This Sunday found us at Naval Air Station Coronado, always an interesting place for the family to visit. For the kids it’s like Richard Scarry’s Busytown, with every kind of flying or driving vehicle you can imagine zooming or lumbering past and crisscrossing the sky above. Dave actually works on a smaller base south of NAS Coronado, an amphibious base for expeditionary units, SEAL teams, etc (he is not a Navy SEAL, however! — don’t go spreading rumors) so visiting the “big base” is kind of a treat.
Part of a refueling ship with huge hoses:
There’s just something fascinating about these big carriers — floating cities that house 5,000 people at sea, powered by several small nuclear reactors.
NAS Coronado is home base for the Navy’s helicopter fleet, so there are retired helos everywhere.
Base Housing Far Too Good For the Likes of Us:
And here’s what we came for! Old friend/nemesis, we meet again:
CVN 76, a.k.a. the Ronald Reagan, where Dave spent the better part of 2006. It was the Reagan’s maiden voyage as well as Dave’s — he was a freshly minted officer sent to meet the ship on its way to the Gulf. We had six days’ notice before he left, and I’ll admit it is not the happiest memory of my life because I had a three-month-old baby and was thousands of miles from any of our family. But now that it’s said and done, we can look back on the whole thing with some nostalgia. Dave had the exciting experience of landing on the ship at sea via cargo plane. The interior of a carrier is an endless network of little gray tunnels and steep ladders everywhere, like an M.C. Escher painting, and I think it took him a week just to stop fearing disorientation every time he left his stateroom (p.s. don’t let the word “stateroom” fool you; it was no more stately than a postage stamp).
Not long into the deployment, the ship crossed the equator for the first time, which is when newbie sailors like Dave become “shellbacks” — you’re grabbed out of your stateroom, apparently, by deranged salty dogs who drag you around the ship and put you through a series of bizarre rituals, like swimming through giant vats of Jell-o.
Dave spent most of the deployment on watch in the Gulf, helping to develop and implement aerial technology to identify IEDs on the ground, so it was meaningful work for him. He also spent a lot of time gazing down at the water in horror at all the sea snakes wriggling below, apparently some of the few things that have survived Saddam Hussein’s multiple attempts to burn the Gulf to death. (Dave has a phobia of snakes, so I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that he had to see them all the time from the ship.)
Well, godspeed, CVN-76, and may we never meet again (sorry! — that’s the Navy wife in me coming out).
Our destination: to meet up with a friend who was staying at the Navy Lodge:
Last spring, Dave had to attend a month-long Expeditionary Combat Skills course in Mississippi. Dave is one of your quiet, brainiac military men and will probably never use these skills, but the Navy likes to send people on training whether they’ll need it or not, and of course Dave loved the experience, like Boy Scouts on steroids: tromping through kudzu-choked jungle, navigating at night, shooting seven million kinds of guns. He had to practice spitting on a nasotracheal tube and shoving it up his friends’ noses and down the back of their throats (and having the same done to him). Once you’ve done that to a man, I imagine you’re friends for life.
At the time, he was all sweetness and regret, like, “Oh, it’ll be all right, but really I’d rather be home with you and these three crazy kids.” But any military spouse knows you can get the real scoop from his friends….
Dave’s friend Manooch (on the right) gave me the real rundown about how much fun they had, without incriminating Dave too much. (Two words: New Orleans.) Manooch is a Naval reservist who’s out here on orders for 7 weeks, and Dave’s had a great time catching up with him. On Sunday Manooch hosted us for the day at the gorgeous Navy Lodge, which was a paradise for the kids. Like most military men I’ve met, Manooch is great with kids, laid-back and fun, and we all had a great time.
My favorite story from their time at ECS actually takes place in New Orleans, where Dave and Manooch were on liberty weekend with a group of guys. (Meanwhile, I was spending my “liberty weekends” scrubbing bathrooms, sweeping the kitchen and cutting sandwiches into little crustless triangles for a group of demanding epicures. No hard feelings, guys!)
So, as the story goes, the men from ECS went into Nawlins for the weekend, during which time they took a “ghost tour” led by an earnest man who claimed to have psychic connections to the area dating back hundreds of years (his family were longtime New Orleans folk). So he took them on a very colorful tour of the neighborhoods. Now, my Dave is a straight-laced man, honest to a fault, nearly incapable of lying. But early on in the tour Manooch told the tour guide, “We’re ghost hunters, too!” Dave turned to him in surprise as Manooch spun this long yarn about how he and Dave were budding ghost-hunters from San Francisco, starting up a ghost tour of the old Victorian houses there. Dave, growing pale, had to go along with this story, which the ghost-hunter man (for all his psychic abilities) bought hook, line, and sinker. The ghost-hunter would lead them in front of a particular house and say, “Now, this will be of special interest to you two…” or, “Are you guys feeling anything here?” to which Dave and Manooch would say, “Oh, yes, definitely getting something.” By the end of the trip, everyone on the tour was in on the joke, except for the poor ghost-hunter, who shook their hands and gave them his card. He and Manooch commiserated over the lack of funding available to young ghost hunters, and then Manooch and Dave departed. Manooch owed Dave a beer for that one.
People like this give me such an attachment to military folks — the reason I wave almost goofily when I see a man or woman in uniform, even though they have no way of knowing by sight that I’m a Navy wife and probably think I am just addled. But it’s good stuff, the camaraderie, the importance of some of the work they do, the love of family, and on and on. Manooch made a point of taking me aside and letting me know how much Dave talked about us during ECS. He knows we have a deployment coming up and he was being thoughtful.
Well, this post was not even remotely literary. Allow me to redeem myself:
— A review of Adrian Bonenberger’s Afghan Post on Peter Molin’s fantastic blog, Time Now. No one in the military writes a book review like Peter Molin, and this one is as thought-provoking as ever. I was excited to read that Peter Molin shares my same feeling about memoir versus fiction. “I draw a line between remembrance and imagination,” Molin writes. “I’m interested in the artistic representation of war more than its factual rendition, and I don’t want to be lured into judging someone’s life or disputing a soldier’s understanding of what he or she lived through. Plus, there’s just a whole heck of a lot of memoirs out there, and not so many stories, and I think writing a great story is more of an achievement than writing a great memoir.”
That said, Afghan Post sounds like a worthy memoir, by a young Army soldier and Yale graduate — Bonenberger’s tension between his military career and his liberal politics struck a chord with me. My husband, like Bonenberger, entered the military post-9/11 (in Dave’s case, post-UC Berkeley history major) because he wanted to make a difference. He wanted to, in his own small way, temper the “George W. Bushification” of the military and just be there, a thoughtful young person with differing political views in the military. I have respect for this and I am always happy to meet people who share our views, although we have so many great friends whose political views are different from ours and you know what — we just don’t talk politics with them! We admire their babies and hang out and it’s all good.
(p.s. I feel almost ashamed mentioning a memoir like Afghan Post after putting up all these pictures of our sun-drenched day in paradise. Bonenberger details the poverty suffered by the Afghan people, and the hard work on the ground by American soldiers, and it all reminds me to be so grateful for the people who do this hard work, while our family’s personal military life is very much behind-the-scenes, very much sheltered from many of these harsher realities. We have been reminded of that also now that my husband is attached to an EOD unit [explosive ordnance disposal] here in San Diego, where many of the people he works with did multiple tours on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think my husband’s line of work is very important, and it is suited to his personality and skills — and also, he joined the military while married and with a family on the way, so he did not have the internal struggle of men who are in the military first and then must reconcile the dangerous work they may have chosen with their love for a new wife and kids — but the more I read and learn and talk to folks who have served outside the wire, the more my respect for them grows, even more than I thought possible.)
—- FINALLY (you thought I’d never stop!) for some fun reading for you military spouses, Army Amy’s got her “Amy Reads” post up. She’s also doing a fun giveaway that I think is a brilliant idea to lessen the monotony of deployment — while her husband’s away, you can enter to win a free book on her blog — she’ll send it to you and the deal is you send her a little care package in return. Care packages for the mil spouses — I absolutely love it! (And not to gloat, but I won the first book!)