May 31, 2007

Oceanus, the Titan

The seas near shore belong to Posidon, the Earthshaker. That was where the Greeks stayed, as their small craft dealt poorly with the deep seas. The seas far from shore where the realm of the Titan Oceanus, a much less friendly divinity.

But I prefer the latter. In shallow water, the coast dominates the view. All eyes are drawn to the beach, to the cliffs, to the distant hills. Most of the time there's nothing impressive to see, but one can't keep but look.

Far from shore, when land is a distant memory, when you remember that dirt covers a minority of the planet... that is where beauty reigns. The sea is a blue so deep it makes painters fools. A blue so rich it turns precious sapphires to dross. Cresting, twisting, stirring, roiling, it is ever changing, but always the same.

At sea, the sky is everywhere. Nothing shields one from the bowl of heaven. A blue so pale it hurts, with puffy white clouds travelling as peacefully as sheep across the vast pasture. The white of the clouds so clear as to make milk seem foul. Squalls form; rain falls in gray sheets, cleaning the earthly filth off we small intruders into the vast seas, leaving crystal clear air behind them.

Then the sun sets. Rose, crimson, orange, pink, lavender... colors spread across the whole west of the world, curtains of color drifting past each other. Clouds, backlit, become mysterious and hallowed.

Beauty resides in the vasty deeps.

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May 28, 2007

Juicing up

The original plan was that our ship would pull into an island port to refuel on our way south. Apparently the ship's captain managed to make a deal, because we skipped the port and did an underway replenishment a few days ago. An oiler pulled alongside, extended hoses, and we took on a quick sip of a few million gallons of heavy fuel oil.

What made it cool was that the oiler belonged to the USS Kitty Hawk carrier battlegroup. So I go up on the flight deck to do an inspection on one of our helicopters, and the Hawk was passing on our port beam at less than a mile range. The ship I'm on is a big ship by most standards, but a real fleet carrier can stomp all over us. It was on an opposite heading, so by the time I got below and came back up with my camera, it was miles away, on the horizon.

The carrier was showing off, too. They were busy launching S-3 Vikings at closest approach; and their overhead combat air patrol fighters were buzzing us at a freqency and altitude that seemed tactically unusual. The big guys like showing off to us; our little Harrier jump-jets can't compete with a fleet carrier's F-18 Hornets.

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Memorial Day Musings

Today is a solemn day to remember those that have worn a uniform before me. We in the Corps today share bonds with the warriors of the past: bonds of duty, fraternity, and sacrifice.

To take up the profession of arms in a civilized society is to knowingly abandon many of the benefits of that society. I sleep in mud, I breathe dust, I train until I sweat and bleed, I seek out people that wish to kill me. I do these things because there are those that hate and envy our civilization, and wish to destroy it to serve purposes of their own. Those are the people that I call my enemies. I am a sheepdog, protecting the flock from those that would kill and loot and maim. By preference, I will drive the wolves from the fold; if they harm not my flock, I care not what they do. But if they will not be driven, I will kill them, without hate or passion, but because it must be done.

Combat drives many men to hate; this I know, from talking to those that have felt their humanity riven by the strain. The pull of the trigger brings a savage joy, a lust to kill the foe. Under control, that lets civilized men to that which is forbidden, to kill their fellow man. Without control, that way leads to madness and barbarity. Haditha in Iraq. MARSOCOM in Afghanistan. To kill those that are not your foes, for the joy it brings. The power. The godlike control over life itself.

Most of your know I have fought. I haven't talked about it much. But I have killed. I have extended my will, and ended the existence of another thinking being.

When I killed, it was always dispassionate. I obtain correct sight alignment, correct sight picture, I squeeze the trigger slowly and gently. The rifle jumps, the bullet hits or does not, I pick another target, I do it again. There is blood in the dirt and sand in the wind and smoke in my nose and sweat on my brow, and I feel nothing. I am an empty vessel. I do what I have trained to do, like a machine, without hesitation. I do not say 'without thought', because I am thinking: I think of tactics, of windage, of cover, of what needs to be done. I aim at nothing more than shadows on the wall. They move, they make noise, they shoot at me, they cry out and fall, but they are nothing.

My humanity has not been drowned under a red tide of rage, like many others I have known. My humanity has eroded under the ice of a glacier of purpose, the icy calm determination to do what I will. I killed and felt nothing. Does that make me better than those who hated their victims? Does it make me worse? I sleep well at night. But once in a while, I wonder at what I've done. And I pain myself, knowing that I am willing to do it again.

I do not believe in heaven. I do not believe in hell. I enjoy life, but I do not fear death, for I shall not miss life after it has ended, even as I did not eagerly await life before I was conceived. And so the lives that I have ended, are over, and the universe moves on. Their families miss them, and I regret that I was the agency for their ending; but it is my honor that I strike down only those that threaten that which I have sworn to defend. Those that choose to threaten my flock, doom themselves by that choice.


Essays like this are what come from too much time to ponder. I'll return to the regularly scheduled travelogue shortly.

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May 26, 2007

Underway

The loadon was as much fun as such things normally was, i.e. none at all. Hauling a few thousand pounds of gear up up five flights of ladders is always a joy. The trick for the heavy boxes is to wrap a cargo strap around the load; then you can have one guy pushing from below, and three or four pulling from the top of the ladder.

The ship pulled out of port not long after we boarded, and we've been steaming steadily for a few days now. Our shop's air conditioning is currently inoperable, so things are unpleasant. The flight deck at noon is over a hundred degrees with a brilliant sun beaming down, but at least there's the wind over the bow. In the shop, it's a few degrees cooler, but close and sweaty. So I've got Jimmy Buffett playing on our sound system, and life is good. I just close my eyes, and the beach is right there...

Until someone says something like "Open your eyes and get back to work!" Jerks.

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May 22, 2007

A Pirate's Life For Me

And we're off! Today all the aircraft flew on to the boat. Er, that is, all but two. One we were planning to leave behind, because it needs a lot of work, and we don't particularly need it. The other one, well, as it fired up the engines for the fly-off, it blew a hydraulic line. Whoops. That's something the rear party can work on, as we need a new line fabricated, which takes a couple of days.

Tomorrow I walk up the gangplank, leaving my computer locked in the barracks. Normally I check my email with obsessive regularity, but for the next few weeks, all correspondants are advised to use my military email account. I don't think it prudent to publish that a public forum for every spam-bot to harvest, so if you wish to email me, ask my parents for the correct address.

Annoyingly, I still don't know whether I'll be day shift or night shift on the boat, so I don't know if I should be trying to reset my sleep schedule. There's also been a suggestion that I should be swing shift, which strikes me as being the worst of both worlds. I'll just try to stay adaptable, and drown my sorrows with lots of delicious water that tastes vaguely of JP-5.

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May 20, 2007

Quals

I don't think I mentioned it with all the craziness that happened Friday, but I got the last two quals I'm going to get for some time.

At 1400, I was told that I had to go before the Ordnance Safety Board for my interview. I'd been put up to become a Quality Assurance Safety Observer, the top ordnance safety qualification in the Corps. A QASO is required to observe and supervise certain ordnance-related activites, and also a QASO must inspect and sign off ordance being shipped or stored.

Normally one would study for a week before a board, but I didn't have time. So I went over to the MALS-31 HQ building, and stood in front of a Captain, a Master Gunnery Sergeant, and a Gunnery Sergeant, and got grilled on safety. It was not one of my shining moments, as my lack of preparation showed. But I do test well, and I think quickly on my feet, so I passed and am now officially a QASO. So if something goes catestrophically wrong, it is my privelege to go to jail for it.

Also on Friday, the Aviation Maintenance Officer stopped by the shop to hand me my CD/QAR designation letter, and made a brief speech. I mentioned CD/QAR a while ago; it means Collateral Duty Quality Assurance Representative, and it's the second-highest level of safety and supervision qualification in aviation maintenance. The only higher level is for specialists that do only safety inspection, and that job's limited to staff NCOs, so I won't be there anytime soon.

Anyway, the AMO in his talk pointed out that to the rest of the Corps, rank is what matters. A Corporal outranks a LCpl and is outranked by a Sergeant. But in aviation maintenance, qualifications are more important. My Gunny can tell me to mop the floor, sure. But if we're installing a first aid kit, I give him the orders, because I am a CD/QAR, and he's not.

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May 19, 2007

A Farewell to All That

Today was a lovely Marine Corps Saturday, at work by 0700. But it was for a purpose; and when I left at 1800 everything we will need on the boat was being trucked to the pier. That is, I hope everything we need is on the trucks. Because what isn't on the trucks, is going to wait for us to come back.

After work, we had a farewell party for Cpl M_, at a place called Jon-John's. That's what the Americans call it; the sign out front is in katakana, and I couldn't read it. For about $30 a head, it's an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink buffet. That's right, unlimited alcohol. That's not good for Marines.

Me being me, I put on a button-down shirt, some nice shiney shoes, and a tie. On the rare occasions I go out with the guys, I dress up a little, both to make it an event, and because dressing well gets one treated differently. A lot of locals that can't stand most Marines will be at least civil to an American in a tie.

As to the party: Cpl M_ has been in the shop for three years, and has been a friend of mine since I got here. So I made some allowances I don't normally make. Specifically, I drank. I'm normally a teetotler except for toasts at weddings, wakes, and the Marine Corps Ball. But to make the guest of honor happy, I had a drink. That drink got lonely, so I had another drink. And when two good drinks get together, why, that calls for drinks all around! In summary, I am perhaps slightly tipsy right now. My fellows were quite impressed, as no one had every seen me so much as let Pepsi cross my lips.

I also managed to crack a Purim joke at my (Jewish) OIC, which pretty much wrecked him. I like my OIC- he's approachable, but still a commander, which is a fine line to walk.

And on that note, I think I should go to bed. Tomorrow is my last day off for the next couple of months, so I want to enjoy it.

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May 18, 2007

Another Day at the Office

Today wasn't so bad. Worked 8:30 to 5.

Oh, wait, sorry, got that backwards. 5 to 8:30.

So at 0500 I'm at the pullup bars for a PFT. I did one for the first half all the way back in January, so I don't need to do it; but a bunch of my friends are doing it for score, so I come along to help out. Generally speaking, the more people running, the faster times are, as you can find someone with the same pace to draft with.

Anyway, I did quite well. I wasn't motivated to get a high score, but I was motivated to look good in front of everyone else. Pride is a powerful thing. I think I've mentioned before that three miles is too short a distance for me to excel, so I finished in the back of the main pack. To show off a little, while everyone else was hitching rides back to the barracks, I ran back.

Then it was shower up and off to the hanger. Today, my stress levels dropped significatly. Why? I had a stroke of genius! Or, more likely, just a stroke. I redid my mental task list. Instead of seperate levels of importance like "critical" and "urgent" and whatnot, I decided to label everything "Must Happen Today" or "To Hell With It." That cleared things up nicely.

I also had three formations today; in reverse chronological order, we had a CO's formation to pass word, a retirement, and a practice for the retirement. I was a squad leader for the retirement, which is no big deal. It meant I was quite visible though. While we were formed up, the other guys from my shop were in the audience. Before things kicked off, they seemed to be having a great time, conversing and laughing. Afterwords, they told me that I was the subject of conversation. They'd decided I had the best stone-faced military bearing of the people in the formation, and they were trying to figure out what I was thinking about. They decided I was contemplating where I would set the charges to collapse the whole hanger on everyone inside. Once I was told that, naturally I did start contemplating that issue. There are a lot of seperate load-bearing columns, because the building gets hit by several typhoons a year, so it's not an easy task.

Anyway, we finished the packup this evening. Yay! If it's not packed, someone better carry it onto an aircraft, because all the boxes and containers are done and sealed. Thank goodness. Now all I have to do is pack my seabags.

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May 17, 2007

Tired

I've been trying not to complain too much, but work is getting a little overwhelming. We're very close to getting on the boat again, but we keep flying unrelated missions. Today I was told something was a critical priority task, and I said "Good, I'll get to it later. Right now I'm working on a couple of disastrously important tasks, so I'll get to the critical stuff later. If it's just urgent, go away."

One of the fun things about me is the crazy stuff I say when my mind is so focused on something, that I don't stop to filter what I'm saying to suit my target audience.

So in summary, time is running out, and in the time I complete a task, three new ones appear.

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May 16, 2007

Truth is Beauty

I was asked to write something cool on a whiteboard. So I scrawled out Euler's Identity. Then I spent a half hour trying to explain it, and failing. Being unable to explain it didn't bother me too much, but I am sad that I couldn't seem to get across why I think that formula is cool.

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