Photo Credit: Flickr user U.S. Pacific Fleet
When my dad would go out to sea, I always had this picture in my head of what he was doing. Part of it probably came from watching Peter Pan so many times as a kid I just imagined him on the water with Captain Hook.
Now that I’ve done my own 9-month government-sponsored cruise, I know I was wrong. Oh so very wrong! Let me help paint a more vivid picture for you of the reality of a 9-month deployment.
If you ever lived in a small town, you understand how quickly you learn all the faces of the community. Being on an aircraft carrier is the same way. 5000 people living in close quarters. You see the same people every single day. After just a few short weeks, the ship that originally was intimidating became very small. There is no privacy and nowhere to hide from people. And your days become so routine you feel disoriented when someone is using your sink to brush their teeth when you want to. I feel the utmost respect for people who serve on a smaller ship. My berthing had more people in it than some ships do and I can’t imagine only having to interact with the same 200 people for 9 months. I’d want to swim to shore by month two; especially when my loved ones are just trying to manage the homefront without me.
I also now understand why everyone comes home from deployment so in shape. It’s a great combination of two things. First, the food leaves something to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe our ship cooks do the best they can with the supplies they are given. But with long lines, strange break hours, and food you can’t cook yourself it’s easy to start limiting what you eat to just the food your friends send in pre-packaged containers. I ate an amazing amount of dry cereal and peanut butter on wheat wraps because I could be sure it was edible. Second factor – when you live where you work and there is a gym available less than 100 yards from your rack there is no excuse not to work out. While I will never consider myself a gym rat, even I could be seen at 1900 on the elliptical in the hanger bay five nights a week. Forget looking like I did in high school, I want to keep the post-deployment body!
The day I left, before I knew the reality of a 9-month deployment, my mother emailed me something that I found to be very accurate:
“Your nine months is going to be a lot like pregnancy. There will be nausea. There will be uncontrollable moodiness. There will be times when you just want to get out of your own body. But once it’s over, you’ll look back and say, “that wasn’t so bad.” And you’ll have had an experience that bonds you with all those who did it before you.”
That certainly goes along with what they say about giving birth. When you’re in the moment, you say you’ll never go through the pain again; but afterwards you forget all about that and are just ready for another one. While I have no experience in childbirth, I can say that when I look back on my deployment I don’t remember the mundane day-to-day stressors or just how dirty I always felt. I remember some priceless things I would never have had the opportunity to experience if it wasn’t for deployment.
*I got to jump on the hanger bay elevator of an aircraft carrier and go swimming in the Gulf of Oman. Water tasted horrible, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
*I drank champagne in France. Just because I could. And ate way more bread and cheese than any one person needs to in 3 days. But it was worth the extra time on the elliptical.
*I rode a camel! This was the one thing I kept saying I was going to do before I left and I couldn’t wait for the chance. I will say it is rather awkward getting on and off a camel. Not at all like a horse!
*For my 29th birthday, the girls in my squadron were able to get me on the flight deck to launch a plane. I work in the admin office. I avoided the flight deck as much as I could. But there was no way I could pass of the opportunity to say I got to launch a plane. Sure, I was highly supervised and not allowed to walk anywhere alone. But I still got to do it.
*The biggest thing I learned on deployment…take every chance you can! Do things to push you outside your comfort zone. I’m preppy. Pink, polka dots, pearls. Those are staples in my life. Yet when I had a chance to get down and dirty taking MCMAP courses I jumped on the chance! Even earned two belts. I learned I’m far stronger and way more determined that I give myself credit for!
So sure, a 9-month deployment in reality is long and stressful and not something anyone looks forward to. Especially once I realized Captain Hook wasn’t onboard. But I don’t think I’d trade the memories I made on the floating city for 9 months back at home pushing paperwork.