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These words are my diary screaming out loud

Sunday, January 15, 2012

So far so good!

OK, here's an update on my list and how I'm doing with it:

Fruit or veg with every meal - Every single meal since I made the list. I'm proud of this!!
Less cluttered - its a process...
Fried food - only once so far
Blog once a week - its been 11 days... but close enough, right?
Write more songs - haven't gotten there yet...
Get rid of clothes - there are two huge bags waiting for goodwill
Reading - I'm plowing through Harry Potter 4 again
Masters - class progresses

Fit into the pink dress - working on it. Back on the weight watchers wagon, and I lost 2.5 pounds last week. This week will probably not be as good, there's been a little cheating (work lunch, breakfast outing, family lunch), but I think I will have at least maintained, not gained. I hope...

Oh, the interrupting thing. I'm definitely much more conscious of it, and I've mostly been doing better, except in this meeting the other day.

Sigh... sometimes, I wish I had the ability to just sit back and let people say completely wrong things that are confusing the people around them. But I just can't. No matter how hard I try, I just can't sit back and let people think something that isn't right, especially when its about something important. I think I upset a guy at work the other day, because I jumped in. Now, in my own defense, there were several times where I jumped in when he said something like "Rebecca will probably say I'm wrong" or "Rebecca keeps reminding me." But sometimes it was because he was just plain wrong.

But I'm working on it. I'm trying SO HARD. I really am. And I think that most of the time I'm doing pretty well. That counts for something, right?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A little story about curveballs

My Naval Academy class, being the first to graduate after 9/11, is publishing a book for our 10 year reunion. I submitted a story that didn't make the final cut, so I decided to share it with you. Without further ado...

Afloat Forward WHAT?

I am a legacy. My mother’s father graduated from the Naval Academy. After he passed away, my grandmother married another Naval Academy graduate. My father graduated in the last all-male class in 1979. My father was a career Naval Officer, so I spent my life around the Navy and the Naval Academy. I went to my first Navy football game on my first birthday. We moved every three years, at least - often, it was much more frequently. I adapted to each new town, each new school, each new set of people. I made new friends, and I managed.

And then I went to the Naval Academy. In fact, I’m the first child of my father’s class to graduate. The irony isn’t lost on anyone, believe me. You’d think, after the childhood I’d lived and the exposure I’d had, I would have known exactly what I was getting into. I sure thought I did. But I was absolutely wrong. Plebe summer, and the ensuing four years at the Naval Academy, made me realize that I would never be fully prepared, but I could do just about anything. This realization and confidence in my own strength and fortitude came in real handy in the summer of 2004.

My ship, an amphibious dock landing ship or LSD, was deployed to the Middle East. An LSD’s primary mission is to transport Marines, their vehicles, and their equipment to a designated location where they will move ashore in an amphibious assault. After training and exercising with our Marines on the East Coast, we ended up dropping our Marines off in Qatar for a mission in Afghanistan. We headed towards our operating box off the coast of Pakistan to wait for them to complete their mission so we could pick them up and head home. The Quartermasters, upon pulling out the navigational charts for the region, realized that it was the exact same operating box that the ship had been assigned to on the previous deployment two years earlier. Everyone was ready for a boring deployment.

But then, on April 24th, 2004, everything changed.  Terrorists had attacked near the Al Basra Oil Terminal (ABOT) in the Northern Arabian Gulf, or NAG, killing several people, including 2 Navy Sailors and one Coast Guard Sailor. Within days, we were headed to Bahrain to pick up a Special Boat Team and two helicopters. This would be the first time an LSD had ever embarked a helicopter detachment - while the class of ship does have a flight deck, it does not have a helicopter hanger. It would also be the first time an LSD had served as an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), which is what we were told we would be doing upon arrival. We didn’t really know what this meant, but off we went. Once all of our new embarked personnel and equipment were on board, we headed north towards ABOT and its sister platform, the Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT).

I had only recently earned my Officer of the Deck (OOD) qualification, which allowed me to stand one of the most important watch stations on the ship. The OOD is the watchstander who, in the absence of the Captain, is responsible for the safe navigation and operation of the ship. It is the last major hurdle a junior officer is required to clear prior to sitting in front of a board to earn the Surface Warfare Officer qualification and is described by many as similar to getting a drivers’ license. The requisite time has been spent standing the watch with supervision, and the Captain feels confident in the watchstander’s ability to do the job alone. However, nobody expects a brand new OOD to be one hundred percent confident, and new OODs are highly encouraged to keep asking questions. I felt pretty good about standing my watches in our decent sized box off the coast of Pakistan, but I had only stood a few watches before we were called away to the NAG. Once again, life handed me a situation that far exceeded my preparation.

Standing watch in the NAG got very interesting, very quickly because at that point, it was a pretty tightly wound environment. Along with us, there was another Destroyer from our group and several Coastal Patrol ships (PCs), Minesweepers, and Coast Guard Cutters, along with the lines of merchant oil tankers waiting to fill up and Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Iranian dhows (wooden fishing boats) filled with men trying to make a living. A sunken crane just inside Iranian territorial waters had become a favorite surveillance spot for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and our lookouts were constantly monitoring the movements of the Iranian boats to and from the crane. Tensions between the US and Iran have always been high, and at that point American and Coalition ships were experiencing higher than normal levels of harassment from the Iranians. The fear of another terrorist attack was always present.

Every ship’s captain has a set of Standing Orders, designed to spell out the requirements of the OOD and other key watchstanders. The Orders include times when the OOD must call the Captain, no matter what, to include when another vessel is expected to close within a certain distance of the ship. The Captain quickly figured out that the distances specified in his Standing Orders, should they be maintained in the crowded environment we had entered, would result in his phone ringing off the hook. He adjusted those distances, but, unfortunately, the dhow fishermen still didn’t understand our comfort levels. The fishermen felt much more comfortable with the beefed up military presence in the area. We, however, had no way of knowing if the approaching dhows, whom often did not show up on our radar screens, were filled with harmless fishermen or explosives and a suicide bomber (the method used in the attack on ABOT). Our crew served weapons teams were forced to man the guns several times a day and, in multiple instances, fire warning shots near the dhows who did not heed our warnings to back away. I felt awful for most of the fishermen; even on the rare occasion when they did have working radios on their boats, they likely didn’t understand our warnings. Most of them were just trying to feed their families and make a little bit of money. But the situation necessitated our tendency toward fear, and while we never knew if this would be the time we’d have to actually fire upon one of these dhows, I know I speak for most when I say that we were glad that it never came to that.

The powers that be had divided the areas around ABOT and KAAOT into sectors resembling pie pieces, and assigned the smaller ships to patrol the sectors. Because of our size, we were rarely given an actual sector; instead, we were given an operating box kind of in between the two platforms with the occasional movement to a sector to cover a ship that needed to leave to resupply or refuel. Our small operating box made life even more interesting when we realized what our mission, as the afloat forward staging base, would be: send out our small boats twice a day with meals and supplies for the personnel working on board the platforms (primarily SeaBees and other engineers building living quarters), and launch helicopters, amphibious hovercraft (LCACs), and special boat teams in support of other, often classified even to us, events going on in the region. And oh, by the way, we had to do all of these things, which required certain wind envelopes, sea states, and speeds, in a small operating box, and all at the same time, and while being surrounded by dhows, and while trying not to run over the fishing nets said dhows had laid with no regard to our operating area. All of these tasks had to be monitored, and all of the operational requirements to carry them out met, by the OOD.

With the standard craziness of the NAG and all of our operational requirements, there was rarely a dull moment on watch. Even in the middle of the night there was excitement, quite often in the form of the VHF radio and the infamous “Filipino Monkey.” For years sailors have heard those words on the radio in all parts of the world. Our Filipino Monkey calls were often followed by discussions of bananas and sheep and/or monkeys designed to make fun of the information gathering techniques used by our ships to track ships in the NAG. I seemed to be handling the challenges of being an OOD - feedback from the Captain and some of the more senior officers was good, and my watch team responded well to my leadership. However, I was reminded not to get complacent on more than one occasion, with one event in particular standing out. We had been assigned an actual sector of two pie pieces surrounding ABOT. The radars were not cooperating at such close range to the other ships, and our sector was much smaller than what I was used to. I thought I had plenty of space before I encroached on the sector owned by a Cruiser until I heard the radio call. First, it was their OOD asking my intentions. I stated them, said I was about to turn, and the next thing I heard was their Captain telling me I’d better hurry up, and I’d better tell my Captain that I’d almost t-boned his ship. Needless to say I had not been prepared for this. I quickly turned the ship away from him, and called my Captain, letting him know that I had gotten a little too close for comfort, and he may hear something from the other ship’s Captain.  Luckily, he was understanding, told me to make sure I kept a further distance, and carry on. But my nerves were shot for the rest of the night!

We remained in our box in the NAG for 48 days straight. 45 days qualify for a “beer day,” a Navy tradition in which ships who remain at sea for 45 days without pulling into a port are entitled to 2 beers per of-age crewmember, provided operational conditions allowed and the chain of command approved. The day after our beer day, we were directed to head to Bahrain - our time in the NAG was over, at least for the time being. However, the mission we began continued in the NAG, and more ships were tasked with missions outside of the ones normally given to its class.

My father and my grandfather passed me only two real pieces of advice regarding my Naval career: no matter what, make sure that when you go to bed at night, you can look in the mirror and feel good about what you did that day, and if you stop having fun, find a new job. I made mistakes as an OOD, and I was yelled at plenty of times. I learned that it was OK, even a good thing, to ask questions, especially if I did not fully understand the task I had been given. This was not the first mentally tough situation I had encountered in the Navy, and it wasn’t the last either. But through it all, I never once felt as though I had compromised my own integrity, and I became a stronger person, learned more about myself, and realized that no matter how difficult the situation, I could make it through. My time as a SWO was not fun for me, and when my initial service obligation was up, I chose not to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather. However, the lessons I learned, both about life and about myself, made that time worthwhile. If nothing else, I learned that no matter how prepared I may think I am based on past experiences, life has a funny way of throwing curveballs.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!

So 2011 was an alright year. Nothing spectacular, but the first year since 2007 that I was fully employed from January 1st to December 31st with zero breaks. So that definitely puts it on the better than the last few years page. But it wasn't all bad.

This year, I really do want to make some New Year's resolutions that I think I can actually keep. There's the perpetual lose weight, get in better shape, be a better human being, etc. But I want my list to be a little more realistic this year. So here's my list. At the end of the year, I'll come back to this list and see how I did:

1. Eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal. Ideally, actually get 5 servings of fruit/veg per day. This will be especially hard at breakfast for me.

2. Fit into the pink dress I bought a couple years ago and LOVE but have never worn.

3. Try to be less cluttered.

4. Let people finish sentences without interrupting. I'm REALLY bad about this, partially because my mind tends to move a zillion miles an hour.

5. Eat fried food no more than twice a month. I would say never, but that's just not realistic. So I'm going to try to limit it.

6. Blog at least once a week, if not more.

7. Write more songs. Maybe even record one or two of them.

8. Get rid of the clothes that I haven't worn or fit into in years but haven't wanted to get rid of because of sentimental reasons.

9. Read one book per month.

10. Finish my master's degree.

We'll see how it all goes.  I know I can do all of these things, I just have to keep myself focused and make myself do it. Wish me luck, and happy 2012 everyone!