Uniformity is Key


I’m a simple kind of guy. I don’t want much out of life.  I want the same thing any red-blooded American wants: freedom, health, love, and to retire without buying any more new uniforms.  And to be perfectly honest I’m willing to do without freedom, health and love, because lately the Navy has been cranking out new uniforms faster than Captain’s Mast after a 3M inspection.  I have already reached a point where, thanks to my uniforms, I have more clothes than my wife.

I’m not talking about replacing an old worn-out uniform. I can live with that.  What I don’t want is to purchase, yet again, the latest incarnation developed by the Navy’s uniform board wizards after another visit from the “good idea fairy” and their 7th margarita.  In my career I have owned six different working uniforms, each one a little more ridiculous than the one before.

You see, in the Navy, we have a lot of uniforms.  This is something that civilians have a hard time understanding (another thing is duty days).  In the civilian world there are uniforms too, but they generally help customers identify employees.  In the Navy we have uniforms for formal occasions, for really formal occasions, for office work, for shipboard work, for dirty shipboard work, and for really dirty shipboard work.  We even have uniforms for really fancy dinners that we might never attend.  For a civilian to understand the complexities of U.S. Naval uniforms is an exercise in futility.

When I first joined the Navy (back when Noah was commissioning the ark) the standard working uniform was called dungarees. It consisted of a light blue chambray shirt (I’m not really sure what “chambray” is) and blue denim pants.  Basically they were blue jeans, but not regular blue jeans you can buy at Walmart.  These jeans were bell-bottoms with rectangular pockets sewn on the front (just like the ones on the back), so that at first glance it appeared that you had put your pants on backwards.

The upside of dungarees is that they were very comfortable. The downside was that, more or less, this was essentially the same uniform worn in a federal prison (though, to be fair, there were times when this seemed appropriate).  We weren’t even allowed to leave base in this uniform—probably out of fear that the police would try to return us to prison.

Dungarees were the enlisted working uniform dating back to well before World War II, so in 1999 it was time for a change. For years enlisted sailors had been asking for a working uniform that looked professional, like a military uniform instead of inmate attire.  After listening to the sailors and carefully weighing the operational and morale benefits the Navy finally settled on a uniform that did neither: the utilities.  Utilities were the same color scheme as dungarees (light blue shirt and dark blue pants).  The downside of the utilities was that they were less comfortable than dungarees.  On the upside we no longer resembled convicts… now we looked like gas station attendants.  It’s like we finally got out of prison only to be hired by a gas station.

The utilities were universally despised by the fleet which should have guaranteed their survival for years, but change was in the air in the early 2000s. The war on terror was in full force, money was flowing into the Defense Department and the Navy was modernizing equipment and moving away from the old ways of doing things.  It was a crazy time.

Since the Navy was pretty much throwing money around like a drunken sailor on a port visit in Thailand, they created Task Force Uniform to address the uniform issue. That’s right, in the middle of the biggest war since Vietnam, they actually created a task force to figure out what to wear.

Task Force Uniform got right to work and discovered that if they revised all the Navy uniforms instead of just one, they’d probably be able to avoid any real work for the rest of their careers (this is still going on today). After reviewing the seabag requirements it was determined that there were way too many uniforms for the average sailor to maintain (which is kind of like a scientist announcing that they discovered that cancer is bad).  After this watershed moment TFU (this is an actual Navy acronym) chose to add more uniforms.  Seriously.  To minimize uniforms they developed the physical fitness uniform, the service dress khakis, the Navy service uniform and three kinds of camouflage uniforms.

The biggest development to come out of all this was the new Navy working uniform (NWU). No longer would sailors of the world’s most powerful navy look like gas station attendants.  No longer would U.S. Navy sailors resemble escaped prisoners.  We were a country at war and our sailors would look like the warriors they were… well almost, because after all the debate, all the research, all the money spent what TFU decided we needed was: blue camouflage.

I guess it makes sense when you think about it. The standard attire for combat troops these days is camouflage, and the Navy’s main service color is blue.  It never seemed to cross anyone’s mind that the only environment in which this uniform would provide camouflage was in the ocean, and that most sailors floating in the ocean would probably want to be found.

Someone once explained to me that the camouflage pattern actually worked well on a ship. “If you look at a ship from 1000 yards you can’t even make out the NWUs; they blend in perfectly.”  This still seemed odd to me.  I mean even if it does hide the sailors on the ship, it’s not like anyone would assume that the ship had just sailed there by itself.

Nevertheless the fleet embraced NWUs, probably because we were allowed wear it off-base and could finally stop at the store on the way home from work. Soon the NWUs could be seen everywhere, it was the standard working uniform for officer and enlisted throughout the entire Navy.  It just goes to show that when our government gets down to business, identifies a problem, conducts the proper research, and implements a plan for correction, it can really develop something truly practical like the uniform that will take our Navy into the new millennium.

It was right about then we found out that the NWUs spontaneously burst into flames and were not safe to wear onboard ship. Oh well, every new development is bound to have a few bugs, right?


310 Miles to Yuma: House-Hunting Leave Part II

For those of you just joining us, I am on house-hunting leave driving to San Diego to find a new home as we prepare for my new duty station.  When we left off our hero (me) was driving across Texas with no end in sight.  We now join the trip already in progress:

If you think that a drive across the country might be slightly boring and you need to liven it up a bit, the best thing you can do is bring a cat.  That’s what I did and the results have been remarkable.  The family cat has been my traveling companion for the last three days, and has been keeping an ongoing monologue the entire time.  I’m not quite sure what she is saying but the overall theme appears to be that she is not happy with her accommodations.

“What kind of idiot brings a cat on a house-hunting trip?” you might be asking.  And I’ll be honest; I began asking this as well.  The truth, is my wife and I need the furry beast out of the way when the movers come and we didn’t want to be subjected to both the cat’s howling and our children’s screaming when we drive the whole family across the county next week (that’s right I get to do this again).

I never thought I would see the day when entering New Mexico would be my highest aspiration.  Finally leaving Texas has made me the happiest man on the planet.  World peace would make me happy too, but not nearly as much.

As I gaze on the absolute beauty of New Mexico, the golden horizon takes my breath away.  What also takes away my breath is the aroma.  Which is, essentially, cows, or more specifically cow manure.  It was then that I noticed that the view is not only breathtaking golden beauty, but also filled with more cows than I have ever seen (or smelled) in my life.  There were cows as far as the eye could see.  Some of you may have been raised on farms and believe that livestock have a pleasant smell or that farm animals are an acquired scent, but that is because you have never smelled 100,000 cows all at once.

That’s not all there is to say about New Mexico.  There is far more to the state than “looks great, smells bad” (the official tourist slogan).  For example there’s… um…well they have… err…  Well to be honest I have no idea what else is in New Mexico, but there’s got to be something else, right?

As fast as I can, I make it to the Arizona line. From what I can see, Arizona consists of cactuses (or maybe it’s “cacti,” I should probably look into that) and dirt… a lot of dirt.  There are also tumbleweeds.  I have almost been run over by three of them.  Have you ever seen the cute little ball of rolling sage on TV used to set the scene for the desert?  Well, in real life they are the size of a Chevrolet Suburban, only faster moving and more fuel efficient.  These things will knock you off the road.

On the upside there’s not a car in sight so I can drive as fast as I want. However, after driving for three days (or maybe three years… it’s all pretty blurry) I am exhausted; at least the howling cat in the backseat is keeping me awake.

Arizona does not appear to have a robust population. What few people I have seen at gas stations are very friendly. I had a very friendly and very long conversation with the gas station attendant, who would not take my money until I heard all about everything that has ever happened in his life, his wife’s life, and his kids’ lives (he has four and it was necessary that I heard about them individually).

Back on the road again, I started seeing signs for Yuma in only 350 miles.  I was thinking it must be major metropolis (well, for Arizona) because I have seen a sign for it every 15 miles.  As I approached Yuma I drove past the largest trailer/RV park I have ever seen.  For the next 10 minutes (or approximately 57,000 cat howls) I drove past single-wides, double-wides, and the greatest assortment of recreational vehicles I have ever seen.  I was starting to think that Yuma was just a city made up trailer parks.  I wish I could tell you that it was much more than a trailer park; unfortunately I was busy passing a truck when I got to the exit and have no idea what Yuma consists of, but I like to imagine it is a town deserving of all its publicity.  Five minutes later I crossed into California.

California!  I was finally there.  I made it to the west coast, to the Golden State.  The trip was finally over, unless you count the 160 miles I still had to drive.  I’d like to tell you that those 160 miles were beaches and tiki bars, but it turns out the western portion of California looks pretty much the same as Arizona, with an amazing view of the Mexican border (which also looks just like Arizona).

At least when I get to San Diego I can finally get some rest; I just need to meet with a realtor and find a house first.  That shouldn’t take too long, should it?  San Diego probably has tons of luxurious houses with big yards for rent at reasonable prices.  After an afternoon looking for a house, I can put the cat in a kennel (which should improve her mood, as she is now riding on the roof) and then lounge at the beach for a couple days before I fly home.  What could possibly go wrong?

Texas Travels- House Hunting Leave Part I

While in the service you should definitely think about seeing some of the country you are serving. I highly recommend the method wherein you drive across the entire country at 85 MPH without getting out of your car for anything but gas, in three days, as you transfer duty stations.  I have utilized this method very successfully over the course of my career and have seen the vast majority of the country within view of the freeway.

One place I haven’t seen, until today, is Texas. I am currently on house hunting leave.  That wonderful ten days of free leave to lounge around your house while pretending that you are going to your new duty location to look for a new home.  At least, that is what I should have done; instead I am driving from Chicago to San Diego.  If you look at a map you will see that Texas is not, technically, on the way.  Unfortunately, the ice storm from hell is decimating the normal route, so I have been forced to adapt by driving straight south to Arkansas (where I have learned they take pronunciation of their state very seriously) and then move west through Texas.  I have seen a lot of Texas, which involves Interstate 30, Interstate 20, and soon Interstate 10.

Although I have never been to Texas before, I have heard a lot about it from the approximate 4/5 of the Navy population from there. Texans love to talk about Texas, they can’t help it; it’s bred into their DNA.  If you spend five minutes around someone from Texas you will hear how it is the only state that was once its own independent country (aside from Hawaii), about how the Lone Star State is the biggest  in the country (if you don’t count Alaska… and really, who does?).  You will be told that everything is bigger in Texas (it’s always about size isn’t it?), and that you do not mess with Texas (forcing us to pick on West Virginia and Kentucky instead).

There is no other state where this happens.  You never see people from North Dakota go on and on about how great North Dakota is.  Wearing their North Dakota-shaped belt buckles with tattoos of the North Dakota flag and telling you that whatever you do, you do not mess with North Dakota.  Why?  Because you have never met anyone from North Dakota; the entire population of the state could sit in a booth at McDonald’s.

I was excited to see Texas.  Who wouldn’t be impressed by a state where the entire population who, despite all their differences, are united in the belief that that they are better than the rest of the country?  Driving across the border, you could just feel the pride radiating.

The first thing I noticed about Texas (apart from approximately 600 state flags) is that the speed limit is 75 MPH. This is going to be great:  I’m going to put my car on cruise control at about 84 MPH and I’ll cruise through this state faster than I can blink and not even worry about getting a ticket.  Or so I thought.  I was wrong on two counts.

First, it turns out that Texas is a really big state. No matter what you have to say about people from Texas they are right about at least one thing.  It is really big.  Even if I was traveling at the speed of light it would probably take a day (longer if you were going through Houston).

Second, I discovered that although the speed limit is 75 MPH I was not technically going faster than 65.  The right lane was filled with what appeared to be a never-ending line of trucks going 60.  The left lane was filled with trucks trying to pass the trucks in the right lane by going 61 MPH.  Even when the left lane was mercifully free of trucks none of the locals showed any desire to even approach 70.  Maybe Texas, which is known to be very strict on crime, has made speeding, by even one mile, a capital offence and no one wants to risk it by even getting close.

Weather in Texas has been another adventure. For the 16 years that I have driving across the state 95% of it has been in varying levels of fog.  For all I know I might be traveling across the most beautiful landscape in creation, or possibly a garbage dump.  All I can see is about 25 feet in any direction.  But just so you Texans know, it is some of the most beautiful 25 feet I have ever seen.

The fog finally broke just in time for me to get struck by lightning… well, not quite, but it was close. Apparently even the lightning storms are bigger here.  I am not talking about your average lightning storm where you see some flashes of light in the sky.  No these were bolts like in cartoons.  This is the kind of lightning that will try to kill you, if necessary follow you home, ring your doorbell, wait for you to come out and then zap you. I actually saw two lightning bolts hit the ground.  One hit the ground twenty feet from my car.  It’s times like this that I really hope my high school science teacher was right when he told us that lightning can’t strike a car because of the rubber tires.*  I finally made it through the storm and realized that El Paso was right around the corner (which in Texas talk is only 750 miles).

So I continue onward, through the state that will never end. While I still have a great admiration for the Texas spirit I am looking forward to admiring it from the outside. I am thinking of all those brave men like Davy Crockett who gave their lives here (possibly in traffic) and it is now my sole goal in life not to die here too, but if I do, when you remember the Alamo, remember me as well.

*A Google search revealed that lightning can, in fact, strike you in your car. It must be true, it’s on the internet.

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Blind Justice – Court Martial Duty Part I

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I have been selected to sit a court martial.  No, don’t worry; I haven’t been accused of anything… that I am aware of.  No, I have been selected to sit as a member of a court martial, which is kind of like being selected for jury duty, except that instead of wearing an uncomfortable suit, you wear an uncomfortable white uniform.

I can’t really tell you much about what it is like to actually serve on a court martial.  This is partly due to the sensitive nature of the trial, but mostly due to the fact that I really have no idea what happens in a court martial because all I have really done is wait around.

Seriously, this is the nuclear version of the Navy’s policy of “hurry up and wait.”  In one day of my assignment I have spent at least 6 hours waiting around.  Not all at once.  They were kind enough to break it up a bit.

It all started at 0700 on Monday morning.  We all showed up in our whites ready to dish out Navy justice, or at least ready to avoid receiving Navy justice for failing to show up on time.  After going through what felt like a TSA airport security screening we were all escorted to the deliberation room, which is defined as room designed for 5 people filled with 15 people and a coffee pot (this was a very important feature.)  At this point we were ready to receive our instructions on what to do.  What we didn’t do is receive instructions on what to do.  We filled the time making small talk and speculation on what exactly we were expected to do.  This involved quite a lot of A Few Good Men and JAG references.  This was all we could do.  Phones were not permitted and so we were unable to check Facebook or Wikipedia or play angry birds.

It’s weird in the 21st century to be without your smart phone and connected to the internet at all times.  Without a smart phone there is no way to avoid an awkward conversation. You know when you are chatting to someone you don’t really know and the conversation lulls to that uncomfortable silence, so you glance down at your phone and display a facial expression that you might use if the president had texted you personally to ask you opinion about something you are an expert on (such as how to get past level 12 on the latest Angry Birds app… let’s be honest, that’s pretty much all you are an expert on.)   Also there seems to be no way to determine who is wrong when you reach a disagreement.  We’d be there conversing about something going on in the world (or possibly not going on in the world) and I was unable to fact check them.  It was very frustrating.  I was forced to simply argue or just silently judge them for being so stupid as to have a different opinion than me.

Fortunately just when we thought that we were never going to get any guidance, someone came in and told us that they were still working on some issues and that we should come back in an hour.  So we all headed out through security and outside where we realized we had left covers up in the deliberation room.  So after going back through the TSA security gauntlet, retrieving our covers and heading out we had just enough time to go back through the security check point in order to be on time for… well to be honest I’m not sure, not a whole lot happened when we got back to the room.

We ended up waiting around for another hour wondering just what was going on.  We passed the time making the uncomfortable small talk that inevitably occurs when you place officers and enlisted from varying communities in a confined space with no particular purpose.  Most of all we speculated about the reason for the courts martial, which it turns out we weren’t supposed to do, but since no one had spoken to us yet, we didn’t know this.

We didn’t have to wait long to find out, because in just over an hour someone came in and told us that they (it was never explained who they were) would be ready for us in short while (short taken in its loosest possible fashion) and we should just sit tight.  This was good advice since we had been sitting very loosely up ‘til then.

Soon enough the bailiff came in and told us that they were ready for us.  We were finally getting somewhere.  We were led into a court room and led to assigned seats.  As we walked into the court room the bailiff announced, “All rise,” and every one stood up.

Next the judge gave us some guidance which I would relay here but I really can’t remember what he said.  There were a lot of “notwithstandings,” “peremptory challenges,” and, “Voir Dires” and I kind of drifted off.  This, I discovered, is frowned upon in a court martial.  We were then told to read the charges.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Charges are not written in any discernable version of the English language.  Let’s say someone is accused of stealing.  It would look like:


Specification1: In that Petty Officer Michael J. Limburger, U.S. Navy, USS IRON WILL, on active duty, did, on or about 13 July 2013, all reasons to the contrary notwithstanding, herewith and with full knowledge of the proprietary ownership of said bag of chips, placed the aforementioned bag under the edge of his trench coat for later consumption, to wit, without the required transaction, exchange of required monetary units, or the expressed and or written consent of the proprietor and major league baseball.

After reading the charges, we had a fair idea that this guy was accused of some pretty bad stuff. I won’t go into the things he was accused of since this is a humor essay and none the charges were funny.

Next it was time for the attorneys to determine if we were right for the case. This is the only time in my Navy career, that it was considered good if you had no idea what the Navy’s policies are.  Obviously each attorney wants you to support their side.  If you do the other one will not want you.  It’s kind of like trying to impress your girlfriend’s father and your friends at the same time.  The only hope you have to being selected (and you really have to wonder what’s wrong with you if this is your goal) is to be completely clueless about every Navy policy that pertains to the case.  It turns out that I was perfect for this job.

We were asked a series of questions in which we answered yes or no to by raising our hand. Again this is not as easy it sounds, since all the questions are worded in the most complicated way possible.  “Do you not agree that by not adhering to contrary practices following certain procedures can and should be documented by itinerate and loyal activities that would not bring discredit upon the individual or individuals unconnected with the case at hand. “

We would then raise our hand if the answer was yes.   Eventually, after realizing that we were never going to be able to translate these questions into English, we just started raising our hands to everything.  They could have asked us if jay walking should be punished by death and we all would have agreed.

Once that little activity was done we were excused for an hour for lunch, which meant that if we left right away we could have just enough time to get back in line to go through security to enter the building again. Then it was time for us to be Voir Dired individually.   Voir Dire is French for, treat you like you are a criminal and ask you embarrassing questions in court in front of everyone.  This again is where you find out that they want someone truly clueless (impartial) about Navy policies.  After 17 years in the Navy, where I do NKO training every week but don’t really learn anything, it turns out that I was perfect for this job.  It’s kind of a dubious honor when you find out that it’s good to be a dirt bag.

After it was all over I was told that I had been selected to continue for the court-martial. I was so proud of myself until I realized it meant that I had to stay for the court martial, which should start, if they keep to this time table, within next 5 years (but they want me there every day just incase.)