If my teenaged self knew that she would be living in Japan for a few years, she would have totally freaked out. Learning that it would be on a Navy ship, though, I think she would have been a little less enthusiastic. Even as an adult, when I got my orders, I was pretty thrilled. A foreign country! Serving my country! Going underway! It was all very exciting. To be sure, my first year here has been all ups and downs, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There was a lot to learn and see and do. It was difficult and rewarding and, even on most days when I’m not especially gung-ho about being in the Navy, I wouldn’t change anything about it.
I checked in onboard my first ship in September 2013 after spending a little over a year in Pensacola, FL for school. Of the dozen or so check-ins, I was the only one who wore her dress uniform. It was very awkward. I watched the ship pull back in and moor with intense dread. What could I expect from the work? The people? The living conditions? Everything was a mystery. My first few weeks were filled with fear and confusion. The ship felt like a maze and I knew barely anyone on it. Contractors were flooding the ship and filling it with hoses and trunks in preparation for SRA. I often found myself wondering how my life had reached this point. I still do, sometimes.
The males on the ship were unrepentantly thirsty toward the new female check-ins. At first, I thought everyone on the ship was just really nice and eager to help out. I think that’s still true for many people, but I began to see underlying ulterior motives and I started leaning on the company of women, something I’ve felt acutely deprived of since leaving my girlfriends at home. As it turns out, my ship has a significant number of women who are strong, hard-working, compassionate, intelligent, and fun, and who continue to inspire me to this day. I struggle with making friends and being social, but there are some spectacularly decent people on my ship: unfailingly kind and supportive and always willing to help out when needed. I hope I can be even half as good to them in return. My motivation to be a good sailor comes from wanting to emulate and repay those people who showed me the ropes in my first few months.
In November, I cut off my hair. This is the best decision I made all year and deserves its own post.
In December, I moved from the ship/barge to the barracks. Since then, I’ve had two awesome roommates, a decent one, and one I was very happy to see leave. Living with other people is always a learning experience. Solitude is very important to me, though, so I’m eager to get my own place.
When I got to Japan, I was in a relationship with someone in San Diego. We were thousands of miles and 13 hours apart. It didn’t work out. I was pretty sad for some weeks after the breakup, but my friends on the ship dragged me out and made me socialize and meet new people. I’m grateful that they did; I got a new taste of the freedom and autonomy that comes with being single and clung to it. For six months I focused entirely on my own happiness, wellbeing, and personal and professional development. For the first time in a long time, I felt confident and sure of myself.
In April, all of that changed. I experienced a trauma, one which I hope to write about in the future. Since I could get out of bed and feed myself and show up to work on time, I figured I was all right and stopped going to counseling. But, as the weeks went by, I could tell things weren’t right. I experienced random bouts of panic. I couldn’t focus on work or commitments or conversations. I was highly volatile and reactive and I felt like I was losing control of my emotions. I went back to counseling and stuck with it this time with much better success. My command, too, was extremely supportive of me in ways I couldn’t have dreamed. The amount of goodness that emerged in the wake of a terrible event was the greatest thing to happen to me all year. Around the same time, I got into another relationship, one which has had its own share of ups and downs but has withstood them all. These experiences, even the hard ones, shaped me in a positive way.
The ship was in repair for my first six months onboard. During that time, I got very little job-specific training. I busted rust, painted, and tried to learn about maintenance while mostly just feeling useless and unqualified. We went in and out of port between March and September of 2014, around the same time I stopped blogging. We saw seven different countries around Asia, including a rare visit to mainland China. We crossed the equator and we got to swim in the open ocean. I got as many quals as I could and came back to Japan this month as an in-rate supervisor, JOOD, and DCPO. I became an ACFL and committed to FEP, which surprised me. I made advancement to the next paygrade and got to put on ESWS. I was nominated for Junior Sailor of the Quarter. I did my best to make the most of our underway time and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Professionally, things turned out very well.
I’m starting off a new Navy year in ER09. So far, so good. I’m getting to know the ship in a way I could never have imagined and I really enjoy being in a division comprised of fellow second-classes. SRA can be frustrating and inconvenient but I’m determined to make the most of this time away from my division.
My life here in Japan is very good. I love the country, culture, and people. I’m very lucky to have great friends, a good job, a unique ship, the ability to travel, opportunities to volunteer, a strong Catholic community, and excellent fitness facilities. Soon I’ll be looking to move in to my own house. I look back on the year and feel grateful for so many formative experiences and lessons learned. I can’t wait to see what I’ll be writing about at this time next year.