A Sea Story (Or Parable If You Prefer)… - subsaint Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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A Sea Story (Or Parable If You Prefer)…

In seven hundred and whatever number of blogs I've posted I've strived to talk about myself as little as possible and focus my blogs on video game related content. For the most part I think I've succeeded with that goal, but today I am going to stray from this philosophy a bit as I tell a sea story from my younger days in the Navy - but I promise you, in keeping with tradition, it will at least include mention of video games.

I suppose this story takes place over a decade ago now, somewhere back around 1998, give or take a year. I was a young Second Class Petty Officer (E-5) stationed aboard one of the ballistic missile submarines homeported out of Kings Bay, GA. I can't speak on behalf of the other branches of service, but I've heard on more than one occasion from multiple associates how being an E-5 in the Navy is truly the best rank - senior enough you're considered the subject matter expert in your area of expertise; but junior enough you're not the man in charge of dealing with all the politics of leadership. It's been said by more than one person, E-5s are the workhorses of the Navy, and if you asked me back then when I was one, I would've said, "You bleep bleep better believe it!"

It might come as a shock to some of you, but back during this period of my life I was nothing like how I try and represent myself today. Perhaps it's the age settling in or that thing they call wisdom taking over, but back in the day I was an obnoxious, arrogant, foul-mouthed cocky sailor who thought he was untouchable. Now this ginormous ego didn't inflate all by itself...I had plenty of help.

I was only attached to this boat for a period of about 2 years, and in that time I made 3 deterrent patrols, each about 70 - 90 days in length. I worked in the communications division and I guess there were about 10-12 of us, under the leadership of this crusty old, pot bellied, coffee swilling, chain smoking Navy Chief. The first patrol was mostly uneventful as I worked on qualifications and getting reacquainted with sea life again (having spent the previous year going to a school to teach me how to work on the communications equipment). By the second patrol, I had established myself as a force to be reckoned with. It was during this second patrol I turned a series of unfortunate events around, earning me time in the spotlight and positive praise from my supervisors. All sorts of vital communications gear broke, and I fixed it...when others said it couldn't be fixed, I fixed it. Then the unthinkable happened, a very important safe used to store some very import material used to encrypt and decrypt all of our classified transmissions and material broke (the dial on the safe you spin to unlock it failed, or at least the internal mechanics of it did). Think of this material as your super secret decoder ring like you get out of the cereal box to decode the puzzles on the back of the box - without it, you don't get to read what Tony the Tiger or Toucan Sam is up to. Without the contents of this safe, we were in a very bad spot and couldn't do our mission. With time running out, the skipper (the commanding officer) gave us the order to "whatever it takes, get into that safe".

Had we not been able to break into that safe, we would've had to pull off station and break a few rules to make the embarrassing call back to our headquarters letting them know about our predicament - not a call the CO wanted to make, to say the least. Of course ordering a few E-5s to break into a safe with whatever force necessary resulted in some rather humorous solutions to this challenge. I wish I could say we pulled off something epic like from Ocean's Eleven, but in the end...after many of us exhausted everything we had trying to force the safe open, I was the one behind the crowbar using the "brute force" approach when the door linkage finally gave way and snapped, the door flying open with a loud bang. Once again, the spotlight was shining in my eyes. I don't know if I or one of my co-workers did this, but the t-shaped safe handle, a fairly bulky chunk of metal it was...well since it was busted off in the process of forcing the safe open, we took it and fashioned into a necklace, and I proudly displayed my bling as the "guy who busted into the safe" and all the glory that came with that accomplishment (and yes, I still have it). But the story doesn't end there. With the safe busted open, the contents had to be relocated into other safes to ensure the material was kept protected - which was a great inconvenience to those of us who had to use and inventory this stuff. So, what did I do...I salvaged pieces and parts from other less important safes, and using some regular old tools I was able to straighten the busted safe's door and replace the linkage - restoring the safe to full operation. The CO came in and inspected it before giving us the thumbs up to use the old battered safe again. So, in essence, I broke into a safe and then turned around and repaired it.

As if that wasn't enough, as the patrol winded down we had a major inspection with the inspector in charge of evaluating our communications readiness putting in his report that I "carried the division" and without my efforts we would have likely failed. As a result of all of this, I earned a few nicknames including Johnny Bravo (a play on the phrase Johnny on the Spot), JT (short for Johnny Troubleshooter), and MacGyver before my co-workers finally settled on JT MacGyver (sort of a combination of them all). At the conclusion of the patrol I would go on to earn a Navy Achievement Medal for my performance during the patrol.

Now, I don't tell you all of this to brag, only to illustrate how and why my ego grew as large as it did. Sure, others helped along the way...but ultimately I let it happen and it was my fault. I thought I was all that...and a bag of chips.

By my third patrol, my arrogance was turning bitter and the relationship between the Chief (my boss) and I was heading south. The Chief and I were pretty good friends at one point. He was the kind of Chief you wanted - he'd stand up and fight for you, but wasn't so uptight he didn't enjoy having fun. The guys in the division came to rely on me to bring video games underway, which back then consisted of a lot of demos. I was a subscriber to PC Gamer and would take my collection of demo CDs underway and install odds and ends on our work computer (that sort of practice isn't authorized today, but back then it wasn't really monitored). My Chief wasn't really a gamer per say, but I installed a demo for a baseball game that didn't really let you play a full game, but it did let you play a homerun derby mode. Well, my Chief was a baseball fanatic, so after a few lessons of teaching him how to swing the bat, he was hooked, which turned into a competition of who could hit the longest home run. Most of the other co-workers in the division gave up after awhile, and for a period of time I had the long standing record (I don't even like baseball). He would spend hours in radio trying to break this record. One day, as I opened the door to radio, preparing to start my shift...we was standing there waiting for me, giving me his best Babe Ruth "called shot" pose as if he were aiming for the fence indicating he was going to hit a home run. As soon as I saw the pose, I smirked, knowing he must've finally bested my record. He swung his imaginary bat before telling me the new high score, or should I say longest record. He didn't just beat me, he crushed me. It would take many weeks before I finally regained the title, but that moment of him relishing in his victory will always be remembered.

Anyway, it was a pity that I let my pride come between us, but it did. We would engage in heated arguments that got so loud people from the control room would come and tell us to quiet down. One time the Chief of the Boat (COB, the senior enlisted guy on the boat) heard us arguing about something stupid and he came into radio, called me aside and basically told me, "I don't care how jacked up you think your Chief is, he's the Chief and your job is to support him...so STFU and get back to work." (His words, not mine)

Well of course that incensed me even more, but thankfully I was smart enough not to argue with the COB even if I was dumb enough to argue with the Chief.

And then it happened...

We were engaged in a particularly brutal war of words and I took a cheap shot at my Chief and accused him of sitting around playing video games (games that I was guilty of providing) while we worked and a threw a few other colorful and jagged barbs his way...and that's when he said...

"When we return to port, why don't you just transfer...we don't need you. You're replaceable. Everybody is replaceable including you and I'd rather not have you if this is how you're going to act."

Replaceable, me?

That comment really took the wind out of my sails and deflated my spirit. After all I had done...after all I had accomplished, how in the world could I be considered replaceable? We returned home sometime after that and sure enough, I put in my transfer paperwork to leave the boat...a year early. I've never talked to my old Chief since then, but I learned a valuable lesson that day that I added to my toolbox of other important life lessons I've used to mold and shape the person I am today...

I'm replaceable...everybody is replaceable.

It doesn't mean you can't miss the person who is leaving or who is gone; nor does it mean the replacement will do any better or worse of a job. It simply means, life goes on.

Now, I promised you all a sea story, and the inspiration for it comes from the latest Member Herding blog I posted yesterday. Markus1142 asked me a question about being in the military and if certain games annoyed me with how they represent their military-themed content. I replied with how I hated how some military games take the liberty of representing servicemen with beards - not the scruffy beards you see on the SOF guys deployed to the middle east trying to blend in (and more worried about getting shot at then shaving)...I'm more talking about the goatees and that whole Don Johnson 12 o' clock shadow, suave look that video game developers use to make their characters look cool. Anyway it reminded me of a sea story I am going to share with you.

When a submarine goes on patrol or deployment, your hope is to have zero (or minimal) contact with external entities (other ships, etc). As such, when you deploy for 90 days (or whatever number it might be), underwater and away from everything, sometimes...in certain instances...the CO will (or used to) elect to "relax" the rules found in the Uniform Regulations Manual. He'd allow us to do things like wear tennis shoes and grow beards - which is normally not authorized. We had been out for a month or so punching holes in the ocean...and the beards of many were long and scraggily. Well, late one night the Officer of the Deck (OOD), a young but experienced LT prepared to take the boat up to periscope depth to copy our broadcast (sort of like checking the mail) and ventilate (the process of replenishing the stale air on the boat with fresh air from outside) when he suffered a freak accident. He was hugging the periscope like his old lady and didn't keep his hand in the right place on the ring used to actuate the hydraulics to raise and lower the scope. As the scope started coming up, his finger got in the way and severed the end of it off. Well, needless to say we didn't make it to periscope depth, but we did manage to wake the Captain and the corpsman (the medical guy - kind of like a paramedic) up. To make a long story short, the determination was made to get this guy off the boat to a facility that could try to sew his finger back on, or at least salvage what was left of it. Our shipboard corpsman isn't really trained to handle such procedures. So, the next day we surfaced and rendezvoused with a nearby warship that does have those types of facilities. Now, you have to remember we've been underway for awhile so most of us, including the Commanding Officer sitting in the bridge of the submarine, all had full beards. Even the guy with the missing finger we were offloading to the warship had a full beard - kind of hard to ask him to shave while he's writhing around in pain after having self amputated his finger with the periscope. So, the warship sends over a RHIB (small inflatable boat with a motor) with a few sailors to pull up alongside and pick this guy up. Of course they're looking at us like we're a bunch of heathens or zombies...submarines have a foul smell as it is and seeing all of us scruffy bearded sailors from the depths of the ocean...well I'm sure we looked ridiculous; certainly unprofessional.

The next day I was on watch in radio when we got a message from our shoreside headquarters "reminding" us about professionalism and standards of conduct, even when deployed and off the grid for long periods of time. I'll never forget I took the message out to the conn where the CO was sitting...and he chuckled after reading it and told the XO (Executive Officer, number two in command), the boss wasn't happy with their beards. The XO said he would inform the crew to shave their beards, and the CO interrupted him...stroking his thick full beard, "Are you kidding me. I worked hard for this beard. No...we won't shave until the end of patrol unless we have to surface again."

That was that.

And the moral of the story is, keep your hands where they belong or risk losing a finger, don't hug your periscope like your old lady...and military servicemen aren't authorized to have beards unless you're special forces or submariners, in which case you're probably still not supposed to do it but  if nobody is around to notice you can probably get away with it...so please...quit modeling your video game characters to look like Adam Levine or Montel Williams.

Life goes on.

Cheers.

 

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