As most of you already know my husband is in the Navy. It is probably also no big surprise that he is coming home soon. I know this because I have spoken with him, received e-mails from him and have even seen posts on Facebook from the Captain letting me know that the ship is indeed headed in this direction. As a wife of a career military man, actually I think the term was Seadog when he first enlisted in 1977, I can attest to how modern technology has helped to ease the stress of deployments. In the past we had to depend on letters, you know the hand written kind that you actually had to go outside to the mailbox to retrieve, to get information. We also had the Wives Club, which became the Family Support Group, and is now known as the Family Readiness Group, in order to get information. Still, it seems the more things change the more they stay the same. My husband and I still have to be very cautious about the information we share and are careful to speak in code when doing so but we have been doing it for so long that I think we have the upper hand. Actually, in the realm of social networking, I think things are much stricter now than in the past and I think some of the younger, more inexperienced people have a tougher time of it. Strange as it may seem it is much more difficult to get information in this new age of modern technology than it was in the past. I think it is because people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that it seems sometimes they choose to divulge nothing at all. Then again it may only seem that way to me because for the first time in a very long time I am not holding any positions such as President or Vice President of the support group nor am I ombudsman as I was when Don was with the Seabees. For the first in a very long time I am as clueless as everyone else. While I don’t really like not being in the know, I am happy not to have the pressures of office. That is the subject of this week’s blog.
With the stresses of position there are definitely perks which come with the “job.” Oh and have no doubt holding a title on any of these positions really is a job. While a person may first apply for the position just for the “perks” they quickly learn that holding such a position is not all fun and games. Have no doubt there is a lot of work behind the scenes in order to get information to the family members. The “people in charge” be it the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer or anyone on any of the multiple committees connected to the ship have to find a place large enough to house the meetings and make sure the place will be available on the select nights for the duration of the cruise. Not an easy task especially dealing with the vast number of family members in relation to an aircraft carrier. Next they have to actually put the meeting together. They have to have a pretty good idea of the ships whereabouts because they will get asked that question by nearly everyone at the meeting. They also have to have a pretty good idea about when the ship last received mail because there will be at least one person at that meeting that will want to know why their loved one did not get the package they sent to them last month! Seriously, this does happen and as much as they wish they could, neither the ship nor the persons attached to it have any control over the U.S. Mail. If you mailed it, provided you filled out the proper customs forms, there is a very good chance that some day your package will make it to its final destination.
Next there is entertainment for the meeting. Now I am not talking about clowns and trained dogs, although if you are lucky you might see one or both on homecoming day. No the entertainment I am speaking of is the guest speakers that come to the meetings each month, speakers which all have to be sought out and contacted by the “people in charge.” I assure you there is no cheat sheet that they follow that tells them who to have come to which meeting. If there is a guest speaker, childcare or planed activity at any of the meetings it is because someone took time out of their busy day and did the work to insure that you would not be disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong, holding a position is not all for nothing, there are also “fun perks” of the job. You do not get paid in money but you get the privilege of knowing things before everyone else. You also get to meet lots of interesting new people. While most people don’t just start chatting to the person next to them the majority will take the time to say hello to those in charge. Also, while it is true, you have to be at the meetings and the pier before everyone else that also means you get a better parking place.
When I was the vice president of the Family Support Group on the USS Seattle the perk for our hard work was to meet the ship at Craney Island and ride it back to the pier. I can tell you that was the biggest perk I personally have ever received because, not only did we get to see homecoming from the “other side” onboard the ship, we got to do so in the Captain’s state room complete with refreshments served by the Captain’s private staff. Stateroom aside, being on the ship and seeing the sea of loved ones on the pier waiting for us to return was something I will never forget and I had only been on board a few hours. Imaging how the crew feels seeing that many people standing there in all kinds of weather conditions hoping for a glimpse of the one person they really want to see. It is enough to give me chills just thinking about it.
Another unsung hero, or in the case of such a large ship heroes as there are more than one, are the Ombudsman. In case you do not know the Ombudsman is the direct liaison between the command and the families of service members. This is the person or persons that you really do not think about unless you have a problem. In my opinion this is the biggest “job” in the navy. It is also a job without pay. It is their “job” to help with whatever people deem urgent enough to call about. Keep in mind that what may seem like a minor issue to one person may seem like the end of the world to another. While some people may not think a cat giving birth at three am would be a justified reason to call their Ombudsman others may not have any qualms at doing so. The same could be said if your toddler has just flushed an entire bar of soap down the toilet. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to and, if they have their ombudsman on speed dial, she may just be the one to get the call.
As the end of the deployment grows near so does the need for our lifelines. While the volunteers will still hold their positions and meetings will still be scheduled the need for such life rafts will lessen. Attendance will be down and calls will decrease as people’s lives slowly return to what is deemed normal. That is at least until the next time because, as we all know, when it comes to the military there is always a next time. So if you get a minute, even if you have never utilized their services, you might want to say thanks to the “people in charge.” I am sure they would really appreciate it, trust me I know. Remember, I’ve been there.