Category Archives: Navy Bits

Redeployment by Phil Klay

RedeploymentI saw Phil Klay interviewed about his book of short stories. Interesting, but no thank you.

More war? I’ve had so much war. What could he possibly have to say that I haven’t heard already? I had more than a few reservations about reading it.

But then I kept hearing about him and this book.

He’s a Dartmouth graduate. He’s a Marine Corps veteran. His book was short-listed for the Frank O’Connor Prize. He was named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35.”

And then the book won the National Book Award for fiction.

So I read it. It’s utterly and quite literally breathtaking. I found myself not breathing for long passages.

I think every American should read it, no matter what you think you know about the war(s), no matter your opinion, no matter if you’d rather not. There’s a disconnect for Americans, I think, that’s different today than for wars past. In World War II, for example, most households had someone fighting, and 100% of the population had to contend with rationing and availability of goods. I’ve heard that less than 0.5% of Americans serve in the military today. How many people do you know personally who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan? How has your personal economy been disrupted? For me, I can’t think of anyone who fought or anything I’ve done differently. Americans were in it together, this time we’re not.

The stories in “Redeployment” are written from the POVs of every kind of person you can imagine deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, in every kind of situation. Ben Fountain’s back cover blurb on my copy sums it up: “If you want to know the real cost of war for those who do the fighting, read Redeployment. These stories say it all, with an eloquence and rare humanity that will simultaneously break your heart and give you reasons to hope.”

This is the section I was going to quote, but here’s Phil Klay reading it …

Here’s something you might not know. Marines don’t have a medical unit of their own. They use Navy Corpsmen. My son was a Navy Corpsman. Every time Klay mentions corpsmen in a story, I think of him.

I think of how I didn’t know Navy Corpsmen followed Marines. I didn’t know how the Navy worked.

I didn’t know anything.

But now I know we were lucky. He stayed on the “blue side,” the Navy side, and he’s home now, a Navy veteran, going to school to continue his medical studies.

Lucky. So very lucky.


A Real Dad Can Teach You To Cry

Today, on this so-easy-even-a-blogger-can-remember date of 11-11-11, my dad turns 81 years old.

Even as a child the irony of his birthday falling on Veterans Day wasn’t lost on me. My dad is one of those über-patriotic guys. Not a loud chest-thumper, always bellowing that America is the greatest nation, but a quiet man who stands a bit taller when a parade flag passes by and isn’t ashamed of the tear that threatens to slip out.

He doesn’t believe wearing a flag pin ”” and demonizing those who don’t ”” makes you a true American. But he does believe those who enlist in the military are stronger, braver and better Americans than the rest of us.

One of his greatest disappointments ”” still ”” is that he was never able to enlist. Being born in 1930 meant he was too young for WWII and by the time Korea came around, he was married with a couple of kids, so I never grew up in a military household. It was with considerable surprise when first one, then the other of my sons joined the Navy. Suddenly we’ve become a military family.

That makes my dad exceedingly proud. My youngest son happened to be home on leave last year at this time when we had a big blow-out for Dad’s 80th birthday. I told my son the best present he could give his grandpa was to show up in his dress whites.

Dad, of course, dons his kilt for all important occasions. You know, weddings, 80th birthdays, Robbie Burns Day, and when he gets his car serviced.

I’m glad Dad didn’t have his kilt when I graduated from college because I doubt I would have looked this happy.

He, on the other hand, would still be beaming because education is something he values. Even though he can’t quite master his computer, he continues to learn oodles of other stuff by attending classes, reading and traveling.

Among the other great joys in Dad’s life are, in no particular order: dogs, coffee, Ireland, poetry, butcher shops, reciting ‘Ode to a Haggis’ in full Scottish burr, his old Royal typewriter, Garrison Keillor stories, chili cookoffs, Western art, the perfect martini, fishing, Toastmasters, and Norman Rockwell.

He used to give Rockwell presentations to elementary school kids. His favorite illustrations to discuss with them were the ones with kids and the ones that told a story. You know, all of them.

So, today I just wanted to take a minute to give a little shout-out to Dad and to my Navy guys on this Veterans Day 2011. None of them are veterans, but they are patriots. And one of them is a really great Dad who taught me to fish … appreciate music, literature and art … try new and exotic foods … and to cry at parades.

Thanks, Dad. And Happy Birthday.


If you’ve spent any time at all in BeckyLand, you’ll know I have three grown kids.

The oldest, my beautiful and exceptionally talented writerdaughter (yes, one word ”” the same way a firetruck can only be one thing, so it is true for her), lives and works in Oregon. She’s my go-to editor and first reader. Pretty sure she knows everything about grammar and story construction. And I’m going to pimp her business here, because this pleases me to the depths of my soul. She’s The Essay Doctor ”” helping novelists, students and business people with anything they do involving words. (TheEssayDoc (at) aol (dot) com)

The youngest is a Master at Arms in the Navy, stationed on Guam. MAs are what the Navy calls their police force and my kiddo made his first arrest recently. All my kids are gorgeous and funny as hell and this one regales me with hilarious cop and Navy stories all the time. But they all try to keep the heart-stopping ones to a minimum, for which I’m grateful.

My middle guy is a Navy Corpsman, stationed in Okinawa. He’s the unlikeliest of medical providers, owing to his hair-trigger gag reflex as a child. If I ate a banana with a bruise, he’d gag. It’s a testament to what a truly dedicated medic he has turned into. He delivered a baby in the back of his ambulance all by himself and there was no gagging at all. Remarkable.

He was home on leave recently and bought me a present. Three presents, to be precise. I am somewhat flummoxed by simple things like cake mixes, ATMs, and gas grills. The instructions are either too simple or too complicated. Or both.

But the worst for me is time zones. I can never remember what time or day my kids are living in and they constantly tease me about it. So before he left to go back to Okinawa, he presented me with these for my office wall …

What time is it where you are? Have your kids turned into remarkable people yet?

Navy Graduation Redux

We are old hands at Navy boot camp graduation (technically called Pass In Review) so we knew to get there at the crack of early. When our older son graduated there were eight Divisions, but with this one, there were twelve so we knew it would be even more crowded.

So much was different this time, though. The traffic, for one thing. Even though it was only 6 a.m. and the ceremony didn’t start till 9, we got stuck in traffic for 30 minutes. But when we got in there was nobody checking our parking pass or our IDs, no police dogs sniffing our car, no scary M16s pointed at us.

In the building I was pulled aside for a random search. Did I look dangerous? Were they just trying to get me to stop with the Happy Dance already? Were they worried that all my giddiness would ooze out my pores and make dangerous puddles that people would slip in? Dunno.

I’ve written about the actual ceremony before and here’s a video of it. Not ours, but you get the idea. Within the first minute the garage door – you know, the one I talk about all the time – goes up, in case you’ve been wondering what that’s like. (Fair warning … I mute this one because I can’t stand this song.)


Lots of tears, lots of excitement and pride … especially when they welcomed “1,098 of the newest and sharpest sailors in the US Navy!”

When they gave the liberty call, all hell broke loose in the ceremony hall, and I’m constantly amazed how quickly everyone finds their sailor. They do, after all, look exactly the same! Our son found us and said he saw us as soon as he marched in. Too funny.

I saw him when he marched in and I kinda wished I hadn’t. It made me very nervous to know which one he was waaaaay in the back while so many sailors were wobbly and going down. Every time his head moved (since that was all I could see of him) my stomach lurched. Of course everything was fine, but can we all agree it was fine specifically because I worried about it? Thank you.

We had him from after graduation until about 7 p.m. It started raining lightly so he was required to wear his raincoat. You can’t just put ON a Navy raincoat. You must become one with the coat, buttoning every button. But because he hoofed it from the barracks back to where we waited, he was hot, so he unbuttoned in the car. We only drove a few miles to get lunch but to walk from the parking lot into the restaurant required him to re-button, walk ten steps, then undo it all again.

It made me laugh. It was also fun for this mom to see him worrying about spilling food on his dress whites. Glad I’m not the only worried one now.

As we drove off base, he marveled. “I’m moving forward without walking with 80 guys! Wow … I’d forgotten what that was like!” He hadn’t been in any kind of vehicle for over two months.

We hung out in the hotel all afternoon, catching up, letting him play with his electronics we brought from home, and he quite enjoyed the very long shower he took all by himself. I hear there’s nothing quite so spectacular as that first shower you don’t have to share with 80 other guys.

While at the hotel he made a call back to base to clarify the time he had to be back. It was fascinating to hear him say, “Yes, Master Chief … thank you, Master Chief.”

What happened to my boy??

We went out to dinner where he continued to regale us with boot camp stories. Often he’d stop mid-sentence, though, so I knew a waitress had walked by. “Sight for sore eyes,” he’d say.

Ah, there’s my boy!

He had to muster at 1:30 a.m. for a 2:00 a.m. bus to the airport for his 5:30 p. m. flight. (Yes, p.m.) And, of course, they went from Chicago to Texas via Atlanta.

We knew we could hand off his backpack of electronics and civilian skivvies at the airport so we met him there around 9 a.m. after a rollicking trip through the heart of Bad Driver Land. (Not to worry, you’ll hear more about that!) The nice people at the airline gave us a gate pass so we hung out with him until mid-afternoon when he started to get antsy.

I knew it was time to say goodbye.

It’s always hard to send your kids off someplace unfamiliar, but he was so excited and not at all nervous so I didn’t even cry.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What Happened In Chicago

Today is sandwiched between Veterans Day and the day my second sailor leaves for Guam so I thought it was a perfect time to post about our trip to Chicago for his boot camp graduation. And to learn firsthand about bad drivers.

I keep a journal when I travel. Not so much to remember everything, but to have surprise blog posts.

Surprise! Found my journal!

Our trip to Chicago was for my son’s graduation from Navy boot camp. For those long-timers in BeckyLand, you’ll remember I’ve posted about this before. *

Now I have two sailors. Two graduations. Two memorable trips.

This trip, however, we knew our son would be leaving for San Antonio, Texas soon after graduation so we decided to stay for a few extra days and play tourist. (Those mothers who get a higher place in heaven I spoke of in the other blog? Now I’m one of them.)

My first note from the day I went to Chicago reads, “Terminal security doesn’t sound good.”

Going through security at 4:30 a.m. is a very different experience than going through at 4:30 p.m. Or at any other time, I bet.

The TSA guy mocked me. He let me go to a conveyor belt line that wasn’t running, get my shoes off, load up my plastic bin and look perplexed before saying, “You might want to go to a line that’s open.”

Well, I might, but then how much would he enjoy his job? Not nearly as much, methinks.

Then he treated me like I’d never been to an airport before. “The conveyor belt moves intermittently …. just wait …. walk through like this” whereupon he made me twirl, twirl like a dancing leaf. Okay. I made that part up. But he could have. Such is the power of a TSA agent before the airport opens.

The airport at 4 a.m. is a delightful place. The coffee is freshly brewed, the people are few and far between and the ones you see make you want to learn their stories.

Like the guy in the sleeping bag with his bike parked next to him. Homeless? Tolerated by the airport folks because he’s a local hero/character/someone’s dad? Getting ready to race the plane down the runway?

I’ll never know because I was too polite to wake him up and ask.

It’s also a great time to fly if you’re misogynistic. There were only 14 people on our flight. The gate agent started to announce the rows to board then laughed, waved his arm and said, “C’mon! Everybody on!”

We all got a window AND an aisle seat.

Do you keep a journal when you travel? Do you ever go back and read it? Care to share anything?

*In re-reading the previous post, I now know that the guards are not called MPs … I know they are MAs because I have one now. And yes, I got all weepy when that garage door rose. another interesting tidbit about that post … about 100 people have read it every week since I posted it. It’s almost as popular as my broken toe blog.

Military Fun

I’ve posted some funny military stuff in the past. While I’m not a big fan of patriotic chest-thumping, my sister sent these and made me laugh.

So did these bumper stickers …

“Except For Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism and Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything.”

“Stop Global Whining”

“The Marine Corps – When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be Destroyed Overnight”

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Anyone Who Threatens It”

“Artillery Brings Dignity to What Would Otherwise Be Just A Vulgar Brawl”

“My Kid Fought In Iraq So Your Kid Can Party In College”

“If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher.  If You Can Read It In English, Thank A Veteran”

Are any of these your new favorites? What about old favorites? Have you ever wondered what was in a can of Whoopass?

Family Vacation

It struck me recently that we might have taken our last family vacation. At least in the traditional sense, with Mom doing all the planning and herding; the kids elbowing each other in the silliness of the back seat and asking when we’re scheduled to eat next; and Dad doing all the driving, paying, and photographing.

This makes me sad. (But not about the whole us-paying-for-everything part. That must stop.)

Our most recent Family Foray was to the Oregon coast to attend our daughter’s college graduation. It came two days after our youngest son’s high school graduation and only about a month before he was scheduled to join the Navy and leave for boot camp. Our middle son, already in the Navy, was able to organize his leave and travel from Japan to join us. (Okay, so I didn’t do ALL the planning, but I worried about it extra hard to make up for it.)

We’ve taken many family vacations over the years, all with special memories of my perfect planning as well as things gone wrong that turned out being better than what was originally on the itinerary. We have lots of photos, too. Lots. Of. Photos.

And here’s another photo, but I didn’t take it on vacation. I took it a couple of days ago.

On my husband’s dresser, I came across this pebble we found on one of those Oregon beaches.

It’s shaped like a tiny anchor.

Maybe the Universe is talking to me. Maybe it’s saying that the Navy is the right choice for our boys. Maybe it’s saying that beach-combing with our daughter can’t happen anywhere but Oregon, where her new destiny lives. Maybe it’s reminding me my husband has an uncanny ability to find cool things.

Or maybe it’s simply a gift to remind me of our last exquisite family vacation.

What was your most recent family vacation? If you’re an ’empty nester,’ have you had any traditional family vacations with all your kids again?

The Pirate Life

If you’re thinking of a life of piracy, here are some of the rules that must be followed:

When fishing, a pirate uses either a sword, a knife, or his bare hands. Use of a hook is only acceptable in the event the pirate is missing a hand.

Pirates shall always wear boots, except in the case of a peg leg. Then one boot is acceptable. Flip-flops are completely out.

Pirates do not cry, except in the case of the loss of a shipload of rum.

When describing the size of a treasure, a pirate is required to exaggerate by at least 130%.

No pirate shall discuss his feelings, unless his feelings include gutting a man from stem to stern and spilling his entrails.

During a sword fight, sword fighting insults are required. In the event both participants are still alive at the end of the fight, the participant with the superior insults shall be declared the victor.

No matter how hard it is raining, two pirates may never share an umbrella. Pirates do not fear rain.

A pirate may never compliment another pirate on the softness of his hands.

No pirate shall wear a bracelet or a necklace, unless it is the tooth or tusk of an animal he killed.

Dousing oneself in beer is a perfectly acceptable replacement for a shower.

Three-cornered hats, headbands and bandanas are the only acceptable headwear for pirates. Fedoras, bowler derbies, baseball caps, Mickey ears, top hats, sombreros, or anything with lace and flowers will be removed from the vessel””head included. A grace period of one minute is allowed for hats looted from a tailor.

A pirate does not “go shopping.” Unless by “shopping,” you mean “killing.”

Peglegs must be made of timber or some other suitable wood. Plastic, ceramic, porcelain, or metal peglegs are utterly unacceptable, simply because it complicates the use of the phrase “shiver me timbers.”

Real pirates have chest hair. If you cannot grow chest hair, you may be a cabin boy.

Under no circumstances is a comb-over an acceptable pirate hairdo.

No pirate may ever change his shirt because it is “wrinkled.” A pirate may only change his shirt if it is completely soaked in blood.

Cannoneers aboard a pirate vessel are not allowed to use hearing protection of any sort no matter what the OSHA regulations say.

Pirates must never share a bed or a hammock. It is perfectly acceptable for a pirate to sleep on the floor, or on a pile of treasure.

Hooks are the only acceptable hand substitute. However, they may not have secondary attachments such as screwdrivers, bottle openers, corkscrews, or nail files. You’re a pirate, not Inspector Gadget.

We sent this in the newsletter for our print shop a few months ago. Ran across it recently and still loved it so I thought you would too. Don’t you wish your local print shop was so cool?? I also thought it was an appropriate send-off for my Navy boy.  Any other pirate wisdom?

Kid In A Box

I got my “Kid in a Box” from the Navy a couple days ago.

For the uninitiated, that’s the box of clothes sent home by Navy recruits after the first couple days of boot camp. Everything they were wearing or had with them when they arrived at boot camp is sent back home ”” wristwatch, phone, toothbrush, teddy bear and every single article of clothing. Even the lucky boxers.

I have a picture in my mind of newly-shorn recruits standing inside the box, stripping down, then stepping out buck nekkid into their new Navy recruit clothes. Or maybe it’s more like the “Left Behind” stories. They’ve disappeared ”” poof ”” from the Real World and reappeared in Navy World. That’s probably more like it to them because I’m sure those recruits are feeling very much out of control of their lives right now.

Some Navy Moms freak out when they get their box, especially if they’re not expecting it. One woman told me it took her a few weeks to muster the courage to open it. She was overwhelmed by how much she missed her kid and she knew this just might send her over the edge. Out loud I sympathized, but inwardly I was screaming, “They wore these clothes for three days! That box is toxic! Don’t open it inside the house! You’re endangering lives!”

This is the second Kid in a Box I’ve received and I see it differently. While it does gross me out a tad, it doesn’t freak me out at all.

I know it represents the shedding of his skin. His renewal. An epic transformation.

Don’t get me wrong. He was a fabulously stand-up kinda kid before he left home, full of good humor, maturity, and cocky 18-year-old confidence. But in a few weeks he will be more. He’ll still have all those qualities (although the good humor may have to be coaxed back after boot camp graduation), but he’ll also have Purpose. Everything he already was will be underscored by military bearing and shared history. His confidence will be earned by real achievement. He will have done things he didn’t quite believe he could do. And he’ll be marching straight down the path of his future.

Maybe that’s more symbolic than the Navy meant by sending me a box of dirty clothes, but they should really give me this. After all, I’m the one who has to do his laundry.

You’ll Hear From Me In A Month, Mom

As I write this, my 18-year-old son has been at Navy boot camp for about 10 hours. (Maybe 11 ”” I don’t do well with timezones.) I got the scripted phone call yesterday at 9:08 pm. “I’m supposed to tell you I got here, you’ll get a box from me next week, and you’ll hear from me again in about a month. And I love you.” He sounded confident and strong. Maybe a little nervous, but that could have just been my ear.

Because I’m a Navy mom veteran now, I know the box is what we call the “Kid in a Box.” It contains everything ”” down to his lucky boxers ”” that he had with him when he left home. I picture them standing inside the box, stripping down, then stepping out naked and shivering before they slip on their boot camp clothes.

He’ll be there for about two months before he graduates. After graduation, he’ll leave Chicago for San Antonio for a couple of months for his training to be a Master at Arms, a Navy cop. He’ll have so many options after that, from Counter Narcotics (which I don’t think has anything to do with retail sales) to K9 units to Counter Terrorism (again, nothing you can buy) to Fleet Protection Force. Very heady stuff for someone who just earned the right to buy a cigar.

We had dinner with him the night before he left and tried to cram in 18 years of advice we might have forgotten to tell him along the way.

He’s kinda following in the footsteps of his older brother Adam who has been in the Navy for a year-and-half, except he is a corpsman ”” Navy medic ”” stationed in Okinawa.

When Adam left, I was more afraid of the unknown, but with Jeff, I think I’m more nervous about what I DO know.

Some of the things I thought I knew about the Navy have proven to be untrue. For instance, I pictured the young enlisted guys as being in a protective bubble of Navyness. But the reality is that the Navy treats them as the young adults they actually are, free to make mistakes ”” big and small ”” and take unfortunate risks.

I probably wouldn’t know much about that part of Navy life except that Adam divides his time between working at a fire station on the ambulance crew and in the ER in one of the base hospitals.

He had a rough couple of shifts over the July 4th holiday. One of his patients was a fifteen year old who drank so much that “his brain forgot how to breathe.” I asked what they did and he said, “We tried to breathe for him.”

Another patient remembered driving himself to a bar, driving away from the bar, and being in the ambulance.

Two patients were ginormous, combative Marines who had to be chemically as well as physically restrained before they could be treated for their drunken injuries.

All of these young men will face severe consequences from the Navy and from their mothers. My heart breaks for everyone involved, but I’m so proud they had Adam to take care of them. I know it affects him, as it does all ER workers. How could it not? I hope he continues to share his work ”” the funny stuff as well as the tragic ”” with us and with other people and that he’s able to keep perspective.

He’s a confident, competent, generous and warm-hearted person, both with his patients and with his family. Especially his younger brother. Jeff is lucky to have him to answer his questions about boot camp, solicit his advice about Navy stuff, and as a confidante.

Honestly? I’m not sure how I feel right now. It’s hard to see the last little baby bird fly away, but I’m not exactly unhappy about it. I know he’s been looking forward to this adventure for a long time. Frankly, it will be nice to have only the two of us non-risk adults on the auto insurance. I can’t wait to buy half as many groceries every week and not have anyone say, “There’s nothing to eat around here ”” only ingredients.” I’m looking forward to not having to keep up-to-date on his constantly-changing social schedule. And the whole spare bedroom thing? I’m all over it.

I stood today in his newly emptied room. Bed made. Furniture dusty. Floor needing vacuuming. I looked at the things he left on a single shelf. Samurai sword his brother sent him from Japan. Obama button. Eagle Scout medals. Belt buckle collection. Bottle of Jones root beer specially labeled with a picture of his friends.

That was his life last week, but this week it’s altogether different. And so is mine. Neither of us will ever be the same.

I know I’ll miss the little boy who, while packing up his room, found a box of Star Wars action figures and played with them for two hours. He’d just seen Toy Story 3 and felt bad for them. And I’ll definitely miss the little boy who, just a few nights ago, wanted to watch a Disney movie to cleanse his palate after watching an über-scary one.

He’s a man and a child.

May God protect him out in the world.

Bravo Zulu, son. Be safe. Be smart. Bedazzle.

ps ””I’ve written lots about my older son’s experiences ”” and mine ”” as we started our Navy journey together. In the sidebar you’ll see a “Navy Bits” category with all the posts. Scroll to the very first page. Also, if we’re Facebook friends, you can read his letters home from boot camp in my “Notes” section. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel like hugging your children. Friend me but send a message with it that says something about the Navy. I don’t friend just anyone!