SmagBoy's Mission Log, Sea Date: Late October, 2009

Hey all. The purpose of this section is to serve as a central hub for any regular blogs I undertake, but also for me to show you a little bit of the real me, not "The Submariner" me. I'm not really that guy. He's a character that I play on Thursdays (a character that I really enjoy--you can read more about him in my post below, titled "The Making of a Submariner"). So, on occasion, I'll publish a story or some pictures, or maybe just an anecdote or two that I hope will be fun or enlightening.

If you don't care for learning about the really-real SmagBoy and just want "The Submariner", no worries! He can always be reached here: Send in your questions, observations, concerns or rants. But be forewarned, as you know, that guy has very little patience for the stupids. You can send questions to me there, too, the non-fictional SmagBoy1 (or "Smaggie" as I'm affectionately known). Don't worry, I'm not nearly as tough as I pretend to be. Fair winds to you, shippers! And enjoy!

Friday, May 28, 2010

You Are All Heroes (Unless, You Know, You're Gay)...

For those of you who do not know, the US Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy allows homosexual men and women to serve in the US Armed Forces, but, requires that they do not divulge or allow to be divulged their sexual orientation to anyone in the military. Regardless of service history, if it is found out that a homosexual is serving, he or she is unceremoniously processed out of the military.  There is no waiver.

In support of one of President Obama's initiatives, our congress is currently considering arguments to repeal DADT. This would pave the way for homosexual servicemen and servicewomen to serve openly. As a result, Senator Maverick “John” McCain and the Republicans are planning to filibuster the entire defense budget bill to stop the repeal of DADT. That’s right, they’re willing to delay the funding of the entire Department of Defense so that our country won’t have to allow gays to serve openly in the military. And sadly, it is very likely they’ll be successful in causing the DADT repeal discussion to be pulled from the table.

Now, whether or not you believe homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or biological imperative, I ask you this: how can we allow a policy that desires and even encourages any and all able bodied young men and women to serve, honor and even die for their country, but tell them that, in order to do so, in order to lay down their lives for our freedom, they must not speak of their sexual orientation. Remember, DADT and its repeal is not about changing military operations, requirements or operational rules. It’s not about anything other than simple human dignity.

We have an interesting habit of calling all of our service men and women “heroes” and thanking them for their service. People frequently stop me in public when I wear one of my submarine command ball caps and thank me for my service.  This always makes me uncomfortable, but it always makes me smile, too.  What does it say, then, to lesbian Sgt. Jene Newsome that, even though she, too, served her country honorably, when police entered her home looking for someone else, and, upon seeing her marriage certificate, informed the Air Force of her sexual orientation (even though she was not being investigated?!), the Air Force discharged her, stripping her of her hero status? Based entirely on her sexual orientation?! Sadly, her story is not an anomaly. She will have no retirement from the military. She will not be allowed to wear her uniform with pride. Her service to our country as a hero is now erased. Why?

You may ask, “How can we have gay men and women openly serving in the military? Won’t that affect things somehow?” My answer is that sexual orientation deserves no less respect or empathy than skin color, religion, or national/cultural background. Can you imagine a military policy that allowed blacks to serve, but that required them to wear makeup at all times, or to undergo bleaching treatment, such that they looked white? “You can serve honorably, Sir, but you have to wear this makeup at all times, or, if you have the financial ability, you can undergo skin bleaching treatment.” How is DADT any different? The military currently stamps into dog tags a service member’s religion of choice. Can you imagine a military policy that forbade any and all religious practice, literature or even discussion of religious topics, and, if it was found out that a member attended church, even sneaking to do so in private, he/she was immediately processed out?

DADT, and any other policy forbidding the open service of homosexuals is no different than enacting a policy against membership in a religion or against any skin color but white. It is horrific, it is discriminatory, and it is wrong. Mavericky McCain and his Republican lambs? They ought to be ashamed of themselves. And if you count yourself among their party and have not voiced your dissent to them on this issue, so should you.

****Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Leave them all in the comment section, below!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Language as a Toy, Language as a Weapon...

Language has always fascinated me. Well, I say “always”. I guess what I mean is that, from my very first realization that language was a national, cultural, societal, personal construct, it’s interested me. And though that doesn’t quite qualify as “always”, it really has been a long time that I’ve felt that way. In order to get to that point of fascination, though, one has to first understand a bit about nations and cultures, and, too, a little about what makes them different, one from the other. One must begin, also, to see how society is different still, how social expectations play on language, and, too, how even personal tastes can alter its use. It’s pretty heady stuff to really delve into. But I love it!

For example, my personal tastes would lean toward the making up of words, regardless of national identity, cultural or social background. Well, at least I hope that’s true. I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that my cavalier approach toward words would, with certainty, be the same had I grown up under a dictatorial regime, or worse, illiterate. So, I do understand the limitation of my hopes. That said, regardless of how I got here, I do like to play with language. I like to insert my own, made-up words into communications in such a way that the reader either instantly accept the word (with the definition I intended, I hope), or, even if they do not accept the word, that they at least understand the intended meaning. I see this as a challenge. For example, in a recent column, I admonished a frustrated letter writer to not get “huffity” with me. I like to talk about the “acronymous” (rhymes with “anonymous”) origins of words (like SCUBA and RADAR, or, scuba and radar, depending on your tastes in capitalization). It’s what I do. And if you get to know me well enough, this playfulness might even start to piss you off! Or make you laugh. Or both.

At any rate, that’s a little background to explain why I’m writing today. I want to encourage you all to participate in a plan that I’ve hatched!  See, I like it when language is, for the sake of fun, twisted in new and exciting ways. When the intent of the twisting is good-natured there’s not too much that thrills me more, actually. Oscar Wilde is an all-time favorite of mine for just that reason. However, over the last several years, I’ve noticed our friends from FOXNews and the far right using language as a weapon (I realize they’re not the first, nor are they the only ones currently doing it, but, I don’t like them, so, they’re where my interest is currently focused). Take, for example, the changing of the phrase “suicide bombers” to “homicide bombers”, a seemingly subtle, but very telling, change, or, the creation of the “War on Christmas”, or, “It’s not freedom from religion, it’s freedom of religion” and many others (I’m sure you can all think of several of their gems). These are frustrating, but, none of them have irked me so much as the following three: Obama as “The Chosen One” or “The Messiah” or “The Second Coming”, liberals as “sheeple”, and finally, any liberal idea that challenges the status quo or attempts to remove religion from politics as “political correctness run amok”. I hate those three examples with a passion. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps because they’re particularly vile? Perhaps because they’re very cleverly constructed in that to resist any of them in any way almost lends credence to the claims they make? Perhaps it’s because they’re typically delivered with such shit-eating grins that they get my goat.

So, what to do about it? Well, in a moment of lucidity last night, the solution occurred to me. I am going to co-opt those terms and use them in exactly the same way that our conservative friends have been using them. I’m not going to do it wildly, or at every opportunity. I’m going to wait until a wonderfully prime moment, perhaps one where a friend or colleague is going on and on about the greatness of Sarah Palin and I’m going to respond in as matter-of-fact a manner as I can muster, “You mean The Chosen One? Is there nothing she can’t do?” I may even call her “The Third Coming”, thereby co-opting and embracing even more the Obama as The Second? I’m going to start calling Bill O’Reily, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et. al, “The Apostles”. I will call Tea Partiers “sheeple”, and I will absolutely, positively, and without fail, point out the “political correctness run amok” whenever any of them talk about immigration reform, or drilling, baby, drilling. I’ll say of those topics, “Man, you guys just say that stuff like it’s from rote memory. Do you not even care about your country or engage your own brain? It’s just words with you, isn’t it? Some sort of politically correct speech, straight from The Chosen One right down to you, her sheeple!” Or something like that. I’m sure that I’ll be able to refine it to a nice pointy tip in due time. Practice makes perfect, right?

I want to stress that I’m not necessarily angry so much as just done with it. I’m not trying to piss off anyone. Per se.  It’s just that I’ve listened to those terms being used against liberals for long enough. I’ve heard the Tea Partiers, with my own ears, mind you, upon Obama’s election or any action that he takes, say with absolute certainty that “I can’t believe he wants to act in a way that’s not in line with the will of the people.” As if the man wasn’t elected by, oh, I don’t know, a majority of "the people"?! I’ve stood by and turned the other cheek. I’ve listened while Palin’s sheeple, in very well-meaning tones, tell me, “Well, I hope that you enjoy your ‘hope and change’!” Well, not only am I enjoying it, I’m about to give some of it back. So, my conservative friends, open wide and, as the French would say, "Bon appetite!"

Like my ideas? No? Any other ideas? List ‘em in the comments section, below!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Women on Submarines? Say it isn't so, Abigail Adams!

Greetings All. Some folks asked me recently what I thought about the idea of women serving on submarines.  And fact is, having been a submariner for several years, it's something I've put quite a bit of thought into.  I believe that women should be allowed to serve on submarines.  No question.  I believe that they will prove to be no less capable than men, and, in fact, will prove to be indistinguishable in their abilities.  However, other people believe differently.

Women are weak, they say. Women will distract the men from their duties. Women are not wired to handle the kind of pressure that submariners face every day. Women will be a liability to the submarine force, and, as such, they’ll undermine the mission and the safety of our men.  These are all common arguments made against women serving.  It is not my intent to change the sexism inherent in those arguments with this piece.  Instead, I’ll simply address the objections and then explore some legitimate concerns about women serving aboard submarines (there are some).

Women are weak. Well, sure, some women are weak. So are some men. That’s just a fact of life. Some women are also very strong. Interestingly, on a submarine, strength is pretty much irrelevant. During my submarine days, one of the loudest, most obnoxious sailors that I knew, one who regularly stressed how important it was that women never serve aboard submarines, was so weak that there were several valves in the engine room that he simply could not operate. Further, he passed out not once, but twice, during drills that required moving around not-even-heavy equipment while using emergency air breathing apparatuses. In short, by his own standards, he should not have been allowed to serve aboard submarine. Yet, all you needed to do was ask him and he’d tell you that not only was he a top notch submariner, he was also an outstanding operator. And, fact is, all of his liabilities aside (personal and professional), he was a pretty decent operator. How is that possible?

Well, for the most part, brute strength is entirely uncalled for in the operation of a modern warship. And, it’s certainly no more called for on a submarine than it is on a surface ship, on which women have been serving alongside men for almost 20 years now. A modern war ship is about mental toughness (if it even requires any special brand of toughness at all, which is a subject I’ll address later), not, as you might expect, physical toughness. And I’ve never been given any indication in my years as a human being that women are inherently less mentally tough than men.

Women will distract men from their duties. That’s probably true. If the men are unprofessional and emotionally immature sailors who don’t know how to control themselves in a professional setting. And some don't, I'll admit, but, this is not a characteristic that's limited by gender or age.  And it's certainly not something that should keep professional, emotionally-mature adults from serving.  Nor is it something that a good supervisor can't immediately nip in the bud.  Otherwise, though, working alongside a woman on a submarine is no different than working alongside a woman in an office building, or on the President’s Cabinet, or (imagine this, it may sound familiar), on a surface ship, on which women have been serving alongside men for almost 20 years now. It’s not difficult to do. And, after duty hours? Distraction isn’t a bad thing--for either gender--in my humble opinion. It’s good for morale and keeps the blood pumping.  Now, I'm not talking about cheating on the spouse distraction here!  I'm not talking about a crew that goes out single and comes back coupled and pregnant.  I'm simply talking about professional adults in a tough but militarily-necessary environment making the best of a shitty working situation.

Women are not wired to handle the kind of pressure that submariners face every day. Those of you who are patriotic to a fault and who like to call every person who’s ever served our country a “hero” should probably skip the rest of the article. Seriously, it would do best to skip down to the very last paragraph because I don’t want to disillusion you.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Submarining is just a job. It’s not some heroic plunge into the unknown depths with danger at every corner wherein each and every submariner is a hero, cut from the same cloth as Charles Lindbergh or Chuck Yeager. Submariners come in every make and model. We do have some Lindberghs and Yeagers, sure. But we also have some Paul Reubenses, and, fact is, even some skanky, gross, actual real criminals! I once saw a guy taken off the boat in handcuffs for having molested a little girl at his church. He was a volunteer youth pastor there. See what I mean? My point here is that war movies and war lore and John Wayne and Chuck Norris like to paint military men as some sort of incorruptible hero. And they treat war and military service as the grandest of grand activities.  And while submariners have an extra layer of secrecy and mystique surrounding the job because it is, at its core, very secretive, submariners are no different than members of regular society. Nor are other sailors any different.  Nor airmen, nor marines nor soldiers.  If you recognize those who serve as real human beings, then you can understand them as humans, and accept their successes and failures as the actions of neighbors and friends and people, rather than as the mystical performances of demigods or demons.

Now, submariners, on average, are a little bit more intelligent than the average citizen (due to the testing and selection process), but, otherwise, save for not being claustrophobic, they come in every shape, size, color and make up that exists in every town and city in the country. So, the idea that submariners are some sort of rare breed of pressure-hungry, steely-eyed, incorruptibles-with-a-penis is an exaggerated myth. Further, that women, due to their lack of a super-penis, are any less capable than the men is worse than ridiculous. It’s sexist and ignorant of the facts, and the opinion begs the question of its holder, "Have you ever actually served aboard a submarine?  Or even in the Armed Forces?"

Fact is, women are already serving alongside men in most every facet of the military. There’s no legitimate reason why submarining should be an exception. Well, save for one. And it’s purely logistical, and, too, it’s one that can be overcome pretty easily with some minor construction and adult behavior. I’m talking about facilities. Unlike Ally McBeal’s office bathroom, which was harmoniously unisex, most American adults dislike the idea of being naked in front of one another. Since there are essentially only two bathrooms (two stalls, two sinks and two showers per bathroom) for all 120-ish enlisted men on a Trident submarine, dedicating one bathroom to ten or twenty females is not only impractical, it would legitimately cause an issue. As such, I think the solution is to rework the bathroom areas, making the stalls self-contained (no way to see in or out of them) and replacing the current shower curtains with opaque doors with sound dampeners to prevent noise. The sinks could continue as they are. That way, a sailor of either gender could wear a towel, robe, etc., and flip-flops to the head. They could take care of their showering needs and retire to their bunk room without worry of being peeked-in on. This plan would require professionalism, and it will certainly occasionally be abused by some enterprising punk or two, but, for the most part, this plan would work like a charm without limiting facilities to any single group of sailors (there’s another solution for those of you who know the Navy in general and submarines specifically: let the ladies have the goat locker until their numbers are sufficient to rate one of the two heads. But, if you know submarines and Navy tradition, you know how much grief that would cause, so, let’s go with my plan instead, okay?).

There’s another legitimate concern, too. But it’s not legitimate in the sense that it should be considered by the Pentagon when making decisions about the operation of its war machines. It’s a concern about the morale of the wives and husbands of the submariners. As it is, wives of submariners suffer a particularly nasty side effect of their husband’s work. Not only do their husbands deploy without the opportunity for cell phone conversations, video chat, or even e-mail (for boomer sailors), etc., during the entire deployment, but, even when in port, wives can’t visit and tour and engage in the boat nearly in the same way that other military units can allow (they can come aboard, but their movements are comparatively restricted). Submarines are, by their very mission, much more secretive. This means that even when home, the simple question of "how was your day?" can become a walk around national security issues.  And nearly a third of the crew, the “nukes”, can’t show their wives anything about their work, and can't talk too much about it, either, because no one without a secret security clearance is allowed past the engine room water tight door, and the subject in general is a matter of national security. So, taking what is already a secretive situation, one where spouses and significant others feel cut off from a large portion of their loved ones’ life, even when in-port, and then throwing in members of the opposite sex during deployments?! It’ll add some stress. There’s no doubt. And that’s real, and I’m sensitive to it. But, that’s also life. And life is not always easy. And in the end, that issue is certainly not reason enough to prevent women from serving aboard submarines.

Are there other concerns?  Probably.  What about the psychological health of being in such close quarters with members of the opposite gender for so long?  Truth is, though I believe that I've adequately addressed those concerns in a very professional and ideal-world way, long term, I'm not sure what the effects would be.  I'm not a psychiatrist.  Certainly the concern shouldn't prevent women from serving on submarines, but perhaps what it would lead to is segregated submarine crews?  An all-female submarine wouldn't operate any differently than current ones.  More studying should be done on this, but, in the meantime, don't limit a person's ability to serve based on their sexual organs.

I know this piece is cursory. I could write quite a bit of background about what goes into making a submariner in order to help provide perspective. You know, talking about what’s required of submariners, the training, the regimen, but, fact is, I already have. It’s here, titled “The Making of a Submariner”: . Now granted, I myself fall into the mysticism of submarining in that piece--just a little. I’ll ask that you forgive me that lapse in judgment. Even though its non-fiction, perspective is a powerful thing and it sometimes goes awry. I also have a piece about how not to be a submariner, written about someone who is a submariner. It’s titled “Remembering Charlie Hustle” and it’s here: . Hopefully put all together with what I’ve said here, my points will mean something to you. In the end, I have only this to say: submarining does not require a penis. Only a brain.

Note: I encourage feedback and discussion in the comment section below, or, directly at my e-mail address, listed on each of my blogs. I will honor your opinions on this matter and attempt to discuss all points with you in a rational and calm manner.  Also, I added Abigail Adams' name to the title because she is, to me, one of the nation's most heroic women.  Please understand that that does not mean to discredit other equally heroic women, but, her wit and intellect and feisty resolve, though not necessarily appreciated in her own time, inspires me to this day.  If only the founders had listened to her then, this entire blog entry would surely be moot...