This is a story of survival. You can overcome anything. It’s up to you how you do that.
Please be warned I’m sharing things that could upset some.
To say we moved a lot when I was growing up would be an understatement. The longest we lived in one place was four and a half years. Twice we lived in a town for 15 months, my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I went to three high schools in three states, and these moves allowed me to recreate myself. It helped me become a great friend, however, I failed with setting boundaries on who is my friend. The new kid can only hope to be left alone is the best-case scenario. A few weeks ago, I removed the sixth old friend from my life this year.
I remember every town we lived in. I lost my front tooth hitting a windowsill before turning three, the substitute teacher in class told the kids to stop before someone gets hurt. My tooth didn’t grow back until eight years later; “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” isn’t funny to me.
I broke both bones in one of my arms before turning four. I have many more from my childhood before five: sneaking cheese from the cook at the facility my parents worked at after my parents told me to stop, my sister and I running ahead down a deserted dirt road to our parent’s work. Many memories.
My dad was a pastor. In those days, churches didn’t want a young pastor with a family. He was always voted into churches that had gone through a split. A church split is when a good portion of a church leaves, taking deacons, elders and sometimes even the pastor. Lives are ruined. The pastor who comes in after a church split doesn’t last, or at least that’s what my dad has always said. The church is going through too much to stand behind anyone new brought in. He was voted out on my 16th birthday for refusing to preach about what the elders/deacons of the church wanted him to, which was money. I spent years with hypocrites at church smiling to my face, and then an hour later voting my dad out. The churches my dad worked for had parsonages – a house owned by the church for the pastor to live in. When dad was voted out, we effectively became homeless in states with no family, and our only friends were members of the church that voted us out.
I joke that preachers’ kids are either really, really good or really, really bad. My sister is really, really good, so it didn’t leave me any other options. Mom hated when I said this and told me not to joke like that.
I fought my parents for everything a normal kid wanted. I was told I had to be the example in church and spent years being “perfect.” I begged for months to be allowed to go to the freshman homecoming dance. When they finally agreed, I got to wear one of Mom’s dresses, and they picked me up at 10 p.m.
I was very determined, and I worked hard. About a year after high school, I had gotten a supervisor role at my job and was making more money than my mom, and she’d been with her job for more than six years. That’s when I reevaluated and decided to enlist. I knew nothing of the world.
After you’ve been on active duty for a certain amount of time, things become second nature, and unless someone reminds you, it’s hard to remember what description needs to be used.
- Colors is raising the flag at 0800 and lowering the flag sunset in port.
- Winter gear was heavier and included a wool sweater under a long-sleeve shirt. When we had scheduled physical training, we wore T-shirts, sweats and tennis shoes.
- They don’t beat in the military any more; however, it’s still called a “beating” when you’re punished with heavy physical training until you puke, rain coming down from the ceiling from sweat condensation. “Beatings” were in whatever we were wearing at that time, usually the Uniform of the Day. The Uniform of the Day in the winter was heavier clothes.
- Scuttlebutt is the word for a drinking fountain; the floor in a ship is called a deck; the restroom is called the head (oh we know!).
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy prior to 9/11, when I was more than a year out of high school. I went to boot camp after Christmas, in the deep winter. The NTC (Naval Training Center) in San Diego was closed in 1997, leaving NTC Great Lakes as the only facility for Navy boot camp; Great Lakes is right next to Chicago, Ill..
The first night of boot camp we’re kept up all night and put into divisions of 120-130 recruits with three RDCs (Recruit Division Commanders). I was put in a 900 division, which was composed of half men and half women who perform graduation ceremonies, and I was part of division 918. We were the performing band, choir and drill team for the two graduation groups before ours and our own. Our “service week” was spent practicing instead of working in the mess hall.
Despite the ice and snow, we marched in formation. This meant we still had to walk almost exactly in step, otherwise we’d be kicking the people in front and tripping from the people behind. I took out three people on a patch of ice because we were so close together. The coldest day I was there, we had to pack up and move our gear to a different building. It was -11 degrees outside, and I was so glad we didn’t have far to go. It was before we ate breakfast, around 4 am. NTC was renovating our “ship,” requiring us to move.
All recruit buildings in Navy boot camp are called ships, and each ship could hold 16 divisions of recruits. In order for a division to graduate, a certain number of recruits in that division have to pass. Our division was close to being unable to graduate as we had too many people “ASMO’d” – a slang term used for being set back in training. My ship was composed of all 900 divisions, all half male/female. Instead of using an entire berthing for half a division, we had to share with another half-male, half-female division.
Photo courtesy of Adasa
After we were cleared by medical and got all of our vaccinations, including a penicillin shot in the glute, the beatings began, aka physical training. My bunkmate caught me when I got out of my top rack (bed) and kept me from falling flat on my face. The shot in the glute had hardened. It helped everything work through our bodies to physically train heavily, and that morning was day one.
Our RDC’s (Recruit Division Commander) “beat” us regularly. They’d tell us to push the bunks back and we knew to “stand by to stand by” (be ready or get ready for anything).
I took my glasses off during meals to get more food. BCG’s (Boot Camp Glasses), or Birth Control Glasses as we called them, definitely hid my looks. I sneak-wore my contacts for a week, but one of my RDCs knew I was very blind and made me wear the glasses.
I was assigned to a ship’s company. Ship’s company did colors, manned the quarterdeck and helped keep the ship clean. I was selected to run the “ship’s store,” where every division got all their supplies for their berthing. There was an RDC lounge, staircase and entrance that recruits weren’t allowed to use. Whenever a recruit needed an RDC from the lounge, they had to walk in three steps, stand at attention, and sound off, not looking at anything. One of my last days working the quarterdeck, our “Captain” (each ship had a middle level officer as the head) told me she preferred it when I was on the quarterdeck as everything went perfectly every time and the recruits I coached always did the best.
We spent most days in class learning — I couldn’t say about what. My notebooks were filled with unintelligible scribbles and lines down the page where I fell asleep. I was thankful I had a natural ability with test taking as you could be held back due to your scores. We went to bed at 10 p.m. every night and woke up at 4 a.m., regardless of watch standing times in the middle of the night. Part way through boot camp, our wake up time was changed to 5 a.m. on Sundays.
There were two events in boot camp that were talked about heavily other than Battle Stations. First: jumping from a high dive. I saw someone’s Cruise Book before I enlisted and had seen the high dive, and it was maybe ten feet in the air at the most. Everyone was freaking out and saying we had to jump from a height like the main deck of a ship (more like 20 feet). It amazed me that people who couldn’t swim enlisted in the Navy.
The second event was the gas chamber. They used the same tear gas on us that was used in WWI. It was originally designed to affect men more than women, and I can say with relief that was the case for me. They lined the division up into three lines of about 30 recruits each.
They started at the back, after the first tablet was ready, and everyone in the line was instructed to take off their mask and sound off in order of name, rank, serial number. The person in front of you had to finish before you could sound off, all the way down the line. Once one line was done, they exited the room and another tablet was put on and the process started again. I was in the last line, three in.
The gas mask got stuck in my hair, and they were yelling at me to hold it higher above my head. I had to yank it a few times to show them I couldn’t move it any higher and for them to leave me alone. Thank goodness I was early in the line and didn’t cough. We didn’t get yelled at for coughing. It just made it harder to speak and get your name, rank and serial number out. It was then harder for everyone after you, and everyone in your line had to stay in the room breathing the gas longer. Being in the last row meant three tablets had been put on by the time it was my turn.
When we finally were able to exit the room, we had to run into another room, dump the mask in a sink to be washed and then run in circles flapping our arms to get the gas out of our clothes. I always thought this last part was more for their enjoyment than actual necessity. One of my female friends randomly threw up, she told me later she didn’t even feel sick it just happened. I had watery eyes and a runny nose.
Passing Battle Stations was required to graduate, and it was the hardest thing we had to do. RDCs and a special team who ran Battle Stations “woke” us up about 30 minutes after lights out. We were separated into two groups, rushed outside, and taken to all the stations we’d been taught at previously, like getting a fake ship underway (we failed), shooting firearms at targets (I never shot a live round in the Navy) and running everywhere.
Most people failed because they didn’t stay in front of the pace keeper. We had to beat the pace keeper to every station. We had additional people who had failed with their own divisions added to our two groups. I found out later that one I had helped had some type of mental disability. like a low IQ. If you didn’t know when our military started doing this, it was prior to 9/11. He passed Navy boot camp. and I can only hope he was in the reserves.
I’ve spent many years trying to forget some of the next parts of my life. I’ve made mistakes, and over time have convinced myself it had to be my fault.
After boot camp, every sailor goes to school. If you’re undesignated, you have very little school, about two weeks, and you get to choose your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty Code) once you are ready to test for E-4. If you go to “A” school, you can’t test out of your MOS for two years after getting to your ship. Tests are only facilitated twice a year, and you have to qualify to take the test.
My MOS was GSM (Gas Turbine Systems Mechanic). I went to Engineering Common Core for two weeks, Mechanical Common Core for two weeks and Gas Turbine Systems “A” school for seven weeks). There were days, sometimes weeks between classes as we waited for enough people to start the next round. My MOS was an Engineering Rate (rate is another term used for describing a job in the military). Anyone with an Engineering Rate is called a fireman, anyone with an Aviation Rate is called an Airman, and all other rates are called Seamen.
We were loaded up in a bus from boot camp and driven a few miles up the road to Naval Station Great Lakes. I enlisted as an E-2. At the time, it was an automatic advancement between E-1 to E-2 and E-2 to E-3; all you had to do was wait nine months. After being an E-3 for nine months, you could test for E-4. There were some rates that made E-4 automatically once the sailors graduated; those sailors usually had around two years of school before going to the fleet.
I had my bottom two wisdom teeth pulled while I was in boot camp, and my top two pulled in Mechanical Core. I don’t remember a lot about the bottom two in boot camp; it was an emergency and I didn’t get the time off as the people who were scheduled did. It’s not a good idea to play an instrument when your mouth is healing as you can get dry socket (very painful, longer healing time). I remember being in a lot of pain.
It was the first time I’d had any major work done on my mouth, and the first time I’d ever been given pain medicine. I had to sleep in another berthing as no one would be in mine all day and they don’t leave recruits alone when they’re SIQ (Sick in Quarters). I had to make my bed according to regulations prior to laying down. I took myself to lunch, and because I was out of it, I had the wrong socks — only black socks were allowed in the uniform of the day. There’s a table in boot camp for people who are eating without their division for watch standing or medical reasons. I was sitting at the table wearing white socks when a Recruit Division Commander (RDC) started to yell at me, and I must have given the most pitiful look because they asked me if I was at the table for medical reasons. I pointed at my mouth and nodded. It hurt too much to talk. For as much as boot camp was rough, empathy was still evident.
Both times my dental work was an emergency; my wisdom teeth started coming in; they were pushing all the other teeth in my mouth together to make room. My top two wisdom teeth were pulled the day before graduation from Mechanical Core. I couldn’t miss the class; otherwise, I’d have to take it all over again. The class only had the final test to pass.
While having my top two wisdom teeth pulled, I could feel what they were doing. I was awake, and when the dentist let go of part of my tooth, I felt it move and yelped. The dentist then screamed at me; they weren’t even touching me. They used a chisel and a hammer on my jaw to get the teeth out. I can only describe it as being hit on the side of the head with a hammer repeatedly. They had covered my face for the procedure, and the dentist left before taking the towel off. When the dental assistant removed the towel and saw my face, he immediately asked me if I was OK. I just shook my head and left.
My instructor had told me to meet up with the class once I was done; I walked back to my classroom, on the second floor of the school house, and they weren’t there. I asked someone — my class was at one of the DC (Damage Control) classrooms. I wandered over, and when my petty officer saw me, he said, “Oh my God you look like sh… I mean are you OK?” I just told him no, and he let me leave and go back to my quarters.
Later that evening, he came by and brought me the slides to use for studying. Usually the day after having teeth pulled, you got SIQ followed by LLD (Light Limited Duty). Because I needed to pass the class, I went to school. We had a written test and an oral test. We started with the oral test; three people at a time went into the next classroom, and our instructor asked them questions.
While in any Navy schoolhouse, you can’t have your head down or eyes closed. My desk was right in line with the door. I didn’t care and I had my head down. The room suddenly got silent, and I knew someone else had come in. Each schoolhouse had staff, one of the Senior Chiefs was awesome, and he was the one who caught me. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him I had teeth pulled. He realized why I was there and told me to go put my head down on my instructor’s desk, where I couldn’t be seen.
I made it through the oral test, missing one word to one of the answers. I couldn’t think; I either knew the answer or didn’t. I don’t remember taking the written test, but I went to get a drink afterwards and saw the same Senior Chief again, and he asked me what I was still doing there. He told me to go back to my quarters and if anyone had a problem with it to call him.
The first time I was raped was in “A” school — by the guy I was seeing. After it happened, I went and found other sailors — we were all at the same hotel out in town — and I hid the rest of the night. The next day I went back to my room on base I shared with three other girls, and I told my closest friend what happened. She was angry, and I argued that we had sex about an hour before it happened, so was it really rape?
I remember telling him it hurt, and he held me down. I told him no, and it didn’t matter. I avoided him and didn’t take his calls. He tracked me down on base one day and made me talk to him. I don’t remember much beyond that. I’ve spent years blocking it out.
Four women were raped on base when I was in school, some during work/daylight hours. I knew one personally; she never went anywhere alone, and she asked me once if I’d walk with her to the NEX (Navy Exchange, a big store) a couple blocks away. I didn’t go anywhere alone on base the whole time I was enlisted. All four women got out. I couldn’t do that; there was nothing for me to go home to, the Navy was my only option to get anywhere in life.
I met my ship away from our home port; they flew a group of us to meet them. This was before service members didn’t travel in uniform, and dress whites are not ideal. The ship was never supposed to be deployed for my entire enlistment. It had just returned from a deployment overseas, and our rotation meant we had a lot of work to do. Besides fixing the ship, every ship has to pass UD (Underway Demonstration) in order to be deployed. 9/11 changed all that.
Around August of 2001, there was a defect released that affected gears in our reversible reduction gear, which takes power from the gas turbines and reduces it to move the shaft that moves the propellers. We had two onboard our ship. These are not owned by the military — they’re leased because they’re so expensive. The guy who designed our ship messed up, and we had to have a reversible reduction gear rather than just a reduction gear. Our shaft and propellers could turn both directions. Due to the defects, we had to open the reduction gear, remove the gears and have them tested.
When a reduction gear is open, the entire engine room is covered in plastic floor to ceiling around the reduction gear. Every person in and out is accounted for, and every tool used is logged. I was the one who stood watch during working hours cataloging everything. Once working hours were over, the engine room was locked up for the night. The MMR2 (Main Machine Room 2) engine room had three huge floors; the reduction gear covered a good amount of the intermediate level with the top floor overlooking it. My ship had two engine rooms and an auxiliary engine room with additional equipment.
Photo courtesy of Adasa
The night of September 10, 2001, I stayed out in town with a whole group of people at someone’s house. The friend who drove me back didn’t have base driving privileges at the time, we were running late and our ship was in the “CIA” area. I don’t know why it was called that; it was just an extra layer of security on base for ships that were in various stages of tear down like we were for our reduction gear. We were almost late for morning muster. Muster was 7:30 a.m. everyday in port and underway (not weekends or holidays unless you were on duty in port).
We raced to the ship, I walked into my berthing, and the girls asked me if I had seen the news. I said no, turned around to the TV and watched the towers. Every berthing had at least one TV. I was in the smallest berthing on our ship, there were only 30 racks (another word for bed), and we were never at capacity. Only the Engineering and Admin women lived in my berthing, and the most we ever had was 22.
We weren’t allowed to leave our ship for three days. Most of the sailors didn’t live on board and didn’t have more than what they were wearing. There wasn’t enough food for all of us as they didn’t plan on feeding the entire ship three meals a day. Prior to 9/11 my ship was on eight-section duty rotation, meaning you had duty every eight days along with a normal workweek. After 9/11, we were changed to four, then three, with no one getting a weekend off.
While I have had bad things happen to me, I also must point out I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I approached much of my life as an experiment. Things happen, and it shaped who I am.
When looking toward the front of a ship, the port side is the left side, and the starboard side is the right. All odd numbers are port numbers and even numbers are starboard. Bulkheads (walls) have tag numbers telling you where you are on the ship. These were made from glow-in-the-dark material so you would know where you were in case of a casualty (hazard at sea).
Photo courtesy of Adasa
The main deck of a ship is the first deck above water that goes completely forward to aft (rear or back). All levels above the main deck are numbered 01 (pronounced with the letter O, not a zero), 02, and so on. All levels below the main deck start at 1 then go down, O2, O3, etc. My berthing was on the O4 level, four ladder wells (stairs) above the main deck of the ship. I was part of MP Division (Main Propulsion) and worked in the MMR2 (Main Machinery Room), the aft starboard engine room. The engine room was three levels, starting two levels below the main deck of the ship. It was six ladder wells from where I slept to the upper level of where I worked.
In port the engine room was fairly quiet and not much equipment runs. Underway, it’s over 120 degrees. We learned how to take the readings for heat stress, however, if we were in a “heat stress” environment, our watch hours would change from 4 on 8 off to 2 on 4 off. My entire division stood 8 hours of watch in 24 hours and had an 8-hour workday if nothing broke. Everyone agreed there was no way we’d be writing down readings that showed we were in a heat stress environment. The trainer for the class made sure we each knew what readings would create a heat stress environment. We had A/C blowers in the engine rooms but unless you were within two feet of them, they didn’t make a difference.
My division had a small office that had its own ventilation due to a fuel filter cleaner located in the space; all the officers/senior enlisted who smoked would go in there and smoke when our smoking lamp wasn’t lit. They used to let me stay in there with them, and I would light up, too. I was shocked one day when the Cheng (Chief Engineer, third highest officer onboard) came to the office and smoked in front of me. I was called one of the “golden children” of the division as I went to school for my job and was a trusted worker. When working in the engine room, we’d smoke in the diesel enclosures due to their own circulation that went outside the ship.
I was sent to the ship across the pier for parts because I was pretty and they’d probably give them to me if “I asked.” We needed filters and could sometimes get things like that from other ships rather than going through the supply department. It worked, and I brought back the filters we needed. Unbeknownst to us, they gave us filters that had been pulled from the fleet due to a defect. This becomes relevant later.
When it was decided another fleet was being sent to the Gulf after 9/11, my ship was chosen. The ship that should have gone was more broken than we were. We had to pay a private pilot to fly our reduction gears back to us to be installed. About a week before we were due to go pick up supplies for deployment (think ammunition for the fleet etc), one of the U-tube type sea water coolers for the reduction gear in MMR1 (forward engine room, port side) broke, and for some reason the system wasn’t pressurized. It allowed seawater into the sump (holding tank) for the reduction gear that held over 5,000 gallons of lube oil. The oil looked like a pineapple milkshake. We couldn’t pass inspection and get underway like that.
We dumped the tank, sprayed it with fresh water and pumped it out multiple times. We got special permission to get underway with lube oil that didn’t pass. We only pulled pier sides to two foreign ports during our extended deployment. Our first night pier side in the Gulf we had beer on the pier, where they bring beer off the ship and sell it to anyone not on duty for a dollar each.
I was on duty that night. We had emptied the sump during the day, and we had to crawl around the inside scraping burned seawater and oil from the ceiling of the sump with paint scrapers. The sump was broken down into little compartments, the largest of which I could put my legs out straight and sit up straight. Most of the people on duty disappeared.
Two others and myself stayed until after 0100 (1 a.m.), and our E-6 said thank you, and we didn’t have to show up to muster or work the next morning. While in the sump, we had to track each tool brought in ‚ nothing was allowed in our pockets and we couldn’t wear our belt or hat. Once I was done for the night, I went up to the 02 deck, where the smoking lamp was in port. I was covered in black burned oil and didn’t put my belt or cover on even though that was the Uniform of the Day. We always had to wear our covers (hat for the uniform we were wearing) when outside in uniform. We had a new E-7 female Master at Arms (military police on the ship) who happened to be up there, and she tried to give me a hard time until someone from my division told her I had been working all night and was filthy.
I had everything with me. A drunk O-2 (officers are not allowed to be friends with enlisted) tried to hug me, and I told him not to touch me because I was filthy, and he told me he didn’t care that I was still pretty. I went back to my berthing and took a shower; it took three times washing my short hair for the water to be clean, I used my nails on my arms and still had black streaks when I was done. The next morning, the girls from other divisions woke me up to go to work, and I had to call down and ask if they meant me, and they reassured me no, but I was already awake.
I was still a UI on watch, and around this time, the guy I stood watch under came in one morning to wake me up. Due to the temperature of the engine room, I had cut the sleeves off my T-shirt, cut it as short as possible and never wore a bra. When sleeping at night, I’d hang my coveralls at the end of my bed with the belt still in. I tied my boots perfectly so I could slip them off/on. I’d sleep in my panties and my cut-up little shirt.
I always waited for the door to close when a guy came to wake me up because I wasn’t wearing much. The guy I stood watch under decided to stick his hand in my rack because he didn’t think me telling him I was awake was good enough. I flipped out. After that, if anyone touched me when I was sleeping, I’d wake up with a fist. I scared one girl so bad she told her E-7 I punched her. I left clear instructions when requesting a wake-up to stand by my bed and say my name, but do not touch me because I always woke up. This is one reason I rarely sleep well now.
Maybe I overreacted, but along with the long hours, my day-to-day treatment on the ship was terrible. I was the only woman who worked for most of the time on my ship. I was the only female drilling watch stander in the engine rooms. The ratio of men to women onboard was 5:1. I dated, but I wasn’t sleeping with any guy who wanted it. I found out very early saying “no” was extremely bad for daily life. I was catcalled every day while walking up ladder wells in front of guys. My E-7 was trying to sleep with me through most of my enlistment. He was married with a son a few years younger than I. Toward the end he realized it was not going to happen, and he tried to set me up with his son. I worked very hard and got awards only for my peers to tell me I was sucking my boss off, and I only got it because I was a girl.
There was graffiti saying I was sleeping with my chain of command; I never did. I was the only one who showed up to morning muster every day. I rewrote our engine room EOSS (Engineering Operational Sequencing System) books that were the guidelines for running equipment in my engine room, and how to operate everything when there’s a casualty (something breaks).
Photo courtesy of Adasa
I was a boiler operator and had the most qualifications of anyone in my department (the largest on the ship) within 15 months of being on the ship. I got my 18-month underway qualification six months after being onboard. I was nominated for Junior Sailor of the Quarter for my department nine months after checking onboard; there were only three sailors nominated on the ship; my captain nominated me for the Naval Academy.
The first foreign port we went to was Hong Kong. I was an E-3 by this time, and there were strict no fraternization rules. Any officer or E-7 through E-9 cannot have a friendship (or more) with anyone below E-7. The bar where we were the first night in Hong Kong, two E-7s sandwiched me on the dance floor as I was leaving and telling me to call them by their first name. I nervously laughed and continued on my way. I had duty the next morning, and an E-4 I knew stopped me on the ship in an airlock (there are zones on a ship that have different air pressures for safety, an airlock has two doors, but only one can be opened at a time, so it’s very difficult to close if you accidentally open both!) and told me she left with those two E-7s right after I left the bar. She told me how much she enjoyed it. The whole time all I could think was, ‘that could have been me.’ I was terrified as I was drunk the night before, and they were obviously trying to take advantage.
In every foreign port, we were required to sign out with another sailor called a liberty buddy. If we were in trouble without that buddy, we were told they would throw the book at us, and it would be the worst punishment. If you got in trouble with your liberty buddy, no big deal. They had the idea that two could possibly stay out of trouble. Every port also had a liberty brief telling us parts of cities we weren’t allowed to go in, clothes we weren’t allowed to wear and things to be careful of.
After we left Hong Kong, I was called to the Master at Arms office (military police on a ship) to tell them what I was told. I didn’t want to repeat it, and I just repeated what they’d already told me using different words. I got really good at this. They all received restrictions for 90 days, meaning no liberty, no beer on the pier if we had it, no steel beach and extra muster multiple times a day in dress uniform. An E-7 or higher can call the MAs (Master at Arms) if someone on restriction was working or on watch. The E-7 always just called and said they were busy, but the E-4 still had to follow all parts of her restriction.
A few days after Hong Kong, I got sick. I tried going to medical, but I was turned away. I was in the engine room sitting down, and my peers tried to get me in trouble. I was the one always at work, never complaining, and my boss realized I was unwell and called medical to tell them to take care of me. They put me on antibiotics and anti-nausea medicine.
I was well enough to work and was unable to drink when we pulled into Singapore the next week. I ended up with one guy as my liberty buddy as everyone else had duty. The next morning he was puking and hung over. When I got in the shower, I left the door unlocked in case he needed to throw up. He paid for the hotel and it was nice. He had tried to have sex with me that morning, and I turned him down, referencing my illness.
While I was in the shower, I turned around and saw a video camera pointed at me. I flipped out, screaming, and he yelled at me to calm down because it wasn’t on. As soon as I ran into other sailors that day, I left him, damn the liberty buddy system. A few weeks later on watch, I told a guy friend something happened, and he said he knew — he had seen the video. I was referencing the fact the guy got into bed with me while I was sleeping and tried to have sex with me (another reason I don’t sleep well).
That’s how I found out the guy was showing everyone I worked with what I looked like naked. I immediately went to my chain of command. He found out first and destroyed the recording. I don’t know what they saw or how many people saw it. I was convinced by my chain of command to not send him to Captain’s Mast for punishment. Maybe it would have turned out different if I hadn’t listened to them.
My life before this had minimal attention from guys. I dated. I knew I wasn’t ugly, but the level of attention I received in the Navy was something I didn’t know how to handle.
Once underway for 45 days without liberty, we had a steel beach and everyone onboard got two beers. The legal age for alcohol on international waters is 18; everyone on the ship gets two beers. The steel beach was on the flight deck, 01 level, aft part of the ship. Big grills are brought out and music is played.
After Singapore, we went 89 days without liberty, our first port being Bahrain. I had quit smoking during this time to get my teeth bleached, and everyone during liberty kept commenting how they hadn’t seen me in forever. My berthing, engine room and the mess decks (cafeteria) were all in the same 30 feet of passageway. If I wasn’t working, I was eating or in bed. Engineers always cut in line for the galley (food). If you had watched, which most of us always did, we got to be fed first. No one checked to see who was actually part of any watch section; it was a perk of being part of engineering (not worth it).
In Bahrain, anyone ranked E-6 and below had to be back to the liberty boat by midnight. I had 25 shots of liquor in about seven hours. They don’t use the term “drunk like a sailor” for nothing, and I remember the whole night. A few minutes before midnight, one of my E-7s found me and dragged me to the liberty boat so I wouldn’t be late.
For anyone who’s never been in a large harbor on a small boat, I highly recommend not traversing the waters wasted. About three feet from shore I was asking where to puke, and they told me over the side was fine. First time I went to go over the side, I hit the rail, face first, and split my lip open. I remember sitting there and was surprised at the number of engineers on that liberty boat. My friend asked me for a photo, and I told him no. He threatened to take one the next time I was sick over the side, so I smiled stupidly for him. I have a copy of that photo.
It took about 30 minutes to get from the pier to the boat, and in that time, my Chief (E-7) started freaking out because I’m super drunk. I really didn’t care at that point until he told me they just put my name in for Junior Sailor of the Quarter for the entire Engineering Department. There are only three sailors nominated per quarter. I kind of still didn’t care. I was friends with the only female nurse we had onboard, Lil doc, and she reassured my chief she’d walk me onboard and get me to bed, and no one would question me as she was with me.
The liberty boat docks at water level to a platform, and the platform has a ladder well almost straight up to the ship. Everyone who comes onboard, even the captain, has to show his or her ID and request permission to come aboard, very formally. It was the final goal. Lil doc helped me get to my berthing and asked me if I needed help getting into my bunk. I had a middle rack at the time (I moved bunks three times during this deployment) and they were at a very awkward height with not much to use for getting into the rack (bed). I declined and regretted it about 30 seconds after she left.
I mainly stayed on base while in Bahrain. There were very strict dress codes for females to leave base, and I wasn’t comfortable. The two chiefs who slept with the lower ranking female were still on restriction and allowed off the ship the last night in port to go do whatever they wanted in civilian clothes. I saw them. The female E-4 was not given the same courtesy.
On my birthday, the new MA female chief once again decided I was a problem. She determined my haircut was “fashionable” and against regulations. I had cut my hair short in the back with a long front five months previously, a cut I’d had off and on since being a pre-teen. I fought against her decision with that information and I reminded them I spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day in an engine room that was 120 degrees. I was told it was ok as long as I always had a cover on and my hair was always up. I made sure it was never down again.
We had another beer on the pier during this time. A guy who had a girlfriend propositioned me. I had zero intentions of ever meeting him, said maybe, and shrugged him off because he was on duty, and I thought I would be safe staying away. I was struggling badly by then and was very drunk quickly, so I left the pier to email my family and go to bed. He found me, and I don’t remember much other than he should have walked me to bed, not taken advantage.
The next port we pulled into was Perth, Australia. Sailors tell tales of four to one, men to women in Australia. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’d believe it with the way Australian men treated women.
There were things that happened on deployment that I can’t exactly put a time on, I just recall it happened while we were out at sea. Every day was exactly the same. I don’t know how many times I found bugs in my cereal. The “milk” we were served underway was called UHT milk. It’s gross, but I used it to wet my cereal. Every time I found bugs, I repeated to myself the bugs were in the bowl and it was fine. I’d push the bowl away and just sit there, making sure what I did eat stayed down because I was no longer hungry. People would come sit across from me and ask me why I wasn’t eating and various responses would occur. I’d always just tell them to shut up if they didn’t want me to puke on them.
Green steak (grade D) was served pretty regularly. I was never that hungry. Every once in a while, we’d get crab and good steak night, which the MSs (chefs at that time in the Navy) would commonly overcook. I remember being so excited one night when they were behind and asked us how we wanted our steak cooked.
Sometime after Bahrain, I got a really bad yeast infection. This was due to spending 18+ hours a day in an engine room with temperatures above 120 degrees. My lady parts were not out of the heat long enough to recover, and there was no yogurt underway. I went to medical care when it first started bothering me, but they had very basic equipment and didn’t detect the infection.
I don’t remember how long it was, but I finally went back and they tested me again. They ended up giving me the strongest antibiotic they had onboard because my infection was that bad. I took four antibiotics a day for two weeks, one pill every six hours. The guys all talked horrible things about me having an STD, and my nurse friend told any of them that asked that there was nothing wrong with me. She told me she did, and I preferred her standing up for me rather than my privacy. I started throwing up due to the meds and had to eat four meals a day to keep the antibiotics down.
I was kind to everyone and spoke to one of the night MSs and asked him to make me food in the middle of the night. Midrats were served at midnight, a combination of leftovers reheated from the day before. My watch started long enough after midrats, and he agreed to make me grilled cheese if I stopped by the mess decks. I smiled nice, and he made me extras I’d take down to my watch team. I gained a little weight in that time from having to eat a full meal with each med.
Our watches were four hours on and eight hours off. The workday was 8-5 regardless of what your watch rotation was. For my watch, we had to do rounds every hour. It was kept on a 24-hour log, a two-sided piece of paper — an entire page of temps, soundings and gauge readings, the back with signatures assuming the watch and relieving the watch.
At the end of every watch, my log and the other watch stander’s log had to be taken up to CCS (Central Control Station) to be signed by the Engineering Watch Leader for that watch. Common practice was to do the first round and the last round, with the middle two being filled in without doing the round. One thing to note: If there were more than three one lines w/ initials (how you have to mark a mistake), you had to rewrite the entire log, including signatures. It was almost impossible to find the CCS Watch Leader to re-sign the log. We learned quickly who was good at forging signatures.
I had a problem with one of the guys who relieved me by showing up late. He was late everyday. and I told the guy who ran the watch section in my engine room he needed to take care of his team and make sure they all arrived on time. Nothing changed. I was standing the balls to four watch, midnight to four a.m. (in military time this is 0000-0400 which is where the balls slang comes from). At four a.m., CCS would call down to light off the number two oil purifier. We ran this during the day for about twelve hours. It purified the oil for the reduction gear.
The problem was the self-priming part of the pump didn’t work. The only way to light it off at that point was to get oil from the tanks to prime the pump so it would work. We had to get permission to get oil from the tanks. All the valves were locked with one big wire chain and a lock to prevent anyone from stealing oil. Everything had to be accounted for on a supply ship. In order to get the oil needed to prime the pump, you had to go to the lower level (down two ladder wells), and try to start the pump. When it didn’t work, you set the pump up to start with oil from the tank, go back to the upper level, remove the hand wheel that had the lock running through it, open the valve, go back down to the lower level , wait for the pump to prime before going back to the upper level to put everything back together.
One morning I’d had enough, and when CCS called down to light off the number two oil purifier, I called back, “Light off number two oil purifier, Main 2 aye,” and sat right back down on the ladder well waiting for my replacement to show up. The leader of the watch section told me to go light it off now, and I refused. I told him it could wait for his team to show up. The new watch section is supposed to show up 15 minutes before the watch starts. My replacement was already almost 20 minutes late. The leader of the watch team screamed and yelled, called CCS to tell the head of the watch I was not lighting off the number two oil purifier. The head of the watch talked to me on the phone and told me I had to do it, and they’d track down the guy who was supposed to be on watch. I lit off the purifier.
I spent the last part of every watch trying to wind down so I could get a couple hours of sleep before my full workday. We all had a locker in the engine room we could keep stuff in (it was six ladder wells for me from the upper level of the engine room to my berthing) and I kept a toothbrush/paste in mine so I could brush my teeth before going up to bed. After lighting off the purifier, I went to my locker and brushed my teeth. We had a water fountain I’d use to rinse and spit out my toothpaste.
While I was brushing my teeth, I heard my last name over the speaker for my engine room to go to the console on the upper level. I walk over, toothbrush in my mouth, and the lead of the watch section starts screaming at me about what happened. I wasn’t about to take that, so I turned to go spit out my toothpaste, and he grabbed me by the back of my coveralls.
I’m approximately 5’5’’ and weighed about 140 lbs at this time; he was 6’6’’ and at least 250 lbs. He screams in my face not to walk away from him when he’s talking to me. I glare at him and point at my toothbrush. He lets me go. I came back and argued with him, his spit hitting me in the face. We’re now good friends. I left once my replacement arrived and went to call my Mom. We’re now good friends.
Making a call was $1 a minute, and there was a huge lag on the line of at least 15 seconds. It was difficult to talk, but we all did it, anyway. Once I was done with my call, it wasn’t even worth it to lay down. I ran into one of my E-7s on the way back to my berthing, and he asked me what happened. I told him everything, and he told me to go to bed and that he’d handle everything. I didn’t need to go to muster or the first part of work that day, I just needed to show up for my next watch. It didn’t really matter to me at that point. I was exhausted all the time and taking ephedrine (hydroxyl-cut, yellow jackets) some days just to get myself out of bed.
The balls to four watch was one of the hardest as I never got more than a few hours of sleep at a time. It’s hard to sleep early when no one is quiet and lights are on in berthing.
My day looked like this:
11:30 pm wake up for watch
11:45-3:45 am watch in MMR2
7:30 am Morning muster/Breakfast
8:00 am workday
12:30-3:45 pm watch in MMR2
1:30 pm work resumed (we had a two hour lunch so every watch section would get an hour to eat, watch times were adjusted so each section got one hour)
5:00 off work
About a month before pulling into Australia, I had a dream about one of my friends. Let’s call him Jay. At that time, he and another engineering guy were doing one of the engineering women at the same time in the auxiliary engine room. I dreamt of the ship getting leave on an island, and Jay asked me to get him hair dye because he was on restriction and couldn’t leave the ship.
I told him about my dream and told him to be careful, Jay just laughed at me. About a week after that, one of my E-7s asked me what I knew about Jay and his buddy (it happened to be the same guy who filmed me naked in Singapore) sleeping with the engineering woman. He asked me where they were doing it or when. I just told him I knew about it and nothing else. I tried to once again warn my friend, but he laughed. Right before pulling into Australia, all three went to Captain’s Mast. It was very common to wait until right before a port to do mast so the person/people would be on restriction the longest and lose the most. Like being underway wasn’t bad enough.
The female captain was throwing people out of the Navy for having sex onboard. She made everyone sign a document saying they wouldn’t touch anyone on board unless it was in the line of duty, and she’d use this to get people out of the Navy. My friend had enough people vouch for him so he didn’t get kicked out. However, he did lose rank.
I didn’t send Christmas presents, birthday gifts, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gifts that year. I sent a box home after every port with things for my family. I gave myself a budget for everyday with a specific amount for food, drinks and shopping. Once I reached my daily budget, I wouldn’t spend anymore.
When it was time to go back to the ship, we were running late. I had bought a couple bottles of Bundaberg Rum and Cuban cigars. We were allowed to turn in one bottle of liquor onboard per person (given back later), and my friend said he’d check one of mine for me. All three ships had the same security check in process to get through the pier, giving me fears of getting in trouble.
Senior Shore Patrol was going through the line and looking for people from my ship and taking us to the front. I was extremely drunk and had forgotten about my liquor. No one checked our bags; we were waved through two checkpoints. We reported onto the quarterdeck with two bottles of liquor “hidden.” My friend told me he’d take my stuff to his shop and I could pick it up later and I waved to him with an OK. I remembered the next day, and he laughed at me. I put the bottles in my locker in my engine room. It wasn’t common knowledge we had lockers in the main space, and when they did rack inspections, no one checked the engine room. I didn’t drink the bottles right away; one was a gift and the other was for me.
Part of my watch was being a boiler operator. Boilers were used onboard the ship to create steam. The steam was used for everything like the galley (kitchen), powering tools and running the evaporator that was used to create water underway. It was a right of passage to be a boiler operator in the engine room. Only my division/watch section ran the boiler. There were two conditions when lighting a boiler off. One, the boiler is completely offline and cold. Two, the boiler drops, meaning it tripped specific PSI and shut itself down. There were two boilers onboard; one in each engine room with one active at a time. The controls were manual; the operator controlled the water through the pipes and the fuel going to the flame. If you light the boiler off too fast, the gauge would bounce and trip the PSI causing it to automatically drop, and you’d have to start over. Everyone in both engine rooms and CCS (engine room Central Control Station) knew when this happened.
Once the boiler hit 100 PSI, there was a valve that was opened to the system. If that was opened too quickly, the boiler could drop. If you were an expert operator, you could handle it. Once it was time to open that valve, you’d ask someone you trust to go to the upper level (the boiler was on the intermediate level and you couldn’t leave the manual controls while lightening it off) and open the valve SLOWLY.
Once the boiler pressure normalized, and hit 115 PSI, the valve to the evaporator was opened. The auxiliary department and not Main Propulsion ran the evaporator — they were one of the other watch sections I stood watch with in the engine room. There was a huge rivalry between MP (Main Propulsion) Division and Aux Division because we were the two divisions who worked everything in the engine room. When asking Aux Division to open the valve to the evaporator, we’d always ask them to open it slowly. The valve was on the opposite side of the evaporator, and we couldn’t see it from the position in front of the boiler where the controls were.
Every time they’d open the valve as fast as they could, trying to drop the boiler on purpose. It was tricky to work the water and the fuel to maintain pressure in the boiler to prevent the PSI from being tripped. The boiler operated at 125 PSI, and 132 PSI would trip the boiler to shut down. The PSI gauge would rock due to the rocking of the ship when in rough seas or the changing of the pressure due to a valve being opened; it didn’t matter why, if that gauge touched 132 PSI the boiler would shut down. I was a very good boiler operator; they ended up sending me to two schools later for them.
Our Captain ran our ship so hard on deployment, the metal insulation for the exhaust stacks of the turbines caught fire and the aft watch — they man the fantail (aft part of the ship) — called it in and CCS (Control Center for Engineering) emergency stopped 1A Turbine engine. I was on watch, chatting with the lead of the watch and heard, “Emergency stop IA.” I ran to the intermediate level and checked inside the enclosure looking for smoke. There was none in the enclosure. It took pulling into Hawaii for the DC men (Damage Control) to find the damage.
In Hawaii, we met with families of people onboard who joined us for a “Tiger Cruise” back to WA.
No spouses can come; however, parents and children of service members are allowed onboard for the trip back.
We once again emergency stopped engines for flames coming out the stack, but a casualty was not called with the families onboard.
Pulling into our home port, Bremerton, Wash., we manned the rails in our dress whites. It was cold and rainy. I volunteered to stand watch instead, as I had no family waiting for me.
Soon after, I made E-4. I scored so high I made first increment, meaning I get paid right away. Everyone else had to wait months. I was trusted, so I was frocked.
Frocked is a form of hazing when you make rank. Anyone E-4 and up is able to punch you for three days after you’re frocked. They were working to make it stop when I was in, but it still happened. I was escorted to male berthing, somewhere I was ordered not to go, and I was at the end of the line. No one hit me hard, but I had bruises. I never frocked anyone, however, I’d find him or her on day 3 and pretend I was going to. I never did, but by day 3 everyone hurts.
Our ship had to pass UD (Underway Demonstration) before we could be deployed again. This is usually a six month or more training to ensure those on board can handle any casualty and train anyone else who’s brought onboard while we were deployed. I was the only female drilling watch stander. There are two watch sections that are tested for casualties. Each engine room also had someone tested on each main system.
I was one of the only ones who were tested on two systems, the boiler and the lube oil system. I failed the boiler. I had not been to school for boilers, and the guy testing me was a master boiler operator. The lube oil system I was walking through on the watch before I was tested. I didn’t finish the walk through, but I did get through more than half. I was told if you showed confidence even when you aren’t, they could stop the test and pass you. Two valves before I was lost, I passed. I was the go-to for my engine room passing inspection, and in the final debrief, the training team called me out as an outstanding sailor. Everyone I worked with scoffed and said it was because I was the only female.
I begged my entire time onboard to go mess cranking (work in the cafeteria), something everyone has to do. I was denied and told I’d never go. I begged to work in the Oil Lab as they worked alone; I was denied, as I was the best worker in my engine room. I submitted a packet to Officer Candidate School and was denied due to my eyesight. I had to pay a civilian eye doctor my entire enlistment because the Navy wouldn’t fix the wrong prescription they gave me.
Our ship was deployed again in less than 10 months. I couldn’t do it again; if I went on deployment, I wouldn’t live. I knew they’d keep me unless I got in major trouble. Around March of 2003, I popped on a urinalysis for marijuana and coke. The marijuana I smoked had been laced, and I didn’t know. My command actually tried to keep me anyway, but I said no.
I wrote about what had happened to me since checking onboard the ship, about the sexual harassment I received from everyone including my chain of command. I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did. I received an OTH (Other Than Honorable) Discharge, general.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with PTSD due to MST (military sexual trauma) by the VA. I can’t go to the VA for care, but I did receive care for a short time for PTSD. I found out how to challenge my discharge and submitted a packet for review with 18 letters, many from people I served with, including an E-8 I directly served under who was there the entire time. I was denied.