HALO on the NALO

NALO stands for Navy Air Logistics Office and when I’ve flown NALO flights, it was getting me out of the Middle East. You hear all sorts of funny conversations on NALOs. Like this:

I don’t get Halo. What kind of stupid f***ing superhero is “Master Chief”. Who the hell decided that humanities best hope was some fat f***ing E-9 with a coffee cup and too many stories?!”

-Overheard on a NALO flight.

Halo is, of course, Halo the video game.

Suicide Curses the Navy, Again

I’ve written previously of suicide and some of the challenges it poses to us in uniform. One of the Sailors at a prior command had a roommate who had attempted suicide. We sent the suicidal Sailor back to the States (we were forwarded deployed), but his roommate was still on base. And late one Thursday afternoon, he came into my cubicle to talk. (Thursdays are the same as Fridays in the Middle East. We start the week on Sunday.)

He was quiet and really said very little. I knew something was bothering him, but did not want to force him to speak to me. Finally he came out with it.

I am sort of lonely since (my roommate who attempted suicide) went back home.

I nodded. Do you have friends to hang out with? Truly, he was a nice guy, but odd in an intellectual way.

Not really, he replied. Weekends are hell. 

I nodded again. Weekends in the Middle East could be hellish if you don’t find your niche. I know you are done with your tour in three weeks, are you just homesick?

Yes, but I can’t guarantee I won’t do what (my roommate) did.

I nodded again. I really did not know the proper response to this, other than to thank him for his honesty. I truly appreciate you being so straightforward about it. Especially with me. Have you talked to the Chaplain about it?

No. I don’t go to church.

We talked some more, small talk. I tricked him into laughing by making fun of myself. I have one skill I can always fall back on and that is finding something light and amusing to say. I then asked his permission for something. Do you mind if I talk to the Master Chief about it?

No sir. Thanks. 

He left my cubicle and I waited a couple of minutes before knocking on the CMC’s door.

Master Chief, you got a second?

He looked up. It really was only me, the suicidal Sailor, and the Master Chief in the office. Yeah, sir. What is up?

I told him the whole story. Can you hang out with the Petty Officer this weekend? I asked him.

Ah, any other weekend, but this. I have family in town. 

You think it would be fraternization if I grabbed lunch with him on Friday. I can play it by ear and see how it is.

It is certainly a grey area. But this is too important. Can you?

You bet. We have to. 

I left the Master Chief’s office and chatted up the Petty Officer about our plans. He was amenable. My experience is that most people just want to be listened to. We grabbed lunch on Friday and I told him to call me if he wanted to do anything on Saturday.

Yes, a Lieutenant should not be hanging out with his Petty Officers. But it was a strange situation, a Petty Officer who did not fit in well. And me, who can talk to anyone. He made it back to the States, tired and lonely. But alive.

I wish I could say the same for Navy SEAL Team 5 Sailor Robert Guzzo Jr:

He survived the battlefields of Iraq, but a Navy SEAL’s battles with post-traumatic stress disorder proved too much to endure.

In their first in-depth interview, the parents of Navy SEAL Team 5 member Robert Guzzo Jr. say that the horrors of war, as well as the stigma of mental illness, helped contribute to their son’s suicide.

After being deployed to Iraq in 2006, Guzzo returned home a little more than a year later, and his parents immediately noticed something was amiss.

“I could just tell immediately he was changed,” Robin Andersen, Guzzo’s mother, told The Washington Post. “His affect was different, you know. The look on his face was a distance away.”She still recalls one particular night shortly after Guzzo returned from Iraq when she tried her best to comfort her sobbing son.”I was rubbing his back, saying, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ and he said, ‘Mom, it’s never going to be okay,'” Andersen told the Post.

Navy SEAL Robert Guzzo Jr. j
Navy SEAL Robert Guzzo Jr.

Accch, this is a tragic story. I will say, what the SEAL’s parents recount as his story is no longer typical. That I know of. There are ways of getting Sailors help. Of course, our suicides just passed our combat deaths this year. Which is utterly tragic.

I encouraged the suicidal Sailor, who I had lunch with, to seek more serious help. And I told him there were no ramifications to it. The Navy may not be for him. But I did not tell him that, he had enough on his plate. . .

Brian Rice, Navy Sailor

Brian Rice, Geneva University
Brian Rice

I love this, that Brian Rice spent 24.5 years in the Navy as an IT Senior Chief (ITCS) and now he is playing college basketball at NCAA Division III Geneva College Golden Tornadoes.

I am guessing Brian is a Senior Chief, because High-Year-Tenure, HYT, for a Chief is 24 years. And he did more time than that. Of course, he could’ve been a Master Chief, but writers usually would think to include that. Still, getting to Senior Chief is a heckuva career. Go Golden Tomatoes Tornadoes! (Dayum, now what is that all about? I throw down a nice write-up ’bout the Senior Chief and now I gotta do his team like that. I’ll go extra hard in tomorrow’s zero five (0500) pt. I owe the Golden Tornadoes that much!)

John Wayne, the Green Berets, and Generation Z

The Military Channel has a special called An Officer and a Movie. And I just watched one of the current features, The Green Berets, starring John Wayne. Guess what car popped up? You bet, the world’s most beautiful car, none other than the Citroen DS:

The movie “Green Berets” with John Wayne and a Citroen DS

Joining Lou Diamond Phillips, the host, was Green Beret Major Rusty Bradley, a veteran of 5 tours in Afghanistan. He speaks of his admiration for current and past Green Berets. 

As for the movie, I’d never seen it. And the fact that it was put out in 1968 speaks volumes about John Wayne. Of course, the other actors pale in comparison to the Duke, but Bruce Cabot’s Colonel tricked me. I just imagined the casting director grabbed some grizzled Colonel to cameo the role.

Aldo Ray was good as Sergeant Muldoon. Bet you did not know Mr. Ray was both a frogman (SEAL) and a Berkeley grad: Aldo DaRe was born in the borough of Pen Argyl, in Northampton County, Pennsylvania on 25 September 1926. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, served as a US Navy frogman during WWII and saw action on Iwo Jima. You know what this means, right? Jokes about Berkeley grads will no longer be tolerated.

I work with a Senior Chief and she mentioned that her son, all of nine years old, is a John Wayne fan. Yes, Senior is married to a Master Chief, but has done nothing to encourage the young American to pursue his cinematic hero. This fact alone has given me faith in the world. Carry on, Generation Z. . .

The Most Conservative. . .

I love Master Chiefs, they possess a certain free rein in speaking their mind. Doubly so for retired Master Chiefs. They’ve earned a special station in life; only 1% of the enlisted naval corps goes on to their rank.

So when a retired Master Chief tells me: LT NavyOne, he’s the most conservative mo********er here. He has no tattoos or nothing, I just smile.

Yeah, that is a compliment. Sort of. . .

The Ugly Americans: the Post I Did Not Want to Write

If you are new here, please understand that I am unabashedly pro-American. I’m adamant that we serve a great cause worldwide. That a world without United States would be terrible. Yet, I had an experience in Japan that rattled these convictions.

Our plane landed at Narita Airport in the late afternoon. It was me and two contractors, both former Navy. One a retired Master Chief and the other, a seasoned tech.

Narita Express (N’EX) Train

We caught the train from Narita to Yokosuka. It took us hopping onto a couple of lines. Which ones, I could not say. And we rode each train for a dozen stops or more.

As we got closer to base, we switched to a crowded commuter line. Two things I noticed immediately about Japan: the locals were deathly quiet and it was clean. Very much so.

Having spent a good chunk of time in New York, I knew the rush of warm air, the squeal of the subway, and the voices. Kids yelling. Businessmen on cellphones. Rappers and guitarists on dirty benches at the subway stops. Sitting and playing. Standing and rapping. You won’t find any of that in Japan.

Four stops from Yokosuka, the doors opened and three American Sailors stumbled in. Flip-flops and tank-tops. One immediately started cussing. I glared at him. He looked away. The train was quiet for a second, just as it was the two hours before they came on.

Then another kid piped up. Man, I hate Japanese women. Why do they gotta do me like that? I have been here for f***in’ three weeks. And I hate it. Japanese girls. . .

You telling me, the other one, the cusser, mumbled.

I stared around the train. The Japanese men held their gaze at the floor. Maybe shamed. The locals seemed so quiet, I couldn’t tell if I understood their embarrassment. Or maybe they just do not understand English?

I do not like this culture, the complainer continued. With a couple more cuss words.

I cut in. Guys, please.

The one closest gawked at me with a rummy face. We can’t help ourselves, he said, slurring his words.

Everyone can help themselves, I replied. The retired Master Chief looked over at him and then me. He rolled his eyes and shook his head.

Look at me, I am covered in tats. I am screwed, he continued.

You can cover them up. And tats mean nothing.

Crew members aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72)

They were quiet. Relatively so. Then they talked among themselves. About work. Deck Sailors. Catching jets during the day. And during night ops.

I knew their story: fifteen hour days in brown shirts. Purple shirts. White. Green. Yellow shirts. Blue. Red. Which flavor they were, I did not hear. One of them.

And the doors opened and the warm, humid night whisked them away.

We waved at a taxi and squeezed in. The driver was wearing white gloves. His taxi was older. As in ten years old. Lace doilies lined the headrests.

We rolled down the main drag. The edge of the Honch stared at us from beyond the taxi window. My Japan deployment was just beginning. . .

Birthing Aboard an Aircraft Carrier

Alternate Title: Berthing Aboard an Aircraft Carrier

Relatively speaking, an aircraft carrier is a roomy naval vessel. There are no hot racks (where a bed, a rack, is rotated on shifts, usually found in the submarine community.) And each Sailor gets a certain amount of personal space, depending on rank.

During my recent seagoing jaunt, me and my team first ended up in the Chief’s overflow berthing. We had a retired Master Chief with us and we did not argue with the assignment. It was just us in there, so I did not feel out of place, being an Officer in the Enlisted berthing and all.

Here is a picture of nearly an exact match to our space. These “pirates” look far more jovial than how we appeared. From a community relations event on the old USS Kitty Hawk (affectionately called the Shhhh-itty Hawk):

Students from Ikego Elementary School, Japan, experience first-hand what it is like to live in ship’s berthing during a tour aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

After two weeks, I had the opportunity to switch berthing. I spent all of an hour thinking it over.

I clunked my gear over to Officer Country and my new two-man stateroom. I had a little more space to stretch out and as I packed my clothes in my wall-locker, I wondered when I would meet my roommate. He still did not know he was losing his cozy one-man room. So smart was he, that he did not even put his name on the door.

I returned to the stateroom from working around 2100. I showered and hit the rack, thinking that perhaps the room was unoccupied. After all, there was some shoes and books, but maybe that officer did not make the cruise?

2200 flicked by and the stateroom door opened. I lay still as a mummy. The light glared on. Should I say hi? I had better.

I parted the blue curtain and greeted my new roommate. Howdy!

Aiieeee! he yelled, almost fouling the weather deck.

Sorry, man. Sorry. I did not want to scare you.

We chatted, him more cautious than me. In the old tradition of the Navy, I determined that I was the senior lieutenant, but I graciously allowed him to keep the bottom rack. Not only did I shave a year off his life, but I also pulled rank. Pretty obnoxious, eh?

I had my reasons on wanting to keep the top rack. First and foremost, it was right below the flight deck. And the sensation of having jets launch above your head is initially frightening and then exciting and then just boring. In that order. The whole room shook in a certain sequence, over and over with each launch. I filmed a movie of it, but my cell phone could not handle the loud noise. Go watch this YouTube video of an F-18 catapult. And then imagine lying right underneath it.

Our stateroom had one of four major smells: jet fuel (no surprise), hamburgers (we were near the wardroom), glue (no idea), or air freshener.

Every fifteen minutes, we were spritzed with one of those automatic air sprays. Country meadows, I think, was the flavor. And if I closed my eyes, I could hear the Von Trapps frolicking down a country hillside and chatting in their Germanic lilt. I if I listened really carefully, I could hear Julie Andrews singing. Wait, that was a jet trap and the sound of the number three wire dragging back across the deck after being grabbed by the tailhook. Not Von Trapp. My mistake.

Note: The Shore Patrol, after reading this post, requested that I turn in my man card. Who in their right mind compares a jet trap to a Von Trapp?

USS Denver’s shore patrol of Sailors and Marines, in Acapulco, Mexico, ca 1913.

Young Master Chiefs and Baby Ensigns

I recently attended a conference and briefed upwards of a hundred people on my program. There were almost two hundred Sailors in attendance at the start, but I had the very last brief on Friday and a lot of folks skipped out before the end.

No bother. My question is this: when did Master Chiefs get so young-looking? There were a good handful of them present and I tell you they looked positively Ponce de Leon-ish.

As for the couple of Ensigns. They too looked junior. Like just opened-up-your-eyes for the first time young. Like this:

An Ensign or Siku the polar bear, from Skandinavisk Dyrepark in Djursland, Denmark?