Going to sea is often a topic that either induces very fond or extremely negative feelings and memories. There are a lot of factors that go into shaping your opinion, but taking the time for some extra preparation will go a long way to ensure your first cruise is a successful experience. There are several key concepts to integrate successfully into a detachment, as well as into the ship you will soon be calling home. This article will aid you in avoiding some of the common pitfalls, while helping you to plan for the experience of a lifetime.
How Do I Fit in with the Det.?
This can be tougher than it sounds, but get to know the people with whom you will deploy. Some of your fellow shipmates may quickly embrace you, while others might distance themselves until they are more comfortable with you as a peer. The friends you make during this process can make the transition to ship life a little more seamless. The effort you make to do so, however, may not always be well received. For instance, an off-hand comment I once made struck one of my peers as a direct insult. Three weeks under way went by without remedy to the insult, as the “insulter” was ignorant to the harm caused. All it took was a bit of communication and a simple apology to clear things up, and ever since, things have been great.
The moral of the story is to get past any social hiccups early so your peers can help you to be more successful. Don’t be afraid to be social—just remember these aren’t your age-old buddies. After figuring out your place among your peers, you can begin to utilize the relationships you build to ease your interactions with your superiors. It is to your advantage to learn what’s expected of you by observing your peers and how they interact with your boss. You, in all likelihood, will be on a tight leash and don’t have the luxury of having the benefit of the doubt. After all, they’ve earned the boss’ trust, and you haven’t—remember that.
I Have to Do Paperwork?
Be prepared to learn from someone who arrived only a few months ahead of you. These individuals are expected to train you, and are your “go to” people in most circumstances. This usually can save some embarrassment and gets you off to a good start. Realize that the best and most polished result you could put in front of any O-4 or above can only improve with critiques from your peers and at least one senior member of the “Junior Officer Protection Association”—other members of your detachment who are O-3s or below. This is one of the easiest lessons often learned the hard way, and you will soon be an expert on the subject of the finished product your boss expects. It can also only help you to ask around on what is the expected product before shooting from the hip. I remember routing a schedule and being instructed by one of my peers to make sure the font size matched throughout the spreadsheet. I ignored the advice, and shortly after was lectured by my boss about “how badly it stands out on the page,” and how “ultimately it makes the detachment look unfinished and unprofessional.” Listen to your peers: they are trying to save you the pain of looking foolish and unprepared.
What to Take?
Pack light, but pack enough of the right things, since your new home away from home is much smaller than you think. You may end up in an overflow berthing and have very little room to yourself. A quick trip to the pier will give you an opportunity to come aboard your ship and have a look at where you will be living. For stateroom life, try to maximize the space you have at your disposal, just as you did in your dorm room back in college. I would then build a packing list giving consideration to the following items. At a minimum, have two weeks of underwear, undershirts, socks, and a couple flights suits. If you like feeling human, I suggest packing heavy on these items, because you will be too busy to do laundry most of the time. I can’t count the times I’ve come back from a flight drenched in sweat. Taking a quick shower on those days to get back in the game was a luxury well worth the extra gear. Another tip: if you have a favorite type of pen, bring enough you think will last you, and then pack a few more. Office supplies can be a valuable commodity aboard the ship, so don’t expect the supply department to provide for all your stationary needs.
Don’t skimp on the creature comforts. A warm blanket or sleeping bag, coupled with a small electric fan, will cover the extremes of your ship’s environmental system. A well-used pillow will probably help you to sleep better. Ample amounts of soap, shampoo, hygiene gear, and laundry detergent will save you an arduous trip to the ship’s store. Drink mixes come in handy when you are tired of the ship’s bug-juice or ultra-pasteurized milk, which is closer to half and half than milk. A healthy variety of your favorite snacks are also worth their weight in gold, since you will miss many meals as you sit in the LSO shack or spinning on deck in the helicopter. I also highly suggest a hydration back pack.
Think back to your dorm room life: you won’t have access to much more than a microwave, and even that could be a long distance from your room (assuming you are on good terms with the wardroom galley). Music, videos, books, or whatever is your preferred media should definitely come along too. You can only see the same movie on closed circuit TV so many times before you need to fire up your favorite TV series DVDs and catch up on what happened last season.
Think outside the box about what would make your days under way just a little better. One hard and fast rule applies here: never be that guy who asks the people who work for him to help carry aboard his personal gear. The on-load is hard enough on your people; never add to their burden. One final note: if you want to keep all your electronic gadgets in your room versus in the executive officer’s possession, stop by the electrician’s shop and have them safety checked – I am still waiting to get my PS3 back!
How Should I Act on the Ship?
Most of your shipmates on your new home expect you to be an aviation expert right away. You have your wings and are fleet replacement squadron (FRS) trained, so you must be an authority on the subject, right? Well, you are—at least relative to the surface folks. Always carry yourself like a professional, and draw on what you know to make your det. look just as professional. The ensigns on the boat will undoubtedly call a lieutenant junior grade “sir” on first meeting. Even if they don’t, they are completely gun-shy of most anyone with a higher rank. It is part of their culture and it is up to you to embrace or push past as you please.
Never miss a chance to promote what your detachment adds to the ship’s capabilities. It is important that the ship’s company see a purpose for us being aboard, other than soaking up the crew rest that our community enforces. I remember being told about “air det. haters” in the FRS and shrugged it off. I can tell you first-hand that those “haters” might someday be the folks you are cruising with or a future ship’s executive officer or captain. Why make enemies for ourselves as a community? Fall back on your military bearing and professional courtesy, as that will carry you far on the ship.
Is it Hard on the Spouse?
If you’re married, it only gets harder. Remember that you are planning for yourself as well as your spouse. Bills must continue to be paid, and other business you previously cared for must now be handled by your loved one. Do your best to make your spouse into a force multiplier and refuse to settle for anything that will detract from your ability to put your life on hold for a few months. Short of having email to bridge the communication gap, the person you are leaving behind must be able to subsist: either because he or she is independent or you have provided a complete game plan for success. Items like a power of attorney, a “what to do if . . .” list, applicable points of contact, taking your spouse to the squadron’s “Det. Night” and having he or she participate in the spouse’s club or family readiness group goes a long way toward setting up your loved one for success. The last thing you want before a flight under way is to check your email and see an onslaught of home-front drama. It’s guaranteed something will come up, but hopefully you can mitigate the dilemma long before you step foot on the quarterdeck.
Remember to keep in touch! Email and other forms of internet communication will be critical to staying connected with those you leave behind. It makes maintaining relationships while you’re gone, and reintegrating into their lives once you return, that much easier. A good ol’ fashioned letter every once in a while never hurts, either.
Will I Enjoy Getting Under Way?
Besides the nights spent in the wardroom watching movies and playing the latest iteration of Halo (that will somehow make it back onto the ship after a passenger transfer to Guam or Hawaii) there is not a whole lot to do on the ship but eat, fly, study, workout in the smallest of gyms, and sleep. Despite the monotony of being on a small ship, my first underway was a blast. It included port calls in Guam, the Philippines, and South Korea. I’ve seen incredible cultures I never thought I would be exposed to. I even managed to get my SCUBA certification, something that has been a lifelong goal. Being a part of forward deployed naval forces in Japan with HSL-51 Det. 1 has afforded me some great opportunities—many of which have come while under way. I honestly could not imagine doing the things I’ve done with a better group of shipmates. They have shared many of the above insights with me, just as others did with them. After reading this, integrating into a detachment and getting under way will be easier and allow you the same great experiences that I have had so far.
Lt. Morris is a pilot with HSL-51 Det. 1.