It begins with that God awful whistle.
I don’t know who thought that giving a boatswain a whistle to blast into a microphone (sorry aboard ship it’s called the 1MC) was a good idea, but I would like to have words with that individual.
"Reveille! Reveille! Reveille! All hands heave out. Reveille!”
Fair boatswain, you thought you got me at that whistle. But you are sorely mistaken. I relish sleep, eat in the wardroom and don’t have to stand on line for breakfast. I shall return to sleep!
And then. The wake up song.
“Good morning. This is your wake up song”
It doesn’t take more than two chords to recognize it. It’s going to be either ZZ Top or…
“Let’s go girls.”
Really? Isn’t this a warship?
“I'm going out tonight, I'm feelin' alright, gonna let it all hang out…”
Its Women’s History Month aboard the USS Ashland and thanks to the Boatswains Mate working the 0200-0800 watch, I will have Shania Twain’s “Man! I feel like a woman!” in my head for the
next day. next three days.
Making matters worse, pulling from imagery lodged deep in my memory the song goes hand-in-hand with disturbing images of my holy friend, Rabbi Joshua Scott Rabin. In drag. Making a run as top contestant in the 2000 Ms. Seaboard USY Pageant. Nothing will ever purge that image.
Now, I’m awake.
I get dressed in the same pajamas that I wear every day: Woodland Marine Corps Cammies. They might not be designed for sleeping, but they are super comfortable. I head down to the wardroom for breakfast and a primer of coffee. The first of what will inevitably be many cups. 0830: the first meeting. Another day has officially begun for me and the Marines embarked out here.
I’m well into the third week of being at sea. At this point, I only hit my head on something on average of twice per day. I’m really getting good at that. Though I will be walking with a severe hunch for several months following this little trip.
Days aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-42) flow into one another seamlessly. The gentle rocking of the ship makes me sleepy at all times. That is unless the ship is in extremely rough waters, when the crazy rocking makes me simultaneously sleepy and nauseous.
Speaking of rocking: a physical training regimen is highly encouraged on ships like this (although there is very limited space in the gyms). Things people don’t think about: when you run on a treadmill on a ship, sometimes you run downhill and sometimes you run very steeply uphill.
My schedule changes based on counseling needs and classes that I might be teaching. Two days a week, I run a Bible Study. We’re deep into the Book of Judges, and I have to tell you. It’s pretty darn good. I recommend reading it again, if it has been some time for you. The whole thing is under 21 chapters (which I know for a fact is fewer than the first Hunger Games book).
Three times a week, I go up to the bridge at night. With the helmsmen keeping the ship on course, quartermasters hovering over their charts (not maps, maps are of land; charts are for water), and boatswains doing whatever it is that boatswains do.
At exactly 2155, a boatswain steps up to the 1MC.
“Tattoo. Tattoo. Stand by for evening prayer.”
I get on the 1MC, do my thing. Being liturgical I don’t mind repeating myself. I pray about a trend of the day, muse about morale, or speak to fears. The prayer is to put people’s minds at ease before shuffling into bed. Like a big bedtime Sh’ma for 700 people.
“Help me, O God, to lie down in peace. Let me not be troubled by bad dreams. Grant that I may awaken, to a renewed life, again tomorrow. For you are our Eternal guardian, Source of comfort and peace. And Let us say, Amen.
Good night, USS Ashland. Semper Fidelis, 31st MEU. Rabs Out.”
Time to go to bed.
"Taps! Taps! Out all white lights. All hands turn in to their racks and maintain silence about the decks. Taps."