet I never had a concise history describing the rise of civilizations around the globe. From Lincoln Paine’s Introduction and into the first chapter, Sailors have played a major role in enabling the rise of cultures across Oceania (across the Pacific Ocean), North and South America, and the Caribbean islands, and elsewhere. For most of us, the history we were taught, particularly in North America and western Europe, focused solely on how Europeans explored the world, encountering mostly primitive peoples. In recent decades, new research into those explorers who chronicled their voyages, and new archaeological discoveries reveal that people thousands of years earlier than either Greeks or western Europeans had fairly advanced maritime cultures, navigated great distances and established wide trade networks. I will repost with observations of what was learned that challenges my previous notions in maritime history.
Perhaps as my readers encounter well written and thoughtful books of interest to the Maritime-minded, you will take the opportunity to share these with me and others. I hope to develop a reading list early this year on maritime history, leadership, storytelling, boatbuilding, science, and biographies of some notable men and women who have dared to put to sea and returned victorious.