Commander, United States Navy, Arriving!


“There’s always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.” ~Wishful Prayer on our Ema left at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate

Jody and had for months planned an overly expensive blow-out vacation in celebration of our near-future together: either retirement from the Navy on 1 January 2016, or another 3.5 years and an additional tour in the Navy, ending with Jody as a Commander at 30 years of total service.

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

15839684381_aec7060d66_bYou see, that fork depended upon this year’s Commander (O-5) Selection results. But that split in potential paths forward should’ve been reached for us a full two years ago. In 2012, the Navy decided to split the “zone,” a grouping based on seniority which determined eligible candidates for promotion – get this – exactly at Jody. So, rather than being considered for promotion in the spring of 2013 as expected, we had to wait another year until Jody became even eligible. Frustrating, to say the least….

Married Vets

Married Vets

Jody Serving in Japan

Jody Serving in Japan

Then in 2014, Jody and I were shocked when she was not selection for Commander after waiting an extra year to finally become eligible. And that made this year her last shot. The Federal government has a statutory requirement it places on the military that states if you are eligible for retirement and miss a promotion to the next rank twice, you must retire. It’s called “two-time failure on selection,” and it’s exactly what forced me out of the service as a Lieutenant Commander in 2008.

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

In-room Dining

In-room Dining

So, we planned this celebratory vacation starting on June 29th, expecting the Commander results to be released the last week in June like they usually are. We booked a high-end Japanese Ryokan, a place known for their 12-course gourmet meals served in your room prepared by award-winning chefs, in a room that had outdoor bathing fed by a onsite onsen (hot spring), on the resort island of Miyajima just outside of Hiroshima. We were going to end this trip with a 3-night stay in the infamous city right next to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum at the ANA Crowne Plaza.

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

We fully expected to know the results of Jody’s board prior to leaving. But in any case, at the worst, we would certainly know prior to the July 4th holiday weekend while we were on vacation. So even if we left without knowing, certainly we would know before our return.

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate Jody writing WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate writing WMOf course the Navy had different ideas. For whatever reason, the selection results were delayed this year (it appears at the SECDEF level). We have a tradition of leaving our prayers and wishes at most of the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples we visit in Japan. So, at the beginning of our celebration-vacation, we placed an ema (See Shinto Shrines and Snake Oil for more) at the famous Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, wishing, “There is always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.  To discovering why we celebrate in Miyajima.  The Kings ~ Jody and Kevin.”

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Frustrated that we celebrated without knowing why, we came home and simply stopped worry about the results, at least on the surface. I stopped asking Jody about results, and she stopped checking every morning. It would happen when it happened, and there was nothing we could do about it. Of course it had always been outside our spheres of influence from the start….

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

And like most other things in life, when you let go of stress and worry, things have a way of working themselves out. Early this morning, when Jody got up to pee as the category 4 Typhoon Chan-hom was making her closest approach to Okinawa, Jody had a text message from a nurse co-worker. Dana’s boyfriend, a Navy Officer back on the East coast of the United States, had sent the just-released selection results forward. And Jody was on the list!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Jody is now a full Commander (select)!! Seems Mother Nature was already in the know and giving Jody a wetting-down worthy of one she so strongly deserved.  And yes, this means Jody outranks me now. Don’t worry, I salute her all the time (wink-wink).

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Most likely she will pin the new rank on in December. And this means that we will finish up our tour here on Okinawa, slated to leave in August of 2016. Jody will start immediately negotiating our next set of orders, and plans to do three more years of active duty service once she’s a Commander to take full advantage of retiring as an O-5 (“high-three” retirement plan, where retirement pay is calculated as the average of the highest three years of salary on active duty). Ideas we are considering are a return to Pensacola, or quite possibly, a Consecutive Overseas Tour (COT) in Europe…if there is something available where we would want to go.

15464969601_68f2e95bdf_b

7926452868_629435d039_b13117509193_a3e1975570_bCongratulations Jody on making Commander. It is a long-time coming, and well-deserved. You have truly succeeded in your nursing profession and have excelled in the United States Navy, having progressed from the junior enlisted ranks to full Commander during your long military service. I couldn’t be more proud, and I look forward to throwing you a more proper wetting-down celebration later this year. I eagerly await continuing our adventures together.

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Fair Winds and Following Seas, My Love.

Miyajima 2015, beautiful Jody on the ferry across

Or, should I say, “Ma’am”?!?

Traces of War: Former Japanese Naval Underground HQ on Okinawa


“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing….”  ~ War, by Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, map of the underground headquarters

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground, the suffering of the OkinawansOkinawa 2014, Navy Underground, timeline of war displayOne can’t help but imagine how devastated the landscape of Okinawa looked during the “Typhoon of Steel” suffered there in 1945. Having read, twice, both With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge and The Battle of Okinawa by Colonel Yahara (both authors actually present at the Battle of Okinawa), it is indeed a morbid privilege to be able to track the traces of war which still exist on Okinawa today.

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, map display of US armed forces landing operations on Okinawa during WWII

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, Flag Officer's room chiseled into the rockOkinawa 2014, Navy Underground, the suffering of the Okinawans 2The Battle of Okinawa makes for fertile fields harvested by the Grim Reaper. WWII deaths here total upwards of 225,000, the majority Okinawan civilians.  Fully 1/3 of the Okinawan population perished in the spring and summer of 1945 when over 2.7 million artillery shells of all types and calibers were fired against the entrenched Japanese, working out to an average of 4.7 shells for every man, woman, child alive on Okinawa at the start of the battle.

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, military operations in and around Oroku, Okinawa, June 1945

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, larger room in the complexOkinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, signal communications room undergroundA heartbreaking trace of the war here includes the well-preserved and restored Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. The Japanese Navy Corps of Engineers, Yamane Division, dug this tunnel complex by hand using pickaxes and hoes in 1944 to serve as the Japanese Navy Imperial Headquarters on Okinawa.  The semi-circular tunnels and rooms, designed to sustain upwards of 4,000 people, were hardened into bunkers by post and concrete, designed and built to endure the American bombardment and the expected long drawn-out fight.

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, lonely wet passageways underground

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, wall riddled with a hand-gernade when committed suicideOkinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, narrow chiseled stairwayNow located in a suburb of Naha, it was here deep in this hillside that Admiral Minoru Ota and over 4,000 of his men were killed in combat with the US 6th Marine Division. Many Japanese sailors, estimated at about 175 men including Ota himself, committed suicide in the tunnels, showing the ultimate dedication to their belief that death is preferred over the dishonor of capture.  Some used hand grenades; shrapnel marks are still dramatically visible in the plaster of one of the complex’s many rooms.  Ota shot himself with his service pistol.

Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, wall damaged by gernade explosions used in suicides of Japanese Naval Underground staff

Minoru_OtatomishironavyHQ08Minoru Ōta (大田 実 Ōta Minoru, 7 April 1891 – 13 June 1945) was the final commander of the Japanese naval forces defending the Oroku Peninsula of Okinawa during WWII.  Here Ōta commanded a force of 10,000 men, half of which were Okinawan civilian laborers conscripted into service, with the remainder sailors with almost no experience fighting on land.  Having been ordered to withdraw his men from the Oroku Peninsula to support the broader Japanese army retreating further south, Ōta began preparations for the move by ordering most of the heavy equipment, stocks of ammunition and heavy weapons destroyed since they could not be carried.  While in mid-march to the south, Ōta was ordered back…and thus the island’s naval combat elements returned with no heavy weapons and only half the force armed with even rifles.  The Americans subsequently isolated the peninsula by a seaborne landing behind the Navy’s positions, sealing the sailors’ shared fate.  Fighting a lost cause and having most of their equipment destroyed and out of food, water and supplies, many of the Japanese attacked the US Marines using makeshift weapons in a desperate last charge on June 13, 1945, and were decimated.  The remains of approximately 2,400 Japanese and Okinawans were found in and around the tunnels located here.

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Okinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, wall riddled with a hand-gernade when committed suicideOkinawa Aug 2013, Naval Underground, alter left from WWII days of 1945After the war, the complex remained untouched for many years. Restored in the 1970s, the complex has been reopened to the public.  But only around 300 meters of the original 450 meter-long tunnels are open.  However, in these passages and rooms chiseled into the hillside’s rock, visitors can view the headquarters’ Operations Room, Staff Office, Code (Signals) Room, Medical, Petty Officer’s Quarters, and the Commanding Officer’s Room.  In order to make the facility safe for the public, additional cement and some other reinforcements were added, but very little else was altered so as to maintain authenticity and give visitors the gut feel for what the Japanese endured here.  A few plaques and drawings are found along the passages which help to illuminate the use of various areas of the bunker.

The HQ's Medical Facility

The HQ’s Medical Facility

Homemade Bayonet

Homemade Bayonet

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground, Japanese Naval Officer's WWII uniform recovered from the tunnelsAt the entrance to the underground tunnels is a small museum dedicated to the events of the Battle of Okinawa, which contains a few interesting artifacts recovered from the complex. Most interestingly, prominently displayed is a translation of Admiral Ota’s final message to his superiors in Tokyo, which highlights the horrors of the mêlée, along with the suffering of the proud and loyal Okinawan people.  Equally as moving is Ota’s Death Poem, still visible on the wall of his room, which translates “How could we rejoice over our birth but to die an honorable death under the Emperor’s flag?”  Note that this poem’s tone and underlying message is much different from an earlier death poem telegraphed to his superiors:  “Even if my body perishes in Okinawa, the noble Japanese spirit within my soul shall defend Japan forever.”

Ota's Death Poem is at the far end of the room.

Ota’s Death Poem is at the far end of the room.

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground, anchor memorial monument flag staffOkinawa 2014, Navy Underground, recovered WWII artifacts from the tunnelsThe memorial on the hilltop consists of a tall central monument with Japanese inscriptions, three shorter monuments with dedications, and a ship mast (or flagstaff) and anchor in honor of the sacrifice of the Japanese Navy in WWII. All of the inscriptions and dedications on the monuments are in Japanese except for one.  In English, it states, “This monument is dedicated to the memory of Vice Admiral Minoru Ota, Commanding Officer of the Japanese Navy and his 4,000 men who committed suicide in this underground headquarters on June 13, 1945 after having shared in a hard-fought battle during World War II.  A poem carved in a wall of this trench by Admiral Ota as his farewell word is still legible.  Commanding Officer‘s room, center of operations, and the staff room remain in this underground headquarters which are reminiscent of the bygone days.”  Small tokens left by visitors are scattered at the monuments’ base and throughout the tunnels:  flowers, money left with a Buddha, and paper cranes representing grief and prayers for peace.

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground,  anchor memorial monument

 

Life finds a way....

Life finds a way….

Long shadow of the past....

Long shadow of the past….

Like most memorials on Okinawa, the focus here is on peace highlighted through the tragedy, calamity, and pointlessness of war. The only named person is Ota; the “rest” are simply a (large) number.  The monuments, reaching skyward, are set majestically on a hilltop overlooking the sea, surrounded by lush greenery and beautiful flowers, quite tranquil and apart from the urban sprawl found at the base of the hill.

Ota Commanding the Pitched and Hopeless Battle

Ota Commanding the Pitched and Hopeless Battle

At 1600 on June 12, 1945, after being encircled by the U.S. 6th Marine Division, Ōta sent a farewell telegram to the Imperial Japanese Army’s 32nd Army Headquarters. In it he amply highlights the fallacy of the battle, the mistreatment of the Okinawan people, and his deep concern over their future as a people and culture.  That telegram reads:

Please convey the following telegram to the Vice-Admiral.

While the Governor should be the person to relay this report on the present condition of the Okinawa prefectural inhabitants, he has no available means of communication and the 32nd Division Headquarters appears to be thoroughly occupied with their own correspondences. However, due to the critical situations we are in, I feel compelled to make this urgent report though it is without the Governor’s consent.

Since the enemy attack began, our Army and Navy has been fighting defensive battles and have not been able to tend to the people of the Prefecture. Consequently, due to our negligence, these innocent people have lost their homes and property to enemy assault. Every man has been conscripted to partake in the defense, while women, children and elders are forced into hiding in the small underground shelters which are not tactically important or are exposed to shelling, air raids or the harsh elements of nature. Moreover, girls have devoted themselves to nursing and cooking for the soldiers and have gone as far as to volunteer in carrying ammunition, or join in attacking the enemy.

This leaves the village people vulnerable to enemy attacks where they will surely be killed. In desperation, some parents have asked the military to protect their daughters against rape by the enemy, prepared that they may never see them again.

Nurses, with wounded soldiers, wander aimlessly because the medical team had moved and left them behind. The military has changed its operation, ordering people to move to far residential areas, however, those without means of transportation trudge along on foot in the dark and rain, all the while looking for food to stay alive.

Ever since our Army and Navy occupied Okinawa, the inhabitants of the Prefecture have been forced into military service and hard labor, while sacrificing everything they own as well as the lives of their loved ones. They have served with loyalty. Now we are nearing the end of the battle, but they will go unrecognized, unrewarded. Seeing this, I feel deeply depressed and lament a loss of words for them. Every tree, every plant life is gone.

Even the weeds are burnt. By the end of June, there will be no more food. This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war. And for this reason, I ask that you give the Okinawan people special consideration, this day forward.

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground, the agony of the Okinawan People

 

Price: 440 yen for adults and 220 yen for elementary and junior high students entrance fee.  Younger children are free.  Yen only is accepted.

Hours: Year-round, 0830 – 1730 (Jul – Sept), 0830 – 1700 (Oct – Jun)

Address: 236 Tomigusuku, Tomigusuku, Okinawa Japan

Phone: 098/850-4055

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!

Okinawa Newcomer Survival Guide


Okay, My Guide is Not Quite This Good....

Okay, My Guide is Not Quite This Good….

“Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” ~W. Edwards Deming

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” ~Charles Darwin

We’ve now been on Okinawa for just over ten full days, the first mark of any significance to the military.  What mark, you may ask?  Ten days is all you get – automatically – for Temporary Living Allowance (TLA), monies that pay for temporary lodging, which can be extended out to thirty, but only upon asking and with proof of a good-faith effort in finding housing (off-base) or awaiting a housing offer or home to be made available (on-base).  I won’t go into too many Service-specific tidbits of advice here, because the Services are all annoyingly different…even though…we are on the same side…serve the same side…in military branches that all fall under the same Federal Department…with only one Commander-in-Chief…and are funded by US taxpayer dollars.  It’s the epitome of duplication of effort and non-value-added effort to watch distinctly parallel yet vastly divergent processes and programs that must be navigated, only to result in the exact same end-state.  While arguments can (and are) made as to why the services are so unlike, none really are pragmatic enough to stand up against even the least application of Lean principles, let alone logic in reducing waste (time, gas, money, staffing), while serving the customer.

It's Not this Bad, But Keep Calm and Hold On!

It’s Not this Bad, But Keep Calm and Hold On!

But don’t expect to be treated like a customer in the military-machine here!

Customer Service?  Hard to find in the Okinawa Military-Industrial Complex

Customer Service? Hard to find in the Okinawa Military-Industrial Complex

There are actually a fair number of people here who are really very helpful.  In any case, here is a few of the more salient points for helping YOU to survive your arrival and initial time on the island.

Cash-Cash-Cash! – money talks, but it doesn’t walk here.  That takes you, and it requires a lot more walking than back home in the states.  Although the Okinawan economy is MUCH better about credit cards than 15 years ago, it is still, compared to the US, archaic when it comes to electronic bill-paying.  Additionally, you should expect a cash outlay of 12-15K USD if you are required to live off-base, adjusted for your individual rank and number of dependents (the range given is for an O-4 with a single dependent renting at their cap).  Costs making up in this range are (at the high end):

  • Rental Agency Fee (1/2 month’s rent):  $1,290
  • Rental Security Deposit (month’s rent):  $2,580
  • Pet/Utility Deposits (gas, water, electrical):  $200-$400
  • Rent (prorated for current month + first full month):  $2,750
  • Purchasing 2 Cars (title transfer, car cost, insurance):  $8,000
Don't Call this Number - I think it's for Korea!

Don’t Call this Number – I think it’s for Korea!

Japanese companies here cannot cash American checks; many companies do not offer direct electronic billing or payment options, including EFT.  Most people are likewise limited in the amount of daily ATM withdrawals, which instantly limits your access to cash; be ready with mobile banking to help clear checks you write on-base to private parties (e.g., for car purchases), and bring voided checks/deposit slips to set up electronic bill paying service through two services offered on-island:  G.I. Bill Pay, and Easy Pay.  Or, as a further option, open up a local checking/savings account to assist in local banking involving large sums of cash/yen.  The bases here offer branches of Community Bank (owned & operated by Nations Bank) and NFCU.

Wheels = Freedom.  Purchasing cars, costs of which include purchase price, road taxes, title transfer fees, and liability insurance, requires about half your cash outlay.  Purchasing a car off-base will allow you to finance your vehicle, which may help with cash deficits if you are short.  Purchasing on-base through private sales vary depending upon terms; in our case, one individual traded his vehicle for a personal check, while the other wanted the check deposited/cleared (via mobile banking, USAA to be specific) prior to exchange of property.  The title transfer, liability insurance and other fees in taking ownership are done in Yen cash only, and run between $275-$400 depending on the engine size of the vehicle in question.

Typical Lemon-Lot Car Advertisement.  Cold AC?  Of course (wink)!

Typical Lemon-Lot Car Advertisement. Cold AC? Of course (wink)!

The easiest way to transfer vehicle registration & title is through Camp Foster, where vehicle registration AND an insurance company are co-located.  First, visit the base registration center for title transfer authorization, then walk next door to the auto-port where a title/insurance company actually conducts the transfer of title, JCI insurance, and road tax, and offers personal liability insurance as well (this should be purchased to limit your exposure while overseas; SOFA status offer little to no protection in serious vehicular accidents).  After this process, you must proceed back next door to vehicle registration for completion of paperwork.  The actual new title takes a week or so to come in, and you will have to return to pick up when ready.  This whole process takes about 45 minutes if there is no wait or line; however, do not go at lunchtime; early morning works best.  Note registration opens at 0730 but the Insurance/Title companies generally start 0800, but it’s still best to be early and first in line.  Before PCSing, request a “no claim/safe driver letter” from your insurance company (if you qualify) showing a clean driving record for the last three years and you get a 10% savings on insurance.  Road Tax for your vehicle is based on engine size, and must be paid every year in May; however, you can do so early to avoid long lines on-base.  JCI, the Japanese Compulsory Inspection for all vehicles, is required every two years, and can be conducted either on-base (Camp Foster), or with mechanics out in town qualified to do so.  Plan on spending a minimum of $400 for passing the JCI; putting lipstick on your pig will not work in Okinawa!

The base/Japanese SOFA driver’s test is administered by Camp Foster Safety, and is given at 8 and 10 am.  This is a test you must study for (not hard, mind you, but specific enough to really screw you over if you are unfamiliar), so be sure to get the driver’s handbook and read a couple of times on the flight over.  The test is also given at the conclusion of the Newcomer Orientation on Wednesdays, but this will add about two hours to an already long…and boring…day.  Take the test earlier in the week and your license will be ready on Wednesday.  Remember, your wheels, like at home, equal your freedom.  Public transportation is very weak throughout the island, and almost absent on-base.  There are no trains or subways in Okinawa.  Taxis, however, are plentiful and very professional, although at some cost.

Rental Cars cannot be rented if ordered to Okinawa or on SOFA status; only people on leave or TAD/TDY can rent vehicles (why, I have no idea), but believe me, the car rental agency doesn’t ask, and this policy is not clearly stated, at least for Navy personnel (not in orders), and there’s only a very small sign at rental desk that’s easy to miss where one could argue plausible deniability.  Car rental requires only an international driver’s license (get at AAA for $15) with valid state license; it does NOT require a SOFA driver’s license.  The cars are pricey, but the optional insurance is cheap; remember, life on the island is very hard until you have wheels – transportation should be a first priority on-island.  Don’t ask me how I know all this; renting a vehicle could be against military policy, punishable by the UCMJ for active duty personnel, and administratively handled as “misconduct” if committed by dependents.

The Suzuki Splash is an Awesome Rental Car...that I didn't rent....

The Suzuki Splash is an Awesome Rental Car…that I didn’t rent….

Government Provided Furniture.  Your furniture entitlement is based on JFTR weight allowance specified in your orders; if you on full JFTR, you only get furniture loaned and on a not-to-exceed 90 days basis.  If you are on reduced JFTR, you get loaner furniture for the duration of your tour.  However, some important points to remember:  the items and numbers allocated is not based on bedroom entitlement (which is a function of rank and number and age of dependents), but on dependents alone.  For example, we as a couple with no kids are entitled to a three bedroom dwelling at my sponsor’s rank, but we only get a single bedroom of furniture since we have no children.  Be Advised:  only full-sized beds are provided (except to “senior personnel”), so seriously plan on bringing your own bed if you are like us, two grown American-sized adults.  And finally, and perhaps most significantly, SINGLE OR UNACCOMPANIED get no furniture provided, on or off-base, even if on reduced JTFR, which includes most Navy/Marines members.  This can really screw you over if you aren’t aware, which a coworker of ours was this past week.  A good thing to remember is to have your full allotment of government furniture delivered to your residence as you are allowed a one-time free pickup of items you do not wish in the first 90 days.  There is a Family Readiness Center on Kadena Air Base (near the Housing office) that may be able to offer smaller (but no less essential) non-issued items (e.g., dishes, microwave) while awaiting your express shipment.  The government does not supply microwaves; bring your own!

She Doesn't Work at Housing

She Doesn’t Work at Housing

Housing.  Apply online prior to arrival on-island to allow for quick determination if you will live on or off-base.  The decision is based on occupancy rates of zoned living areas bounced off your entitlement (based on rank and number and age of dependents).  The island is under a mandatory on-base housing policy called “live where you work,” unless housing rates for your zoned workplace or zoned housing area adjacent are at 98% occupancy or better.  There are two briefs to receive at housing:  general housing centered for those residing on-base, followed by an off-base housing brief.  Arrive before August or as early in August as possible for the best off-base housing selection; PCS-season ends the 2nd or 3rd week in August and pickings are highly reduced the later in August you look.

Advanced Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) / Move-In Housing Allowance (MIHA) processing can start as soon as you have authorization to live off-base – make this appointment (with Housing) early since often it can take 1-2 weeks even to see get in to see a counselor.  Getting these monies flowing can really help with your initial cash outlays required on-island.  However, OHA/MIHA requires command approval and endorsement, which can take up to 3 days depending on service.  As an important point, MIHA reimburses you for the Agency Fee paid to lease off-base property.

On-base housing may be offered in 1-3 weeks, but your home may not be ready for up to 7-8 weeks even after getting an offer due to sequestration and reduced maintenance staff.  Dehumidifiers are a must on-base since AC is provided by chilled water and such systems do a very poor job of removing excess humidity, which averages 70-80%.  Note that the age and sex of your children determines whether they will share a bedroom; this may result in a modified entitlement mid-tour as your children age or you have additions to your family, for which the military will move you.  A current pregnancy is not counted into entitlement determination.

Internet (Off-Base).  The island is almost fully wired with very high speed fiber optics that truly kicks butt, with the fiber backbone provided by NTT, who utilizes various localized internet service providers (Sunny-net, Global, NTT).  Regardless of ISP, all must pay NTT a standard fee as the fiber middleman, which makes all the ISPs more or less comparable with one-another in terms of capability and pricing.  The speed & type of fiber optic depends on your actual dwelling address; many (older) apartment buildings have not been upgraded to the latest fiber, but homes and smaller duplexes can get the fastest 1 GbPS download capability.  In our case, we are “limited” in our building to 100 MbPS.  These numbers are orders of magnitude faster than ADSL in the states; a 2 hour movie downloads in less than 5 minutes.  Request an American IP address for a slight extra monthly fee (~$11/month), which can help avoid numerous internet hassles.

The Japanese Treated Cleo Very Well

The Japanese Treated Cleo Very Well

Pets.  I have blogged previously about getting your pets ready to PCS with you overseas (look here, “Feline Fiasco”).   Some additional notes of consideration are provided here.

We traveled commercial (see below on how we managed that!), but since we were traveling with a cat, our ticket purchase required the pre-approval of the airport, which happened to be Narita (Tokyo).  This took a few days, and was handled by the Japanese airline we were booking with, and had us on pins and needles until okayed.

Our cat leaving the states could not fly in the aircraft belly, which required a soft-carrier under the seat.  If this is your situation, see about purchasing “Economy Plus” if available for the trans-Pacific flight, which provides something like five extra inches of leg room – it’s well worth the money.  However, our pet was then required by ANA (All Nippon Airways) to fly in the cargo hold from Tokyo to Okinawa, so our strategy was to have an airlines-approved hard-case carrier, broken down and stowed in one of our large suitcases.  We then assembled he hard crate (plastic) in Tokyo after clearing animal import and customs.

Okinawa is severely limited in “pet-friendly TLF rooms” – only ten (10) are available, which obviously requires very early reservation.  There rooms are only on Kadena; if you are arriving with school-aged children, consider boarding your pet(s) so that you can stay at a TLF on the base/area where you expect to live.  In this way you can register your child for the correct school, and avoid a school change once more permanent housing is assigned or found.

Pets are required to be seen at the Kadena vet for paperwork verification, records creation, and a wellness check.  These are conducted via walk-in only and took us about an hour just after lunch when they reopen for business.  Be advised that the Japanese government requires yearly rabies vaccines even though such vaccines are good for three years back home.  These shots are provided on-base for a nominal fee (~$15).

Shopping for a Home - Be Persistent...and Patient

Shopping for a Home – Be Persistent…and Patient

Leasing Property Off-Base.  Housing will inform you if you are to reside on or off-base.  If pushed off-base due to housing non-availability, you will be given an authorization letter/memo as proof for rental agencies and other uses.  There are a whole host of property management and real estate agencies to choose from.  Call many, if not all of them!

Property listings on Okinawa work completely different than they do back home.  For starters, difference agencies “own” different properties, and while some may share listings and show for each other, this is not often and there is nothing equivalent or even close to our MLS system in the states.  For instance, individual apartments in the same building could all be controlled/managed by different companies, at different rents.  The housing availability listing provided by the base Housing office is at your in-brief, is, on the day it’s printed, woefully out-of-date.  It is better to go directly with the individual agencies to check current real-time availability of housing.  The agency’s own websites are little better (in my opinion); some appear to be updated only on a weekly basis.  This can make your housing search very frustrating, and you will most likely burn a LOT of time online only to find the homes you find no longer available.

Additionally, the agencies do not project into the future to let you know what will be becoming available; they show move-in ready homes.  In fact, it is odd that there is no future tense to their thinking.  However, be advised that all properties must have a current housing inspection on file, and initial clearance, and then required every five years.  Again, due to shortfalls in summer hires and furlough days, inspections are backed up, and can take 1-2 months to schedule and successfully complete.

The “PCS Season” will have everything to do with off-base housing availability.  The quantity starts to drop in early August, while the quality drops at a much steeper rate.  By the 3rd week in August, the military moving season is coming to a close, and pickings are much more sparse than that in July.  If your report date is in August, I recommend you get on-island in late July or as early in August as possible to ensure the best possible selection of housing.  This also helps avoid major issues in registering your children for the (right) school and (correct) off-base bus route and pickup point; school on-island starts the 3rd week of August.

"Circuitous Travel:"  Avoiding AMC

“Circuitous Travel:” Avoiding AMC

Circuitous Travel.  We experienced MAJOR issues with AMC flight arrangements (see “Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms”).  You may request “Circuitous Travel” from your Service, which allows YOU to make your flight arrangements, however you see fit.  This type of travel is generally intended for those taking leave en route, and allows for routing other than what AMC would require.  However, your Service must approve, AND, you will only be reimbursed up to the cost of what it would cost the government to fly you to Okinawa using whatever mode/means of travel is the cheapest (not most direct).  Although you are still required to make travel arrangements through the government travel agency in circuitous travel, you will be purchasing tickets on your own personal credit card (including a fee paid to the travel agency of $30/ticket), and will carry the balances until reimbursed.  Reimbursement requires a paid receipt(s) showing zero balance and can only be provided once you are at your destination command.

Mail.  Your sponsor should be able to set-up your PO Box well prior to arrival (30-60 days).  However, to get keys (we were only issued one), you must have and show your orders.  It is best to have your ORIGINAL orders for all appointments just to be safe; some locations (such as the Housing Office) will only accept originals for processing.

You Will Survive - and Cherish Keystone Okinawa

You Will Survive – and Cherish Keystone Okinawa

Getting Settled.  Please do yourself a favor and don’t schedule work-related things for at least a week (if residing on-base), and 2+ weeks if you find yourself having to secure lodgings out in town.  Your priority needs to be getting you and your family established on-island; you literally aren’t that important to the continuity of operations of the US military and your unit will be okay without you.  I promise.  I cannot stress this enough….

Cell Phones.  There are various providers on-island, and they all offer comparable services.  Our choice was driven by what worked well in the new Navy Hospital (Soft Bank), coupled with availability of iPhones.  The iPhones here tend to be cheaper than other smart phones (e.g., Razors), and “fives” are available…and pretty ding-dang nifty.  The GPS feature actually works, which will be a god-send for those of you not familiar with Okinawa.  There are a plethora of plans that are genuinely hard to understand, especially when explained in broken English; if there are unlimited plans like in the states, they are VERY expensive here (I didn’t see any).  In general terms, it’s free to receive calls/texts; however, when calling or texting another company’s phones/services, you are paying for those transmissions (think back to the old Ma’Bell days).  At the end of the day, we will be paying about 10-15% more for comparable service, but with a cooler phone…that allows Facetime (for free) to those in the states with iPhones/iPads.

Download an App called “Pinger” and you can get a US phone number, which allows you to text back home for free, AND, for those in the States to call and text you for free.  It’s a great service, and did I mention that it’s FREE?!?

I don't know what this is, but it's cool and "Are You Read?"

I don’t know what this is, but it’s cool and “Are You Read?”

Miscellaneous. 

For you Civilians and Dependents:  don’t forget to request and pick up your dental records from your civilian dentist prior to departure!

Team American Forces Network, F’Yeah!


Team American Anime, courtesy of the Japanese

Team American Anime, courtesy of the Japanese. Is this how they really see us??

“It’s the ability to choose that makes us human….” ~Old Proverb

“The only limits are, as always, those of vision.” ~James Broughton

“Laws control the lesser man….  Right conduct controls the greater one.” ~Mark Twain

So we’re in the Temporary Lodge Facility (TLF), limited to one of ten rooms available base-wide that are “pet-friendly,” and I am looking through the facilities guide.  You know, as all good tenants do (wink).  And I come upon the on-base cable and radio-station guide:

Choice, Limits & Control of the Media

Choice, Limits & Control of the Media

Wow.  Three words come to mind.  I mean they come to mind after I immediately think how cheap the US Military is when it comes to their most precious resource – its people.  Those three words?

Choice.  Limits.  Control.

AFN is Good for Some Things, but these Icons Permanently Clutter the Screen!

AFN is Good for Some Things, but these Icons Permanently Clutter the Screen!

I’m going to pen op-eds on and off about this peculiar institution and troublesome characteristic of the modern military for the duration here on Okinawa.  I have always been very disturbed by the way senior government officials and most levels of military leadership treat the core peoples of the military, and more so, in their responses to issues central to and most effecting the same.  It is quite a dichotomy that exists in every corner of our all-volunteer force; but it is extraordinarily amplified when living overseas.

Team American Alliance

Team American Alliance

Okay, sure, I get it.  We are all ambassadors of the United States, living in a foreign country at the pleasure of foreign peoples.  I understand that actions do speak louder than words, and that bad behaviors and the “ugly American syndrome” can cause local issue and perhaps some measure of international damage when in the extreme.

BUT, I’m sorry Department of Defense, you can’t have it both ways.  On the one hand, DoD is entrusting young men and women to make daily life-and-death decisions about use of deadly force, and then the same officials double-speak and state that the same person imbued with the power and US-backed authority to kill cannot purchase alcohol off-base except in conjunction with the evening meal….  Or, better yet, a Naval Aviator who’s entrusted with a $50M combat aircraft has to interview with the Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa (CFAO) and explain how he’s going to safely operate his motorcycle in order to get a motorcycle endorsement.  True story, and the lead-in to a funny but tangential story….

I’m stationed on Okinawa in 2005 and I finally decide to get my first motorcycle, one of the things I had always wanted in life, but held off and away while married and with kids.  Separated at the time, and on impulse, I buy a brand-new Harley Davidson 883 Sportster, a “small” bike in the states, but quite large – and Mac-Daddy – here in Okinawa.

And this leads to yet another tangent, but funny and quick I promise.  I’m in the Florida Keys at a gas station years ago and overhear a conversation between two bikers on opposite sides of the pump fueling their bikes.  One, a die-hard, rough-and-scruff prototypical biker on an HD Softail, decked out in leather, complete with ape-hanger handlebars, rhinestone-studded seats and worn saddlebags.  He looks over at what I assessed to be a relatively clean-cut yuppie professional, filling up a shiny new 883 Sportster.

“That’s a nice bike you got yourself there,” a deeply-throated rumble of a voice says.

“Why, thanks,” says the yuppie, overcome with a beaming proud grin of being recognized by such a hardcore biker.

“My girl has one just like it….”

Sometimes it's hard to handle The Truth

Sometimes it’s hard to handle The Truth

Silence ensues.

Come to find out that my Sportster’s engine is “too big” for initial riders on Okinawa.  I am limited to 400 cubic centimeters of displacement or less for my first year, AND, I am not allowed to take riders during that neophytic stage.

Team American Forces Network doesn't go quite this far....

Team American Forces Network doesn’t go quite this far….

Fine.

But the insult is not yet enough.  I am told that in addition to taking the on-base motorcycle safety course (which is the very best thing anyone can do who even contemplates riding a bike) I have to “interview” with a Navy Captain, the dude who’s in administratively in charge of all Navy personnel on-island.  I guess to prove my mettle somehow.  Hopefully by arm-wrestling.

I make my appointment.  At the time I am a Navy Lieutenant Command, a combat veteran of the first Gulf and Balkan Wars, with a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance, qualified as the Air Defense watch officer of a three-ship Amphibious Ready Group with authority for shipboard weapons’ release…get the picture?  I sit down with the Captain, with whom I am already somewhat acquainted.  After some chit-chat, he asks me, “So, Elvis [my callsign], how are you going to stay safe on the motorcycle?”

I actually laugh in response; I have been labeled as “flippant” in the past by an early Commanding Officer, and my attitude never improved.

Even The Terrorists don't see the Point

Even The Terrorists don’t see the Point

But he’s quite serious.

“Well, Sir, I’m going to apply all those operational risk management techniques and safety tactics and procedures that the Navy taught me in flight school, the same ones the Navy seems to deem okay enough to entrust me with combat aircraft to and fro from das boot….”

Now it’s his turn to chuckle.  “Yes, I suppose that’s true.  I guess this interview is more attuned to the 18 year-old Airman who wants a bike….”  Then why are we even having the discussion?

Because of Choice, Limits, and Control.

The Navy limited my choice of bike size, and limited me to solo riding.  But they couldn’t control my spirit once on my 400cc Honda Steed, which turned out to be one wonderful motorcycle!  And sure, I didn’t take anyone riding…(wink).

Tightening the Grip doesn't Work

Tightening the Grip doesn’t Work

But back to AFN.  What struck me upon seeing the “choice” of programming available on Okinawa immediately led me to think how ridiculously little choice there is in access to stations and hence to media.  And not just cable/TV stations, but radio as well.

You may not think this is a very big deal, but let me assure you, it is.  It would be okay if the limited choice was not controlled by a single entity.  But the AFN franchises are so indeed.  And when lack of choice is compounded by controlling tendencies, limits surely ensure.  Limitations colored by healthy doses of propaganda.  And a majority of programming that most care not to see, hear, or even read….

I'm Convinced that Kim Jong Il is behind the AFN Commercials

I’m Convinced that Kim Jong Il is behind the AFN Commercials

Some of you may still think of these ramblings as an overreaction.  Still, those that have lived in Asian where AFN provides the only reliable English-based source of radio, and, in the older days, the only TV programming available in town through an old-fashioned aerial, know exactly of the truth of what I speak.  Programing on AFN borders on OCD:  safety is overplayed to such a comprehensive degree that most elements of a full, satisfying life are portrayed as dangerous and near life-threatening, albeit without extreme caution and full-time high alert.  Given the 24/7 constant barrage, it’s amazing that any of us made it to adulthood.  So that we could volunteer to serve, be posted overseas, only to realize how dangerous life actually is!

In fact, the strangest thing about AFN programming is that commercial-based commercials are not just NOT required, but they are not even allowed by law; the stations/channels are fully funded through other means quite distinct from advertising.  This means that AFN really doesn’t have to provide those “commercial breaks,” but feels compelled to do just that.  To an excessively annoying degree.

So one has to ask:  why?  “They” want you to believe it’s for your own good, that “they” are just being mindful and helpful.  But certainly there are a whole host of other not-so-hidden agendas.  The constant reminders about “being safe,” while based on good intentions, can’t help but be interrupted as nothing more than a lack of trust.  The limited programming and military-hooah-centric and one-sided news is clearly a way to mold young minds and push pre-conceived notions and conclusions about the business of war and peace, DoD-wide.  And while Fox News at least pretends to be “fair and balanced,” AFN offers no such pretense or disclaimer.

Fairly Unbalanced

Fairly Unbalanced

In AFN’s defense, they have gotten better.  I was actually shocked to see BBC news offered as part of their highly limited spread, which of all things, offers at times quite contrary viewpoints to news and media seen in America.  However, I remain resolute in my analysis – and in my complaints of AFN programming.  After having been on-island for just three days, and having the radio and TV on for an infantile portion of that time, I am resolved that any car we purchase have MP3/4 capability, and that once off-base, we buy the most diversified satellite cable TV available on the island.

Freedom and the TLF Cable both cost a Buck-o-Five

Freedom and the TLF Cable both should cost a Buck-o-Five

Choice is important in a democracy.

Limitations are most often self- and artificially-imposed, the result of lack of vision.

And this retired military dependent refuses to be controlled.

Elvis and His Honda Steed on Okiwana

Elvis and His Honda Steed on Okiwana

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming….

Leaving Home for Home


You Never Really Leave Okinawa....

You Never Really Leave Okinawa….

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”~Matsuo Bashō (born Matsuo Kinsaku [1644-1694], then Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa, was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan)

“Home is where the heart is.” ~Pliny the Elder

These are two different impressions on the essence of home, clearly different, but in many ways closely related.  Both apply equally to our upcoming international move to Okinawa, happening now in a period of time measured only in hours, instead of what used to be months, then weeks, and most recently days, which sometimes is more aptly referred to as “daze” (you now, for the double entendre).

Japanese Tree House

Japanese Tree House

The idea of the journey being so important is lost on most.  A standard and central biker creed, something one learns quickly on a long-distance motorcycle trip, is exactly what Busho so elegantly states:  it’s seldom about the destination, but always about the voyage.  The point is, the journeys we take in life are precisely what life is made of, and such cognizance can lead to such a fuller, deeper, more rich life, the kind worth reflecting back upon.

Japanese Housing Agencies

Japanese Housing Agencies

But perhaps there is yet a more apropos characterization of home that fits me personally:  “Home is not where you live, but where they understand you,” ~ Christian Morganstern.

Okinawan Soba House

Okinawan Soba House

When I fell for my wife Jody, the prettiest nurse in the Navy, I knew that more vagabond days may be in my future.  In fact, I was probably and primarily the reason behind this imminent Far Eastern foray.  Jody was all set to retire in Pensacola in 2014, but between the marvelous odds of making full Commander (and its associated massive spike in retirement pay), intersected with the idea that the government would pay (mostly and with much hassle) for what we would make to be an epic international adventure, we both decided that one last tour overseas was in order.  Although we both initially wanted Europe as the station of her duty, Okinawa was what was finally successfully negotiated, happily so mind you.

Traditional Okinawan Home

Traditional Okinawan Home

Jody has not travel nearly as extensively as I, nor has she lived in Asia (and specifically) Okinawa as I have for four years previously.  I find that Okinawa, as opposed to other places overseas I have lived, leaves an indelible mark on many peoples’ psyches, and for me personally – although I am positive my children would agree – Okinawa quickly became quite literally a second home.  I feel I understand Okinawa, and I know that Jody understand me.  These profound insights are what make my idea of “home” easily migratory back and forth across the great expanse of the Pacific.

My son's Sunabe Seawall-inspired painting titled simply "GOAL"

My son’s Sunabe Seawall-inspired painting titled simply “GOAL”

A fellow Okinawan-centric blogger Okinawa Blue perhaps captures this idea most appropriately in the form of Japanese haiku:

Always in longing

for the other half of me

whether here or there

This, in my opinion, captures perfectly the dichotomy between longing for what you miss, and appreciating where you are.  In the states, we live such easy, comfortable lives.  And most Americans don’t realize the breadth of that statement, at least, not until they leave their homes…and homeland.  Of course I will miss and even long for elements of America during my three years on Okinawa, but at the same time, in unison, I feel even more comfortable in some respects living in Okinawa as “home.”  I hope that in blogging over the next three years that I’ll be able to capture just a few of the reasons why Okinawa became and remains so very special to me and many people that I know.

My cat's nightmare of Anti-Home

My cat’s nightmare of Anti-Home

My cat's idea of "Home"

My cat’s idea of “Home”

“Where thou art, that is home.” ~Emily Dickinson

But there is an even more important constituent of “home” that counts the most.  That is, quite simply, what I told Jody early in our relationship:  that my home is wherever Jody can be found.  I knew that Jody would be re-posted, and had no illusions or compunction about following her across the globe.  And I’m happy, if not in anxious anticipation, to be part of this grand adventure with her!

Household Divorce

Household Divorce

Moving Daze

Moving Daze

“Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.” ~Helen Rowland

Although our vehicles are put away, and we have temporarily divorced ourselves of our house in Pensacola (where renters move in Thursday), in the final analysis, for each of us, home is where we are as long as we are together.  A house is a thing, and things inside of that house can make it warm, comfortable, and even inviting.  But a house is not a home; home is in the heart, and my heart is with Jody, who will soon be in Okinawa….

Idle Wheels

Idle Wheels

Journey-less Bike

Journey-less Bike

Together we are ready to take on Okinawa.  I just hope she falls in love with this most special of places as I have, and will too over time consider it a second home as much as I do.

An Idyllic Okinawan Neighborhood Awaits!

An Idyllic Okinawan Neighborhood Awaits!