By lex, October 13, 2006
And, what with all the cake-cutting and the ice cream socializing and the wearing of lampshades on my head – whoops! That was the last night in Bahrain, never mind – I sort of forget to blog about it.
Well that and the fact that the jet lag man is still viciously keeping me down. And I’m pretty busy. And the deck was up. The sun was in my eyes. There was an earthquake. Terrible flood.
So, we were 231 years old yesterday. And still have our hairline, most of our own teeth, and a good resting heart rate. And we’re still at sea, or getting ready for sea or coming back from having been at sea, pretty much all the time. Being, you know: The Sea Service, and all.
Which, in terms of enduring connections to our storied past, is worth keeping in mind. There’s a tendency for people inside institutions to lose the big picture sometimes, a tendency to look back at some memory-shrouded and idealized past, or look forward to some hazy, perfectly realized future, if only this decision had been made or that program had been supported, or if that other institute of higher learning could be shut down until it had been re-habilitated until it once more clove to our own concept of the ideal.
The fact is that we’ve never had a perfect Navy, and we have never all of us been content. Our ships and aircraft have never been perfect, and the vagaries of fate may mean that fools will rise further than they ought to while good men are all too often left behind. But we have always been better than the sum of our individual parts and always the mission has remained. We have always accomplished that mission effectively, even if not always perfectly, if not always efficiently. Being an interlinked and interdependent pyramid of imperfect beings, our vision is clouded at times; we see the world darkly, as through a glass. We err.
We have a grave responsibility to the republic, and it would be irresponsible of us not to focus on our imperfections – although, perhaps we might not do so on our birthday, but never mind: While doing so, we should always strive to maintain a decent degree of humility and proportion. We must see ourselves in the mosaic.
There are activist legal scholars who discover to their gratified amazement that their personal policy preferences were enshrined in the Constitution all along, that they had been secretly encoded. Not unlike them are many of us who love our service so well. We often think that we could love it just that little bit better, if only it would be more like we would like it to be. More ships, better airplanes, a couple of those submarine thingies. SEALs. CB’s. EOD. More nearly perfect.
It’s necessary to remember though that we are but ghosts and we pass through, leaving only traces behind. The institution endures, the mission will be accomplished.
So the ship threw a little party last night, and we cut some cake and had some ice cream to go with it and it was all very nice, a welcome diversion. Today is a new day, and it’s cleaning quarters now, and all throughout the ship, young Sailors strive again, as they have six days a week for five and one half months, as they have for 231 years, since barefoot seaman trod the tilting wooden decks of square-rigged heavy frigates, to make an old girl look her very best. In a couple of hours the catapults will start to rattle and bang as we start once again feeding strike fighters into the fight. Young men and women will be prepared to do the hard and necessary thing, and back aboard ship, younger men and women will make sure that when they return, they have a ready deck, with the ship well into the wind, and making turns for recovery winds. Food will be cooked and served, eyes will watch the sweeping dials or radar screens, and the snipes down in the propulsion plant will keep the screws turning and the lights burning. On the flight deck, in the hangar bay and in the shops, young men and women will work almost in anonymity to ensure that the last airplane that launches is as capable as the first. The ship – I almost said “we” – will keep that going until well after sun down. The bells will strike odd numbers every half hour, even bells to the hour until eight bells toll and the watch is relieved. Far away, but closer every moment, another strike group is on the way, brusquely shouldering the waves aside to relieve this ship and her escorts. Back in home waters another is in training to relieve while another is wrapping up a ship yard period, eager to slip down the ways and win out once more to the open sea. After her it will be this old girl’s turn again. It is all bought and paid for by the great nation that we serve, and made to run by we these ghost who pass though, with our dreams both large and small, dreams achieved and dreams frustrated, all of them enframed within the great mission with which we are charged.
Our mission is what it always has been, back two hundred and thirty years into our past, extending purposefully forward into our future: We defend freedom. The mission will be accomplished.