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navy personal

I Am Vanessa Guillen

In the early summer of 2018, I was deployed to the Middle East. It was my second deployment to this location, doing the same mission: conducting airborne surveillance in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. It was, truthfully, pretty uneventful. I remember reading a lot of books (the camp library was well-stocked and quiet, an introvert’s delight) and playing video games in the MWR (where the internet was better but we also got eaten alive by mosquitoes). But one particular situation will stay with me for the rest of my life.

About halfway through the deployment, someone realized that one of the magazines was missing a bullet – a single 9mm bullet. How long had it been missing? Whose responsibility was it: the flyers who carried the magazines in their vests, or the people whose job it was to maintain the ordinance? When was the last time all of the bullets had been accounted for?

We searched the plane all day, even after an 8+ hour flight. We looked through every station, every vest, every compartment. We looked behind panels and under seat cushions. We opened boxes and shook out emergency equipment. We did at all again and again and again. We took up floorboards and crawled around stacks of wiring and ventilation. We must have put flashlight beams on every surface of that plane, inside and out.

It was, of course, a completely futile effort – a literal needle in a haystack – but we kept at it for days, rotating groups every few hours, searching 24/7 without pause. We never found the missing bullet, but we sure tried.

What does this have to do with Vanessa Guillen?

Vanessa had been dealing with sexual harassment from someone in her chain of command, but resolved to handle it on her own. She went missing at the end of April. The Army didn’t offer a reward for information regarding her whereabouts until June. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to believe that the Army was doing their due diligence in the investigation – even purely for the sake of covering their own asses – but they must have done a very poor job of keeping the family appraised, because Vanessa’s family and friends unleashed a relentless social media campaign to draw attention to her disappearance. There is a history of Fort Hood not finding its missing soldiers. (WARNING: this article contains details of Vanessa’s gruesome death.)

But if Vanessa Guillen had been a single 9mm bullet, nobody would have gone home until she was found.

Categories
personal

Lessons from My Dad

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and especially to mine! I hope everyone out there finds a way to make it special.

My dad is an incredibly smart, accomplished, hard-working person who, in more way than I can count – ways I’m still only beginning to realize – made me into the person I am today. I wanted to use this post as a chance to highlight just a few of the things that I inherited from him. In another decade, this list will probably look very different. I hope I’m still learning things from him, even then.

Me and Dad after a bird shoot, 2016
Categories
personal

Lessons from My Mom

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, and a particularly special one to my mom! Hopefully this is the last time I spend the day away from home.

I inherited a lot from my mom: the shape of my forehead and eyes; my stature; my perfect health and uncanny physical resilience. Personality quirks, too: truly unreasonable stubbornness; always having an opinion; doing anything for a laugh; a persistent need to be informed, especially on current events.

Sometimes my mom is hard on herself, especially when us kids experience hardship or failure. It’s difficult for her not to internalize it, wondering if she could have prevented our misfortune or if it was somehow indirectly her fault. Part of this is just the nature of being a parent, I think, but the other part is that all parents mess up their kids in ways they couldn’t foresee, ways that have ripple affects across their children’s entire lives. For the most part, though, we all turn out all right. I turned out better than all right. I think my mom knows this deep down – knows that there are aspects of me which are completely apart from her, parts which she can’t blame (or, perhaps, praise) herself for. But it couldn’t hurt to remind her of the good stuff.

Here are a few of the many lessons I’ve learned from my mom. There are more than I can list, but these are most important to me right now. In ten years’ time, I’m sure I will have a completely new list based on my own growth and how my mom has helped me along the way.

From these examples, you’ll learn that my mom is brave, resourceful, resilient, strong, and wise. It is my hope that, in time, I develop these qualities, too.

My mom and her mom. Photo torn and dirty from being taped and removed from so many surfaces in the past several years. I’ve taken it with me on almost every deployment.
Categories
current events navy personal

The Black Hole of Uncertainty

“We’re all going to have to stay in our homes for a little while,” said our national leaders. “It’s for the common social good. A few weeks, maybe a few months, of missed plans and isolation, and we will put all of the bad stuff behind us.”

“Oh no!” replied the introverts of the world, reaching for a blanket and burrowing deeper into the couch. “How ever will we cope?”

Sounds like me, right?

It’s been a little over a month since my state issued its stay-at-home order. It was, at first, a little scary: would we run out of food? toilet paper? what does this mean for my future?

These being the extent of my concerns, though – most of them intangible – shows how lucky I am: I can’t get laid off from the U.S. Navy (and boy do I try). No matter what, I’ll be able to pay my rent and have healthcare and a job. But this is not true for an alarming number of people who are now relying on a safety net not designed for a crisis like this, and wouldn’t be sufficient to support people in need, to this extent, even if it was. And now that I’m hurtling down My Bullshit Lane, if we could pull our heads out of our asses for, like, a single second, we might realize that some of our previous assumptions about the way things have to be simply aren’t true, and we can’t go back to the way things were, pre-pandemic. Too many of us are just a single misfortune away losing everything.

I say all of this as a disclaimer, knowing full well that there’s some measure of guilt in what I’m going to talk about here: being able to move through pure anxiety to find moments of joy during a crisis where others find only the misery of need and uncertainty. If you’re in a tough place, please don’t take any of this as a minimization of your hardship, or some inane encouragement to look on the bright side. Sometimes reflexive cheerfulness is the wrong reaction. It feels strange to be positive now, sometimes, occasionally. Now and then, it does sneak up on me, but it took a while to get there.

You're Interacting With Dark Matter Right Now - The Atlantic
Illustration by Paul Fleet
Categories
health and fitness personal

A Hawaiian Slice of Life

On every morning but one, you wake up to the dark – 5AM, dark no matter the time of year – with the exception of Saturday, when your body lets you sleep until a few minutes before seven, and you wake up feeling like the day is already over, wasted (though admittedly very well-rested).

But this is Friday. You have to get up a little earlier than strictly necessary, have to go out for a walk in the dark to wake up properly, to steel yourself for the day. You wear a glow belt, which usually keeps you safe in crosswalks but unfortunately did not ward off a man in a minivan full of (presumably) his kids from pulling up alongside you in a parking lot to yell about watching where you were going. You are confused; you knew exactly where you were going, but he had to drive out of his way to make his point.

It’s still dark when you get back home. You put on your swimsuit and shorts. You think, regretfully, that another week has gone by and you’ve failed to buy a wetsuit or a pair of fins. You flip-flop out to the car anyway and drive 1.4 miles to the boat ramp on the beach.

Now, finally, the horizon is starting to lighten. Despite the walk, your stomach is clenched like a fist. You feel a gentle thrum of underlying panic every Friday morning, no matter how many times you do this exact same thing. Still, you slide your feet out of your sandals, leaving them planted behind the pedals; you leave your folded towel on the driver’s seat, ready to be sat on by a wet butt; you remove your car key from the keyring, clipping it to your swimsuit and tucking it in. Everything stays behind. You hobble over the pine-needles through the parking lot to the boat ramp, getting your first glimpse of the conditions.

It’s Friday, and you’re looking out across Kailua beach, where the turquoise sea is starting to glow in the sunrise. The tide is low and there is barely any wind – unusual for the windward side of the island. The current ripples gently against the sand, more like a wakeless lake than the crashing of the winter sea.

The breeze is gentle. It is January, but you are not cold. Now, you wait.

Categories
navy personal

Good Military Habits

I learned some things about myself, too: what I’m good at, what I’m not so good at, how I react under pressure, and how I manage stress. But there are a bunch of other positive habits instilled by general military discipline that we come to take for granted. Here are just a few.

USS Blue Ridge maintenance
Let me play you the song of my people. (140 dB of needlegunning) (Image from DVIDS)
Categories
personal

2019 In Review

Image result for 2019

Stuff That Happened

Categories
navy personal

PRK, Courtesy of the US Navy

Refractive eye surgery is pretty well advertised on my installation here in Hawaii. Long-term, it makes more sense to permanently correct the vision of eligible servicemembers than supply them with new glasses (and contacts? some fliers get free contacts?) every year. I knew my summer deployment was probably going to be my last one, so I thought I’d ask if I could get my eyes fixed before I separate next year.

The keyword there is “ask.” I’m in a deploying billet and a flight status. I was prepared for a struggle, one I suspected would result in the negative.

Somehow, it actually worked. It was six months of persistence and administration and, frankly, the kindness of my leadership, and even now that it’s all done, it still seems too good to be true. I got PRK surgery in September, and it was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. It changed my life.

Here is the how the whole process went down, from start to finish.

Categories
nerd stuff personal

The Truth About Screen Time

According to the Screen Time function on my iPhone, I average about 4.5 hours each day staring into one (1) glowing rectangle.

If you are over age 40, you’re probably thinking: “That’s because your generation is addicted to screens.”

4+ hours does seem like a lot, especially considering I don’t have my phone with me during the workday. For that much daily screen time, I must have my phone in front of my face from the moment I get home until I put my head down to sleep. Do I?

The answer is a little complicated, both yes and no.

Categories
books personal

Six Lessons from Marie Kondo

I’ve been struggling to come up with the least patronizing term to describe Marie Kondo’s process. The sanctimony of “minimalism” makes my skin crawl and, more importantly, misses the point, highlighting the result over the endeavor. Even “tidying up,” a phrase that has become more or less synonymous with the KonMari brand, doesn’t instinctively call to mind the necessity of discarding first. The closest I can think of is “downsizing,” but even that conjures a problematic context: of being unable to afford things, of having to get let go to survive.

I want to talk about applying Marie Kondo’s principles to my life in a way that doesn’t invoke a moral imperative on the part of the reader. The argument for letting go of clutter can be made, sometimes even convincingly, but it’s not my job to make it. The thing about Kondo’s method is that it is so completely relative. It’s not about discarding things based on the criteria of strict, stark utility. An excess of possessions can certainly weigh one down, but deciding what is the “right amount” of things is a deeply personal, individual experience. What works for me might not – probably won’t – work for you.

The core of KonMari could be summarized like this: “Wouldn’t you enjoy your home so much more if you only surrounded yourself with things that make you happy?” It seems so obviously true that it feels insulting. A lot of people, misunderstanding her, have taken a very bizarre sort of offense to her principles, when “[s]he literally just wants to help people declutter so their physical belongings no longer take a mental toll on their well-being.”

I guess I started off as part of the problem, too. Before I read her book, I feared that Marie Kondo and her Shinto-inspired ideas were going to come into my home and throw away anything that didn’t contribute to a sterile, characterless space, only teak and white linens and a single plant for color. But Kondo never specifies what the end product looks like, only offering the occasional suggestion. The process is about finding what makes her clients happy. She is always willing to disregard even her own rules if they bump against someone’s an immovable anxiety. As with most things, it’s about the journey, about the self-understanding that comes from addressing the totality of your belongs and discovering the “right amount,” than it is about the aesthetics (or even functionality) of the result.

So with all that said, for the past few months (yes, months), I’ve been KonMari-ing my home. It was way more work than I was expecting, but all in all it was a positive experience. One, Marie promises, I’ll never have to do again.

Shockingly, this is proving to be true. I took photos for this post when I finished in late March. I am writing this post now at the end of May. I expected my tidiness to have slipped between now and then – things out of place, folding a little less tight, new unnecessary acquisitions. So far, to my surprise, this has not been the case. The lessons that I learned from Marie Kondo seem to have stuck.

I followed Kondo’s plan as prescribed: starting with clothing, piling every article of clothing you own, from every part of the house, into one heap in one place, going through each item, piece by piece, and deciding if it makes you happy or if it’s time to discard it. Do the same with books, papers, miscellaneous items (komono), and sentimental items, in that order. Kondo says this structure allows us to attune ourselves gradually with what truly “sparks joy,” so that by the time we get to our sentimental items, we can make those “keep/discard” choices with confidence.

Was it “life-changing,” as the title of her book suggests? In some ways, yes. It forced me to confront some things about myself that I was not proud of, but going through it made me feel more confident about my decision-making in general. It also brought to light a lot of the positive aspects of who I am that I often take for granted. It has made my daily routine easier and I am much more considerate now of the quantity of things that I acquire.

The biggest change, though, is being able to sit in my apartment and feel so completely at ease, so filled with joy. Sometimes I’ll look up from reading and gaze around adoringly around my space, my little sanctuary. Everything was chosen and placed with love and deliberation; nothing is here “just because.” It is the first place of my own that truly feels like home.

With all that said, here are some general lessons that I learned from the KonMari process, some truths that stuck with me even since the tidying up came to an end.