hiking veterans

Wearing a “veteran” ballcap starts conversations.

Lord’s soldier

The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.

DOD recorder

There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.

View of the Virgin River in Zion NP. Angel’s Landing trail.
Though some start, few finish the ascent to the very top

“Airdale” trucker

Tomahawk night launch, Red Sea, 1993

On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.

Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.

Desert signs

Retired sailors I knew moved too become desert dwellers. “Seen enough ocean, “they say. “Here there’s only beach!”

On the way to Zion NP, flowering Joshua trees, and one bored alien – extra terrestrial type- wave at my buddies as we travel east. Maybe, aliens find the same relief on their journeys?

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No Dan, Joshua trees aren’t pine

green hitchhikers

club for erudite Old Salts

A Thursday evening discussion with an acquaintance over cigars, as retired Navy Chiefs, we were amicably discussing the Navy “salty” life, adventure, and places familiar to each of us around the world. With a lifetime of experience including travel to the same parts of former Soviet bloc countries, we then opined on 21st Century socialist nations. While rigid politically, some tacitly approve of workers ‘capitalist’ use of an underground economy to support their families. He illustrated discussing the merits of fine Cuban cigars he obtained. Skilled cigar rollers have access to tobacco, paper and other accessories to make – after the day’s production was completed and inventoried – some personal cigars to provide under-the-table income. He learned of accessing such side channels during global business travel. And tonight, the ‘entrepreneurial’ wheels in my mind started turning. In a Progressive future, there will always be those who obtain – and those who will then purchase – a premier cigar.

fourteen

What was your biggest accomplishment when you were a teenager?
When I was fourteen, I was responsible enough to arrive at my assigned work at 4:45 AM daily, load a hay wagon, and then feed 80 horses. And in the late afternoon, repeat it all again. I was determined to trade labor for horseback riding lessons. That was on a dude ranch in Arizona where I learned responsibility, animal psychology, ranch operations, and customer service. That was forty years ago. Every generation hears how their predecessors “walked uphill in the snow, both ways, to school and back”. In an age where many are fixated on social media, feel subject to hardship and discrimination without government mandates, and may be emotionally scarred because of others’ contrary views, it is not universal. It may only be a minority opinion.

Becoming an entrepreneur at the age of ten, Noa Mintz, at age sixteen founded a New York City childcare agency, (vetting nannies)and was among those entrepreneurs under age 18 featured in Fortune magazine (2016). Eugenie de Silva, starting at the University of Leicester (UK) in 2015, graduated age 16, from Harvard, through distance learning, with a Masters in Liberal Arts. A pilot, Mason Andrews, completed a circumnavigation of the globe in 2018, as the youngest to do so – at age 18.

And then there is the young Dutch woman, Laura Dekker, who at 14 set off in a sailboat to circumnavigate -solo- the world in 2011. She had been born to a sailing family, and had been dreaming of sailing the world since the age of ten. She had the support of her parents, but had to fight the Dutch authorities in court to be permitted to get underway. For more than five hundred days she navigated and explored the places along her route. A film produced by National Geographic presents her video record of her travels.

film trailer at http://www.maidentrip.com

And finally, there is Jordan Romero, who at age 13, with his father, reached the summit of Mount Everest, in 2009, and by the age of 15 years, 5 months , became the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peaks in each of the seven continents).

From circumnavigating the globe, climbing mountain peaks, graduating from a most prestigious university, or becoming a successful entrepreneur, children who attempt the difficult, and refuse to have their dreams quashed, demonstrate that if you have a dream and are determined to succeed, you can. Leave the participation trophy to others.

Labor freedom

As a retired military man I am grateful that I am not deployed to far away seas these days.  In San Diego,  this holiday weekend has been an opportunity to meet with friends.  Saturday with an outdoor concert by the San Diego Symphony at the downtown waterfront ending with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (with cannons!),  Sunday with a gathering at Mission Bay,  and today for breakfast at a restaurant our friends have enjoyed since the husband was a child.

Hob Knob Hill, San Diego

Dana Landing, Mission Bay

music lovers, San Diego waterfront

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Old Sea Dawg and his CINC

 

When in little Moscow

American sailors on liberty in Pusan, South Korea before 1999 used to talk about going to Texas Street. Dive bars and cheap eats.

When I visited Pusan in 1999 while aboard USS CORONADO, I remember a Russian carrier in port. Russian bar girls. To avoid uncomfortable conversations, my shipmate and I had a line popularized by Steven Segal: “I’m just a cook!” Didn’t see any Russian sailors. But I picked up a few words in Russian.

красивая девушка

I don’t know what it’s like today, but I left there thinking the bar district had become “Russia Street”.

Learned a little bit about being stationed in South Korea. I learned how to order a Starbucks in Korean. “Grande Mocha”.

IMG_5618And I know not to enter any Asian establishment with a “barber pole” out front. Was told they were “massage” parlors. Wonder if they also do haircuts?

Foreign travel sure is educational.

Haze gray memories

All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962

I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea.  For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet).  I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean,  and Caribbean Seas.  Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning.  As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War,  made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece.  Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old.   I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan,  and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
~John Masefield

A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt.  We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego.   But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships,  and to shore stations around the country.  Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.

We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago.  And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze.  Into the heat,  dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them,  and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship.  At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.

Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking.   The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows.  Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.

Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes.  One of the wettest places on Earth,  the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus.  Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs.   For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak).  Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams.  For the other,  when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles.  Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates,  these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time.   With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories,  having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century.   My shipmates and I have marveled at the  different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours.  I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea.  Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line,  as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.

And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you,  especially at night.  Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups.   Or being especially vigilant while  manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment.  Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas.   Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace.  Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by.  While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)

For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand.  For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life,  at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly.   Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood,  the sea spray on our skin,  and the experience of working together in times of routine,  in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.

[quotes, except where noted, via writebyte.net ]