We are all veterans of one thing or another and I am a Veteran of the United States Navy. Although I occupy the blog, rest easily, this is not a military occupation.
I joined the Navy because my grandfather had been in the Navy (in The Big One) and his stories were better than his brothers’ who were all in the Army (Over There). That, and I love the uniforms.
I joined in the late 70s and went to boot camp at RTC Orlando (which has since closed), where I learned how to march, properly fold skivvies, and swab a deck with grace and flair. I shared a room (a big one) with 79 other women. Note to grad students: boot camp would make for an interesting study on assimilation and acculturation of a disparate band of individuals into one cohesive unit in twelve weeks. This is accomplished through sleep deprivation, spontaneous PT, and withholding cigarette breaks.
Spontaneous PT (Physical Training) means that at any moment, for any reason (such as skylarking, which means your eyes are looking anywhere but straight ahead), the unit is ordered to do push-ups, jumping jacks, and sit ups until we all learned the skylarker’s lesson. Boot camp is not an ideal environment for those who have issues with authority.
Going in, I figured that if 10% of the population is gay, there would be seven other Lesbians in my unit. Boy was I wrong–I knew nothing of the word demographics at the time. There were like 25! Imagine twelve weeks of secretive knowing glances. These were the days before DADT. For being such a bad thing, DADT was much better than what came before it: periodic witch hunts resulting in a thinning of the ranks and friends turning on friends to save their own necks.
I went to a Navy school in San Diego and learned a trade. Like my grandfather, I ended up in Hawaii. I was stationed at the Naval Submarine Base in Pearl Harbor and repaired subs. If you’ve never been inside a submarine, I highly commend it. In this tiny, seaworthy, stealthy, warring vessel are all the makings for the likes of 60-125 men to live, work, eat, and rest. That’s a lot of stuff, cleverly arranged for form, fit, function. Off duty, I learned about Pidgin English, sushi, pakalolo, Hula’s, shave ice, and how it feels to be a racial/ethnic minority.
I was lucky enough to serve during “peace time.” I put that in quotes, because there’s always something going on in the world. At the base, we’d occasionally see boats come in that looked like they went through the wrong neighborhood. We said nothing, repaired them, and they were gone as quietly as they came. In my particular time, there was the Iran Hostage Crisis. I happened to be on a plane flying home for leave when the hostages were freed. I was flying in uniform because we were told if there was ever an extra seat in first class, they would likely give it to a service person in uniform. When the pilot made the announcement, everyone cheered and lots of people bought me drinks.
While I support a strong military, I would prefer to exhaust other possibilities before engaging in war. If those don’t work, war it is. If we are threatened or attacked, war it is. I am not for preemptive strikes nor am I for bullying.
I took exception with George W. Bush who, during a debate with Al Gore, said, “the purpose of the military is to fight and win wars.” When I swore in, I agreed to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” A subtle distinction. (Ironically, that was his argument against nation-building.) Nonetheless, it is called the Department of Defense (changed from the Department of War in 1949) and so I am far more inclined towards defending and not aggressing.
I was taught in boot camp that the primary goal of the Navy (and the reason our country went through the expense of developing a strong navy) is to keep the sea lanes open. This is for trade as well as for security and defense reasons. As it happens, there have been relatively few conflicts, police activities, or wars in my lifetime where the safety and freedom of my country and fellow citizens were at stake. Mostly, we’ve engaged our military to “protect American interests in the region.” That’s administration-speak for trade. We may couch it in other terms, like we’re helping other people achieve either stability or democracy, but generally, we want to buy their stuff and we want them to buy ours. Of course, if we can alleviate egregious human rights violations (without jeopardizing our other “interests in the region”) we will.
I am glad that we have a different attitude towards our vets coming home now than we did when I was in high school—the Vietnam Era vets. We need to take care of the people who we expect to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, whether that preparation gets put to the test or not. I think the best way we can honor and care for our vets is to help re-assimilate and re-acculturate them into civilian society. The Department knows a bit about that and I’m sure if they spent some time thinking about it, they could even do it in twelve weeks.
Thank you to everyone who served and everyone who has a friend or relative that served or serves. If you’re in CT, Miranda Vineyards is giving a free wine tasting to Veterans on Sunday and Monday.
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