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After spending 4 years in the Navy, I was ready for a change. I was tired of the politics and having someone else dictate when and where I went. I wanted to sleep in a normal-sized bed not one called a coffin rack (actually, it was smaller than a coffin) and be able to wash my clothes during the day, not at 3 am like a bridge troll. Or the ultimate luxury, a Hollywood shower, that’s navy speak for a shower lasting longer than 5 minuets.
But as I was strapping myself into the stiff helicopter seat and blared the navy classic, Danger Zone. I had to gulp deep breaths and not let the tears spill onto my cheeks. Crying is not an approved collateral duty.
After years of planning this day and the excitement of leaving in a black hawk helicopter ride, I didn’t think it would feel this.
The Danger Zone
While enlisted in the Navy, my closest shipmates and I were obsessed with Top Gun and the Danger Zone. It was our own personal anthem. I had seen the movie before I joined, and it seemed weirdly appropriate to watch it again during boot camp as a treat for surviving battle stations (an intensive 36-hour test of everything we learned in boot camp).
Top Gun was an excessively highlighted version of Navy life which sidestepped the awkwardness of paperwork, duty, and cramped quarters. Navy life was very different from Hollywood’s version, but that didn’t mean I loved it any less.
A Flight-like Opportunity
When my four-year contract was going to expire, many other sailors were in my boat. We were deployed to the Persian Gulf, and there was a big push to get us off before the ship left the area. By the time I needed to leave, the regular seats were full. Instead of going out with all the other supplies and mail like I expected, I was selected for a black hawk helicopter ride.
I was ecstatic to have this special ride, but I wasn’t able to dwell on it. I had a day to finish my departure preparations. Lulled into a lax state after months of delays, I rushed around finishing paperwork, packing clothes, and saying goodbye.
When the morning finally came, I was numb to reality. It wasn’t until a sailor was rushing me out to the helicopter that I realized I would never again call this ship home.
I would never again see a jet shoot off the flight deck or have to close a watertight hatch. I would never hear the call for lights out or the swell of pride when my ship bellowed her horn as we reached shore. It would be the last time I would feel the gentle rock of the ocean cushioned by the weight of a 100,000 ton ship. Even though I was happy to leave the politics behind, I felt myself mourn for something I didn’t realize I would miss.
Sitting in my rough seat, I started playing The Danger Zone. It seemed like a logical way to fly off a ship.
As I watched the ocean pass, I was awash in feelings. Sadness, I couldn’t describe but had plenty of tears for. Then I euphoria, as I bounced along at 100 miles an hour. Then a subtle creep of doubt, did I make the right choice?
Helicopter of Hope
By the time I had reached the airfield for the drop off, my feelings had drained into nervous excitement. As the helicopter began to dip and I felt the landing jolt. I tried to remember the safety commands because getting hurt while exiting a black hawk helicopter ride seemed like an unsavory way to end my Navy career.
Shipmates raced forward only to rushed me and everyone else to the sidelines away from the dangerous blades and engines. Finally, I had a chance to look back, and was able to marvel for a moment. I got a free ride in the belly of the beast. After the supplies and humans were dumped, the blades began increasing speed. It was leaving for another round of sailors and stuff.
It was eons ago, but I am amazed to have such a unique departure. At that point, I was a tiny bit closer to the mystery of civilian life. Little did I know, that was the true Danger Zone!