My friend, Brian Moore, summed up one of the feelings that I usually have with a few simple words. "What sucks right now is knowing people I care about are deploying without me". Unless you have served or are involved in the military in some way, you won't really get it. Most people look at me like I'm crazy when I say that I miss my squadron and I miss being on the ship.
.5% of Americans take the oath of enlistment and boldly go where many will not go. With an exception of those who support our military (and you all know who you are), the rest of the 99.5% of the country seems to really take for granted what we do.
I have been called a murderer because I worked on the planes that refueled the F/A-18s that dropped bombs on Iraq and Afghanistan. I am not a violent person by any means. There's a reason why I chose the branch of service and rate that I did. I did not want to be boots on the ground. I did not want to be infantry. Many people have tried to guilt trip me about this and it's ridiculous because I have the utmost respect for every single person who has gone over there, but I knew what I wanted to do and where I could excel. I also have spoken to people who have been on the ground who have thanked me for serving onboard ship because they "just couldn't do that". In the end, it's all about the team.
When I was in high school, the Navy's "Accelerate Your Life" recruitment campaign was in full swing, even had one of my favorite bands on the commercial (Godsmack playing "Awake"). I took one look at that commercial - the final checker sending the bird off, being that last person to lay eyes over that machine to make sure that it was 100% prepared for flight, and I said to myself that I wanted to be there. I wanted to be that person. I wanted that responsibility.
And I did it. I went to boot camp and completed it. Many of my own friends doubted my abilities, and tried to bring me down before I even left. The man who recruited me, the Navy Recruiter who sent me to boot camp told me that he didn't think that I would make it. How's that for a cheap shot and even better vindication??
I completed it. Everything they threw at me, I threw back. Boot camp was also where I met the first of many people in the Navy who would have a profound effect on my life. Someone who challenges me and doesn't let me feel sorry for myself. Someone who inspires me to be a better person, and isn't afraid to tell me when I've fucked up, but someone that no matter how much time has passed, I can always count on. I am so lucky to have more than one person who is like this for me.
My squadron was a challenge that nothing in this life could have prepared me for. I was met with challenges day after day, work and personal wise. I cannot say that I enjoyed working in my shop because that would be a lie. I enjoyed working with certain people in my shop. The people who were willing to teach, willing to give me a shot, and not give me the stereotypical bullshit about being a female.
I carried parts almost heavier than I was. I ran my ass all over the flight line and flight deck. Did I make mistakes? Hell yeah. Did I learn from those mistakes? Every single day. But I never made the same mistake twice.
I had to deal with people bringing me down when I meritoriously advanced to Third Class Petty Officer, and had to deal with it again when I was the only person in my shop to get an end of deployment Navy Achievement Medal (the only NAM that I ever got in the military). I didn't go to work every single day to earn medals or awards. I went because I made a commitment. I went because I wanted to serve my country. I went because the military gave me something when I had nothing at all.
If not for the US Navy, I would not have money to go to college. If not for the US Navy, I would not have had the time of my life traveling around the world. I still have many more places to go and see, but the Navy got me started on that.
I would not know some of the most brilliant people to ever set foot in my life. I am thankful for every single person that I've met because of my service. It is those people that after years of not keeping in touch that I can pick up and talk to again like we just saw each other yesterday. There is an understanding that life continues, and its okay if we don't happen to talk daily and that we can't always keep in touch. The important thing is the knowledge that if you need something, all you have to do is ask.
I am feeling very nostalgic tonight. I get this way every now and again. I didn't think my departure from the military was going to be this rough. That I won't go back to sea and I won't feel the pride of seeing an airplane that I fixed fly in the sky. This door has shut. There's still the Reserves, but its not the same.
A lot of people that I know were just so happy to do their one tour of duty and get out. As I watch and see, so many more of my comrades are being let go because of the same ridiculous system that I went through. People who I served beside, People who I entrusted with my life, People who I consider to be my family. We are all being faced with this harsh reality, but I will never regret one minute of my service to this country.