This Veteran’s Dirty Little Secret

And so begins the annual Veterans Day marathon of back-slapping patriotic fervor: 24 hours of feel-good stories about veterans and their dedicated service.  Former soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines can reminisce about their good old days on active duty, and the rest of America will nearly burst from grateful appreciation.  But guess what?

I don’t miss it.

I’m glad to be a civilian.  There – I said it.  I did my time, paid my dues, walked down the gangplank for the last time and never looked back.  On this Veterans Day, I’m celebrating by remembering all the reasons I don’t miss being in the Navy.

The Unflattering Uniforms

Two words: Demi Moore.  She’s an ageless beauty who oozes sex appeal from every pore, but do you remember her in A Few Good Men?  She looked like an overgrown school boy with sausage legs.  If she couldn’t make dress whites look good, there was absolutely no hope for the rest of us.

Demi Moore in her whites

Demi Moore in her whites

Me in my whites

Me in my whites









I Am Not a Morning Person

Golden sunrise clouds and rising sun above sea , Atlantic Ocean

A little bit of my spirit died every time I had to get up before the sun.  What is the military obsession with starting everything at zero dark thirty? Early morning ops are apparently considered a selling point (see this US Army ad from 1981). My goal for the rest of my civilian life is to never again watch the sunrise (although I have to admit, they were pretty spectacular over the ocean…).

I Am Not a Middle of the Night Person, Either

Three a.m. is when I like to be sleeping, not sucking down gallons of super-strong coffee while staring at an empty, black sea or an empty, black radar screen (empty because even our sworn nautical enemies aren’t crazy enough to stay up all night).  My watch team and I did more between midnight and 6 am than most people do in a whole day, but apparently that wasn’t a considered a very compelling recruiting message.

Friendship Lights are Not Your Friends

friendship lightsI worked in the electrical division of an aircraft carrier on a Mediterranean deployment, and we had the unenviable task of rigging the friendship lights in every port.  While our shipmates headed out on liberty, we were untangling a thousand feet of electric light strings.  While our shipmates were drinking themselves silly in the nearest bar, we were replacing burned out light bulbs.  While our shipmates enjoyed the pleasures of a good meal, we were trying to get the strings of lights to stay lit on their riggings.  And when our shipmates were sleeping soundly after a wonderful night on the town, I was having anxiety dreams about the lights flickering off.

Good times.

My division rigging the friendship lights in the Med.  Notice the chief supervising with coffee mug in hand.

My division rigging the friendship lights in the Med. Notice chief at left, supervising with coffee mug in hand.

Water, Water, Every Where, Nor Any Drop To Drink

Samuel Taylor Coleridge pegged this one correctly – navy ships never have enough water.  I lived on an impressively complicated and fully-functioning city with a nuclear reactor below and an airport above, but despite being surrounded by the world’s oceans I went six months without ever completely rinsing my hair. In the best of times, the water was strictly rationed and difficult to coax from the nozzles of “navy showers.”  In the worst of times, the water was nonexistent.  Half the time, it inexplicably tasted and smelled like jet fuel. Every time I lose my keys or call one of my kids by the wrong name, I’m blaming the jet fuel.

I know I’m not the only veteran who’s happy to leave certain trappings of military life behind.  Many colleagues who attended the United States Naval Academy (which attracts more than a million tourists annually to its picturesque campus) admit that their favorite view of the school is “the one in my rear view mirror.”

United States Naval Academy

United States Naval Academy

On this Veterans Day, I hope my fellow veterans and former shipmates will join me in celebrating by sleeping in late, taking a LONG hot shower (maybe even a bath!), and drinking a beer while not worrying about burned out light bulbs or anything else.

They are the one thing I will always miss about my good old days on active duty.  Truth be told, I am bursting with grateful appreciation for their friendship and camaraderie.

Happy Veterans Day!

6 thoughts on “This Veteran’s Dirty Little Secret

  1. Tim Gedney, MS, MPA, PA-C, LCDR, USN (Ret.)

    Great piece, Laura!! I’m proud to one of the ones who was ashore having a beer, taking a long, hot shower, and hoping you’d get those damn lights rigged so you could get off the ship and come join us!! 🙂

  2. bswander

    I miss the good folks that I worked with in the Navy and I’d do about anything for another midnight bridge watch, but life is different on a submarine. We didn’t have any friendship lights but we didn’t get to go anywhere exotic either. Most of the time we had plenty of good clean water, too. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  3. Jesse B

    I love it, Laura. Jet fuel…lost key…Ha! I was army; no water stories, but my shite knees can easily be attributed to long marches with rucksacks. Nearly wet myself at the jet fuel line…


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