Family & Joining the Navy
Then, about 2 years into our relationship Daisy got pregnant.
I was really excited and a little nervous. How would I provide for my family? At the time I didn’t even have a job. So, I went down to the Navy recruiting office and signed up. Then several months later it was the morning of September 11th, 2001.
Being on the west coast it was about 9 A.M here, when the first plane struck the first tower. I received a call from my wife who was telling me to turn on the tv. I walk down to the den and the tv was already on and I saw the building was burning, still standing, but billows of smoke were blowing out of the side. Then as I watched the second plane fly into the other building. It was the most horrific thing I ever saw. It was heartbreaking to see so many innocent people suffering.
Now it’s 2016, 15 years later. Not only the U.S. but the entire world has needed time to heal. What do we say to the new generation? The ones who weren’t around on that day? What will we tell them? We showed that the U.S.A. defends our shores from any foe. The courage of the firefighters, police, and countless volunteers is something to be commended.
I shipped off to boot camp September 27th 2001, 16 days after the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in New York City. The energy was high down at the recruiting station, everyone was on high alert, the recruiting stations probably had not seen this kind of dedicated and patriotic energy since WW2. I was ready to defend my country and I had a family to take care of. These thoughtless acts of violence were not going to discourage me. We arrived at the station at about 9.00 a.m. Sept. 27th, 01. My wife and baby were outside the office to say goodbye. I can still remember Daisy holding my daughter. Then I held her and even though she was fussing quite a bit, she was still the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. I got to hold my daughter one last time before I left.
Of my entire 4 years in the Navy the thing I most remember is holding my daughter the day I shipped out. I then went into the office to begin my Navy tour. My contract was for four years. They drove me down to L.A. where I stayed in a hotel for one night, then the next morning I caught a plane with about 10 other Navy recruits to go to our boot camp. We arrived and the first thing we did was get a haircut. You go in, they shave your head, then it’s time to go to medical. What happens next might be the hardest thing regarding military service for some people, getting shots. Now, the Navy travels all around the world. Therefore we had to be prepared for whatever came our way. I must have had about 10-15 shots that day. You stand in this line and the nurse tells you to roll up your sleeves on each arm. Then you walk down to each station and one by one they give you a shot then mark it in your medical record. After all your vaccinations are done there’s one last step, getting a penicillin shot. I suspect this was to keep you from getting sick after all those shots you had, but this last shot hurt! The nurse gives you the shot right in your butt. Tremendous pain, then later that night when you lay down to go to sleep, if you roll over to that side that they gave the shot, it hurts so bad.
Now that medical was done it was time to get fitted for uniforms. They take your measurements and you go to get everything else, t-shirts, socks, etc. You get a pair of boots and athletic shoes. Then we went to our barracks. Our uniforms came after a few days. As soon as you enter boot camp, you know you’re a part of something that’s unlike anything else, I mean where else does a drill instructor get up and scream in your face, make you “drop” and do push-ups, and make you run till you pass out. I can’t think of anywhere else. But as long as you know they’re only doing it to toughen you up, then you’ll be fine. And I did know that, plus I had a reason to stick it out, my family. No matter what happened, I was going to stick it out.
We had 3 leaders of our division in boot camp. A 1st class petty officer who was one tough dude. He acted like he was right from the streets, a “bad” ass old salty dog meant to give you hell, and he did. There was also a female first-class petty officer. We didn’t see much of her because she ran the female part of our division located just down the hall, but she would talk to the guys once in a while. And We had our Chief. Now our chief was tough but he was also a good leader. He wanted to be the best marching group in all the base and win the title of best marching division. In marching you need to be tight, in sequence, all together at once. The RPOC, gives the commands of where to go, Our RPOC was female. She would call “recruits!” “attention!” Forward march” and the division would move forward, at that very instance, before the first step lands the AROC calls the cadence, and along with that the speed and tempo. Then RPOC can call out “AROC double time!” and the AROC will call out cadence at double the time and the division will walk at double the speed. I remember once we were out marching in this big field, training for the big marching competition. The guide on’s were out. The guide on’s carry the flags. There are two flags, located at the front right and left. One flag is the division emblem, the other is the number of the division.
It’s the guide’s job to “guide the march, to keep perfect time, stay centered, and listen to and adhere to all commands. The guide should be the example all other recruits should follow. As we were marching that day, our chief was calling for the guide on to center, and I’m not sure if the guide-on couldn’t center or what but after about the third time of him yelling out, “Guide-on center!” He ran up and grabbed the guide-on’s flag, the one on the left if you’re facing out, and he said again, “guide-on, I said CENTER!!!” And he took the guide on flag like a javelin over his head and in one smooth action propelled that flag up into the sky and across the field. We all stood a gasp, the guide on was without a flag. I thought to myself, that was awesome!
Like I said, our Chief was very serious about marching. He wanted to win the marching competition and after weeks of practice we would have our chance. The competition is held in the gymnasium. Each division has to make one ceremonial march, around the track and upon approaching the judges on the right, the RPOC calls eyes right and the first 6 rows (if I remember correctly) turns their heads smartly right, at a 45degree angle, toward the judges, then they call eyes forward and you turn your head forward, then your march is complete. Well, our RPOC forgot one important step in the whole procession, she forgot to call eyes right. I was only about two people behind the RPOC, as we marched, I knew she forgot to call eyes right. At that moment I almost reminded her, maybe by whispering to her, “RPOC eyes right.” But I didn’t. Our division marched right by the judges without even looking at them, without acknowledging them, without paying them respects, which is what the command “eyes right” and actually the entire marching competition is all about. Needless to say, we didn’t win the competition. I’m not sure if we even placed, all I know is our chief was livid when we got back. “eyes right RPOC, eyes right!” he said. You did it perfectly 100 times before, but when it counted you dropped the ball!”
It was an honest mistake. It could have happened to anyone. I do believe that if eyes right had been called, we would have won the competition.
Our chief would call us nuggets. “NUGGETS!!!” “Get over here!!!” “You’re nothing but a Nugget!!!” After a few weeks of being called nuggets, we finally asked him, why do you call us nuggets? He said, “it’s like a nugget of gold. You can take that nugget and mold it into a ring, or a necklace, something beautiful, but right now, you’re all just nuggets!” Once I was talking with the chief in his office. We were talking about the Navy, what my plans were, things like that. He said, “once you get your wheels rolling, you’ll be a great asset.” That was a kind thing to say. Now I started thinking, how do I get my wheels rolling and what things would I do? Well, now it’s 15 years later and I can say that, for me, the thing that got my wheels rolling is my daughter, she’s the inspiration for this book, and school, and travel. The thing I’m doing, writing this book, as long as it’s received well and I very much hope it is. I still remember those words of motivation. I believe that if you’re in a position of leadership you should motivate those around you, you’re the leader, you’re the one who is guiding the future generations.
Navy boot camp is nine weeks and on the ninth week spirits were running high. Everyone is ready in their uniforms, pressing, making alterations, making sure everything is squared away. Since it was winter, we wore dress blues. We all arranged travel for our family’s. I was so excited to see my daughter. I also saw my Mom and wife. My daughter looked so cute, she had porcelain white skin, the sweetest smile, and brightest eyes. She’s my princess.
So, I graduated from Navy boot camp. It was nice to see my family but I didn’t have much of a break, I wasn’t able to come home before my specialized training began. I saw my family for a few days then went to start my “A” school. My “A” school happened to be at the same base where I had boot camp. There were many recruits who flew to military schools all over the country but I got to stay right where I was. I just had to move to another part of the base. I signed up to be an “engineman” and their specialty, working on diesel engines. This was not the job I signed up for however, I signed up to be an “operations specialist”, who are the ones who operate the ships radar among other things. But when it came time to designate our jobs, they noticed in my medical record that I’m “color deficient.” Now, being color deficient does not mean color blindness, it is exactly like it sounds, you can see color but just deficiently. So, I can see all the colors of a stoplight but when the colors start to get small and intricately woven, I can start to mix them up, such as the colored wires found in a circuit board which is exactly why I couldn’t do “operations specialist” since they work with computers. So, the Navy classifier gave me a piece of paper with about 9 jobs printed on it and said, “these are the only jobs you can do.” I took the paper and took a look. Of all the jobs on that page, the one that stood out was engineman.
I’ve always liked working on engines, this looks like a fun job I thought. I told him to sign me up for engineman. He did and at that moment I was now an Engineman. This job is a bit different than an OS, for one, an OS spends all their time above decks, in the radar rooms where the A/C keeps the rooms nice and cool, but the enginemen spend most of their time in the engine rooms, where the temp can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The OS’s, cleans stays grease-free. Enginemen, oil and grease is what we work with. But, honestly, I’m glad I got to be an engineman, it was a lot of fun. So now was my next step, Enginemen “A” school.
I started my “A” school in December of 2001. My A school was located in Great Lakes, Illinois. I have never experienced cold like that. They call it lake effect snow when the cold winds from the north hit the great lakes, pick up moisture, then dump blankets of snow all over the surrounding states and one of those states is Illinois, located close to Lake Michigan in the winter there is no shortage of snow.
I packed up all my stuff from boot camp, and filled up my sea bag. I joined the other sailors who were attending school at Great Lakes and we all took a bus over to the campus. The military is interesting in the way it takes away the freedoms you once had, and slowly re-introduces them. In boot camp, you basically have no freedoms, you listen up and do what you’re told, then, after boot camp, you’re given freedoms but only once you’ve earned it. In that way freedom takes on a whole new meaning, you really begin to not take for granted the freedoms we have. In “A” school, you have more freedoms but you’re expected to do what you’ve learned before. Take care of your uniform, go to class on time, study, and don’t stay out too late.
Engineman “A” school is fun, we got to tear down a Cummins diesel engine and put it back together. The instructor directed us every step of the way, telling us the part to remove, we’d remove it, tag it, then set it down next to all the other parts. The project started out well but before long we had problems, everyone wanted to be the leader. There would be one guy removing parts, another on a different section removing parts. No one was the clear leader because no one really took that role. Some, who had more engine knowledge than others did lead as best they could, but a definite leader did not step up. It took about a week to tear down and rebuild the engine and I don’t even remember if the engine started or not. That exercise was a practice in leadership as much as it was learning about engines.
Now, nine weeks later, it was time to graduate. At graduation you’re given several choices of where you can be stationed. I had a choice of San Diego, Italy, Washington state, Virginia, or Hawaii. They gave me a day to call my family to help me decide on which station to choose. I called my wife to find out which station she liked the best. She told me Hawaii, and so the next day at class I told the teacher I wanted Hawaii. The station would be at Pearl Harbor, HI, attached to a naval cruiser. I still remember my first day landing in Hawaii. As soon as I stepped outside, I realized something about Hawaii that I had no idea about, the humidity. We landed at about 7:00 P.M., we were walking, I had my backpack on my back, and after about a hundred yards, I told the transport who was walking with us that I had to sit down. The air was just so thick, and humid, I had to catch my breath. I sat down on a brick planter for a few minutes until I caught my breath. Then I got up and we continued to Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor is beautiful, the sights, the delightful smell of flowers in the air, and wonderful weather, and I get to live and work here! I can get used to this I thought. I was not attached to a command right away therefore, I had to wait for a ship that needed a sailor to come aboard. They told me that it would be a week or longer before a ship came back to port and the ship that I would likely be attached to was sailing back from Australia at that moment. Even though I had a lot of time before my ship came in, I was in Hawaii, so the wait wasn’t too bad. And, on the first day I met another Navy sailor. I forget his name, I just remember he was short, wore glasses, and was a church going man. So, he invited me to go to his church on Sunday. I agreed and looked forward to going. I have always liked going to church and so I thought it sounded like fun. On Sunday, he picked me up and we traveled to church. Upon entering the church, I noticed something straight away, this was a black church, and definitely gospel, there was a lot of singing and dancing and I thought it was great. I have never been to a gospel church and I liked it. There was a great energy and rhythm, everyone was very nice and kind. After church they invited me to have lunch. Anyhow, it was a good experience with this church.
So, after a week my ship came back from Australia. I again, packed up and got ready to move. I arrived at my ship and boarded. On the deck awaited one of the guys from my division. He took me around and got me acquainted with the ship. I got my bunk downstairs, in a large room called a “berth” that has rows of bunks 3 high on each side. I went to medical to deliver my records, then after that I met the rest of my shipmates. The division held quarters(meetings), usually 3 times a day, morning, afternoon, then about 5 p.m. before we all went home. The next quarters were in the afternoon; I would be attending that one.
We held our quarters below deck, right above Auxiliary room #1, which was our work room. We were in charge of repair and maintenance to all the machinery in Aux 1, as well as other equipment throughout the ship. Aux stands for Auxiliary and so we were in charge of all the auxiliaries throughout the ship from the anchor windless in the bow to the steering back aft, if it was mechanical and it wasn’t main propulsion, we maintained it. You see, an engineman takes care of diesel engines and since this ship’s power plant was Gas Turbine and not Diesel, the engine rooms were maintained by the GSM’s and GSE’s, gas turbine systems mechanics and electricians. We maintained everything else, if it was mechanical.
I went down to quarters that afternoon and I met everyone from the group. They followed up on the work schedule, assigned tasks and talked about future tasks. I also learned what was expected of me, I was expected to learn each and every piece of equipment on the ship. And one of the biggest most important pieces of equipment, the distilling plant. We had 2, 2 stage, flash type distilling plants, each one capable of producing over 10,000 gallons of fresh water a day. Aside from that, there were other machines to align and operate, the A/C plants, the low pressure and high-pressure air compressors, the steam boilers, as well as many others.
So, my start to the Navy was a bit rough, my family, (my wife and daughter) were not there yet and they wouldn’t be there until I received Navy housing after which they would pay for all our household items to be shipped as well as airline tickets for my wife and daughter. But in the meantime, I was without them. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. But life in the Navy was taking place regardless of my family not being there. There was a job to do and we had to do it. That weren’t going to take time off because of my family. I just had to keep working, knowing that one day they would be with me.
One very important part to the military and moreover any organization is leadership. Without good leadership the organization will suffer. And in the Navy leadership is very important and in my 4 years in the Navy I got to see 2 different leadership styles, one poor and the other good. I got to see the poor leadership first during my first two years in the Navy.
In the Navy, the leader of the division is usually a chief or higher ranked enlisted individual. They are in charge of deciding what needed to get done, by whom, and had to follow up to make sure the task was finished. Well, I can say without a doubt that the first chief I had failed to do his job as a leader. His language was crude like he was himself a new recruit. He tried to fit in with all the guys but he never really fit in. When he wasn’t around everyone called him “Big Head” because he had a huge head. The chief was always trying to rile me up, like this was some sort of his personal club. Once, when I came down to morning quarters, he kept looking at my arms. Back then I was in great shape, especially after boot camp and my biceps were really big. The chief kept looking at my arms saying, “you think you’re tough,” “winna fight?”
I’m brand new to the Navy, this is my first year and first ship to be stationed on and my chief was asking me if I want to fight. I just told him, “no, I don’t want to fight, can we continue with quarters please?” He was overweight, with an unkempt mustache and cup of café de tar he carried all around while he barked out halfhearted orders that, in my mind, he never really cared if they were carried out or not. His leadership problems stem from one obvious problem; he hardly ever was directly involved in anything we did. whether it was repair or maintenance. He was a chief that led from the office. He trusted that his 1st and 2nd class officers could take care of everything and while the lower officers were good, to the trained eye, the big jobs were not getting done and he was to blame. When you go on watch which entails taking readings on equipment and monitoring your spaces. Then, after 4 hours you turn over the watch to someone else and you’re required to report your turnover. How is everything running, anything out of parameters, any down machines. You’re expected to give a thorough turnover with anything that could have been done during your watch to be done.
My first chief’s watch was 3 years and you would think at his turnover he would report that all the spaces were running well, but the truth is nothing was running well, everything was in poor shape. The aft steering leaked oil at just about a constant drip, it leaked oil out of the hydraulic shafts into this collection pan beneath the cylinder. Aft steering is supposed to leak, at only about 1 drop per minute but it leaked back there so bad you had to go back there every hour to wipe the oil or else the oil would overflow into the bilge. Normally you just go to aft steering once maybe twice during your watch to wipe oil, this way you had to go back every hour to wipe oil. We even came up with a name for the job, “wipers”, make sure to do wipers on your watch, we would say. The hydraulic pump seals needed to be replaced, which is a big job, apparently a job that was too big for big head. But that wasn’t the only job that went undone. There were many other jobs that just didn’t get done. So, you could imagine how that turn over between chiefs went, big head acting like everything ran great lying his ass off. So that’s it for my first chief. He wasn’t much of a chief, sort of all talk no action. After 2 years’ big head finally left and we got a new chief one that would fix all of the problems left by the previous chief.
Chief Santos arrived at our ship in the spring of 2013. He came from a DDG, a ship very similar to a cruiser except the layout is much different. He had a lot of sea time and his shipboard knowledge was top notch. Upon his arrival he wasted no time tackling the biggest problems we had, and for all those repairs he took an active role, getting his hands dirty as much as everyone else. It was a breath of fresh air to finally have some leadership in our division. We used to have Naval fitness tests. It was a 1.5 mile run, pushups and sit-ups. I ran the 1.5 in 8 minutes 30 seconds. When I told Chief Santos that he was impressed but when he went to do the run, he ended up getting 8 minutes 20 seconds. I think he was competing with me. So, I got to see the difference between leadership styles and how important good leadership is.
During Chief Santos’s time on the ship, he had his Commanding auxiliaries officer lieutenant Marshall. Lieutenant Marshall went to great lengths to educate the division on all the equipment we worked on. So, she came up with a way we could each take an active role in the education process. She told the division that each week one person will give a report on a different piece of equipment, the report will both spoken and at the end, you would show the division how to use the equipment. And, if your report is flawless, you get a day off. Vincent, one of the more technically savvy guys took the first report. His report was on the distilling plant. His report was flawless, giving good details on the operation, how the plant turned sea water to fresh water, then he showed everyone the alignment procedures, alignment is to ready the equipment for underway.
So, since his report was flawless, he received one day off.
When it came time to do my report, I chose the HPAC (high pressure air compressor). And before I began my report I knew, I wanted to do a report more than good enough to win a day off. This was all done while out to sea. So, I found where we kept all the tech manuals for the equipment and found the one for HPAC. I would read that book for hours a day studying every facet of that machine. I sat there with the book and a pen and notebook, taking notes, getting ready for my report in a week. I thought to myself, the most important thing here is how it compresses the air, so I’m going to describe in my report, the passage of air, from start to finish. I read, took notes, filling out my report from start to finish. I learned how to operate the HPAC and just when I thought my report was ready, I told LT Marshall I was ready. The whole division gathered just above aux1; I was really nervous, but I had my notes to help me. I began my report, taking time to explain the function of the compressor and how it compressed the air at each stage. The report was going well and after the spoken part came the operation part. We all went down and I showed everyone how to operate the HPAC, but while the operation was going well, there was something that went wrong, I had forgotten about a valve outside the space that had to be closed, that way it would go through the complete cycle. A small but crucial piece to my overall report. But even though the actual operation part didn’t go so well, the spoken part of the report got great reviews. We went back upstairs to talk about my report. So, the report I spent so many hours on, I found out, everyone really enjoyed. They all told me good job and way to go, I actually learned something. And Vincent, the one who did that great report on the distilling plant and got a day off for it, said to me, “now that’s the way it’s done”.
It was great that everyone liked my report, but why was it I still felt like it wasn’t good enough, well, because I didn’t get a day off. LT Marshall said there were a few hang-ups in the operation part so I didn’t get the day off. So, even though my division really liked it, I didn’t think so. I didn’t see back then what I know now, the real reward was in the reaction of all my shipmates, not in some meaningless day off. It was in the kind remarks and encouragement given by all around. Sometimes the real reward is hard to see and it seems, and the real reward here is the divisions positive reaction. So, for that I’d like to let the division know I’m sorry. I should have seemed the great support given, my attitude was very poor and for that I’m sorry.
Things really picked up on ship once we got a new Chief. No more ridicule and put downs, no more asking me if I wanted to fight, no it was much better. Our ship stopped at many destinations around the world. I’ve been to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, The Philippians, Puerto Vallarta Mexico, Palau. The travelling is one of the best things about the Navy.
I had this friend named Miles on the ship. We were the best of friends. In Hawaii during Mardi Gras, Hawaii also celebrates. They block off sections of the streets in Waikiki where people bring beads and the girls find a way to get them. Anyhow, this one year I went, it must have been around 2003. I was standing in line waiting to get in, there was a large group behind me. I was just talking with my friend, laughing and carrying on when all of a sudden, I felt this sharp pinch right on my ass. I went, “hey” and I turned around to see who was it that had given my ass a good squeeze, she was tall, slender, tan skin, dark hair and beautiful. I didn’t know what to say, a random pretty girl has never just walked up and groped my ass. So, I just turned around, turned bright red and didn’t say anything. That had never happened to me and hasn’t happened since. I wore glasses back then; I’ve had Lasik surgery since then so I don’t need to wear glasses anymore.
I think the one who kept me going was my daughter, I kept thinking, I’ve got to better myself for my daughter. She was much too young to know what went on, so it’s not important, what’s important is putting my best foot forward and concentrate on my work, and that’s what I did. I became a great sailor, highly knowledgeable in regards to the technical side of the ship. I did great, I wish my daughter could have seen me. When my 4 years was up, I had the option to re-enlist. The ships enlisting officer called me up to his office. He explained that my 4-year contract was done and I had the option to re-enlist and he offered me $15,000 to re-enlist. That is a lot of money, about half a year’s pay. But I didn’t even have to think about it, I told him I’ll pass. I missed my daughter and family and after the emotional ups and downs I’d been through; I was ready just to come home. Also, I wanted to go to school and I knew while in the Navy that would be hard. My departure date was set for July 4th, 2005, American Independence Day. When, I got home, I thought this was kind of funny, but my now “x-wife” picked me up from the airport with my daughter and another new baby, a son she had had with her “affair” but apparently, they had broken up.
When I got home, I started working right away, I worked at an oil change place called EZ lube and I worked for a valet parking company on the weekends, both were part time. I bought myself a black 2 doors, 1995 Honda Civic EX coupe. It was the first year Honda installed VTEC, which gave the car a little boost at top speeds. It was nice. I also started going to school but since I had to work at the same time I didn’t have as much time to study as I would have liked, Actually, I did better than expected in all my classes, but when I started getting into my upper classes like Chemistry and physics, I just couldn’t keep up, I didn’t have the time. So, I have a 2-year degree. I would love to go back and finish my 4-year degree one day.
The life I started upon being discharged from the Navy was much different than the one going into the Navy. I began renting a room. I stayed in that room for a few months Daisy and I were talking on the phone and she was telling me that her landlord was going to evict her for missing payments on the rent. So, I suggested that we get an apartment together and split the rent. She thought it was a good idea so we moved into an apartment, with the woman who wouldn’t live with me while married but after being divorced had no problem with it. I suppose she needed assistance at the time, and I knew it but it was nice to see my daughter. She also invited her Mom, and brother to stay with us. It was a small, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath apartment.