My Time on the Mono

The USS MONONGAHELA (AO 178) to be exact. People say you never forget your first love, first time having sex, your firstborn and for me, my first ship. Someone asked me recently if I missed it and the answer is “hell yeah”. As I look at the picture of this once reliable ship that serviced the fleet so well, I can’t help but feel a little sad for her. In my opinion, she is gone too soon. We decommissioned her on 30 September 1999, I was there in my dress whites, sad to see her go, excited to go to my next ship, yet sad because I was leaving my first home away from home.

When we were given orders, I was adamant about going to a ship. I mean that’s why I joined the Navy, right? Women were mainly sent to Oilers and sub tenders back then. I reported to her in April/May of 1998 while she was in the ship yards. As I crossed the brow and asked for permission to come aboard my life has never been the same. I do mean that truly. I was officially in the Navy. A Sailor to be exact.

My very first shower onboard was uneventful. See, I reported at the end of the week so no one was there but duty section. No one was there to give me a clue about using the showers. Sounds silly, right? Until I turned the nozzle towards my face, pushed the button and almost blew my eye brows off from the force of the water. I still think I’m still scarred for life.

Within the first 24 hours of me reporting, we had a major fuel oil leak. I had just got out of my uneventful shower when the word came over the 1MC. Here I am naked, wet, with the few people onboard telling me we have to go muster right now. I jump into someone’s coveralls and boots, I run out of the berthing, and follow the people running towards the repair locker. I only had the basic firefighting skills but I was about to get a crash course on firefighting that day. The second class screaming at me to pick up the hose, quickly explained my reality. “Shipmate, your on an oiler with thousands of gallons of fuel. If I fire breaks out, the entire shipyard goes, BOOM!” He had my attention.

My Admin family was just as dysfunctional as my own family. They were always fighting about something and the coolest part was if you messed with one…you had to deal with us all. We simply had a love hate relationship. As the office started to slim down we became more cohesive. I got my first real look at womanhood there too. I was surrounded by single moms who were doing what they needed too do to take care of their families. This made me take my responsibilities as a mom more serious. Admin was the coolest place and people were always stopping by. We had plenty of good times and our fair share of bad but I’m convinced that being in that office, on that ship, even if for that short time made me part of the woman I am today. I don’t think they know that even NOW how much of an impact they people made on me.

Needless to say, I was the lowest person on the totem pole. That meant that I was always available for berthing cleaners, handling stores, and any other working party that came up. Cleaning my berthing was an guaranteed daily chore for me. The First Class that was in charge always got me for gear adrift (leaving stuff not put away). I had EMI (Extra Military Instruction) daily for my first year. I stripped and waxed so many floors in my first year in the Navy that now I can look at a floor and just know what’s wrong with it.

I really got to know people when I went mess cranking (to be politically correct…Food Service Attendant). Working on the mess decks is grueling but I at least I ate good. The cooks onboard could throw down in the galley. You work long hours everyday and it’s even longer while underway. I learned how to manage my time wisely. I had to be at work at 0430, got off around 6, napped until 8, got dressed and hit the clubs by 9-10, stayed out and about until about 3, slept from 3-4, and then right back to work. Looking back, I don’t know how we did it. Sunday was the only day of the week that I actually slept. We had so much fun back then.

My first underway replenishment was the coolest. I was a bridge to bridge phone talker. When we would UNREP, I never really got tired of standing up on that bridge wing. There was this thrill of cruising in the ocean with another ship tied to us taking on fuel and receiving supplies that I just loved. The coolest part was always the breakaway, especially if the ship leaving had a cool breakaway song. I can’t remember the ship that used to play, “Bad to the Bone”. In order for it to be cool it had to be a cool song. It’s a pride thing… (The USS OSCAR AUSTIN used to play, “Yellow Rose of Texas” it didn’t show off our badassness at all. We would hide our faces in shame…) I noticed that when we had the big dogs pull along side us, we usually had the voice of the Mono sending the greeting to the arriving ship…I still get goosebumps over the pride we felt when aircraft carriers pulled along side of us.

My father was diagnosed with renal cancer shortly after I came into the Navy. By the time September came around in 1998, I was receiving Red Cross messages and hitting the highway every time we pulled in to port. I had this nasty little secret and it wasn’t until he moved into Hospice that his illness became real to me. On my 22nd birthday, another Red Cross message came in, the prognosis was horrible, and the dam broke. My Admin family was there for me and when I look back on it that’s probably why I didn’t want to leave the ship.

My father died on 1 November 1998. We left on deployment in January of 1999. My ship family was awesome. No one said anything when I had insomnia and I would strip and wax floors to pass the time away. Out of all the things I could have done, I waxed floors to make me feel better, go figure.

I could tell a million stories but let me condense. I had a few firsts: first time getting underway, first time leaving the country, first port visit was Rota, Spain, fan tail, first time having ship sex, first time getting and giving crabs to 80 women in a berthing, the fight between the Mono and the USS DETROIT, the many many drinking stories, the first real hangover, my first visit to an overseas McDonald’s, first time using DOS and a typewriter, carbon copy paper (I wonder if Chief remembers when I used an entire pack of DD214’s all in one day)…

I could tell a bunch of remember when stories but in order to protect the not-so-innocent I won’t.

As I look back we were the weirdest bunch of vagabonds in the entire fleet. It was like the Navy dumped all of their wayward children all on one ship. We were a great crew and I miss them all, even the ones that didn’t particularly care for me or my smart ass mouth…

The pictures of her say a thousand words. In one of them, I guess she had decided that she was done with retirement because she got loose and was trying to have one more underway period…

Welcome alongside the USS MONONGAHELA the worlds finest oiler…

We miss you old friend…

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