Darren Benson. New York City. 2007. Photographer unknown.

Darren Benson

Darren deployed twice aboard the USS Iwo Jima, LHD 7, as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate Handler. During his deployments he patrolled the Mediterranean and assisted with a number of flight operations. The Iwo Jima evacuated US personnel from Lebanon in 2006 and conducted anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa in 2008. After leaving the Navy he got married and received his BA in Project Management.


Interview conducted over the phone on May 2, 2015.

Present: Richard Hayden and Darren Benson

Transcribed by Richard Hayden


Richard Hayden: What is your full name?

Darren Benson: Darren Benson.

RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?

DB: The Navy from 2005 to 2009.

RH: What was your rate when you got out?

DB: I was ABH. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate-Handler.

RH: What rank?

DB: E4. I was up for E5 when I got out.

RH: What ship were you on?

DB: The USS Iwo Jima [LHD 7].

RH: What was that?

DB: It was an LHD, amphibious assault ship. We were the biggest amphibious assault ship in the fleet at the time.

RH: What motivated you to join the military?

DB: I made a lot of stupid mistakes when I was a kid that involved a lot of bad things, a lot of bad people. I wanted to do something better with my life.

RH: Why did you pick the Navy?

DB: Actually, I almost went Army. I was actually going to sign the contact with the Army and they offered me a signing bonus to go infantry. I didn’t really want to go infantry but it was a fairly large signing bonus. The day I went to go sign the contract, the recruiter didn’t show up. I ended up going to talk to the Navy and ended up leaving for the Navy.

RH: Why did you pick the rate that you did?

DB: I came in as non-designated and that’s where they put me. They no longer have undesignated as an opportunity to go in as. You just have to pick a rate.

RH: How did your family feel about your decision?

DB: They were OK with it. They understood that I wanted something better for my life and that was the only way I was going to get it.

RH: Where were you on September 11th?

DB: I was actually in school. I was going to an alternative school at the time and we watched it on TV.

RH: Do you have any specific memories of that day?

DB: Not really. I just remember sitting in class watching it all day long and never really did any work all day. We just sat there and watched the TV.

RH: Where did you go to boot camp?

DB: Great Lakes, [Illinois] near Chicago.

RH: What was boot camp like?

DB: At first it was very hard and while you’re in it’s very hard. It’s the worst time of your life. And then once you get out you realize that it was actually very easy. It went by actually fairly quick once it got over with.

RH: What was your follow-up training like?

DB: It wasn’t much since I was undesignated. I went to Pensacola, Florida for about two weeks and basically just learned Navy standards – how to stand watch and things like that because I was undesignated.

RH: Did your training prepare you for deploying?

DB: Yes, pretty much. They taught us a lot of firefighting and medical stuff at my training after boot camp just because, like I said, I didn’t have a designation so they pretty much just taught us everything.

RH: How did you eventually become an ABH? Did that happen on the ship or did you have to go to an A School for that?

DB: No. That’s where they put me once I got onto my ship. They put me in V3 which is the hangar bay and then I also worked on the flight deck when we went out to sea. That’s where they stuck me and I just stayed in that rate.

RH: What does an ABH do exactly?

DB: We’re aircraft handlers. An LHD is not big enough to have your typical jets that take off and land. So we have Harriers and mostly helicopters and things like that because the flight deck is quite a bit smaller. So what we did is we towed, directed and stored all the jets and helicopters.

RH: How long was your standard watch?

DB: It varies. It all depends on how many people were on the ship at the time. The more people on the ship, the shorter watches you would stand because there’s more people in each duty section. So sometimes there were four hour watches, sometimes there were twelve hour watches. It all depended on how many people we had at the time.

RH: Were you trained in all aircraft or did you have one specific aircraft that you worked with?

DB: All aircraft. Mostly Harriers for the jets and then as far as the helicopters, it was pretty much all helicopters. We had to learn different towing capacities. All the different variations of each helicopter have different towing capacities, propeller wingspans, the weights, everything like that.

RH: Do you remember what kind of helicopters exactly?

DB: We had CH-43s, 46s, I forget what they’re called now. The 46s. We also had [CH] 53s. We had Hueys. We had Cobras. We had Ospreys. The Ospreys actually didn’t come around until my second deployment.

RH: What was the best part of the job?

DB: Probably being up on the flight deck. I was in the middle of nowhere. All you see is water for miles.

RH: Did you have a particular aircraft that you really liked working on?

DB: I liked the Navy’s version of the 53s. It was just so much better. It was bigger and mean looking.

RH: How many times did you deploy?

DB: Twice.

RH: Twice? To where?

DB: All of them to the Middle East. Our ship was designed for quick deployment of Marines. We’d go get as close as we could to Afghanistan and Iraq and we’d deploy our Marines and then we’d back out and wait for them. Do you want to know as far as different ports we went to or as far as during Iraqi Freedom missions?

RH: Yes. So you deployed two times. What were the dates of each deployment?

DB: The first one was in 2006 and it was for six months. The second was in 2008 and it was for seven months.

RH: Before we get into those deployments, where were you stationed when you deployed?

DB: Norfolk, Virginia.

RH: Norfolk? OK. Let’s go ahead and talk about your deployment in 2006. What was the mission of the Iwo Jima on that deployment?

DB: That particular deployment was basically just, during Iraqi Freedom, we went over there and dropped a bunch of Marines off, their LCACs and everything like that. Basically, just patrol the seas and keep an eye on security and everything in the Mediterranean. We also, in the middle of it, got a call for Lebanon at the time when Lebanon broke out in 2006.

RH: What happened exactly that you got this call?

DB: We were the closest ship in the area and there was a lot of fighting going on over there. We had a lot of civilians that we had to go and get. We were the first ship over there evacuating all the US citizens that were over there in the embassy and things like that. We were actually right off the coast watching tanks blow up buildings. We would send off jets to go help patrol our boots on the ground. They would keep watch from the skies and come back missing bombs. We’d load them back up and send them back off.

RH: Interesting. So you both dropped Marines off and supported air missions in the Mediterranean, correct?

DB: Yes.

RH: OK. Did you also receive America evacuees from Lebanon?

DB: Yes.

RH: What was that like?

DB: Very crowded. [laughs] Our ship was fairly smaller than the carrier. It’s not a large ship so we put them wherever we had space for them. We had a few extra berthings open since the Marines were out on the ground so we put them in some of the berthings. They built up the hangar bay, the LCAC area. Basically wherever we had space is wherever we were putting them.

RH: Do you remember some of the reactions of the people? How did they respond?

DB: A lot of them were scared because there were a lot of children there as well. American citizens that were over there working had their families with them in the embassies and construction and whatever else they were doing over there at the time. So they had their families with them, children. So some were scared. Other ones were calm waiting to get out.

RH: Did the Iwo Jima actually bring them all the way back to the US or were they evacuated in the Mediterranean?

DB: No. We actually flew them to other ships and those ships brought them back because we were still on our mission. We were only halfway through our six month deployment.

RH: How long were you conducting operations in Lebanon?

DB: I’d have to say we were over in Lebanon for maybe about a week or so, maybe two weeks. Even after we got the US civilians out we stayed there for a little bit to monitor things until they kind of calmed down.

RH: You said that you observed tanks and some of the fighting on the ground there. Can you describe that a little bit? What were you able to see from the ship?

DB: A lot of explosions. Buildings blowing up. There were a lot of hills and mountains over where we were so we could see houses on the sides of hills and they were getting blown up. Buildings getting blown up. You could see tanks driving around and things like that and you could hear explosions everywhere. We were dropping bombs over there because they were shooting at us and they didn’t want us there so our jets had to defend themselves.

RH: Did the Iwo Jima receive direct fire at all?

DB: No. They tried but we were far enough away where they didn’t have anything that could reach us.

RH: What else was significant about that deployment?

DB: It was my first deployment so I was able to see a lot of things, meet a lot of people. A few of the people I made friends with didn’t come back, a few of the Marines. Because it was the Marines a few of them didn’t come back. I got to experience a lot of different things, new things, and open up my mind. I was nineteen years old at the time.

RH: Let me go into a little bit about the Iwo Jima. I know that you said that it was an amphibious assault ship. In your words, what was life on the ship like?

DB: A lot of work. When you’re out to sea, the air department does a lot of hours. My first deployment we were basically working seventeen hours on, seventeen hours off. We’d be working seventeen hours straight conducting flight operations. It was very hot. There were days where it got so hot we had to take all the aircraft off the flight deck and put them in the hangar bay because the tires were melting. Some days we had to go on hour rotations where you would be outside for an hour and then you’d go inside for an hour and then you’d come back out.

RH: How many people were actually on the Iwo Jima?

DB: I’m not even sure. A few thousand I think.

RH: Did you work with an air crew?

DB: Yes. There were Navy air crews, Marine air crews. They were all there. Most of the aircraft that were on our ship were Marines. A few were Navy. Most were Marine though.

RH: Were you in a division?

DB: Yes. My division was V3 which is the hangar bay. Basically the hangar bay is just for storing and maintenance and things like that – where they do maintenance or store aircraft that are not currently flying. Then we’d also go up to the flight deck and help out with flight operations as well. My first deployment I was new so basically all I did was, they would come in and land and I would take the chains and the chocks, chock them down, and then they would get fueled or wait to get moved over to somewhere else when they were done flying. Then when they’d get ready to take off I’d run out there, untie them, untie the chains, take the chocks out, run back out and then they would get directed out. My second deployment is when I actually started doing a lot more towing and directing.

RH: Aside from what we already spoke about, what were some of the other notable events of your first deployment?

DB: I got to see other countries. We pulled into a lot of countries and take a little bit of a break from the previous work days. We still had to work at most of the places we pulled into. We’d do a four or five hour work day and then we’d go out on the town and see the towns that we were in.

RH: Nice. Where did you make port calls?

DB: The first deployment it was a lot of Italy, France, Dubai and Bahrain, Cyprus. We were actually the last ship that was allowed in Cyprus for a few years. [laughs] It wasn’t a very good port for the US Navy.

RH: OK. Alright. [laughs] What was your favorite port?

DB: I’d have to either say Cyprus or Dubai.

RH: Why?

DB: Dubai is just amazing. If I had to describe it, it’s a mixture of LA, Vegas, Miami, New York all in one. It’s just amazing. Cyprus is more of a party place. A lot of celebrities have houses out there. It’s basically just an island full of clubs and bars so the younger me loved that. I was nineteen years old, you know? [laughs]

RH: Did you pass through the Suez Canal?

DB: Yes.

RH: What was that like?

DB: That was actually a bit of an experience the first time I went through. One side of the ship we had completely closed. We could not go outside the ship, we could not open any of the doors on that side because they didn’t want us there in the first place. The other side of the ship was open but even they had their guns and tanks pointed at us just watching making sure we go through and didn’t try anything. I guess they didn’t trust us to go through there.

RH: Interesting. Is there anything else about that deployment that was memorable?

DB: Not really. I was a nineteen year-old kid learning new things and I made some friends and lost some friends.

RH: What was the relationship like between the Marines and the sailors on the ship?

DB: It was pretty good. It’s not like you see in the media and on TV and things like that. We’ve got a little bit of a friendly rivalry but it’s more of a friendly rivalry. We joke around with each other and things like that but everybody was pretty friendly.

RH: Before we wrap up that first deployment, anything else?

DB: Not really, no.

RH: When did you get back from that first deployment?

DB: I don’t even remember. It was six months. We left in 2006. For Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and all that we were still on deployment so it had to be sometime, mid-summer maybe, of 2007.

RH: And you returned to Virginia, correct?

DB: Yes.

RH: What was the period in-between your first and second deployment like?

DB: Once you’re in your actual duty station it’s like a regular nine to five job. You go in, you do your job, you go home. Unless you have duty that day – once a week you have duty – depending on how many people are on the ship at the time. Some weeks, duty twice a week. You stand watch during your duty section days. You’d have to stay on the ship for twenty-four hours basically. You would do your regular work day with your division but you’d also be doing whatever you had to do with your duty section as well. And then we’d just stay on the ship for twenty-four hours. You’d sleep there and everything like that.

RH: What was Norfolk and Virginia like?

DB: It was very nice. I liked it. Sometimes I want to go back there. [laughs] It was nice. The ocean was right there. There wasn’t a lot of traffic. It wasn’t busy. I actually loved it. The weather was nice mostly, all year round. A lot of things to do there. Very cheap too.

RH: What was the training work-up to your second deployment like?

DB: Before each deployment we had to go to Earle, New Jersey. We’d go there for about a week and we’d load up on ammunition and things like that and the after deployment you offload ammunition. So we’d go there for a week, take on ammo and things like that, then we’d pull back into port and you would leave like a month later and go on deployment.

So it’s a lot of preparation making sure that the ship is up to par, making sure everything is running correctly. All the fire safety, medical safety, damage control was all updated. We’d get inspected and make sure we were sea-worthy. Everybody says their good-byes and then we leave.

RH: You said your second deployment you deployed in 2008, correct?

DB: Yes.

RH: What was the mission of the Iwo Jima on that deployment?

DB: Basically the same thing as the last deployment. It was always the same. I had more rank this time so I was doing a little more, mostly towing the aircraft. Now I could have a little more free will as to what I wanted to do and didn’t want to do. I always chose to tow the aircrafts. I did a little bit of directing the aircrafts as well.

This one was a little bit longer. We had to stay out a month longer. This one was seven months. It was basically the same. The only difference was instead of Lebanon we had to do a little pirate hunting because at that time a lot of pirates were in the area.

RH: Where was the ship deployed exactly?

DB: Mostly the Mediterranean, same as last time. We had to go close to Djibouti, Africa for the pirate hunting because once again we were the closest ship in the area. There was a pirate ship that attacked, I believe, it was some sort of cargo ship. It was an American cargo ship so we had to go hunt it down and correct that situation.

RH: As you were searching for the ship, what happened exactly?

DB: As far as the information we were given, there was a cargo ship that was en route delivering cargo and a pirate ship off the coast of Africa decided it wanted whatever was on the cargo so they tried to attack the ship. I’m not exactly sure. They didn’t seize the ship. I don’t know if they killed anybody or not. They don’t really give us that information. I know they did steal things and we had to basically go chase them down. Then we got close enough where we could deploy Navy SEALs to actually go in with their stealth boats and do what they needed to do.

RH: So you guys were able to apprehend the ship then, correct?

DB: Yes.

RH: Only as much as you’re allowed to say, what was that day like?

DB: Everybody was on high alert. There were a lot more watches out on the ship. It was nighttime when we finally got close enough where we decided to deploy the Navy SEALs. A few hours later – I was working nights at that time – a few hours later they came back and that was it. I’m not exactly sure what they did. I’m assuming they blew up the ship. I’m not exactly sure.

RH: Was that the only interdiction that you had on that deployment?

DB: Yes. Everything else was your basic readiness, patrolling, things like that that every Naval ship does on deployment.

RH: Any other notable experiences from that deployment?

DB: Not really. We pulled into Spain this time. That was a new one. We didn’t get a lot of port calls this time around. The Captain didn’t like to go in too much. We did some work with the Jordanian Army where our Marines were training their army. So we pulled into Jordan a lot but we couldn’t leave the base because they didn’t want us to go out on the town there for fear of things happening to us because a lot of areas of the Middle East did not like the presence of the US military.

RH: For each of these deployments what’s the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?

DB: Probably, I would have to say, it’s between the middle and the end. You start running out of decent food. They have all the junk food out there. There’s nothing that tastes good anymore. It’s all bland stuff that was thrown together. You’ve been out to sea for a long time. You miss your family. You know the end is right around the corner. And then probably the last three days or so because you can see land. They get you right into the port but they don’t pull in. They sit there for three days just right off the coast of Norfolk. Then the last day we pull in but we can’t leave the ship. They call it a Tiger Cruise. People’s families come on board and we go out to sea for a day. [laughs] So we’re still out to sea and we’re right there and we just can’t leave. [laughs]

RH: When your ship returned from deployment, I mean literally when it was pulling into Virginia, was there a ceremony and, if so, what was it like?

DB: Yes. There was a ceremony. A lot of civilians were there cheering you on. When you’re coming in everybody’s family is there cheering. There are signs, TV reporters, news reporters, everything. They’re all there waiting for you to pull in. There’s banners up and everything like that.

The second deployment was a little different because a lot of the people on the ship somehow contracted swine flu. They were not allowed to leave the ship until they were cleared. So a lot of them had to stay on the ship for a few extra days, a month. Things like that. It was actually a majority of the ship that had to do that.

RH: Ooh. [makes a sound acknowledging the hardship] What was the most challenging non-combat or non-operational aspect of deploying?

DB: Probably just not being with your family. You can’t see any of your family. Sometimes you can’t speak to them, especially when we did the Lebanon evacuation. All comm was silent. We had no communication with the outside world. Nothing. Sometimes that goes on for a couple of months – no communication with anybody, especially on that one. To me that was the hardest part which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to get out. Starting a family is too hard to do in the military, being married and things like that. You see far too many divorces in the military. Multiple times they get divorced. It’s very hard on a family. It’s very hard to have a family and the military’s point of view on it is kind of, if it didn’t come in your seabag then they don’t care. Basically if they didn’t supply it to you, if it doesn’t have anything to do with the military then they don’t really care too much. [laughs]

RH: Were you married while you were in?

DB: No. I didn’t married until after I got out.

RH: Did you find yourself maybe maturing or learning anything greater about the military or the world during your deployments?

DB: Oh, definitely yes. I was a child when I went in. I was nineteen years old when I went in. I knew nothing. I was only a year out of high school. Basically the military forced me to grow up very fast. It made you an adult right off the bat. You depended on yourself, you were self-sufficient and everything. You paid your own bills. You had to get your own place. You get your own car. Everything was on your own. It basically forces you to mature really fast, especially once you get on that first deployment. I don’t know how other ships are but we had a lot of Marines and there was still a lot of combat going so there were Marines that didn’t come back and that’s a big shock the first time you witness something like that.

As it goes on more and more and more, it becomes less of a shock. You almost become kind of immune to it. You expect it. You expect people not to come back. You don’t want it to happen but it’s part of what happens, you know?

RH: We’re going to move on to talk a little about your post-deployment experiences. What was the best and worst part about coming home from deployment?

DB: The best part was you get to go home and see your family. You take leave which is basically like a vacation. You go on vacation. You go home. You get about two weeks, whatever you want to take – you get up to two weeks if you have that amount of vacation days saved up or you can take less. It all depends on what you want to do or you don’t have to take any. I always took as much as I could. That way I could get as much time as I could going back home and spending time with my family. You go back to regular life and it’s great, I guess.

The only thing I miss that I’m out and the only thing I miss coming back from deployment was visiting other countries, the experiences you get in other countries. That’s about it. Other than that when you get back from deployment your life is so much better. The chow line is better, you can start eating better. [laughs] You have a social life.

RH: Did the Marines and sailors around you change after your deployment and, if so, how?

DB: Yes, kind of. We didn’t really see any of the Marines after that because they went back to Camp Lejeune which is in North Carolina and then we went back to Virginia. I still have a lot of friends that I had from the military. We’re all very close. We’re all basically like brothers. There were eight of us that were together almost every day whether we were on deployment or whether we were in port. We were pretty much together every day for the whole four years that we were in. Some of them are still in. We still speak to each other on a regular basis. So once we got back from deployment it was just regular guys hanging out, you know? Go to the club, go to bar, play Madden or whatever video game. We’d just hang out like regular people. When you’re not deployed the military is a regular job. You go in there, you do your job and you go home.

RH: How did your family respond to your deployments?

DB: They were alright with it. It’s hard when you speak to somebody every day and now you go for six, seven, eight, nine months you speak to them maybe once a month. Usually when we call we’re eight, nine, ten hours difference so it’s probably one o’clock in the morning where your family is but it’s two o’clock in the afternoon where you are. They get sad too, especially parents who have young children that go to the military because there are a lot of eighteen, nineteen year old kids in the military when they first join and parents miss their kids.

RH: We’re going to move onto civilian life a little bit. How has your military experience shaped your life since you got out?

DB: It definitely makes me a lot harder worker. I put in more hours and everything like that. I’m willing to do what needs to be done to get the job done. It made me a leader and take charge of things. It shaped me to do more with my life once I got out than just doing some regular job, working at a factory or something like that.

RH: What were some of the challenges you faced when you got out of the military?

DB: When I first got out, because I was still in Virginia, everybody always says being in the military sets you aside for jobs and things like that. It puts you above other people. When you’re in a military town it doesn’t do anything. People actually hold you to a higher expectation, especially police officers and things like that, to set examples. You really don’t set yourself aside from anybody in a military town because everybody there either did four, six or eight years. You don’t look better or anything. You actually have to leave that military town in order to set yourself ahead of other people that they just have a degree or field experience. You’ve got the military background, you’ve got field experience, you’ve got a degree, you’ve got this. So you had to leave.

When I first got out it was very hard. At that time the GI Bill was taking very long to kick in. It took about six months before I start getting paid. Unemployment took forever. I couldn’t find a job. For about six months I was living basically off of whatever I saved from the military and that was it, doing little odds and ends jobs here and there. I almost had to move back home. I almost lost my car, I almost lost may apartment, I almost had to move back home. And then everything started kicking in. Unemployment kicked in finally. It was a very hard transition. It takes a little bit to get going but once you get going, it’s very easy.

RH: Have you used the GI Bill?

DB: Yes.

RH: Did you get a degree with it?

DB: Yes. I got two degrees actually. I have an Associate’s in Drafting and Design and then I went back and got a Bachelor’s in Project Management.

RH: Outstanding. Alright. Have you used any other services provided by the VA?

DB: Not currently. One thing I can let people know that are getting out of the military is the VA is very slow. There is a lot of back up. It takes a long time to get things done. Don’t think it’s going to happen right away. There’s people that have been waiting years to start getting their benefits. One thing I am going to use though, definitely, is my VA loan for a house. Once I find a house I’m definitely using the VA loan. It’s a great loan. It basically guarantees you a loan with a low interest rate, low taxes, everything.

RH: Have you joined any veterans-related organizations?

DB: No. Not that I don’t want to, I just work a lot. I was in Virginia for a while and didn’t know if I was going to stay there or go back home and then I moved to New York and I didn’t know if I was going to stay here or move back to Virginia or what. Once I find a place where I’m going to stay then maybe.

RH: Let’s go ahead and move onto Iraq’s current state. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that everything in the Middle East is taking?

DB: I think it’s going in the same direction that it’s always been going. No matter what we do over there it’s going to be the same. You have a lot of extremists over there that are never going to settle. They’re never going to have the same point of view as everybody else. They’re always going to want to take over. There’s Muslim extremists – not your typical Muslims because they’re very peaceful – but the extremists they believe that there should be one race, one religion, one everything. If you don’t want to conform to that, you’re dead. They’ll kill you. There’s always going to be those extremists over there. They’re always going to try and take everything over and that’s just how it is. They’re never going to stop.

RH: Are there any lessons that you learned while you were over there that are relevant to the current situation?

DB: There are a lot of civilians over there that want us there to help. Whatever we see in the media, whatever people see in the media, and whatever their points of view are as far as we don’t belong there, we’re asked to be there. We’re asked to come over there. They do want us there. There are groups of people that don’t but for the majority, the politicians, the government and everything, they want us there to help them.

RH: Good to go. I’m going to ask some spiritual questions now. Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?

DB: Not really. It’s basically the same as it’s always been. I’ve always been a Christian. I’ve become closer to God since then. It hasn’t really changed anything I do, you know? I’m still the same. I grew up in a Christian family. I’m still Christian and still have my same beliefs.

RH: Actually, my next question which you kind of answered, has deploying affected you spiritually at all and, if so, how?

DB: No. Not really. It made me a lot more accepting, I guess. It brought me closer to what I believe in and I started believing it more wholeheartedly and accepting a lot more things than what I used to. I had a negative mindset before. A lot more accepting, I guess. That’s about it.

RH: Good to go. Let’s move on. What’s the happiest memory of the entire time you served?

DB: Probably just hanging out with my friends overseas. In Italy outside, summertime at a bar. Although it’s not summertime it feels like summer over there [laughs] but it’s wintertime. Just hanging out with my friends in another country, just relaxing outside. I actually met my wife while I was in the military at fleet week so that’s an amazing memory right there.

RH: Was fleet week in New York?

DB: Yes.

RH: Outstanding. Actually, if you’re comfortable, what was that story like?

DB: I believe it was our second fleet week. For our first fleet week we just went to Florida. The next year we to fleet week we went to New York and Florida. It just so happened that – my wife’s name is Tiffany – it just so happened that she was home from college. She was going to college in Chicago. It just so happens that she was home at the same time and she was in the city when we were in the city. Her and her friends and Renee, your co-worker, asked to take pictures with me and my friends so we took pictures, got to talking, stayed friends for a long time and then started dating probably after I got out of the Navy. Then we dated for a few years and then got engaged and got married. [laughs]

RH: What, if anything, do you miss about the military?

DB: Probably just the camaraderie with everybody there. It’s a brotherhood. It’s not just a job. It’s a brotherhood. Everybody’s there to help you personally. Everybody’s there. That’s the biggest part that I miss along with staying in a new country, seeing different countries. How many people can say they’ve been to Italy, France, the Middle East, Spain, all those places, all within a couple months’ time period.

RH: What was the best thing that the CSs made on the ship?

DB: I’m not sure. [laughs] Everything is pretty much the same. There don’t put a lot of flavor in anything because they don’t know who is allergic to what. They kind of make everything bland and then you just add in everything yourself. Since everything was bland I’d had to say the hamburgers and French fries because at least it’s the same everywhere you go. [laughs]

RH: What was the best chow hall in the Navy in your opinion?

DB: The only chow hall that I have ever been to was the one on my ship. I don’t really have a big opinion on that, you know?

RH: What’s the funniest story you have?

DB: We used to play a lot of jokes on each other. There was a bunch of guys that I worked with, we had a game where if you said something that you thought was funny and nobody laughed because they thought it was dumb, you’d have to do this silly little dance and they’d record it. One guy they made get on a megaphone and sing “I’m a Little Teapot.” [laughs]

RH: That’s cool. Good to go. If you could communicate something to young sailors that will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?

DB: Do your research. Know what you’re doing. Study up. Do what you’re told. Grow up very quick. [laughs] Don’t listen to what you hear in the media. Just do what you’re supposed to be doing and focus on that. If you start focusing on everything that’s going on around you, you’re going to take your focus off of what you need to be doing and that’s when accidents happen. It’s kind of hard to do especially if you’re married, wondering what’s going on back home and what your family’s doing. You’ve got to kind of put all that out of your mind and not even think about that stuff because it’s just going to hurt you in the long run. It’s just going to make things harder for you and you could get hurt.

RH: If you could say one word of wisdom for working on the flight deck, what would it be?

DB: Don’t get too comfortable. If you got too comfortable doing what you’re doing and you think you’re amazing at what you’re doing, that’s how you’re going to get hurt. There’s Chiefs that have been doing it for twenty years. They go out on the flight deck and they’ve been doing it for twenty years and they get comfortable and get their head chopped off by a helicopter blade because they’re not paying attention or they get too close to a jet when it’s taking off and it catches them. There was one ship on deployment with us and there was a jet taking off and it was at night and he was training somebody. He got too close to the flight line and when the jet took off, the wing on the fuel tank caught his lip and dragged him across the flight deck and ripped his face off. He was doing that job for fifteen years. Just don’t get comfortable. Anything can happen so don’t get too comfortable just because you’ve been doing something for so long.

RH: OK. Good to go. Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?

DB: Not really, not. Those were very good questions.

RH: Good. The last question I have is, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?

DB: Just finishing it, actually. Just finishing it and the chance to serve my country and represent my country. It gave me a lot of opportunity that I didn’t have before the military. Like I said, I was doing a lot of dumb things. I dropped out of school, lost scholarships so I would have had no future so just finishing the military to get those opportunities is, yeah.

RH: Alright. Good to go. Anything else?

DB: No.

RH: Alright. Thank you!