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An Ocean Away

30 Apr

I have had the privilege of contributing to my alumni magazine, Shipmate, for the past few years.  My final column was published in March.  It is a fairly short piece and I was not able to get into all of the details of my opinions on women’s policy in the Navy and my decision to resign my commission, but I think I mostly got my point across.

One major point that I did not explicitly state in the article is that my decision to get out and take care of Ruby full-time, while difficult, was made far easier by the fact that I had already completed my active duty service obligation.  Graduating from the Naval Academy requires a minimum of five years on active duty.  I actually sending up serving almost seven, including three years onboard a warship and a nine month deployment to Iraq.  It was very important to me to complete my obligation, and I  am glad that we had Ruby after my minimum sea duty was up, or I would have gone back out to sea.

Please let me know what you think.  The decision to work or stay at home to raise kids is not an easy one, and I would love some other perspectives.

On a side note, this is officially my last day on active duty.  I will always be proud to have served in the world’s finest Navy with amazing shipmates and friends.

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Last Day

2 Mar

Today was my last day working as an active duty naval officer.

I cried.

Not at first. I held it together all morning; when I first woke up and Ruby just wanted to snuggle; when she cried when I left; when the Commanding Officer presented me with a Navy Commendation Medal; when I walked out of the office for the very last time.

The first tears came when I got home and really realized that this was also Elise’s last day as Ruby’s nanny. I cannot describe in words how wonderful it has been to live with my sister this past year, and to always know that Ruby was being lovingly cared for by her auntie. We have always been pretty close, but this last year has really brought our relationship to a new level and I will always cherish this time we had together.

My second breakdown came at lunch with my coworkers. This past year has been absolutely the most challenging of my career, due entirely to one individual (technically my boss). I would not have made it without the support of my entire department, and especially my Chief Petty Officers. We all bonded over our mutual misery and I was able to keep going because I always knew they had my back. I am so very grateful to have served with them–it has truly been an honor.

But I am ready to move on.

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Advice from Ron

28 Feb

I was watching Parks and Recreation last night with Matty and Elise, and Ron Swanson (expertly played by Nick Offerman and easily one of my favorite television characters of all time) said the most perfect and prescient thing for me at this particular point in my life.  He was counseling Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knopp, to take a leave of absence from work in order to fully concentrate on her campaign for city council.  Leslie is a go-getter who likes to do everything perfectly, but both her campaign and job in the Pawnee Parks Department were suffering because she was spreading herself too thin. 

So Ron tells Leslie “never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.”

I almost fell out of my chair, I thought this was so profound.

My mother, who was a superb naval officer back in the day, has given me the same advice, but Ron put it so succinctly, and the timing was so amazing, that it really just hit me in the face last night.

You see, this is my last week working as an active duty naval officer.

Being in the Navy is all I really know how to do.  I inducted into the Naval Academy almost 11 years ago and never looked back.  I know that I am making the right decision by getting out, but have been struggling with letting this huge part of my life (and my identity) go.

I know, deep down in my bones, that this is what I have to do, but it is still so hard.  I don’t ever remember being as stressed out as I have been over this past year.  This is partly due to my particular situation at work—there was a crucial turnover while I was on maternity leave and the new guy has been dreadfully hard to work for—but so much of it has to do with me.

I have been in a particularly lucky spot considering that my wonderful sister lives with us and takes excellent care of Ruby, and I happen to have the BEST husband who is understanding and helpful and just an all-around great guy, but my house has been messier than I like and this stresses me out far more than it should.  Ruby still does not sleep through the night, so neither do I, and by the time I get home from work I am so exhausted I just want to sit around and watch TV and play with Ruby.  I have done tons of research on the benefits of eating whole, unprocessed food, but have been too tired to cleanse my kitchen of all the crap and actually consistently cook real meals for my family every day.  This tiredness and laziness have combined into a horrible force and I have allowed myself to gain almost 30 lbs since I dropped 50 right after Ruby was born.  The weight gain has, in turn, stressed me out even more.

I know that staying home will not be some sort of magic pill that will drag me off the couch and make me a more energetic, exciting mom.  However, I also know that being able to devote 100% of my time and attention to being Matty’s wife and Ruby’s mom, “whole-assing” this homemaker business, will remove at least some of the stress and a ton of the time drags that have made this past year so difficult.  New challenges are ahead for sure, and I will have to deal with them head-on, but for the moment I can’t wait to start my new life as a Virginia Navy wife.

And I have Ron Swanson to thank for that.

Veterans Day

12 Nov

I meant to write a big piece for Veterans Day yesterday, but the day got away from me and I am just now posting something.  This is an article that I wrote for my alumni magazine while I was serving with the Army in Iraq.  We lost many god and great soldiers while I was over there, and I am forever grateful for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of all of our veterans.

Written at COB Speicher, Iraq

On May 27, 2005, I stood with the rest of my classmates in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and took the oath of office, swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which we were about to enter.  The words of our oath are profound—unlike other nations we swear to protect ideas rather than a person or a piece of land.  After four long years by the bay, however, most of us were not dwelling on the oath (or at least I wasn’t).  We were finally ready to join the fleet as young ensigns and second lieutenants.  It was a day filled with memories of the past and hope for the future, and after throwing our covers in the air and giving three cheers for those we were about to leave behind we were on our way to new adventures, not yet knowing what they would be.

A few weeks later I stood on a pier in Malta and gazed up at my new ship, the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54).  Looking up at the sailors manning the rails in their whites, I took a deep breath and vowed to do the best job I could.  I became the First Lieutenant and was quickly immersed in the dual tasks of running a division and struggling to get qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer.  Life was incredibly busy between training, inspections, workups, boards, and an extended deployment to the Middle East, but much like plebe year the days passed by like weeks but the weeks passed by like days, and before too long I had a SWO pin and had “fleeted up” onboard for my second division officer tour as the Navigator, my dream job.

During my time onboard Antietam, Individual Augmentees (IAs) from the Navy and Air Force had been supplementing ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These sailors and airmen leave their parent commands and fill billets that the over-burdened Army (and Marine Corps in some cases) desperately need.  From supply officers to masters-at-arms to operation specialists, people who never could have imagined being part of a ground war have been stepping up to the challenge.

The thought of doing something new and different that would have an immediate, direct impact on the war appealed to me, so early one morning in March when my ship received a tasking order requesting an officer to be the Electronic Warfare Officer for an Army unit on the ground in Iraq, while everybody else thought “I joined the Navy, not the Army,” I heard myself say “I’ll do it.”

A few months later I traded in my khakis for Army Camouflage Utilities and was on my way.   In Ft. Jackson, SC I was issued an M4 rifle, an M9 pistol, and 50 pounds of body armor and began training to become as much of a soldier as possible in 3 weeks.  Essentially this meant a whole lot of marksmanship and convoy training in the sweltering South Carolina summer.  On July 6th we landed in Kuwait in the middle of the night, and the next morning when I stumbled out of my tent into the blinding sunlight and saw nothing but mile upon mile of sand stretching in every direction I thought “what have I done?”  All of a sudden 9 months seemed like a very long time.

After some convoy training in Kuwait and a crash course in electronic warfare in Baghdad, I finally arrived at COB Speicher in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

So far this has been an eye-opening experience.  I have always had a very healthy respect for the Army (my grandfather, uncle, and 3 cousins have all served in the Army), but I am incredibly impressed by the soldiers I work with.  In the Navy we think 7 month deployments are long, but my unit is on month 12 of a 15 month deployment and is still going strong.  The transition from war fighting to nation building is ongoing, and the Army is handling that challenge well.  Every day soldiers put on their body armor and go outside the wire, risking their lives to fulfill the mission, and their efforts are paying off.  The number of violent acts by insurgents has decreased dramatically since this time last year, and there is much hope for the future of this fledgling nation.

Much like shipboard life, the day to day routine here can be monotonous, but there are moments that will stand out when I reflect back on my time in Iraq.  One of those moments happened last night, when the division commander officiated at a promotion ceremony for my battalion’s physician.  As part of the ceremony he likes to re-administer the oath of office, and looking around the room it was humbling to hear the oath not in a grand setting with all of the pomp and circumstance of an Annapolis graduation exercise, but in a dusty makeshift building in the middle of a war zone, surrounded by Americans who had “taken this obligation freely” and were now living out that promise every day, far removed from their families and friends.  Tired from a year spent fighting and watching other soldiers die or be critically injured in the line of duty, these men and women still get up every day and fight for freedom, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to serve with them.

Capt. Laura Muirhead, LTJG Sarah Atwood, 1st LT Melina Lee