Looking back at my time in the Navy, I realize how many important decisions I had to make, decisions that would affect the rest of my life. The Navy sent me to the wrong ship after I got out of training school. I wanted to work as a parachute rigger, an ‘Airedale.’
The Navy has three classes of sailors: the air department, i.e. Airedales, also known as brown shoes; the black shoes, regular Navy sailors; and the submariners, or bubbleheads. My orders were to a ship that did not have any airmen onboard. I had to decide if I wanted to stay on the ship and change my designation, or if I wanted to transfer to another command, to pursue my desired career path. After sleeping on it, I asked for a transfer. I had to decide which ship to be transferred to, the USS Nimitz, which is run by two nuclear power plants and commissioned in 1975; or the USS Coral Sea, an oil burner commissioned in 1947.
I based my decision on the same reason I joined the Navy above any other branch of the military, I wanted to see the world. Since I was much older than the average recruit was, I had many friends who were already out of the service when I joined. They agreed that even being stationed in Germany, the surrounding landscape and people would not change drastically. It would be like driving to Kansas from Colorado. On the other hand, I would always be in port cities, and most ports are similar. Once you got away from the water, things were much different. Many countries will not allow nuclear powered vessels in their harbors. Australia will not allow our aircraft carriers or our nuclear powered submarines. They will however, allow our destroyers and frigates to pull into their ports.
I transferred to the Coral Sea within a month of making my choice. While out in town, I ran into a friend who was on the Nimitz. Mike shared some of the ship’s horror stories. They constantly drilled incase of a NBC (nuclear, biologic or chemical) attack. They also drilled constantly for the event of an onboard nuclear ‘incident.’ Mike joked about them always running around in their banana suits, their bright yellow plastic protective-wear.
Three months after I transferred to the Coral Sea, the Nimitz changed their homeport from Norfolk, Virginia, to Bremerton, Washington. They sailed completely around the world to get to their new duty station. I took the last two cruises of the Coral Sea, before it was decommissioned. Our shipped stopped in Spain, Italy, France, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Canada, and the Dominican Republic. I have been able to: touch the Roman Coliseum; see the paintings of Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel; climb inside one of the Great Pyramids of Giza; take the bullet train from Marseilles to Paris; shake hands with Charlton Heston in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I made many decisions in the Navy, and most had great consequences.