Confessions of a semi-spoiled ex-swabbie

by RhodesTer on January 7, 2009

Lately I’ve been muddling through this mini-series posted on HULU.COM about life on board an aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz.


Appropriately, it’s called “Carrier.”

A big part of my interest is that I myself was in the US Navy long ago, and I was on a ship that used to follow along behind aircraft carriers, including the USS Nimitz back when it was just a kid.

I was a kid too, and I’ve noticed that a lot of things haven’t changed. Young sailors still whine and complain, and get way too drunk when they get a bit of shore leave. They do a pretty good job for the most part, but occasionally blow it over something stupid like drugs or alcohol, which gets them restricted, fined, busted down in rank and, if the offense is bad enough, tossed in the brig and/or kicked out of the Navy.

Two things have changed drastically though, and that would be two things they apparently now have on Navy ships that they didn’t have in my day, both of which I’d think would be nothing but major distractions..

Those two things are women and the internet.

I got out in 1981, and I couldn’t imagine being at sea with either of those.

First of all, the women..

Boys like girls, mostly. Some of them like other boys, but that’s a whole different ballgame. Girls like boys too, mostly, and I just can’t see them all cramped up together in shipboard spaces for months on end. It’s bad enough when guys and girls work together in a standard office environment. We have to have law firms that do sexual harassment seminars and there are always the little dramas that take place. Now imagine that on board a big, floating tub of steel and testosterone which everyone is trapped on for weeks, or sometimes, even months.

I guess it has its problems, yet still works. I just can’t imagine it because in my day, if a young woman were to come aboard the ship, we wouldn’t get anything done, especially if we’d been at sea for a long time. If we were told to go polish that brass, chip the paint off that bulkhead and scrub that toilet, we’d get it all mixed up and scrub the brass while chipping toilets and polishing bulkheads.

We’d be useless.

I know how much I sound like an old-fogey chauvinistic pig here, but I’m really not. I’m all for women on ships, but I just think the Navy went about it all wrong. They have separate sleeping and showering facilities, so why not just separate ships? They could have let women do sea duty, but just put them all on “girl ships.” Can you imagine an aircraft carrier crewed entirely by women, from the toilet scrubbing, brass polishing seagirls all the way up to the Naval Aviators and the Captain?

If they got lost, they’d never be afraid to pull into some foreign port and ask for directions.

Now, the other thing we didn’t have in my day is the internet..

I’m watching this series, and young sailors — men AND women — sheesh — check their EMAIL and, get this, make PHONE CALLS HOME from the middle of the ocean!

Back in my day, and geez I’m sounding like a crotchety old bastard when I say that, we didn’t have shipboard phones, and we definitely didn’t have EMAIL. Okay, we had these “red phones” that were for some kind of secret communication that the Captain and his high-falutin’ cohorts used to talk on, about secret business like where the ship is going to next and who it should shoot at when it gets there. But in this series, sailors are calling home and talking to their girlfriends and boyfriends, from a freakin’ public phone in a passageway on board the ship.


We had this special room called the “radio shack,” only it didn’t have any smarmy salesmen in it wearing white shirts with ties who’d try to sell you a satellite TV system or cell phone when you only came in for a pack of batteries. We didn’t know who was in this radio shack, because it was all secretive and hush-hush, and it had a big combination lock on the door. We’d occasionally see some dweeby looking “radioman” (do they call them “radioperson” nowadays?) going into the radio shack and, if we were walking by at that moment, he’d hunch all over and punch in the super-secret code so that we couldn’t see what it was, because if a non-dweeb ever entered the radio shack they’d have to kill him, which probably involved the use of typewriter ribbons and pens.

My point about dweeb radiomen and the radio shack is that it was the extent of communication with the outside world at the time. No phone calls from passageways — no email from a computer terminal — if you got any kind of message from the outside world in electronic form, it was a bigfuckingdeal. You’d be polishing or scrubbing something, and a very pale, ghostly looking radioman, thin as a rail and grinning slightly, would approach you with a missive in hand that was printed on, get this, paper!

You’d tremble as you signed for it, and then you’d open it carefully because it either meant you just had a baby or your grandfather had just died. Some people had that all happen at once. But, the point is, there was none of this nonsense about making phone calls to loved ones or girlfriends while you were three thousand miles out at sea. We’d get mail, occasionally, and this from a helicopter that came over from the aircraft carrier and dropped a whole bunch of canvas bags on the deck. They’d get taken below and sorted out, then later we’d all get letters (on paper!) from our girlfriends, none of which were newer than three weeks old.

We stopped in Mombasa, Kenya one time so that the ship could top off and get an oil change, and local natives could sell overpriced “handcarved” wooden giraffes to the sailors. I went to go find a “telephone exchange” because I wanted to call my mom, who lived in northern California. I think this was in 1979.

There was one in downtown Mombasa, so I walked in and approached the clerk. When I told her I wanted to call the states, she had me fill out a little form giving my mom’s number, and then fork over FORTY BUCKS and have a seat.

There was this bank of about twenty phones all along the wall, and each had a number on it. It took about ten minutes to get through and when they did, the clerk called my name and told me to pick up phone number four. I did so, and there was mom’s voice on the other end — a world away, yet so close I could tell she had a few tears. She was glad to hear from me, since I’d been out of touch for about two months.

It was well worth the forty dollars for three minutes.

There’s a scene in the fifth episode of “Carrier” where a young sailor gets all aggravated because his girlfriend doesn’t answer the email he sent until about six days later. “You should be emailing me everyday!” he says, in the PHONE CALL HE PLACES TO HER SO THAT HE CAN CHEW HER OUT FOR NOT ANSWERING EMAIL.


The internet on board navy ships must be a horrible distraction, just like the women. They must control access to it somehow, because I know that if I’m sitting here all intent on writing a blog post, working on my book, and then applying for two or three jobs after first tweaking my resume, that all it takes is for one Tweeter to post a link to “Cooking with Carmen Electra!” and I’m GONE for the next hour, learning how to make shish-kabob while wearing a bikini.

F/A-18 Super Hornets of the US Navy.Despite the changes that the US Navy hath wrought, “Carrier” is a fascinating series. It’s neither pro-war, pro-military or against it.. it just shows life on board a floating steel city, the sole purpose of which is to launch airplanes that fly away and bomb the crap out of things. Some of the sailors understand what they’re doing out there, but many don’t.

It shows how hard they all work, but I can’t help but think that they’re all a bit spoiled now that they have girls and the internet. We worked hard and we didn’t have girls and the internet, but I guess that a sailor from Admiral Hornblower’s day would say that I was spoiled too, what with my engines and helicopters and health and warm food and showers. He’d probably say all of that while biting into a piece of hardtack and pissing in a wooden bucket.

It’s amazing how much things change and yet remain the same, isn’t it?

tell the WORLD..
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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter) January 7, 2009 at 4:37 am

I love the crotchety old “listen to my war stories” vibe going on today.

Now you mention it, I can understand why men feel a bit funny about having women on boats, and indeed the latest feminist thing – women on the front line. How are men supposed to get any fighting done if both sides are just eying up how good we all look in desert camouflage?

On second thoughts, it might lead to the death of war altogether. If the men are too busy with the eye candy, they can’t kill each other. We can send the politicians in to fight instead.

Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)´s most recent attempt at irony..Everything I said without actually saying it


2 RhodesTer January 7, 2009 at 4:46 am

I wasn’t going to mention it, but I think a lot of these young women on the Nimitz must have joined the Navy because they didn’t have much of a shot at a modeling career. So the “eye candy” theory doesn’t hold much weight.

You, on the other hand, would crash planes.. never go on a carrier.


3 Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter) January 7, 2009 at 5:18 am

I’ll quote you when WWIII starts and they have to draft us.

Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)´s most recent attempt at irony..Everything I said without actually saying it


4 peter dawes January 7, 2009 at 9:56 am

i do not know what i enjoyed best about this post – the reminiscing or the wit. thank you for taking time out from cooking with carmen electra to share it with your blog denizens.
a side note: twitter seems to be much more effective in kicking my carcass toward reading a blog entry than my rss reader. i think the government should provide me with a grant to study this phenomenon.

peter dawes´s most recent attempt at irony..a canticle, in prelude – pt. 1


5 RhodesTer January 7, 2009 at 4:22 pm

I’ll grant you, that’s a good idea. Thanks for dropping by, Peter.


6 Palm Springs Savant January 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm

but I DO think you sound a bit of an old-fogey chauvinistic piggy. Oh do come along Dave! ;-)

Palm Springs Savant´s most recent attempt at irony..Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala


7 RhodesTer January 8, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Hey, I’m even for gay guys on board ship! Someone has to iron all the uniforms and put a nice curtain trim over the portholes.


8 Matt T January 16, 2009 at 9:51 am

You kids git offa my lawn! Git!



9 RhodesTer January 16, 2009 at 9:59 am

..I don’t get it.


10 Matt T January 16, 2009 at 10:46 am

Well, see, you’re the old guy, complaining about these kids these days, and… and… Really, you’ve never heard about crotchety old guys yelling at kids to get off of their lawns? “You kids get offa my lawn!” is kind of shorthand way of closing a rant about youth with the acknowledgment that, yes, we’re getting old and crotchety and… Oh, never mind. :)


11 RhodesTer January 16, 2009 at 10:55 am

OH, okay.. I just had a hard time associating lawns with Navy, although I guess the Navy HAS lawns, like on their bases and stuff, but I’ve never seen any, well except at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, where they had some officer housing that had lawns, I think, but no kids playing on them, so I see your point, and geez, this is a lot of commas.


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