“Make arrangements for someone to take your baby.”
Welcome to Veterans Week here at BPS. Every day I will introduce a fellow Veteran and share her story of military service.
Paula and I were high school classmates more than 25 years ago. Today Paula is a mother of two, Zakk and Ridgely, a phlebotomist, and a platinum blonde ballsy bombshell. Paula is also a Veteran.
Here is her story:
When did you enlist in the Navy? Where were you living and why did you join?
I enlisted in January, 1993. I had graduated with a BA in Philosophy in June, 1992. I was living in Columbus, Ohio working at Sears Portrait Studio and Cacique. I believe it was a Wednesday when I went to see a recruiter with a friend of mine, Bill. I was not planning on joining – I just gave Bill a ride – but they caught me off-guard. By Saturday, I had taken the ASVAB (aptitude entrance exam), chose Machinist’s Mate as a rate (job), and was set to leave for boot camp in two weeks.
Tell me about your boot camp and training experience.
Boot camp was interesting. It was in Orlando, Florida. I was in an integrated company (males and females) and I was one of the oldest at 22 (I turned 23 in boot camp). Because I had a college degree (and was an idiot for enlisting instead of going in under an officer program), I was made one of the Educational Petty Officers for the company. We had a sibling company, and we were an experiment. My company was strict – the sibling company, not so much. In company competitions the sibling company would be rewarded for not losing by as much as they thought they would while we were “cycled” (non-stop exercise essentially) for not winning by enough. As for my rate schooling, when I enlisted I was told there were very few females in these rates and that was not the case. My class was mostly female. I was in a 6YO program (meaning I enlisted for six years and would get Petty Officer 3rd class out of my A School). I did approximately one month in Galley (Kitchen) Company before my class started. My uniform was usually pristine so I almost always got out of working the actual galley and when that happened I checked IDs instead.
You became pregnant during your service. Can you talk about how your life as a Petty Officer changed while pregnant? How was birth? Is there military maternity leave?
I found out I was pregnant two days before an “underway”, or when a ship goes out to sea. I thought I had the stomach flu and went to medical knowing I would be miserable on the voyage. Medical asked if I could be pregnant and I said “I am a girl”. I took the test and they called me at main control before morning muster. I didn’t even comprehend what they said. They asked me to return and as I headed up, the Chief Engineer congratulated me. It was weird. The first person I told was my friend Jaramie, he is the one that clarified what was actually happening. I had had two abortions in college and a miscarriage in A School and I knew I wanted kids eventually so I chose to keep this pregnancy. I was transferred off my ship and reassigned to work in the Defense Department. It was a desk job, much nicer than my job in the engine room on the ship. I worked until my due date, May 4, but Zakk was two weeks late. I drove myself to my appointment the day he was born and the doctor instructed me to go to the hospital. My best friend Heather was with me. I drove while she recorded contraction times. I got to the hospital at 1130, Zakk was born at 2336 May 18, 1995. I had six weeks maternity leave. Two days before that leave ended I had emergency surgery for gall stones and got two additional weeks’ medical leave.
When calling for new orders they told me for a week I didn’t have any, then the following week they said, “You got assigned last week. USS Nimitz, deploying in a month. Make arrangements for someone to take your baby.” When I got pregnant – because I was single – I had to provide the name of who would take my child in case of deployment. My mother agreed but when it came to it, she did not want me to miss my baby’s first year of life. I was discharged on a hardship parenthood discharge.
What is the most difficult thing you’re endured during your time in the Navy? What is the moment of which you are most proud?
I was, and am, NOT athletically inclined. Simply making it through boot camp was both the most difficult thing I endured and that of which I am most proud. It was so not what I thought I would ever do. I was the “girliest” girl when I was in that recruiter’s office. I had long red hair, long painted nails and a mini skirt and I made it through eight weeks of boot camp in the strict company plus three weeks of intensive training at 0230 for getting in trouble (another story for another time) and I lived.
Finally, how did your service and experiences affect your life, especially as a mother?
I am glad I did it, but I did not encourage my children to enlist. I think I disciplined my children more than a non-military person, but I don’t know. I hold my children to high standards and expect them to do what I tell them. They don’t always. Looking back, my experience was not wonderful. I chose the Navy because I liked their uniforms and they had a reputation of drinking, swearing and sleeping around and that sounded fun, but it was too politically correct for me. My Chief once said that I belonged in the Navy of the 1940’s.
Thank you Paula for your candor and perspective and for your time volunteered in our U.S. Navy.