By MIDN 2/C Stuart Sloat
“Will a Stuart Sloat please see the flight attendant at the gate desk?” I heard over the speaker system as I stood in the terminal at the Norfolk International Airport. Surprised and a little anxious, I went to see the flight attendant.
“You are Stuart Sloat?” she said.
“Yes,” I replied.
“You are flying to Manila, correct?” As I nodded to confirm, she asked to see my passport. It was my very first time using it because it was my very first time leaving the country.
Next thing I knew I was sitting on a plane for eighteen hours en route to a destroyer coming off a nine month deployment in the gulf. My journey began in port. I met some fellow midshipmen as well as some energetic junior officers who escorted us around the streets of Manila. We tried new foods, went to visit the World War II cemetery, and visited the mall. People were everywhere and the traffic was crazy. This was new to me but quite fun as my new friends and I were constantly doing the exchange rate math in our heads as we bought ice cream, candy, and any food we wanted. Liberty call did come to a close and before I knew it, I was surrounded by nothing but the ocean blue.
While underway, I followed an E6 gunner’s mate around and learned how the Vertical Launching System (VLS) works. I even helped stand watch in CSMC for three hours every twelve hours. I ate with the crew on the mess deck and participated in the activities and briefs that they had planned for us. We toured every part of the ship, learning a little bit of what everyone does to make the ship run and accomplish its mission. We had target practice on the flight deck with M16’s and later launched a giant killer tomato out to see as we shot the five inch deck gun, 50 cals, 25 MM, and M240 at the target.
We journeyed on to Guam and then manned the rails as we pulled into Pearl Harbor. I couldn’t help but think back to my grandfather who sailed the same seas back in WWII fighting the Japanese. I almost felt more connected to him in some small way. As we pulled into port, much of the crew’s families were waiting anxiously at the pier and it was wonderful to see husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and children all reunite back together after nine months of separation. I felt proud to be part of such a great navy and even more proud to be part of a beautiful country.
I am very grateful for the experience that I had aboard the USS Paul Hamilton. I know it was very small and I only learned a small fraction of what there is to learn on the ship. However, it was not so much the machines, computers, or even the ship itself that impressed me—it was the people. I was taken in almost as a new crewmember by all of the VLS gunner’s mates. They taught me about their respective roles as well as what they like and don’t like about the navy. They were like a little family and I enjoyed being with them every day as we cleaned the p-ways and ran maintenance checks. I learned what truly makes America’s Navy great: the people. It is not the large deck guns or advanced weapon systems but rather the men and women willing to leave their families and homes and protect it with their lives. This is their Navy! This is my Navy! God bless the United States of America- the land of the free because of the brave!