Me in NWUs with Anduin

Me in NWUs with Anduin
Me Rocking the NWU at a recent command picnic

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Missile and the Man in the Yellow Pants

Recently my ship completed Bravo Sea Trials.  During this trial, the ship tests its weapon and combat systems, including two live missile shoots.  As the senior department head on board, I was appointed to stand watch as the Tactical Action Officer.  The reasoning being that as the senior person, I was the most experienced and competent watch stander.

This was, of course, somewhat in error as I have barely stood any TAO watches on a ship underway (see previous tour as a Chief Engineer on a ship in drydock...).  And I DEFINITELY had not shot any missiles.

But as any SWO, I can run a mean checklist.

This was my first Bravo Sea Trials, and as I learned, it basically means that the ship takes on so many people that the shipbuilder has to install a ton of temporary racks.  There's just enough ship's actual crew to actually shoot ordnance (missiles, five inch gun, CIWS, SRBOC), but not enough that the CO warrants actually being able to stay in either of his staterooms.  It also means that when you are in the middle of the "big" event, there are nearly twice as many people in CIC as there would normally be.  Turns out that I am generally pretty good at ignoring crowds.

Most people, especially on my crew, view me as a pretty friendly officer who rarely curses and even more infrequently raises my voice.  I'm seen as a very patient individual who prides themselves on remaining calm and professional.

Turns out that I am way more impatient on watch.

Our first missile shot was textbook perfect with the watch team performing even better than we had practiced.  However, during the second missile shot due to events beyond our control, we were on a much more abbreviated timeline.  Basically, the aircraft who was supporting the second missile shot would only be able to support us for about 30 minutes.  That meant we had to run through our checklists, which were designed to take about an hour, much faster.  The watch team continued to prove how awesome they were until I reached the step where we visually clear the missile decks.  Using the camera in CIC, I panned around the missile deck to discover three personnel were standing near the aft launcher.  They were all civilians.

"Bridge, TAO, request you pass the word 'Expedite clearing the missile decks.'"

We watch as the three men look up as the word passes over the 1MC and then continue standing there, just chatting.  They didn't move.  I look down at my clock as I watch more seconds tick by.  There is no way I am about to lose the chance to shoot this second missile because these three dudes were just going to stand there, ignoring the 1MC.  But I'm also stuck in CIC so it's not like I am going to storm the missile decks to personally escort them off.

"1MC!" I shouted in CIC, not even rising from my seat, and just lifting my right hand.  I am not even sure who of the forty people standing behind me passes me the 1MC microphone, but someone does.  I key the mic, "EXPEDITE CLEARING THE MISSILE DECK...  I AM TALKING TO YOU, MAN IN THE YELLOW PANTS!"

As I watch each of the three men in the camera first look up as they listen to the word and then immediately down to their pants, my XO explains over our internal net, "They're fixing the lifelines."

My immediate response over the internal net, "They have to be standing near the lifelines to be fixing them!"

The bridge attempted no further justification.

The three men, including the one in the conspicuously colored yellow pants, now realized they were on a camera so began to search for the camera until they found it.  After making several ridiculous faces, they eventually fixed the lifelines and then got off the missile deck.  I only debated calling them back on the 1MC four more times during this period that seemed to go on forever.

We got the second missile off in time.  The most amazing part though was the fact that no one laughed or said anything in CIC during the entire period, though I did gain the moniker of "Missile Lady" among the yard workers.  And the man in the yellow pants has managed to elude me ever since then.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Tiny Ninjas Melt My Heart

There are plenty of moments where you know you have failed as a parent (Hello, four year old daughter who still crawls into my bed in the middle of the night!  Or completely losing my sh*t if my children attempt to wake me before 8 on a Saturday morning.)  But every once in a while, something happens that reminds me that we not an epic failures as parents.

That was this last Saturday.

Our kids had entered a local Ninja competition at the Maine Warrior Gym.  Owen has become obsessed with the show and when we discovered a gym that was a "mere" 40 minute drive away, we have been taking them at every opportunity.  It turns out that both of our kids are naturally athletic and strangely perfectionist about obstacles.  I've watched both of my kids practice doing the rings for nearly 30 minutes straight until they have proven they can do them flawlessly.  Being the somewhat Tiger parents that we are, we had taken them to the gym once a week for nearly six weeks leading up to the competition, on top of the impromptu training sessions at the local playgrounds, doorways, staircases, and whatever climbing opportunity the kids could find.  And despite the fact the coaches at the gym loved our kids and thought they were really good, we were naturally worried.  What would happen if our kids didn't win something that they had been practicing for months?  Or even worse, what would happen if one of them placed but the other didn't?  You have to remember that our kids take after us and are naturally tiny.  They looked even tinier competing against the other kids, even in their 5-6 year old age bracket.  (I swear, there was this one kid who looked like he was 8.)  Anduin especially looked tiny since she's actually only 4 and technically, she's not supposed to be on the equipment by herself.

Then it happened.  Anduin placed third among the girls.  Owen placed fourth and missed the podium by a tiny .4 seconds among the boys.  Niles and I braced ourselves for tears from Owen as he watched his sister stand on the podium and receive her bronze medal.

Instead, Owen cheered extremely loudly for his sister and gave her a huge hug.

*heart melting*

And then Anduin removed her medal, put it around Owen's neck, and said, "Owen, I want to share my medal with you since you helped me train."

*heart in a tiny puddle*

Yes!  We did something right.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

What I Want for Mother's Day

"Alyssa, what do you want for Mother's Day?"
"A long bath in a bunker, undisturbed, while I read a book."

Basically for Mother's Day, I want to forget I am a mother.  Or at least, that's how I felt yesterday after Owen dropped rock salt into the ice cream we were trying to make, instead of waiting for me to tell him to put it in the ice mixture.  Then again, I felt the same way this morning on Mother's Day as I pretended to sleep while simultaneously listening to Anduin crying for her apron before she could help Niles make breakfast for me in bed...  Or listening to Niles let out a long string of profanity after he messed up the waffle recipe, using up the last of the butter.  (Wise man finally realized it was way easier to go to a nearby bakery and pick up quiche and pastries - my favorite!)

But then I realized that if I was not a mother, I would miss out on some pretty awesome moments too.  Like last week when we had the heat blasting to try to maintain 66 degrees (have I told you that I live in Maine?), I was still cold on the couch.  Meanwhile, my kids are running around in their underwear.  When they heard I was cold, they brought me a blanket and snuggled on/with me to warm me up as "baby blankets."  Plus, I would miss out on such great questions from Anduin, such as this morning's gem, "Mommy, how do you think squirrels know when someone who wants a pet squirrel is sneaking up on them?"

And I remind myself that I have it easy.  I have a job that I love.  I don't have to worry about where I am getting my next meal or the roof over my head.  I have a caring husband who really does 90% of the housework.  So when I start daydreaming about an underground bunker outfitted with a deep soaker tub, I remind myself that my Mom managed to raise four adults as a single parent after my father died.  And she did so successfully, when you judge by most measures of success (home ownership, happy and stable relationships, advanced degrees, world experiences).  The only part she failed was to raise the doctor, lawyer, dentist, and accountant she had wanted to ease her retirement, (though my younger sister is well on her way to becoming a PhD, just not someone you call if you have a scratchy throat.)

And that job I love?  I was a mother, in a way, long before I had Owen and Anduin.  Just like any protective mother, you didn't mess with my "kids."  I may punish them and chew them up, but you could not.  I always wanted the best for them, for them to succeed in whatever they wanted to in life.  I was happy to listen to their problems and give them advice.

At least I don't have to worry about my sailors getting into an argument about whether one's apple "slime" touched the other, or another singing too loud in the car.  Because I know what every mom knows...

That bunker, the one your kids or spouse have no idea exists, would really be an awesome mother's day present.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

I Suck at Convalescent Leave

So a month ago, I scheduled a semi-elective surgery for myself.  Even before I had the surgery scheduled, I kept a mental list of all the tasks I planned to complete while on convalescent leave:

1. Go through all of our clothes.
2. Complete Anduin's art area plus personal gallery.
3. Organize our front porch.
4. Read Wired for War, which in addition to being on the Navy's reading list, my CO talked about enthusiastically.
5. Finally read through the Leader's Guide to Precommissioning.
6. Continue working on some of my own novels that I have not picked up in over a year.

There were a couple major flaws to this plan, mainly being:
1. My mom, who is among my favorite shopping partners, was coming out to help.
2. I decided I wanted to treat this as a chance to see a lot more of Maine that I had yet to see.
3. My kids were on spring break during the first week of my recovery.
4. And oh, yeah, this is convalescent leave.

The surgery was pretty successful.  I was in so little pain afterwards that I never took the narcotics prescribed to me and was in fact successfully hunting down a sale in a nearby department store the next day.  The hardest part of my first day afterwards was fighting against the still potent effects of the anesthesia as I both wanted to eat (because I was starving!  Had not eaten anything in like 20 hours!!!) but could barely keep my eyes open long enough to consume any food.  Plus my mouth was super dry, and the scone my husband brought to my recovery room kept sticking to the roof of my mouth.

My discharge instructions included pretty general comments like no running and no heavy lifting, which I interpreted as 1) Now I had a medical reason to not ever take out the garbage or carry the laundry from the basement upstairs, and 2) Now I had a medical reason to avoid playing tag with Owen, who has decided that he wants to play tag every minute of his waking existence.  So while my mom was here to help distract the kids, we went and explored Maine.  It was great!  I knew I had at least two and half weeks of leave before I had to return to work, but I felt awesome.  My scars were a bit itchy, making yoga pants my savior.  But I was still drawing a paycheck.  The folks I left at work were more than competent to cover while I was gone.  Really, it's pretty rare for people in the military to get extended leave for periods of time, with the exception of perhaps leave between Permanent Change of Stations (PCS).  But leave during PCS is usually occupied with the usual boring, expected tasks like moving, packing up household goods, traveling to the next duty station, trying to locate a safe roof for you and your family, and then unpacking all those household goods.  I was set!  I didn't need to do any of those.

Plus, on a side note, my mom is a saint and even left my house way cleaner than when she arrived.

Two and a half weeks later, I still missed work because folks who know me know that I am also a bit of a workaholic.  I really only have two modes: complete slacker and workaholic.  The slacker mode was fun for about the first week and a half.  So I eagerly counted down the day I was to return to work.  The day before I was scheduled to return, I confirmed with my workplace that I was in fact going to return the next day...

This was all well and good until I started bleeding.  Turns out that I'm really quite blase about bleeding.  After bleeding rather profusely for most the day, I decided a trip to the ER was probably in  order.  So twelve hours before I am scheduled to actually show up at work, I had to tell everyone, "Just kidding.  Bleeding in the ER. Told it's a slow leak and really inconvenient.  Have another follow-up with my surgeon scheduled, going to need at least one more day."

This pesky blood vessel, (completely bad luck, not any error on the surgeon's part), continued to be a problem when I returned to see my surgeon the next day.  The doctor who performed the surgery took a look -- and no kidding, this is a man who has been in his field for thirty years -- and immediately started prepping me in case we had to return to the Operating Room within the next couple of hours.  Because, you know, he was actually getting really nervous about the fact that I kept bleeding and wouldn't stop no matter how much chemical cauterization agent he applied.  He did wait until several hours later to reveal the true extent of his concern.  Meanwhile, I kept thinking, "Dude, Wired for War is way too heavy to hold over my head and read while I'm on the exam table."  Conscientious doctor he is, he called me several times throughout the day to make sure the bleeding stopped and that I wouldn't actually need to go to the operating room again.  It all worked out.  But during the last call, we discussed again when I could return to work.  I asked him if returning the next day was out of the question.  He laughed and sternly told me I was to "sit at home on my couch, read magazines, do no house work, and really be a couch potato this time."

Obviously, my gig was up.  So I had another week of convalescent leave added onto my time, which my kids were excited to hear.

But you know, maybe I will finish up that task list because I suck at convalescent leave.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

How Torture Starts... Or St. Patrick's Day in the Armstrong Household

"Leprechauns make messes.  They hide treasure at the ends of rainbows," Owen explained to me from the backseat of the car on our way to Target.

"We should catch a leprechaun!" Anduin declared.  "And make it tell us where its treasure is!"

Owen added, "We can make a trap and use shiny things."

Anduin got even more excited.  "We could dig a pit...  Then put the shiny things on top of it...  And then it will fall into it!"

I asked, trying to keep a straight face, "So you are going to capture and interrogate this leprechaun?"

Anduin was quick to disagree, "No...  We are just going to make it talk."

So I had to question, "So what are you going to do if it doesn't talk?"

"Mommy, we will go lock it in the shed out back," Anduin insisted.

This time, I couldn't resist laughing.

Anduin continued, "But, Mommy, that means you cannot go take it out of the shed.  You have to keep it locked!"

Obviously, she had sensed my weak, moral heart in this.

So an hour or so later after we have returned from Target, I was only slightly worried when I watched Anduin running around the backyard with the net we had purchased at Target to catch her leprechaun...  And Owen running around with their large, green plastic shovel.  I'd better keep checking for pits in the backyard.

And the shed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Anduin's Famous Friendship Treehouse Planet

"Mommy, I am from another planet."

Anduin has consistently claimed this for the past couple of months.  Just to continue to highlight the differences between my two kids, Anduin with her much more vivid imagination continues to build her personal "lore."  Though the amazing part is how consistent she is.  Below is a sample of the conversation we have about her planet, and I didn't embellish anything she tells me.

"Anduin, what's your planet called?"

"Anduin's Famous Friendship Treehouse Planet. My grand-daughter lives there in a treehouse.  The treehouse is small, and you can't visit unless you use the matter-sizer to make it big."

"What do you do on your planet?"

"My grand-daughter and I play in our treehouse...  We sing, we dance, and we play."

"How did you get here?"

"I came here on my rocket ship.  But it broke into a million tiny pieces. I need to put it back together to go back to my planet. I live with you until I can put it back together."

At least Anduin CHOSE to live with me.  At least until her next rocket ship ride home.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Uniform and Unicorn

"Ma'am, I am going to change the CAP station.  Unicorn sounds a lot like uniform."

Earlier that day, I had met Niles and the kids on my lunch break, so I was still in my khaki uniform.  Anduin pointed at my khaki uniform and asked me, "Mommy, why are you wearing your unicorn?"

"My what?"

"Your unicorn."

"My what?"

"Your unicorn!"

"Oh...  You mean uniform."

So the other student in my class was right.  Unicorn does sound a lot like uniform.  So once we had put the single letter callsigns for our aircraft up on the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) station, we had to change one of the CAP stations.  No longer could we have Magic and Unicorn.

So instead after our very serious one and a half hour session describing various tactical advantages, one of the civilian instructors waited until after the CO left to demand, "All right, who's idea was Magic and Mike?"