One of the more sobering experiences during Better Half’s and my recent trip out to my parents incongruously occurred during an office holiday party / smoke-out they hosted at their house. This office employs a large number of former Navy folks and currently does a lot of contractor work for the DoD, so these salty-and-crusty old sailors have a day-to-day operating knowledge of how the world and the military has changed around them.
So the experience? We were talking about my short time serving in the US Navy, and, to a man, enlisted and officer alike, retired and separated alike, every single one of them agreed that getting out when I did was the correct course of action. Even with the economy as bad as it is, even with the side benefits of being employed by Uncle Sam, even with “Navy” effectively being their lives, both in uniform and out, they agreed that “four years and out” was the right way to go.
At the time, I was fairly stunned that these men, who have collectively served more years in uniform than my father has been alive, and possibly even my mother too, would say such a thing… but today I read this, and I am not so surprised:
You could practically set a clock by it. Navy and Marine Corps overseas deployments lasted six months.
But 9/11 changed all that — as did the greater flexibility called for in the 2003 Fleet Response Plan and a 2007 policy change that set the maximum deployment length at seven months for units with a single deployment within an FRP cycle.
A total of 10 carrier strike groups or amphibious ready groups have exceeded seven months over the past five years. The latest is the amphibious assault ship Bataan, the amphibious transport dock ship Mesa Verde and the dock landing ship Whidbey Island, which will have been gone 10½ months when their ARG returns to Norfolk in February, officials have confirmed.
My first deployment was something of an exception – we went out for four months, came back for a month of solid in-port time, and then went out for another three. I cannot recall exactly why this was the case (I believe it was due to repairs), but we were on a “counter-narco-terrorism” deployment (do not even get me started on the lessons I learned from that), so it was something of a special case to start with.
My second deployment ran from 05NOV07 to 03JUN08 – seven months exactly. It was officially, originally scheduled for five months before we left port, but, as we all expected, within a week of getting underway, we were informed that our return to homeport date had not actually been set, and would be pending “mission requirements”. Then came the two week extension. Then the month. Then the extra two weeks for the fun of it. Some of it had to do with picking up the Marine Force Recon boys we dropped off on the way to the Gulf, but most of it was just the Navy being too light in ships that could get underway to send us home.
In both cases, I was informed by long-timers and other sailors on the waterfront that our deployment length was long compared to stuff a decade+ ago, but short compared to recent developments. And this does not even count workups (you can count on being “haze grey and underway” up to two months, in three-fourteen day stretches, before a deployment), hurricane sorties (the bane of my first ship, which resulted in me being underway more than at home for my first assignment, if I recall), or the standard “meeting the needs of the Navy” underway periods (two weeks for Fleet Week in Seattle, weeks for various Operations and Exercises and whatnot, two-week Afloat
Terrorist Training Group visits, the nightmare that is INSURV, shakedowns after repair periods, etc. etc. etc.).
Is it any wonder why divorce rates for the military jumped from 2.6% in 2001 to 3.6% in 2010 (the national average is 3.4%)? And is it wonder why people who spent almost as long in the Navy as I have been alive were telling me that bailing was probably a good thing?
These days, I fear I would honestly be hard-pressed to recommend a career in the military to up-and-graduating high school students, and on some level that saddens me. There are no limits to the respect I have for those people who still do choose that path, and I support them fully, but the decisions made by those at the helm make me wonder where their priorities lie.