Dawn (alphasunrise) wrote,

An answer to a question.

On one of the communities that I monitor, someone asked if anyone else ever thought about the downside of being military and if it was worth it. I started with a short answer that quickly grew, and I thought I'd put it here, too.

When I joined, the biggest threat was the Soviet Union. Being part of Reagan's 600 ship Navy seemed like a good way to keep them from being more of one.

At the time, though, women didn't serve in combat roles. We served on shore, on tenders and oilers, ammo ships and salvage ships. That didn't stop me from putting FF/DD/CG on every "dream sheet" that I ever filled out--at least until I figured out that frigates were too small and that the DDG51 class was my favorite. I always figured they'd know I was ready if they ever changed their mind about women on combat ships. I knew it wouldn't be easy if they ever did, but I was used to letting my performance show my true colors and was confident that I could handle any harassment problems should they arise. (I wasn't, but that's another story looooong in the past.)

Then, in 1991, everything changed. The country really did go to war, and tenders turned up in Bahrain and UAE. I must not have had any regrets at that point, because I re-enlisted on USS Samuel Gompers (AD 37) when it was in Bahrain. She was an old cow, a wallowing excuse for a ship that was older than I. The A/C plants were shot, and the water tasted worse than a swimming pool. We later found out the contaminants were coming from the CHT tank next to the potable water tank. Taking a shower in the Gulf meant turning on only the cold tap, and the water was still too warm. And the only weapons it had as it steamed around alone (when it wasn't floating DIW) were a few .50 cal mounts. Sometimes I thought about what a lovely fat target we made. But I thought it was worth it.

The next time I had the chance to walk away, I was busy trying to put a new DDG into commission. If ever there was a ship designed to go into harm's way, this was it. I knew we'd have a fair shot at pulling duty enforcing the UN sanctions; I knew I'd spend long months away from my little daughter and husband. I knew that people died when ships hit mines. I knew that I had a steep learning curve ahead of me to make that possibility less for me and for the rest of the crew. But I thought it was worth it again, for more reasons than my abrupt "Kid's gotta eat" reply when people asked how I could leave my girl. And yes, I took anthrax shots, because to me, even a small chance that it would be effective was better than the certainty of death if I ever got exposed.

Third chance to walk away came at the end of a deployment...one of those post-9/11 deployments that got hurried up, the ones that you didn't find out when you were going home until it was almost time to go. I lifted my hand on the mess decks, in seas so heavy that most everyone not on watch was in their racks, and promised another six years. I knew I'd go to sea again when my shore tour finished, and I thought it was worth it.

And now, orders in hand and the calendar pages flying off the wall before I go to sea again, I can honestly say that I expect, when the three years are done, that I'll still say it was worth it. Every midnight walk home on frozen Bath, Maine streets, every drop of sweat shed in the 100+ degree berthing on the tender in the Gulf, every back-to-back watch because the boarding teams got called away, and every lonely moment in far-away Guam and the middle of nowhere...it was all worth it.

Because in trade, I've met and worked with some of the finest people on the planet. I've seen paradises, and I've seen places that made me so thankful to live where I take running water and, for the most part, security for granted (Try visiting Chinhae sometime, and realizing what those sandbags in the public park are really for.) I'm not working retail or fast-food like other people who never escaped from my small hometown, and I've nearly finished my bachelor's degree--with a large part of it free. And I know that my family is proud of what I do, and that when I am done, we'll still have relatively decent medical coverage and a guaranteed income that ought to cover the mortgage.

For me, it was worthwhile. For you, only you can decide.

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