Carolina deployed aboard the USS Truman, CVN 75, as an Aviation Structural Mechanic, Egress System, in 2010. While her primary duty was maintaining the ejection seats for F-18s, she also worked on the flight deck and conducted numerous flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. After leaving the Navy, she worked with many veteran's groups throughout college and in her professional life. She currently works in New York City.
Interview conducted on August 22, 2015 in Jersey City, New Jersey
Present: Richard Hayden and Carolina Vasquez
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Carolina Vasquez: My name is Carolina Vasquez.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
CV: I served in the Navy for five years active duty from 2006 to 2011.
RH: OK. What was your rank when you got out?
CV: I was an E4.
RH: What was your rate?
CV: I was an AME. So AME – Aviation Structural Mechanic, Egress Systems. That’s what it stands for. It’s long and complicated. [laughs]
RH: What were some of your units?
CV: I worked at VAW 120 which was my first command for two years and then I switched over to VFA 37 which was my second command for three years.
RH: Did you serve on any ships?
CV: I did. I served on board the [USS] Truman. I did one deployment with them and I also was attached to a few other ships at my first command 120 but it was just for a few weeks at a time. We would just do our ops on them for a few weeks and then come back but my actual deployment was on the Truman.
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
CV: There was a few reasons that I joined. The first was the effect that September 11th had on my community because I grew up seeing the Twin Towers and the effect that it had on my family because my brother worked in that area when it happened. It had a big effect on our family. Aside from that, I don’t know why, ever since I was a kid I always wanted to do federal law enforcement so in high school I started researching it and most of them want military experience. So I was like, if I join the military I could gain the service and the experience that I need when I get out and then pursue college – hopefully they’ll help me pay for college which, luckily, they did and then just kind of take it from there. So there was a few reasons that I joined.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Why did you pick the branch of service that you did?
CV: Honestly, it was because of the recruiter. Originally I wanted to do the Air Force because I heard, from the few people that I did know that served in the military – not that I knew many, I was the first in my family to join – but the few people that I did speak to always spoke very highly of the Air Force. So I tried to reach out to the Air Force on numerous occasions and they never responded. I kind of got frustrated and one of my friends from high school reached out to me and he was like, “hey, if you’re thinking of joining the military, reach out to the Navy. I’m in the DEP program and the recruiter is super cool, super nice. He’ll help you with the entire process.” So I’m like, “alright. Not a bad idea.” He introduced me to his recruiter and then that’s how I got into the Navy.
RH: OK. Why did you pick the rate that you did?
CV: [laughs] Funny story. So when I originally joined the military, or when I originally joined the Navy, I was supposed to go Search and Rescue. It’s a very intense process. I definitely was not physically fit for it at the time, unfortunately. At the end of it they dropped me from that rate and I had to reclassify for a different rate. So basically what they did was they go off of your ASVAB score. I had a pretty high ASVAB score so they started reading out to me all these different rates that I could apply for and were out there and a few of them had signing bonuses. [laughs] This sounds really silly but I was like, “alright, which one is it that has the bonuses? Which one is it that has the highest bonus? OK! That’s the one I’m going to go with!” For whatever reason I decided to stay with aviation but I went with the highest bonus that they had so that’s kind of what got me into it which I’m, completely, a hundred and ten percent fine with it. I love my job so I’m glad I made that decision.
RH: Alright. Good to go. How did your family feel about your decision?
CV: Umm. My mom was skeptical – super skeptical. When I first mentioned it to her she was like, “oh yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re going to join the military like your brother was going to join the military. Yeah, you’re going to do it. Right.” And I think when I actually was doing it is when it sunk in. She was like, “alright. She’s actually leaving.” I had to cut my hair, I was getting in shape, and she was like, “yeah alright, she’s actually doing it.” My dad could care less. He was like, “alright, whatever. Do what you want,” type of thing. But my mom was definitely hesitant about it but I felt very confident.
My brother, too. My brother was like, “no. You shouldn’t do it.” Because originally he wanted to join the Marines and he never joined any branch of the military so he was not about it either. I was very decided on it. I was like, “you know what? This is what I want to do. I’m set on it. I’m going to do it.” So I did it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where were you on September 11th?
CV: It was actually my first year of high school. It was pretty intense because I remember the first time that – we were in our first period class and we saw it on the television. First there were people talking about it like, “oh my God! The Twin Towers!” And we’re like, “no.” So we turn the TV on and then we see it on the TV and we’re like, “no way. There’s no way that this is happening right now.” It literally felt like a movie. I was like, “there’s no way.” And then everybody’s like, “oh, maybe it was an accident. We don’t know what’s going on.” And then kids were getting calls from their parents. It was just like a whole shebacle. Then the second one happened. Yeah, it was pretty intense I think for everyone in our school because a lot the kids at my school, at lot of their parents were over there.
RH: You went to school in New Jersey, correct?
CV: In Jersey City, here in Jersey City. Actually, not too far from here.
RH: Just for the record, we are actually sitting on a pier in Jersey City overlooking downtown Manhattan where the World Trade Center was. How did it affect Jersey City and the community?
CV: Personally I feel like it was a huge hit because from Liberty State Park they started setting up an entire resource center. Basically they were trying to get people from over there to cross over to this side and help out. I think at one point they shut down the ferries so people couldn’t make it to this side. I remember my brother was over there at the time too so a lot of the people were walking over the bridges and just walking wherever just to get out of the chaos and the mess.
But in regards to Jersey City, I think it just affected us because we always had a view of the twin towers and, like I said, I grew up seeing it all the time. From one day to the next, it just wasn’t there. So it was pretty intense.
RH: Alright. Where did you go to boot camp?
CV: I went to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois.
RH: What was boot camp like?
CV: Ugh. I hated boot camp. [laughs] Boot camp was horrible. Currently, I have very long hair. I usually try to stay with long hair and they made you cut your hair up to here [motions with her hand to the top of her shoulder] which was so sad for me. I’m sure it’s like that in the Marines, too, where they make you put all your clothes and all your belongings in a box and send it home. And they give you the one call. You have to call your family to let them know that you’re there and that you made it. And then you have P Days which are the first three days. Basically you’re just like in sweat suits and they’re just PTing you. They don’t let you sleep. It’s just a disaster. They barely let you eat. It’s just the whole process.
But I think, honestly, I think the first night that I was there I probably cried just to get it out of my system and then after that I was fine. I was like, “do you know what? I’m here, I told all my friends and family that I’m here, I have to push through it and get the fuck over it and just do it,” type of thing. But yeah, I think the first few days were probably the most intense and then after that you just get into a routine of it.
And it’s all psychological because everyone else is going through it with you as well so you don’t feel like you’re going through the experience yourself alone. So it definitely helped that there’s a group of people that are going through the exact same thing you’re going through. And everyone’s struggling. Everyone has their own stories. Everyone’s coming from different parts of the country, different parts of the world, so it was definitely a unique experience.
RH: Did you go to A School for AME?
CV: I did.
RH: Was that immediately after boot camp?
CV: It wasn’t. No. I was on hold for like two weeks after across the street – not at the actual boot camp but across the street from it they have other A Schools. So I was on hold there for like two weeks and then they flew me down to Norfolk. And then I did A School there for two months and then after that they put me at my command.
But unfortunately I had to do A School again. A year into my command I had to do an A School again because, since we were AMEs, we had to do hands-on on the job training with the ejection seat. At that time there was a hurricane down in Florida so the original A School was supposed to happen in Florida but they couldn’t accommodate it because of the hurricane. So we did the A School in Norfolk and then a year later they decided, “oh no, that’s not enough. You guys have to go to the one in Florida now.” [both laugh] So I had to do A School twice.
Then I actually did a C School as well. I did C School when I switched platforms from the E2s and C2s to the F-18s. I did another school, the C School as well, to get another, specialized training on the actual ejection seat as well.
RH: Got it. OK. Do you feel like your training prepared you for deploying and for some of the things that you had to face?
CV: Yes and no. [laughs] Yes, because before I deployed we were doing workups. So in the Navy we do six months – for aviation, anyway – we do six month workups and a six month deployment. So during your six month workups is when everyone’s getting qualified and everyone’s just getting into the routine of things – the day to day stuff type of things, right? So we attached to different areas. We attached to the ship as well because our pilots also have to do day ops and night ops. And us too. We have to do day ops and night ops because I worked on the flight deck. So you have to get a feel for everything. And then we would go out to Fallon, Nevada and do training missions for the pilots as well.
So we did a lot of training in regards to that. In that regard I definitely felt qualified because luckily I was able to get all of my qualifications before deployment. And the group that I was with, we were all there before deployment so we helped each other and we looked out for each other. It’s like a family basically because you spend all your time with these people.
So I felt ready for deployment but then, in another regard, I didn’t feel ready for it because, again, it’s a whole psychological thing. You’re going out to deployment. Anything can happen, unfortunately, especially on the flight deck because it’s really dangerous. You’re saying goodbye to your family, you’re saying goodbye to your friends, you’re saying goodbye to your way of life. So it’s definitely a culture shock. Probably the first month that I was on the ship and then after that I was like, “alright.” It’s a matter of just getting into a routine again, into the routine of things. A lot of sacrifices have to be made, right? So it is what it is.
RH: Alright. Cool. Were you stationed in Norfolk when you deployed?
CV: I was stationed in Virginia Beach.
RH: Oh, Virginia Beach. OK. Did you serve in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
CV: Afghanistan. But our support consisted of our pilots going out there and dropping bombs so we were out to sea the whole time. We would hit port maybe a few days. It depends. Port call is, for the Navy – you’ve been on a ship, right? So you’re familiar with the whole port call process? [RH nods “yes”] Basically it’s like whenever they tell you that we can hit a port, we hit a port. But otherwise you’re just working seven days, twelve days – I mean twelve hour shifts, seven days a week. And then once every few weeks you’ll get a day or two to just hit a port.
RH: How many times did you deploy?
CV: Just one time.
RH: Just one time?
RH: What was the date?
CV: Ooh. I don’t remember the exact dates. I do remember the year. It was May 2010.
RH: May 2010 that you left or got back?
CV: I got back November of that same year.
RH: So May 2010 to November 2010, correct?
RH: What was the mission of your unit? Of VFA 37?
CV: Our mission was basically to support the troops that were out on land. Our whole CAG was but us, specifically, too. So we had other planes that do the fly arounds to make sure that everything’s clear. And then the F-18s would come in and basically just shoot shit up and drop bombs. Whenever the Marines or Army or whoever would call them up like, “hey, we need support here. We need you to drop this here.” They’d just go out and do it.
RH: What, specifically, was your job within that unit?
CV: I worked on the F-18 ejection seats. Well, I worked on the ejection seats but it was more than just that. I was also a Plane Captain too and I worked on the flight deck pretty often. I would do flight schedule. Basically what we’d do is – whenever a jet would land or take off – you have to give the pilot the signals, prep the jet before it takes off, hand over the jet to the pilot. He does his walk around then we would get the engine started and just do a bunch of walk arounds and check all the systems. Then, when they’re about to fly out, you shoot them out basically. You’re the one giving the final thumbs up for them to shoot out.
RH: What is “shooting out” exactly?
CV: When the jet actually takes off from the flight deck.
RH: How does that happen? For somebody that has never worked on a flight deck at all, how does shooting out actually happen?
CV: There’s a landing strip basically. There’s four landing strips. There’s the two in the back and the two in the front. So depending on where your jet is going there’s all kinds of rules and regulations. There’s lines you can’t cross over and you have to wear specific gear and you always have to be communicating with people. You have to have your head on a swivel at all times because jets could be coming in and taking off at the same time. So you just have to be cognizant of everything that’s going on.
But, basically, they just roll up to the lane – the flight deck lane. I’m forgetting all the terminology so I apologize. But we get up there and as he’s rolling up to it we have to do a quick walk around and make sure there’s no leaks, that the flaps are working, nothing’s out of place and then tell him to power up. Once he powers up then you give him the thumbs up. Both have to give him a thumbs up because once it gets up to a certain power you have to make sure that there’s no severe leaks, hydraulic leaks. There’s a bunch of different things you’re looking for but sometimes you have to down it at the last minute like, “no. You can’t go.” You have to tell them they can’t go anywhere and they’ll have to taxi around again. But otherwise, if everything goes well, you just give them the thumbs up and then they take off. Because of the hydraulic system it just shoots them off. Literally, it just shoots them off. It’s pretty intense. Pretty cool.
It’s definitely an adrenaline rush. The first time I did it, it was so exciting and scary at the same time. I was like, “whoa! This is awesome! It’s so scary!” [laughs] But the good thing is that you do that during pre-deployment time when you’re getting qualified you do all that stuff before you actually go on deployment. That was my experience. Sometimes people just get thrown into deployment with no idea what’s going on. Luckily I felt prepared for it.
RH: What was a typical day like on the flight deck?
CV: Basically we’d wake up first thing in the morning, check our flight schedule and then see what flight is taking off when, where is it located because there’s so many jets everywhere and helicopters too – just different aircraft. So basically you just check wherever your jet is located and then, depending on the time, we also have to do maintenance on the aircraft as well. If the flight schedule starts first thing in the morning – sometimes it’ll start like five, six in the morning. Or sometimes it’ll go all night so you pick up your night check shift and then be like, “alright, I got this. You guys just go or whatever,” and they give us the pass down. So there’s not a very typical day but basically it goes according to your flight schedule. You go up there – as the AME I would look over the jet but I was also PC qualified so I would kind of do both and keep an eye out on both things.
RH: What’s PC?
CV: PC is a Plane Captain. So back to what I was saying before, the Plane Captain is the one that tells the pilot when to start the engines. It’s a bunch of different hand signals, basically. On the flight deck you can’t really hear anything. You always have to have your cranial and everything on because it gets so loud and hectic. So you basically have to communicate through hand signals. You tell the pilot, “alright, everything’s clear. Engine up, engine up, check your wings,” – all these different checks that you’re doing.
Also, for my part, I worked on the ejection seat and there’s certain pins that you have to pull out before the pilot can get into the cockpit. And then down, too, on the wheels themselves you have to pull out certain pins so you just do that. Make sure you pull the right circuit breakers – or push in the right circuit breakers, rather. The whole time you’re basically just walking around the jet and making sure that everything is fine. It has fuel, it has engine oil. All these different little checks. And then once that’s good to go, you take off the chocks, you take off the chains, and then he just sits there and waits until the air boss tells him that he’s good to go to leave.
Usually only two people walk out there with them. It kind of just depends on who’s around. If you’re qualified for both, if you’re PC and Troubleshooter qualified – the Troubleshooter is usually the one that shoots him out. That’s the actual name of the qualification: Troubleshooter. Most of the time people were double qualified because another aspect of the Troubleshooter, aside from actually shooting them out, is the fact that you also have to be on your feet. Sometimes something as simple as, let’s say, the engine oil, you’ll check it and it’s fine and then once the engines actually turn on, it drops dramatically. So you have to run and pump in the additional oil. Just little stuff like that. Or sometimes something will be wrong with the tires so last minute you have to do a tire change. It’s just very flexible. You have to be super flexible. That’s basically what we do.
If you’re working flight deck schedule – it depends on who you’re working with, the group of people that you’re working with – but sometimes you could swap out. “Alright, I’m going to take this flight and you take that flight.” Sometimes there’s two flights going on at the same time so you’re like, “I’ll take the aft, you take the forward one.” It’s all about communicating with the people and the people on your crew. And sometimes other people from other shops, other jobs, they’ll also help you out because all of us are out there. It’s hot as hell, nobody really wants to be up there, [RH laughs] but you’re doing it so you kind of just have to pump each other up and work through it. Some days are really long and really shitty and you don’t want to be there at all but you just have to pump each other up through it. So it was good. It was a very good experience.
RH: About how many planes would you launch each day?
CV: Each day, hmm. Personally? Maybe two or three a day so it wasn’t too bad. That was average. Sometimes we’d have five or six, sometimes we’d have eight. It just all depends because also, since we weren’t the only F-18 squadron on there, sometimes we would have to pick up – if one of our jets were down and we couldn’t do the maintenance on it quick enough to do the flight schedule – then we would just pick up an F-18 from another squadron.
RH: Ah! OK. So you guys would alternate? It’s not like you only worked on a certain set of F-18s, you could interchange them with different squadrons?
CV: Just on the flight deck. Just super last minute. Any time we had to do any kind of maintenance on our own aircraft, we would have to do it ourselves. No one else would touch our aircraft. But, for flight scheduling reasons, if let’s say that we had one of our jets that was ready to go and, again, like I said, super last minute you get the thumbs down and you can’t make it, the jet is down – what’s the next jet going out? Alright, if the next jet isn’t ready to go either then last minute the air boss would be like, “alright, this squadron. Pick up your jet. You’re going.” It just basically depends on what’s happening and where our jets stand. Most of the time, not always, but most of the time we would do our maintenance overnight to get our aircraft ready for the following morning’s schedule. Sometimes we’d have night schedule too. Sometimes the jets would fly out all night too. It would just depend.
RH: Was it mostly daytime ops or nighttime ops?
CV: Most of the time it was daytime but we would have a few nighttime – maybe two or three nighttime. We would have maybe five or six during the day and then two or three at night or sometimes it would switch. Sometimes we would have just night ops and barely any day ops so it would fluctuate all the time. Most of the time it was just day ops but we would do night stuff.
RH: Good to go. So do you have any memorable stories or memorable events, specifically, from your time on the flight deck?
CV: I have quite a few of them.
RH: I’d love to hear them if you have them.
CV: I don’t know. I guess one of the things that always stayed with me the most was when there wasn’t flight ops and it’d be late at night and you’d just be out to sea in the middle of nowhere and you would just look up and see the stars. It just was an amazing sight to see. That’s probably one of the most memorable things – just the view and just knowing that you’re literally out to sea in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but water. It’s a pretty intense feeling.
But then on actual flight ops, flight schedules and stuff like that, I don’t know. I guess just the most memorable stuff was just the feeling of adrenaline and this feeling of like we have a mission and we have to get it done. Again, I had a great group of people that worked with me so it was just nice. If I had a good day and I was feeling pumped I’d be like, “alright! I’m doing flight schedule today. You guys just chill here in the shop.” Or sometimes if there was a lot of maintenance that needed to get done and we didn’t have enough people I’d be like, “alright, you guys take care of maintenance and I’ll do flight schedule.” Or, “I’ll do maintenance, you guys do flight schedule.” We always try to compensate for each other.
It really was like a family, honestly. It was. The people that I worked with were like a family. And it’s sad because you don’t realize it at the time. Like, you take that for granted. You’re just like, “oh, I’m here on deployment. It’s so shitty.” [laughs] And then once you leave you’re like, “aw man, I actually miss it.” I actually do miss it.
RH: Yeah. So my next question is, what were the sailors that you served with like?
CV: The sailors that I served with? It’s kind of weird because when I deployed we shared our shop. Our shop was super small so we shared our shop with Marines as well.
RH: Excuse me, Marine aviation-based members, correct?
CV: Yes. VFMA 312, the Checkerboards. They also had F-18s, too, the same F-18s that we did so that’s why we would share the shop. Our shop was very specific because you had to have a certain kind of classification and security classification. You had to have special qualifications to even work on the jets and all that.
So our group was pretty tight-knit. It was myself and another AME1. There was two AME1s but one of them wound up getting switched over to QA which is like our Quality Assurance so he wasn’t really – he was an AME and attached to us but, really, he didn’t work with us. He was more Quality Assurance and he touched base with us occasionally. So we had an AME1, two AME2s and then – two, three – no. I’m sorry. We had three AME2s. One of them had to get flown out to Spain the first month we were there because he fell down the freakin’ ladderwell and he broke his pinky.
CV: Yeah. So he had to get surgery and all that which kind of sucked because we were down one from the beginning. And then before we deployed we had another female in our shop but she got pregnant so she couldn’t deploy with us. So we were down two.
Our First Classes were usually the ones that would usually go, first in the morning, to do maintenance meetings before flight schedule starts just to get a pass down of whatever needs to get done or whatever did get done the night before and what they expected the day of – any last minute changes or anything. They would go to the maintenance meeting and then while they were at maintenance meeting, we would go and get breakfast from the galley. Then we would come back up, listen to the pass down tell us whatever needed to be done and then just sat around the shop. If it was really quiet, we’d sit around the shop and just play cards and watch movies and just give each other shit basically. [laughs] And that’s one of the things that I really liked about the guys. Again, I felt like it was a family so we would give each other a hard time and pick on each other and just talk all kinds of shit but it was funny. None of us ever took it to heart. So my deployment was a great experience.
And then the Marines I was attached to. I guess one of the greatest experiences that I felt too was that, in my prior command, I had a very bad experience because one of my higher ranking guys didn’t like females at all. No matter what you did, if you were a female it just wasn’t enough, right? So my first command, I just hated it. I tried to stay away from him as much as I could. But my second command I never had that experience because I always tried to pull my own weight anyway. I always tried to get my qualifications, I was always a team player. So I went in there and I got along with everyone and everyone respected me and it was a mutual respect. So we would look out for each other and the same thing with the Marines too. I think maybe just one or two times during deployment they got in each other’s faces and almost fought. But aside from that, for the most part it was pretty chill. But sometimes when you get too many guys together it’s just a bunch of testosterone so [laughs] sometimes you just gotta calm it down a little bit. Like, “alright, guys.” [laugh]
RH: Yeah. [nods head in agreement] I know what you mean.
CV: But it was nice.
RH: So what was your relationship with the pilots like?
CV: Oh. OK. That’s an interesting question because some pilots were like super, super stuck up. Like, barely wanted to acknowledge you, barely even looked at you. But then we had other pilots that were super chill and super cool and would come up to you and shake your hand like, “hey guys. How’s it going? How’s it looking?” You know, super chill. So luckily for us, our pilots for the most part were pretty cool. We had a few prior enlisted pilots so they were even better. They would come down to our shops and just chill with us and talk to us. Aside from the flight deck and the flight schedule, they’d actually come down to our shops and hang with us. Some of them would come down to the galley and eat with us too.
It really just depends. I know in the military you’re supposed to have a huge separation between enlisted and officers but I think it really just comes down to a person’s personality. Some pilots were super cool and super chill and others were just not in that mindset. And some of them were new too so you kind of have to give them a little bit of slack because everything is new for them. It’s an intense job.
RH: The F-18s, was it a single pilot aircraft?
CV: It was. It was single. Well, F-18Cs [spoken as F eighteen Charlies] – because F-18Ds [spoken as F eighteen Deltas], there’s different classifications. So F-18Cs were one-seaters. F-18D’s were two-seaters. We had some Deltas with us on our deployment too.
RH: What were the rank of the pilots that flew F-18s? The Charlies and the Deltas.
CV: Different ones. Sometimes we would have O1s or sometimes we would have O4s or sometimes we’d have our CO come down. Not that it happened often but sometimes he’d come down and fly too just because they have to have a certain amount of flight hours. So it really just depends but most of the time it was O2s, O3s.
RH: Cool. Good to go. What were some of the notable events that occurred during your deployment?
CV: Hmm. Notable events. I’m trying to think. World events?
RH: Or anything just related to your deployment. Did anything unusual or very notable happen?
CV: Not during my deployment, no. I can’t really think of anything. I think everything went pretty smoothly.
RH: What were some of your port calls like?
CV: Oh. OK. Port calls were awesome. Oh! I guess one of the notable things was that we were out to sea for sixty-two days. So, in the Navy – [laughs] sorry, let me backtrack a little. In the Navy, once you get to thirty days you’re supposed to get a beer day. So when you’re out to sea for thirty days you’re starting to go a little stir crazy, right? So after like thirty days you’re supposed to get a beer day. We went sixty-two days with no beer! It was so upsetting. That’s notable. [laughs] No, and it actually is notable because people started fighting each other on the ship. Again, too much testosterone and everyone’s like, “get me off this fucking ship!” Because when you’re on the ship you have to work such long days.
So when we would hit port – I want to say the first port that we hit, we were like two weeks in and we hit Marseille, France. And it was just a disaster. Everybody everywhere, eating everything, drinking everything. Notable for me was that my brother at the time, and still, lives in Luxembourg so he was able to meet me there in Marseille. So I was able to get a day of liberty and overnight liberty. I was staying at the hotel with him and we were just able to enjoy our time together. But he also got to meet the guys that I worked with and he came up on the ship and he did a little walk around with me. He was super impressed. It had to be one of his proudest moments. He was like, “oh my God! You actually do this? This is real? You guys actually go out to sea?” I was like, “yeah! It’s what we do.” [laughs] His mind was just blown. He couldn’t believe it. So that was pretty friggin’ awesome.
So we hit Marseille France for our first port and then I want to say then maybe a month later we hit Bahrain. Then a few weeks later we hit Dubai. Then, I think, two months later we hit Bahrain again and then Dubai again. Again, what’s notable is the longest we went out to see which – I can’t really complain because I know other people went through it too – is the sixty-two days just out to sea working straight and then hitting a port. But other than that it was like every few weeks, we would get maybe two or three days but even that was hit or miss because if you have duty you have to stay on the ship. You couldn’t leave. But we would bring them back food like, “hey, what do you want to eat?” We would bring them back stuff so it wasn’t that bad. I definitely enjoyed port calls. And you get to experience the culture too. You get to see different things. Who would have ever thought that I would have been in Dubai twice? It was a great experience. Dubai is definitely more westernized and more liberal than Bahrain. Bahrain is a little bit more stricter but yeah, it was great.
RH: Actually, what was Dubai like? Maybe you could talk a little bit about it. What did you guys do?
CV: I did a bunch of stuff because I was like, “oh, we’re here. We need to do a bunch of stuff.” We went to the mall. There’s this mall that has an indoor skiing and snowboarding indoor slope. We didn’t get to go to the slope but we went to the mall and the mall is like massive – the world’s largest mall or something like that. I don’t know. But we did that. We just walked around the mall and did some shopping and spent some tax-free money. [laughs] I went and got a massage, I got my hair done and my nails done. You know, little girly stuff with the other girls that I was with. And then we went out to eat and drink and we’d meet up with some of the guys that were in our shops too because, again, we were really close. So we’d meet up with them and go out for dinner, have some drinks. We also did this sand duning. We did sand duning which was a pretty cool activity because another thing about deployment is we had this thing called MWR. I’m sure you’re familiar with it, right?
RH: Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
CV: Yes. They would set up different excursions and different activities that you could join in on. One of them was sand duning. So we spent the day sand duning basically, which is awesome because you’re out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but sand dunes.
RH: And you just drive cars over it, right?
CV: Yes. It was freakin’ awesome! It was almost like a little roller coaster. It was awesome. And then after that they had had a little cookout for us at this little campsite. They had belly dancers and they had food for us and they had a camel that we could ride. [laughs] So yeah, it was pretty cool.
RH: Did you pass through the Suez Canal?
CV: I did.
RH: What was that like?
CV: It was interesting. I remember we had to wrap up all our jets because we would get a lot of sandstorms too. So we would have to wrap everything up but then you just stand out there and you enjoy the view. Usually we don’t have flight ops when we’re traveling through tight spaces like that so everything would be shut down. Everything would just be on shut down mode and we’d just go up to the flight deck and just enjoy the view and hang out. Those were the good days. Those were the chill days because you just hang out and have a day free not in port so it was nice. I enjoyed it.
RH: Good to go. So what was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
CV: Personally for me it was two points, the very beginning just because I had – I guess it’s just personality-wise but I’ve heard other people say that too where the very beginning is always the adjustment period. So it’s just a matter of you adjusting to it, adjusting to being away from your family, adjusting to the nasty ass food on the ship, [laughs] adjusting to absolutely no privacy – absolutely none. Because in the shop you’re constantly surrounded by your crew and when you’re on the flight deck you’re constantly surrounded by other people and even when you’re sleeping. Do you know what a carrier’s sleeping arrangements are like?
RH: Describe them a little bit.
CV: So basically it’s three racks. It’s literally similar to a coffin. It’s super tight and if you’re on the bottom part you lift it up and you can put your clothes underneath or whatever so that gives you a little bit of privacy. But then you close it and then you put your lock so you can store whatever stuff you want in there and then aside from that you also get a tiny storage locker. But basically, yeah, you can put a curtain in there too.
Sometimes people would get creative. They’d design their curtains or you could bring your own blankets and pillows and stuff from home so that’s what I did because the beds on there are completely horrific – so uncomfortable to sleep on. So I brought – I’m blanking on the name of it. Basically it’s similar to a bed but it’s not. It’s thin and it gives you extra cushioning. So then I had that and I brought my own pillow and I brought my teddy bear from home and I had pictures on my rack. And again, I had the little privacy. [laughs] But even then, nothing there is sacred.
RH: So the beginning and then what else?
CV: So the beginning and then the very end of it was probably the hardest personally because I found out that my husband was having an affair so I had to get divorced. So that was probably the hardest time.
RH: Alright. As you gained more experience, how did you change?
CV: On deployment?
RH: Yes. On deployment.
CV: OK. I guess I changed because I felt, at first, I was super nervous and anxious on the flight deck and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect because when you do little detachments, it’s similar in that you do flight ops but it’s different when you’re doing it day to day for months at a time. I guess just getting used to the everyday routine of things and then becoming more comfortable in regards to my job and becoming more knowledgeable. Personally I always made a big effort to focus on people’s morale. Sometimes people’s morale would be super shitty and it was like, “do you know what? Fuck it. Just let that shit go. What are we gonna do?” You know? Sometimes you just have to be there for people who are going through things.
People were there for me when I was going through that whole divorce thing at the end which, actually, I felt a little bit bad about because when I was going through the divorce thing my mind just wasn’t right. I wasn’t focused so they had to pull me off the flight deck. So I felt bad about it because I wanted to continue helping out but I knew my mind wasn’t right. I knew I wasn’t there. I just wasn’t as focused as I should have been and you can’t be like that when you’re on the flight deck. You have to be constantly vigilant. You have to constantly be on top of things. So it was actually my First Class, he was like, “you know what? Just stay down here. Do maintenance. Hang out in the shop. Don’t consume yourself with everything else that’s going on. Just try to focus a little bit on yourself and kind of like push through it.” I’m like, “alright.”
Unfortunately it’s something that’s pretty common in the military, that you go through that. You go on deployment and you come back and everything is completely different than it was when you came back or before you left. So it’s just an adjustment period.
RH: Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment?
CV: Yes. I want to say that was the most significant thing because before that I was completely focused and then that happened and pretty much everything went to shit because I had to reach out to the JAG officer. See, this is one of the things that I miss about the military life a lot and that is completely separate to the civilian world is the fact that, in the civilian world, your job is your job. You come in and do your job and when you’re going to have a discussion, it’s a discussion about your job. In the military it’s like, if you’re having a shitty day come talk to me about whatever it is that you need to talk about. Whether it’s work related or not it’s just like, “come talk to me.” Do you know what I mean? Have a conversation.
That’s one of the things that I’m struggling to find in the civilian world. Especially job-oriented. There’s a very big distinction between work-related stuff and between personal life where in the military everything was kind of like meshed. If you’re having a really shitty day at home or if you’re going through something at home and you come into the shop, most of the time you tell people what you’re going through and they can relate to it or they’ll cut you some slack, you know? Whereas in the civilian world it’s irrelevant or, regardless of what you’re going through in your personal life, you’re here. Do your job. Which I understand but it’s just a little different. That’s all.
RH: What was the most enjoyable part of working on the flight deck?
CV: The most enjoyable part was the fact that I felt like I was actually making a difference. I felt like what I was doing and the amount of effort and work that I put into things people saw and people appreciated and it made a difference because we were out there to do a mission and we were getting the mission accomplished. So I felt like I was doing my part to help that mission.
RH: Good. I’m sorry, you said F-18s and what were the first two platforms that you worked on?
CV: E-2s and C-2s. So usually they’re separate. VAW 120 is a training command so they combine the two and we would train the pilots for E-2s and C-2s so I worked on both.
RH: What platform did you enjoy working on the most?
CV: F-18s. Definitely. Because E-2s and C-2s were – I don’t know if it was the command or I don’t know if it’s the actual E-2s and C-2s. I think a little bit of both but the first command I was in was super shitty. In 2007 we were doing training ops and we lost some pilots and then a few months later we had three people commit suicide.
CV: Yeah. So they gave us mandatory time off. They’re like, “clearly everyone’s morale is down so everyone needs some time off.” [laughs] It was like, “oh great. It took three people to kill themselves. That’s awesome! Great! OK!” It’s the military, right?
And the thing is – I think this is also something that the civilian world doesn’t value – is that whenever someone is training or learning something new, it’s a very difficult time for that person. I think that’s one of the things that the military does put such a good value on is the fact that this person needs to learn this and it gives them the time and the training to do that. I’ve experienced in the civilian world that training is just pushed through and it’s not as thorough. And everyone learns differently, right? So I’m a very visual learner and actually, I’ll even admit, I’m almost a bit of a slow learner. Sometimes I just need my time to just process everything that’s going on but once I get it, I get it. I felt like in the military it’s a very training culture, too. One of the things I experienced anyway is when I was coming in they would be like, “that’s an E3. He’s just been here for a few months. Team up with him. Talk with him. Ask him whatever the fuck you want to ask him.” Or if there’s a higher person than you, sometimes they will direct you in the right direction – a little bit more of a mentorship, a little bit more of a guidance aspect to it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before I move on to post-deployment and life outside the military, did I leave anything out?
CV: I don’t think so. I think that is pretty much it. Oh wait, sorry.
RH: Sure. No problem.
CV: Back to – I lost my train of thought on the last one.
RH: It’s alright.
CV: In regards to the F-18, also, is the fact that I actually get to work on the ejection seats which was really cool because you do all this training, like specialized training in it, and E-2s and C-2s there are no ejection seats so I think that’s why I also like it. And also in regards to testing, do you know how you have to test to pick up rank? They ask you a lot of F-18 related questions. It’s one thing for you to read it out of a book and it’s another thing for you to actually work on it day to day. You’re like, “oh yeah. I know how that works. I do that all the time.”
RH: Can you, from a technical aspect, discuss how the ejection seat works a little bit?
CV: So, basically there’s a rocket under the ejection seat and then on the canopy there’s also ordnance so once the pilot reaches a certain altitude, if he starts coming down too quickly and once he reaches another altitude, sometimes the pilots will black out from too much force or whatever or not enough oxygen. There’s a bunch of different things. They wear oxygen masks, too. If a pilot does black out, once he reaches a certain altitude at a certain speed, the ejection seat will eject on its own. But then there’s also the manual one. Right here in-between the legs [motions between her knees to show where the activation switch is on an ejection seat] the lanyard, basically, if you were going to eject you pull it but first the canopy pops off and then the ejection seat comes up and shoots out of it. Obviously the jet is done but at least the pilot survives which is the important part.
RH: Did any of your pilots have to eject while you were on deployment?
CV: No. Luckily no. We were very lucky. We didn’t have any. I want to say a pilot from a different squadron did but not from us. Not during our deployment. I think we were back here, back in Virginia Beach in our home base and then one of our sister squadrons were on a deployment and they had a – no. I’m sorry. They weren’t even on deployment. It was training ops. I want to say VFA 106. They were doing training ops and then one of the pilots had to eject which is kind of interesting because, in regards to our job, a lot of people didn’t value what we did. Even the pilots. They’re just like, “oh, whatever.” They never really valued what we did until they had to eject and then they’d come in and they’re like, “what do you guys want?” Not us personally but it happened to a squadron next to us and it happened to one of the guys. He was attached to the other squadron 104 where he was like – he came in with boxes of beer and alcohol and was like, “whatever you guys want, just let me know!” [RH laughs] We were like, “oh! That’s nice.” [laughs] That’s cool. He was like, “if it wasn’t for you guys I wouldn’t have made it.” So that’s gratifying. That part is gratifying because you know, again, that you’re making a difference.
RH: Actually, I should ask you this. I know that you worked with planes when they launched. Did you ever work with planes at all when they landed?
CV: Yes. Absolutely. I would do both. Anyone that’s on the flight deck has to do both. Well, when you shoot them off, obviously you have your flight schedule. Usually you carry your flight schedule with you and if there’s any kind of changes, the air boss will communicate it with everyone. So we have a point of contact. Our Chief would be our point of contact so if any changes would happen he would be like, “hey, this jet’s down so go to the next one and start prepping that one.” Or if there was a change, “hey, this jet is going to that side, not this side.” Do you know what I mean? He would be the one who would communicate everything with us.
But in regards to them actually landing, once they actually land they have to land a very specific way and they have a whole crew that’s basically walking them through it. Once they get to a certain level, they would be like, “alright. Move to the left, move to the right, lower down.” They kind of guide them through it, right?
Once the pilot lands, there’s four wires. Every jet or every aircraft has a tail hook. So the tail hook has to latch onto the wire, right? If you get through the four wires and you don’t latch, you have to take off right away so you can never use your brakes. Again, it’s a very intense job. I feel bad for the pilots. I think you can attempt three times to land and if you don’t, then you have to fly around for some time longer to clear your head a little bit and then try it again to kind of readjust yourself. Most of the time, not always, but most of the time they would get it first time up. They would catch the wire first time up. But sometimes they would have to fly off again and then come around and then do it again. Most of the time they did it the second time around. That wasn’t an issue most of the time but sometimes, occasionally, you’d get the ones that would have to fly around for a while.
So then they would fly in they’d let us know. Most of the time we were up there so we would see where it landed but if they didn’t, they would let us know where it landed. Basically, whoever the PC is, or if there is no PC around and you’re the only one around from your squadron, if you are PC qualified then you just jump in and you’re like, “alright.” Yellow shirts are the ones that direct them to their actual spots because every jet has a spot, right? They’ll direct them to the spots, direct them to that direction, and then the PCs will take over. That’s when they will actually direct them in and park them. Sometimes we would have to – if, for whatever reason, they weren’t lining up correctly – we’d have to push them. A whole crew of us would just have to come up and push – push parties type of thing.
Then you just shut them down and you debrief them when they get off. The troubleshooters would go up to them like, “hey. How was your flight? How did everything go? Was anything working or not working properly?” Or sometimes the pilot also has to troubleshoot everything in his head. Sometimes he’ll come in and before he shuts down – because sometimes you need the motors running in order to troubleshoot something – he’ll be like, “oh, this, this and this is going on.” Everybody had headphones and you connect to the jet and you would talk to them. He would be like sitting up there and you would be down here like, “hey, what’s going on?” He’d be like, “oh, I need an AME,” or “I need an AM,” or whatever that falls under, whatever category that falls under. Then we’d be like, “alright.” Or if you’re familiar with it you’re like, “OK. I’m not that but I can walk you through it.” Because if that person isn’t around, you have to be able to kind of walk them through it. That’s the whole point of the troubleshooter. They’re pretty familiar with all of it so maybe they can’t troubleshoot it right then and there and fix the problem right then and there but you can kind of like walk them through it and try to get specifics like, “hey. This happened at this altitude. And then this happened at that altitude.” You know, whatever the issue may be.
RH: Cool. Good to go.
CV: And then after that, that’s it. They just walk out. Again, it all depends on the pilot. Sometimes the pilots were super cool so they would come out like, “Aww yeah! That was a fuckin’ awesome flight! We dropped these many fuckin’ bombs! Yeaaahhh!” They were super pumped about it. [both laugh] Again, “we were out there fucking kicking ass!” [laughs] So we were like, “alright, alright, alright.” And sometimes the pilots would also come up and let us watch videos, too. They were like, “aww, this is what I fucking did when I was out there.” Alright, alright, alright. [laughs] That was fun. Debriefing was usually, it was always good.
RH: Cool. So before we move on, anything else from deployment that we left out?
CV: I can’t think of it. I think I pretty much went through everything. Deployment was definitely an awesome experience but definitely unique to everyone’s experience. Everyone’s experience is different. I had a good experience until almost the end.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experience?
CV: Uggh. [laughs] It was horrible.
RH: Before we get there, what was it like, literally, the day you pulled into port coming home?
CV: Actually, I didn’t pull in with my ship because my situation was a little complicated. After the whole thing with my divorce, I was completely out of it and I just wanted to get back. This isn’t life, like this shouldn’t have happened, type of thing. I took a lot of blame for it myself which I shouldn’t have.
This is the thing. Right after deployment I was supposed to get out, like I was separating form the military, right? So I had accumulated over a month of leave and I was like, I could stay on the ship for an additional month and pull in with them or I could just get back a month early if they allow me to just to deal with my own shit and get everything situated before I get out. Before I left for deployment the plan was I was going to come back – my ex-husband and I had a house in Virginia – so I was going to come back to the house and continue living our lives together. Clearly that was not the case so I was trying to figure out the house situation and I was trying to figure out my living situation, I was trying to figure out if I even wanted to continue staying in Virginia or not. There was just a lot of questions that I was trying to go through.
So then luckily one of my Chiefs – my admin Chief – because even my own fucking Chief didn’t want me to. He was like, “no, no, no. We only have a month. You can pull through it.” I’m like, “I really don’t want to be here. Honestly, I don’t want to fucking be here. I just need to go home and take care of my shit because I’m going to get out. Like, I just need to put my shit in order.” And then he’s like, “no, no, no, no.” So then I kind of jumped my chain of command and went to my admin officer, or my admin chief, and I was like, “listen, my fucking Chief is telling me no, I know I have enough days accumulated. Can you please help me? What can you fucking do for me?”
So luckily he was super nice and he got all the paperwork together for me and they were able to fly out a month prior. Our deployment was seven months but I was only there for six so I got back a month early. As soon as I got back, I was doing TAPS class which is a week of, now you’re a civilian! Here’s everything you need to know in the civilian world. A week of that. Some things were kind of useful but some things were just kind of like, alright, dude. Really?
But anyway, we did a week of that and then I had to pack up all my stuff from the house and then move all my stuff up here to Jersey. And I had to live with my parents temporarily. I had no money saved. Even though I was on deployment, it was a shitty situation but I was sending the money to my husband for the mortgage and the bills and stuff so I wasn’t able to save up as much as I should have. So I got back and financially I wasn’t stable. I reached out to my parents and luckily they were able to accommodate and I stayed with them for a while.
And then I knew I wanted to go to school. That I knew. Even before I got out I knew I wanted to go to college. I was like, maybe I could stay in Virginia and go to school there but immediately that was out of the way. I was like, “I don’t want to stay in Virginia.” So I moved back up here to Jersey and I started researching different colleges up here. I always wanted to go to John Jay. Even before I left for the military, I wanted to go to John Jay because it’s very cop oriented and I wanted to do law enforcement so I always wanted to go there. I reached out to them and I was like, “hey!”
It was actually the veteran’s club. At the time we didn’t even have a veteran’s coordinator at my school so it was just a club of students. Luckily they had just been through the process themselves so I reached out to them and I’m like, “hey, I just got out. I’m looking to go to school. Is my tuition covered? Is it not?” Just trying to get all the details. Luckily my tuition – well, at first – was covered fully and then that’s a whole other battle with school in regards to tuition. So luckily I was able to go through school and I got my whole degree and I didn’t have to pay anything.
RH: So you did go to John Jay?
CV: Yes. I graduated from there last December.
RH: Oh! OK. Cool. So that would have been December of 2014?
RH: OK. Excellent.
CV: December 2014. Yeah, because it was just this last December I graduated.
RH: How long have you been working at Guggenheim for?
CV: At Guggenheim? I’ve been working for about two years overall. I started as a summer intern with them. I actually got my foot in through the door because of their Veteran’s Transition Assistance Program. I was like the pilot. It was myself and two other veterans who were in the pilot program. Luckily everything went really well so then the following summer they ended up getting twelve instead of just the three. I love paying it forward, especially for veterans. Aside from that they have all these different aspects to it.
RH: Have you joined any veterans-related organizations?
RH: Which ones?
CV: At school, once I got in touch with the veteran’s club at my school, I was super involved with them. We went through a lot of transitions and a lot of changes. I feel like everything is about timing so, for whatever reason during that time that I was there, I was the secretary, the vice-president and the president of the veteran’s association. I was also a part of student council as well for one year but I was very involved with all the clubs and very involved with the school.
When I first got there we barely had the size of a closet for a room. Now we have an entire section for us. Now we have a lounge, we have a kitchen area, a computer lab. We have a veteran’s club room plus we have a veteran’s coordinator. I was actually on the hiring committee for him and he’s awesome. He’s been there for maybe two years now. We also got a new – in order to get certified we got a new certifying official.
Yeah, so I’ve been super involved with them. I’ve made connections with the president of the school on numerous occasions and I’m always advocating on behalf of veterans and veteran needs. Even around school – just little simple stuff. I’d see somebody with a backpack on and I’d be like, “hey. Were you in the military?” Luckily our school CUNY-wide is the largest veteran population. Sometimes people don’t want to identify as veterans. Sometimes people are just like, “alright, I served. I want nothing to do with that.” They completely disconnect from it which I understand or sometimes people just don’t feel comfortable sharing their stories or their experiences. But luckily we had the lounge and a lot of the veterans would come in. Even if they don’t talk to you at least they’re using the computer or they’re watching TV or doing something. Yeah, so I was very involved with that.
And then again, at Guggenheim, I was part of the veteran’s transition program committee. I was on the committee for that as well. And then, like I said, I was part of the pilot program so it was myself and two other students, two other veterans, and then from there it kind of shifted to – well, this is now the second year that they’ve had it. Last year it was twelve this year it was thirteen veteran interns and they have all different aspects of it. My main focus on the committee was volunteerism. We reached out to – this is so loud [helicopter flies overhead]. We reached out to an organization and we did volunteer work with them and it was a veteran-based volunteer opportunity so all the veterans loved it. So I was pretty proud of that. It was pretty cool.
RH: Cool. Good to go. Do you still communicate with anybody from your unit?
CV: I do. Coincidentally enough, just the other day I ran into this girl that I haven’t spoken to since deployment in New York.
RH: Oh wow.
CV: Yeah. I was just walking down the street and I ran into her. I was like, “oh my God! I haven’t seen you in years! What’s up?” [RH laughs] So we sat there for like a good hour and we were just catching up. And then another one of my guys that I deployed with, coincidentally enough, we had a sister squadron and I was friends with them but not too good of a friend with him but once we got back we became closer. He recently graduated as a pilot, as an officer, so he went from enlisted to officer’s school, or to officer training. So we went up there to Rhode Island for his graduation and I ran into one of the guys that I deployed with there, so I was able to catch up with him. Aside from my actual friend, another guy. His wife was there too so I was able to catch up with them which was nice. Then I have another friend, he’s currently attached to the Blue Angels. He’s about to get married so I’m planning to go to his wedding. Another one invited me to his wedding and I couldn’t make it and I felt super bad about it. A lot of them I also communicate through facebook, too. Luckily for facebook I’m able to communicate with them. So I’ve been kind of in touch with just about everyone, not obviously as consistently or as frequently as I would like to but definitely I still try to communicate with them when I can.
RH: Alright. Good to go. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking? I know that you weren’t in Iraq but do you have any feelings on it?
CV: Yes. How do I feel about it? I don’t even know how to answer that question. I have a lot of mixed emotions about it. I don’t even know where to start but I feel like we’ve been to war for so long at this point that I feel like, no matter what we do at this point, it’s going to be irrelevant. Nothing’s really going to change, you know? I feel like the States always has such a playing hand in everything and the States has been in connection with them since the early 90s when the World Trade Center was first bombed. It’s just been such a long lasting issue and it’s, I don’t know, I feel like you pull the troops but they’re still going to be there and God knows if they’re ever going to attack us again, do you know what I mean? They’re just too many unknowns. But I don’t know. I agree that it’s something that needs to be rectified but it makes no sense for us to go in and rectify it when its own country isn’t really doing anything about it either because as soon as we start pulling out troops, the same shit happens again and we can’t leave the troops there for the rest of their lives, you know? So you go in and you train them, you train their militants, but then they get overridden. So it’s kind of like, I don’t know. I don’t even know. It’s complicated.
RH: Alright. I have a couple of spiritual questions. So has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
CV: Spiritually. It’s affected me spiritually because I feel like I definitely don’t have the same perspective or the same world views that I had before I deployed. I know it sounds so corny to say but, before I felt like the United States was the greatest country in the world. Nobody could say anything wrong about America which I felt that way because my parents are immigrants. Coming from their country and coming from their way of life it is. But then you deploy and you see things from a different perspective and you’re like, “alright, maybe America isn’t the greatest in the world.” So it definitely changed my world views.
In regards to spiritually, I also feel like, I don’t know, I’m just not the same person. It’s hard for me to relate with civilians. I know that sounds silly to say but it is. It’s hard for me to relate to civilians because sometimes they’ll complain about stuff and I’m like, “what the fuck are you talking about right now? Honestly, stop. Just fucking stop, alright?” [both laugh] Or I hate when people say to me, I hate when people say to me, “oh well, the only experience you had was in the Navy.” I’m like, “what do you mean the only experience I had?” So everything I did was irrelevant, right? The only thing that matters right now is here, right? What? It’s like, “you have no idea. Literally, you have no idea.” But it’s fine. Whatever. To each their own I guess.
Also, I’ve always been a world traveler. I’ve always wanted to see different countries, see different perspectives, get entrenched in their cultures. I remember when I was seventeen I made a trip out to DR randomly with my parents. I think it was the first trip I ever made out of the country, aside from Canada. I was seventeen and from there it kind of lit something inside and I was like, “there’s so much more to see than what we see every day in our country.” And again, I love the United States, I’m very proud of it, it is an amazing country. Just recently I made a trip out to Africa. My sister is in the Peace Corps and I went to her village and there’s no running water. They live in mud huts.
RH: Where in Africa exactly?
CV: In Zambia. And a majority of the country lives that way. I go there and I’m like, “this is such a simple way to live.” It’s just so different to see it. You would never imagine it. There’s no technology, there’s no nothing, barely electricity. You see these people and they’re so happy and they’re so content with their lives. And then you come here, especially in the city, and people are just so miserable and so uptight and so ungrateful for what they have. So ungrateful. It’s difficult to communicate that with people because they just will never understand it. They won’t.
RH: Where are your parents from?
CV: So my parents are originally from Colombia but I didn’t grow up with my biological family. I was put into foster care when I was eight years old and I grew up with a Peruvian family. I consider myself more Peruvian than Colombian because that’s the culture I grew up around.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
CV: Absolutely. [laughs] I was actually just going through this recently because I had one of my friends just recently pass away too.
RH: I’m sorry to hear that.
CV: It’s OK. I feel like I don’t put such an emphasis on work anymore. I feel like before, I feel like in the military you’re in the military and that’s your job but it’s not your job, it’s your life. It’s your life. It’s everything. You have to do what you’re told when you’re told especially when you’re getting ready to deploy or deployed you have no control over what’s going on. Everything is told to you and everything is directed to you. It’s a pretty simple way of life. You just follow orders and do what you’re told and stay out of trouble and you’re good! [laughs]
In the civilian world, I feel like – I’ve recently just come into this question myself –I’m like, “how can you work a job day in, day out, work so many hours and be so unhappy?” I guess that’s one of the things that the Navy or my experience in the Navy taught me is, yeah, I worked really shitty hours and, yes, I worked really long days but I was content with what I was doing. I was happy with what I was doing. I felt like I was making a difference, right?, and then here you come back to your civilian life and you don’t get that same kind of gratification, I guess. I feel like I am making a difference in what I’m doing in my job but I feel like – I guess, because, when you’re in the military for the most part it’s a team environment. You feel like you can directly connect and relate with people that are going through the exact same thing you’re going through, right? Or similar as what you’re going through. Whereas, in the civilian world it’s kind of like this is your job, you do your job, and there’s no people to surround you to relate with you in that regard.
I feel like I work a lot better with team environments. That’s one of the things that I miss about the military, too. Everything is very team oriented and in the civilian world it’s a little more individualistic. Everybody just does their own thing and revolves themselves around their own world but they’re not seeing the difference that they’re making. They’re not making a difference in their community. You’re barely making a difference in your own family’s life because you’re really not there enough.
So, spiritually, again I equate it to spiritually because it’s one of the things that I’m questioning myself now. How much of an emphasis do I really have to put into my job working so many hours when I could be spending that time with the people that I love and the people that I care about? Because life can’t be taken for granted. It can’t. You don’t know how long you’re on this world for. You don’t know how long. You don’t. You just don’t know how long you’ll be here for. Maybe it’s because of my experience in the military. I lost a few people. And just recently I lost one of my – just throughout life I’ve lost some people so any time something death-related happens, you always question yourself. You kind of have to reevaluate your life. Am I doing what I really want to do? Am I doing something that’s really going to make a difference?
RH: Alright. Good to go. So to shift it up a little bit, what’s your happiest memory of the entire time you served?
CV: Happiest? Happiest…the entire time I served. That’s a good one. There’s a lot to think of there. It’s funny because I never really thought about this. [laughs] I guess my happiest would be when…I know it sounds really selfish for me to say but I think my happiest was before deployment when we would do work ups and we would travel a lot. So I would spend a lot of time with the guys that I worked with in work but outside of work too. We’d go out for drinks, we’d grill, we’d go to the club and we got wasted and we chilled together. It was like, again, it sounds selfish because at the time I was married so I probably should say that the happiest was when I was with him but it wasn’t. It was when I was out with them just doing my own thing and just experiencing the whole Navy life.
And people always looked out for you in the Navy. Well, not always. There was plenty of times when things got out of control or out of hand but luckily I was surrounded by a good group of people so we always looked out for each other. My happiest was probably pre-deployment because we just spent all this time together and we were all on the same mission and the same mentality and, again, all of us were going through it. Everybody left their families at home and now we’re here so what are we going to do to get each other through this? Obviously, still communicate with your family at home but we’ve got to do what we’re here to do.
RH: Alright. Good to go. A question that is very near and dear to my heart. How were the Corpsmen on your deployment?
CV: The Corpsmen actually were really cool. I didn’t interact with them too much. We had one Corpsman on the flight deck that would handle the flight schedule because there’s a lot of risk that goes into flight schedule so if, God forbid, sometimes we would have people fall out too so at one point they made us wear camelbacks on us at all times because you just get so dehydrated and running around because it’s super fucking hot out there. Talk about a hundred and ten degree weather and you’re fully clothed from head to toe.
So the Corpsman on the flight deck I didn’t interact with too much but we also had our little crew down below and they were cool. We had a Corpsman attached to our squadron and I’m actually still in touch with him on facebook. He was really cool. I had a good relationship with him. Again, I didn’t interact with him as much but he was cool. He was nice.
RH: What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
CV: I miss a lot. First and foremost I miss the people. Secondly I miss the structure. I miss the hierarchy. I miss just knowing, just being familiar with the whole culture. You would have people that would be in for twenty plus years and they didn’t do shit but they still had your respect because they’ve put in so much time. Not that they didn’t do shit because they’re super knowledgeable and they would step in when they have to but hands on stuff they wouldn’t do. So that sense of knowledge is something that I miss.
I guess I just miss the way of life too because I feel like, personally, I felt like we were very well taken care of. If for whatever reason you needed something with an issue financially, you would reach out to someone on base and they’ll help you reassess your financial issues or if you were having – something I did on deployment too – if you were having spiritual issues, you would reach out to your chaplain. I don’t know. I felt like there was a lot of resources to support and to help us and then, once you get out, it’s not the same. Yes, there are resources but you have to go out there and you have look for them. And sometimes people say that it’s actually a resource and it’s really not – there’s ulterior motives behind it. So that sense of looking out for each other and taking care of each other – I mean, obviously sometimes people would drop the bomb because the suicide rate is so high, right? And divorce rates are super high too [laughs] but I guess just knowing that you have a job and you know your job and you’re familiar with it and, even if you’re not familiar with it, you reach out to someone that is familiar with it and they can guide you through it. You research it. I don’t know.
Again, just knowing that you’re making a difference, I guess. I guess in the civilian world if you know, or if you have a job, I guess it depends on how attached you are to your job, too. If you are really attached to your job I guess that you would feel like you make a difference but, again, coming from a worldview perspective, am I really making that much of a difference? So that’s just something that I personally struggle with.
RH: What was the best food on the ship?
CV: Uhhh! The food was so gross! [both laugh] I hated it. Literally, I lost like twenty pounds while on deployment because it was just so gross. [laughs] But I think the best food was, sometimes they would do Sunday socials where they would bring ice cream out and you could make your own sundaes and stuff. That was nice. And then, food-wise, sometimes I think – what holidays were we out there for? Thanksgiving because I didn’t get back until November and unfortunately I missed it but they said they had a whole plethora of food and sometimes they’ll give us steak and shrimp like a surf and turf. The steak was horrible but it was nice compared to what we usually get, right? The usual food is not good at all. Usually I would just stick to the salads but sometimes the salads – there’s one time I found a maggot in my salad. [laughs] yeah! I was like, “aww.” I’m not going to eat that over the weekend. [both laugh] That’s pretty fucking gross.
RH: That’s nasty. [laughs]
CV: Yeah! But usually just chicken fingers and – it all depends on who works the galley, too. If you have a good group of people who work in the galley and take at least a little bit of pride in what they’re doing then sometimes they’ll hook you up. And if they’re working – that was one of the perks that we had. If we had flight schedule and we came down in our flight deck gear, they’d let us get head of line because sometimes the lines would be outrageous. Depending on the food too, you’d have to wait online for a half hour, forty-five minutes, an hour. It would all depend. So if you were working flight schedule it would just be like, “I’m working flight schedule, head of line.” And they would just let you head straight from the line. And officers. Even though Chiefs and officers barely ever ate at our galley, when they did they would get head of the line privileges too. But I guess the steak and shrimp. Sometimes we would get that. That was pretty cool.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was the best chow hall stateside?
CV: Chow hall stateside?
CV: Stateside? Ooh. Ugh. Stateside, I didn’t really eat too many chow halls so I would want to say the one in, I guess the only one I really ate at was in Norfolk because that’s where I was stationed at first. And then when I went to Virginia Beach I don’t think I really ever ate at the chow hall.
Oh no wait, I’m lying. I know. Fallon, Nevada because we would do our detachments there sometimes and they would make you omelettes. You could just pick whatever you wanted on the omelette and it was friggin’ awesome. So Fallon, Nevada definitely had the best chow hall.
RH: What’s the funniest story you have?
CV: Ah, funniest. [laughs] It’s completely inappropriate but I guess the funniest would be, I was on deployment with our guys and it was one of our guys’ birthday. Another one of our guys decided to give him a lap dance for his birthday. [laughs] So we start playing this music and, all of a sudden, they grab him and sit him down on a chair and he starts dancing on it and I was just like, “uggh! So gross!” [laughs] That had to be the funniest thing that happened. It was completely inappropriate but completely fucking hilarious. It was like, “ahh! This is so gross.” [laughs] It was like, “what are you doing?” Everybody was dying. It was just so hilarious. Because it was so spontaneous too. It was like, “it’s his birthday? I’m going to give him a lap dance.” Like, “uhh!” [laughs] That would be the funniest, yeah.
RH: If you could communicate something to young sailors who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
CV: If I could communicate something it would be to, I guess it would be to take pride in what you do and take pride in what you’ve done. I feel like sometimes I get into this disconnect with civilians because, again, I feel like sometimes they take things for granted. They take the sacrifices that people have made for granted. They take the sacrifices of us losing our lives – not us, personally – but people losing their lives out there and sacrificing everything. Some people do come back with PTSD unfortunately but all these sacrifices that they make, really it comes down to wanting to make a difference.
I feel like it’s different compared to the past wars where people were drafted whereas now we’ve lifted our hand and we’ve volunteered for this, right? We know what we’ve gotten ourselves into so there are going to be a lot of sacrifices that are going to have to be made, personal-wise and career-wise. But just know that what you’re doing is making a difference. It’s more significant than some people are willing to admit, unfortunately. And also, don’t let it get to your head either. You always have to be humble about what you’ve done. Yes, you’ve made sacrifices and, yes, take pride in what you’ve done but don’t let it completely disconnect you from the rest of the world because the world is an amazing place and there is a lot to see and a lot to experience.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
CV: Umm, anything I would like to address? No. I mean, I am very interested in the project that you’re doing.
RH: Thank you!
CV: I feel like it’s a great idea. I know there’s been other projects like it as well and I think it’s good for people to talk about their experiences while serving. One of the things I’ve realized is, for instance the Vietnam era, they felt completely isolated and completely neglected and they didn’t feel like they were accepted back into their communities the way that they should have been. And in current wars, too. Some people are called some really nasty names and some people are completely disrespected and stuff like that so I feel like it’s, no matter what, war always intermingles with politics. I feel like everyone’s personal experience and everyone’s opinion is completely different.
I hate when people say, “oh well, you went to war. Politically, what do you identify with?” Yes, I understand politics plays a big role in it but get to know the person. Don’t just assume that, oh, you’ve been to war so this is it. I feel like sometimes it’s so stereotypical, right? It’s like, “oh, you went to war. You were in support of war.” Yeah, so maybe I was and a lot of people were and maybe they did some things that maybe they didn’t necessarily want to do but, aside from the politics, at the end of the day it’s still a person. It’s still a human being and I think that sometimes people just forget how to treat each other right and with respect – with mutual respect. So hopefully with us talking about our experiences, everyone’s experience is unique to their own. If everyone is talking about their experiences, civilians and other military people, maybe we can learn something from each other.
RH: If you could communicate something to women who were joining the Navy, would there be anything unique that you would say?
CV: You have to become very adaptable. If you’re not, you have to be. You have to grow a thick skin because it’s a man’s world. The military is a man’s world. Civilian life is a man’s world. [laughs] The world is a man’s world which is fine. Sometimes you just have to take it for what it is. I guess that’s one of my personal things too is the fact that, nothing against men that have served, but I feel like sometimes – especially during the Vietnam era, too – it’s like I introduce myself to people and I’m like, “oh yeah, I’m a veteran. I served five years in the Navy.” They’re like, “what?!” They’re so skeptical and I’m like, “why can’t you believe that?” Yes, I’ve served. I feel like sometimes the reaction to it is not necessarily the reaction I would want to get.
In regards to women, be adaptable and take care of yourself. Be on your toes because unfortunately in the military, in the military culture, there’s a lot of alcohol that’s involved. Sometimes things get carried away so be on your toes, take care of yourself. Women are social creatures by nature, I feel, so just try and find someone that’s going to be there for you throughout the journey and always find people that you can communicate with too because I feel like women do much better job of communicating than men [laughs] and they need that. They need to communicate and express themselves so, yeah, just do that. Keep your head down. Be observant but adapt and just know that, even if you are a woman, what you’re doing is going to make a difference too. You are making a difference too, right? Everyone’s attitude is different
And the woman’s role in the military has changed dramatically, too. Like I said, I was up on the flight deck. I did all kind of stuff as a mechanic and I’m proud of what I did but there’s plenty of other women that did other jobs and they did their job. So that’s what it comes down to. As long as you’re doing your job to the best of your ability then that’s what anyone can ask of, right?
RH: Alright. Good to go. Last question. What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
CV: Am I most proud of? I think I am most proud of my deployment. I’m most proud of my time in service overall but, specifically, my deployment because I feel like prior to that we do all this training and all this preparation for deployment and then when you actually do it, it’s like, “this is what we’ve been preparing for. This is what we are here to do.” So I think that has to be my proudest moment. It’s the fact that I did deploy during a time of war. Not many people can say that. I was on a flight deck carrier. I worked on the flight deck – one of the most dangerous places in the world to work on. I felt like I was up there making a difference for our own, you know? We were out there in support of our troops on the ground so we were making a difference for them as well. Who knows what difference we made but hopefully we did make a difference.
RH: Anything else?
CV: No. Not that I can think of.
RH: Alright. Well, thank you very much!
CV: Thank you!