My deployment as part of the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) provided rich fodder for stories. Extended periods on board a ship tends not to bring out the best in Marines, even when they are able to get ashore. Here’s a picture of that hog – long since decommissioned.
As we transited across the Atlantic Ocean from our departure port of Morehead City, North Carolina, we had all the daily duties one had as if on shore. Except that I was on the night shift – the final resting place of the damned. We started our shift at 7 at night and if anything important happened, all the day shift folks came in early – there really wasn’t anything else to do on board ship. We worked in the joint intelligence spaces on board the USS Iwo Jima, keel laid in 1959. It was an old ship. Really – I had a hammock rack, just to keep things in perspective. At least the keel was steel and not wood, we were assured. Anyway, the intel spaces were small, so as soon as more than five people were in there at once, it became too crowded to work. The night shift had little responsibility and no authority.
We slept during the day, or I should say that we tried to sleep. Our berthing area was designed to hold over 100 Marines and there were five of us working the night shift. The others had little if anything to do on board ship, so they spent one to two hours conducting a five minute clean up each morning and then they played cards the rest of the day. And yes, they played their portable stereos during all the day’s evolutions. Sleep was elusive, at all times. This made us always tired and more creative in our attempts to amuse ourselves during the mid watch.
The only time the berthing area was quiet was at lunch time and for an hour or two afterwards when everyone napped. The night shift never ate lunch as that was the best time to get sleep.
So there we were, on the night shift with the highlight of every evening being mid rats – the meal for those like us working on the night shift. The third day into the cruise, we went down to our main meal and received, one hot dog (no bun), a scoop of rice, and some vegetables. And that was it. Needless to say, we were a bit vocal about our lack of sustenance as this was our main meal. It did no good – they ran out of food, already.
No, the mid rats systematic starvation of the night shift did little to dampen our spirits, although we complained long and loud to anyone who would listen, which was other folks on the night shift – we were our own best company and all professional complainers. Well, you know, everybody has to be good at something.
While wasting away in the late hours, we received the general call over the ship’s internal communications system, the 1MC, I think it was called that trash dumping off the fantail was authorized for the next few minutes. I volunteered to carry our shredded paperwork and spit cans out to be dumped. The Sprouster joined me to show me how it all worked. We made it to the fantail – the level below the flight deck off the aft end of the ship. Sprouster pulled out a knife and jabbed a couple holes in our tied up bag and I whirled it out to sea. There was a line and it seemed that the other Marines took less joy in it than we did. I hope the fact that we were polluting the world’s oceans did not taint me for life. I wouldn’t do it now, but that was then and well, we were on the mid shift and held to a much lower standard than the rest of humanity.
We watched with some amusement and rated the throwing techniques of other similarly situated Marines and Sailors (abandoned to the night shift). People who had thrown trash were now joining us in rating other throwers and it became a great game. Then we heard this awful screeching sound coming from the storage area behind the hangar deck (one passed through this storage area to get to the fantail). The screeching stopped, then it started again for a few seconds. Stopped and started. It was getting louder. The gathered group on the darkened fantail craned their necks trying to see what was happening. Then out of the twilight of the storage area appear two Marines dragging this monstrous metal desk. They manhandled it out of the area and onto the fantail. A couple good Samaritans jumped in and helped them flip the thing over and slid it top first onto the railing. With one team heave, over it went. We all cheered like the pack of morons we were. What a great highlight to our otherwise meaningless existence.