I was in the military during wartime. The Navy, to be precise, during Operation Desert Shield / Desert Storm.
My combat experiences are nonexistent. We were not fired upon. We fired upon nobody. We did perform boarding parties as part of a blockade; we did pull the dead and the dying on board after a nearby ship sunk. We did aid another US warship which had a screw partially blown off by a mine (the screw is what allows the ship to move quickly through the water. We spent hours – long, long hours – “sucking rubber” in gas masks both for training and when shells were known to be detected within a certain radius of the ship.
But for the most part, it was just routine. Cleaning, maintenance, drills, and a whole lot of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation comes naturally to a nuke; we usually started off on five and dimes and moved up, after being fully qualified to stand all watches, to five and twenties. Five and dimes means that you have a five hour shift (four, if it’s the 10 PM – 2 AM overnight), then ten hours off, then another five hour shift. However, that’s in addition to your regular duties, which tends to be a full ten hour day of the aforementioned cleaning, maintenance and drills. Chart that out in your head. 7 AM – 12 AM, get off watch to go to work until 5, go back onto watch at 10 PM until 2 AM, go to sleep, get up at 6 to be ready for 7 AM muster, work through until noon, go on watch until 5, get up at 2 AM to go on watch, go from watch to muster, work a 10 hour day, go on watch at 5 PM, get off at 10 PM, and get your one full night of sleep out of every three days.
That’s five and dimes. On our ship, that was the routine for the first year or so, after which I graduated to five and fifteens. There would have been much rejoicing, but I was too tired.
Sleep deprivation does bring humor, though. Weird types of humor. Let me give you a couple of examples.
First: when we brought on board the bodies of the drowning victims, they needed to be stored respectfully until we reached land. To that end, all of the provisions were moved out of the secondary freezer – the “meat locker” – and the bodies were placed inside. The cooks were responsible for shifting all of the food, something they normally had help with. This time, the “working party” of people was occupied with getting the victims aboard. One of the cooks apparently had a bit too much work that day and their ability to discern good taste was hindered, but they retained their ability to be subtle. The menu board, which had been reading “roast beef”, was modified after the effort to simply read “roast”.
That wasn’t the only joke played by the cooks. They were required to put small cubes of fruit inside the trays of jello in an effort to get the sailors a full complement of vitamins. One time, however, they were out of fruit. Someone decided to improvise. Let me just tell you that “diced onion in jello” will never be a culinary trend.
And of course, as mentioned, the nukes had cornered the market on sleep deprivation. I’ll give you an instance of my own (mis)behavior.
A few of the people were abnormally difficult to rouse for night watches. The roving watch person would go to the berthing area and wake them up, and they’d be awake… and then they’d just go back to sleep, “bagging” (leaving holding the bag) whoever they were supposed to replace with extra watch time. This was very much unappreciated. One of these guys was named Dave. I liked Dave, he was a nice guy… but he was a terrible bagger.
One night I had an inspiration. “Dave,” I told him. “If you don’t wake up, I’m going to pour a Coke on your head.” Now, nukes are notorious for NOT lying, but he thought this was a ploy. After all, nobody in their right mind would risk getting someone’s mattress wet; they’d probably be forced to swap mattresses. I gave him ten minutes, enough time to get up. Then I took a large wad of toilet paper, poured some Coke into it, and squeezed it right above his head, getting a few drops onto his face. Suddenly, Dave was up, if nonplussed. He threatened me a little, but I took it in stride. He told me in no uncertain terms not to do that again, and I promised I wouldn’t.
Two nights later, I was again tasked with waking Dave. I pulled the curtain aside and whispered into his darkened pit. “Psst, Dave. Dave, wake up… or I’m going to piss in your shoes.”
I was the only one who never again had any difficulty waking Dave.
Anyone else have any military humor stories, personal or otherwise?