The Smell of Salt

A long, long time ago, what seems like a different life now, I was a Sailor. Towards the end of my teenage years, I came to a point where I knew I had to do something with my life, and at the time, that something was not college. My adoptive father was in the Navy, so I decided to follow in his footsteps and joined the Navy myself in October of 1995. From June of 1996 to July of 1999 I was assigned to the USS Platte, an oiler. During this time I made the best friends of my life, met my wife, and travelled across Europe and even into the Middle East.

It was a different world back then, back before 9/11. It was a brief time of peace, a period of national calm that came after the cold war was over, and before the war on terror began. I went on two six-month deployments to the Mediterranean, Med cruises we called them. We would travel from port to port, spending anywhere from a couple of days to three weeks in port, followed by a week or two underway.

In port, my friends and I would make a point of going out and seeing the sights during the day, before taking in the local beverages at night. I loved the architecture, I loved the age of some of the buildings and castles that we found. Back here in the States, if a home gets to be one hundred years old, its an amazing thing, but over there structures built by man could last for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Sometimes, when we were out to sea, the water would be so calm it looked like glass. Other times the waves splashed over the weather decks and would threaten to wash an unwary sailor overboard. During those times I’d have to take medicine from the ship’s doctor to try to ward off the seasickness that would invariably come. I never got over it, in three years I never got my “sea legs” like most of the guys did. But mostly it wasn’t a problem, most of the time we avoided the rough weather and stayed in the calmer seas to do our refueling of other ships. Most times the waves were small enough that I could stand on the edge of the ship and watch flying fish dart between the crests of the waves. And sometimes, I would close my eyes and smell the salt in the air.