Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In Which I Served

Well, I've blown the Nablopomo thing already - but it's truly not my fault. We had connection for the first day then none the next. I managed to get my pal Lisa's broadband card and squeaked in a post. Then, between traveling and connection difficulties - no posting for two days. Waaah. And oh well. I'm going to keep posting every day this month as if I hadn't blown it.

My friend LTs retirement ceremony was on Friday morning. Her last billet (if that's the word they use for officers) was as an officer on the USS Tarawa (LHA-1). I got to go with her early on Friday to help her take care of last minute details for the ceremony which was held on the flight deck of the ship. She was going seven different directions with people demanding her attention in every quadrant. Literally at the last second as she was being herded over to speak with a former commanding officer of hers from Hawaii, she was calling back over her shoulder to the duty officer who was taking over her section. She wanted to make sure that one of her sailors whose leave had gotten fouled up, got some time before the ship deployed again (Sunday). The officer made a cutting motion with his fingers in front of his belly button and told her to let go; he had the watch. She smiled with tears in her eyes and turned away. I think it was very, very hard for her to know she won't ever have the watch again.
She was given a shadow box: hand made piece by piece by one of the officers in the ward room. Her captain said glowing things about her and made one wry and incredibly amusing observation about her. Her sailors had volunteered to be in her ceremony, even as they had tons of work to do to get ready for the upcoming deployment. Her pals (like me) and her family flew in from all over to be with her. She gave a speech that was filled with gratitude and one which put her retirement in perspective. She is in only the third generation of women even mathematically capable of retiring after a twenty year career. It's been a bare sixty years since women were first allowed to stay in the Navy. (Before that they were allowed to fill in while the men were on the front but had to leave the service when the men came home.) So much has changed in the Navy and in the world in the twenty-one years since we first met in "A" school, fresh out of boot camp. We were trained to be Russian linguists together in a world where the leader of the free world denounced the Soviet Union as the evil, red empire. Today it's the axis of evil that we're up against and LT's skills were turned in different directions a decade ago in response to the "needs of the Navy."
It was great to be at her retirement ceremony. It was incredible to take a tour of her ship. I stood in the spaces with a pang in my gut for the road not taken. I was a reservist and was not allowed to transition to the "real" Navy to serve aboard a ship. (In fact, when we first went in, women who did our job were not allowed to fly or to be aboard ship. That has all happened since I've been out.) It was hard to look about, knowing I could have been good at the job and wondering where I would have gone, what I would have done and seen. Then I heard her "roasted" and remembered how much I hated living life in a fishbowl with gossips noting every detail or making them up when the real details weren't exciting enough to pass on. I reminded myself of the long months and sometimes years LT had been away from her kids because of deployment or duty stations that weren't open to or advisable for families. I thought about my piercings, my college and work experiences, and my incredible relationship and family - none of which would be at all possible had I been able to stay in the Navy. The pangs lessened. I was grateful to be there - to hear about and give witness to my dear friend's long, enthusiastic, and passionately dedicated service. I've been away from the service for so long now - landlocked in my home town for 15 years; I've been so violently disgusted with the war mongering policies of the current administration; I'd all but forgotten how amazing it is to be a part of a group that serves so selflessly. I could (and often do) say all manner of accurately horrible things about the way our armed services have been used, but I will never say one negative word about our sailors themselves. I was reminded of how hard they work, how much they give up, and how little they can expect in return, but how proudly and honorably they serve nonetheless. I know it sounds like so much indoctrinated rah-rah bullshit - but at the core, I know it to be true. I had tears in my eyes a lot this weekend: when LT was piped ashore for the last time (first picture), when they read "Old Glory" and slowly, oh so slowly each saluted the folded flag (which had been flown above the Tarawa on Sept 11th) and passed it up a long line of sailors - finally coming to rest in my friend's white-gloved hands (second picture), and when we went to a piano bar which was all silliness and drink until they pulled everyone who was serving or ever had served - army, navy, air force, marines, coast guard, firefighters, or police - up on stage and sang Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA". I am deeply conflicted about the politics of war and feel betrayed and embarrassed by our government often. But I'm proud of the service to our country that my friends and I have given. I wouldn't undo it if I could. And still I long for...

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