Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What to Expect when Your Boyfriend Joins the Navy

A Sailor Answers Your Questions on What to Expect in the Navy

I have received a lot of comments lately from women whose boyfriends are joining the Navy, and they are curious about what to expect so I am re-posting this because it's been very helpful for a lot of other Navy Girlfriends.

I also recommend checking out Navy Girlfriend Guide: You are More Than an Outsider and Definitions & Resources for New Navy Girlfriends & Navy Wives. But first, a former Navy Chief is going to answer your questions about what to expect 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 timeline (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.
photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery via photopin cc

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:

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. Hello! I'm not sure if this blog is still active but I have found it awesome and thank you and your husband for your advice! I'm engaged to a future sailor! Once he finishes basic we know he's sent immediately to A school. I'm wondering if you have any advice or suggestions on the best time to get married. We want to get married before he leaves A schoo (to have paper work submitted so that I'm on his orders)l, but it's difficult planning a wedding with no idea on times/dates he's available. Thank you!!

    1. Hi J. Styles! Thank you for commenting! I'm so glad the blog has been helpful to you. It is still active just not as much while I finish up my second novel.

      Honestly, I wouldn't recommend trying to get married before or while he is in A-School because he will be so busy and so tired. It's kind of like basic light. I'm sure it could be done - anything is possible - but I'm afraid I can't suggest a specific time because there's just no way I could predict it, just as you guys can't. If you did try, it might be easier to do the courthouse marriage and then hold off on the wedding (a very common military choice). I don't know if you'd be able to pull off a wedding unless it was very small and simple.

      You don't need to feel pressured to rush, though. There are many, many Navy couples that don't get married right away and do just fine, in fact some would advocate for waiting. When I asked my husband about this question, he suggested you wait until after your first deployment together.

      But then again, my husband and I got married before I experienced my first deployment so to each his or her or their own! ;) Follow your heart, but don't feel like you have to get married or else ... the military will give your relationship challenges regardless of marriage and just like anything is possible when it comes to rushing a wedding, anything is possible when it comes to remaining a Navy Girlfriend for a while.

      No matter what you guys do, as long as you both commit to sticking it out through the tough times, you will be fine and it will all work out.

      Wishing you both all the best of luck.
      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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