Friday, November 14, 2008

My New Home


The tide had changed.

About a week after arriving in Bremerton, Washington (in January 1993), my ship -- the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz -- got underway. It would be a six-month voyage to the Persian Gulf. (By the way, the Navy refers to the Gulf as the "Arabian Gulf," not wanting to cede anything, even nominally, to the Iranians.)

It would mean I'd miss the birth of my son.

Absent prison, it's difficult to conceive of a more oppressive occupation than serving as a junior enlisted man aboard an aircraft carrier. Here's a short list of what I -- and literally thousands of others lowly swabbies -- faced aboard the Nimitz:

● we were at the bottom of a crowded, status-conscious pecking order;

● we worked, at minimum, 12 hours on, 12 hours off, seven days a week;

● with few exceptions, the food was horrible even for carnivores (and I was a vegetarian);

● we had zero privacy;

● noise pollution -- we slept beneath the flight deck, planes launching and landing day and night;

● we had irregular hot water in the showers and stainless steel commodes;

● the fumes of jet fuel and industrial steam were ubiquitous;

● bombs were regularly wheeled through the mess deck while we ate;

● in the naval tradition, officers not only acted -- but apparently believed -- they descended from a superior race; and

● this was still largely the pre-cell phone, pre-email era and snail mail was irregular and, well, slow.

The list could go on. The bottom line, however, was that it was a stressful place to work and I couldn’t quit. It might not have been so bad had I been doing something important, but I wasn’t. Like almost all junior enlisted sailors aboard the ship, my job -- despite my fancy training as an "intelligence specialist" -- could only fairly be described as a janitor. Would anybody willingly choose to be a janitor under the conditions outlined above?

Some complicating factors were my age and the fact that my previous command had been BUD/S. At 27, I was older than most of the mid-level enlisted guys who were telling me what to do every day. And, coming from BUD/S -- where even as a student I had pride in what I was doing and was treated with a measure of respect -- it was especially hard to be thrown into the fleet Navy, where respect was to flow up the chain of command, but never down.

This turn of events would bring on a lasting sense of depression, which resulted in, among other things, the seeds of future ambition and achievement being sown within me. Germination, however, would take a while. I had three years left of active duty, and first I had to survive our six-month deployment.

The plan for the deployment was for the Nimitz to leave Bremerton, Washington and steam to San Diego to take on supplies and upload the air wing. From there, we'd head west to Hawaii for additional supplies and personnel. From Hawaii, we'd spend four weeks heading to Hong Kong, then Singapore, and on into the Gulf. Once in the Gulf, we'd spend three months supporting operations in Southern Iraq.

During our stay in the Gulf, we'd make three port visits to the United Arab Emirates for liberty. Then, on our way home, we'd visit Thailand before heading back to Hawaii, San Diego, and finally Bremerton, arriving some six months after having left.

After the deployment, Elaine and our new baby would move up to Bremerton. The ship would undergo extensive renovations in the shipyard and wouldn't put to sea again until my last year in the Navy. In all, it would be a long, painful, humiliating, but ultimately fruitful three years of service. But I'm only going to cover a few of the "highlights," or low lights as it were, over the course of the next few posts.

As you'll find -- as down as I was emotionally during the remaining three years I spent in the Navy -- in retrospect that period served an important purpose in grounding my personality somewhere between that of my old disciple life, on the one hand, and the energetic, dynamic persona which led me to pursue (unsuccessfully) life as a Navy SEAL, on the other hand.

I would later learn that Sri Aurobindo used the apparent friction between these two forces to set up his magnum opus, The Life Divine, referring to them as the "Materialist Denial" and the "Refusal of the Ascetic," respectively.

That understanding on my part, however, was still a few years off and would only come with a later spiritual reawakening.

Until then, I was "haze gray and underway."

(For only the second time in my life, I did keep a journal of sorts for the six-month duration of my deployment to the Persian Gulf. I made almost daily journal entries addressed to my then-unborn son. Those entries will make up the substance of another blog which I hope will go live in the next few weeks called: Letters from the Blue and can be found at http://www.lettersfromtheblue.blogspot.com/.)

The photo, above, shows the USS Nimitz in port Hong Kong. Photo credit here.

No comments: