TRIP REPORT from Navy Reserve - Hawaii visit in June 2002
PART ONE - Looking for myself on the pier.
Intro - This is my main thought that I personally want to capture... I expected to have a huge amount of Pearl Harbor Sorrow as I walked again through the places my family had known. Most of you know I am fresh through a terrible divorce, and have lost most of the access to my kids. I also felt (when we lived in Pearl Harbor) that we were making a sacrifice to get through our days on TUNNY so we could go onto a better, easier life as civilians. Sort of a reward. But we struggled through that time on TUNNY - separation, little money, and few frills. So much time spent working on the boat and so little time teaching Brian to walk or Jennifer to toddle about. Birthdays, Holidays, Weekends, Time - given instead to TUNNY because TUNNY accepted no compromise. So I thought that this bittersweet existence and optimism and ultimate divorce had created a feeling of hopeless loss. Our time in Hawaii now seemed a struggle without the reward. Just struggle. I was afraid that I would stand on that pier, looking for Lucia and our little car. Or see Jennifer's Day care and imagine scooping her into my arms and taking her home, a long walk to the bus for her little stride, so I would carry her on my shoulders and talk to her all the way. How would I react to being there and seeing those things, now feeling like it was all taken away from me in divorce? Capturing that reaction, and fearing it - I got on the plane to go back to Hawaii.
Like walking into a dream.
Changes in Sub Base piers and buildings, torn down day care and employment, these changes helped. There were differences that kept it from being exactly identical.
But 98 percent was identical. A set from a play, I walked back on. I didn't freak out, didn't tear up. In a practical way, I found the new boat I was supposed to work on, went down there and worked. The familiarity that I was afraid of was instead comforting. I knew my way around, discovered what was new and remembered milestone events. I knew the Galley was next to the Chapel, I knew where the Chapel was, and I remembered when one of our TUNNY Sonarmen had a funeral service there after he fell off a high floor in the barracks. Because of this association, I found my way to the Sub Base Galley for meals, although I think I had only been inside there twice previously in my life. But I used pieces of what I knew to solve the issues I had to deal with. And between parking (awful) and getting down to the boat on time (from Waikiki in traffic) and getting back to the hotel ASAP to change clothes and hit some tourist attractions, I managed to stay busy enough without any depression.
I was sad to see Jennifer's Day Care had been removed / demolished / and was now a field. That place was old and ugly really, but it was so filled with love and most of my reunions with Jen took place there, not on the pier. Lots of happy memories in that building. Now, without the building, they are only memories without props. Harder to envision. There is still an old tree that was in the play area, a huge tree the kids would run around. I took pictures, but Jennifer didn't remember it. When I returned home and showed her the photo and told the story, I could see she was trying very hard to find it in her memory, but it wasn't there. So, that memory is mine.
Our family's home on Croton Place in Aliamanu Military Housing is still there. Like me, it looks about 9 years older. But largely like it was. Most of what I saw was through my digital camera's viewfinder; I didn't want to loiter about suspiciously. But the few minutes I was just "looking", it was a little creepy. As we drove up, I tried to pretend I was driving home again after getting off the boat for the day, but I couldn't fool myself into believing it - so much has happened to me since - that I just felt like I was an observer this time. Like walking into a familiar dream.
Same feeling on the submarines. I tried to pretend I was going down the ladder for a duty day, or underway when I was below decks. But couldn't make myself believe it. The smell helped. The amine in the air reminded me of that time. There were a few moments when I was alone in a berthing space, sitting uncomfortably in the uniform and cramped area on the deckplates, sorting manuals on the floor, resting my elbow in a rack, looking at the mattress and smelling the amine. That was the closest I felt to actually going back in time. I could pretend it was my boat, and I was just working there like I knew how. I think it was probably my favorite moment of the entire trip. Surpassing all the tourist stuff in Hawaii and the ocean and sushi... that moment alone on the floor had alot of value to me, and was close to magic. As close as I got to turning the clock back.
As a comparison, imagine going back to the house where you lived when you were in elementary school, and then walk the route you used to walk to school. You pretty much know where the streets lead, but might have forgotten about where all the stop signs are and how the sidewalk curves. That's how I felt most of the time. Just navigating the courses I needed to solve the tasks of driving around and seeing Hawaii again. In the example, you would walk the path, but you might not feel like a fourth grader anymore. That's how I felt walking back through the tourist parks my family had visited, my Hawaiian neighborhood, where my submarine was moored, and the buildings we used, where Lucia worked, where Brian was born and where Jen went to school. I didn't feel like an observer only, and I didn't feel like I was in that time and place anymore either.
My traveling companion helped keep things light and laughing. I spent most of the time with her, watching tourists, making jokes about whatever circumstance we were in, and taking pictures. I know you are probably tired of analogies, but in some ways I saw Hawaii like a guy observing a scene in a dream - using a camera viewfinder to hide behind. But I know I was really there, I know we were walking through my former life. It didn't hurt too bad. I stayed busy I couldn't make myself believe it was 1992 again. The first few days, when I discovered it didn't hurt to be in Oahu anymore, I felt that worry dissipate, and was glad to be mostly free of ghosts.
PART TWO - Why the Navy sent me to Sub Base
When I enlisted in the Reserves, a detailer assigned me a billet with a Communications Group. This small unit (12 people) owned no equipment, and rarely gained useful Navy experience. We sometimes flew out where the equipment was set up, but it was literally a case of 100 people waiting to use a 3 man watchstation. Perhaps in wartime we would get our own equipment. I was content to maintain a high level of readiness, my Service record, Shot record and uniforms were kept in good working order. But it was mostly sitting in a classroom. In November 2000, a new member checked aboard, our new Corpsman. I didn't really pay attention to her for several months. Like all submariners, I was afraid of Navy females because of the potential problems if someone perceived sexual harassment. Months later, the Corpsman smiled at me and I tried to keep her attention in conversation - just to see that smile again. Wow. Her name is Bethany and I started to like her alot. She sure seemed cool.
In April 2001, our unit got orders to decommission - sort of a shock because we had settled into our routine. But everyone began wandering through the Ft. Worth, Texas Reserve center, shopping through the list of 20 Reserve Units (each with a unique mission) for a new work assignment. I beat a path to the Pearl Harbor unit, finally hoping my dolphins would get some exercise. A Submarine Support unit seemed a logical application for my skills and experience. I thought this would be a great match for me and the Reserves. I managed to convince the Chief and XO there that I would be an asset, and then sold them on the Corpsman's (Bethany) background. This process took several days. Keep in mind that the Reserves meet only 2 days a month, so the process actually took nearly 3 months to get firmly settled. Things move slow there. But after much whining and hoping, Bethany and I were unbilleted members of Naval Submarine Support Command (NSSC), Detachment F (Ft. Worth unit). Our parent command is COMSUBPAC in Pearl Harbor. "Unbilleted" is important, because it means we aren't secure there. We could get yanked into another unit without warning. There are just too many people in NSSC, not enough billets to accommodate everyone. So Bethany and I live with the possibility of reassignment. Sad, because we LOVE working together on the weekends. And I am happy to be associated with COMSUBPAC.
Living with the delicate balance, we submitted orders for our 2 week Annual Training in Pearl Harbor as "general purpose helpers" to COMSUBPAC. There are no promises of what sort of job assignments. 12 people from our unit submitted applications for June. 2 were approved. Bethany's was denied. So we got back on the phone with COMSUBPAC and did some more pleading. Bethany's orders finally were approved (a week before our scheduled departure).
In Summary, when we would tell our family and co-workers that we were going to visit Pearl Harbor together on the Navy's dime, people were cynical and snotty acting. Like we were scamming some deal on the Government. In fact, it was the result of months of pleading and planning, and we were very lucky it all worked out. So we packed up our Seabags, grabbed our orders, and traded seats with some folks so we could sit next to each other on the plane. Whew!
ET2 (SS) Tom Jordan and HM3 Bethany Forrest
PART THREE - Welcome Aboard
I reported in uniform along with a dozen or so Reservists from across the United States to COMSUBPAC. I was the only Reservist wearing dolphins. (It's funny that the EWS / Nuke part of which I am most proud is absolutely unimportant. The dolphins seem to help often). With little regard for our backgrounds, Electronics technicians and Gunner's Mates were all sent down to one submarine to do work, USS Louisville.
There was nothing special going on at the Louisville - no unique shipyard evolutions. I wondered what the heck a boat would do with 12 Reservists? Anybody want to guess? I assume you came to the same conclusion I did - something crappy. Chipping and painting sail plates. I was concerned that this would be a bit rough on our 125 pound Corpsman, running a paint chipper all day, topside in the sun. She seemed unaffected by the idea, but wanted to first ask the Louisville Corpsman if he had any "Corpsman stuff" she could do. He readily took her up on that offer, so Bethany went below decks to work with the Ship's Corpsman.
The Coner-in-charge of chipping saw my dolphins, found out I was a Nuke, and said he had just the job for me - updating pubs below decks. I was glad to escape the paint chipping detail, and he took me below to find my Louisville crewmember - the guy I would be helping.
The daily plan was remarkably predictable after that. Bethany and I drove onto the base, went down to the boat and conducted our workday. Ate lunch, worked a bit more and then went home for the day. Monday through Friday, this was the routine. The second week, Bethany worked aboard USS Chicago, same routine.
I don't know what reservists usually experience in Pearl Harbor. It seems they are a labor pool, and everyone hopes to find a mutually beneficial match between the ship's work and the Reservist. The crewmembers were exceptionally welcoming - even offered to let us eat from the crew's mess. Good guys.
If I have to hot rack....
PART FOUR - "Hold it right there."
My first day aboard USS Louisville and I am on my way topside - leaving for lunch. I wonder if there is coffee. Passing the mess decks, I pick up the pot to see if it is heavy. "Hey, hold it right there", a voice says. Some Chief gets up out of his seat on the mess decks and starts walking towards me. I'm pretty sure this guy wants to learn more about the Reservist that just toyed with the Ship's Coffee decanter. So I prepare my defense for a little light exchange.
"Holy cow" the Chief says when he gets in my face, "It's Tom Jordan."
And that is how Rick Marini recognized me from across the mess decks. When I first met Rick on TUNNY, he was ICFN (SU) Marini. Now he is ETC (SS) Marini onboard Louisville. Luckily, he hasn't changed a bit. I got my hug, told him why I was onboard, and felt really, really good.
Later, Rick invited Bethany and I to have dinner with his family. I remembered Jill, his wife. They have four kids now, they seemed busy getting them fed, homework done and in bed. We looked through their Family photo albums and talked about TUNNY sailors we both knew. Their kids were a treat, well mannered and hilarious. It felt like friends, you know, like we lived there and wanted to see them again next week. Rick has about the same amount of cool submarine memorabilia as I do (maybe more - maybe). I had alot of fun.
Jill and Rick Marini, Tom and Bethany at Marini's home.
(Can you see the four open lunchboxes in the background?)
PART FIVE - Working on Louisville
Poor STSN (SU) Chris Cox had no clue his life was so doomed. In addition to having stepped into responsibility (he complained to the XO that the publications were disorganized and was designated to fix them) - he was working for a first class on Louisville that gave him little guidance, and he had no experience doing anything. In short, he was working on the pubs with a great attitude and no clue.
I'll spare you the details. Essentially, because he had a sorry plan (not his fault), all of what we did in Week One was wasted. We put updates in outdated books, sorted through books that shouldn't even have been there. Busy work, performed IAW every mistake you can possibly make.
The next week, we finally met a civilian who understood the task, explained it to me and allowed me to use his office as a work area. We needed his copier, and access to the pubs he had in his library. Even better, this guy was a former EMCM (SS) with a dry wit and a God-like understanding of our problem. His name is Perry W. Kemplin. I kissed up to him real hard, didn't want to ruffle him in any way. With his advice and copier, we could do a Good Thing for the USS Louisville.
Then STSN Chris got busy doing ship's work, and the days started slipping away. With only a few days left in Hawaii, I lost hope that the pubs updates would be done (these things were a mess) and we needed alot more help. EMCM was pretty sure the boat was screwing up the whole deal, not throwing enough effort at it. Essentially, they would be losing ME in a couple of days, and this problem would not be solved. In addition to other pub types, still below decks, which were likely, similarly, messed up.
I wasn't crazy about leaving Bethany topside at USS Chicago, watching her go below decks to work with the Corpsman there. I knew the crew would hover around her like bees to honey. One woman, below decks with 120 men. Oh well, I trusted her and shook my head. I had explained to her clearly that submarine sailors were perverts and she should be very careful. I watched her walk down the pier to the Chicago with mixed emotions. On one hand, I was so proud that she was technically and physically capable of visiting that weird world below decks, seeing a submarine from the eyes of a worker - albeit a temporary one - not as a visiting wife or on a tour. It would bring a great understanding to her of the reverence I hold for a submarine crew and the Good People who persist in that work. On the other hand, I dreaded sending my girlfriend down there. It's like sending your beer down there and saying, "Hey guys, don't drink it."
This is STSN Chris Cox, caught him with his eyes closed.
Perry the Great.
PART SIX - Family aboard USS Greeneville
Upon my arrival in Pearl Harbor, I quickly located the USS Greeneville. There are 2 crewmembers onboard Greeneville who are dear to me:
Ben Finley: Of my 6 year enlistment, I spent only 2 months of it without Ben Finley - Boot Camp. We weren't in the same Boot Camp company. After that, Ben and I were in every Navy school together, training, and checked aboard USS TUNNY the same day and served together in E Div for 4.5 years underway and in port. Every day of it. I know Ben pretty well, and have seen him in Good Times and in Bad. He has the same perspective of me. Except I left the Navy after my enlistment was complete, and Ben stayed. He is now EMC (SS) Finley, Fearless Leader of E Div onboard the Greeneville. Bethany and I met Ben topside an made a dinner date to spend time with Ben and his family in Pearl. I also know about the family Ben has outside of Pearl - his son by his first marriage who now lives in Wisconsin (I think). This is a sad story I won't tell here, part of the tragedy of a man's life, that marriages end bitterly and precious children don't reside with with us anymore.. but Ben has remarried, now has a daughter and another child on the way, a fantastic wife and only a few months left onboard Greeneville before he rotates to shore duty again. Like Ben's life, my first marriage crumbled in, Ben knows those people, asked discreetly about them, and enthusiastically greeted my girlfriend Bethany. Ben acted like none of the first marriage ever happened, excusing me from that humiliation. I gave him the same enthusiastic welcome for his new family. We never had to agree to do this - we just knew that adjustments had been made, and we wished the very best for each other. Good shipmates, still. There is understanding between us, and gratitude that life can go on with your old buddies still participating, regardless of whatever else goes wrong. We both knew what the other has lost, and we both were glad to visit in such remarkable circumstances.
Aaron Berger: Readers of the TUNNY Homepage know Aaron as one of our own. His mom had written to me when Aaron was a wanna-be, just after Boot Camp. She was reading about subs and nukes on the internet, found TUNNY and started writing. I have had the pleasure of following Aaron's enlistment as an observer through his graduation at prototype and as he received orders to Greeneville. Before Aaron shipped out to Greeneville, he and his mom stopped in Dallas long enough to have dinner and share some laughs. I wished him Good Luck and promised to look him up if I ever got out to Sub Base. So I did. I met Aaron again topside on the Greeneville, dressed as an MM3 (SU) nub and doing fine. We made a sushi dinner date, and I sent him back down to his work.
By the way, while I was in Pearl, Aaron performed calmly in the face of a almost-flooding incident onboard Greeneville. It's just the usual in-port crap that can go wrong, it wasn't his fault, but he was on the scene and did everything right. I was proud I was in town to hear that firsthand.
And for those of you that knew Ben Finley, you still would.
Et2 (SS) Tom Jordan and EMC (SS) Ben Finley
Finleys: Lori, Anna, Ben with Tom and Bethany at dinner
Promise kept - Aaron Berger, Tom and Bethany at sushi dinner.
The yellow guy is named Todai. He is officially supposed to be a lighthouse, I think he looks like a condom.
PART SEVEN - Glory
With only 3 days left in Pearl, I had lost hope in the Louisville. I hadn't seem my partner STSN Cox in a couple of days, he had been busy doing ship's stuff, duty days, gun shoots, school of the boat. All these obligations seemed to conspire against our progress. I could only accomplish "so much" working alone, and I became resolved that the amount of work was more than I could complete in the few remaining days. Which was difficult to admit, since I had hoped to bring down a set of organized tech manuals back to the boat. A big bow wrapped around them.
My attitude took a nosedive when I realized it didn't matter to Louisville whether this job got done correctly or not. Both Mr. Kemplin and myself saw the situation with the sort of old-salt contempt for those kids onboard Louisville that weren't willing to put in the hours and effort, like we did "back in the day". Finally Perry got through to the ship's XO, and our own ETC (SS) Rick Marini fixed the problem for me. He had Chris working solely on our project, no other duties. He sent over 4 nubs from Louisville to pitch in. I organized our Louisville crewmembers into small working assignments, and magically, it started flowing. Unfortunately, we were still working on the books when I had to check out and come home. But the important facts are:
- When alerted to the seriousness of the matter, the XO started pushing
- When he heard what was happenning, ETC (SS) Marini (a former TUNNY sailor) found some labor and pulled his strings to make resources available
- When the nub-help showed up, they enthusiastically helped and followed every instruction
- When I left the group to return home, they had a PLAN and a CLUE and work was progressing at a quick pace.
- Because he was initially clueless, but saw the task take shape, STSN Cox now has a clue about this collatral duty and can keep it running smoothly. The learning experience benefits HIM and the boat.
- I saw a submarine crew solve a problem, "just like the good old days."
I am so proud that everything came together, just like it should have. I can happily report to you --- Submarine sailors can still do anything, in the least functional working conditions, and things work out like you hope they could because the sailors genuinely want to fix the problems. I saw it happen, just like I remembered it always was on TUNNY. A total mess was completely repaired, and is now running smoothly..
HOW COOL IS THAT? That's your submarine force, still capable of solving a problem.
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