Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tales from the Navy: Tales from the Gettysburg

My 2009 deployment on USS Boxer was a departure from the typical WESTPAC, and ultimately, I'm grateful for it. Sure, we missed out on some ports, and yeah, we spent long enough at sea in one stretch for me to completely lose touch with reality for a while, and true, we were full past capacity on several occasions with our complement of 2,000 Marines, plus 90 or so embarked SEALs, a good amount of Counter-Piracy Task Force 151 personnel, and at one point a contingent of German SWAT specialists, but I got to experience a lot of things most Sailors don't.
Or the same things, just more of it. I don't know.
One of these days I'll write the story of deployment 2009, and it will probably need to be cut up into about 10 or 12 different posts, but for now, I'm going to post a small, five-entry journal I kept during my seven-day stay aboard the USS Gettysburg (CG 64,) a Ticonderoga-class Navy cruiser that Boxer worked alongside during counter-piracy operations. Boxer served as Combined Task Force 151's (CTF 151) flagship and detention facility, while smaller, faster, and more agile ships like Gettysburg did the chasing and deployed the boarding teams in inflatable boats.


     Since the photo cutline option won't let me make more than one line, I'll leave the photography credit here:
     U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd class Steven A. Ortiz.

Mass Communication Specialists (MCs; my rating, a merger of journalists, photographers, lithographers and draftsmen) are a rare billet in the smaller classes of ships. Boxer, being a 3,000+ person vessel had a division of seven or eight MCs while in port, and was augmented by a Naval Public Affairs Support Element (NPASE; had enough acronyms yet?) detachment of six or so more when deployed. The USS Green Bay (LPD 20) had a combined-personnel (Sailors and Marines) of 700, and had a single MC1 assigned. Gettysburg had a capacity of around 400, and had no MCs.
Instead, the duties of the MC were distributed amongst other rates; the Interior Communications Electricians (ICs) ran the movies on the ship's CCTV system, the Intelligence Specialist (IS) chief (for there was only the ISC aboard to rep ISs, with a single Operations Specialist [OS] to assist her) took photos for the cruisebook and pulled SNOOPY team duty. Yes, SNOOPY was a fucking backronym for something, and I don't remember what, and I don't care what, because for fuck's sweet sake people, we're a military organization, not a goddam floating kindergarten.
The point I am just inching towards is that the brass had ample coverage of the detention/headquarters end of things, they wanted more coverage of the shit-going-dowwwwn end to round out the collection. Chief asked the division at evening quarters one night if anyone would be interested in "cross-decking" to the Gettysburg for two weeks to cover Visit, Board, Search and Seizure team operations, and my hand shot up. I was surprised to see no one else's at first, but going through the list mentally, I could see where each of them would have issues with being a stranger in a strange land. Tough the idea scared me somewhat too, I was the only one who really didn't have anything keeping me on Boxer; quite the contrary, I would have done all manner of unspeakable things for just ten minutes away from the fucker at that point.
This introduction is going long, and unfortunately, the journal goes pretty short. When I bust out WESTPAC 2k9: THE SERIAL NOVELLA, I'll cover it in better depth, but for now, here's a bit of a peek into the mindset of 23-year-old MC2 Jeff Hopkins at a strange point in his life.

Tales from the Gettysburg

Day 1.

I waited in flight deck triage for what seemed like forever, waiting for the bird from the Gettysburg to arrive on Boxer. Sitting there in my utilities on a seabag packed so full it felt like brick, I began to realize the gravity of my situation: I was flying to a small ship leaden with firearms, where I would get on an even smaller boat, likely without a gun, and take pictures as Sailors attempted to arrest suspected pirates, who may possibly be as heavily armed as they are.
A grin surfaced on my salty fucking face.
The helicopter was an SH-60B Seaknight. It was equipped with Forward Looking Infrared video cameras. The Aircrewman made sure I knew that. He demonstrated it the whole flight. It was fun.
The ocean stretches on for days. Literally for days. If you fall overboard, unless you can learn to sprout gills, you’re dead fucking meat. Give up the ghost and just inhale water. Who knows, maybe that will spur the gill-adaptation process.

Day 2.
I managed to pull my ass out of the rack a little after 0600 this morning. It’s as cold as a whore’s heart in there each morning; I’m going to need to procure an extra blanket. The shower is the atmosphere’s immediate opposite: hot as Hades is purported to be. It felt good, when it wasn’t scalding my no-no’s.
On the plus side, I was up early enough to hit up breakfast!
On the negative side, breakfast sucked. I didn’t think breakfast could get worse than Boxer’s, but somehow they managed. The waffles were these tiny, dry bricks, and the spam was cold. But it was better than nothing of course; it was just good to have food in my stomach.
I guess I was supposed to be at quarters. Who knew, right? Ha-ha. Well, the day before, Seaman Ellis, one of the guys I work with in the office told me I didn’t have to be there for morning muster, so I said fuck it and checked my email in the office. Wrong answer; apparently I need to muster with these guys every morning at 0715. Roger that.
I’m far enough away from home as it is, dammit. I was just getting comfortable with being on the Boxer, and then I volunteered to step out of THAT comfort zone and into an entirely new place, where I don’t even belong. I’m here all by myself for six weeks. I don’t know, I guess I just feel really lonely at the moment.
Enough about that. Gettysburg is much smaller then Boxer, so if I’m going anywhere, it’s up and down a ladder well. Almost nothing I need to be at is on the same level as anything else.
I photographed Visit, Board, Search and Seizure team training drill today. There are a couple of Coasties here from the Law Enforcement Detachment assigned to Boxer, so I know a few of them already. My ass has sweated through my underwear, and now it is itching me something fierce, but I can’t do anything about it because there are people around and oh my God it’s driving me crazy ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod-
The 1MC here is so much quieter.
I don’t have a home anymore. I need to settle down and make one. I need to find a home. I need to find a homie. I need to find a fold and fuck it.
The constant hum of ships, I fear, will drive me mad.
Dinner was decent. I ate alone in a room full of people. How melodramatic. And then I performed the lock. Oh yeah. I read a whole volume of the Maxx and watched Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Ah, it made me want to fall in looooooooove. That’s the last thing I need right now, that’s for damn sure.

Day 3.

Well, I went to quarters this morning. It’s kind of weird seeing the way other divisions run on other ships. It makes me realize just how laid back my division really is. We sit down in the office for quarters in the morning instead of sweating outside, we speak informally, and we just have our chief and MC1 there as leadership, as opposed to Gettysburg’s three chiefs and a divisional officer. However, I am working for Gettysburg’s Intelligence department, whereas on Boxer I’m part of Executive, which comprises several personnel-support divisions, rather than technical, operations-dependant groups. Morning quarters here is like departmental quarters on Boxer.
I got sucked into sweepers too. Looks like I’m an all-purpose Sailor for the next six weeks. Oh well, I don’t mind physical labor, it makes me feel valuable. Heh heh. “Minus Tree Charlie.”
Dis bro’s got da goggles, haha. Ratty lady. “She’s da coolest chick I know.”
I don’t know, this whole cross-decking thing kind makes me feel like a tool, or a unit of a machine, with interchangeable parts. A mechanical hand picks me out of my slot, moves me over to a different machine, and drops me into another identical slot, where I perform the same function. I used to think that sort of thing was cool, but now it makes me want to barf in terror. I can’t explain it. It doesn’t make me feel very manly or secure.
I went out in the Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. It was a blast; we went and harassed people in boats. They waved to us, we pointed guns at them. Hooray for diplomacy! I got really wet, with salt water. My boots are still damp. I need to get another pair. All the pictures I took, I really need to get a new external hard drive and a copy of Photoshop for my laptop. I can’t edit the pictures with the program Windows Vista gives you, other than to crop, which is horseshit. All I really need to do is fix the levels, but I can’t even do that.
I went to bed at 1800 or so. I was bushed. But now I’m bushy tailed. Right?

Day 4.

I have come to understand that the Leading Petty Officer for this division is a douche bag. Col. DEWregard. I think I may have just thought up a Mountain Dew commercial, right here, right now, in real-time ladies and gentlemen, please, hold the buzzword-chat to a minimum. Also, the saltwater washed all the polish off my boots. Did I bring any? Probably not. Must check the ship’s store, when it opens.
We’ve hit the 1/3 point of deployment. I already hate WESTPAC. I don’t want to do another. I don’t know how these lifers get off on it so much. They must either hate their families, their free time, or they just don’t have any other purpose in life. Maybe they’re afraid to get out in the civilian world and feel some risk, but me, I’m ready to live on the wild side.
I don’t know what it is, but my eyes have been burning since I got here. Like bad. Like whoah. Like oww.
I just want to be driving up the 395 towards Ridgecrest right now. Right at the big drop before Atolia, knowing I’m almost home, but not quite there, some music on, the wind blowing, people waiting for me to get in so we can drink and catch up. I’m fucking lost out here.
Siller emailed me and said I may be going home today. Already. I’ve only been here four days. According to him, Chief said they’re sending the combat camera guy they have onboard over here, and that I’d be coming back. I overheard the ISC in here talking about receiving two personnel from Boxer, so who knows.
I wish he hadn’t said anything, because now I’ve got this stupid hope that I’m going back to Boxer. I’m not really adjusted here yet, so having them take me back rather than asking them to take me back is a lot better. It doesn’t feel so much like quitting. And it’s just a rumor at this point, so I really don’t want to hear it until there’s something concrete. I’m starving. I finished the feature I wrote on the Gettysburg’s only Mater-at-Arms, but I have to get the operational story taken care of. I was supposed to go speak with the Navigator last night, but instead I slept for twelve hours. I needed the sleep, but I bet he thinks I’m a douche bag now. No big deal. I’ll see if I can’t get to him tonight. I also have to talk to the LEDET about the Coastie side of the ops.
I need fooooooooooooood. I was going to get breakfast this morning, but the douche bag divisional LPO told us to be at quarters at 0705 this morning, so I got out of the chow line and went upstairs when I remembered, and then the dumb fucker didn’t show. So for now, I’m running on a can of Mountain Dew and a bag of plain M&M’s.
When the phone rings, I hope it’s someone calling ISC to tell her to get me to pack my bags.  Lame.
OSSN Ellis reminds me of the gay kid from “School of Rock.” It’s adorable.
Some of these ladies have “Queen for a year” syndrome. And the boys have goggles an inch thick, too. One of them calls everybody “honey” or “sweety,” I can’t quite recall, and they just get off on it. I think she’s the one with the flack vest that said “Love, Peace, and HURRICANE JANE” on the back of it. She is mousey. Sorta cute, in an “I haven’t seen land women in a month” kind of way.

Day 5.

I didn’t make it onto the bird last night. Not too big a deal, there’s this combat camera MC3 who came onboard and he seems pretty cool. At least I’ve got somebody to be strange with.  I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or not.
Nix that. I AM disappointed, I’m just not sure if I SHOULD be or not. I guess it doesn’t really matter, we’re still hitting a port at the same time, no beer day, but I can go without. I’m just used to the creature comforts of Boxer, as strange as that sounds. I don’t have my ATM card, that’s my biggest worry. I’m not sure how I’m going to get money to go out on liberty. They don’t have money changers come aboard for this next port, you just use your atm card at a machine and it gives you the local currency. Shit balls. All I’ve got is my Navy cash card here and my check book. I don’t think I’ll be able to find a place to cash a check. I’m hoping disbursing will be able to give me cash and I can take it to a currency exchange somewhere.
When I was a lad, my parents told me, “Son, we don’t care who yeh are… wieners don’t belong in buttholes.”
Words to live by.
Words to totally disregard.
Besides, they weren’t Scottish. I don’t know who they thought they were fooling.
That was my last beer you dick! Maybe I should have joined the merchant marines instead. I’m not entirely sure they’re allowed to bring alcohol onboard though. That would be pretty sweet. Now and again I do dream of having a beer.
     So that's where it cuts off. An MC3 from Combat Camera had arrived, and I started hanging out with him and not writing by myself anymore. I think I spent a few more days there, dicking around with my new buddy. As I said before, more to come, whether you're into it or not. Sorry.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this small view into WESTPAC. It is weird to know that while you were writing this, John was falling in love with you, and that we should have at this moment been preparing ourselves for lifelong stories of Hopkins. :)

    Also, "weiners don't belong in buttholes"... so is it safe to assume that your parents are the ones to blame for your FYA obsession?