A Military Unit Deployment isn’t a Vacation for Service Members
Many people who’ve never served in or around the military think the wrong things about it. They think a unit deployment is something like a vacation. To be fair, the young soldiers, sailors and marines can make it seem like a vacation when describing what they’ve done and where they’ve been. Believe me when I tell you, it just isn’t so.
I only participated in four unit deployments while I was in the military. I would have been happy to take part in none at all.
My First Unit Deployment – The Western Pacific in 1983
My first unit deployment was aboard the USS Tarawa, an amphibious assault ship, for six months. A routine deployment turned into something more when we had to sail from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea by way of the Suez Canal. Our job was to support the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
Out of the six months, we spent perhaps two months in various ports of call. The longest stops were in the Philippines because that’s where resupply and maintenance operations took place. We stopped on the way out for three weeks and on the way back for two. While out at sea, we worked seven days a week. At this working port, we only had to work five days a week. I met my future wife during the stop on the way out.
Living aboard a Navy ship, for any amount of time, sucks to no end. Those ships are nothing like the luxury liners being advertised on television. My personal space was a small locker and a rack (like a bunk bed). The racks were stacked along a bulkhead of some sort, so I could string a small curtain lengthwise on the other side to keep the light out. I had more privacy in my office space than in the living area. Entertainment consisted of whatever they put on the single television in the living area lounge (which was next to the toilet and shower facilities), card games and reading books. I read a lot of books back then.
My Second Unit Deployment – A Combat Exercise in 1988
This was a partial unit deployment. I was the only administrator assigned to the combined arms exercise in Fort Picket, Virginia. The exercise was cut short when most of us were reassigned to search for a missing reconnaissance marine who disappeared after jumping from a plane.
We were searching in the rain, which didn’t stop for three days. When the marine was finally found, we headed back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. That’s when the circulation returned to my feet.
For whatever reason, we were short of tents. I ended up sleeping on the back of a 5-ton truck every night, the same one I rode in on.
My Third Unit Deployment – Vieques, Puerto Rico in 1989
I don’t remember a lot about this unit deployment. I was the “sergeant of the guard” on the island for most of it. Listening to the radio (the military kind) a lot was what I remember the most. It was so dark, I had to use night vision goggles to see the sentries along the perimeter when it came time for a guard change (every four hours). I didn’t get much sleep while on the island.
We rode the USS Nassau from the Atlantic coast to the island and back again. It felt like déjà vu, but only because it was the same class of ship I rode before. At least I knew where everything was without having to learn the layout again.
My Fourth Deployment – The First Gulf War in 1990 and 1991
Most of my unit was mobile during this deployment. I was “in the rear with the gear”, but the rear kept moving to various locations in Saudi Arabia. In fact, our camp was only the rear area for the 10th Marine Regiment.
I don’t like to talk about the months I spent over there. I didn’t bathe as often as I wanted to, ate MREs almost every day and slept on a cot in a huge “general purpose” tent. My work space was a field desk in a smaller tent.
I slept with my rifle, inside of my sleeping bag.
Recruiting advertisements on television used to talk about exotic locations and the ability to “see the world”. I don’t know what they advertise now. I know I was in many exotic locations during my 20-year career and I didn’t get to see anything at some of them due to my military commitments. Sick in the rack is where I stayed when my unit was in Thailand.
I’m glad I retired from the Marine Corps before the mayhem of the 21st century took place. I’m talking about 911, Afghanistan and Iraq. My older son, Joe, went to Iraq for a year when he was in the Army. He got out after three years. My younger son, Jon, is in the Army now and ready to reenlist. God only knows where he’ll end up if he stays in for the full 20.