Tag Archives: Navy

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.

boots

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.

Clocks

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?

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?

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!

Okinawa Bound

My son leaves today for Okinawa. Two years he’ll be gone.

He doesn’t know exactly what he’ll be doing but he’ll be working at the Naval Hospital there. He’s heard a rumor that because he has his EMT certificate, he may get to work in the emergency room for his regular job and when he gets assigned duty he might be driving an ambulance. That would ROCK!

Regardless of what he does, though, I know he’ll be an entirely different person when I see him next.

I got all maudlin when he left for boot camp and needed Abba to help me through.

Honestly? It might happen again. But I feel more under control now, stronger, smarter.

Why, you ask?

Boot camp, for one thing. I learned so much about the Navy while he was there. Corps School for another. I learned so much about him during the three months he was learning to be a corpsman. (I suspect he did too.) And as you know, knowledge is power.

There’s also the fact that my youngest has already sworn in on the Delayed Entry Program and will be joining the Navy too just as soon as he graduates from pesky ‘ol high school.

So I feel very much the Navy Mom these days.

I think, too, that the unknowns are more known now and his real adventure is beginning. He gets to do a job he’s trained for and has been excited about for a long time.

It’s hard to feel sad when the baby bird flies away to do what he wants to do in an exotic, beautiful locale. As long as said baby bird remembers to email and Skype and help his mother plan her trip to Japan, that is.

Bravo Zulu, boy. Your life is really beginning. Be smart, be safe, bedazzle.

Okinawa Bound

111th Birthday

My son is almost a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy. He’ll graduate from corps school soon and almost shares a birthday with the Hospital Corp so I thought it was fitting to celebrate both birthdays here in BeckyLand.

Especially when I got this press release and knew I didn’t have to write anything today. (So sue me. I have a lazy streak.) The history of the Hospital Corps is interesting. Do you know what a Loblolly Boy is?

Naval Surface Forces (SURFOR) staff and guests gathered at SURFOR headquarters June 12, 2009 to celebrate the Navy Hospital Corps’ birthday. The event commemorated 111 years of service since the corps establishment in 1898.

Command Master Chief, 1st Medical Battalion, Master Chief Hospital Corpsman E. D. Faulkner, guest of honor and speaker, commented on the bravery and sacrifice made by hospital corpsmen over the years and today.

“When we talk about honor, honesty, integrity and truthfulness, we are talking about the pledge of the hospital corpsmen that they will allow no harm to come to any Sailor, Airman or Marine trusted to their care. And if that means sacrificing and putting their lives on the line to do that, they are willing to do it,” he said. “There’s nothing more brave or valorous than a corpsman on the battlefield, in the surface fleet, with subs or with the Marines—we’re everywhere,” added Faulkner.

The event, which was coordinated by SURFOR’s Force Medical Team, also featured a display that included photos of 10 of the 20 ships named after heroic corpsmen, the names of 1,999 corpsmen killed in action and a letter dated 1868, written by a Sailor requesting acceptance into the hospital corps. The display was provided by Cmdr. Steven McGivern of the Force Medical Team.

“It was an honor to be part of a ceremony where the achievements and commitment of our hospital corps was the focal point,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st class Austin Ivy, event head coordinator and master of ceremony. “Today is a very special day, not just for hospital corpsmen, but for every Sailor to pause for a moment and commemorate those great Sailors who have gone before us and given the ultimate measure of sacrifice for their country,” he added.

The celebration concluded with the time-honored naval custom of presenting pieces of birthday cake to the guest of honor and to the oldest and the youngest corpsman present, symbolizing the celebration of experience and youth. Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/AW) Stephen Richardson, Force Medical Team represented the oldest corpsman and Hospital Corpsman 3rd class Amanda Vasquez, USS Higgins DDG 76, the youngest.

In his closing remarks, Vice Adm. D.C. Curtis, Commander, Naval Surface Forces/Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet said, “All of us can look back on our pasts, and think about being out on that ship, and the injuries we’ve had or the medical issues we had and have confidence in knowing that a corpsman, who might have been a third class or a chief, was there to help us out, along the way.”

The Hospital Corps celebrates a long, rich history, which can be traced back to the Continental Navy and early U.S. Navy. The first medical assistants assigned to Navy ships were referred to as “Loblolly Boys,” a term borrowed from the British Royal Navy and a reference to the daily ration of porridge fed to the sick. Later, the title of the enlisted medical assistant changed from “Loblolly Boy,” to “Nurse” and finally to “Bayman.” In 1841 a senior enlisted medical rate called “Surgeon’s Steward” was introduced and remained through the Civil War. Following the war, “Surgeon’s Steward” became “Apothecary,” a position requiring completion of a course in pharmacology.

Just prior to the Spanish-American War, Congress passed a bill that authorized establishment of the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps. The bill was signed into law by President William McKinley on June 17, 1898.

During World War I, corpsmen earned 684 personal awards, including 22 Medals of Honor, 55 Navy Crosses and 237 Silver Stars.

In World War II, hospital corpsmen worked side-by-side with their Marine brothers, hitting the beach with them in every battle in the Pacific. They also served on thousands of ships and submarines.

Hospital corpsmen continued to serve at sea and ashore during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, corpsmen have been on the front lines in the Global War on Terrorism. Today, they make up the largest rating in the Navy, with approximately 24,000 corpsmen serving around the globe, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, they have responded to natural disasters and other emergencies during peacetime.

So, to all the Navy corpsmen, on land, on sea, today and yesterday — and especially mine — let’s lift a forkful of cake to celebrate them and their achievements.

I wonder what the standard Navy cake flavor might be? Any ideas? I hope it’s not made with saltwater and kelp.

If Navy Graduation Is Measured in Tears, Then This One Was AWESOME!

I know this is a bit long, and normally I’d break it into two or three posts, but people are bugging me to tell them all about it. So I’ll let you choose to read it all at once, or in three chunks, or not at all. All are acceptable, none is wrong. In case you weren’t bugging me, it might be fun to read every fourth word, but I make no guarantees. I’m just sayin.

First, two random impressions of my five days in Chicagoland … One, sailors are unfailingly polite, despite having been yelled at and called names for the past two months. And two, Chicago should be called the Most Ironic City because it’s full of potholes AND road work.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We landed at Midway around 12:15, picked up our luggage and scooted over to the car rental where we got our car before we even had a chance to complain about anything. Which is funny — well, to me, because I’m kinda mean — because at the graduation, I was chatting with someone who said when they landed at 1:00, all the rental cars at Midway airport were gone!

A friend of ours (thanks, Lisa!) suggested if we wanted real Chicago food, we should go to Superdawg which was established in 1948 by a GI recently returned from WWII.

at-the-superdawg-copy

He and his wife built it and created the recipes, but they only meant to be in business for two years. It became so successful, it’s now run by one of their sons who helped direct me to the correct door. I explained we were tourists and were told to visit Superdawg and he took us under his wing. He told us how to order, what to order, and all kinds of fascinating tidbits about the place. They still have carhops who brave all kinds of weather and he told funny stories about all the movies they were almost featured in. They hand-cut all their fries — and we’re talking crinkle cuts! His dad invented a special tool the three full-time French fry makers use. (Three. Full-time. Crinkle cutters. Your job looks pretty good now, eh?)  He even bought us milkshakes! We had lots of fun and quite possibly the best darn dawg I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, once I found it under the ginormous pickle. Still not sure what the neon green relish was, though.

superdawg-copy

Because I wasn’t sure how much time we’d have with our new sailor, or if we’d get back to Chicago over the weekend, I planned a route up Lake Shore Drive. It’s a beautiful drive through a gorgeous part of Chicago. And it was an inspired decision, because we didn’t get back to town except to catch our flight home.

The Great Lakes Naval Station is in North Chicago, about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, right on Lake Michigan. We dodged potholes and orange cones and finally made it to our hotel, which was perfect. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and living room.

On our way out to dinner, we stopped in the lobby to ask a question, and found out the hotel hosted evening socials during the week. So we grabbed a table in the corner and ate meatball sandwiches and salad and drank beer for awhile. Free beer is so delicious. Our table was next to a group of about ten people. I suspected they were some of my Navy4Moms (N4M) peeps but waited till I was done eating before saying hello. We had a fun meet-and-greet with three other Navy families.

It was really hard to sleep that night. I woke every couple of hours, trying to use the awesome power of my mind to make time move faster. Unfortunately, I must have forgotten to pack the awesome power of my mind because minutes …… went …… so …… slowly! But finally, the time came when we could leave for graduation and not be ridiculed. I had read a story on N4M about a mom who was so antsy and worried about getting to graduation that she showed up at the gate at 4:30am. The MPs told her to come back in two hours. So she went back to her hotel and sat in the lobby trying to harness the awesome power of her mind to make time move faster.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I will only admit to being ready a half hour before we needed to leave, so we went to the lobby in search of coffee. Even though they said breakfast wouldn’t be set up that early, it was and we took full advantage. Because we searched out the correct gate the day before, we drove right in and were directed to our first security stop. There was a portable dark-windowed security tower watching us from above, K9 patrols inspecting us from below, and lots of very polite, slightly scary MPs directing things. They scrutinized our IDs, then sent us on our way to another parking lot. We passed several MPs who aimed their M-16s at us. Intimidating! We parked where they pointed then gathered our cameras and binoculars to walk to a building across the parking lot. We left our jackets in the car because even though it was only 6:30am, it was already warm. (Remember this info because I will re-visit it later in the narrative. Blog foreshadowing is not nuanced.)

As we entered the building there was a huge sign that said “Welcome Aboard.” For those of you keeping score, this was the first episode of crying for me. (I almost cried when I saw the coffee in the hotel lobby, but I managed to hold it together.) We snaked our way through the roped Disney-esque lines to another security checkpoint. After checking our names against his guest list, he waved us through. (This marks the second episode, but I had to hide this one as my family was already making fun of me.)

I thought this was where the graduation would be held, but I was wrong. We went out the building, and across muddy construction zones of torn-up sidewalks to another huge building where we stood in yet another line to enter a side door. When we finally got into this building, I saw a rectangular interior that was a cross between a gymnasium and an airplane hangar. Bleachers hugged one long side at both floor and balcony level, and the short ends had balcony seats. Colorful semaphore flags ringed all three sides. The other long side had several small doors, three large projector screens and an enormous garage door which I knew was where the graduates entered. (Third crying episode.) The room was labeled with the numbers of the graduating divisions. 167 was at the far end. We chose seats in the last row of the floor level bleachers so we could lean against the brick wall behind us. We were in our seats by 7am but we were certainly not the first people in the hall. The graduation was to begin at 9:00. Seems early, but there’s an exponential delay getting through the parking and security lines and I knew that 750 graduates meant about that many cars and 2,000+ people. Plus, I was antsy.

grad-hall-copy

As we walked the length of the hall, there were sailors standing in their dress blues at each of the Division signs. I noticed two at our Division wearing nametags with names I recognized from Adam’s letters, so I stopped and introduced myself. They both smiled like we were old friends and said nice things about my son. I asked why they were there. Turns out they were award winners. The short one was an Honor Graduate and the tall one won the Academic Excellence Award over all the recruits.

heer-and-ramos-copy
As their reward, I guess they got to stand there for two hours before the ceremony. (This might have made them cry, but they’re sailors and don’t go in for maudlin displays.)

Before the ceremony, the Navy band played lots of Sousa because Lt. John Philip Sousa left his civilian band to train musicians at Great Lakes. He created 14 regimental bands totalling about 1,500 members. Sometimes all of them would play in concert, drawing huge crowds of civilians to the base. They also entertained us with videos about Great Lakes, the Navy, boot camp life, Battle Stations, and other aspects of Navy life. I re-read my program for the umpteenth time, getting choked up each time I read they’d be singing the Navy Hymn. (Crying episodes four through eighteen.)

Finally, the ceremony started. They rolled open those garage doors and you saw the feet and blue clad legs of Division 166. My eyes swam again — as they are while I type this — and 166 marched in to the roar of the crowd. Adam’s Division 167 marched in right behind them and I tried to find my sailor but couldn’t. I didn’t mind, I knew he was there. They were in perfect precision, which might be redundant, but if you’ve never seen military men march in precision, there is perfect and there is not. This was perfect.

I watched as they marched the length of the viewing stands. I knew without turning my head whenever another division passed through the garage doors from the huge cheer that erupted above and beyond the sustained cheering of 2,000+ proud friends and family. Even the most cynical and stoic couldn’t keep their emotions checked. I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the only one having an episode. They marched in front of the stands then turned the short corner and traveled across the back of the long side, ending up as Division blocks, near where the signs had been placed on the floor before the ceremony. This is about half the graduating divisions.

half-the-graduates-copy

I gave my younger son the binoculars with the plea, “Find him!” He did, pointing toward the front when I had been looking in back. In the picture below, he’s smack dab between the yellow flag and the red, white and blue flag.

hes-between-the-yellow-and-redwhiteblue-flags-copy1

All the years when he played tuba had conditioned me to never expect to see him at any public performance. I trained the binoculars on him. He resembled the kid I sent to boot camp in February, but THIS kid wearing a perfectly fitting uniform and traditional sailor cover on his head looked amazing — right down to the “attention face” he wore. (They call their cover a “Dixie Cup” but I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t.) After all the Divisions were in place, they got a snappy command and were on the move again, this time turning

see-him-copy

and flipping the entire division so he was in the back. Very cool, and thank goodness he bought me a video of the ceremony so I can see it again in two months to figure out how they did it. In the photo above, he’s toward the center, but it’s like he’s the extra person in his row so he’s one person closer to the audience. (What do you mean, they all look the same?!)

The rest of the ceremony was ceremonial — flags raised, lowered, and dipped …

color-guard-with-state-flags-copy

sabres pulled theatrically, catching the light … rifles tossed …

honor-guard-rifles-copy

drummers drummed … and, of course, the Navy Hymn. (Crying episode nineteen.)

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bnm-4kSLKdI]

There was a short speech by the Reviewing Officer where he welcomed the new sailors to the “greatest Navy in the history of the world.”  (I found out later that comment choked up my new sailor which also produced episode twenty for me.)

Then they called “Liberty!” and chaos ensued. If it was a baseball game instead of a dignified, formal ceremony, you’d call it a bench-clearing brawl. Aw, who am I kidding? It WAS a bench-clearing brawl! As God is my witness, I saw at least a dozen middle-aged women knock over men twice their size to reach their sailors.

And I’m sorry if I hurt anyone.

My daughter got to him first and I had to whack at her to get at him. I’m rarely speechless, but there were simply no words at that moment.

Soon enough, we were swept out the garage doors with the rest of humanity across the base to where we began the morning. Adam had to run to his compartment to get some things so he pointed to a tree and said, “Wait there for me.” So we did, watching the happy reunions all around us. As we waited under our tree on a bit of a hill I had a clear view of the long sidewalk running across the base toward their barracks. They all looked the same so I wondered if I could pick out my sailor by his walk. I studied the sailors returning to their waiting families. That one? No … maybe him? No. Then, as if he had a neon sign pointing at his head, I saw him. He had a new swaggery bounce to his walk and I wondered when that happened.

When he joined us, he said he had to be back at his compartment by 12:30 to catch the bus to the other side of the base where he had to check in for A-School with his new orders. That gave us about ninety minutes to buy me a Navy Mom t-shirt and for him to show us Recruit Heaven where he made phone calls and got to eat at Taco Bell after Battle Stations. We ran into lots of his buddies, most of whom were scattering across the U. S. I felt so lucky that he was staying at Great Lakes so we’d have more than just an hour or two with him. Those other moms get a higher place in heaven.

As we were walking around, I was behind him at one point and, in a motherly attempt at embarrassing him, I said, “Your butt looks GREAT in that uniform.” He flashed me a grin and said, “I KNOW! Right?” He told us later that as part of his check-in he got weighed and measured again and he gained 20 pounds at boot camp. I think it ended up all across his shoulders. Not an ounce of fat on him.

adam1-copy

We went back to the hotel to wait for his call to come pick him up … which took for-freaking-ever. Too bad when he called he had no idea where he was! Luckily, one of his roommates gave us directions to the correct gate so we hot-footed it over there. But he was not to be found and even with our parking pass, we couldn’t come on base without him so the guard made us turn around. Before we got back out the gate, though, there he was on the sidewalk. Just past the gate, he hopped in the car.

He said, “Guess when I have to be back?”

I expected 9pm, which is when liberty normally ends.

“Nope! Sunday at 2145!”

We had him all weekend! (Crying episode twenty-one and hysterical giggling episode one.)

We were all starving so we went to dinner, then back to the hotel where I wanted pictures of the uniform he had changed into. He made sure to tell me he’s not supposed to salute me, nor is he supposed to wear his cover indoors. But today, Mom rules trump Navy rules. At least for photographic purposes.

not-supposed-to-salute-you-mom-copy

He was thrilled to reunite and commune with his computer, his iTunes and his phone. I think I heard him whisper loving and soothing words to them.

yay-for-electronics-copy

We ended Friday night with a rousing game of Uno and the knowledge breakfast was served until 10am.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Remember when I mentioned the weather earlier? We couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous day for the graduation, but all Friday night and all day Saturday it rained, alternating driving downpours with steady drizzle. Did we care? Absolutely not. We played Life and Uno. We watched tv. We listened to Adam’s iTunes. We watched in awe as he ironed his uniform and his t-shirt. In boot camp they had to iron on the floor because of problems with ironing boards breaking so it was a real treat for him to stand and iron. Hearing him talk about his uniform was interesting. He showed exactly how all the buttons and seams had to line up and the special way it gets tucked in. Definitely not the same kid I sent off in February.

As a surprise, I brought some pajama pants, his favorite Flogging Molly t-shirt and his slippers for him to wear in the hotel room. I knew he couldn’t go out without his uniform, but I thought he’d appreciate having some comfy clothes. Imagine my surprise when I found out he loved wearing his uniform!

He played on Facebook, texted and chatted with friends, and checked his email. The only thing on the agenda was a bit of shopping for some things he’d need for A-School. When there was a break in the weather, we went back to base to look for the Navy Exchange (NEX). He bought a pair of jeans, more white t-shirts, shampoo and other necessaries. Then we quenched his Chipotle craving. Then back to the hotel for more hanging out.

Never has a day of doing nothing been spent so well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rainy again today, but who cares? We ate a leisurely breakfast after Adam ironed his t-shirt — again — then played a rollicking game of Scrabble. We used two bags of tiles so we had quite an impressive board by the time we finished.

scrabble-copy

The maid conveniently came to clean our room just as the game was winding down and the rain had conveniently stopped, so we took the opportunity to conveniently leave the hotel. I had seen a brochure about a heron rookery, so that’s where we headed. We found it, saw a lot of giant nests in the top of trees, but couldn’t quite find the parking lot. Or the entrance. Or any of the herons. But that’s okay, because our next stop was for authentic Chicago-style pizza from Lou Malnati’s. (Again, thanks Lisa!)

lou-malnatis-copy

We couldn’t quite find it either for awhile, but we kept trying as we were more interested in it than in herons. Eventually we found it, and since it was only a carry-out location, we took dinner back to the hotel. Delish. Now we’ve had Famous Ray’s pizza in Manhattan, and Lou Malnati’s in Chicago, so we can cross “pizza” off our life lists.

After dinner, we played another few rounds of Uno, which, with us, can be variously described as Retribution Uno, Full-Contact Uno, and/or Xtreme Uno. After our wounds were dressed, we watched some tv, but all-too-soon it was time to get Adam back to base. He’s in a more dorm-like setting now. There are three corpsmen in his room, two in another and all five of them share a bathroom. They have a kitchen and living area with a three-quarter size refrigerator, sink and microwave. Elsewhere in the building is a tv room and a large workout room with weight equipment and cardio machines. And hopefully a chow hall.

His roommates are all in different stages of their Corpsman A-School — two will be leaving in a few weeks, two will be there for a couple more months, and Adam will be there at least until August. New sailors go from boot camp graduation to their A-School, which is where they learn the basics of their new job. As a new corpsman, Adam will have the option of going to C-School for further, more specific training, or to the fleet where he will provide medical services to other sailors on his ship — shots, dispensing cold and flu care, attending to injuries, and, you know, checking guys coming back from shore leave.

Okay, yes, I cried when we dropped him off too. Big surprise. But not until he walked away, ramrod straight in his new sailor posture, stepping bravely into his new life, nervous but enthusiastic about his next challenge.

Since watching him walk away, I’ve had the Navy Hymn in my head constantly. There have been many new verses written for it throughout the years. This one is from an anonymous author in 1955, and I’m dedicating it to my new sailor and all those who created the wake he’s swimming in now, and for all those swimming behind him.

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
And those who on the ocean ply;
Be with our troops upon the land,
And all who for their country stand:
Be with these guardians day and night
And may their trust be in thy might.

Bravo Zulu, Son!

For those of you regular visitors to BeckyLand, you might remember that I sent my son off to join the Navy a few months ago.

I’m pleased to announce that he will be graduating from Navy basic training this week. He passed all his tests, inspections and other assessments on time and with flying colors. Oh, but he did have to repeat his swimming qualification because he got kicked in the head the first time. They pulled him out of the water and made him re-test. He was fine, it wasn’t a big deal, but there are rules to be followed, apparently. In the Navy! Who knew?

As he was waiting for his re-test, he watched the SEAL recruits work out. He said their warm-up was harder than his entire hour-long workout. They didn’t get much news of the real world while in boot camp, but they did hear details about the exploits of the SEALs and the USS Bainbridge involved in the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama. I’m fairly certain those guys are chiseled out of granite with a little melted steel for good measure.

usnavy

usnavypirates

So in my son’s honor, and to honor the amazing Navy SEALs …  in true BeckyLand fashion … enjoy these short, funny videos.

See you next week sometime!

David Letterman’s Somali Pirates Play Set

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCvgAmQhMDs]

Navy SEAL recruitment ad

They have another similar one that says, “What did YOU do at work today?”

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNk_35oHsl8&feature=related]

Last, but not least, Squirrel SEALs

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuUqIc51LXY]