I met Fallon through a Facebook group. She has an interesting story. She has been deployed twice, once to the Horn of Africa and also to Japan on a Navy Destroyer. I think you will enjoy hearing her experience because it isn’t something you normal hear about. It definitely meets the classification of different type of deployment!
Rank during deployment:
Lieutenant Junior Grade (O-2)
Branch of Service:
Current rank/current job if you have left the military:
Just resigned from the reserves as a Lieutenant Commander (O-4), currently a contractor working with the Navy.
Where did you deploy to?
In 2006 I deployed on a ship to the Horn of Africa/Red Sea/Arabian Gulf areas.
What was you or your team’s mission?
Our ship was tasked with a variety of things, including but not limited to anti-piracy operations (especially off the horn of Africa)
What was your job?
At the time, I was the fire control Officer on the ship, so I was responsible for a division of sailors that were educated and trained to maintain the Aegis Weapon System aboard a US Navy destroyer. I supervised them in their daily tasks, including doing routine maintenance, troubleshooting and repair, training, upkeep of spaces and equipment, etc. I also helped to write ship’s instructions and stood watch as an anti-air warfare coordinator, which involves watching the area around the ship or ships in company to ensure that all possible threats that could come from the air (planes, missiles, etc.) were identified and closely tracked.
When I was stationed in Japan 2011-2012, I was a Weapons Officer aboard a US Navy destroyer, so I ran a department and supervised a number of junior officers and senior enlisted personnel as they managed their divisions. I was overall responsible for everything weapons-related on the ship, including not only maintenance and upkeep, but training, use, etc. as well.
What cultural differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
We had port visits in Dubai (UAE), Rhodes, Greece, Seychelles, and Bahrain. In Dubai, I visited a few shopping malls and noticed the obvious difference in dress between our American sailors and locals. They wore head to toes garments (even the men) and the women wore hijabs with different amounts of their heads and faces showing.
When they walked, the men typically walked together (sometimes even holding hands). The women walked separately and behind the men. As opposed to seeing couples walking in a mall in the US holding hands, for example. In certain areas, we could not wear our uniforms off of the ship, which is different from being in homeport (Norfolk, Virginia) or anywhere in the US and being able to wear them out.
Was it for safety reasons or another reason you couldn’t wear your uniform in some places?
I have also been stationed in Japan for a year and a half, which the Navy calls “Forward Deployed” and the cultural differences there are pretty big. They are a lot more diminutive in public than Americans are – you will hear few people laughing or sharing loud conversations in public spaces. They are outwardly polite to absolutely everyone, which I find in the United States you don’t always see, even from client-facing professionals like customer service people. There are many other differences that I would be happy to discuss!
What landscape differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
In Japan, it is not uncommon to see lots of land in between small, very crowded towns and cities. The urban landscape is very different. Buildings, cars, etc. in Japan are very small in size compared to the United States. If you walk into a restaurant there, you may be in one room the size of an average US living room. Here, the average restaurant, like TGI Fridays, may take up half of a block and have 12 or 20 foot ceilings.
There is a lot of easily accessible geographic features in Japan that you can see from everywhere you go: waterways, mountains, ocean, which are obviously more localized in the US unless you live in a mountainous region or near the coast.
In the middle eastern countries, the landscape often seemed to be much more barren and similar to Japan. There is no urban sprawl like in the US where one city melts into another. Buildings are often smaller or in some places of poorer construction. In Dubai, which is a big city, the buildings are tall, similar to city skyscrapers here. But there aren’t as many big cities – or at least, it didn’t seem so from my limited vantage point.
Were there any particular foods that you ate while overseas that was different from the United States?
In Greece, where we stopped, we ate a lot of fresh food – fresh made hummus, locally produced olive oil. if you ordered fish, you were brought a whole fresh-caught fish from nearby.
In Japan, there is a large variety of foods that we try to replicate in the US (like sushi), as well as other ones that we don’t really have.
What was the hardest thing you faced with the cultural difference in the country you were deployed to?
In some areas, if you were female you weren’t allowed to transmit on the radio off of the ship because the attitude is so different toward females. Anywhere else, you use shipboard radios to talk to other vessels and do your job whether male or female.
In Japan, there were often establishments where no one at all spoke any English. Which is very different than other countries which have romance/Germanic languages (such as in Europe) where many students learn to speak English. There is also no push for people to have to speak/learn English in Japan. And in some establishments, they will politely ask you to leave because you do not speak Japanese. They know they cannot communicate with you.
What challenges did you face?
Challenges on deployment are not necessarily limited to the cultural aspects. I think it depends on service that you are in and the limitations of where you are deployed to. You don’t really have a support system. And as humans, we all go through challenges and difficulties. Such as, issues with our significant others or families, unsureness about our job or our job satisfaction, future plans, etc. While you are deployed on a ship, there are 200 + people around you going through the same or similar things. Everyone has their own stuff to deal with, so usually other people may not have the emotional capacity to help you or be supportive.
Your schedule at sea often leaves you stressed out and sleep deprived, which tends to exacerbate (sometimes artificially) any problems you are having or think you may be having. An email from a significant other that is shorter than usual might send you into a tailspin. Thinking that something is going on in your relationship. And it may cause you to worry for 2 days if you have to wait to hear from them. It is hard to call anyone at home to settle problems because there are very few ways to call out when you are underway.
What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?
I remember being very tired, and spending a few weeks trying to qualify at a new watch station. During which time I was standing the watch I was assigned, standing a second watch under instruction of a qualified person to learn to do that job, studying for the board to achieve that qualification, and still doing my day job. I was very rewarded after I achieved the qualification, but I also remember just feeling burned out.
What question do you get when people find out you deployed?
“Is it weird to be on a ship with men and women together?” “Do you have a lot of people hooking up with each other on board?” “Do you get to have normal working hours even while you’re out to sea?” Many others, and they differed based on the position I held at the time. The most common question I get I think is “Did you every shoot a missile at someone?” Or “Have you ever killed somebody?”
Today is Day 12 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories. To see the whole series click here. Yesterday I shared another US Navy Officer’s story as a female serving in the Navy. Tomorrow, I will share my third Spouse Spotlight: Knowing Doesn’t Make it Easier. Don’t miss a post! Join my email list today, click here.