What does a veteran mean to you? Someone who served and protected their country, so that you may continue to have freedom?
I enlisted the United States Navy on leap year day 29th February 2000. I remained in the delayed entry program; waiting for my time to go to boot camp; that day came on 2 October 2000. 3 December 2000, I graduated boot camp and went to Pensacola, Florida for three week training; my first Christmas away from home. Boy I was crushed when I couldn’t go home to be with my family. Then it hit me, I’ll be missing a lot of family time and a lot of holidays.
28 December 2000, I arrived in Norfolk, Virginia where I will be stationed onboard the USS George Washington CVN 73. I had butterflies in my stomach, and the closer I got to the ship, the more the butterflies stirred. I remember the person that picked me up from the airport and brought me to the ship; I got a chance to work with him later.
Thoughts ran through my head and one of them was reminding me I had aquaphopia, a fear of the water. More or less I didn’t like boats, but I had joined the Navy, go figure. As someone once told me, ‘you must always face your fears to defeat them.’ Well, was this my chance to do that or what?
I don’t have good luck with small boats. I was told I’ve only visited the USS Missouri once, but that was many, many years ago, so I don’t remember what it was like. So, this was a huge experience for me. I have always had a fear for deep water and boats. And I am also claustrophobic. Bet you’re thinking, ‘Why did she join the Navy?’ I’m following a family tradition.
I was quickly assigned to a berthing (place where I will be sleeping) and set up my bunk and tried hard to get some sleep. The racks were mere bunk beds, stacked three high. They didn’t leave very much room to move around in and also came with courtesy curtains, which took me a long while before I could close them. Racks also have another term, coffin racks, if you’ve ever seen one, or been in one, you would understand why. They’re about the size as one, or just about like sleeping in a coffin; not much room for moving around.
The next morning was Friday and I remember meeting with Master Chief West; he was the Master Chief over the division I will soon be assigned too. He looked at my ASVAB scores and gave me a choice, weapons or maintenance. I had scored the highest in mechanics, of course, and so thus my path started.
That afternoon I was surprised when a small group of ladies I went to boot camp and ‘A’ school in Pensacola with was also assigned the same berthing as me. With only a sea bag full of uniforms and very few civilian clothes, we decided to celebrate and go shopping at the nearest mall. One of the girls and I had remained friends our entire time onboard the ship. We had lost contact after she left the ship. I had thought it would’ve been easy to find her in the small Air Traffic Control community we would both be working in, but I had cut my schooling short and decided on getting out of the military. A few months ago I found her obituary online. She had passed away from a blocked artery in her brain.
I won’t write everything that happened in my stay on the ship, though I will say I had some ups and a lot of downs in the military. It was hard not having a designated job and some of the personnel can be really hard on you. I was only staying an E-3, the whole time I served, which was high on ‘not so favorite thing’ list. I know how to clean really well; especially the bathrooms and I’ve worn the straw right off of a broom from so many uses.
Even though I didn’t get to move up in rank, didn’t stop me from trying to get every qualification I could get. I even received dual warfare pins, not an easy task. I was the only one in my duty section to qualify for every watch, as quickly as I could, even gun qualification even though I wasn’t going to where a gun on watch. I also had three rows of ribbons and medals.
Not too far down the road September 11th happened and my ship was put in full speed and headed for New York. We patrolled New York’s harbor for three weeks, guarding my beloved country from any other terrorists wishing to cause her more harm. It was a day I will always remember. It was like the earth stood still, more or less its people, as we all stopped and stared at the disaster on the television. Every channel was playing the horrific events over and over again. At first some of us thought this was just another Hollywood movie, then it sank in that it was real and people on the ship began to panic. Those that were from the DC and New York area were desperate to get a hold of their loved ones had tears streaming down their faces. A girl next to me screamed out in fear because she couldn’t get a hold of her fiancé on the phone; he was stationed in the Pentagon. I placed a hand on her, saying he’s okay. The phone lines are just tied up right now.
I walked back to our work area and we were all immediately assigned several tasks to keep ourselves and our minds busy until the end of the shift. Not one person argued against working and for the rest of the day the whole crew remained quiet.
Later that night, my ship was loaded with planes and moved to New York’s harbor, where we sat for three weeks. I did go out, onto the catwalk of my ship, and I could see the smoke coming from the towers, after they had collapsed. It wasn’t too long after that, my ship had made its way overseas and dropped the first missiles onto Iraqi, starting the war.
Soon I had moved out of maintenance and up a few decks to an air conditioned space with the Air Traffic Controllers. I stopped looking like a grease monkey and became proud of my uniform by wearing a fresh, clean, ironed uniform with creases and a shine on my boots that you could use as a mirror. I started to adapt to my new environment. It was a little different than what I was used to, but some of the personnel was just like working with the ones I had left in my old department. Women of rank seem to be harder on women with lower rank, for what reason I can never explain. I would never treat someone as such, but the stuff you go through and put up with. I do have problems with some stress levels, thanks to them and what I had to put up with.
I had served my four years, honorably, and decided to get out. I had been in many Operations and was on the ship that dropped the first bomb on Iraq that started the war. I had received several ribbons and medals and a FLAG letter of Accommodation from the Rear Admiral of my ship, thanking me for the hard work that I had done and congratulating me for having acquired so many achievements for my rank. I had witnessed many things and had attended a few military funerals. Amazing Grace being played on the bagpipes, The National Anthem, and God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood have always made me cry when I hear them. I have seen quite a lot of Ocean and have traveled around to some beautiful places. I have broken my fear of water but still remain claustrophobic. I was proud of the uniform I wore and am proud to say I served. I will always be a veteran.