Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Navy Girlfriend Guide: A Sailor Answers Your Questions About What to Expect in the Navy

I recently received the following question on my last post of Navy Girlfriend Guide:

"My boyfriend is currently going through the steps of becoming a part of the Navy. We have been together for a little over a year and have never been separated. We are really committed to each other and really want our relationship to last. Both of us have talked about settling down together. I'm really scared and upset and depressed that I won't be able to talk to him, hug him. etc. The recruiter said that he will be able to see me when he goes to school after boot camp is this true? Also I know there are some men who are a part of the Navy that have never set foot on a boat. What kind of jobs can he train for that don't require him to be on a ship? Also any advice on how to make it less painful when he leaves?"

The portion I could answer, I answered in a comment on this Navy Girlfriend Guide: You are More Than an Outsider and I'm going to include it at the bottom of this post too. But the rest of the question was about things I didn't know, so I asked my husband and his answer was so thorough, I decided to make it a post of it's own. So please welcome my husband Jonathan Carroll:

Hi Navy Girlfriend!

I just separated from the Navy but have 11 years of experience "making it work."  I obtained the position of Chief Petty Officer and have lots of stories and first-hand knowledge about Sailors and young love so I will do what I can to help answer your questions. 

photo credit: DVIDSHUB via photopin cc
You're on the right path already by reaching out to others for advice and assistance.  So many young couples try to just wing it and the career and/or relationship suffers or sometimes ends.  You're also on the right path by questioning the information that is being handed out to you.  It's usually not a case of someone willfully lying to you, but more often it’s that the conditions or regulations have changed or the information that your informant received was then only partially correct.  You will see, as will your boyfriend, that determining which information is “all the way true” and which information is only partly correct in the Navy is the most valuable skill you can learn. 

Recruiters are difficult to deal with because they often forget what civilians know versus what they know.  There are very few recruiters that outright lie, especially now with the recruitment quota down, they don't have to.  As for forgetting things about our lifestyle, all military members do that!  Sometimes I forget that people outside the military community don't know that goods sold on a base are sold tax free, even gas, although cigarettes are weirdly not included in that anymore.

After boot camp (8-weeks - no visiting – rare phone calls – intentional isolation) a Sailor heads to “A” School, the length of which can range from 2 weeks to 8 months long or in the case of a nuclear rating, it could be up to a year and a half. This is where he learns the job or rating he will eventually be doing in the Fleet, and he may be sent several different places in the country. 

For example, Aviation ratings are almost exclusively trained in Pensacola, Florida.  Medical ratings are in Great Lakes, Illinois, and the list goes on.  He might not be in a spot that is convenient for you to visit. He could be on the other side of the country.  The temptation to fly up and see him will be great, but unless the school is months and months long, I recommend you wait, till he will arrives at his permanent command.

Your Sailor will be available in A school, but access won’t be like coming home from a job.  He will have to live on the base at first, and he may have curfews that he needs to observe.  He won’t be able to share a room with you in the barracks, usually visitors of the opposite sex aren’t even allowed in the building. He will be available for visitation and you will be able to come on board the base if you are signed on.  Similarly, there are usually no restrictions about leaving base during normal hours and on the weekends. Where young squids get into trouble is: 

1. Sneaking a girl back to the barracks. 
2. Blowing off classes to go hang out with a girl.
3. Getting drunk with girls off base then failing to make it back in time for curfew.
4. Moving out into town with a girl without permission.
photo credit: Mister Tim via photopin cc
When he completes his A school, he will USUALLY be given an option to take leave in route to his first command.  A lot of factors determine if this is a good idea.  If he is going to his permanent command that will be leaving for deployment in a month, or is already on deployment, I recommend that he takes leave and comes home and sees you.  If it’s going to be many months before he leaves then I recommend that he doesn’t. 

Leave is a funky thing in the Navy. He will have to request permission to use it from his command and not every request is approved.  If he doesn’t have any days reserved and there is a family emergency, he won’t be able to come home.  I have seen young men and women that squandered their leave and then had a father or mother die, and they simply weren’t able to attend the funeral.  It’s always a good idea to have 10 days put aside.

Your next question was about how he can never set foot on a ship. If you both aren’t comfortable or willing to work through deployments then he shouldn’t join the Navy.  The Navy is different from a lot of other services in that Sailors deploy around the world regularly whether or not there is a war.  Additionally, just because he doesn’t set foot on a ship doesn’t mean he won’t be gone.  There are plenty of “dry” Sailors that end up deploying on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Iceland, Germany, and Cuba, just to name a few. 

I have even seen Squids on shore duty (defined below at ***) that end up spending more time away from home than when they were on sea duty because they were on some hyper-active inspection team.  He should read this too because even if you are in-between deployments, Sailors have mini-trips called detachments or exercises where you leave for 20 to 35 days and then come back. 

The below cycle is a fabricated example, but based on my experience.  There are standard and money issues within the Navy that make predicting the real schedules impossible. It is there to give you an idea of how often he will be leaving. Just so you know deployment refers to the long separations and detachment refers to the shorter usually 3-4 week separations.

-Month 1 - Deploy 6-8 months. 
-Month 8 - Return to home port, but remain in alert status for 3 months. There will be leave for everyone when they return to home, usually around 2 weeks.
-Month 11 – Sustainment detachment go to sea for a month.
-Month 13 – Home for stand down possible small 2 week detachment within.
-Month 16 – Readiness exercise - month long detachment.
-Month 18 – 6 months left before deployment, one month detachment.
-Month 21 – 1 Month detachment for war exercise
-Month 23 – Home for 2 weeks of leave before deployment if nothing critical is broken.
-Month 24 – Deploy and restart cycle.
So in 24 months he may be gone 12-14 months.  This is the reality of being in the Navy. Accept now that if he is in the Navy he will be leaving, then we can start discussing the many ways to make deployment easier.  Sorry to be the bad guy but that is part of the life.

***After four years of sea duty a Sailor is allowed to take three years of shore duty, which is a period of time when he will not deploy – generally speaking.

You are not alone, many girlfriends and spouses are led to believe there is a magic path to being in the service without having deployments.  It’s unfair for service members to dangle that carrot because it’s the military’s version of winning the lottery.  It happens but never to anyone you know; it’s always a friend of a friend.  Now that I have told you that information here are some jobs that don’t go onto ships, but remember that they still will leave, and many times go into more dangerous areas than the ship because they will be on the ground as opposed to miles off the coast of a war zone.

FMF Corpsman – Medic that deploys with marine units.  Goes to war zones and forward deployed staging areas for 6 months or more at a time.

Construction Ratings – The Navy’s builders.  Cross ‘Bob the Builder’ with Rambo - they fight, they build they deploy 6 months or more at a time.  Everywhere.

Ratings in P-3 commands – any aviation job can get a “dry” tour by going with a P-3 assignment.  These Sailors work on aircraft that are too big for an aircraft carrier, but still deploy in a variety of places usually 3-8 months at a time.

SEALs and other Special Operations – The job is less glamorous than movies would have you believe but way more dangerous than anyone wants to believe.  Deploy everywhere in a moment’s notice.  Might still go on ships but rarely for lengths of time anymore. Still, I know two seals with successful long-term relationships – actually they are both married now and one just had his first born.

Aerographer’s Mate – Affectionately called weather guessers.  I have never heard of one that deploys on a ship, but there are very few of them anyway.  A really mysterious rate that I can’t say much more about.

There are probably a couple more that I’m not thinking of…

In any case I recommend that your boyfriend pick a rate that he would like to do when he leaves the Navy.  I ended up in Aviation Ordnance and while it is the coolest of the rates in the Navy because we deal with weapons and explosives, there isn’t much call for it on the outside world.

If you have taken this all in and still want to know what else you both can do to make deployments easier, just reply with your questions, and I’ll give you some of my advice for surviving deployments including what doesn’t work. 
Stephanie Pinning Husband Jonathan Carroll at Chief's Induction

Jonathan Carroll is a former U.S. Navy Chief of 11 years. He has gone on who knows how many detachments and has deployed overseas four times and served on a special aircraft rescue mission in Iraq. Having detached from the Navy in July 2013, Jonathan has started blogging as well at Joeordie’s Separation Adventures. (Psst. Have your men send him their questions ;-)  ) He also has a collection of random musings on the Navy, computers, beer, and wine on his website   

My response to Anonymous' question:
USNavy Via Photopin cc
Thank you Anonymous for posting these really great questions. 

I can tell you that you will be separated and you will have to go through the pain of that separation throughout his career. But know that it is something you can handle, and if you both commit, your relationship will not only last, but be stronger than most because you are capable of being loyal to one another even while apart.

It will be very hard, especially the first few times but it will get easier and your tolerance for being apart will get stronger. There are some good things that come from being apart too. Do you remember that magic and passion from when you first got together? It's something that once gone in a relationship is usually gone forever but when you go through this separation - when he returns, there is what is called a honeymoon phase and it's like you've gone back to that magical period at the beginning of a relationship.

Also if you two are hoping to settle down together in a marriage capacity, the Navy has a lot of benefits for married couples and for many young couples just starting out, it provides you with opportunities and resources you wouldn't have otherwise like full medical insurance and on-base housing or a housing allowance, etc. However, if you don't plan on getting married soon, his initial pay will not be enough to afford off-base housing. It's possible with room mates but not otherwise.

You may also be required to move. I'm not sure where he is hoping to be stationed but if there isn't a nearby base with available billets, he may have to go somewhere else. If you are married, the Navy will pay to move you there.

photo credit: michal_hadassah via photopin cc
There are a lot of things that can make the separation easier and I have a lot of posts on this blog that details those things. But my top recommendation would be to make sure you maintain a life outside of your relationship, as in friends, hobbies, a job, an educational path or goals, etc. I can tell you from direct experience that if you have nothing else in your world except for him, it will be so much harder. If that is the current case, commit to going out and creating that life - get hobbies that involves social interaction, commit to a project for when he's gone (I always do this because you will discover you have a lot of extra time.) 

Finally, follow this blog and find the blog on Facebook and the Facebook forum so you can interact with others who understand and can continue to offer advice and guidance.

I feel like this comment might not fully answer your questions. Please feel free to follow up or re-ask if I missed something. And I'm going to post the question on the Unhinged Navy Wives & Girlfriends Facebook forum too so you can see some extra advice from other Navy Wives. No matter what, just keep reminding yourself that you are a strong woman and you can do this.

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

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  1. What a lovely post! Awesome and informative. I am a new Navy Girlfriend without a clue, but have known my boyfriend for 13 years and have been "together" with him for over a year now. I don't have a clue about a lot of this stuff but I am so excited to learn and have been chronicling my adventures on my own personal blog ( I love reading things that are honest and informative and give me some real insight on the life of a navy girlfriend. Thanks for the post and I look forward to reading more!


    1. Thanks for Commenting Cristine! I'm really glad this blog post was helpful and I hope some of the other posts on this blog are also helpful. I think it's great you are also blogging. I wish you all the best in the blogosphere! LOL =)


  2. I know this was written about a year ago but my boyfriend of over two years is joining the Navy. I was wondering what kinda things do not work when it comes to surviving deployments.

  3. Hi Anonymous! Thank you for posting a question! Always happy to answer them. Check out our Facebook group to have access to all kinds of Navy Wives and Girlfriends who can answer anymore questions you may have. I'm actually going to post your question to them because there could be many, many answers as to what kind of things do NOT work. From my experience and things I've heard about and seen, basically, any kind of unhealthy coping mechanisms do NOT work, such as drinking, excessive partying, overeating, gambling - I have not heard of anyone surviving well with an open relationship either but I cannot say 100 percent for sure..

    I'm not sure if I can answer this question in brief. Was there anything specific you were concerned about? Keep searching this blog for posts on good ways to cope and survive because we have many, many articles on the topic. We haven't focused on what does NOT work but its a really good question so who knows, maybe this will spark a new post. Until then, I'll post the responses from our group here or you can pop over there and check them out, just use the menu button at the top of this blog to get there - at the time of this posting it is "Unhinged Facebook Forum."

    Thank you again for commenting and I hope this has helped some and if not that some more answers to come will.

    Stephanie Carroll

  4. Hey Again Anonymous!

    So I reached out to the other Navy Wives & Girlfriends on our Facebook Forum and here are some of their thoughts on things that are NOT helpful for surviving a deployment:

    1. Don't pity yourself. Have your moments of crying and then move on. Don't stress your S/O and don't be negative!!!

    2. Nagging your deployed significant other ---or just having a negative attitude in general

    3. Sitting around and stopping life just because he left. I know of a couple that the girl did that and it did not help things. They ended up breaking up. I also do not advertise that I am dating a sailor because then people ask you how are you coping or say things like I couldn't handle it all the time. To me it just makes things worse.

    Hope this helps! Please feel free to ask anything else any time!

    Stephanie Carroll

  5. Hi, my boyfriend is about to ship off to basic. The only thing I'm worried about is communication. I'm aware of the rare phone calls and letters. When will he receive the letters? Every time one comes in, or a certain time on a certain day?

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    Thank you for commenting. I can't say 100 percent for sure since things can change at any time but my Sailor's experience was receiving a mail call 2-3 times a week.

    Some say communication is harder during the initial training than it is during actual detachments and deployments so take this experience in stride, and think of it as training for yourself as well. Take this time to figure out what type of things you need to do to make the separation and lack of communication easier. Search for routines, outlets, supportive networks, hobbies, etc., so you will be well prepared for future deployments. Journalling can be very helpful to keep track of how you respond emotionally and how you best manage stress.

    I hope this helps answer your question. Feel free to ask more if you need to. We are here for you!

    Stephanie Carroll
    U&E Founder

  7. Dear Jonathan Carroll,

    My bf is a Petty Officer. I heard the first year they work with recruits, the second year they are on "break", the following year they work with recruits again etc. What kind of duties do they usually do when they are on "break"? Are there certain assignments they usually do or do they vary depending on the circumstances? If there are certain assignments are they normally more challenging and stressful than working with recruits?

    Thank you.

  8. Hi there, I have found this VERY helpful so far. My daughter is a navy girlfriend. Her sailor left for basic training on January 11. We just received his address from his mother and we are excited to start sending letters! However, we are a little concerned about something his mother told my daughter. She told her that she hopes he does not make it through basic and comes home because SHE needs her baby at home with her. My daughter, my husband, and myself have supported this decision of his from the beginning. His mother, has not. Do you have any advice for us?

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Thank you for commenting. I'm so happy to hear that the blog has been helpful so far.

      I'm sorry you have found yourself in what sounds like a complicated and delicate situation. I think the best advice that I can give may also be the hardest, and that is to simply be respectful and understanding. Letting go of one's child is hard enough but to be letting them go into the military must be even more frightening and difficult.

      If he is old enough to the join the military then he is also old enough to make his own decisions, and will be even more so after going through military training. It's hard, but your family and your daughter have to trust in his ability to stick with his decision even if it's difficult for his family.

      Continue to support him, not only by supporting his decision, but also by supporting his family and their struggles. This will not only help him and you daughter but his mother who is probably going through a rough time.

      Keep reading and researching. Educating yourself and your daughter educating herself will help you all immensely.

      Wishing you all the best of luck!

      Stephanie Carroll
      Author & Founder of U&E

  9. My fiancé went to great lakes on the 26th of January 2016 his job will be CS on the submarine... I was crushed but today February 11, 2016 I received my first 4 letters I was soooo happy. He misses me and he failed his swimming test (never knew how to swim) and now he feels as if he will not graduate and gets sent home. I have been writing him daily before I received any of his letters and I'm hoping that they(letters) have encouraged him to push harder. Yes being away from him SUCKS cause we've never been apart but I work and have kids and friends who have sailors as spouses so it keeps me busy and engaged in some other questions for them.So I just want him to make it through basic and get married. What can I tell him about the swimming part(he had to jump in from the platform into the deep end after a few lessons and panicked) and how soon can we get married ?

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      It sounds like you are way ahead of the curve when it comes to coping and surviving a separation, which is one of the hardest parts. Sometimes it can also be difficult to hear about your training Sailor's problems when you are not right there to provide him comfort and support.

      What you are already doing the best thing. Keep encouraging him and sending him uplifting messages and that will help him greatly. He is not alone in his struggle. There are lots of Sailors who start out not knowing how to swim and struggling with the test, but they get through it. Even when it doesn't work out, there's always another avenue available and it won't be the end.

      How soon can you get married is a difficult question. It really just depends on how long his training is and how long before things calm down for the both of you after he's done. Basically, you can get married as soon as you take the proper steps and are able to be together in person. That's all it takes for a courthouse marriage, but obviously, you will need some more time if you want a ceremony.

      I hope these answer your questions to some degree. Know that you are already on the right track and you are doing everything you should be to support him. He will get through this one way or the other and you will be there for him when he's done and he will be grateful for it.

      Wishing him the best of luck on his test!

      Stephanie Carroll
      Author & U&E Founder

  10. My Navy boyfriend of two years is about to be deployed. I just received a phone call from him telling me he wanted to end our relationship, but wanted to remain friends. This came completely out of the blue. He was just home in June 2016 and we spent every second together. He even talked about how great our relationship was and how we would eventually get married. Now, he is telling me that he realized his feelings had changed when he was home last. He didn't act different when he was home in June and until today, we seemed to doing good. My question is, is it typical for someone in the military to end a relationship prior to deployment. If so, what could be the reason behind the break up. Is it stress? Or is it he wants his freedom during deployment. I am just confused and need advice from someone in the military who has gone through the deployment process. What is going through your mind before deployment?

    Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for commenting. Your question came up along with several others with similar experiences so I actually decided to answer it via a post. Here is the link. I hope this is helpful. You are in my prayers and I'm sending out love and hugs your way.

      Stephanie Carroll
      Author & U&E Founder

  11. My boyfriend is joining the navy in a little over a year and we intend on getting married before then. I understand he might be busy for long periods of time, so I've considered taking online courses and furthering my education from the base. Would this be a good idea?

    1. That sounds like a great idea!

      Stephanie Carroll
      Author & U&E Founder


I love, love your comments and questions! Just remember to not mention any security info about your Sailor! Thank you!

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