Category Archives: Thinking Military

A category for my thoughts on Navy life, and the military in general. If you are in my chain of command, perhaps you should skip this section.

Don’t Thank a Veteran

(This was originally published on my Facebook page as a “note” on November 9, 2012. I hope that all who read this will share it as far and wide as possible. Not for my glory or my readership numbers, but to help people understand what Veteran’s Day is like for active-duty military members. I left active duty in Nov 2015, but this message still represents my thoughts about Veteran’s Day.)

It happens to a lot of us in uniform. We are pumping gas or grabbing a household necessity in the grocery store. We happen to be in uniform because we are headed to or from work. It usually comes from nowhere and, at least for me, it usually takes a moment to realize the comment is aimed at me.

“Thank you for your service.”

What do I say to that? How should I respond? I never know the answer to this, thus I am usually uncomfortable for a moment and simply say “Thank you” in return. Sometimes that answer seems to welcome further probing like “what ship are you on?” or “where are you stationed?”

I try to be polite to any stranger who approaches me in public regardless of the topic at hand. This situation, though, perplexes me. I am not comfortable responding to “thank you” and “I appreciate your service” or any other acknowledgement of my military service in a public setting.

I do consider my brothers and sisters in arms to be heroes. I just don’t think of myself that way. I wouldn’t dare speak for them, but I am pretty sure they feel the same way. Most of us just see ourselves as regular people doing a job for extraordinary organizations. Nothing we do individually means anything in most cases. We work as a team.

If anyone needs a sincere “Thank you”, it is our families. It is our spouses and children and parents who stay behind and carry the weight of our household responsibilities without our help. They often take on multiple roles and learn new skills just to survive while we are away doing the nation’s business. They take on the burden of the pain and suffering when their hero is lost to the nation’s cause. They are the ones who are forced by circumstances out of their control to wonder all day every day if today will be the day they get the bad news. They are the ones who watch the nightly news with keen interest and hope that some recipe for world peace will be discovered, only to find out that it becomes more out of reach every day.

If anyone has earned a special “day” on the calendar, if anyone has earned a free meal at three dozen national chain restaurants, it is the family members of military personnel. Their sacrifice and dedication deserves all of the obligatory mentions I keep hearing tossed about on television commercials and news shows as Veteran’s Day approaches. I hear endless talking heads reminding me to “make sure I stop a military veteran and thank them for their service”.

Don’t thank me. Show me you appreciate my service by showing me you are dedicated to making America the greatest country on Earth with the way you conduct yourself and the way you help your neighbor. Show me my sacrifice is worth it by becoming an educated voter who knows and understands the issues and by not being someone who just watches an hour of network news every night to see how to vote. Reward my time away from my family by making sure they have a safe and comfortable community to live in. Do not steal their treasure by being a strain on government resources through negligence, laziness or disregard for the difference between right and wrong.

So to all of the people out there who think you need to take a moment to thank me for taking up arms in defense of your liberty, there is someone else who makes it possible for me to do what I do. There is someone else who needs your benevolence and your dedication to keeping America great. This Veteran’s Day, I will be off work. I will be taking time to think about those who came before me and acted as heroes so that when my time to serve came, it might be easier for me than it was for them. It is my job to carry on their tradition and continue their progress. It is my job. I am owed no gratitude for that. In doing that job, I am placing extraordinary strain on my family back home. I am taking something from them that cannot be replaced by a TV commentator calling me a hero. This Veteran’s Day, do not thank me.

If you want to thank someone, thank my wife and my son.

He's gonna know Daddy as a character on a screen.
He’s gonna know Daddy as a character on a screen.
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Casting Call for the Thinking Man

As I was walking down the hallway toward the sound stage today, I was trying to figure out exactly what I would say to the person running the show. I had never met her, nor had I arranged my own audition. A coworker scheduled me an audition while I was 700 miles away, which may be why my name was even penciled in.

I got to the end of the hall and I could hear the 10:15 audition reading his lines.

“The olive trees here are more than 500 years old. The people here use a unique form of transportation: a donkey,” he said into a microphone, loud enough for me to hear outside his soundproof room. “Where is Gerome? He is in Greece.”

Greece? Gerome? Why was I voluntold, that’s a real word in the Navy, to audition for a role as the guide voice for Gerome the Gnome? (for those who don’t know who Gerome is, Google it. )

The 10:15 walked out of the sound booth and an adjacent door opened to reveal a friendly face looking at me.

“Can I help you Sir?”

“Yeah, I was told to come here at 10:30 to audition for some voice thing,” I said with a hint of a Southern accent. By hint I mean I probably said “yep”, “I’ze”, “com’ere” and “thang.”

“What? I mean, why,” she asked candidly.

I felt a sudden need to let her off the hook.

“I voiced a story for All Hands Magazine a couple o’ months back and one of the fellas here liked it and thought y’all could use a country voice for something,” I said with as much humility as I could muster.

“Well, I have no idea why we would want that, but your name is on the list, here is the copy, step inside the studio let’s see what you can do,” she said with the confidence of a mother handing her four year old a Rubik’s cube and a Sudoku puzzle book.

Three short takes later, I got a curt “Thank you” and that was it. It was too bad, because I was just getting into my rhythm. I was about two takes away from saying “Greece” in one syllable.

As I was walking out of the sound booth, she was walking out of the adjacent control room and the open door revealed a new face inside. A  man smiled warmly at me and thanked me for auditioning.

“She tells me you’ve only ever voiced one package,” he said as he laughed.

Somehow I don’t think he was laughing because he was shocked at the revelation.

“You know, we might have something that could use that country accent coming up in the future,” he said. “I don’t have the specifics right now, but I’ll get in touch with you when I know more.”

I wondered how many different ways he had of telling people “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

I thanked them both and started to turn down the hallway to leave. I stopped and turned back toward them.

“You know, I do a pretty good Hank Hill if you ever need one,” I told them, being as serious as I could. “Peggy, whut the??? Bobby, thar better be a cheerleader under your bed! Gall-dangit!!! I sell propane and propane accessories.”

This time, when I started to leave, he asked for my contact information.

I guess the moral of this story is simple:   When the crowd starts to turn on you, just play ‘em a little Hank.

(for those interested in the piece I did for All Hands Magazine, you can find it HERE )

 

Thinking About Memorial Day

This post originally posted on my facebook page on Memorial Day 2013. It has been modified slightly from the original version. I left active duty in November of 2015, although I have not edited the tone of this post to reflect my change from Sailor to veteran. 

As we close in on another day of remembrance, Americans should take a moment to think about Memorial Day, and what it means, before posting a stock image of a casket or a flag and proclaiming to be thankful. I hope they will consider making great use of the blood paid for their freedom. That is the best way to honor our war dead. Here are my two cents.

Since 1776, every generation of Americans has one thing in common- close relatives killed in war. Every generation has been able to claim a kinship to a grandfather, father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter killed in war in the last 240 years.

That gives us Memorial Day. A day to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the American way of life. Yet, with each generation, the American way of life seems to mean something different. There seems to be some diminishing of the ideals that were once worth dying for and an increasing indifference to those who are still willing to die.

Indeed there might even be a reduction in the amount of young men and women who join the military with the idea that they are making a commitment to die for American way of life. At times, it seems that some of my brothers and sisters in arms are surprised when faced with danger.

That was not always the case. During World War II, young men would lie about their age and run away from home for the chance to fight for America. Perhaps that is why they are known as the “Greatest Generation”. Nowadays, young men and women are enticed into military service with the idea of a free education after their enlistment. Their pay and benefits become the subject of political debate and they are often used as pawns in a political game. Seventy years ago, men on their way to the slaughter did not have such concerns.

The change in politics and the passage of time does not diminish the sacrifice, however, of those 6000+ young men and women who have died in the last 15 years of war. The dead from Vietnam are no less sacred although many of them were pressed into service.

There is a moment in which every member of the military realizes that they are bound to sacrifice, and they overcome the politics and personal concerns afforded the rest of Americans.

That moment may come on the battlefield or at a training evolution in the safety of the US. It may come when waving goodbye to a loved one at the airport or while reading a letter from home while sailing in foreign waters. However it comes, it does come. We all realize that we must sacrifice even if we didn’t get involved with a sense of sacrifice.

Does that mean that we are ready to die in defense of our country? I like to think it does for me. Regardless of the way our Constitution is torn apart by politics and greed. Regardless of how our national monuments are prostituted out on-camera in speeches that no longer even have the pretense of American pride. Regardless of the way we are asked each day to give more liberty for questionable security. I like to think the ideals that founded our nation are still worth dying for.

I cannot speak for my brothers and sisters in arms. They will have their moment to discover whether they are ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.

There was a time when a tin cup of crayons gave me solace. When a soft blanket made me feel safe enough to sleep. When naptime at school was my biggest nemesis. Memorial Day is about celebrating the men and women who gave me that reality. My job is to make sure that reality is available to future generations.

Memorial Day is your chance to honor their sacrifice. Is it best to do it by posting a photo of grave stones on a social networking site? Is it best to do it by thanking a current or former service member? In my opinion, your best tribute can come from taking a moment to read our Constitution. To embrace its ideals and to cherish the opportunity it promises to each individual citizen. America must be more than a collection of war dead. It must also be a group of people who are willing to uphold the ideals that made this the greatest country in the world.

Please share your thoughts in the comments, and share this post on social media if you think Memorial Day should be about more than hanging flags on light poles downtown.

Welcome Home and Farewell Once Again

0514myship_1440Im going to let this post be a short one, and it is going to send you to an external link, but it’s a safe one:

All Hands Magazine, the official magazine of the US Navy. This is my most recent contribution to the magazine. It details my experience of going to see my ship pull in from deployment.

http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/ftrStory.asp?issue=3&id=80848

If you don’t wanna check out the story, the video is below.

When My Ship Comes In

The Eight-Dollar Blog

The world looks pretty cool from 30,000 feet. Even in coach seating.

Cool enough, at least, to spend eight dollars for an Internet connection so I can tell you about it.

My initial observation is – West Virginia looks bumpy. Aaannd snowy. Remind me not to move there.

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I have realized I have been lying all these years. I’m not really from the mountains (plural) of North Alabama. I’m actually from the mountain (singular) of North Alabama. If, indeed, you consider 1500 feet a mountain. In West Virginia, that’s called a valley.

The cramped, yet comfy, seat on my cute blue, red and orange Southwest jet reminds me of when I once tried to sit in a first-grade desk when I was in high school. Jeeeest a touch on the tight side.

Phase two of the epic journey is going well, but my elbows are feeling the walls close in. In a little more than five hours, those elbows should flexing in the sunny confines of San Diego.

Eight dollars…. A shot bottle of Wild Turkey is only five, according to the menu.. I am not sure what to think of an airline that places more value on an Internet connection than on a shot of Kentucky spring water.

It’s the first of four flights in the next few days, two of which are scheduled to land on a ship at sea.

I’ll buy that for eight bucks… Anytime.

Final Epic Journey – Again – Probably

1092.

That is, give or take a few hours, the number of days I was assigned to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). For my less salty readers, Truman just happens to be the finest military ship in the world, and has won the prestigious Battle E award so many times, they are out of places to paint it on the ship.

She is also 1092 feet long. Coincidence? Hardly. Destiny? Probably.

Her hull number is 75. Just guess what year I was born. Truman himself became president in April. Take a guess what month I was born.

What happens when you subtract 75 from 1092? You get 1017. Guess how many days are left in the year on October 17th (10-17). Thats right… 75.

Creepy yet? Hang on. Truman was the 33rd President of these United States. On October 17th, 1933 (10-17-33) astronaut William Anders was born. He, along with Captain Jim Lovell and another astronaut were the first three Americans to orbit the moon. Guess who I am having breakfast with in the photo below in the month of OCTOBER??? (Actually October 12th, 2010, aboard Truman).

Having breakfast with Apollo 13 Commander Captain Jim Lovell. Photo By US Navy MC2(SW) David Giorda
Having breakfast with Apollo 13 Commander Captain Jim Lovell. Photo By US Navy MC2(SW) David Giorda

The assignment had to be fate. The ride, it was epic. At times. For short periods of time. With lots of time in between the epic… And I loved every minute of it.

In early spring of 2013, I went underway on her for my final 11 epic days. I earned my Aviation Warfare Specialist qualification during those 11 days (the normal process is several months). I also cried the first and only tears I would ever cry over the thought of leaving that ship and never stepping foot aboard anything that floated again.

The tears were short lived. They may have even been the result of the onions being prepared on the mess decks that day.

I swore off watercraft and water-related sports for good. I even ruled out visiting places near coastlines. I considered never getting in another bathtub.

Three months later, I was working the system at my shore duty trying to get a chance to get back on board a ship for just one day.

Experimental Unmanned Aerial Vehicle being tested on board Truman sometime in fall 2012.
Experimental Unmanned Aerial Vehicle being tested on board Truman sometime in fall 2012.

Well, it has taken me a solid year, but if things work out, my next seven days will include more than 700 miles of driving, more than 5000 miles of flying (five different flights), 24-36 hours on an aircraft carrier, and the bonus of landing on and flying off of the ship while it is at sea.

Epic. Probably.

All sorts of things can go wrong, the most likely of which is cancellation of the visit due to the ship getting busy and not having time to participate in the mission I am going there for. I saw it dozens of times on Truman. Visitors planned, visitors cancelled.

I will not be writing on the blog for the whole week. Probably.

But when I get back from this epic journey, I will have tales of airports in three states, military plane rides landing on boats, jet fuel in my skin, salt water on my boots, sea stories galore, adventure, excitement, fun, great beer on a coastline I have never visited, in a place I swore I would never go.

When I get back, I am going to have an EPIC story to tell. Probably.

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Touchdown! Shot on a lazy Sunday at sea on Truman Oct 14, 2012. Shot from Vulture’s Row.

 Photos by the author (except photo of myself with Captain Lovell), shot with Nikon D-7000, D-700 and D-800 with Nikon 24-70 fixed 2.8 aperture lens. 

Fresh Breath, Nervous Boots

Certain combinations in my life don’t work out well for me.

Lack of sleep and skipping coffee are two of those things. I once went more than four years without a drop of caffeine. How I survived that, quite frankly, is a mystery, one which I do not intend to solve with future testing.

But, on this, the first morning of Spring, I was sprung from my slumbers by an alarm clock that remembered I had a dental appointment. I sure was glad, or maybe I wasn’t, that it remembered.

I had stayed up later than planned, and was getting up an hour earlier than normal, so it was a little like starting 40 feet behind the other runners in a 100 yard dash.

No problem, Ill just have coffee, two cups this time instead of one.

That would have worked, but I am extremely self-conscious about my breath when I go to the dentist (my wife will roll her eyes because I will sometimes skip brushing on Sunday just because I can, and I know it bugs her). I decided that coffee would be a bad idea, and besides, it could get me into trouble.

You see, I love Bailey’s Irish Cream in my coffee. On work mornings, that’s a bad idea, and milk is a better choice. But with all the alcohol-based mouthwash I would need to hide the coffee, the dentist might very well think I had an Irish coffee before going to work. (Oddly it occurred to me that if you want to have a coffee that tastes like it has booze in it, just use heavy mouthwash before you drink it.)

I was so sleepy, and so pre-occupied with making sure I had fresh breath for the doc that I failed to realize I was applying deodorant to my toothbrush.

After recovering from that debacle, I decided that I had better floss my teeth because every time I go to the dentist I get scolded. New problem – the only dental floss we had was hanging out with my coat and windshield scraper in Alabama (Read ‘Legend of the Pink Pantser’ for background).

This is a good time to point out that those little toothpick things you can buy with floss on one end, well, the floss is a good bit thicker than regular floss, and they WILL get stuck between your teeth. I should also point out that putting on a Navy-issue tee-shirt with a plastic toothpick protruding from your face is difficult.

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When I finally made it out of the house, sans the new appendage on my face, I almost crashed the car backing out of my space, I missed a turn on the way to work, I handed the gate guard a credit card instead of my military ID card, and I found an outstanding parking space at the Army hospital on base. Not a single one of those things is likely on any normal day.

I was nervous. I hate mouth pain. Someday, I’ll blog about my experience getting braces, but for now, just know I have flashbacks. I would rather be tied to the train tracks than put in the dentist’s chair. Just the look of that tray of torture devices is enough to freak me completely out. (The random gallon jug by the window did not help matters a bit.)

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By the time I was finally face-to-fingers with the doc, my boots were banging together and I had nearly ripped the arm rest clean off the chair.

Then comes the biggest surprise of the day. I had been thinking the biggest surprise was seeing 39 people in line at the dental clinic at 7:15a.m. and not a single one of them was Army (at an Army clinic you have to say to yourself, “What do THEY know that I don’t know?”)

But the real surprise: Nothing hurt. Not the X-rays, not the poking, not even the lame discussion he tried to have with me.

“So, what duty station you coming from Sailor?”

“Der ewe eh eh hay ehs tunan,” I replied.

“Oh, the Truman huh, she’s out of Norfolk, right?”

“U uh.”

“How long you been in the Navy?”

“Goon ah guy herss,” I wondered if he was actually going to keep this up. He wasn’t hurting my face, but I wasn’t feeling the small talk.

“Five years huh, what do you do here?”

By the time the twenty questions were over, I was expecting anything but what he said next.

“Well, it’s pretty boring in there, so you are good to go. I was in the Navy too, and for a Sailor, you take good care of your teeth. Floss a little bit more. Have a fine Navy day.”

Navy day??? This is an Army clinic. Well, at least that explained his outstanding, pain-free performance.

As my still-nervous boots took me out front to get an appointment for a future cleaning (something tells me that one is going to hurt), I am not sure, but I think I heard the doc say to the dental tech:

“Was it just me, or did that Sailor’s breath smell like Speed Stick?”

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