Ask Jack? Are Sailors war veterans if they only deploy on ships?

It’s time for some more worldly wisdom from your favorite Sailor turned advice giver.
Today’s question comes from Willy, who writes:

“What are your thoughts about Navy Sailors calling themselves war veterans when they have never been boots-on-ground (only on ships)? I have deployed to Iraq BOG twice (a year each time) and deployed three times aboard a DDG and LSD in support of operations in Iraq.”

Well Willy, I have admit I had to google “BOG” before I realized that BOG is an acronym (and I love acronyms) for “boots on ground”. I’ll have to add that to the never ending list of acronyms that I now know thanks to my Naval career.

I have never actually been BOG. I have been BOS-boots on ship, BOB-boots on boat, and even BIS-boots in shower (this is what happens when you forget to pack shower shoes, barefoot is out of the question).

Willy poses an interesting question that is definitely not without controversy. In recent combat operations, the vast majority have occurred on land, with Naval ships providing support (there are exceptions though, lest we forget the USS Cole or USS Firebolt). In the modern Navy it’s become less common for Naval ships to engage in large sea battles, but it’s not my fault that we don’t have a worthy maritime adversary.

“Boots on ground” is not a natural environment for a Sailor, like a fish in a tree or a Marine in college. There’s an old saying, “Sailors belong on ships and ships belong at sea. Land is a hazard to navigation.” Like most sayings it’s used to tell Sailors to shut up and get back to work when they are bitching about sea duty. Nevertheless it underscores the point of the Navy- to maintain a fleet at sea ready for combat.

We also have to consider that “boots on ground” is not a very clear concept. It could refer to a Corpsman as part of a Marine infantry unit, or it could mean a yeoman shuffling paperwork in some office in Afghanistan (as if that’s more glamourous than doing the same thing on a ship).

It’s true that if you deploy to a combat zone with your boots on the ground the likelihood of being killed by an enemy increases significantly. But those who deploy on ships have their own dangers. It’s just that on a ship you are more likely to be killed by your own shipmates (especially if your showering habits are less than regular).

I am not kidding here. You try deploying to the armpit of the world for nine months. Stuck on a small ship with only about 250 people. Eventually you are going to get sick of them (this normally happens on about day five). Imagine that one of the engineers, after spending 12 hours in the sweltering engine room thinks that the 10 minutes he spent smoking after he gets off watch is close enough to a shower, since he has stopped sweating. Eventually he is walking around with a visible cloud of filth (kind of like “Pig Pen” in the old Peanuts comics). This guy is probably not going to survive the nine months before one (or possibly all) of his shipmates push him over-the-side.

It’s not just the dirty Sailors though, pretty much anything you do can annoy your shipmates to the point of plotting your demise. I remember one guy who started talking with a French accent (a very bad French accent) after the ship pulled into France for an unexpectedly long port visit. At first this was amusing. But as the days turned into weeks and then months this guy still thought it was hysterical. Every conversation with him was like the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur is taunted by the French in their castle. Eventually people started to get angry. There were elaborate plots on how to push him off the side in the middle of the night while paying the look-out “not to hear anything.” Fortunately, in the end (four months later), he got bored with it and the plot was dropped.

So you have to understand that they serve too, those who want to kill their annoying shipmates. In the end I can’t decide this one for you. This is one of those things Sailors need to argue about at a bar over the course of far too many shots.

If you have a question you would like to ask, and don’t care if the answer is accurate, click here to Ask Jack? There is no such thing as a stupid question. Only stupid people who ask questions.