Posted by: LadyRed | November 27, 2012

Father Jake’s Humidor

Father Jake Laboon, our namesake, was a Jesuit. As such he gave his Navy paycheck to the Church on the first and the fifteenth save for a small portion – enough to keep up his uniform and pay his rent… though he always managed to find a few pennies for Scotch and cigars (truly a man after my own heart).

It seemed only fitting to the Wardroom that we pitch in and purchase a rather handsome humidor and stock it full for all in the Mess to enjoy. In Father Jake’s honor, of course! Never mind that a solid portion of us have our own humidors, also stocked full.

Most sailors smoke cigarettes as a way to relieve stress and/or take a quick break throughout the day. For those of us who smoke cigars it’s a little different. It’s 45 minutes to an hour in the evening where the only thing we can do, effectively, is stand around in a circle, listen to jazz, and enjoy one another’s company. Some nights we look at the stars, some nights we smoke and joke, other nights we are more quiet… but the circle of cigars is one of the only places on board where rank is no matter (though it is mostly officers and senior enlisted) and where I can truly relax.

Sundays at sunset we set up speakers on the flight deck, throw on some jazz and gather ‘round – it’s usually a pretty sizable crowd. Throughout the week small groups of us will get together and burn one. Most of the time we swap cigars and sea stories and it’s not uncommon to smoke a different cigar than the one I walked outside with.

In port, my buds and I will bring a cribbage board and go find a nice spot to sit, play cards, and smoke cigars for a couple hours. One of my favorite nights was in Souda Bay, Crete. We grabbed some dinner and cold craft brews and sat around a picnic table with our cards and cigars for hours. If ever I need to go to a “happy place” in my mind, I’ll probably think back to that night in Greece.

Posted by: LadyRed | November 27, 2012

This ship is bananas… B-A-N-A-N-A-S

There is always something interesting to eat right after a port visit. We take on stores full of local ingredients and the CSs cook their hearts out. It isn’t Mom’s cooking or even mine for that matter, but it’s good. The length of an underway period and the quality of the food seems to be inversely related.

This most recent underway is creeping up on its fourth week. Yup, that’s right – a month without so much as spotting light from land (which we can see much further out than land itself on a clear night) and what is there for lunch? Salad with a slug in it. I am honestly surprised the damn thing actually lived long enough to make it in to the salad… The lettuce is always a little brown and each day becomes more wilted than the day before.

Rice is a staple, unfortunately. We have it with every meal – to include breakfast. Leftover rice that isn’t eaten during mid-rats (midnight rations) is doctored into breakfast rice and served the next morning. Many have taken to protesting. I managed a strike for several weeks before I broke down and had rice on Taco Tuesday. As I scooped the rice into my burrito I looked up and saw several officers at the table glaring at me as if I had crossed a picket line. How dare I eat the rice!

Still, our food is better than the Germans’ – bread for breakfast, a hot meal for lunch (that by all accounts is never very good), and bread and cheese for a light dinner. At least the American Navy isn’t *that* traditional with its fare. I’ll take the slugs, thank you.

One sailor stereotype that does hold, however, is fruit. After a port visit or RAS the Wardroom table is adorned with silver bowls of colorful, fresh fruit. But it goes quickly. There is canned fruit to tide us over between an on-load of stores but nothing beats real fruit. The flies are worth it (think about it – there are no bugs onboard at all except when fruit has been onboard for a couple days and miserable little flies pester everyone until they die off or are swatted away).

I lose my mind every time I see bananas. I gave up on citrus fruits a while back (although I did see a couple limes last month and believe you me, I squeezed a whole damn lime onto my lunch and it made my whole day better), but when we run out of bananas I get sad. I miss bananas terribly. The little yellow smiles are always a sign of good days – if we have bananas we were either just in port (so we relaxed and are happy to work) or just RAS’ed (so we just got mail and are happy to work). If we have bananas I can eat them for breakfast. If we have bananas I can put peanut butter on them and snack on the go around the ship.

I was going to make a banana bread with whatever bananas went bad but I have yet to find even the four bananas I would need for a small loaf. They never have a chance to go bad.

Posted by: LadyRed | November 27, 2012

Mail Call

We Americans take our mail very seriously if you think about it. The postal service was one of the first federal systems we created (and have kept – for better or worse from a business perspective but I won’t get into that here…). We have come a long way since the Pony Express to pallets of letters and boxes sliding across span-wires between warships out to sea but the importance of mail has not dwindled. Not one bit.

The ability to communicate with loved ones back home is so hugely important – to let y’all know we are ok! And more importantly for us, to hear from you… Living in this little steel world, conversation becomes stagnant. The news becomes unimportant. New information about family and friends, about the things that really matter to us, about the packages we are sent – these are the things we talk about, care about, and enjoy. It is refreshing and motivating to have something new to say and so conversation starts up again and time speeds back up along with it.

Days before mail is coming the buzz begins. “Does anyone know if we’ll get mail on the next RAS?” “How many pallets?” “Are we sending mail off?” “When is mail call?” We are lucky this deployment to have been getting mail rather frequently. And most of us are lucky to be receiving mail each time it is delivered.

For those sailors who don’t have a package or letter to open, it’s hard. I can see it in their faces and was rather surprised to find myself with a long face once. I have a wonderful supportive network of friends and family to whom I talk often via email or the rare phone conversation, yet still I felt lonely when there was no letter or box with my name on it. The presence of mail itself is often more important than what is actually inside of the package. It seems irrational when I see the words in black and white in front of me, but this ship is grey and sometimes what really matters gets lost in the haze.

Toward the beginning of deployment we took on several pallets of mail from a group called Operation Gratitude. Every sailor onboard received a box brimming with snacks, candy, various travel sized sundries, a CD, and a letter. It was probably one of the coolest things ever. THANK YOU! Though the box was generic and the letter was addressed to “Dear Soldier,” I still felt the love. My little drawing and letter are pinned up on the bulkhead in my rack with pictures of my family and friends – I just wish the letter had a return address because I would love to send a Thank You note. The fact that a group spent such a large amount of their time to collect and package so many individual “parcels of motivation” really hit home. It felt like a giant hug from the American public and everyone was smiling around the ship trading cards and swapping goodies. I think I ate several boxes of Girl Scout Cookies all by myself which was a trip and a half after having spent so many years sending boxes of cookies to troops overseas when I was a scout – talk about full circle. If only I knew then the impact those cookies had I might have sent more…

One of my sailors has been on several deployments and his family is “pro” at packages. They sent a large box full of crackers, cookies, chewing gum, etc. It also had a stack of letters inside. As soon as he opened the box he shoved a letter under my nose. It was addressed to “The Person On Your Left” which happened to be me at the time. Inside was a letter for me – “Dear Sailor”. Though I have never met his family I could feel that it was genuine as I read on. Aside from being just downright adorable, it was motivating. Between the Operation Gratitude boxes and letters like that one I am reminded that though our days are repetitive out here and life still goes on back home, we aren’t left out of sight or out of mind. That simple fact makes the long days easier to wake up for.

About a month into deployment we went a couple RASs without taking on mail. It felt like a mutiny was brewing! Sailors were disgruntled, snappy with one another, and hard to motivate. When mail finally did arrive, trying to keep them on station to finish clearing the decks was like asking a river to flow uphill. The mail hadn’t even been sorted yet!

And still I am thankful for the speed at which mail does travel. It takes time, sure, but my Grandfather’s Navy did not have email or satellite phones. He had “snail mail” and slower oilers and airplanes to lug the mail from CONUS to him and back.

In a recent exchange with the Germans, their officers were beside themselves with the fact that we have near constant email access. The fact that we RAS and receive mail was almost as foreign as Taco Tuesday (we had fun teaching them how to fold a burrito and, of course, introducing them to the glory of Chalula). They get mail when they hit a port. They get email only occasionally throughout a week’s time but often have to wait until they are in port anyway.

So while a minimum of ten days from home to here seems like forever to me, the fact that ten days is my equivalent of “overnight shipping” and not once a month if/when I am in port is an overlooked wonder of the American “can-do” attitude and the high value we place on good old fashioned hard work. Because, after all, the mail must go through!

Posted by: LadyRed | November 27, 2012

Turkey Day

Thanksgiving at sea was bittersweet. I wanted nothing more than to be at home surrounded by my family and all the colors of autumn – it hurt just to think about it. Instead I was surrounded by the same 280-some-odd sailors and the same desert of blue ocean I have been staring at for over four months now. For the first time on deployment I was homesick and did not want to be here, if only for a few moments here and there throughout the day. Yet still it was one of the best Thanksgiving’s I have ever had?

I missed my family, sure, but I had my crew. I missed sitting by the fireplace and watching football, but, well I will get to the rest of that story in a minute… I missed our traditional meal and table full of whomever decided to walk through the door that day (some things should never be changed – such as our annual Thanksgiving menu and table full of extensive mishpucha) but the CSs (culinary specialists) really outdid themselves and it was much closer to home than last year’s debacle preparing traditional American fare on an old Soviet era stove for 90 people in Russia.

The CSs are the heroes of this story. They woke up hours early to start preparing and worked through dinner. They made everything from scratch, too. There was turkey and ham, candied yams, home made bread, cranberries, shrimp cocktail, green bean casserole (my personal favorite), mac’n’cheese, stuffing, and pie (apple, cherry, pecan, and pumpkin)! They even carved apples into turkeys for decoration! Not a single soul left the mess decks without groaning in pain from how much food they had eaten. This is how Thanksgiving should be – a harvest holiday in which the entire harvest ends up in our bellies all at once, and then we eat pie.

As for the Wardroom – If you have ever seen “Master and Commander” (the scene where the officers eat an edible recreation of the French vessel they are chasing) then you know what the atmosphere was like for us upstairs. It was old school, traditional Navy and it was a blast! The room was dimly lit and the table was set with the good china (gold trim with our crest in the center) and covered in polished silver platters full, apple-turkeys, and the CSs “decorated” by setting out servings of pie all over the dimly lit room (the pie thing was actually pretty cute).

We split into two sittings (there are twice as many officers as there are seats at the table). Normally we drift in and out at our leisure during meal hours but for this everyone stood behind their chair until all were present, sat together, and enjoyed one another’s company for the whole meal time, as a family. We went around the room mentioning things we were thankful for and let the conversation wander from there.

But what happens when you get a bunch of SWOs (surface warfare officers) around a table? Well, we begin calculating the best ordered course for satellite coverage of the football games! We must have spent a good ten minutes discussing our radar cutouts, the weather pattern, satellite locations, etc. before we settled on a 125* True (in other words, Football Corpen). And how do you keep from leaving our operating area before the end of three football games? Haul 12kts on the reciprocal course at halftime to reset, come about, and slow back down to 3kts for the duration of the game. Repeat three times. Excellent football coverage for the crew! And when I assumed the watch after waking up from a turkey-induced nap that is exactly what I did.

I felt bad for those who had watch immediately following dinner (the two seatings allowed for all officers on watch during the first meal to sit for the second, and those going on watch after to partake as well – perfect!)… I was lucky enough to get a nap in before I had to conn (drive). That first watch must have been rough.

I got off of watch at midnight and found a piece of pecan pie hiding in a corner. I grabbed it and a hot cup of coffee and headed down to my office to find it empty (this is a very rare occasion). As I nibbled away at my pie I talked to my family and my Marine into the wee hours of the morning (well, I had to call back several times as the phone cut out…) until one of my T-birds wandered in to use the phone.

What am I most thankful for this year (because the full list would be a blog in and of itself)?

My family – without whom I would not have the strength to live this crazy life on which I have embarked. Thank you for loving me and supporting me at home and away over the past four years and especially these past four months. I miss you all terribly and think about you every day (Mishpucha included – y’all know who you are). I LOVE YOU!
I am thankful that we are employed, that we have our health, roofs over our heads, food on our table, and laughter and love between us. Some years have been harder than this year has been, so we really are lucky.

I am also thankful for that second slice of pecan pie, the fresh pot of coffee brewing in the Wardroom at the moment, the ship’s seemingly unlimited supply of peanut butter, the new insoles I just put in my boots, and the squishy mattress pad I put in my rack. Oh yea, and Football Corpen. GO BEARS!

Posted by: LadyRed | October 2, 2012

Chiefly Chief Comissions

Navy Chiefs are the backbone of this business.  They lead young sailors and not-so-young sailors, provide technical expertise within their rate, and train junior officers (such as yours truly).  A good Wardroom is important and all, but a ship without a solid Chief’s Mess is akin to running aground.

Coming into this business green as grass and with a self-admittedly limited amount of life experience I was probably most nervous to meet my chief.  I am here to learn the ship, mast to keel.  I was not nervous about the Wardroom as those were my peers; besides I already knew a few of the officers before reporting aboard.  My division?  Well, team building and project management is one of my job descriptions so, bring it on.  But the chief…

I have heard horror stories of chiefs – salty old guys with no regard for new policies or guidance, or worse, the “Just nod and say, ‘Yes’” type.  What would my chief be like?  Well it turns out my chief was awesome.  Not a “yeller” or an angry chief, but a calm, knowledgeable guy with the respect and love of his team and with a wealth of experience to offer me.  I lucked out! 

I was very proud and excited for to hear that he would be commissioning a couple months into deployment but so very nervous for him to leave me to sink or swim as a three month old ensign.  But what an amazing opportunity for not only my chief and his wonderful family, but for the sailors he will work with as his career progresses!  His commissioning ceremony was joyful and tearful and the division pulled together for some great photo-ops.  The whole crew was happy and sad all at once – a great officer was made that day but a great chief and shipmate was gone.  We all struggled over the next day with what to call him.  Chief?  Not anymore… Warrant?  Not the same as Chief… Mel?  Woah…*Ahem*   I know I just fumbled for a minute (and still do) and everyone knew who I was referring to.

The entire division came to the boat deck early the next morning to wish him fair winds and following seas.  And there went my chief.

What is the mark of a truly remarkable chief, you ask?  When he can walk away from the division and it runs smoothly.  Everyone continues to do good work, to train one another, to progress, and to pick up the slack.  The junior sailors step up to the plate and the more senior sailors mentor them as they learn how.  They continue to teach and support me as I do my best to ensure they have the tools they need to do what they do, day in and day out.  We have all learned from our chief and are better sailors because of his leadership.

I could go on and on with the mushiness but let’s be honest – I just hope I have the opportunity to work with the guy again in the future.    

To Chief Warrant:  Thank you so much for everything that cannot be put into words.




PS To top it off the commissioning gift I ordered came a RAS late, in true Navy fashion.  (RAS is replenishment-at-sea – when we take on fuel, stores, and sometimes personnel from an oiler.)  No sooner did he climb up the orange rope ladder onto the oiler, my mail came across to the ship on a high wire.  Great timing…  I’ll have to send it out the next time we pull alongside.

Posted by: LadyRed | September 17, 2012

L’Shana Tova!

Living in DC for four years, my friends became my family, my mishpucha.  Our little group (shout out to the “Front Row Jew Crew” by the way!) was together for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur every year.  We cooked together, prayed together, laughed together, and ate together.

Today is Rosh Hashana and I am missin’ my mishpucha.  There are two other Jews on this ship, and while it was nice to share some apples and honey with them as the sun set all around us, it is just not the same as walking to shul with Sam, Jess, Eva, Scott, Herbert, Lauren, Leah, Rachel, Dina, Marissa, Brad, and the rest of the crew as it has grown and shrunk over the years.  I hope that those still in DC are having a wonderful time together and that everyone has a sweet and prosperous new year!

To my family back home, L’Shana Tova!  I miss you all and I love you.

Posted by: LadyRed | September 17, 2012

The Rat Race Begins

Life post-college happened quickly.  I commissioned and took my oath on a sunny Friday morning in May.  That afternoon I graduated from my college and by Sunday the university had given its blessing in a big ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  On Monday I went to work.

Within a month of all of this I had moved all of my worldly possessions into a lovely little apartment at my first duty station, hosted my parents for a week, lugged some things onto my ship, and deployed.

I think I am still recovering from the whip-lash.

In four years of study and training I was never really taught what my job or Navy life would be like.  It was described to me and parts of it thrown into a Power Point presentation but none of that really prepared me for what life was going to be like on a destroyer out to sea.  There is nothing like it and frankly no way to prepare for it aside from a solid up-bringing and an open mind (Semper Gumby – Always Flexible), so I suppose it was all for the best.  My previous shenanigans and experiments have prepared me for different aspects of my life now (thank goodness) and some have made adjusting to naval tradition a bit harder, so I will be referencing them as this blog continues.

A few brief examples:

*College Roommates (Part 1):  Living with the girls and sharing a shower is a helpful tool in my “kit.”  I have never had to share one shower and one toilet with seven other women at one time before, but we make it work in Forward Officer’s Country (to be known as fwd O-Country or simply fwd O from now on – it’s a passage way up at the front of the ship where a few of the officers’ staterooms are and where they have placed all *eight* of our female officers).  And I have learned to braid my hair since taking the time to wash all of it and wrestle it into a regulation bun is not always possible.

*College Roommates (Part 2):  Living with the guys – the lovely conversations (both drunken and sober) about leadership, religion, politics, philosophy, video games, sex, beer, farts, beer-farts, etc., have proven useful.  Conversation is truly a form of art and after a few thousand nautical miles, the ability to strike up  and carry on a conversation at 0300 is hugely important to a watch team – the topic, however, is not.

*The “no thank you” bite:  I was always made to try something before I could refuse.  This has served me well my whole life, especially in foreign countries where some dishes are simply frightening.  It has made me into an incredibly adventurous foodie… but Navy food is a force to be reckoned with.  I made the mistake of peeking into the galley and looking at the boxes of frozen and dried food labeled “FOR PRISON AND MILITARY USE.”   Yup, that’s right, the men and women of your armed forces eat the same quality meat as your convicts.  The taste of freedom and lack of freedom all in one big, grade-D bite!  That being said, I have tried each meal in the very predictable rotation at least once (it really is the only way I know what day of the week it is sometimes – Wednesdays, for example, are burger days) and now know when to work out or take a nap instead of eating.  Microwaveable Mac’n’Cheese and Campbell’s Chunky chicken noodle goes a long way… every Wednesday.

*Rollin’ with the punches:  My mother once told me, “If you want to hear G-d laugh, tell him your plans.”  It’s true.  No plan survives first contact with the enemy and, of course, Mom was right.  I have yet to devise a plan I have actually seen all the way through no matter how hard I tried or how many loose ends I thought I had tied up.  So I have given up on such plans and it has worked well for me.  Every time we think our port schedule is finalized and we look forward to a visit or begin to make plans, a part breaks irreparably or a security threat is heightened, or any manner of other random issues crop up and there goes our port visit.  We do eventually pull into port – just not the exotic locations originally planned… when we do pull into port.

*Study abroad:  I am so thankful that I have developed the ability to live in a strange place, be uncomfortable, adapt, learn a new way of doing things, and be happy about “the process” in-and-of-itself.   The exercise of throwing everything I owned into a couple duffel bags, hopping on a train, and moving clear across the country was a stepping stone to up and moving to Russia.  Nothing had ever been so strange and new before!  (And as life would have it, nothing ever has been so strange or new since… even this crazy Navy thing!)  So here I am in a strange place, a little uncomfortable sometimes, but I am adapting and I am learning so much every single day.  Also, I understand currency conversion rates… who knew that would be amongst the most important skills I picked up in the Eastern Bloc?

*Newspaper Editing:  The ability to format documents and edit text has become hugely important to me.  Also, a solid base in flowery page-filler has made life as Legal-O a little easier too.

*Internships and secretarial jobs:   These odd jobs put a few handy skills in my “tool kit”.   I can make a mean pot of coffee in any pot, with any “fair game” grounds around the office.  Thank goodness.  I can throw together a Power Point presentation in minutes!  And I can brief it off the cuff (without just reading the slides…) even if I am super nervous (of course, it is not always the best but at least the Captain gets the information and we can all move on).  I can file things (which is apparently difficult?).  I’m no Radar O’Reilly, but I usually have the answers to the XO’s (Executive Officer) questions as he asks them…


Posted by: LadyRed | September 9, 2012

Haze Grey and Underway

I find myself once again down the Rabbit Hole – this time in a world of nautical nonsense governed by centuries-old naval traditions working hand in hand with the most modern technologies.  I have left my comfortable second story apartment in southern Virginia for a cramped steel fortress on the sea.  My crazy life has taken me far from my family and dearest friends but I would not trade this life for anything.  I am quite literally living my dream.

For those of you who might not know me, I am a recent graduate of The George Washington University and a newly commissioned officer in the US Navy.  My big fancy degree in Russian Affairs and Russian Language, while interesting to me and quite useful in the business world, has very little to do with my job.  Three months out of school and it has already become my hobby vice my vocation.  Oops.  I am the Electronic Warfare Officer aboard USS LABOON (DDG 58) and have also been stuck with the unfortunate collateral duty of Legal Officer (Life can’t be all rose buds, right?  There has to be a thorn somewhere in there…).

I am writing this blog because I have come to the realization that while I know exactly what is going on in my life, my incredibly loving and supportive family does not.  My life is also a complete mystery to the Marine who loves me, and the friends who stick by my side (through all of the acronyms and tangents about a world they know very little about).  Thank you all for the smiles and nods!  Hopefully this sheds some light on my world… or at least provides a ledger of acronym definitions and a bit of context.




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