Sayonara, Okinawa!


“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Recently Jody and I had to say our goodbyes to our beloved Okinawa, a land that we called home for the last 3.5 years.  I’ve written extensively about saying goodbyes during our last couple of international shifts.  One when we left Pensacola, Florida, the only place I really ever planted some roots since leaving my childhood home for college in 1984 (see Sayonara Amerika).  And just recently when we left Japan for our return to the states once again (see Goodbye).

Jody’s Hospital Crowd

Saying a proper “goodbye” to people, places, and even things has become more and more important to me as time has passed.  We marked our departure for the Orient back in 2013 with an Asian costume themed party to indelibly mark that occasion.  And we decided to do the same upon leaving Asia for ‘Murica just last month.

Terrace at Sea Garden

Renting out one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants Sea Garden, we invited a slew of our closest friends and coworkers.  Unfortunately for everyone, it seems that just the notion of wearing a costume kept more than a few people from attending.  But then again, in such a setting you get to see just who your closest friends and coworkers really are.  It IS important to say goodbye, and express it properly, a concept lost on so many people today who remain eternally rushed in their lives, taking things much too seriously as they neglect the things that really matter.  In any case, we had a wonderful time, and will cherish these bookend parties to our Far East Fling for the rest of our lives!

Party Goers

So, as I sit here in our pet-friendly hotel room in Jacksonville, North Carolina, passing the time until we can sign a lease and move into our temporary home for the next 20 months, I look fondly back on my latest time in Okinawa…and slowly shift my gaze to the future here in the coastal Carolinas.  But I’m already starting to scheme about the party we will throw upon our return to the Florida Panhandle in  late 2018.

Dorthy Says There’s No Place Like Home!

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Goodbye!


“Dream as if you’ll live forever……live as if you’ll die today.” ~James Dean

Saying “Goodbye” is important.  Much more than most of us will allow.

In the skydiving world, we say goodbye to each other every single time we jump.  Because it could very well be the last jump we ever make.  It’s not a somber occasion, or even stressful.  No, the goodbyes are said energetically, with beaming smiles and eye contact that says “I love you, brother/sister, and if I don’t see you again, remember me in this moment.”  It’s about embracing life and living it fully and in the moment.  But unfortunately, this jumper’s farewell with a very good friend of mine a week before moving to Okinawa in 2013 was our last.  I am so very thankful that we got to say goodbye to each other.  And, in this case, in our own very unique way.  Read about it in Blue Skies, Black Death.

That story, which recalls my permanent goodbye with Jimmy, instantly makes me happy and warm whenever I think about him, and I do often.  That’s one reason why I take saying goodbye so seriously.  The word “goodbye” used to convey a much more serious sense of finality than it does today in the electronic age of connectedness.  Originally, it was said as a contraction of “God be with ye,” which conveys a blessing of safe travels and life.  “Farewell” comes from the antiquated “fare thee well,” yet another blessing we find today in “be well”.  But these send-offs also can also almost be a plea.  And to those of you that bid me and Jody adieu at our costumed “Sayonara” party, I salute you for coming out to say a fun-filled cheerio.  If you don’t see me again, I plead with you to remember me in that moment!

But now it is time for me to say goodbye to Okinawa.  I may not be back, after living here three different times and for over seven years total.  I’m filled with anticipation and I’m excited:  after living on Okinawa the last 3.5 years, Jody and I are moving, and moving to an area new to both of us (Camp Lejeune).  Don’t me wrong:  we don’t want to go, and we don’t want to go there.  But we have to.  Yes, it’s not what we wanted or expected, but it will allow me a wonderful new opportunity to continue pursuing my passion as a professional scuba diver, this time among the wrecks scattered off the coast of North Carolina.  But the fact remains I have to say goodbye to some people who and places which have come to mean a great deal to me.  Which always makes my heart hurt….

The military-industrial complex is not known for their stable, static jobs.  Active duty people continually transfer in and out through the proverbial revolving door.  Contractors come and go with contracts and sequestration, and even Government Service (GS) employees often relocate with either of these categories of people.  But even so, when the stable instability that is life associated with the military becomes even more unbalanced, what does it all mean?  The roles that people play are in reality easily replaced, but seldom is the person.  Once you know someone, it’s hard to unknow them—you might grow apart, your relationship might change, but if you know someone, have chosen to know someone, you will always know that person’s character.  It’s critical to us all, whatever our social constructs, that goodbyes resulting in significant change be acknowledged.  So we say goodbye, sometimes formally, often times as an expression of intimacy.  Goodbyes, especially among an affectionate cohort, can weigh heavily.  While you may officially say goodbye to such a someone once (or twice), you’ll continue to say goodbye, emotionally and mentally.  It’s a continual process.

So, at great risk of leaving important people off this list (and please take no offense), I say these goodbyes, in no particular order.  Ken Redifer, you’ve been a fantastic PADI Course Director and mentor to me along the way.  You have challenged me to be better at every turn, and trusted me with your students at every level.  I can’t think you enough for shepherding me along the way.  To Jessica Mills, my “Scuba Wife,” I value every moment together, even though as your surrogate Big Brother I probably annoyed you to no end.  You will do fine at the IE and will quickly mature into a kick-ass instructor!  Matt Lewis, you have been one of my closest allies here on Okinawa, and I’m ecstatic to leave both my Adopted Dive Site and the USS Emmons Diver Specialty in your capable hands.  I will not forget those final dives on that serene shipwreck with you.  Darlene Fong, my “Scuba Momma,” thank you for the tec training and 130fsw+ companionship along the way.  I will miss our trips out to the USS Emmons together!   Ben Favorite, a fellow retired flier and brother-in-arms, you have been a wonderful friend and solid dive buddy.  Here’s looking to Truk again in 2019.  Do me a favor and please do work too hard!  Rob and Wendy, thanks for introducing us to Ishigaki and the manta-scramble.  And Rob, my IDC cohort from back-in-the-day, you still owe me lunch!  For our dive industry professionals, including Mark of the Crystal Blue and Tony of Torii Scuba Locker, thanks for your assistance and pirate adventures on the high seas.  To my fellow instructors (including candidates sitting for their IE this coming weekend) and Certified Assistants with whom I have worked or taught – including Jeff R., Dale F., Kim N., Scott H., Gary J., Chris W., Mike H., Matt M., Jose R., Jayce G., Jimmy P., Brian P., Kurt R., Chuck D., Roger, Noorin, Louis, Troy, Sarah, Patricia S., Kim H., Rebecca R., Ben S., Barbara S., Cory J., Ty, Asako and Bruce, thank you for all the laughs and good times in and around the pools, seas and oceans of Okinawa.  And to the Divemasters who elected to train under me still located here (Ben, Jessica, Jacoby, Lewis, Gerardo, Peter and Cory), thank you for your trust in confidence in making your move to the pro side.  Mindy, I couldn’t let your broken foot go without a mention; thanks for all your help with my branding and website.  Ms. Ana, of course, one of my all-time favorite divers and former students, thank you for trusting me to safely introduce you to the amazing underwater world.  Your smile and passion about diving whenever I see you brightens my heart and lightens my day!  And, a special call-out to two individuals who need to become PADI Instructors:  Rich Kearney and Gerardo DeLucia.  You both have exactly what it takes, and I see you as perfect fits in our tribe.  Don’t put it off; I waited about 30 years too long….

Goodbye, to each and every one of you.

I no longer struggle with goodbyes.  Saying a heartfelt goodbye forces us to recognize a change in our path, an acknowledgment that we’re choosing (or sometimes being forced) to change the vector of our lives.  The very reason goodbyes are hard for so many people is the very reason we actually need to do them, and do them well:  because they matter.

Imbibing goodbyes is as much a part of the human experience as breathing.  Let them serve as goodness in your life, helping you to leave better, whole, and more loving.  All goodbyes contain a blessing.  Use them to make each goodbye count – even if you are just ducking out to the corner store.  Each fleeting goodbye can turn out to be a goodbye forever.

Blue Skies & Happy Bubbles, Kevin, Okinawa 2017

32619189581_605bd0c057_o

Last “Ticket to Ride!!!!”


“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”  ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher

I got the news a few days ago of the passing of a friend and fellow skydiving brother, Daniel Eric Morgan.  When I first heard, it was via a biker friend of mine through a FaceBook message, and I’ll be honest:  I didn’t even recognize his name, or the connection due to the convoluted path of the message.

But that wholly understates the importance Eric had on my life – and so many others’.  You see, I became known in skydiving circles for shouting “TICKET TO RIDE!!!” in the jump plane as it took off on its climb to altitude so we its passengers could fling ourselves from two miles up in the sky.  People in proximity would often brace for this moment; I often would grab and vehemently shake the person closest to me, or perhaps someone I wished to target on that particular jump.  BUT, truth be told and in full disclosure, Eric was the originator of this phrase – and it will always belong to him.

That notion – of illuminating the charged emotions of a skydive in voice, gesture and motion, captures the very notion of life and living.  Skydivers now this feeling all too well.  That we experience life to the fullest by accepting that death may be just around the corner, or in our case, a mere 50 seconds away….  And it reflects the gregarious nature that Eric would extrude from his very pores at those times when he could be found at the dropzone.

I didn’t know Eric well.  Actually, I didn’t know him really at all.  I probably knew his last name at one time, but over the years, it slipped away.  He was a Navy “bubblehead” veteran of the submarine force, and worked in some IT or technical capacity based on his navy experience and training.  He was a family man, although I can’t even say how many kids he has or whether he was/is currently married or not.  He wasn’t what I would consider a “regular” at Emerald Coast Skydiving Center (ECSC, our home dropzone, now sadly defunct), but when he was around, his charismatic presence was unmistakable.  In a sense, he was a caricature of himself, a zany personality full of smiles and laughter.  Because of this, I came to refer to him as “Crazy Eric.”

I have almost 10,000 photos on my Flickr photostream tagged “skydiving.”  But I can only find a single photo of Crazy Eric.  That makes me sad, but his loss causes an emptiness that I can only really fill by capturing and sharing our intersection, our story.  In this one photo, however, one can gleam all that needs to be known about Eric:  his welcoming smile, kind eyes, and a rig on his back ready to jump.  And clearly, just beneath his calm exterior, that clever grin, ready to exclaim in only the way in which he could, “TICKET TO RIDE!”

Crazy Eric has a TICKET TO RIDE!

Eric’s life indeed can be warmly found in the happy memories of the skydiving family he left behind.

Blue Skies, Black Death My Friend.

Ride on.

Cambodian Food & Friends


18464649729_6dfe7baf29_b“This is perfect,” Jody smiled B-I-G big as she realized how intriguing our dining experience for the evening would be. “What a wonderful idea and cause!”

After having so many problems with our Cambodian tour company’s restaurant selections in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh during our recent travels, this one – Romdeng hit our desired mark: an upscale dining experience set in a beautiful colonial mansion surrounded by a pool-side garden located deep in the hectic heart of Phnom Penh…

18190531341_3260baf5da_b

…but one which offered a culinary adventure where diners could not just eat, but could eat proudly and ethically.

18464649729_6dfe7baf29_b

You see, Romdeng is a training restaurant, where homeless, orphans, and otherwise disenfranchised young people are given a chance for a new life with a much more secure future. Cambodia is in dire need of such programs; just 40 years ago, while the country was still reeling from the detrimental effects of the Vietnam war, the Khmer Rouge (which I will be blogging about at length – stay tuned) came to power and purged the country’s cities of all people, murdered all those with higher educations, professions, and even poor eyesight, and in doing so in a little over three years, managed to kill about one out of every three people then alive in Cambodia, reverting what remained to an agrarian-bases stone age. It will take many generations to recover from such widespread devastation of such depth; such restaurants serve a critical role in the country’s current recovery.

18028135934_bd175177ba_b

And Romdeng is part of re-establishing Cambodian’s people and their professions. The staff are dressed in two different colored shifts, clearly labeled (in English) whether they are trainees or teachers. The Teachers are all graduates of the program, one which lasts a year or more during which much more than just professional training is offered. The trainees all do internships in the kitchen, at the bar, and in serving food. But they are also provided educational classes in the basics, and are given room and board for the duration. Needless to say, there is a lot of pride among the staff trainers, and likewise, much to learn for the young but energetic students.

18464653239_e0e9c5399b_b

The restaurant’s interior is outfitted with locally produced furniture and décor, including silk from a local sewing vocational school and paintings from a local artistry training center. The eclectic gift shop sells a wide array of branded merchandise whose sales provide additional support to these training centers. Romdeng sources all of its ingredients used in their dishes from local farmers and purifies their own local water. The establishment and its rehabilitative social outreach are all run by Mith Samlanh, who has worked tirelessly to build and provide futures to former street children and marginalized young people throughout Phnom Penh since 1994.

Fried Tarantula at Romdeng

Fried Tarantula at Romdeng

Romdeng offers a true taste of Cambodia cuisine, serving authentic Khmer foods that range from almost forgotten recipes from rural provinces to contemporary creative Khmer cuisine. The adventurous can also try one of Cambodia’s most popular snacks: fried tarantula. I, however, did not.

18030158653_4578cbf5fb_b

Because we had our meals built into our tour itinerary, we weren’t able to sample many of the foods available, but instead were held to a “set” menu. For starters, we had crunchy yet savory pork and pumpkin laap with fresh local herbs. This was followed by Cambodia style chicken and straw mushroom soup, seasoned with preserved lime. Our main was delicious beef fillet sautéed with galangal and lemongrass, two of the main ingredients used in Khmer cooking, of course served with fresh steamed Jasmine rice. And dessert was nothing overly complex, and nor does it have to be in the Asian tropics where fruits are overly ripe and plentiful: Khmer style assorted fruits accented with a touch of heat provided by a dusting of chili salt.

18185787772_88bd1a0f34_b

Romdeng is also just one eatery in a network called TREE, a global alliance of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) training restaurants offering high quality standards of practice in such social enterprises. TREE restaurants are based upon a highly successful model which provides enhanced customer satisfaction through direct involvement in social engineering, but also enhanced sustainability through the use and reuse of local resources, produced by locals themselves. All profits from TREE restaurants are reinvested in the social programs which support their students during their long and often difficult journeys in becoming skilled, productive and happier people facing a much more secure future than their pasts would belie or allow.

17566746014_bc1ca798f8_b

Romdeng is 0pen every day 11am – 10:30pm (kitchen closes at 9.30pm), and is located at #74 St 174, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They can be contacted by ringing (855) 92 219 565, or emailing E contact@romdeng-restaurant.org. Reservations are accepted and encouraged. Find them on Facebook as well!

Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys: 1999-2001


TACRON Det Photo

TACRON Det Photo

I didn’t want to ever be stationed in Japan.  I had absolutely no interest…back in the 1990s.  Now, it wasn’t anything personal or racist; I never felt comfortable enough about taking my family – wife and small children – to such a foreign place to live, work and go to school, all the while I was on-tap to deploy at any moment.  And those moments were sure to happen.  Often.

That all changed, however, in 1999.  I’ve written about how this all came about here at length (see Tora Tora Tora), but let me summarize it a bit here.

At the time I got orders to Japan I was what the Navy labels one as “Not Physically Qualified” (NPQ) for flight, suffering from chronic and debilitating back pain and serious sciatica resulting from a severe back injury in high school, exacerbated by years of weight lifting.  Due to this status, I was not slated for a Department Head squadron tour (a career-killer for aviators), and thus I became for Naval Aviation the proverbial round peg that can fit most any square hole.  Are there are always a lot of squares that no one wants anything to do with?

So, after 9 months of living overseas in Italy where they “stashed” me on short-notice after a reservist backed out of NATO-based orders (best thing to ever happen to me in the Navy…next to Okinawa), I came home to reassignment to, like I’ve stated, somewhere I never had any intention of living:  Japan.  It was a one-two-three combo knockout blow.

Or so I thought at the time.

My recollections of the phone call with my Navy “Detailer” who broke the news to me….

“Introducing first…. from the blue corner, weighing a round 29 billion pounds, hailing from Washington DC and rated as the best, most capable sea-service in the whole-wide-world and star of the hit movie Top Gun, with 33 gazillion kills, and only two losses, it is the ass-kicker of the Brits, the Italians, the Germans and the Japanese, and subduer of Somalia pirates and innumerable small, defenseless Caribbean nations, abled-bodied and full of seaman, I INTRODUCE…The…

(dramatic pause)

UNITED…

(more dramatic pause)

STTTTTTTTTTAAAAAAAATTTTTTTEEEEEESSSSSSS…

(most dramatic pause)

NAVY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“And, in the red corner, weighing in at a few ounces over 192 pounds, hailing from Pensacola, Florida, rated by many as the best pound for aviator in recent years, with 3 wins, 1 of them coming by the way of knockout (TKO), and no defeats (but only 3 boxing matches during Aviation Preflight Training), he is the former middleweight Navy career champion, former super middle weight A-6 Bombardier-Navigator, and, former light heavy-lightweight weight champion, and former HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF HIS FAMILY… Lieutenant Commander…

KEVIN…

(dramatic pause)

ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL-VIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSS….

(most dramatic pause!)

KING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Ding-Ding!” resounds the boxing bell.  Fight’s on.  I have a feeling it’s not going to be fair.

The Navy comes out aggressively swinging, not wasting any time with niceties or compassion.  First, it’s a combo followed by a stiff right jab to the nose:  “You’re getting orders to Japan.”  I’m dizzy and  stumble back a step, somewhat dazed by the sharp pain of the blunt words.

Before I could regain any composure, the second combination, a crossing blow from the left to the check, strikes:  “It’s a non-flying job.”  Confusion starts to reign as the throbbing realization of no longer being able to fly sets in.  Let me put it to you this way:  I didn’t join the Navy for its ships….

And the coup de gras, combo #3, a right hook square on the chin:  “…and you’ll be assigned to a ship….”  Tunnel vision sets in and stars start to orbit my psyche as I think about being “stuck” on a boat for months and years at a time….

Down to the mat I go, unreactive and stiff as a board, bouncing lightly upon being grounded.  But as quickly as the Navy dropped me with this TKO, his gloves were found to be over-weighted with a healthy dose of misinformation.  The fight was called; I told you it wasn’t going to be fair.

It seldom is with Big Navy.

Me in East Timor, fall of 1999.

Me in East Timor, fall of 1999.

It wasn’t Japan, but Okinawa to which I was being assigned.  And there is a serious difference between the two.  It’s like trying to call Hawaiian or Puerto Rican culture as the same as “American.”  Okinawa happens to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, all just an easy shore-dive away.  Besides skydiving (and verifying my wife’s naked age of 24), scuba diving IS my passion.

While it was a non-flying job, I was able to maintain flying status the whole time, which meant I didn’t have to give up my special “Flight Pay,” which at the time made up a significant portion of my pay.  Discretionary income became very important for scuba diving, as well as enabling the use of the centrally-located island in the Pacific as a hoping-off point for some massive travels.

And, most importantly, I was not assigned to a ship, but to a Flag Staff on Okinawa while ashore, and when required to go underway, I was assigned to ship’s staff, which is in no way, shape or form to be confused with “ship’s company” (no offense to any SWO-Daddies…and Mommas…out there).  Who the hell joins the Navy to be ship’s company anyhow?!?  I don’t like ships very much.  Except when they are targets.

TACRON enlisted have real duties.  Playing cards is probably not one of them.

TACRON enlisted have real duties. Playing cards is probably not one of them.

But, this is all simply to set a humorous stage for my initial tour on Okinawa as part of Tactical Air Control Squadron 12 (VTC-12, most commonly referred to as “TAC-RON”), or more affectionately known as “THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS.”  You see, no one with any, shall we say “normal” career aspirations asks to go to TACRON.  No, it’s a place reserved for those Commanders who didn’t screen for a real command, and for officers that are, in some way or another, broken.  Now, for the enlisted, it is a real place with real jobs, albeit somewhat off the beaten path.  But for the O’s, if you find yourself down in this particular rabbit hole, you are sure to have that Talking Heads moment where “…you may ask yourself – Well…How did I get here?!”

Japanese Misfit Toys.  I think.

Japanese Misfit Toys. I think.

So, this blog is actually about those fellow misfits.  And God love’em all!  I had some of my BEST times in TACRON, not because of the mission, or duty location, or extra overseas monies we all made.  But because of fellow misfits, who, like in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, band together to overcome against the Abominable Snow Monster (analogous to most TACRON skippers, white and overly hairy, and have a hard time with the English language), as well as the Winter Warlock.

Could be most any Skipper of TACRON (wink).

Could be most any Skipper of TACRON (wink).

Wait a tic – mixed my Christmas special metaphors.  Strike that last one; it is an impossibility to melt the icy hearts of leadership in the TACRON community.

White Beach back in the day.  Where the misfit toys are often broken down even more.

White Beach back in the day. Where the misfit toys are often broken down even more.

Now, I was permanently forward deployed, but Detachments from the States rotated in and out every six months.  So, there were no less than four complete sets of personnel that I had to welcome, befriend, work with, and farewell during my tenure on Okinawa between the summers of 1999 and 2001.  BUT, the most memorable crew, and really the only Navy-related photos of that entire period hinge around three people, all fellow Navy O-4’s:  Tracy (known better as “TC”), Rick, and Paul.

Paul, extreme foreground on the left.

Paul, extreme foreground on the left. Somewhere in Hong Kong, I believe.  Or Korea.  Someplace where they sell Reeboks apparently….

Yes, that STRANGE.

Yes, that STRANGE.

Paul was permanently forward deployed with me.  He was an S-3 Naval Flight Officer, and this is no joke:  just about the strangest cat I’ve met in uniform, and much like the spotted elephant of the Island of Misfit Toys.  He certainly belonged in TACRON.  He lived out in town, a few minutes walk from our house actually, and his overly violent three little boys and overly flirtatious wife “Kitty” were always the source of gossip and high amusement.  “Strange?” I hear you wondering.  Yes, strange.  Paul once was part of a Captain’s change of command, but just a staff officer standing in ranks.  The uniform for the formal event was Chocker Whites, the epitome of uniforms when one thinks of the Navy (think An Officer and a Gentleman; Paul was neither).  However, when Paul realized he didn’t have the white gloves required as part of the uniform, and not wanting to be a stand-out by not wearing gloves, he instead substituted…wait for it…white athletic socks.  Yeah, he didn’t stand out.  Much.  STRANGE.

Me and TC having a drink...or three.  Definitely in the famous bar in Hong Kong.

Me and TC having a drink…or three. Definitely in the famous bar in Hong Kong.

TC and Rick were perhaps well ahead of the modern man-friendly Navy.

TC and Rick were perhaps well ahead of the modern man-friendly Navy.

TC, a Navy helicopter pilot, was my roommate for a time, and one of the funnier people I’ve met in Navy Aviation.  A wonderful attitude, he brought Jew to the Navy like few others could.  True story:  once I noticed he edited a document I had typed, where I use two spaces between paragraphs.  I noticed he was taking one of each of those groups out, a VERY time-consuming process.  When I asked why, he looked at me and said he was saving memory.  Wow, that was a new slant on tight-wad, and I grew up in a Jewish community!  Sorry TC, no offense intended.  For a guy who used a ruler to sign his checks (so it wouldn’t cross the printed line on the check), you had one of the very best attitudes of anyone in the Navy, before or since.  Oh, and he’s not a very good Jew either; he ate most of the holiday ham, fat and all, we cooked and served at our Det Holiday party (wink)!

Rick, the one with the furry caterpillar on his upper lip.  Manly...for a helo pilot.

Rick, the one with the furry caterpillar on his upper lip. Manly…for a helo pilot.

Rick in a shop-'til-you-drop moment.  He did it justice.

Rick in a shop-’til-you-drop moment. He did it justice.

Rick was also a Navy helicopter pilot, and already knew TC quite well.  I can’t recall if they were ever squadron-mates, but they were close friends, and stuck together while they waded through the cesspools often created within TACRON for no good reason.  Rick was quiet, non-confrontational, and simply didn’t care to rock the boat.  My funniest memory of Rick was a run-in he had with a Commander at the time, and overly gung-ho, juiced-up P-3 jock who had an overly inflated sense of importance to match his ego and steroid-inflated biceps.  When Rick elected to actually stand his watch and do some critical tasks, he was ignorantly overruled and directed to “sit here and watch this brief,” which was being played on ship’s TV.  So, Rick did just that.  As the world came crashing down around him, he sat in the chair, staring at the TV, expressionless and motionless.  When the same Commander came pounding back in to see what the problem was and saw Rick there doing what he thought was nothing, he asked Rick, “WTF?”  Rick simply replied, “I’m sitting here watching TV JUST LIKE YOU TOLD ME TO DO.”  Okay, you had to be there.  And you have to know Rick – a gentle giant, if not a passive-aggressive one.

Rick, TC and me in Hong Kong.  An island not of misfit toys.

Rick, TC and me in Hong Kong. An island not of misfit toys.

TC washing some ham down with Awamori!

TC washing some ham down with Awamori!

But I’m going to leave you with my all-time favorite story involving these three clowns.  Oh, I meant characters.  We’re in the ship’s wardroom one afternoon for lunch, and it’s almost filled to capacity since a full Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is embarked.  Now, you have to imagine something like, I dunno, twelve or fifteen tables of ten (at least), in a relatively small space with a low overhead, noisy with dishes clanking and filled with a cacophony of mindless chatter and howling laughs here and there.  We are all there, sitting together, enjoying what was surely another wonderful culinary concoction of the finest sea-service, when suddenly, a young office a table or two over starts to choke.  No one really notices at first, but like they teach you in first aid, he stands up, clutching his throat, in the international sign for “I can’t breathe and I’m choking you bastards, so HELP!”  As more and more officers notice this scene, the noise dies down, until it’s almost near silent.  No one has done anything yet.  Finally, a shipmate stands up and performs the Heimlich Maneuver, which worked better than you could ever imagine it could!  Out comes flying a huge chunk of unchewed and charred hamburger, which lands not far from TC.  The place is now so quiet you could hear the meal running through our intestines.  And after just the right amount of pregnant pause, TC states, matter-of-factly while looking at this fellow who just suffered a near-death experience, “Are you gonna eat that???”

176436676_643b3c8f8a_o

The place burst out in tears!

Little-known fact:  Rick is a ROCKSTAR in Korea.

Little-known fact: Rick is a ROCKSTAR in Korea.

And that’s what I love most about being shipwrecked by the Navy…in the Navy…on Okinawa between 1999 and 2001.

The Misfit Toys of Okinawa!

The Misfit Toys of Okinawa. Kanpai!

Moving Daze


“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” ~Khalil Gibran

A Useless Possession Invented by the Japanese

A Useless Possession Invented by the Japanese

Possessions most often do not equal happiness.  A lesson learned…again…today during move daze….

The movers called yesterday and my wife spoke to them.  Yes, they had wardrobes for the clothes, but they would be the lay-down type.  Yes, they’d be there between 10am and 1pm, but there was no clarification on whether that meant that they would be packing between those hours and done by early afternoon, or rather would they be showing up sometime in that range a-la the cable guy.

The Japanese must not Think Highly of the Cable Guy...Either

The Japanese must not Think Highly of the Cable Guy…Either

No matter.  My daze had already set in.  Partially from about three hours of sleep the night before (and before).  But more so from the constant sorting of our stuff – the massive amount of possessions that had to be gone through, and all gone through over the last week. 

Pile of Possessions

Pile of Possessions

All that compounded by uncooperative weather.

In Florida in the summer we can expect late afternoon thunderstorms most days, like clockwork.  However, it’s Move Daze, so what happens?  Yup, the heavens open up and proceed to offer a deluge starting at…yes…the movers’ show time. 

And it doesn’t stop raining!  And neither Jody nor I want our possessions wet.

So, it’s partially a blessing that the movers finally arrive at 3pm, when the rain finally begins to subside.  They quickly realize, however, that 1) they used all their wardrobes, and 2) they used the larger crate on their truck, both for the morning pickup.  The crate they do have won’t fit our stuff!!  Yikes.  Oh, and our large TV is too large for express shipment – fair’nough, and, we can’t ship the lamps express as they are “furniture.”  Okay, it’s just stuff, and we’ll get it 2-4 weeks later with our main household goods shipment anyway….  No worries.

Now, that’s all the dizziness of move daze.  But that’s not the real point of this story.  The movers were two older African American men, surprisingly older, like clocking in at 63 and 67.  They were particularly polite and cheerfully apologetic about their tardiness and the fact that they were not properly equipped for my pickup, but of course I’m becoming more and more upset, being bemused at the deteriorating situation.  They sense this and call their office to have their supervisor mediate, who calls and says he’s on the way with another truck, two different sizes of empty crates for all our stuff, and wardrobes for our clothes.

But I couldn’t get over the work these men were doing.  And doing it with a smile on their face, without complaint or any appearance of distress, over easily a 10 hour day.  I simply say to the leader-guy, “What are you guys doing?  You’re too old for this kindda work!  This is a young-man’s game….”

He stops his work, slowly gazes up with a smile, and replies in a low almost unintelligible voice, all the while grinning larger and larger, “Can’t get em young’uns to do the work; somebody got to do it….”

Where does this type of work ethic spring from?  I know one place.  Turns out BOTH men were ex-military, one Marine and the other Army.  These men had both served in Vietnam.  Both left the military around year 14 of service.  And both had children currently in the service, where both were being very firm about those kids retiring from the service so their offspring could avoid similar fates in old age.

But this story gets better.

Upon hearing about me going to Okinawa, the leader-guy again stopped and smiled even BIGGER.  “I was in Okinawa in 1972!”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“The nurses sure were pretty.”

“Nurses??”

“I was medivac’d through Okinawa after being hit in ‘Nam, or Cambodia, not really sure….”

This is just an odd coincidence; I often, almost invariably introduce Jody to people as the “Prettiest Nurse in the Navy!”  While she no longer embarrasses over this title like she used too, I’m not sure she realizes the healing power that she welds, especially for young, hurt, scared boys.  I tell the leader guy to follow me around a couple of corners through the home, and point out a framed bridal portrait of Jody hanging proudly on the wall. 

“Devil Dog, that, my friend, is the prettiest dang nurse in the Navy, and she’ll shortly be working at the hospital in Okinawa!” 

The Absolutely Prettiest Dang Nurse in the Navy

The Absolutely Prettiest Dang Nurse in the Navy

He grins and replies, “Good gracious, she’ll mend the boys but break their hearts!

The universe pretty much unfolds how it should.  The daze of the day had given way to a certain clarity about life.  That the stuff we had set aside for our express shipment really had little to do with our upcoming Far East Adventure.  That someone who had given so much physically and mentally during his youth, who maintains such a positive and upbeat attitude and demeanor in the face of what could be characterized as brutal physical existence in the summer heat of northern Florida, places so little value on “things.”

And I start to pull things out of our express shipment.  Partly because I want to accelerate the packing timeline (it was very late already).  Partly because the military expects the express shipment to be around 1,000 pounds (the actual number is very hard to find), and I knew we had too much.  But mostly because I truly wish to focus on the things that really will matter in Okinawa.

Parting with Possessions

Parting with Possessions

It is not the stuff we bring, we buy, we junk, use or sell.

It is the people we hold dear in our lives, those that we love, those that we befriend, and even those that simply cross our paths and help show us the way.  And it is those people whose lives we touch, sometimes profoundly for life, at other times simply through a healing smile and touch, that lend meaning to our mutual being.

Ninety cubic feet of storage and 900 pounds (estimated) later, I shake the crews’ hands and wish them well.  Semper Fi my new friends…..

sfi_tcDSCN0759