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Friday, February 10, 2017

The last day of March, 1993

Chapter 1-  Go West Young Man

Why must I wander like a cloud, following the crowd?  Michael W. Smith

Go West Young Man discusses the life lessons about adjusting one’s ability to see the glass at half full vs. half empty by returning or discovering the art of making a negative situation positive.  My stories of making the transition between life in the US and Japan and starting my time in the fleet are discussed. 
The last day of March, 1993
The last day of March, 1993 will be a day that I never forget.  This day started early with a 4-hour drive from my hometown in Taylors, located on the Eastside of Greenville, SC to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).  In ATL, we visited my grandparents in Fairburn.  This was where I changed into my dress blue uniform.  If you are not familiar with the junior enlisted service member's dress blue uniform, it has 13 buttons, one for each of the original colonies, that come up from each thigh and across the waist.  In this outfit, I flew across country to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).  Barely 20-years old and about 18-months removed from my high school graduation at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in my hometown, I was looking every bit like the cover boy of a Cracker Jack box.  I had about $100 in my wallet and lugged my sea bag and garment bag from the Delta Airlines terminal and waited at the military terminal.  Here, I noticed my peers all in civilian clothes.  I wisely changed into one of the two pairs of outfits and spent time with a friend I made in “A” School when we were training in San Diego.  Joshua Braunheiser was my bunk mate in San Diego and was a native from Pennsylvania.  He was going to the same base, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, located on Japan's main island of Honshu, only a different ship. 
We spent time walking around the airport terminal and talking about our two weeks of leave and the fun times we had on liberty in San Diego.  We must have made a dozen trips down to Tijuana, Mexico; a rite of passage for every underage sailor on basic training and in “A” school.  Our last night in San Diego was memorable as we went on a double date with two female sailors.  The girl that he paired up with was also from Pennsylvania, and the girl that I paired up with was ironically from South Carolina.  The two of them received shore duty assignments in the US mainland while Joshua and I were being sent to warships forward deployed to Japan. 
“Do you remember the day when we received our orders to the fleet?”, I asked Joshua. 
“USA or UA!!”, he replied with a wise smile on his face.
“Yeah, nearly ¾ of our class was being sent to Japan or Europe.”, I said. 
Little did I know that on the last day of March, 1993 would be one of the last times I would be romantically involved with a fellow Caucasian and how I was on the verge of one of the biggest life changing moments that I would ever encounter.  While my peers were being sent to sea or shore commands throughout the mainland US, Joshua and I were being sent to Japan.  We would go months, if not years before we would be back on US soil and the thought of that didn’t freak me out as it did many in our “A” school class.  The thought of going “UA” or “unauthorized absence” was simply not an option to me, but was being used as the slogan of some that had a grievance with being sent to an overseas assignment.  The uncertainty was daunting and I simply couldn’t have the situation explained to me by my circle of family and friends since I was going where no other Stone had gone before. 
Looking back, much of what I endured and tolerated for my 24-month assignment on the Indy in Japan could have been remedied with some good ol’ counseling and orientation, however, the Navy of the late 1980s and early 1990s was very caviler in their ways of doing things and many in the Navy had the attitude, “If nobody told me and I had to figure it out on my own, then that will be good enough for those that come after me.” 
Joshua and I waited and the evening turned to late evening and the room full of military personnel ranging from senior enlisted, junior officers and military dependents.  However, for every one of them was a junior enlisted man.  Not sure why there weren't so many female junior enlisted personnel such as our two dates our last evening in San Diego didn’t join us on our international flight to our duty stations in Japan, but we were all becoming restless with wait and anticipation.  I’ll never forget seeing one Supply Officer who also joined me on the USS Independence (CV-62) aka (Indy) who was standing smartly in his dress uniform.  After it was all said in done, he too was sitting on the floor with his hat cocked and tie loosened and fed up with the waiting around and other nonsense.  I later remember him getting counseled by a senior officer on the ship for having his name exposed in black letters on the back of his collar of his uniform.  It taught me that even though he was a member of the mighty naval officer ranks that he was still a screw-up like the rest of us too.
As the calendar turned from March to April, we were instructed to grab our belongings and form a line to board the plane.  After we all did as we were told, the airline agent brazenly announced, “April Fools!  Your plane is scheduled to arrive locally at 2AM."  It seems that the dependents took more offense to this than anyone as if the free plane ride to Japan at the expense of Uncle Sam was for them to start with.  We finally boarded the plane but first had to take our bags and load them onto the metal containers and then board a bus which took us to our chartered Northwest jumbo jet waiting for us at a remote gate.  We then sat where we wanted on the plane but couldn’t sit in the first-class area due to that being set aside for the senior officers’ wives.
Our plane finally departed in the early hours of the California morning.  Where I had originated from in South Carolina, people were getting up and getting ready for school or work by now.  As our plane headed out on a westerly route heading out to sea, it then made a northerly turn and flew north to San Francisco.  As we approached San Francisco, we started to follow the path of “The Pacific Ring of Fire” and stayed this way for about 12 hours with the midnight sun to our rear for most of this flight. 
Then, around mid-morning Japan time, we touched down and taxied to the terminal at Yokota Air Base, a US Air Force base located due west of Tokyo.  I can remember talking to Joshua and walking towards the terminal with all of the other passengers and hearing a couple of Air Force flyboys who were unloading the bags.  One of them shouted into our direction, “Hey, just because you flew over on a Northwest plane doesn’t mean you are civilians.  Come back and pick up your bags!”  Of course, the dependents took offense to this treatment and I guess if any of them were married to high ranking officers could have their husbands call up later to complain, but we all toted are belongings back to the terminal.  In the military terminal, I had to pull out my dress blues, now wrinkled, out of the top of my sea bag.  My friend’s ride to his ship, USS Blue Ridge, was already waiting for him and a few others while my ride was on the way.  It was me, the junior officer that I saw in the terminal back in LAX and two others who were waiting for the shuttle to the Indy.  As I got acquainted with the two enlisted guys, I learned that the other two were “salty”, a Navy term for “seasoned or experienced”.  They had served on other ships before and had been to Japan before.  After a wait, the driver showed up in his “Johnny Cash” Navy uniform which was the only time I saw someone in that uniform from either of my ships while on sea duty for four years.  On the ship, we wore utility dungarees, coveralls if we were painting or cleaning (which was most of the time) or maybe the dress uniform if we were pier side or overseas and having to put on a show for some dignitaries or opening the ship up to a dog and pony show.
Upon our departure from Yokota Air Base, I noticed that the driver, Johnny Cash, was on the right side of the boxed-out Toyota van and driving on the left side of the road.  As he navigated through suburban Tokyo traffic, we traveled down narrow roads with paved sidewalks that were just as narrow with buildings and signs flowing vertical with not much room to spare between them.  I was amazed at the signs thinking to myself, what do they say, how do you read, from left to right or top to bottom?
As we entered Yokosuka Navy Base, young Japanese women ages ranging senior high school to mid-30s, were sitting and waiting outside the main gate.  Remember, this was 1993 and nobody had cell phones at that time, especially a junior enlisted sailor making around $1000 a month.  Due to the lack of phones on the ships that called off the ship, sailors back in those days had to set things up the night before from a broken pay phone located on a remote area of the base or from a pay phone with a calling card purchased out in town.  “Out in town” was a term used for “off base”. 
We were allowed to enter the base and a salute was rendered from Johnny Cash to a Marine who must have been training with Mickey of the movie, “Rocky” because he looked like he could eat lightning and could crap thunder.  The sentries who manned the main gates at Yokosuka were then and probably still are some of the toughest and hardcore servicemen around.
About 100 yards from the point of entry, I noticed a horrible smell coming from the ventilation console located next to Johnny.  It was the air coming in from the outside.  Evidently, the ships exhausts, waste disposal, and other undesirable odors was coming into the van.  Later, I would recall the walks from the Indy to the main gate and would almost gag to the point of vomiting.
Finally, the mighty Independence and my home for the next two years came into view.  The size of the ship was every bit as big as I had imagined having seen the Indy’s equivalent, the Abe Lincoln, while in San Diego.  Johnny dropped us off and as I pulled my sea bag and garment bag out of the back of the van, I remember walking up the ramp to the ship and purposely let the two salty dogs that rode down from Yokota with me to go ahead of me since I wasn’t sure of the protocol of boarding a ship.  It was my first time going onto a real and functioning Naval warship.  As I requested permission to board the ship, the quarterdeck officer in charge took a look over my orders and then called down to my new division to have someone come up to get me.   While waiting, I was puzzled as to keep my cover on or off since no others were around.  A few greasy and rough-looking airmen passed me in their well-worn coveralls and said, “Welcome to Hell!” As they passed giving each other a high five and laughing.  I later realized that was the first greeting someone said to me on the Indy or since bidding farewell to my grandparents and dad back in Atlanta.  Finally, I was picked-up and taken to my division who later took me to my new home. 
As my division representative came to the quarterdeck to lead me down to my new workstation, we spoke briefly and after a series of steep steps doing down into the hull of the ship, we finally arrived at the office.  The division officer, greeted me, and immediately picked up the phone and after a few minutes hung up and informed my escort to take me to the other division.  The escort had a puzzled look on his face and mentioned, “You are lucky!  The other division is smaller and less demanding.”, as we walked down the narrow passage ways.  I got to the office, a door with a Mustang on it, and we entered.  The divisional yeoman, a Third-Class Petty Officer and about 6-8 years older than me, greeted me and the escort left.   He looked my orders over and asked, “How long have you been in the Navy?”  I told him, “About six months.”  With that, he looked up from my orders and said surprisingly, “You are already an E-3?”  I replied, “Yeah, I went to college for a year before joining the Navy.”  I then signed in the log book and the Yeoman said, “Well, we weren’t expecting you but definitely could use the extra body.”  I will take you down to the berthing and call down for you if the Leading Petty Officer (LPO) needs to speak with you.  As we walked from aft to forward on the port side of the ship, we finally walked down a narrow and steep flight of steps.  “We all stay towards the back of the berthing so that when we get up in the morning we aren’t bothering anybody else.”, the yeoman said.  After walking rows upon rows of racks stacked three high, I finally got to my new home.  It was a “rack” in a 110+ man berthing just off of the forward mess decks.  At least it was on the bottom with storage compartments under my mattress and not a middle or top rack with only a fat and skinny stand-up locker.  I started to unpack as the yeoman left the berthing.  The yeoman’s rack was one row over.     
It was a Friday afternoon, April 2nd, 1993 to be exact.  I had been in the Navy for about the length of a NFL football season at the time and traveled the farthest from home than I had ever done before or anybody else that I knew for that matter.  In the last 24-hours, I had crossed the international dateline and was now 13 time zones ahead from where I was.  Clearly, I was exhausted and severely jet lagged. 
I got my bags unpacked and started to make my bed when the wall phone in the berthing rang.  One guy said to another, “Who is Stone?  I looked up and indicated that I was Stone.  I had a phone call, and it was the LPO and he seemed nice enough on the phone.  He basically said that he was getting ready to knock off for “Rope yarn” and that I need to report back to his office at 0800, Monday, April 5th.  Rope Yarn is a Navy tradition where sailors knock off work early, usually on a Friday, and run errands off the ship such as laundry, shopping, dry cleaning, barbershop, etc. 
As for me, I had the weekend off.  To celebrate the glorious occasion, what did I do my first night in Japan?  I slept.  I remember sleeping in my cramped and uncomfortable rack as if it were a bed in a four-star hotel.  That was how tired I was.  It was probably no later than 3pm and I turned in as if it were midnight.  I slept soundly my first night.  From time to time, people would walk down into the berthing and would get ready if they were fortunate enough to stepping out for a duty-free weekend.  One guy was saying to another something about he only had 5000 yen so he was going to stay on the ship.  I thought that this was odd since yesterday, April Fools Day, was payday. 
Anyway, I drifted in and out of sleep and at around 3-4 am.  I could no longer sleep and my arms and legs were completely numb which became more common than before due to the cramped sleeping conditions.  I eventually found the shower, waited for the water to get warm, and when it didn’t, I took a cold shower to freshened up.  Then, I grabbed a bite for breakfast on the ship.  In doing so, I had to wear my uniform, which wasn't ironed.  Well, I didn’t bring an iron from South Carolina and after a search in the berthing and found nothing that resembled an iron board or iron, I wore my wrinkled dungarees and covered my shirt by wearing my utility jacket.  I wasn't sure if I needed my cover, so I brought it anyway.  Since the ship's store was closed till Monday, which was one thing that I remembered the yeoman telling me, I was unable to get a ship cap and in doing so, gave myself away as being a newbie or "boot camp" on the ship.  Since the Indy was an aircraft carrier, it was easier for me to blend in on the ship, but with that white "Dixie cup" cover, I had announced to everyone that I was the new kid in town.  It didn't matter as I at my breakfast on the forward mess deck. 
Now, it was time for me to step out.  I changed into one of my two pairs of civilian clothes and peaked over one row over to see if the yeoman that brought me down yesterday was still around and he was nowhere to be found.  In fact, the berthing housed 110 people, the ship had ship’s company of about 2,500.  I flew over with Joshua and rode in with the junior officer and two salty dogs from Yokota, but I was alone.  While I didn’t know what to expect when I got to the Indy a world away, I didn’t expect to be alone for my first weekend.  I didn’t give this too much thought, instead, I followed my nose off the ship.  As I did, I finally found my way to the hanger bay and then to the quarterdeck.  I requested permission to go ashore and went to the only place that I knew.  I went to Joshua’s ship, the USS Blue Ridge.  As I approached the Blue Ridge's quarterdeck, I asked for my friend.  The Petty Officer of the watch called down for him but was informed that he was not there. 
Apparently, his new shipmates were taking Joshua on a tour of the base and the immediate area off the base known affectionately as “The Honcho”.  I hadn't had the chance to meet my new shipmates.  Maybe I didn’t do myself any favors by arriving on a “Rope Yarn” Friday with so many of my shipmates being off or already having plans as well as me turning in so early.   Furthermore, I wasn’t expected by my current division since I was sent from the other one.  With that, I left and walked up the road that brought me to the Indy.  I eventually found the base's commissary, recreation center, gym, call center, and fast food restaurants.  Mindful of my limited funds, I did a lot of window shopping and took in the new surroundings.  I managed to make a brief phone call to my family in South Carolina to let them know that I arrived safely, but in doing so, I called them after midnight. 
One thing I noticed was a lot of junior enlisted guys walking.  This was due to the limited number of parking spots available on base.  But, I noticed that young dependents between 17 and 20 years of age were driving on the base.  Eventually, I made it to the front gate where the hardcore Marines was standing watch.  As I departed the base, I saw the groups of young Japanese women waiting for their significant others on the ship.  It was a Saturday morning now, and they were waiting for their boyfriends who were busy getting off of work on the ships. 
As I got the lay of the land outside the base, I passed a pair of Shore Patrolmen which was a common sight when the Indy was in port.  These were two sailors in uniform walking the streets with a “SP” patch around their left arm and a belt holding a baton and radio around their waist.  As I walked up the main street looking around in bewilderment, I heard obnoxious and raunchy heavy metal music coming from a bar and grill type of place that was popular with the junior enlisted guys.  This place had a couple of video games that I never saw before.  These video games were interactive based on early 1990 standards as the game had a young Japanese woman who would play Rock-Paper-Scissors with the participant for a fee of 100 yen or $1.  If the participant won, the girl on the game would remove an article of clothing.  Whenever the participant lost, he would have to cough up another 100 yen to keep the game going.  Here, I must have watch one guy after another spend, or shall I say waste, more money than I could believe.  They would talk up strategies amongst one another on how to get the girl on the game down one more article of clothing as they sipped 800 yen ($8) drinks as if they were being sold for a dollar.  One drink and two attempts on the game was a total of about US$10.00.  It was barely noon on a payday weekend, and this was life on liberty in the “Honcho” outside of the Yokosuka Navy base.  I was witnessing what I had heard, “In the Fleet, a sailor gets paid on the first of the month and is broke by the fifth and spends the next 10 days on the ship since he has no money.”  Surely there were more positive and constructive ways to spend your time on Liberty in Japan?
The video game which never got the girl in the game totally undressed was only part of it.  The alcohol consumption was ridiculous.  Drinking in the night time is OK if that is your thing, but I was getting hungry for lunch.  The angst was full on as junior enlisted guys from different ships and Marines and Sailors would duke it out over anything causing Shore Patrol to spring into action.
Overwhelmed by taking in so much new information is such a short period of time, I walked back to the base.  At the base McDonalds, I ate a Big Mac set which was exactly the same as I had on liberty in San Diego or a bus ride home from a basketball game in South Carolina.  I wanted to explore more than the “Honcho”, but didn’t have much money, didn’t know my way to the local train station, or knew a word of Japanese.  More importantly, I didn’t have anyone around to show me the way.  In my blue backpack, I had a Sony Discman, which was popular in the early 1990s and had about five different CDs that I would listen to.  I spent the rest of that weekend walking the base, out in town in the “Honcho”, and eating at the different restaurants on the base until Monday morning.  I paced myself with spending money out in town since I needed to convert money into Japanese Yen and didn’t know how to do it.  When I returned to the ship, I didn’t see much of anyone.  While the comradery on a ship in Japan tends to be more than a ship in San Diego, if people are fortunate to be off on a weekend, they have already made plans, that is if they aren’t broke. 
You may be wondering if it were payday weekend, why did I have so little funds?  It was because the so-called check in on the ship would take place on Monday.  I had fallen into that gray area where I was basically a ghost.  I remember this because I was so starved.  Starved for information.  Starved for companionship.  Starved for a sense of purpose outside of work.  I was remembering my friends from high school who were off at school and doing all the things that college kids do.  As for me, I was the ghost on a Navy base on the other side of the world that didn’t exist to anyone at the moment. 
I picked up early on that the area outside of Fleet Activities Yokosuka wasn’t the best of places to be spending my free time.  The “Honcho” was a perfect example of the seedy side of Japanese society.  Since before the Indy’s arrival to Yokosuka in 1989, most of the clubs and bars on the “Honcho” catered to drunken sailors and marines that more or less had a negative attitude towards being in Japan and retaliated by refusing to explore the rest of Japan.  These rackets of establishments were managed by a 30-something “Mama-san” who brought in different younger Japanese women to entertain the poor saps that didn’t want to be in Japan and would waste their time exchanging “drink tokens” so the house girls would talk with them.  If a drunken sailor refused to buy a token, the girl would move on to the next chump.  Fights would break out if one drunk paid for a drink token but another drunk would intervene and talk to her.  The “Honcho” at night, on a pay day weekend, when the Indy was not underway was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.  I would spend brief periods of time in the “Honcho”, usually on my way off base to the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo or on a sightseeing excursion in Kamakura, Hakone, Yokohama, and Roppongi.  Trust me, if I could, I would have traveled throughout Japan more extensively and not getting cleaned out at one of the dives a stone’s throw from the main gate by the underside of Japanese society. 
As for me, I waited a year before I joined the Navy.  I had my reasons for joining the Navy and I was doing precisely that.  I was getting to see the world.  I was saving money for college.  I was making my own way.  These were all things that I wanted to do but felt that I had to join the Navy in order to do so.  I am sure that I was down and negative my share of the time too.  But, I learned over the course of my two years on the Indy that the more positive I was about the situation I was in, the better off my time was on the Indy in Japan.  For example, I was no choir boy, and I am probably the most curious person around.  I would try just about anything once—morally right or otherwise.
As the old saying goes, “First impressions are lasting impressions.”  While my arrival to the Indy was not the greatest, I made every effort to not let that experience ruin the next 24 months.  Over the course of that period, I would remember my mother’s saying which was, “Kill them with kindness.”  I would meet people from time to time out in the “Honcho”, and these guys always were in conflict with something.  They were usually walking to and from one of the watering holes near the base and if it wasn’t a girlfriend problem, it was some problem on the ship, a lack of funds, or just not happy with the lack of Americana that was on hand in Japan.  Little did I know that in one of the dives in Yokosuka, you had to buy “drink tokens” to get your “girlfriend” to talk to you.  These guys were going about things all wrong.
But, to me, I was fortunate to be stationed in Japan.  For starters, Yokosuka was rich in history.  For example, the base that I was on was a former Japanese Navy base before the end of World War II and the hollowed-out mountain-like hills was where Japanese military personnel hid to escape the bombings.  Also, the Japanese people did not cause a threat to me as some of the locals did in San Diego before I came to Japan.  Places like San Diego and Norfolk had signs that read, “All dogs and sailors keep off the grass.”  Furthermore, the community was safe for the most part.  On top of that, the base was closely located to Yokohama and Tokyo.  Experiencing Yokohama’s Chinatown for a day trip was a possibility as well as the nightlife of Roppongi in Tokyo.  To make the situation even better, access to the other bases such as Atsugi, Yokota, Zama, or the New Sanno Hotel were possible.  Even if it were for a day, I could live nicely and carry out a lifestyle of a high roller.  I would remind myself of these things and would make every effort to do these things instead of playing the video game that inhaled 100 yen coins and never delivered the pretty Japanese girl in her birthday suit.  While I enjoyed the “Blue Sky” Chuhai drinks, I saw to it those were consumed on a random weekend and when it was dark outside. 
But, all of this walking around that I was having to do was getting old.  Shortly after getting my first paycheck on the Indy, I bought a 5-speed bike from the base exchange.  I enjoyed riding that bike around the base and would park it near the other bikes out front of the Indy.  But, about a month later, I was informed that the place that I was parking my bike was not going to last.  The Indy was getting ready for a two-month deployment to Perth, Australia.  It would be my first liberty port.  While I noticed the Japanese ship workers all rode the same looking bike and never locked their bike, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t leave my bike somewhere on base.  One of the guys on the ship suggested that I keep it at one of the supply building managed by shore duty sailors.  I did that and even locked it up.  I felt that the guy that I spoke with at the supply building had my best interest in mind.  As it turned out, my bike turned up missing when I returned from Australia.  I was bothered by that, but didn’t buy a replacement bike.  I felt that the walking and the occasional shuttle ride to the main gate would be the new normal that I would have to adapt and adjust to. 
Also, do you remember how I had the first division send me to the other division and how the division yeoman was puzzled as to why I was already an E-3 while he was in the Navy much longer and was only an E-4?  I found out later that I was at the start of a new wave of sailors getting assignments to Japan.  The Indy changed homeports from San Diego to Yokosuka a few years prior to my arrival and the San Diego sailors were a good fit for California, but were problematic in Japan.  Bar owners in the “Honcho” were enlisting the services of the Japanese mafia, known as the “Yakuza” due to the sailors on the Indy running up drink tabs and skipping out on them.  It wasn’t just in Yokosuka, but it was in Tokyo’s Roppongi as well.  I can’t be certain, but the first division officer must have seen something in me that made him realize that I would be best served in that other division than the one that he directed. 
I was what was then known as a “Mess Management” specialist, which was the Navy’s way of saying that I was a cook or food service personnel.  In addition to running the galleys, we also oversaw the staterooms for the officers onboard the aircraft carrier.  At the time that I joined, there was a shortage for these positions and I was given a bonus for taking this job.  Also, since I had some college, I was going to enter the fleet as an E-3, not an E-1 or E-2. 
Anyway, the division that I was sent from was for the enlisted men’s mess on the ship.  I was sent to the officer’s mess.  I would much rather serve a group of a few hundred ship’s company officers or Maverick flyboy types than the masses of thousands of junior enlisted sailors while on the aircraft carrier.  Looking back, I thank my lucky stars for that change and I guess my boyish looks and strong military bearing were the reasons that the division officer of the enlisted man’s mess sent me to the officer’s mess.  I even served in the Captain’s mess as well as the Admiral’s mess from time to time. 
The Indy had a one-star Admiral on the ship and a full-bird Captain as the commanding officer.  Due to the size of the ship and its importance to the 7th Fleet, the ship had plenty of brass on it and was both top and bottom heavy due to the rigors of a forward deployed aircraft carrier.  But, this was pale in comparison to my friend on the Blue Ridge.  His ship was a flagship meaning that there was a 3-star Admiral on it and carried out the important duties of communications.  In other words, it was a show horse while the Indy was a work horse.  For example, at Christmas, the Blue Ridge was pier side in Yokosuka, while the Indy was on deployment to the Persian Gulf.  When the Indy made port-of-calls to sleazy places such as Pattaya Beach, Thailand, the Blue Ridge would go to the high-end resorts areas of Thailand such as Phuket.  The March 2000 issue of Maxim magazine featured an article about Pattaya Beach titled, “Welcome to Sin City 2000.  Suntans, cheap sex, cheaper drugs, and more ways to die than a man can imagine.  It’s just another 24 hours at the world’s most dangerous beach resort.”  Six years prior to the release of this article, I got to go to Pattaya and can honestly say that the article was spot on.  I am not sure as to why the US Navy would choose such a place other than the fact that there were over 5000 men who were in dire need of some support in the services that Pattaya could uniquely provide.  
Despite being a work horse, the Indy was busy as a show horse as well.  There were no shortages of distinguished visitors coming to the Indy when we were in Yokosuka or overseas for that matter either for business or show.  The Indy was (CV-62) with the “CV” standing for Carrier Vessel.  Us ship’s company personnel referred to it as “DV” for Distinguished Visitors.  We had people such as Walter Mondale, former US Vice President and Ambassador to Japan pay us a visit.  We also had Les Aspin who was secretary of Defense come to the Indy.  High ranking officers from foreign militaries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Japan came to our ship.  We even had Hawaiian-born Sumo Yokozuna, Chad Rowan, aka “Akebono” come to our ship.  When we weren’t busy doing this, we had Friendship Days where the ship and base was open to the community.  Local Japanese civilians would take tours of the ship.  Of course, before there was any liberty, the ship had to be spotless for these big and high profile visits. 
While the sense of being invisible like a ghost was bothersome my first weekend in Japan, and always getting the short end when a basic function was being carried out such as getting off the ship or taking a hot shower, having personal items stolen from me such as my bike, fighting the urge to join the contagious disease of being negative and complaining all the time as the ill-fitting sailors that I worked with always did, and never getting to see and experience Japan properly due to the rigors of serving onboard a forward-deployed Naval warship, I stuck to the original pact that I made with myself before I left for the Navy.  That was that the Navy was going to be a four-year commitment and no more.  I wasn’t interested in making it a career since I was successful in doing those same three things:
1-      See the world-  By the time I was 22, I had been to about 10 different countries and lived and worked in Japan for two years. 
2-      Money for college-  Between the bonus for taking the job as a Mess Management Specialist, the promotion due to the wise use of my time before the Navy with college courses completed at the local technical school and the fact that service in Japan made me eligible for cost of living expenses (COLA) which allowed me an additional $3-400 a month.  I was having that set aside from my paycheck and still having to make my investment to the Montgomery GI Bill, it was tight when liberty came.  At the end of my 24-month obligation on the Indy, I was offered an extension on the Indy, which I turned down.  I was going to be going to college in the US, not Japan.  I needed the rest of my time in the Navy to get ready for that.  Less than four months after my honorable discharge from the Navy in San Diego, I was enrolled in a college transfer program at one of the area community colleges of the California Community College System, Grossmont College. 
3-      Make my own way-  On the Indy for my first two years in the Navy, I had a chest full of ribbons and medals and was promoted to Third Class Petty Officer which meant I was making more money.  From a professional standpoint, I was doing things that had never been done before by my family or friends.  Furthermore, it was with a great sense of pride that when I left Japan, I bought my first car in South Carolina which I drove across country to California when I reported to my second ship in San Diego.  Nothing says that you are becoming your own man any louder or clearer than taking your hard-earned money and buying something as big and expensive as a car and to have the means and freedom to drive it across country and gain the experiences of seeing the sights in New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego and everything in between.    
While these three things were basic, they were hard fought for and there were challenges in seeing these things come to pass.  But, these struggles prepared me for the next chapters of my life and series of lessons learned in those chapters.  Had I looked at everything as the glass being “half empty”, none of these goals would have been accomplished.  More importantly, the lesson that I was supposed to have learned would have been missed.  Instead, I looked at things as if the glass were “half full” and to this day, my first two years in the Navy on the Indy in Japan were the biggest, most positive, and most constructive influence on me in my adult life.  Needless to say, looking at the glass half full got me through some tough times, helped me achieve my goals, and allowed me to continue to feed my curiosity of Japan ten years later due to my positive outlook on the Indy in Japan.  At 31, I returned to Japan as an ambassador of goodwill on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.       

The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-17

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Home by the Sea- My First Home in Japan (Yokosuka Navy Base, USS Independence CV-62)

December 20th, Columbus, OH-

The Indy, my first home in Japan, was the Navy's only forward deployed carrier group from the early 1990s until its decommissioning in the late 1990s.

This sweatshirt was one of the last things that I bought at the ship's store when I transferred to a ship in CA and started the process of getting ready for college.  So many life lessons were learned during those two years on the Indy-- both on the ship and on Liberty in Japan.  One lesson in particular was looking at the glass being half full.  Sadly, many of my junior enlisted contemporaries did the opposite and missed out on what Japan had to offer.

After graduating from college, I was fortunate to return to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program where I took my curiosity and interest of Japan to the next level.  I am better off because of my time spent in Japan-- both in Yokosuka and in Saitama and have Freedom's Flagship to thank for making that possible.  

The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-16

Monday, April 25, 2016

My Favorite Experience with the JET Program

Going to Japan was a life changing experience, yet this occurred before my acceptance on the JET Program.  From 20-22, younger than the typical JET, I was a junior enlisted service member as part of ship's company on the American aircraft carrier, Independence forward deployed to Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan.

From 22-24, I finished up my Navy enlistment in California and from 24-29, all efforts were made towards my undergraduate degree.  Why?  It was the prerequisite for the JET Program.  In California, people that knew me found it interesting that I would spend most of my time in the Japanese American communities of the South Bay of Los Angeles such as Torrance and Gardena.  Members of these communities would often tell me, "You know Daniel, there's this JET Program that you ought to look into.  Since I felt comfortable with this community, I took to heart their advice.

My favorite experience with JET occurred on my second year.  It was a cool, clear day in October in Saitama at one of the biggest elementary schools in our school district.  All of the stars had aligned as I worked really hard my first year to improve my Japanese since at the elementary schools, there weren't many, if any teacher that knew English which was different at the junior high schools with the Japanese Teacher of English.  I also worked really hard developing a "bag of tricks" and improving my conditioning since lessons at the elementary schools required a lot of energy and non-textbook material and games.

On this particular day in October, I was really connecting with a group of 2nd graders.  Unfortunately, it was my last day, but I was going to return the following January.  I bid farewell and told the students, "See you next January!"  Tsugi no ichi gatsu.  With that, the students all smiled and cheered and began to chant over and over, Tsugi no ichi gatsu!!

I remember walking back to the nearby train station and saying to myself, "How many people are getting this chance?  I remembered my days of working long and hard hours a few prefectures away on the Indy and I remembered my days stuck in the "rat race" in LA.  I could be stuck in those bad situations but I was blessed to have the good fortune of being able to be back in Japan putting a smile of children's faces.

The JET Program means many things to many people, but it means to me that things taste a little sweeter the second time around and are cherished even more.  I went on JET at 31 because I wasn't ready for JET at 22 or 23.  It took nearly a decade for me to get to that point.  Why?  Because I was meant to have a connection with Japan and the JET Program was the best vehicle to see this reality to come to pass.

Everything happens for a reason.  Trust yourself, keep yourself focused, and always try to meet your full potential.  I the end you will.  If a guy like me can, then I can't see why the same won't happen to you!!

The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-16

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Japanese court decides that excessive overtime without pay is work related death.

Yes indeed a wake up calls to proprietary schools language schools.  Thanks to a valued contributor who is fluent in Japanese and proficient in English for finding this article and providing an English summary.

In this  Japanese article, it is revealed that a 22 years old woman working at proprietary chain school, Amity committed suicide due to working approx. 82 hours per month at home (overtime w/o pay) making material for English lessons.  This was work that was being done outside of what these chain schools consider "after normal contact hours".  "Contact hours" is a term used in the business explaining that payment will be for contact in the classroom.  According to this article, this Japanese woman became depressed and jumped off from her apartment building.  In addition to all the extra hours that she was doing at home, she was doing some overtime at school as well.  A total of 111 hours per month.  

By viewing the link above, you will see the high quality of the material she was making.  Another source in this article makes the same thing and it varies but they take about 29 sec to 9min 26 sec  to complete one material. 

Subsequently, a Japanese court has decided this as a work related death.  The contributor went on to mention that this should be a wake up call to other proprietary language schools.

The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-14