Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's been a while since I could hold my head up high...

And it's been a while since I first saw you
And it's been a while since I could stand on my own two feet again
And it's been a while since I could call you...

And it's been a while since I've written. I've got a pretty good excuse, I think - I'm halfway around the world from where I started, with computers that won't connect to the internet, won't e-mail home, are in fact little more than glorified paperweights. I've been keeping up with my writing, and there are a couple of days of rants, whines, and digressions that probably could have been turned into blog posts with a little spit and polish. We've had a couple of days in port where I could have posted them off, so I guess my excuse isn't all that good.

But here I am again, so here we go again.

It's been fifty days, as I write this - more, by the time it gets posted - since I've seen my family. I've heard their voices a couple of times, in phone calls and Google Voice sessions, but it's an awfully long time without being able to see their faces, without being able to hold them, and it'll be longer still until I get the chance again. I'm about a third of the way through my personal commitment to this deployment; one hundred six days and a wakeup to go. Less, by the time I post this, wherever we might be when that happens.
So, OPSEC. Operational security. I can't talk about where we are, I can't talk about where we're going, and I can't talk about what we're doing. Pretty simple, overall; it goes along with the old "loose lips sink ships" theory, where a drunken mariner in a bar mentions his ship's sailing tomorrow, and some Nazi spy radios the U-boat waiting outside New York harbor. In today's world of cell phones and internet, it's a pretty pointless adage - I can't count the number of times I've come into port to find the local cab drivers and bartenders already expecting us, knowing when we're leaving, knowing when we'll be back. You know, things the brass hasn't bothered to told we poor mushrooms yet. But that's neither here nor there; I disagree with it, but I'm going to follow it. 'Cause the last time I goofed, I got my tail reamed out by the Old Man, and that's something I'd like to avoid happening again.

I think I can tell you that it's hot, and it's dusty, even as far out to sea as we are. That the gas flares from distant oil platforms give the air a particular tinge that's unmistakable, that the breeze is a cool blessing, and that as miserable as it is right now, it's nothing compared to what it'll be in three months - or two months - or even one month, as the summer heat really begins firing up, and the sun becomes a merciless hammer that drives you to your knees the moment you step out of the airconditioned skin of the ship, that sucks the air out of your lungs and dries the sweat on your brow into an instant salt crust. I've mentioned time and time again that I'm headed for the Burning Lands, and it really is an apt name... especially when there's a hundred percent humidity, and you're stewing in your own juices with no way to cool down.

Yeah, that's going to suck.

But - we're not scheduled to go to Somalia's Next Door Neighbor, that country whose name I use as an epithet whenever we visit, who stinks of camel dung and fires and a million unwashed bodies squatting on the breakwater rocks defecating in the same water they will, a moment later, use to wash their bodies... so, that's a plus.

Ship's e-mail is FUBAR. This isn't effecting our work - we've got a thousand and one methods of communicating with the rest of our fleet, and we haven't even been forced to resort to flashing lights or signal flags yet - but it's the only way I have to communicate with home, so it really irks me when they can't keep it operating. I've been writing a lot of letters and postcards, but with something like a two week - or greater - turnaround time between sending them, when we get to port (which might be two weeks or more after they were written in the first place), it's a very slow, very tedious method of communication. My letters become more like tiny journal entries, trying to cover the events of a week gone by in a digestible format, knowing that whatever I speak of is already distant past to the person reading it. Except when I tell my wife I love her, and miss her, and hope she gives my Squeaker a thousand kisses for me. That's pretty current, no matter when she reads it.

Anyway, that means the only word I get from home is when we pull into port, something that happens only when we have work to do... cargo to load, fuel to load, garbage to discharge. Unlike the Navy, we seldom get "liberty" ports. This means I don't get to go ashore and use the internet - provided I can find wifi, which thankfully has been far more present this deployment than any other I've been on, a sure sign of the steady march of progress - until we're done working for the day. One of those double edged swords, they've been pretty tight with the overtime this deployment, trying to get the most out of us on regular time and shutting down operations when they threaten to go past 1700. So, I'm not making quite as much money as I'd hoped, the whole reason I set out on this bloody adventure in the first place, but I get more time to do stuff, and more time to communicate home... once the wife wakes up, given that I'm eight hours ahead of her and my 1700 knock off is her 0900 alarm clock.

I've actually gotten bored enough to be creative, lately... more than my regular writing, that is, which probably fits somebody somewhere's definition of creativity. I've been doing a lot of work with paracord, making sheaths for my Leatherman and knife... thinking about doing some for flashlights and stuff, plus shipmates have started asking me about making stuff for them. So, that's cool.

I'm losing weight. That's cool.

And I'm out of time for this update, which is less cool, but will hopefully lead to cooler things.