Shipboard

The service on board is tough. Navy does not prepare recruits for this reality


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“It’s a floating prison. This is how one sailor described his service aboard the USS Shiloh, and the sentiment seemed to be shared by many crew members. The Shiloh made headlines when a crew member of Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Mims went missing while en route, prompting the crew to massively search for a comrade who, in fact, was hid in an engineering space all the time.

This apparently came as no surprise to anyone on the crew, as Mims was a weird guy. What touched me was the fact that so many people in the media were shocked by the story. The truth is, every ship has multiple Mims-type characters on board. The whole Shiloh affair has led me to believe that the superiors have no idea who actually serves on their ships.

Since my time aboard the USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), from 2010 to 2013, we have lost more sailors due to nerves, pressure and incompetence than I can count. We called the ship “Cell Block 72”, and it really looked like a floating prison. This is exactly how I describe service in the Navy to my friends who have asked me about it.

The fleet is not a safe space. It’s a crusher that chews the vulnerable, preaching teamwork and brotherhood as practice dictates, “If you’re not carrying your weight, get the hell out of it.”

We made Mims beat from afar, as the eccentricities progressed. We had a computer scientist so incompetent that he was not allowed to use the phone, as ordered by the captain. We had another sailor speaking to himself aloud in Portuguese – not even his mother tongue from afar – and with wide eyes shouting Bible verses at the quayside to make us aware of our impending damnation for watching movies. classified R. He was also not allowed to touch or use anything other than a swab, and eventually separated from the crew after almost losing his hand while trying to grab the mast of the ship, after removing its retaining pin while it was in the upright position.

We had another sailor, a young LSSN, missing one night… and after a long man overboard exercise, he was discovered in a comatose state, hidden in a supply locker, under the paint.

These sailors were so commonplace to us – and to anyone I knew serving on little boys in Norfolk – that we mostly ignored the obvious facts: Not only should they not have been in the Navy, but they needed help. ‘aid.

The truth is, the Navy does not prepare sailors for what life will be like on a ship. I don’t even know if it’s possible. The long hours, the endless drilling, the ship in constant turmoil – nothing can really prepare someone to operate at an uninterrupted rate for literally years without enough sleep.

Unfortunately, when everyone in your immediate community is depressed, the people who really slip over the edge go unnoticed. In the early 2010s, the “spice” epidemic hit the Navy hard. A sailor got high and passed out in the docking barge with a spice pipe still in his lap, which sparked an in-depth investigation on board that scared us all to even associate with someone who might seem guilty. This is another incredibly complicated situation, and as the military is only beginning to test the drugs in your system, rumors or suspicion by association may be enough to get you kicked out. This left many sailors to dry up: these were people who faced tremendous pressure in self-medicating, and no one could help them.

The fleet is not a safe space. It’s a crusher that chews the vulnerable, preaching teamwork and brotherhood as practice dictates, “If you’re not carrying your weight, get the hell out of it.”

I am guilty here. I turned my back on the sailors who were calling for help, all because I was afraid of being associated with them. It’s something that I have to wear now.

The navy bootcamp actually sets a precedent for what happens in the fleet. Right away, a small group of sailors are selected, given symbolic leadership ranks, and essentially carry the rest of the team to the finish line. The problem is, once in the fleet, no one can transport you.

I was so angry with the captain and the chain of command for the lack of sleep, the constant drills, working until almost midnight even at the port, pushing a broken ship through what should have been technical glitches ending on deployment (and fires – so many fires), the all too familiar echoes of the Shiloh lead me to believe that this is how the Navy is. I really don’t know if it’s fixable.

When I read articles about Petty Officer Mims asking, “Why were the signs missed?” I can’t help but think of a sign the chief of our deck service placed on the boatswain’s locker door: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Why were the signs missed? Because you can’t tell a dung covered TH working on less than 20 hours of sleep how shitty your day has been. Everyone is depressed, everyone has problems at home, everyone is tired, and yet everyone has to carry their weight in order for the crew to complete their mission.

I am not advocating any of this; I am simply describing the realities of life in the fleet. I explain why my first reaction to Shiloh’s testimony was “So what? Nothing new. Suck that shit with a straw “: because, well, we had to. I have no idea if this is the right or wrong reaction to my shipmate’s misery. For now, let’s go with “it’s complicated”. And I don’t know how you simplify it. But being honest about the life of the fleet is a good start.

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