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. . .

Tip of the Spear

Out in 5th Fleet, the Middle East, we used to remind ourselves that we were at the tip of the spear. So much so, that one of our 1st Class Petty Officers used to get real annoyed hearing it. Big mistake. Never vocalize what bugs you. Not in the Navy. We would drop the line, Tip of the Spear, on her at will. (Me less so than her fellow Petty Officers. But I uttered it once or twice.)

Here is one guy who should not us the term. Too close to home. . .

An X-ray shows a spear that pierced through the head of 16-year-old Yasser Lopez, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. Lopez was spear fishing with a friend when he was accidentally shot in the head. The spear entered just above his right eye, and penetrated through his brain to the back of his skull. Miraculously, no vital brain structures were damaged.

The Navy, a Penguin, and Dolphins

You have seen a Navy combo cover, right? Here is one, an officer’s:

Naval Officer’s Cover

Notice that little gold band thing-ee? I have heard it called a chin strap. (Chin-strap or chinstrap?) Here it is alone:

By the Hairs of your chinny chin chinstrap

And supposedly, the chinstrap can be lowered and worn under the chin. I could be totally wrong with this, but I have seen pictures of it being done. (Or maybe it is against regs?) Here is an Army cover with a worn chinstrap:

SGT Silent, US Army

The above Soldier looks awfully familiar. Although, I can’t place his name.
So what’s up with the chinstrap? Simple:

In a sea of black and white penguins waddling on Antarctica’s Aitcho Islands, National Geographic Explorers spotted an extremely rare, nearly all-white Chinstrap penguin this week.

Rare White Albino Chinstrap Penguin, Antarctica

Neat huh? He, too, looks like an Army Soldier I once knew.
But that is not the only story with the faintest whiff of Navy to it.
Apparently our Fifth Fleet bubbas are using dolphins to police the old Hormuz:

If Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. Navy has a backup plan to save one-fifth of the world’s daily oil trade: send in the dolphins.

US Navy Petty Officers training dolphins for the Strait of Hormuz

Word amongst those in the know is that the dolphins ask for “three hots and a cod.”
Be careful when talking about Navy Dolphins, because the Enlisted Submarine Warfare pin is also referred to as Dolphins:

US Navy Enlisted Submarine Warfare Pin

Two uniform pieces, two animal stories.
Where else are you going to get such cutting-edge reporting?

Three Petty Officers of the United States Navy

October in Georgia and the leaves know it and turn yellow. They pile in bored rows along the curb waiting for the wind, the streetsweeper, anyone. I crunch through a pile down the path to work. It is my last day as an enlisted Sailor. I am a Petty Officer Second Class and I’m shorn like a lamb. Officer Candidate School will surely bring yelling and I don’t want my hair to be the cause.

Three people must sign my check-out sheet before I can load up my car. One Soldier, a Chief, and then my Leading Petty Officer, my LPO.

I sit down next to the Soldier. He is 24 and can’t find any part on his body with both hands. Or one hand. He has no leadership ability, but I don’t say anything and nod as he talks to me.

I give this speech to all the guys who head off to OCS after being enlisted.

I want to choke him out and just tell him to sign my sheet. But I don’t. He outranks me and I listen. One intention in getting my commission is to avoid being lead by clowns of his caliber.

I don’t remind him of the time he tried to call me back into work after I had gone home. But he had dialed the wrong person with my same last name. He settled on writing me up for an Article 92 violation. Failure to follow a direct order. I refused to sign it, telling him I wanted to speak to my Chief. He backed down.

He is wet behind the ears and his failure is that he does not know he is green. Nor that I ran an extra twenty miles a week to work off his crap.

Finally, he initials my check-out sheet and I plod up the stairs to my Chief. She is new to her rank. And she too wants to give me a speech. Hers I will listen sincerely to, without clenching my jaw.

Remember where you came from, Petty Officer NavyOne, she said.

You bet, Chief.

She passes me my Evaluation (known as an Eval.) My scores are the highest they have ever been. Apparently, getting selected for OCS is good for my career.

And don’t forget who runs the Navy, Petty Officer.

I nod. I know, Chief. Chiefs run the Navy.

You will do great at OCS. She stands, shakes my hand and I leave. Into another room, I duck. My LPO has a big mug of coffee in his hand.

You talk to Chief yet?

Yes, CTR1. (CTR is his job in the signals field. The 1 is for Petty Officer First Class.)

Don’t forget who runs this here place.

Yeah, Chief already ran me through it. Chiefs run the Navy.

He snorts into his coffee and stares at me incredulously. Hell no. Chiefs don’t run the Navy. The First Classes run the Navy. Chiefs sit on their asses and eat donuts.

I laugh, he signs my sheet, and I am off. Through the door, away from work, outside, over the leaves, to the barracks. Maybe I sleep before hitting the road to Pensacola. Maybe not. But OCS comes and goes. I am stronger and smarter and then I roll through three ranks, Ensign, JG, and then Lieutenant. And suddenly, I have a whole handful of First Classes working for me.

Two in particular shine. One is rough around the edges. A pirate. Lives on coffee and cigarettes. He has been through one of the rougher deployments in the last 15 years of our Navy’s history. I can’t say much else on that.

But behind his lack of polish, is a professional. He spends his off-time, when we are not flying, studying his target, learning old gear again. For months, he is stand-offish with me. He is also friends with my old LPO. One day we are airborne and he laughs his smoker’s rasp.

You know what sir, I think we are going to get along.

I too laugh. And he is no longer stand-offish.

The other First Class is the opposite. He is polished. Confident. Lazy. He strolls into a video-teleconference (VTC) twenty minutes late one morning. And we are almost ready to go on camera, back with our home unit. I am usually even, calm. Most times. But that day, I growl at him. The Chiefs around me smile. He apologizes and it is over before it even began.

Another night, we are waiting in our crew van for our meal box before we fly a night mission. It is just him and me. And he raises the topic of his recent Eval. It is good, high even. He wonders how to get higher.

Petty Officer, you are lazy and feel entitled. You have the talents to be the top guy here easily. But everything is always about you, I tell him

He agrees with me. Sir, I am just surprised I am ranked so high. Really tells you about these other guys, huh? 

Maybe. I switch the conversation.

I leave that theater and go to my new command. During the next Chief’s cycle, both the Petty Officers make Chief.

Who would you rather have working for you, the cigarette-eating Chief with jagged edges or the entitled, talented glory hound? The latter could be one of the top Chiefs at any command he goes to. And the former will have his bosses wondering what hole he crawled out of until they see him work. And then they will search for the same hole to get more of him.

Presentation versus competence. It is slippery slope. When deployed, we truly need the competent, rough one.

But at a shore station, guys like that have to brief seniors and be more staff-like. The other Chief might shine there. Still, I can’t stand entitlement, so maybe I want our coffee-veined Chief, the Sailor’s Sailor, at my shore station too.