Alex served as Information System Technician in the Navy from 2004 to 2008. While deployed in support of anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, he was wounded when his ship was attacked. He discusses his deployment, the attack and life after the military.
Interview conducted on August 1, 2016 in Manhattan, New York
Present: Richard Hayden and Alex Miller
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Alex Miller: Alexander Miller.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
AM: I was in the US Navy from July 2004 to January 2008.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
AM: I just made E5, or IT2, but I didn’t actually get the second chevron because I just made it before I got out.
RH: Your rate was IT?
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
AM: My motivation was primarily monetary but, also, I needed to really get away from the States. I felt like I needed to go out and really do stuff for myself. I wanted college to be taken care of, I wanted to get some money and I wanted to travel and get out of the States.
RH: Why did you pick the branch of service that you did?
AM: Well, these [Navy] guys were recruiting me very hard. They were just hardcore. Of course, Army and Marines were coming by but they were not so aggressive and I guess that’s because most people didn’t want to join either one of them after September 11. Also, I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I would have to go out and fight. I didn’t think that that would happen to me being in the Navy.
RH: Why did you pick the rate that you did?
AM: It was kind of thrust upon me. I got a decent ASVAB score and people were like, “Hey. IT is wide open.” But before I did, I took half of a year and thought about it. IT was the way to go. It was a good idea.
RH: For somebody who doesn’t know, what does IT do?
AM: At least on my ship as far as my ship is concerned, Information Technicians were the go-to guys for stuff like internet.
Well, here’s what we did. What we did, basically, was to encrypt and decode. We would get encrypted messages and decipher them and then there would be two people standing by to incinerate the message so that you had two-person integrity. That’s one thing we did. We would get messages from the primary communications branch for the Navy which is in Rota, Spain. These messages would come to us via e-mail on a secure line. We’d read them and as soon as you read it, destroy it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. How did your family feel about your decision to join the Navy?
AM: They were ecstatic. Especially my dad because he was in the Army. They were excited, very excited.
RH: Where were you on September 11?
AM: I was in high school. That’s what happened. As you know, it was a pretty deciding factor for a lot of people joining the military. We all felt very patriotic but, of course, most of us were too young to join during that time.
RH: Where did you go to high school?
AM: I went to a school in California called Savannah High School. It was alright. [laughs]
RH: You grew up out there?
AM: No. I’m from Chicago but I went to high school out there.
RH: How did your friends and your fellow students react?
AM: Devastated but some people got extremely xenophobic and there was a lot of hate speech going around so it was a very alienating event. A lot of my friends also, at the same time, felt very patriotic and they were ready to go. They were like, “They’re probably going to institute the draft.” And I was like, “No. They’re probably not.” A lot of people were filled with this idea of community and unity and devastation.
RH: Where did you go to boot camp?
AM: I went to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois.
RH: What was boot camp like?
AM: It was great. It was one of the best times I ever had in the military because it was just a controlled environment and you really had to have a singular goal in mind in order to achieve what the group was going to achieve. I got in the best shape of my life which was awesome and I felt a sense of pride that later diminished but I was in top form when I first got into boot camp.
RH: Did you go straight from boot camp into C School?
RH: Where was that?
AM: Same place.
RH: In Great Lakes? OK. Good to go. How was that training, the IT training?
AM: Pretty easy. It wasn’t difficult. [laughs] You wake up, you go to class, you eat. You have free time to do whatever. A lot of people would go off base because they had family members that they could go see. I lost contact with that side of my family a while ago so I didn’t go anywhere.
RH: Alright. Good to go. After C School you reported to your ship, correct?
RH: How many times did you deploy on the ship?
AM: Just once.
RH: What was the area of operations?
AM: We did a lot of stuff in Europe just messing around and then our primary area of operations was the Horn of Africa. And then off the coast of Somalia we encountered pirates.
RH: Let’s go ahead and let’s jump into it. What was the primary mission of the ship during the deployment?
AM: Drop off the Marines first and then go and seek and – I don’t want to say destroy – neutralize the threat. Piracy is massive but at the time it wasn’t a growing concern for Americans who were outside of the military. They didn’t really know what was going on over there.
RH: What was it like the night before you deployed?
AM: The night before. Eesh! I don’t even remember. [laughs] I’m sure I had gotten to the point where I was looking forward to it.
RH: What do you remember most about deploying?
AM: The fun. The relationships, I guess. The bonds that I built with the people that I was on the ship with.
RH: When you dropped off the Marines, where were you dropping them off?
AM: We went to Iraq and dropped them off and then we took a trip to Bahrain and had some fun. So that’s what happened.
RH: What was the relationship like between the Marines and sailors while they were on board the ship?
AM: I had a pretty good time with the Marines. I didn’t have a problem with it. There were a lot of people who felt that they were just taking up space and they were dumb. I didn’t get that from any of them. I quite enjoyed the company of this female Marine but you know. [RH laughs] But I had a good time. They were great.
RH: So what was it like when they left? How did you feel?
AM: It was kind of sad because there was a group that helicoptered off the ship. They had helo’ed off of ship before some of the other groups had left. I’m not sure why but for the final group, they used the LCACs – the watercraft that come out of the stern of the ship. But there was that first group that left and a couple of the Marines had died already so they got word about it. It was kind of a somber occasion.
RH: Did you eventually pick them back up at the end of their deployment or just drop them off?
AM: I’m not sure. I had to leave before the deployment was over.
RH: What are some of the notable events that occurred during the deployment?
AM: We were attacked by pirates. Well, before that, we saw some of the destruction that the pirates did. It was very evident. They had overtaken a couple of ships and looted the ships. Then they either burned the people alive or eviscerated them. So we were really looking forward to getting some of these guys.
When they attacked it was surreal because we had practiced this whole routine but then it happened and nobody knew what the fuck to do. [laughs] It was so weird. We were like well-trained monkeys so of course we went out and got the gear, went to our battle gear lockers and were about to man our stations. So that happened. They fired on the ship. According to the rules of engagement, you have to allow the opposing force to fire on you first. I got hit and I went down. I don’t really remember a lot after that.
RH: What were you doing when you got hit?
AM: I was on my way to man the .50 caliber turret gun which was one of my favorites. [laughs] We had to practice before we went into foreign waters. We had to practice shooting into the water.
RH: Were you MEDEVACed off afterwards?
AM: Yes, I was. They sent me to a hospital ship. I’m not really sure where it was but somewhere off the coast.
RH: What was your recovery period like.
AM: It was pretty terrible. I was in the Navy hospital.
RH: Did you go to Bethesda?
AM: No. This was the Navy hospital ship. It was a Navy hospital ship. I was there for about a week. I was pretty high all the time. Then they flew me to Djibouti and the doctors were trying to do something with my foot. One of them said, “I’m going to just try this.” And I was like, “OK.” But he tried it and I was like, “Noooo!” So they gave me this shot that just put me straight out. I stayed there at that base hospital for another four days. Then they flew me to Kuwait – there’s a hospital there – for another two or three days. Then I was flown to Germany, Landstuhl, and I was there for almost a month, I think. Then they flew me to Andrews [Air Force Base]. I stayed there for probably two or three days. Then finally they flew me to Norfolk. From Norfolk I went to Portsmouth. All and all I want to say it was two months, probably, in total that they didn’t do anything for my foot.
RH: So you go shot in the foot?
AM: No. Here. [points to area just above his rear leg] It went out and ricocheted off the bulkhead and then it went into my foot. But that wasn’t even the worst part because after I got hit, I fell over the side. Not the side of the ship [laughs] but onto the fight deck. That was a thirty-foot drop.
RH: After your MEDEVAC, how long was your total recovery period?
AM: The transportation time from my ship to Norfolk was about two months and then after that, they did so many procedures on me that I would say that I wasn’t even fully recovered for another year because they had to do surgery on my foot. That was the first one. They put in pins or something and then they took the pins out and I had to wait. Then they put in the screws which was the final part. It was like, probably like a year, or something like that.
RH: Did you return to the ship after that or did you get a med[ical] sep[aration]?
AM: I went TAD to the air side of the Norfolk base and I worked for civilians at the government air field. It was pretty much the best job I’ve ever had, ever.
RH: Did you get out after that TAD?
AM: Yes. They wanted me to reenlist but the stipulations were outstanding. [laughs] It made it very hard for me to want to reenlist.
RH: While you were on the ship, what are some of the memories of the sailors that you served with?
AM: I would say, by and large, they were all pretty good people – decent, law-abiding citizens. For the most part they were all pretty good.
RH: Anybody in particular stick out?
AM: Yes. There were a couple people I really admired and enjoyed being around. A couple of them I would hang out with after work and have fun in other countries. Those were good times. But still, it’s the bad ones that you really remember more than anything.
RH: Any stories that you would be comfortable or want to talk about?
AM: Yes. There was this one guy and he was very good at his job but he was kind of terrible as a person. What a freakin’ dirt bag. [RH laughs] He’s like, “I’ll tell girls that I use condoms but I never do.” I was like, “Oh God.” It must be flame-on downstairs. Shit! [RH laughs] And he would have DUIs and stuff. He’d go out and then somehow he would be pardoned. I won’t say his rate [laughs] but he used to be a favorite golden child. Then he got into a fight with a senior NCO and they tore into him. They busted him down. He was an E5. They busted him down to an E2 or something like that because you can’t play that game. [laughs] You can’t be fucking around like that. So he wasn’t great.
There were a couple of Chiefs that were getting girls pregnant.
RH: So there were males and females on the ship?
AM: Right. It was pretty much half and half.
RH: Alright. Before I move on past the deployment, going back to the pirates, is there anything else that you remember about the attack itself? Were they on a skiff? What did they look like?
AM: Yes. It did look like a skiff. It was obviously a stolen one. [laughs] We had been to other countries and seen other types of black people. It didn’t really matter the conditions of the country – they were just happy that we were there. And these guys were just such the opposite. I had better eyesight then [laughs] but from what I could see, it was like this primal rage, almost, on their faces. I’ve seen variations on that but not like that. It was like this was a holy war-type deal. That’s what it felt like. That’s what it felt like they were going for.
It was a beautiful day outside. It had been consistently in the 130s on the ship and the sun beating down on that reflective steel, ah! [RH laughs]
RH: Do you know what happened to the ship afterwards?
AM: Yes. They got blown up. I didn’t see it because I was well on my to blacking out and this genius was screaming, “Are you OK?” I didn’t know what to say in the moment. I was sort of thinking – I guess this is my humor – I was thinking to myself, “Yeah. I’m fine. I normally bleed out of my legs. That’s my normal deal.” Then I slowly blacked out. Then that was that.
RH: So you don’t remember the Corpsman coming and treating you then, do you?
AM: Well, they were on the medical deck once they brought me – once somebody brought me in – I was on the miller board and then they cut me out. That’s where they were. There was a – what was his rank? He was a doctor – Lieutenant Commander.
RH: Alright. How many port calls did you make before your incident?
AM: Man! A lot. So many. One of the first places we went was to Haiti. They had just been through a civil war so shit was real. There were no fish in the ocean because they didn’t have proper sewage. You could see the smoke from where they were burning bodies because they couldn’t bury them fast enough. People were dying from dysentery or something that you should have a cure for.
But the Haitians, they were just so happy. They were coming overto our ship saying, “hi,” in these massive wooden boats. One of the guys was speaking in Creole to them, telling them not to come any closer, because we’ll blow you out of the water. So they got the message but we were supposed to supply them with food and water but we didn’t.
We went to Gitmo which was fun. Pfft! Yeah.
RH: Actually, quick question about Gitmo since people who might be reading this may not understand. There’s a whole other base there. It’s not just Camp X-Ray where they keep the detainees.
AM: Right. That’s true. We weren’t on X-Ray. Were we on Zebra? I can’t remember but what I do know is that I met a guy who was in boot camp with me. He was there and he actually worked on X-Ray and he was there with his gun. There were these busses, prison busses, left over from the Castro era. Castro was still in power but 1960s Castro. He got on the bus with us and he just didn’t have eyes. It was so weird. It was like shell shock, of course, but PTSD so bad that he looked like he had just been on a boat with all dead people. That’s what it looked like. He looked like there was something inside of him that had consumed him so he wasn’t in control of himself. He was just going around doing things and his only reason for living was to go from day to day. He barely talked. I was talking to him and he smiled but it was sort of foreign to him. He had forgotten to smile. He forgot how to do it.
RH: And this was your friend?
AM: Well, I met him in boot camp. We were boot camp friends. The regular base that we were on, they had a NEX. That’s the Naval Exchange store where people buy goods at discount prices. Then there was a McDonald’s and a bowling alley and another place where you could go and get your dance groove on. But it was just bleak, the whole place. It was a different shade of gray. It’s so weird, like the sky was torched. It was so odd to see the lack of color of the place.
RH: What was Bahrain like?
AM: It was great. It was like what I would imagine if you put Tokyo inside of Egypt. [RH laughs] That’s what I imagine that it would be like. Of course, they had Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken but they also had these peaceful protesters. I guess, at this time the Sunnis and the Shia weren’t messing each other up on the island yet so there were peaceful protests and that was cool. There were lots of restaurants. What I noticed is that there were a lot – not a lot – but there were a decent amount of men with boys because I guess that’s what they do. A guy tried to buy one of our officers for ten thousand dinar. I don’t know how much that is. [both laugh] It’s crazy. It’s twenty-five grand, right?
RH: I don’t know. Maybe.
RH: Before you got hurt, what was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or towards the end?
AM: Probably the middle. It’s just so monotonous doing donuts in the middle of the ocean. It’s not super fun.
RH: This might be obvious but did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment?
AM: Yes. Sure. The constant threat of encountering pirates. There were always wait times. We would always have times where we were supposed to be on schedule but we never were. The constant drills that we did in preparation for attacks – these things could drag on for hours. Putting on the firefighting gear, the OBA, that sucked. [laughs] Long shifts, not enough coffee.
RH: Good to go. Before I move on, is there anything else about the deployment that we left out that you’d like to address?
AM: Not that I can think of. Well, let’s see. I remember having lots of fun in Italy and Spain.
RH: I didn’t ask about those. They were a good time?
AM: Yeah. That was really fun. Where else did we go? Italy, Spain. I can’t remember but I had a lot of fun there. Those were pretty cool.
RH: Any good Italy or Spain port call stories?
AM: The first thing the guys wanted to do was to eat McDonald’s when we got there and I was like, “This is Italy. What’s wrong with you?” [laughs] I bought a Kyocera camera in Italy, in Rome, and I couldn’t use it. I mean, once I lost the charger to it, I couldn’t use it anymore because it was out of date in Japan and they didn’t make it anywhere else.
Some Marines engaged in acts of hooliganism and were running around naked. They cut a toilet bowl in half.
One thing that was really significant, I think, was when we went to the Vatican and Pope John Paul had just died. Benedict was coming to power and he prayed for this crowd, this massive crowd, and I bought shot glasses with the Pope’s face on them which I thought, “Is that sacrilege?” So that was pretty cool.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So we discussed that you were coming home and getting treatment and working for the civilians. You got out in January of 2008. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-military experience? What was it like getting out?
AM: It was scary. I didn’t really know what I was going to do, what was going to happen, and there was this one job that was open on the civilian side as a GS-whatever-the-hell. They really liked me a lot there but I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the job so I was a little distraught. I got separation pay but I couldn’t get a job. It was the height of the recession. It was really bad. So that was not fun. That was not fun.
RH: Did you go back to Chicago?
AM: No. I stayed in Virginia. I had an apartment there and stayed there as long as I could and then I just couldn’t anymore because I couldn’t pay for anything. I had run out of money and I couldn’t stay there anymore. So I called up a friend and moved down to Florida with him.
RH: How did your family respond to your getting wounded and everything that came subsequently?
AM: They were scared. They were very scared. I shielded them from the worst of it because I didn’t want them – it’s not that I didn’t want them to worry too much – I wanted to keep them separate from that. I almost immediately put up a barrier and I needed to keep people away from that part of me. It was just too close. I felt it was too personal. I couldn’t let them in. So that’s what happened. And then layers upon layers of stuff. That’s sort of how it happens, I guess, with ex-military. You know. You just get more layers once you get out. [laughs] You just get more and more layers.
RH: Your dad was probably a little young for Vietnam, right?
AM: No. He was the right age. He’s going to be sixty-eight this year. Him and my mother had me very late. They were in their early forties. So he was about to go to Vietnam and then everybody in his platoon came down with meningitis. It was that life-threatening meningitis where everybody dies except for your father. Because his father was a preacher, they called him over to Germany to pray over him. The preacher called the preacher to pray over him. He came out of it. Everybody in his platoon was dead and right when he was going back his father died from cirrhosis. He was a drinker.
RH: So you got out and eventually ended up going to The New School?
AM: Yes, but I fucked around for a while in Florida. I went to ‘Bama and stayed with my parents for as long as I could and then I came up to New York because a friend invited me to come up.
RH: What were some of the experiences or challenges you faced in that period before coming up to New York? Between getting out and coming up?
AM: I felt as if I was an extreme burden on people. I had to grow another layer and, at the time, you don’t really know that psychological stuff is happening to you until you push people out of your life.
RH: I’m going to interject a little bit – I met Alex in a writing class. When did you start writing?
AM: I’ve been writing for a very long time. My father is an artist so when I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist. I would draw and all this stuff and I was pretty good but I also liked to read so I would read and get creative and start writing stories. One talent became so much greater than the other one that I focused on that – I focused on writing – and just got better and better at it through my own experiences, just taking note of stuff that I didn’t feel I could tell other people.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Do you still communicate with anybody from your ship?
AM: No. Nobody. I lost track of all of them.
RH: Have you joined any veterans-related organizations?
AM: Yes, I did, but I lost touch with them as well. I just lose touch with people.
RH: This is going to be a two-part question for you because I know that you’ve written a couple of pieces for The New York Times regarding your experiences. How has your military experience, number one, shaped your life since you got out and, number two, shaped your writing since you got out?
AM: My life has been very – it’s on the path that it’s supposed to go to but it’s taken some turns for the worst. I feel that the military, or at least my take on it, affected how I interact with people. Then there’s some mental health issues that I probably inherited from my parents, their sides of the family, that was just exacerbated by my experience. So that’s how my life has been affected.
And my writing? It’s only been good. All the terrible stuff that I’ve been through has only been good for my writing because I’ve got lots of material [laughs] so that’s what that is.
RH: Alright. We’re going to shift it up and talk about Iraq’s current state a little bit. How do feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
AM: [laughs] I know a lot of people probably won’t like to hear this but I feel that a lot of these groups wouldn’t be rising up if a lot of the people who ruled these nations had stayed in power. I feel that if you take away guys like Saddam and Gadaffi – as terrible as the things that they may have been doing – they were keeping their people under control and that was the way things worked for a very long time. You remove these figures and things get out of control because people with these extreme views aren’t being suppressed any more. They’re not being deal with. So I don’t like ISIS or ISIL or the Taliban or Hezbollah – I don’t like any of these groups – but I can see how they started. I can see where things went wrong and it’s a shame. It’s a shame that so many countries had a part to play in why other countries get out of control.
RH: I’ve got a couple of spiritual questions for you. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
AM: I don’t believe in God but I don’t know [laughs] if deploying had anything to do with that. It was sort of a thing that was going to happen on its own. I feel like if there is a spirit and there is a soul, going through deployment just guided it in the direction it was supposed to go. That’s not to say that there is a pre-determined universe, it is to say that everything that you go through can change and it can alter itself depending on the choices that you make. I would say that deployment has affected my spirit in a positive and a negative way. Positive, I very much feel like it was a good thing to have those experiences. Negative, I got wounded! [laughs] So it was good and bad.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
AM: I wouldn’t say that deploying did that so much. No. That happened after. Deploying didn’t really affect my idea of life and death.
RH: Did your injury affect your idea of life and death at all?
AM: No. Because, like I said, I’m from Chicago so death was like a constant fucking thing for me [laughs] for a very long time. So it wasn’t that. It was what came after the military that really affected that idea.
RH: How so, exactly?
AM: Well, after the military I went through a series of highs and lows. At one point I was so into this idea of humanity being greater than what it was. I felt that death gave rise to life and all this stuff but then at other points I was like, “This is shit, that’s shit. We’re all shit. Fuck shit.” I was just like that. All these things happened after I got out of the military.
RH: Alright. Good to go. We’re going to switch it up a little bit. What’s your happiest memory of the entire time you served? This could be from the moment that you entered boot camp until the moment you got out.
AM: Let’s see. Happiest memory? I have a very happy memory of being at the airport and just watching planes come in and planes go out. I think, probably one of the happiest memories that I have is there was this British Air Force plane – it was called an AWAC, I think that’s what it was called. It was an old school plane. They came in from doing their thing overseas and they talked about helping Indian children, giving them food and everything. I was like, “Wow. That’s so cool. I always wanted to help people in the military.” And we never did. [laughs] It’s so awesome. Then they gave me enough food to fill my fridge for two weeks. [RH laughs] So, yeah! And these guys, their per diem was nuts. Their per diem was like a thousand dollars a day – something stupid like that.
RH: That’s cool. What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
AM: Steady paychecks were pretty nice. [laughs] No. Let’s see, I guess I miss the uniform. I really took a lot of pride in that uniform. That whole idea of honor and loyalty and stuff. After a point, you kind of lose all that.
RH: What was the food on the ship like?
AM: Oh man, it was amazing. [RH laughs] We ate so well. You just got tired of eating lobster. There were so many of these delicacies. I think that the ship made other food taste good. I ate an MRE on the ship, that shit was delicious. [RH laughs] I ate it off the ship, [laughs] it was like Dalmatian afterbirth or something. [RH laughs] It was like, “ahh!” But on the ship it was fucking delicious! I would eat casseroles. I was eating lobster, crème brulee. We had brisket. That’s where I learned how to cook brisket, I think. Yeah, I think that’s where I learned to cook brisket. And all kinds of salads and desserts. It was nuts. We celebrated Christmas in the middle of the Indian Ocean but it was worth it. It was worth it. A hundred and twenty degrees at night but my stomach was happy.
RH: What was the best MRE?
AM: It was enchilada. That was smokin’.
RH: Did they do the uniform shift to the digis?
AM: The digis? They were about to. And they kept promising us. They were like, “Yeah, it’s coming, it’s coming.” And it never came until right after I got out. [laughs] They were making the shift. There were some guys who were wearing it on base but I’m not really sure who they were. I remember it.
It’s so funny that you say that because I remember from the time I got into boot camp, they were talking about switching to the digis and it never happened. And then finally it did.
RH: What are some of the funny stories that you have?
AM: Funny stories? A lot of those. Oh! There was this time where I really wanted to bang this girl. She was feeling me and stuff like that but then this guy swoops in at the twenty-third hour and then I see him in the room with no clothes on with her. So I’m like, “Oh man.” I took his car and I was drunk. I was drunk! I drove it and I was like, “I’m gonna crash this shit!” I wasn’t thinking but I couldn’t even crash it! [RH laughs] I was so fucking drunk that I couldn’t even crash it.
RH: That’s the one time being drunk saved you!
AM: It was so difficult! So afterwards I was like, “Damn, that was dangerous.” But that shit was funny. [laughs]
I remember there was this one time, this was in – where the hell was that? – I want to say Italy. Yes, it was Italy. We were in Rome and we went to the Hard Rock Café out there and they had these margarita popsicles on top of these cinnamon flavored tortilla chips and we ate about twenty-five of them. We just went around and they have these really narrow streets and these wide-bodied cars and I don’t know how the fuck they do it. They were zipping through, zipping through. Then we see this little truck with a bed but it’s got three wheels. I’m like, “Oh man. We have to fuck with this guy.” [laughs] So we do. We don’t speak Italian so we’re like, “Wha?,” trying to be like “Ah!,” [raises hands] doing this in the middle of the street. Then right behind us, we almost miss it but this Ferrari comes ripping through the street and knocks this guy’s door off. [RH laughs] Best day ever. So that was pretty fun.
Oh, one last one. In Bahrain we went to this club or something and we were drinking, of course. It’s a religion. We’re smoking cigars and I’d never smoked one and just, “Ah!” They had a stage with a pole in it and I’m like, “What?” But there were no girls on the pole. The guy was like, “We just have it here. It’s just there. They don’t dance.” So I went up and danced. [RH laughs] Yeah. That was it.
RH: Alright. So what are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about deploying on a Navy ship?
AM: That you don’t see any action. That’s probably the biggest one. And it happens a lot more than you think. That’s probably the biggest one. They probably think also that there’s nothing but guys on the ships and that’s not the case. Males and females would be banging in the storage rooms like nuts.
I guess, maybe, that you have a good time and you go to different places all the time. No. It’s not all fun and games. No, it’s not.
RH: Now that we’re a couple of years out people may know a bit more about piracy – especially with movies like Captain Phillips – but what are some of the misconceptions about pirates, and specifically pirates off the Horn of Africa, that people may not know about?
AM: Well, they might not think that it happens that often. I feel like a lot of times when pirates come and commandeer ships or they attack other ships, it’s unexpected. These guys are very good at what they do. Piracy is a billion-dollar industry – mega billion-dollar industry – so obviously they know how to do what they’re doing. I think a lot of people feel that you must be stupid to go over to that side of the world or whatever but there are a lot of merchants that have to do business. They have to cross through that part of the world and it happens.
When we were attacked, I think the only reason was because one of the lookouts wasn’t doing his job. He wasn’t looking out.
RH: If you could communicate something to young sailors who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
AM: I would say be sure man because, dammit, if you don’t have to, just make sure that you want to. Make sure that you’re not just there because I read about it, heard about it, people told me about it. Make sure that you know what you’re really getting into. Unless there’s a draft, then you’re shit out of luck. But make sure you are doing this because this is what you really want to do and you have that patriotism and that drive because there were a lot of guys who didn’t want to be in and shouldn’t have been in. It was the worst! A lot of gang members in the military. A lot of guys stealing stuff from the armory. Some of the Masters at Arms were making money off of that shit so we really don’t need any more guns on the street.
RH: Alright. Before I ask my last question, is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
AM: I don’t. No, I think you’ve been pretty thorough. [laughs]
RH: Alright. My last question is, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
AM: Getting through. No, probably not that. [laughs] I guess it would have to be honorably serving the country. Sure, there was a lot of underhanded business and there was a lot of stuff that shouldn’t have happened but there was a certain amount of pride that I took in doing what I did. Even after I made mistakes and fell and things happened to me that I didn’t want, there was just so much pride I had and I feel like, with every new shooter that decides to attack civilians or police officers who did serve, you lose a little bit of that respect that you used to get. I’ve noticed that.
RH: You’re referring to the recent shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, correct?
AM: Right. That’s right. Especially being a man of color and former military, it’s sort of a bane on your very well-being because it seems like we are now targets or we are now the ones to be feared. I used to be able to take out my VA card and it was like a badge of honor. Now, I just don’t want to tell people I served because they’re going to look at me in a certain sort of way.
RH: Alright. Anything else?
AM: No. That’s it.