Tag Archives: military

Hawaii, First Impressions

Those of you who have been on the island for a while might find this funny. Maybe I will look back on this in three years and laugh, too. But here it is anyway: my first impressions of Oahu, having been here for almost three weeks.

rainbow

The beaches here are lovely, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty of the terrain itself: the mountains which encircle Kaneohe Bay rake the clouds like teeth and are lush with vegetation and have some of the most intense drop-offs I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to start hiking all over.

Sometimes native islanders treat servicemembers badly.

The people I work with now are very different than the people I used to work with. Not a criticism, just an observation. They seem like a family.

The food is very, very good. I had a poke bowl for the first time today. If it was up to me, I would eat it every day.

I knew that leis looked pretty, but I had no idea how good they smelled too. I thought the air would smell better, though, like it did in Coronado. (California is fine, I guess.)

There is more of a Japanese influence here than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a lot.

There is so much to do, all the time! I’m really excited about how many social events seem to be going on all over the island. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people.

The climate is a tough adjustment, which was a surprise. The wind and heat are taking their toll on my run times. I’m doing my best to be patient with myself. It’s good enough to get through the upcoming PRT.

Air conditioning is a luxury here, despite it being 85 degrees every day. Electricity – well, everything – is very, very expensive.

I picked an apartment that is a mile walk to the beach and to one of the most beautiful and welcoming churches I’ve ever attended. My apartment is two bedrooms, which is one more than I need, but I want my friends and family to be able to stay with me and save money if they visit. One of my greatest disappointments from three years in Japan – and I still have feelings of resentment about this – is that no one did.

The library on base is very good and very underutilized.

Trying to register my car and get BAH here are two of the most administratively asinine and frustrating experiences I’ve ever had.

I’m on the “good” side of the island, according to friends closer to Pearl Harbor.

I’m still highly suspicious of how I managed to get such good orders. I’m going to do my best to make the most of these three years.

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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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I AM A NARCISSIST

According to the Washington Post, a 40-question psychological survey used to determine whether an individual is a narcissist was recently replaced by a single question. I’m going to spoil it for you. The question is, “Are you a narcissist?”

“It’s pretty cool actually, because narcissists aren’t afraid to tell you they’re narcissistic,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University. “If you ask people whether they have casual sex or take drugs, they’re not likely to be honest with you. But narcissists just aren’t ashamed of their narcissism,” he said, “And they’ll tell you so.”

My first impulse was to think about myself, so I was off to a great start. I thought about my self-confidence, which is rapidly approaching excess. I remembered that I’m often criticized for arrogance and told that I’m hard to work with. I have high expectations and a sense of entitlement. I recognize, shamelessly, the excellence in what I do. I boast about my achievements and I love attention. Look at me! Look at me!

Am I a narcissist? Well, sure. And, true to the Brad Bushman’s assessment, I don’t see it as a problem, either. At least, I don’t see it as being any more of a problem than anyone else’s worst personality trait, though perhaps that is my own deluded rationalization, or I am using uncommonly lousy people as a basis for comparison.

I haven’t always been this way. For the first 20+ years of my life, I felt crippled by self-loathing. Even the slightest hint of negativity against my work or my character left me paralyzed, incapable of functioning. I felt worthless, like a burden, a waste of space. Also, during my sophomore and junior years in college, I was very depressed. I treated myself and other people horrendously. It was the rigorous demands of my professors which began to shake me out of that funk, an effort that endured through my chains of command in the Navy. They deliberately set me up for failure through unreasonable expectations and made me deal with it. I saw that falling short wasn’t a big deal – I looked around and no one besides me even cared that much – especially when I began to understand that these failures tended to be out of my control.  Messing up wasn’t the end of the world. I could be decent without being perfect. So I failed and embarrassed myself and bumbled along through my last years of college and then my first years of the military. It would seem like this might turn someone bitter and complacent, but, for a Type-A asshole like me, it made me persistent and resilient and, in time, proud.

It makes sense that, with the swinging of the pendulum, I’ve found myself on the other side of the self-esteem spectrum. I have faith that time, experience, and maturity will eventually slow me down to a respectable median of jaded adult complacency balanced out by nagging Catholic guilt.

But I think there are a few important ways in which I depart from the standard DSM definition of a narcissist. For one, I am very empathetic. I care deeply about the wellbeing and happiness of others, especially those close to me. I am thoughtful and find a lot of joy in making other people feel good about themselves, sometimes to the point of being annoying and overbearing. In that vein, I’m also a pretty positive person. I try to make complaints into jokes. I’m still terrified of being a burden to someone else, especially professionally, which I think is the source of my need to over-achieve. I learned some hard lessons in two decades of being way too critical of myself and others. Now I do my best to withhold judgement and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I want others to do the same for me, but it would be pretty naive to expect them to.

So whatever qualms you have with my personality – and most are totally valid and not at all lost on me – consider this: self-esteem is not a zero-sum game. I don’t take away from your own self-confidence by having confidence in myself. I see this a lot when someone compliments me and I agree with them. I get accused of being full of myself. First of all, thank you for being nice – really! It makes me happy, but I don’t need another person to be the arbiter of my self-worth, and if I don’t respond to a compliment in a way that meets your expectations, maybe you should take some time to think about your true motivation behind giving a compliment. Was it to make me feel good, or to make yourself feel good about making me feel good? Second, I think people assume that recognizing a positive trait in yourself is a comparative assessment. But it’s not! If I say that I look cute today, I’m not saying that I’m cuter than everyone else. You’re putting words in my mouth. My head is so far up my own ass that I’m not even thinking about anyone else’s cuteness. I can be cute and they can be cute at the same time. Great! But right now I’m talking about me, not them, so stop making it about someone else! Me me me!

Am I really hurting anyone by being such an insufferable narcissist? I don’t think so. It seems like most criticisms of my personality are actually reflections of other people’s own insecurities. There will always be those who hate me simply because I don’t hate myself. I can’t change what they think about me. I can only change how I think about myself, and for now, I’m doing more or less okay with being frustratingly, obnoxiously confident.

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FEAR AND IMAGINATION

I came home after dark last night. A flat tire turned a 30-minute bike ride into an hour-long walk. Sweaty, hungry, I kicked off my shoes at the door, eager to shower and make dinner. I was still listening to my audio book when I flipped on the bathroom light and leaped backward in surprise. A beetle or cockroach – I didn’t get a good look – scampered under the sink.

I poked my head out from behind the door, using it as a shield. The insect didn’t reemerge. I skirted the edge of the bathroom, practically pressing myself against the wall to get as far away from the sink as possible. I undressed quickly and conducted a ten-point search before entering the shower. My gaze never left the bottom of the shower door, lest the bug try to sneak up on me while I was slippery and naked and vulnerable. What if it had friends, poised and ready to attack when given the signal? What if it took flight and launched itself at me like a creepy little missile? What if it crawled on me?

The evening transpired as usual: cooked dinner, watched Netflix, folded laundry, and no tiny trespasser to be seen. I was, however, extra careful when making my way up to the bedroom, shaking out my sheets and peeking under the mattress. I awoke with no evidence of having been devoured while I slept.

This morning, when I continued to tread cautiously around my own house, I realized I was being ridiculous. This little bug could have been under the sink the entire time I’ve lived here and I never worried about it. I see a single insect one time and suddenly no part of my house is safe? What was I so scared of?

We might be able to cohabitate peacefully. I gave him a name: what else but Kafka? Now that he had an identity, I started to imagine him with sentience, and then with a life of his own.

Kafka, wearing a police hat and wielding a baton, patroling the darkened house, shining a little flashlight into the house’s tiniest nooks and crannies and, snapping his mandibles, telling the spiders to scram! (I wish he wouldn’t do this. The spiders and I are now on fair terms.) After his rounds, he sits at his post by my front door, drinking a steaming cup of coffee and unfolding yesterday’s paper. Occasionally, he looks down at his wristwatch, ensuring he is ready at the top of the hour for his next round. Time moves slowly through the dark and cool and quiet of the night.

Kafka, sensing that he has overstayed his welcome, packing a tiny knapsack. He takes one last look at my house before crawling to the train station in the light of a humid September dawn. He is on a journey around Japan to discover himself, but he takes the time to put photos in the mail: at the peak of Mt. Fuji, leaning against his walking stick; dressed in a samurai costume and brandishing a little katana with historic Kyoto in the background; holding up a cup of sake in a Sapporo onsen, surrounded by steam and mist. He returns to my house, almost a year later, and realizes there is nothing left for him here. Wordlessly, he turns to leave. Though there is a tear in his eye, it is not enough to extinguish the spark of hope in his heart.

Kafka, transforming into a human. He becomes handsome senator with a passion for justice and equality. He is immediately captivated by my charm and intelligence and begs to take me away from this life. One morning, he strides into the White House and demands that I be released from the military. The president, of course, has heard of my daring naval exploits and is hesitant to terminate my contract. Eventually, after much negotiating, he relents. I go on to become a brilliant and well-published professor of philosophy. Meanwhile, Kafka balances his political career with raising half a dozen foster children. Not once do I suspect that he was once a creepy little bug. In our twilight years, he, too, forgets, recalling only the enormous joys and miseries of a thoroughly human life.

Is this silly? Yes, clearly. But so is sleeping with one eye open and tip-toeing around my own house because of an insect the size of a tootsie roll. His little presence hasn’t affected my life at all. I can’t control under whose sink he decides to hide. So, in my own imaginings, why not choose laughter over fear?

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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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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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