Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home, the Dome

My flights to Minneapolis took me from Honolulu to Phoenix (about six hours) and from Phoenix to Minneapolis (a little more than three). Throw in a two and a half hour lay over and five time zone changes and my body is still a little "off" from traveling. No matter. I'm back in Minnesota and plan on making the most of my time here. (Even if "making the most of my time" this afternoon involved a two hour nap.)

The flights were relatively uneventful. Pretty much sleep-a-thons. I did wake up with about 45 left until we landed in MSP. I could see all the farms out the window - the geographical squareness of plots and flatness of southern Minnesota. And then, after a few minutes and a hundred miles, I spotted more and more lakes, and the number of trees increased. Being that I grew up 15-20 minutes from the MSP airport in South Minneapolis, I tried guessing which route we were coming in on and which runway I was going to land on. Over the rivers and Hwy 5? No, not this time. I ended up on one that passes over Cedar/77 by the new(ish) Target and Home Depot. Yes, I'm such a Minnesotan that it's even important for me to know which route the plane took to land.

After I got my bags, Paul and Megan picked me up and we met my folks for an Ayers family tradition - post-flight pie at Bakers Square in Highland Park. (Do you know good it feels to let things like Highway 5, Bakers Square and Highland Park roll off my fingers?) I finally got to meet my newest nephew, Jasper. He's quite the little peanut. I'll provide my final assessment of him at the end of the two weeks, but his initial impression was positive. I think he'll make the cut and get added to the Dramatis Personae soon.

Because I'm here for three weekends and two of the other weekends are already planned, we ended up deciding to go to the Dome (the family cabin shaped like a geodesic dome) this first weekend. Dad, Megan, Lincoln, Jasper and I all headed up to the Dome on Friday evening, while Mom, Paul and the two dogs came up Saturday morning. I love the Dome so very much. I do not love mosquitoes, however, and this weekend they were not just pesky but plentiful. I have the welts to prove it. I can safely say that skeeters are the only thing I DON'T miss about MN.

The first night of sleeping was rough. (I don't sleep well on a good day, granted.) My internal clock was off and I couldn't fall asleep. Plus, my sister is breastfeeding Jasper, so she woke up at midnight, four and seven to feed him. The thing about the Dome is that everyone sleeps upstairs in the loft - there are no separate rooms. So when Jasper would start to fuss and Megan would wake up to feed him, I had already been "awoken" 10 minutes prior by Jasper's stirring. Which is to say, I had been roused from my drifting in and out of conscientiousness because I couldn't ever properly fall asleep. I got up the next morning feeling like a battery that had failed to be charged properly.

My lack of energy failed to stop me from helping mow the yard and play baseball with Lincoln. There was swinging on the tire swing and lounging on the deck, listening to the Twins play Seattle. There was construction of Lincoln-sized ladders and stacking logs that Dad has chainsawed up into firewood. We grilled burgers and I even went for a run around the 1.5 road that our cabin sits on. I figure I'm going to be eating a lot this trip - food is love, right? - and I need to make sure I don't abandon my exercise routine. I mean, c'mon. My family has things like post-flight pie for Pete's sake. Running will be necessary. I also figured that if I wore myself out by jogging while tired I would sleep better Saturday night.

After the kids went to bed, more traditions - playing Oh Hell and some cribbage. Finally it was time for bed, and while I still didn't sleep great I did sleep better, due to some drastic decisions by me. That particular story can stay exclusively with the family and in the annals of Dome lore. Today we headed back into town because it is HOT here. Hotter than Hawaii. And hot at the Dome isn't too much fun. But I feel that I got an adequate cabin fix and that I can leave here content with the time I did get to spend there.

Now it's on to planning time with friends and family. Let the great coordination of hanging out begin!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

So happy to be one of 150,000

For those that haven't heard, the military is probably going to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell , (DADT) policy. As part of the repeal process, they sent out anonymous questionnaires to approximately 400,000 service members to see how they would feel about serving with openly gay and lesbian members. They also sent out 150,000 questionnaires to spouses to get their view on things. I was delighted to be one of the spouses that got to make her opinion heard.

The questionnaire wasn't very long and focused exclusively how openly gay members of the military would impact me, as a spouse. I was asked questions like, "If your family lived in military housing and a gay family moved in next door, what would you do?" My multiple-choice options to answer were something along the lines of "Get to know them more than your straight neighbors" "Get to know them the same way you would any other neighbors" "Ignore them" or "Move". I was also asked if I would be more or less likely to participate in various family support groups and social events if I knew there were gay family members also participating.

The main reason I was so happy to be one of the 70,000 active duty spouses that got to answer the DADT survey is because I'm sure there are spouses answering the survey that thought, "There's no way I'm going to the command picnic if a gay member's family is there." I want the Department of Defense to know that for some of us, having openly gay members and their families as part of our military family is NO BIG DEAL. I believe the repeal is a positive thing - it allows for honesty in the military. People could be who they are without compromise, secrecy or fear.

I think it's horribly unfair and wrong that Zac can have a photo of me on his desk at work, but a gay sailor can't have a picture of him and his partner. Something like 6% of the American public volunteers to serve in the military. This means we are counting on a very few to do a lot of the heavy lifting that freedom and security requires. So if a young man or woman, who happens to be gay, wants to join and serve us I think we should all say simply, "Thank you for your service."

Note that nowhere in the survey was I asked if gay members should be allowed to serve. I was also not asked what impact their service would have on my spouse's work (which, of course would be pure speculation on my part). However, there was a section for comments at the end of the survey, which I used as my opportunity to share that I whole-heartedly disagreed with DADT and that I was glad that it was being repealed. They didn't ask me, but I decided to tell. It's about time everyone got that chance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Birthdays and an Admiral named Kate

It will be August 17th for a few more hours out here in the middle of the Pacific, so I'm still 32 for the moment. Yes, another year - another birthday. I think I'll cling to one last year of my "early 30s" before easing into my "mid 30s" next year. I talked to Megan and Paul this afternoon and Paul congratulated me on turning 27 this year. He got a gold star for the day.

Tomorrow morning I'm celebrating by going to the beach with Claudia. This may come as a shock to some of you, but just because I live in Hawaii doesn't mean that I spend all my time at the beach. In fact, I can't even think of the last time I had a swim suit on. (Wow. Even I'm a little stunned by that realization.) Last summer I was a beach regular, when Zac and I would go diving every other weekend, but we just haven't gotten into the rhythm of going this summer. Our weekends always seem to be busy with other plans, and also I've read that women that are pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) shouldn't be diving since researchers are not sure what effect the increase of nitrogen in the blood will have on a blastocyst/embryo/fetus. And while it's better to be safe than sorry, it is still with a bit of regret that I look back at almost a full summer of no diving.

Getting back to the celebration of my birth, I'm probably not going to be doing much tomorrow besides the beach. I think I've convinced Zac that maybe we should head into Honolulu or even Waikiki this weekend to have some fun. Maybe other folks will want to tag along. I'll have to send some feelers out to see if anyone else wants to go.

Not much else is new around here. Induction season is in full swing. Zac is routinely getting up earlier than usual to go PT with the selectees. Neither one of us is too excited when the alarm goes off at 0445. You can't really escape the CPO/induction madness. Today Zac and I headed over to the uniform shop so we could drop off one of his uniforms to get dry cleaned and to get some tailoring done on a shirt that I have. (They tailor civilian clothes there too.) I was standing in line for a few minutes, waiting for the seamstress to finish with the person ahead of me when I noticed a bunch of chiefs hanging around the fitting room. One guy had a camera. It dawned on me quickly that there must be a selectee in the changing room getting fitted for his new uniform. (Chiefs have different work and dress uniforms from the junior enlisted guys.)

The selectee finally came out in his new choker whites. He looked a little dazed. The chiefs snapped up photos of him. "This is all part of the transition," one chief chuckled. The seamstress had the selectee try on another coat and they talked about pants sizes. I smiled at how much the selectee and the chiefs were enjoying the moment.

At this point an officer came up and asked me if I was the line for the tailor. We started to chit chat as we waited. She was a fit, petite woman, probably in her late 40s. She had an warm energy about her that I liked. I noticed she had a name tag on - her first name was Kate. A clear indicator of coolness.

I glanced at her collar devices to see what rank she was and saw that she had a star. Holy moly, she was an admiral. It actually took me a second to realize that she was an admiral because, honestly, I've never met someone with a star before. I tried not to stare at her too much, but she was really interesting. Since she was in uniform I offered her the position in front of me in line, which she politely declined. (We were both in no hurry - both of us were trying to avoid traffic on the way home.) I told her there was a selectee in the fitting room, getting fitting for his chokers. She smiled broadly and said, "There are two things in the Navy that I've always wanted to do but I've never gotten to do - serve on an aircraft carrier and be a chief." That stunned me a little. She went on to talk about how much she admired chiefs and the induction process, and how special it was.

We talked a little more about chiefs and Zac in particular when Zac decided to join us in line. He was wearing his Oklahoma City marathon t-shirt so the Admiral asked him about the race. They started to talk about running as I was called into the fitting room. I excused myself and went to get fitted. On the way out, the Admiral was getting fitted for a jacket. I thanked her for helping me pass the time in line, which she returned. Zac and I went to the checkout where he questioned, "Do you realize she's an admiral?" I said, with big eyes and a nod, "Yes." Zac was a little amazed because he didn't think he had ever spoken that many words to an Admiral before. Also, he was surprised that she had her Seabee warfare pin. A female admiral who is in construction? A rare find, indeed.

I got home and Googled the Admiral, of course. Rear Admiral Kate Gregory. (I know it's silly, but I think it's neat that we spell "Katherine" the same way.) She put on Admiral this summer. Part of me is glad I didn't know her resume before we met. I'm pretty sure I would have been more intimidated by her had I known she was was the Navy’s first female Civil Engineer Corps flag officer and that she is in charge of NAVFAC Pacific. That's no small feat. But on the other hand, it would be pretty neat to pick the brain of someone who has been so successful in the Navy. Who knows? Maybe we'll pick up our tailoring at the same time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's induction season again

The Navy released the names of the sailors who have been selected to become Chief Petty Officers today. They are now Chief Selects (a.k.a. Selectees) and will go through about six weeks of induction to bring them into the CPO fold. It can be a taxing process for the selectees, but it is an important opportunity to learn some history, build camaraderie, and work on their leadership skills. Or so I'm told. A lot of what goes on with induction is between the existing chiefs and the selectees, and isn't open for public consumption. I do know that there is a lot of studying and memorization that selectees have to do. They run fundraisers like car washes and eateries for the Khaki Ball. There are events like a golf tournament and other outings they have to participate in. They will exercise a lot and have to endure a fair amount of mental stress, but at least they don't beat the selectees like they did 20+ years ago. Apparently the Navy figured out that physical assault doesn't have a role in developing leaders.

I have either been dating or married to Zac for four induction seasons but they've all been different so I'm still learning about what induction season brings. The first season was when Zac was going through his induction (by himself) in El Salvador. The next year we were in the middle of moving to Hawaii while it was happening, and Zac missed out on participating. Last year was the first "normal" induction season I've been around with lots of selectees going through it together at a major Navy installation. This year should be similar to last, with Zac being even more involved this time. Zac especially enjoys the physical training part of induction season, but he's weird that way.

What's different about this year is that Zac and I have a good friend who is a first class (E-6) that didn't make it. (I guess I'll dub him "Max".) It was Max's first year up for chief, and while it's not uncommon to not make it your first time, he's still very disappointed. Max is really the first guy who isn't a chief that I've become good friends with. That's not because I'm some sort of elitist wife who refuses to socialize with junior sailors - it's because the sailors that I've met so far (and befriended) have all been guys that Zac works with at ATG where almost everyone is a chief. And when I do occasionally meet some of Zac's old Port Royal friends (that are still in the Navy) most of them have been in longer than Zac and therefore they, too, all tend to be chiefs.

Despite the fact that Zac and Max have been friends for eight years, their difference in rank has caused a hiccup a couple of times since they've been back on the island together again. They both know that it's just the way things go when a system is structured like the Navy, but that doesn't make it easier. The Navy puts such a point of emphasis on the difference between being an E-6 and a chief that it makes for some tough situations that wouldn't exist in other branches, where the difference between being an E-6 and an E-7 is much less important. I know that Zac and Max will be able to handle this next induction season with understanding of each other's position, but I do expect a little awkwardness along the way. I'm not looking forward to that.

Perhaps I'm just too sensitive about stuff like this. Making chief is a lot like getting promoted anywhere else in life - the powers that be make a decision based on unknown variables and standards and you're left wondering why some people got promoted and why others didn't. It's not like an exam where there's a number you need to achieve to advance, like "You scored 75, which is above the required 72. You're being promoted!" The chiefs that I've talked to say that there are certain things that sailors can do to put themselves in the best position to be promoted, but then I hear about certain people that make it and I'm left wondering how in the world their "resume" looked better than those of some guys who didn't make it. Add in the fact that the Navy also advances people based on quotas, meaning that some years the numbers are just against you, and it can be a frustrating system.

So while I congratulate all of those that made it today, I have a lot of empathy for those that worked hard but didn't see their name on the list.