By lex, Mon – March 1, 2004
Naval aviators on deployment live lives of monk-like austerity. Profane monks perhaps, but cloistered nonetheless. Life is ordered around work, there is no alcohol, the food will keep you alive (and not much more), and while there are women at sea these days, there might as well not be. In fact it would probably be better in some regards: In the old days, one was not tempted because there was no source of temptation. They might as well have signs reading “nolo me tangere .” And to extend the monastic metaphor a bit further, there are even bells (and whistles) to call us to our matins and send us to our rest.
The fact that these are nearly universally disregarded by the aviators, whether to wake us from our cells, or send us to the land of Lethe merely means we are perhaps not quite as devoted as we might be to a purely naval sense of rectitude.
Ashore, life is somewhat different…
Squadrons pool resources once ashore, and typically select a four or five star hotel to stay . Generally a suite will be chosen, with adjoining bedrooms. Large quantities of adult beverages, purchased for the occasion prior to deployment, and typically stored safely (well, relatively safely) in the squadron executive officer’s stateroom, are transported ashore, and bedded down in the bath tub (who takes baths, anymore?).
Shaolin monks at sea, rock stars in port.
We were headed in to Perth, West Australia back in 1987. It had been a long, long period on the line, and everyone was itching for a run ashore. Since this was well before 9/11, and “force protection” was something of an oxymoron, we had plans for a huge series of parties in Perth, a veritable movable feast. Each squadron in the air wing would, on a different night, sponsor a bash, and the battle group together had a blow out party the first night in to ensure that we had the opportunity to meet our prospective guests for the following evenings. Many of the denizens of Oz, for their part, seemed only too happy to have some new folks to drink with.
There is nothing that can be done in naval aviation, that cannot form the basis of healthy competition. I have seen aviators returning from deployment compete to see who could sleep the longest. The otherwise obnoxious products of certain routine bodily functions have been competed over, with careful measurements and thoughtful evaluations followed by gratifying universal approbation accruing to the victor. Let us go no further down that particular trail, however. Deacons of profanity, I warned you.
To call this phenomenon spirited competition is perhaps to classify it too weakly. For the most part, it is very healthy, when it involves landing grades or professional performance in the air.
But when it comes to parties, their scale, grandeur and the number and quality of invitees, it could be down right cutthroat, slice your distributor cable, knife in the back competition.
Winner take all, and to the devil with the hindmost.
Each squadron would send an envoy, or “admin queen” ashore the night before arriving in port. Among his functions would include coordinating the suite, any rental cars (we mostly didn’t drive in Perth – wrong side of the road) and greeting the returning heroes on the pier with the first of many cold beverages. Not least among his duties was to find appropriate guests to invite to the squadron party. A man’s career could be made or destroyed in this quest. His judgment and discernment would be subject to the forbidding and irrevocable assessment of his peers. The competition for invitees was keen.
So it seemed to many of us unfair, when one of the F-14s squadrons concocted a plan to put a huge bundle of party invites in their speedbrakes for the formation fly-by of the city, two days prior to our arrival. Once over the town center, they opened the speedbrakes, and the invites drifted to the ground, well in advance of our respective delegation’s arrival ashore. We had our noses in a joint because, well, none of the rest of us had thought of it.
The air wing commander, or CAG, was not impressed however. Littering the municipal streets with party invites didn’t send precisely the message he had intended to provide to our hosts. The squadron commanding officer, along with the lead pilot, were placed in “hacq” (housing arrest, confined to quarters, i.e., aboard ship) for the duration of the port visit.
Once we had laid aside our schadenfreude, the rest of us considered this a rather extreme punishment, for what had been, at the end of the day, a really good idea. Too, Perth was our only real liberty port of a six-month cruise. Our guiltily suppressed sense of glee was liberated however, when the F-14 squadron (sans CO) was forced to admit the variety of stumble-drunks, detritus and ne’er do wells who arrived at their suite, with invitations in hand, with every expectation of being entertained.
It can be a hard service, but it has its rewards 😉