Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Life As a New GONZALEZ Sailor

The number one tenant of the GONZALEZ Command Philosophy is taking care of Sailors. It reads: "There is no need for a mission without Sailors to execute it - plain and simple. With the exception of the most newly reported, most junior seaman recruit, every Sailor on GONZALEZ is responsible for someone else. We treat each other with respect and dignity without preference or prejudice. We are all Shipmates, and in any moment of crisis or conflict, I expect each of us to rise to the occasion with honor, courage, and commitment to support each other. I expect GONZALEZ leadership to praise in public and reprimand in private. Taking care of Sailors extends to families as well. Our sponsor program, family readiness group and command websites should be the pride of the fleet."

The last line above hits home on an extremely important aspect of taking care of Sailors and that is our GONZALEZ sponsor program, a program of which I am very proud. The part of the sponsor program particular to me is ensuring each new Sailor checks in with me within 24 hours of arrival. During the check in, I get the opportunity to congratulate the newest GONZALEZ Sailor on joining the best crew in the Navy! Just ask any GONZALEZ Sailor, they will tell you I welcome every new Sailor the same way. I then get a chance to learn about our newest shipmate, tell him or her a little about GONZALEZ and our proud heritage, and share my expectations. For Sailors reporting to their very first ship for the very first time, it is always a pleasure to hear their stories of why they joined the Navy and be a part of their excitement about serving at sea in their first term. It has been a long time since the day I reported to my very first ship for the first time though. So with that in mind, I asked one of my Public Affairs writers to capture a few thoughts on life as a new Sailor. She captured a few things I hadn't thought of in a while. Enjoy...

Every Navy Sailor knows that their former life as a civilian is much different than life in the United States Navy. One of the things which comes to mind in the early days of training for every new Sailor is being told what to wear, where to go, and when to be there. While there is certainly structure to the civilian world new Sailors leave behind upon joining the Navy, when learning what to wear, where to go, and when to be there, all new Sailors learn how quickly they used to take daily liberties for granted. Even for such a simple decision as hair style, the Navy already has an answer. This level of structure, routine, and daily discipline goes a long way though to help the Navy and Sailors, new and old, be ready for any mission and any task.
New Sailors reporting to USS GONZALEZ have had many different reactions to checking onboard their first ship. Some reported confusion from the moment they stepped onto the pier. Some weren’t sure where they were supposed to go or how to cross the brow? Should they salute the flag with a sea bag on their back and all their worldly possessions in their arms? Although they had all practiced their first day onboard their new ship at Recruit Training Command, many thoughts filled their mind as they requested permission to come aboard for the very first time. And too, they knew every eye on the ship’s Quarterdeck was on them. Who is this new check-in? Where are they from? Fresh out of boot camp or time in an ‘A’ School?
Checking onboard the ship is an important event for all hands, not only is the new Sailor unfamiliar to the ship, but the ship is now responsible for making sure the new Sailor is properly checked in, taken care of, and learns their way around. Everything onboard the ship is a new experience. From the moment a new Sailor steps inside the skin of the ship, the smell of metal overwhelms them. Walking by the galley they smell the aromas of morning Navy chow and a fresh pot of coffee just brewed. None of this reminds them of home. Every step is taken carefully so as to not hit their head on a battle lantern or shin on the knee knockers. And why they are called “knee knockers” and not “shin killers?” And while everyone is speaking English, it is definitely a different language. It sounds like boot camp, just more complicated. All of his happens within the first few hours of checking onboard. Some new Sailors said they felt like their head was going to explode with information.
So how do new sailors cope with the change of atmosphere, the language that doesn’t seem to have a dictionary, and the bells, whistles, and alarms that seem to come from nowhere? Some feel like they have it a little easier from the start. “It was a pretty easy transition for me. My Dad was in the military so I grew up around it,” offered Operational Specialist Seaman Recruit Freeman Stephens. He felt calm and comfortable the day he checked aboard. He had grown up around Navy-speak and felt comfortable transitioning from being a “Navy Brat” to a Sailor. Many other didn’t feel the same, “When I reported to the ship, I had to fly into Madrid to meet the ship in Rota, Spain. Nobody spoke English and no one knew where we were supposed to go. They almost sent us to the wrong country,” exclaimed Sonar Technician Third Class Petty Officer David Barthel.
While it is an exciting time for new Sailors and their new Division onboard the ship, most said boot camp prepared them well and that it was important to remember there is no such thing as a dumb question. So what is the author’s best advice for newly reported Sailors? Breathe. After all, new Sailors, like everyone else onboard, will wake up, get up, and do it all over again tomorrow. - CS2(SW) Julie Clark

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