Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Friday, 15 July 2011

Good Morning, Shipmates,
This morning Arctic sways gently to the tide and a brilliant sun dazzles as we enjoy our first full day back in the 'States; we returned to our homeport of Earle, New Jersey yesterday morning after just under six months away on business on distant waters.  There were no band on the pier, no crowd of families and well-wishers waiting to welcome us home; those greetings are the province of warships coming home from deployment, not the service units that keep them fueled, armed and ready to fight.  And so it should be, despite my small case of 'sour grapes' at the empty pier we faced yesterday; the young men and women who man the frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers, fly the fighters and helicopters, carry the rifles and nurse the injured deserve all the honors this country can give them, and then some.  Enterprise , Leyte Gulf , Barry, Mason and Bulkeley have returned to the thanks of a grateful Nation, and it is well deserved.

 I suppose I miss the celebration; the music, banners, the crew mustered at the rail in dress uniform.  The faces of children, girlfriends, wives gazing up at the gray hull as it oh-so-slowly approaches the pier; seeing Shipmates' eyes light up as they catch sight of loved ones, and feeling the deep glow of pleasure at first view of the one who waits there for me.  Anticipation of that first embrace, the first kiss after so many months apart.  Of being home at last from the sea.

But I had my days of joyous welcome, back when I wore the uniform of our Navy.  Now my job is to support the Fleet, and I am proud to do this thing; proud and very aware of how vital that support is; but I do sometimes miss my old career in the fast, deadly ships of war.  No, I don't see those years through rose-colored glasses; the Navy and I occasionally had our disagreements and spats!  I remember the bad with the good, the moments of discomfort and exhaustion alongside those of happiness and triumph, fear, pain and pleasure.
MSC doesn't play a lot of the games that Fleet units do; there is less pressure to advance ("move up or out"), less formality, a far less rigid 'chain of command' and these are good, given that many of our people are NOT former or retired military or naval personnel, and a maverick streak prevails that would bridle under such conditions.  The Merchant Marine doesn't play by the same rules as the Navy; there is equal professionalism and dedication but a different atmosphere, one which I have come to accept in most respects as a part of my new life @ Sea.  And that atmosphere, that mindset, doesn't include big send-offs when departing on deployment, nor celebrations upon return.
I think this is very wrong, not simply because I miss them from my days in destroyers, but because the send-offs and the celebrations are not just for the Sailors aboard the deploying vessels, not just to show that they are appreciated.  It is also, and perhaps more importantly, for the families of those Sailors, to let them know that their sacrifices are appreciated, and to open and close the story of the deployment for them as well.  They need to have that memory of their loved ones' departure, and anticipation of their return; they need the activity preparing for the celebrations, of psyching themselves for the reunion to come.
Another thought; families of servicemen left behind during deployment or mobilization have services available to help them cope with the separations, with financial hardships, with depression and even suicidal thoughts.  Each Navy ship and military unit has a group for the spouses of its Sailors, whether a Wives' Club or Spouses' Club, it still acts as a support system, helping to keep the families informed and involved with the ship and crew.  Under the supervision of an Ombudsman (often the spouse of the unit's Commanding or Executive officer) the family group helps those who stay behind and wait with the long times apart, and the service-member far away has the assurance that someone is there to help back home.  It is a good system, tested by literally hundreds of thousands of Sailors and their families over decades, and it works.
There is no such mechanism in place for the wives, husbands and especially the children of Civmars; I think there should be.
Tom Epps
Able Seaman
USNS Arctic
Earle, New Jersey
P.S.  In a few days I will be departing Arctic ; after over five years in this fine ship I will be 'paying-off'.  Not an easy transition for me, leaving the ship I have seen as my other home for so long, but all things must end and the time has come for me to move on. I'll spend a month or so on leave, then a few more weeks in school, renewing some licenses and updating my qualifications for sea duty.  I expect assignment to a new ship sometime in September, and at that time plan to continue with All @ Sea!  I hope you have all enjoyed our voyage together; wish I could have written more--and more-effectively--about this life and lifestyle, and I promise that there are many more stories left to tell.  If you would like to continue this journey with me, please send an email to the address below.  Thank you for your company and feedback over the long months past, and take care!  T

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