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
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.
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
Parka, NWU 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.
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?
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. – John F Kennedy
Today is the eighteenth anniversary of the sneak attack on the United States of America, that resulted in the murder of thousands of men, women, and children. On that day we, as a nation, and the world first learned that a death-cult comprised of fanatical Muslims would use commercial airliners to bring down a symbol of American enterprise, the towers of the World Trade Center, and a kamikaze strike into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. This was also the first time our enemies would learn that American civilians aboard another flying would-be weapon, would willingly and aggressively fight these fanatics, to bring down the aircraft before reaching its target.
The stories of bravery, from these men and women, from members of the New York Fire Department, Police Officers, and civilians and victims in this tragic series of attacks is well-known. We also remember the hundreds of men and women who have suffered life-threatening illnesses from combing through all that poisonous debris – to find, identify, and bury their fellow citizens murdered on that horrible morning.
What Americans should do on this anniversary is to tell our elected representatives that we will no longer tolerate disrespect for our institutions, the purchase of loyalties from non-citizens at the expense of citizens, or the rewriting of history. Further, we oppose the diminishing of American accomplishments, disobedience to the Constitutional-granted powers and laws, and the blatantly self-seeking and pandering politicians. We should instead honor our dead. Support our veterans who, over eighteen years of conflict have suffered and lost. Be proud of our history and our institutions. And fly our national ensign proudly so the living will never forget.
In the 1960s, Saturday morning cartoons were a favored diversion as I had my bowl of Fruit Loops (or oatmeal, when my mother intervened in my breakfast). The cartoon lion, Snagglepuss, had a trademark saying whenever he faced a challenging situation. ” Exit, stage right” or “Exit stage left, even!” However, I was never one to flee from demanding tasks. I think of Snagglepuss now as a classy way to exit this career and explore some new roads.
I am old enough to remember a simpler time, for kids anyway, when the American work ethic was the envy of the world. Parents, neighbors, and teachers taught me values and work ethic. I already had figured out about hard work, respecting others, and making your own way in the world, since I earned money from before and after-school jobs since I was 14. After a few years in the service, and then four years in college, I went back into the service in 1987 and remained in uniform until 2010. The unit held a great ceremony, gave me a nice party, and a wonderful shadow box of my military memories. I was already working at Viasat, so I had my second career already figured out.
I retired from my second longest career today. Well, technically, my last day is tomorrow, but our division threw me, and a co-worker also retiring in August, a retirement party. This latest career was the closest I have come to the camaraderie I felt in the Navy. And now, what does a two-career veteran do at age sixty?
Start my own business, or more accurately, support my spouse who started a business. I am sure the Senior Chief or the Engineering technician can tackle just about any business issue.
In the military services, it might still be a part of recruit basic training to train for chemical attack. In boot camp in the 1970s, I was marched into a gas chamber with sixty other personnel, all wearing our gas masks, and exposed to tear gas. Learning then that my mask had a poor seal, I very quickly ended up with tears and snot streaming inside the mask, hacking and choking when they had us pull it off for “full effect”! And I realized I would have been a casualty. And my poor carcass? filmed for a “here lies stupid” lesson.
That training has never left me. Even on a Thursday evening just before bedtime when my spouse in a fit of cleaning mania, liberally doses the bathroom off our bedroom in chlorine bleach. She happily scrubbed the mold and grime away. I wanted to be a good husband, and though I wanted to go to bed desperately, I offered to help. But the lesson I learned was to stand out of the way. I thought she wanted toothbrush to scrub the sink. In the best tradition of Chief’s wife (I’ve been long retired) she was scrubbing with a toothbrush to get the difficult grit!
No, she wanted a new toothbrush. For herself. At that moment I felt lower than whale excrement. And that’s something I haven’t thought about since it was applied to us in the first days of boot camp forty years ago. It’s okay she says. I can go to bed now. Except that the chlorine gas that she grudgingly opened a window to release – when I mentioned it – is already making me sneeze two rooms away. But it is okay. I probably would have died in boot camp anyway. My dumb#$# should have taken one for the team.
On the sixth of June, 1944, seventy- five years ago, more than a hundred- fifty thousand Allied troops became heroes on D-Day.
My late mother was a 12 year old schoolgirl living on the shores of the Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland. She told me of a foggy early morning probably a few days before the invasion when she saw many ships in the Lough only to disappear a day later. That capped a brief visit days earlier of an American cousin in her mother’s family, a Merchant Marine, who she later learned had been decorated for bravery in the Battle for Malta in 1942.
While some may think that Northern Ireland was far from the Blitz – the campaign the Nazi waged against Britain – German bombers attempting to destroy or disable aircraft manufacturing and the Belfast shipyard from April through May 1941, destroyed a considerable part of the city. A thousand were killed, many were injured and more than 100,000 were left homeless. Once the Nazis started their campaign against the Soviet Union in June 1941, they diverted their bombers.
My mother and family were fortunate in that their home was not bombed but the family retail business was unable to recover from the bombing of the city and the economic conditions which persisted all through the war and the remainder of the decade. And so my mother’s family became emigres to the United States in 1948 (other relatives had been living in the United States since the mid-19th Century).
Reading some of my old letters my late mother kept in her scrapbook, I appreciate jogging memories of my initial service in the Navy forty years ago. At the time, I was stuck in limbo, waiting on orders, waiting on a medical evaluation, and bored. I had spent eighteen months training for a career as an electronics technician in San Diego, in Illinois, in Florida and again in San Diego. When I had received an opportunity to attend the Naval Academy, a medical evaluation accompanying the selection board was possibly going to prevent that. In the meantime, I was assigned to support a correctional unit on Naval Training Center San Diego, to guard and escort sailors confined and others pending transfer to the Naval Brig.
“January 13 1978
I was paid this morning and I have finally got some money in my pocket after being in the depths of poverty for the last week. I’ve been keeping a budget book to account for every penny. Setting aside a $120 to send to you to save for me, I spent most of my last paycheck on a stereo receiver and headphones. I got a great deal as the stereo store said it was a trade-in and not brand-new.
I have been chugging away at BE & E. My Learning Supervisor is better at getting the material across to me than reading the book. And I am frustrated at the computer based training – that I am taking remedial tests every time.
Next weekend I am thinking of the YMCA’s military special to Disneyland – everything including bus ride and ticket, for $14.75…. “
When I read these letters I recall that my focus was split between very difficult technical training, spending money slower than earning it, having a good time, and the things a sailor thinks about: cars, girls, staying out of trouble, and so on. And taking care of my mom.
“February 18, 1978
…it’s been a week since I was home for that short visit…. I’m expecting to finish BE and E School (Basic Electricity and Electronics) in seven working days and then ice and snow! (I was scheduled to transfer for further training at the Great Lakes NTC north of Chicago) I have been trying to spend money and save it at the same time….
I bought two books ” How to Buy Stocks” and “How to Build a Fortune Investing in Land””
“July 3 1978
Class 7825C, ET/A school Bldg 520, Great Lakes Training Center: Thunder and lightning this weekend. Thank you for the ever-increasing moral support. It helps this “screw-up” when I seem to be trying and trying over these multiple -choice tests and I miss the question because I don’t put down my first choice but over think them! Why can’t I learn! Some solace in that I got my PO3 raise today. A whole $10.
Congratulations on your new friend and you both seem to be on the same “astral plane”. And my little sister has a boyfriend! She is growing up fast. I ran into a friend who is very close to a bachelors degree having taking a lot of courses through the CLEP tests. He’s looking at Officer Candidate School and making some career-connections with several officers involved in the program. He’s shared with me several of the courses and tests to take should the Annapolis thing not get accepted. Studying electronics harder will give me a mental breakdown. I need some thing different.
I looked at that Naval Academy application. I think they want someone who is a cross between O.J. Simpson and Albert Einstein, not me!”
In the year between my initial training in San Diego, and returning back to San Diego, I had been undergoing technical training and screening for a government security clearance. Between the training, standing watches, and liberty in Chicago and Milwaukee, I was also trying to figure out if I could afford a TransAm like one in the movie Smokey and the Bandit. It was nearly eleven thousand dollars. I couldn’t. I did learn a lot about weather. Playing pool in the barracks. Guys who were playing some role-playing fantasy called Dungeons and Dragons. A summer music festival at the Navy Pier in Chicago. And working on cars. Being in the best physical shape of my life while in Pensacola, Florida. Running several miles a few times a week that started from a dare between roommates in the barracks while attending CT – school. A circuit of the base, inside the fence was about four miles. We would run it twice a night.
“Letter dated August 2 – 5, and 8, 1979
It’s the second day of August, and in one day following the
most insane twenty-four hours I have yet spent at TPU (ed: Transient Personnel Unit), I think I shall be ready for the funny
farm very soon.
Let me tell you some of the the goings-on at our “Hotel California”. Yesterday, we got a new boatload of lunies (sic) plus one who is trying to put one over on us that he’s nuts, and he is getting my goat.
Another case is my boss Chief Heller. His retiring soon and he continues to drop in
on Bldg 23 if only to holler and cuss everyone.
It is just as if he’s giving out a daily dose of castor oil.
Still another example was last night’s supposed-to-work-flawlessly relief of the day watch. A PO1(Petty Officer First Class) who knew he had duty never showed up, and despite all my efforts couldn’t be found anywhere on-base. No one knew who I was looking for- even though he was supposedly assigned to the same working area! So, as a result, an overworked PO2, a good friend of mine, was forced to stay all night as well as his morning workday.
In addition, I was forced to work late (a 13-hour day) which
it turns out shall be my regular working hours.
It was either that or work 10 hours plus have an extra watch in TPU
every three days.
Today was continued insanity when, in the early afternoon, one of our “mental” cases went berserk and smashed a wood-covered (barricaded) window with a chair. He demanded to go to the brig or he would do more damage! It’s a good thing I don’t sleep there- I don’t know if some night I might get my throat cut by one of these scumbags.
Tonight I went to the PO Club with two friends, George, who works in the NTC Police/Decal Office, and June who also works there. We all had a good time. But what occurred later is interesting. Well, June got very drunk, I was sober and George nearly so. June had to be talked into being escorted to her barracks. George (who went with her) in her car and I followed behind in mine. June wandered all over the road at speed and I sped up to catch her. And out of the dark an NTC (Naval Training Center) police vehicle pulled ME over. Luckily, he was a friend but since I was “rocketing along” at 20 or 30 MPH, he wouldn’t let me drive back to TPU. A quarter-mile walk later I was sober; June was the one all over the road – I’m sure the cop saw her. That will be the last of my “good Samaritan” gestures.
August 5, 1979
Yesterday I finally bought the 10-speed bicycle I was [going to get you] shopping two weeks. I’m sure you will love it, as a matter of fact I wanted to buy one for myself from the same people. Now I have only one detail to work out and that is how to get it home. Two possibilities are open to me, but I don’t know how much it will cost me to ship it, so if you don’t mind I am going to wait till I hand-deliver it.
In other news I have been heartened by a lot of mail, especially yours and from Nana, but I’m going through a lot of ups and downs. I’m almost at the end of my rope as far as this Restriction/ CC (Correctional Custody) “babysitter” job goes. Today I got yelled at for these a@#$@#$ goofing off even as I have been trying to imitate Attila the Hun with them .
I’m starting another entry in the ‘journal’ after putting the
pen down for two days. I am just putting down thoughts as they come to mind. My
mind is awfully screwed being run ragged.
I think I will drop this topic in favor of other topics to ramble on
Tomorrow I’ll begin packing a few things for the trip to San Francisco and I’m going to hopefully make a weekend out of it. What is your reaction to the earthquake this week? It think it is about time for the city to fall into the sea?
It’s all a bit tedious. I’ll hopefully be home sooner or later. “
These letters bring back some of the missing names – and the memory -recalling the faces of those Chiefs at TPU. These memories seem as fresh as having occurred yesterday. The more I recall of those months in school, in training, and time at the transient barracks, I am amused by the complaining, angst, self-righteousness, stubbornness, and shock of having to work long hours. In this particular letter, the reference to “Hotel California” my mother probably would have missed – her musical taste was stuck in the early 1960s and she never heard of the Eagles. But I was fortunate that my mother, who pursued a second career as a college English teacher around that time, and worked a full-time nursing job, never pointed out my ‘overworked’ complaints. As I look back after forty years of military and civilian jobs – on my youngest co-workers and their peers – their complaints about fairness, working conditions, and emotional safe-spaces are more their age than something “we” never did.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those (A)who are the called according to His purpose. –Romans 8:28 (NKJV)
No Company Commander, nor Drill Sergeant ever whispered a gentle wake-up to new recruits in basic training or boot camp during my time in the service. The whole point of basic training for recruits is to completely change mindsets and hearts to hear and obey, instantly, the calling. It isn’t the Lord’s voice that one responds to the best of their ability, but to His representative on Earth during that time: the Drill Sergeant or Company Commander. The “encouragement” that a recruit, fresh off the farm, the beach, or the street receives during the first several weeks of military service, instills instinctive responses, physical prowess, self-discipline, and a basic knowledge of the traditions, responsibilities and expectations of each member of a team. At a certain point, each military member makes the decision to embrace that way of life, engage fully, remain devoted, and give one’s best efforts to the team. Or they part company, either expeditiously before the end of recruit training, or after three, four or more years.
11 Light shines[a] on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. 12 Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name. –Psalm 97: 11 -12
For those who have been through the maturation process of military training, and thrived, the recognition of authority, wielding it, and being instilled with a single-focused purpose of a spiritual life, is more natural. I think that is why a lot of the imagery in the Bible, Old Testament and New, involves soldiers. As a disciple of Jesus, in my own life experience I understand rigorous training, discipline, and obedience to authority. We have the tools, the teamwork, and the mission to execute. But I am grateful that my christian missteps do not result in “marching parties”, “demerits”, or being found in the receiving end of some “fan-room counseling”.
Thank God that Jesus speaks Truth in Love. If we all respond to that, the hurled trash can “attention-getter” in the barracks hall might not be a wake-up tool anymore.