Category Archives: navy

ANOTHER BROKEN BONE

Whenever I go home on leave, I have to figure out how to tell my family and friends what I’ve been up to. This process is worthy of a post in and of itself, but when I went home for Christmas last year, I told everyone that the training was hard but the worst was over and soon I would move on to the next thing! Smooth sailing!

Then I went back to Pensacola and, three days in to the next phase of training, I broke my foot.

It was mostly my pride that was injured. We had to jump off of a platform and crumple up on the landing to simulate a parachute fall. Sounds straightforward enough – until you’re standing on top of that platform and suddenly a mere four feet to the ground looks very very high and they want you to jump off backwards. So I was nervous and I did it wrong – clearly, since the whole purpose of the exercise was to prevent injury in the event that we would have to do this for real. I knew something was wrong immediately, laying there in the gravel, but it didn’t hurt, exactly. It just felt not quite right. So I did it five or six more times until I got it right. Then I did it again with a zipline. Then the Marines pulled us over the grass and dirt so we could practice escaping from a parachute that was getting dragged! All in all, good fun. Then, after switching boots for sneakers, I tried to jog into formation – and couldn’t. Putting pressure on my foot was increasingly difficult and, soon, painful. An x-ray showed two broken bones. My foot got so swollen that socks left deep indents. When they handed me crutches, I wanted to die of shame.

I hopped around on crutches for a month, then spent another three weeks in a walking boot. Crutches were exhausting beyond what I might have imagined, but there was no joy in the chore; it wasn’t the same as being able to walk and run and swim and lift weights. I spent a lot of time sitting and a lot of time being sad.

Not everything was a bummer, though. Here are some of the positive aspects of being off my feet for a while.

  1. I didn’t lose my orders! They told me I would, but I didn’t, and it was a good lesson in the uselessness of worrying. I could have spared myself a few days of misery if I had postponed an emotional reaction until I had a definite answer.
  2. I broke my left foot. I could still drive with my right. I ended up buying a car during my extended stay in Pensacola, and it proved to be indispensable for getting around and staying entertained.
  3. My healthcare is free. Not only am I going to make a full recovery without surgery, but my x-rays and doctor visits and physical therapy won’t saddle me with a decade of debt! Thanks, Uncle Sam!
  4. I learned firsthand the daily accessibility struggles for people with actual disabilities. When you’re on crutches, something as simple as opening a door – something you wouldn’t think twice about when you’ve got two functional hands and feet – is a huge challenge. Getting in and out of a car on one foot. Stairs. Bathing. Cooking. Carrying anything – forget it! The palms of my hands developed blisters, which broke and bled painfully with friction; I still have the callouses. It is hard to express in words the feelings of dread and frustration I felt when arriving back at my building late at night and finding the parking lot totally full – of having to park in another lot and crutch a long distance slowly, painfully in the dark. It is a testament to my tremendous ignorance and lack of basic empathy that I didn’t understand or appreciate these small but pervasive struggles that people with disabilities have to surmount every single day. I have a newfound sense of awe for their capacity to adapt and overcome.
  5. Friends and strangers alike jumped at opportunities to make my life a little easier. People were nicer to me while I was on crutches than at any other time in my life. They carried things for me, opened doors for me, brought me food and coffee, got up to hand me my crutches so I wouldn’t have to hop around to get them – one breakfast restaurant even kept a particular seat at the counter open for me on Sunday mornings with a chair nearby to prop my foot up. How cool is that? Even the passing comments cheered me up. One woman whispered to me confidentially when our paths crossed in the mall parking lot, “Your shoes don’t match.” I had to stop and lean heavily into my crutches because I was laughing so hard. Good, nice, thoughtful, generous people – you are my sunshine!

Today makes eight weeks since my injury, and I managed to run for a short time with only minor discomfort! I am very optimistic that I can build my strength with each new day and, slowly and carefully, get back to where I was before. Breaking a bone is tough, and there were many days that felt dark and hopeless, but when I look back on the experience, I will remember only the positive parts and lessons learned.

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BOAT JOB THING EXPLAINER

I recently read Thing Explainer by Randall Monroe of the xkcd/What If? fame. It’s interesting (and often hilarious) that using simple terms does not always lead to clearer understanding. Specificity can be pretty important, especially technically speaking. But the book is a lot of fun. As Monroe says in the introduction, using only the most common words in the English language eliminates the fear of sounding stupid.

So, in the spirit of Thing Explainer and sounding stupid, here is a description of my job in the Navy using xkcd’s simple writer and only the most common 10,000 words in English.

I fix the boat’s kill stick-blocker system. The system has computers with a lot of boxes. Each side of the boat has a box way up high for listening to things that send out radio waves. These listening-boxes can send out radio waves too but that might break the thing out there that we’re listening to. We can look at the numbers from the radio waves on the looking-box in the dark control room. The looking-box shows us where the radio wave sender is and what it might be. People who aren’t kill stick-blockers aren’t supposed to know these numbers, but it’s not hard to find them if you really want to.

Kill sticks move very fast. If one of these hits the boat, there would be fire and a lot of people would die and it would be a very bad day. The listening-box looks for radio waves from the kill sticks and uses computers to send those numbers to the looking-box. If we see those numbers, we have to do something about it. This might mean sending radio waves back at it, or hiding in light metal clouds, or sending off another stick with its own radio waves. There are people on the boat who can use special guns to shoot down the kill stick when it is very close, but this is hard to do when the kill stick is moving two or three times faster than sound.

Once in a while, the smaller computers turn off for some reason or the listening-box has a problem. It’s my job to find out why. Sometimes this means going outside when it is very dark and the boat is moving side to side a lot. Sometimes this means sitting in front of the looking-box for a very long time. Sometimes it means being outside in the sun and looking at all of the computer-boxes inside the listening-box. It is usually on these days that the old coffee-drinking man yells at us a lot and shows us what we’re doing wrong. I like these days the best. Most of the time, though, my job is to keep the boxes clean and check them to make sure they’re ready.

Thank you to DW (very smart kill stick-blocker friend) for thinking of “fast kill stick” when I was having trouble simplifying “missile.”

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2015 IN REVIEW

On New Years Eve 2014, my friends and I went tubing in the snow, and on the way back, the car got a flat tire. We spent hours in the cold waiting for AAA, talking and teasing each other and reminiscing about the year that was quickly coming to a close. 2014 tried to stick it to us for the last time, but we made it home just before the big countdown. After that, everyone agreed that we wanted an easy year for 2015. “Please, please just be chill.”

For me, things turned out very well. Welcome to a really long post about a really great year!

PHYSICAL
When I came home for holiday leave, I kept hearing about how skinny I had gotten. This is very confusing to me because I’m the heaviest I’ve been since 2012. (It’s also a little baffling how easily people offer commentary on my body, but that’s probably for another post.) My focus on running this year has changed my physique a little. It’s not better or worse, I think, just different.

I ran up “the hill” in Busan and around the harbor in Sydney. I set new race records (26:40 for 5k, 53:40 for 10k) and ran a half-marathon for the first time. I started training for a marathon but recently lost motivation for the longer runs. It is really hard to want to spend more than an hour on the treadmill after the workday. Plus, that kind of training demands a sacrifice from strength work. Going forward, I think I’m going to try a more balanced approach. I’m getting a little blasé about fitness because I’m sort of on autopilot now, and other hobbies have been dominating my time and attention. (Read: Fallout 4 came out.)

PSYCHOLOGICAL
I haven’t seen my counselor since the week before the court-martial (more on this another time). Not professionally, at least. I bought her a little glass kangaroo in Sydney to put on her desk, and we chatted for a while when I dropped in to give it to her. She reminded me of how far I’ve come in 18 months. She also told me what I didn’t need to be in a crisis to come see her.

My counselor is one of the best things to happen to me in a long time. If you have ever considered going to counseling but have some reservations holding you back, please give it a try! I know it can be scary, but there is nothing wrong with talking to another person to make sense of things. We do it with each other all the time! But a professional gives you a sympathetic but unbiased perspective, which is invaluable.

With the exception of a few difficult times, I’ve been consistently happy. I’m learning to manage my anxiety in a constructive way. I’m really lucky to have the Navy and my family and friends as support systems. I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you all for being there for me, especially when it wasn’t easy and I was difficult to love.

INTELLECTUAL
My goal was to read two books a month this year, one physical and one audio. I ended up reading 41! I’m proud of this. A 45-minute walk to and from work made this pretty easy. Here are my top five faves from what I read this year:

  1. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  3. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
  4. Bag of Bones by Stephen King
  5. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

I did two online classes on edx as well and both were challenging and fun! If you want to learn about something new but don’t want to spend money or, really, deal with rigorous academic demands, I highly recommend this website.

SPIRITUAL
Still going to church, still trying to be a good Catholic. I got the chance to visit cathedrals in Nagasaki and Sydney and Zhangjiang, and while the differences were fascinating, it was the similarities that resonated most strongly with me.

I went to Christmas midnight Mass at home in an area that was mostly wealthy and white. The church and the choir were incredible, but I couldn’t help but notice how miserable the other parishioners looked. Maybe they were tired because it was so late. But, despite the beauty of the place and the joy of the celebration, the people around me made it feel like a funeral. It made me grateful for the joy and kindness that I see at the chapel on base. I’m going to miss it when I leave.

ROMANTIC
I made pretty poor decisions in terms of romantic partners this year. Fortunately, I can look back at them with only mild embarrassment instead of hurt or despair. It warrants serious reflection, though. Why do I find myself attracted to vacant, trifling people? Why do I give so much to people who give so little in return?

I don’t have the answers yet. Until I do, I think I need to be a little more choosy about in whom I invest any emotional energy.

WORK
We had a number of big certifications this year, including one for the system for which I’m responsible (which also involved a coworker and I desperately troubleshooting at the eleventh hour): TMI/MCI, 3M, ATFP, DC. We got the Battle E! I went to a few great schools, including the SAPR VA school, which was one of the most positive and useful experiences I’ve had in the Navy to date. I began my Reign of Terror as workcenter supervisor. We went to China, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and Guam. I got my second warfare pin and got recognized as JSOQ, which, for some reason, doesn’t seem to happen often for my department. A big thank you to my chain of command for advocating for me!

There have been a lot of changes to my own division this year and most of them have been very positive. We got a bunch of motivated, hard-working, cheerful booters, and I adore each one of them. Our upper chain of command have been almost entirely replaced, and I’m learning a lot from our new leadership. I don’t dread going to work as much as I used to.  I’m happy and grateful to be a part of my division. I don’t think I could have said that last year. (Actually, I know I wouldn’t have – I went TAD to engineering to get away from them.)

PLAY
After coming home from one of our underways, I picked up the ukulele that had been sitting, neglected, in my closet. The challenges that frustrated me to the point of quitting seemed to fall away. I’m not good at it, but I love singing and making music, and it makes me happy even when it sounds like trash. No one has to listen to it but me! (And maybe my neighbors.)

I got a PS4 and have played The Last of Us, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, and Fallout 4, and if you’ve interacted with me for more than 30 seconds you know which of those takes the cake.

I didn’t see many movies this year, but of those that I did see, Mad Max: Fury Road was the best, and probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Honorable mentions to Jurassic World, The Martian, Spectre, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I started writing a novel but was quickly reminded how much I struggle with writing fiction. I quit soon after. Oh well. I tried. Shout out to my friends who are still writing their stories! I see you!

Other adventures: I tried pole-dancing for the first time in Tokyo. The Patriots won the Super Bowl, and I cried about it at work. I went to Japan’s bizarre fertility festival. One of my friends made all of my favorite foods for my birthday, including a cheesecake. I bought a living room set! I went to the hot springs in Hakone. I also went to Kyoto via bullet train, where we got to dress up like ninja and samurai! I shot a bunch of guns for work (including M-16 full auto and a laser gun) and for fun (bird shoot while home on leave). I was reunited with a dear friend in Guam. I spent a day with Aboriginal people in Australia. I developed a taste for whiskey. I dressed up as Yuffie from FFVII for Halloween and spent the night in Tokyo. I hit $10k in savings. I cried at the airport on holiday leave when my friends showed up to greet me. Lots of crying this year, but, as opposed to 2014, most of it was happy tears!

GOALS FOR 2016
All in all, the best parts of this year came from my family and friends, old and new. It’s not just the big stuff, either. It’s the little moments that matter, and they most easily come to mind when I slide into one of those dark places. You guys make my world better just by being a part of it. Thank you for sharing your kindness, joy, humor, and passions with me. Thank you for being exactly who you are. And thank you for reading my blog!

Here are some things I’d like to do in the coming year:

  • Climb Mt. Fuji! The ship will finally be around during climbing season. No excuses!
  • Stay single. This will be challenging because I love to love. But I’ve been a serial monogamist since 2008, and it’s time for a break.
  • Read 48 books, or more! (I may have a problem.)
  • PCS. I guess this is inevitable but I’m still excited about it! I love Japan but I’m ready to start the next chapter of my Navy life.
  • Be more diligent about journaling. Day-to-day events seem boring and unremarkable until time passes and you realize those things were actually very special!

I’ll finish with a story:

When I was home for the holidays, my dad and I were arguing about my Life Choices. We both agreed that the Navy is not a long-term situation for me. His perspective is economical: for each year that I spend in the Navy, I’m losing money that I would make at a better-salaried job. I argued that I was living comfortably and had opportunities from the Navy that I wouldn’t get any place else, and that I was going to enjoy it until it no longer served me. Things got a little tense.

After he left the room, I complained to my brother about the argument. “What if I look back on this fight in 30 years and realize that he was right?” I worried. My dad’s girlfriend, with whom I don’t have much of a relationship, told me, very seriously, “Don’t listen to him. Follow your heart.”

She didn’t have to support me. She didn’t have to weigh in at all. She had no dog in the fight; if anything, it was in her best interest to agree, at least outwardly, with my dad. But that simple vote of confidence reminded me that it’s okay to trust my instincts, that I have the support of good people, and most of all, that things in my life are going pretty well. I’m a very lucky lady.

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DUTIES DIVIDED

Sunday duty at home is usually quiet. Very seldom is the brass onboard. No contractor work or major evolutions means that watchstanding is more relaxed. We have no choice but to be on the ship, so those on duty try to make the best of it by catching up on work, getting ready for the week ahead, or just doing whatever activities they would have done at home. One of my coworkers, anticipating an easy day, brought his guitar. I had a book.

In this mindset, on my last Sunday duty day, I asked my duty department head if I could go to Church. Technically, we’re not supposed to leave the ship on duty, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with watchstanding or other responsibilities, DHs usually let their sailors take off for a short time. So, when I asked, I had my arguments all ready.

“Ma’am, can I go to Church this morning at 8?”

I braced myself. I was revving up for a fight.

“Yes, of course,” she said, gently, kindly. “Go.”

“I’ll only be gone an hour and I’m not on IET or – oh,” I stopped, awkwardly, realizing that she wasn’t giving me even the slightest bit of trouble. That’s it? Just like that? I can go? A wave of relief washed over me. I thanked her (twice) and left. No one stopped me.

Ash Wednesday Mass in Busan, South Korea, 2014. A holy day. A duty day.

Ash Wednesday Mass in Busan, South Korea, 2014. A holy day. A duty day.

Joining the military necessarily means a loss of one’s autonomy. The needs of the ship often come before the needs of individuals. Personal plans that require time away from work, even on weekends, are never a guarantee. In many ways, you forfeit control over your ability to manage your own time and make decisions. A recall, ship’s movement, major evolutions, duty – all of these take priority. Those with families have it especially hard, and a supportive spouse is more or less essential.

I also understand very well when it’s simply not possible to attend Church: underway, an all-day watch, a major event, a casualty – all of these would understandably, from a professional and, I think, moral perspective, would take precedence over a Sunday Mass. I have a commitment to the ship that goes beyond any other civilian job responsibilities. Sometimes the ship needs me in a way that nothing else could.

In a conflict, though, which takes priority: your ship or your faith?

I have had a few negative experiences at my command when it came to balancing the needs of the ship and my own need to practice my religion. Specifically, the conflict was that I had no demands that would have prevented me from attending Mass, but I was reprimanded or outright forbidden from doing so anyway.

One of these situations was a duty day. It was a holy day of obligation. I asked to go, citing the lack of responsibilities (late night watch, no team membership, work done, no drills), and was told the following: “If I let you go, I have to let everyone else go, and that’s not realistic or fair.” This argument was both fallacious and insulting, a great example of the rules being read too literally to the point of being nonsensical. Besides, on the same day, this person also allowed a number of duty personnel to attend two separate events off the ship – a mando-fun picnic and a Captain’s Cup game – because they were “command functions.” The hypocrisy was overwhelming and still continues to trouble me, more than a year later. I was scolded for having a bad attitude (true) and for not taking my duties seriously (not true). I was not allowed to leave the ship. And, according to the duty status instruction, he wasn’t wrong for preventing me from doing so.

The other situation wasn’t a duty day. I was in engineering. We were getting ready to light off after a long SRA, which meant working weekends. My chief openly admitted that our work was done and we were coming in on Sunday just for show, since the rest of the department had to work. With that in mind, I asked to come in an hour late so I could go to Mass before work. I offered to stay an hour later to make up for the lost time. Chief said no, citing the same reason as above: “If I let you come in late, I have to let everyone come in late.” This time, I lost it. It wasn’t that there was some tasking that was preventing me from going. There was no work to be done, especially during that one hour. We all knew that we would just be standing by all day until they let us go – one of the many infuriating aspects of ship life. The fact that I couldn’t fulfill this moral obligation for absolutely no reason made me totally break down. My division officer, seeing me clearly upset, told me, with agitation, “Just go.” It was humiliating that it had to come to that. This time, I got to go, but it was at the expense of my professionalism and military bearing. My chief and division officer thought I was using Church as an excuse to not work. That hurt me.

Given these two negative experiences, it’s pretty clear why it was such a relief to be given that one hour for Church without any drama. My DH didn’t have to let me go, but she did, and it made a huge difference in my attitude. I was engaged and involved in the demands of the day. I was eager to be supportive of the duty section, as though in return for a favor. I was positive and attentive on watch. My morale was great, even on weekend duty, and it cost the duty section nothing at all. Isn’t that a good example of the correct balance of priorities? In the absence of necessary or urgent professional demands, why not allow personnel to address their personal, human needs? It makes for less resentment and more productive, reliable sailors.

It actually doesn’t matter how many personnel are onboard the ship at any time if they’re all bitter and vindictive, showing up late for watch or not at all, hiding when duty section gets called away, not responding to casualties. We’ve all seen the creative ways that sailors get into trouble after their liberty has been curtailed for a while. After being told “no” to their needs for so long, even the strongest willed person will eventually break, turning around and telling the Navy “no” in response. A healthy balance of personal and professional priorities keeps everything (and everyone) going.

For better or worse, the ship is rarely the most important thing in a sailor’s life. When I think about whether or not to stay in the Navy, it’s those negative experiences – those restrictions on my autonomy, particularly being needlessly prevented from doing something that is very important to me – that come to mind first. It is difficult to belong to an organization which prioritizes strict (“strict”) adherence to rules at the expense of practicality and of their personnel’s non-professional wellbeing. Sometimes, shit happens. I know. You can’t always get what you want, especially as another cog in the wheel. But, repeatedly, in the long run, is it worth it?

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ON BEING (BIG) ENOUGH

The idea of getting “too big” is probably pretty hilarious to most male gym rats. Growth is the goal, always the goal, sometimes defined in inches or pounds but always striving toward bigger. Strength is an accessory to the fact. Cutting fat, an addendum, often remembered last minute before spring break after months of eating in excess. Most men, at least, recognize that putting on mass takes a tremendous amount of effort and focus. Very rarely does it happen by accident. Imagine: the skinniest dude you know goes to the gym a few times and wakes up one morning to find himself suddenly, inexplicably massive. “I didn’t want to get huge,” he’d lament, reaching a veined, bulging forearm into the microwave to retrieve his taquitos. “But my buddy made me do leg day once and now none of my pants fit my thighs.” A tragedy.

The opposite is true for women. It took two decades of myth deconstruction, especially after the heroin-chic look of the 90s, to get a casual female gym-goer to approach the weight room. Why did it take us so long to figure out that showing muscle tone requires muscle mass? (Probably because of folks like Tracy Anderson espousing that women should lift no more than 3-pound weights.*) Now, in 2015, a lean, athletic appearance is in vogue. Women throwing around some serious weight at the gym – once an oddity, later a “cool girl, one-of-the-guys” quality – is, wonderfully, from my experience, a regularity. Lady lifters tend to enjoy better health and self-esteem. Guys be like, dat squat booty. Everyone’s happy.

So what happens when you do get big enough?

When I started exercising, I didn’t have a particular aesthetic goal in mind. I figured I might like myself better if I cut back on mac and cheese and World of Warcraft and made myself sweat a few times per week, I guess? So discovering and actually enjoying weight lifting was a happy accident. I was extremely uncomfortable at first, especially sharing the weight room with, you know, the real athletes at my school, but time and research made things feel more and more natural. Soon I was strutting in there with my head held high. I wasn’t strong or fast but I was committed, and if gym rats respect anything, it’s persistence. Hitting a new PR made me feel invincible, unstoppable. “I never thought I could lift that,” I’d think, “but I did it. So what else have I been telling myself that I can’t do?” And, in time, I also bought in to the indefinite-growth, gains-for-gains’-sake mentality; with hard work, I would keep getting stronger, to infinity and beyond. Appearance and body weight were irrelevant, as long as my lifts were going up.

Ship life changed that. Maintaining a serious gym schedule underway can be a challenge. Slowly, over the course of a year, lifting sank lower and lower on my list of priorities. Gym time itself often felt like a luxury; I was happy just to jump on whatever equipment was immediately available and get out in less than an hour. I gained a few pounds – nothing too noticeable, nothing to feel bad about – and also a bit of complacency, which was worse than the extra body fat.

And then I started running.

Running, for the record, is the worst. Every step is pain, each mile an exploration into new and exciting dimensions of torture. Thighs slapping together, chafing. Gasping, lungs aching – am I voluntarily trying to suffocate myself? My glasses slide down my face and sweat rolls into my eyes, my mouth, and my shirt lands with a wet plop on the floor before I hobble into the shower. So I’m not a fan. Or, at least, I wasn’t. I ran underway more or less out of necessity, since, with limited resources, it’s the simplest and most accessible form of exercise. At some point this year, though, something changed. I was running more often than I was lifting. I stopped dreading cardio. Sometimes, I even looked forward to a run, particularly those on the main deck in view of the setting sun. For a once-devout disciple of the iron, this was a terrifying development. So much of my identity, I thought, had centered around my strength and my gainz. Lifting, at one time, had made me different, made people respect me, admire me, my PRs, my ass, and – wait, who was I doing this for again?

Maybe scaling back on the weights wouldn’t be the end of the world. Maybe running – becoming one of “those people” – wouldn’t prompt an identity crisis. Maybe athleticism falls across a broad spectrum and isn’t limited to brute strength – shocking, I know. These were new perspectives, ones I had only considered theoretically, detached from myself and my goals. I remember trying on new swimsuits recently – strapless bandeau tops, perfect for correcting those crew-neck tan-lines – and observing my body as though for the first time. My lats and chest and shoulders exploded out of the top of the suit. I looked ridiculous, somehow big and small at the same time. But I was also bursting with pride. This mass is me, all me, all mine. I made this. This is physical, visual evidence of years of hard work and commitment, of trying and failing, of stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself past my limits. I am, in fact, “big enough” – strong enough, fast enough, good enough.

You’ll see me by the pool in those swimsuits. You’ll still see me in the gym, too, and running around base. It’s okay to let your priorities change. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one goal for the sake of another. “Good enough” is not an appeal for mediocrity or complacence. It’s not a rallying cry to abandon your goals. But it’s not quitting or failure, either. It’s a realistic assessment of your accomplishments and recognition of  your achievements. It’s about self-acceptance and pride in self-creation. Most of all, it’s about allowing yourself to experience the peace that comes from completion. And it’s nice to move on.

* In a spectacular demonstration of thoughtlessness, Gwenyth says in this very same video that the arm she uses to carry her 30-pound son is less flabby than the other.

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FITBIT CHARGE HR REVIEW

I bought the FITBIT CHARGE HR about a month ago based on a very positive review from a shipmate. (Actually, I bought the device ages ago, and it took more than a month to arrive. I guess these things are in-demand and back-ordered.) This is my first experience with a fitness tracker. Here are my most and least favorite aspects.

charge hrPROS

Features
This device tracks a whole lot of stuff. Steps, miles, elevation, heart rate, calories burned, sleep, and activity – all monitored without any user input. As something worn on the wrist, it is very unobtrusive. Best of all, its default display is the time and date! If I was going to be wearing something on my wrist all the time, it had better double as a watch. Many fitness trackers that I researched lack this simple, essential feature. The data it gathers seems to be mostly accurate; sometimes I’ll watch it count the steps as I’m walking, or I’ll review the mileage after a run. Because of its placement on the wrist, however, it probably counts some non-walking movements as steps, but this number is probably negligible.

App Integration
I think the strongest (and weakest; see below) advantage of a FITBIT tracker is the accompanying app. It is very intuitive and easy to use, and it does much more than displaying data. The user can track food and water intake. The app can scan bar codes and allows manual inputs for calorie counting. If the user has a weight-loss goal, the app will make suggestions based on difficulty and amount of time to reach a certain weight (ie, a difficult goal of 5lbs in a month as opposed to a leisurely goal of 5lbs in three months). The most fun aspect of the app is its social feature. Users can challenge others to have the highest step counts throughout the workweek or weekend. I’m not ordinarily a competitive person but I was surprised by how eager I was to be just as active as everyone else. For better or worse, comparing oneself to others is easily the most motivating feature of the app.

CONS

Internet Dependence
For folks with consistent and reliable access to the internet – and I think we’re beginning to take this sort of thing for granted – this won’t be an issue. When I finally got the CHARGE HR in the mail, my ship had just gotten underway. I expected I would be able to use the device on its own until I could download the app. Not so. Setting up the device requires internet, bluetooth, the app, and, for me and for many who neglect this stuff, the latest version of the iOS software. The device was completely unusable until we returned home – even setting up the time and date had to be configured via the app, use of which also requires an internet connection. Because of the app’s dependence on internet access, much of the tracker’s functionality and features are inaccessible to me once I go underway: I can’t modify the time or date (annoying when we cross time zones), sync my data from the device to the app (including being able to view heart rate and sleep patterns), set vibration alarms, etc. Many of these things should be accessible solely via bluetooth. During the ship’s operational cycle, this is going to be a huge inconvenience. I will say this in the tracker’s defense, however: it did store three or four weeks of data and synced it to the app without issue when we returned home. Nothing ended up getting lost, so I’m willing to forgive this deficiency.

Not Waterproof
This is truly baffling. How is a fitness device intended to be worn on the body not waterproof? It is advertised as “sweatproof” and “splashproof” but is not recommended to be used while swimming or showering. What happens when swimming or another water-based sport is the user’s primary fitness activity? I can buy a $10 watch that is water resistant to at least 30m. Why couldn’t this $150 device have been engineered to do the same?

VERDICT

Overall, I’m really enthusiastic about the FITBIT CHARGE HR. It encourages me to be more active in a very simple “I should get off my butt and walk around” sort of way. I need this especially underway when I’m more sedentary than usual. The heart rate monitor and sleep tracker help me better understand the quality of my workouts and sleep. The longest I’ve gotten out of the battery is almost four days, but I tend to charge it whenever I remove it to shower. Best of all, the black version goes with anything that I wear.

I don’t think anyone, regardless of their goals, needs a fitness tracker. But, if you’re interested in incorporating into your life a subtle reminder about your activity level, the CHARGE HR is a fun and fascinating luxury.

UPDATE, 20MAY2015: The pedometer/mileage function is a little inaccurate while running. It seems to be a half-mile short for each run of 3-4 miles, and nearly a mile short for a 10k. I used this page and a bit of trial and error for calibration.

UPDATE, 09AUG2015: Somewhere between Australia and Japan, the button on the side of the device fell off. I have no idea what caused it – all I do is run on the treadmill. It is surprisingly hard to use the device without the button. I emailed FitBit to request a new one, but I am still pretty disappointed in the fragility and poor craftsmanship of the thing.

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20-WEEK NOTICE

Briefly, for the uninitiated: the Navy has semi-annual fitness assessments (PRT). Every six months, we weigh in and do a fitness test consisting of sit-ups, push-ups, and cardio. Those who fail either the body composition (BCA) or physical aptitude (PFA) assessments are assigned to a remedial fitness program (FEP) until the next PRT. If a member fails the PRT three times within four years, he or she gets separated from the Navy. Command fitness leaders (CFL) oversee PRTs twice a year and FEP in between. When the start of the next PRT cycle is ten weeks away, the command issues a 10-week notice which is essentially a schedule of events. 10 weeks is usually when people start caring about the PRT again (trying to cut weight, practicing push-ups, etc).

Guess what? If we start the next cycle in April, we’re as close as 20 weeks away from the next PRT. If you’re in FEP, or if you barely squeezed by this year and want to stay out of FEP next year, the time to start caring about the PRT is now! Right now!

Make a few small changes, stay consistent, and you won’t have to worry about stomach wraps, hours in the sauna, and starvation in 10 weeks. You won’t injure yourself trying to do too much physical activity in too little time in preparation for the PFA.

So let’s get started today! Here are some lifestyle changes that, if you begin now, will make your life much easier in the spring. It’s time to get our minds right and commit to the challenge ahead of us.

KNOW YOUR WEAKNESS

Food is my weakness. Each and every time I sit down to eat, or walk past the desserts, or get invited to go out, I have to recommit to my goals. Left to my own devices, I will gain weight in the blink of an eye from sugar, alcohol, and carbs.

If you’re a BCA failure, you have to dial in your diet. It’s not fun or glamorous but there is absolutely no way around it. No amount of exercise will redeem you if you’re not eating right.

If you’re a PFA failure, start small and slowly build up your physical capabilities. Here is a program for running. Here is a program for push-ups. Here is a program for sit-ups. Not a single one of them says, “Week 1: wake up and run five miles without breaking a sweat.” It takes time, and right now, you have time. Make the best of it.

STOP DRINKING CALORIES

Do you know how many calories are in a Starbucks coffee? The store here on base has a calorie chart right next to the cashier. When I saw that the small-sized coffee I ordered was almost 500 calories, I nearly threw it away. I could eat four apples for that many calories, and I’d probably have more energy from them, too.

The elimination of sugary drinks – energy drinks, dessert-coffees, sodas – from your diet could easily help you drop weight. In fact, if you’re trying to cut weight, there is no reason at all to be drinking your calories, especially not on a daily basis. Make that Starbucks coffee a special treat and drink regular coffee during the week instead. If you hit the chu-hi stand more than once a week, scale it back to a few times a month instead. Try getting a full night’s sleep instead of relying on energy drinks.

PLAN MEALS IN ADVANCE

Yeah, it sucks to eat a meal you brought from home when everyone else in your shop is eating stuffed-crust pizza, but it sucks to get kicked out of the Navy, too. McDonald’s and Subway are convenient and plausibly even delicious but planning meals out in advance removes the need for a quick, easy solution to hunger, one which brings you farther away from your body composition or fitness goals.

Have a plan beforehand and stick to it, so when the temptation arises to do what everyone else is doing, you’ll have something else to fall back on. Eat at the galley, which is both healthy and cheap. Bring a lunchbox of leftovers to work. Fill your fridge with leans meats, fruits, and veggies. Be uncool; own it. Get out of FEP. Have a killer body and zero regrets.

EXERCISE DAILY

Find something you enjoy, or at least can tolerate, and do it as often as possible. This doesn’t mean super high intensity for hours and hours. 20 or 30 minutes of exercise – sweating, heavy breathing, accelerated heart rate – is all it takes. You might not realize it right away, but a little bit of effort every day pays off in the long run. Push yourself and be patient.

If you failed the run, you gotta run more. If you failed sit-ups or push-ups, you gotta practice those. If those are things you hate, you don’t have to do them every day – we’ll do a lot of that in FEP. But try to get away from the mindset that exercise is an unpleasant chore. Navy exercise is not all exercise. In your own time, do what works for you.

Sweat it out. Hydrate. Eat good food. Rest. In 20 weeks, FEP will be in your rearview. And, if you stick to good habits during the whole year, you won’t have to worry about the BCA or PFA ever again.

If you need more specific advice or someone to keep you accountable, I’m here for you. Message me, talk to me at work or at FEP, leave a comment. Whatever it is that you need to do, I want you to succeed!

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NAVY BCA

Image courtesy of Military Times

Today, I weighed in at 147lbs, more than ten pounds under the maximum for my height. Out of curiosity (and to make a point), I asked to get taped as well. Here are my measurements:

Neck: 12 inches
Waist: 30 inches
Hips: 39 inches

Throw those numbers into the BCA Formula of Mysteries and I’m over 30% body fat.

I am, of course, not 30% body fat. I know what I look like at 30%+ body fat. Because of the female circumference measurement formula, however, if I don’t stay under my weight max – if I gain more than a single inch on my waist or hips – I will fail the BCA and go from a Command Fitness Leader to the Navy’s fitness remediation program.

(To note: if I use my neck measurement and the average between my waist and hips with the male formula, the result is much closer to what I actually am – around 25%.)

As an ACFL, it might be hypocritical of me to say so, but I think most of the Navy’s policies on health and fitness are heavy-handed and inconsistent. Body composition does not determine fitness and vice-versa. If the Navy was truly concerned for the health of its members, it would ban smoking on ships, provide healthier meal choices, and drastically alter regulation command fitness. Taping is one of many unreasonable Navy “solutions,” particularly the female BCA formula. I can’t depend on it to redeem me; even someone like me has to stay under her weight limit or she will be too fat for the Navy.

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A NAVY YEAR IN REVIEW

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.

SOUTH CHINA SEA – MARCH 2013

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