Sailors love to brag about their longest underway.
One of the things we love to brag about is the longest underway we’ve ever had, usually measured in beer days.
For the uninitiated, a beer day is granted on a ship underway for more than 45 days consecutively. It’s at the CO’s discretion, so sometimes ships don’t do them. It’s a small comfort, getting two beers after more than a month without sight of land. Fortunately, beer days are rare, because 45-day underways are rare. Critical maintenance gets pushed to the side, and equipment will start to break down without giving the ship itself a rest.
When people talk about their longest underway, I get excited, because I know I’m about to one-up them.
I know this because I once did 96 days underway on the USS Stockdale.
Our captain, a pretty well-known teetotaler, didn’t grant us the first beer day. After 90 days, though, he was ready to acquiesce. After all, 90 days without seeing a port is a huge strain on the crew, and my god were we thirsty.
The reason we were underway this long was the result of a perfect storm. In 2013, we had transited through the Suez Canal twelve times without hitting a port visit. We had already been underway almost a month by the time we got permission to start heading home. We left the Red Sea and steamed for Seventh Fleet as quick as we could.
At that time, Bashar al-Assad had just been accused of launching SCUD missiles equipped with chemical weapons against rebels in Syria. We were nearly to India, the line that separates Fifth Fleet from Seventh Fleet when we were given the order to stop and wait. President Obama was assessing his options for military intervention in Syria, and it was looking like we might launch Tomahawk missiles at targets in Syria.
Sure enough, we were ordered to return to the Red Sea by the commander of Fifth Fleet to provide one more launch platform in the event President Obama chose to launch missiles.
Thing is, he never did.
When we returned to the Red Sea, we were already at 70 days. We spent almost a full month in the Red Sea waiting for the order that never came.
When we finally got permission to start steaming back home, we were at 90 days. The CO gave us our beer day, and I’m here to tell you, Heineken never tasted so sweet. We hit Singapore at 96 days, with still another month at sea before the ship could return to its home port in San Diego.
You might wonder what it was like, being at sea for 96 days straight. The answer is boring. I mean literally, we were bored. The majority of us weren’t involved with the launching a Tomahawk (the FCs are the lucky ducks there). Since it was of utmost importance that the ship be ready to put warheads in the air at a moment’s notice, everybody else was just sitting around, standing watch, eating chow, working out, or reading books.
Imagine sitting at home for 96 days straight with nothing important to do. Just clean and watch a screen for eight hours a day. The positive part is that once you’re in a routine, the time melts away quickly. Those 96 days felt like it was no more than a couple weeks.
I don’t regret having done it, but I wouldn’t trade places with this guy. Can you imagine? 161 days straight underway. I hope to never cross paths with Petty Officer Aaron Primm, because I’ll then have to contend with the fact that while I was crying about being underway for 96 days, this man did 161 days with a smile on his face.
What’s your longest underway? Can you beat 96 days?
When you have lived by the sea for 96 days, you want a way to show your pride in that. Thanks to inputs from our Facebook followers and our active-duty community, we created the Live by the Sea, Die by the Sea t-shirt just for salty bastards like you. Check it out here, or click the image below!