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  • Hank’s arrival on his new ship was a totally different experience than his arrival on his first ship, a mere 18 months before. The six months on that ship, followed by the year of Nuclear Power School and Prototype training, had changed him, considerably.

    While he was still only 20 years old, he had matured well beyond his years. He was very serious about making good on this ship, and making the most of the experience. He was in no hurry to find trouble, and was not out to prove anything to anyone, now. He’d done all that, and now, he was simply about keeping his nose clean, being the best machinist mate he could be, and hopefully winning over the heart of Megan, back home.

    On his journey through Canada with his buddy Dave, he’d pretty much cleaned up his act, weaning himself off the heavy use of alcohol and drugs that had become habitual at his last post. He wanted to keep it that way – he liked the clarity of thought he was now experiencing, for the first time since he’d left Boot Camp. He still drank the occasional beer, but nothing harder, and was completely off the pot and acid. He hadn’t tripped since he’d had a couple of really bad ones on his first ship, and the pot had become such a sick dependency, he wanted nothing more to do with it. That lifestyle was all behind him, now, he truly believed.

    He tried to hang onto the “mountaintop” experience he’d had up in Nova Scotia, where the amazing lady who ran the Youth Hostel up there, Gretchen, had helped him to conjure Megan back into his life. She’d had a real gift, and had helped him to heal a lot of pain and heartache he’d hung onto for a long time. Since that healing experience, he no longer felt compelled to get wasted, as there was nothing eating away at him that he needed to try to numb out. He felt like a free man, and this was his fresh, new start.
  • The ship itself was, indeed, brand new. The berthing compartment was nothing like his first ship’s had been. There was a lot more room between the racks – you had an entire metal locker right underneath your rack, that ran the length of your rack, and was about 10 inches deep, plus a little locker off to the side of the racks for hanging uniforms – way more room for your gear than that little Tin-Can Destroyer had had. The Heads (restrooms) actually had privacy stalls for the toilets, and there were individual showers, as opposed to the open stalls and large group showers the destroyer had. The food was actually pretty damned good, as the cooks seemed to take pride in the preparation of the meals, and it showed. He felt like he was in the lap of luxury, as far as Naval ships went.

    The other sailors were a much more civilized lot than the crew on his first ship, as well. For starters, everyone was relatively new on this ship, as it had only just been commissioned earlier that year. It hadn’t just returned from a war zone, like his first ship had (it had just returned from ‘Nam when he got on it), where the guys were all grizzled, and in no mood for a young punk just out of “A” school, and with a chip on his shoulder, to boot.

    Hank settled in to his new digs, and really felt good about life, how everything seemed to be moving in the right direction, now.

    When he’d gotten on his first ship, they were talking about going back out to sea in a few weeks. When he got off it, six months later, they were still talking about going out to sea in a few weeks. She never made it out there in that entire six months. The only trip she made was up the St. John’s River to the shipyard in Jacksonville. That ship had no business still operating, and should have been shit-canned long before.
  • This ship was ready to go when Hank got on board, and sure enough, a few days later, they were off – out to sea, for a month of war games off the coast of Cuba, in Guantanamo Bay, “Gitmo” as they called it.

    This was what he had signed on for! He’d joined the Navy to sail the world, but had never made it out to sea once his entire first two years. Now, he finally felt like a sailor - he loved every minute of it! He felt like he was born for the sea.

    They sailed right around the edges of a hurricane on the way down to Gitmo, with the ship pitching and yawing through fierce winds and huge waves, for two full days. Hank discovered he had “sea legs”, and felt like he was on a thrill ride at an amusement park. While half the crew took to their racks, sick as dogs, Hank was among those who roamed the ship, went up topside to truly experience the excitement and thrill of the ride, and gladly stood the extra watches needed to be stood for those who couldn’t handle the motion. He felt like he was “home”.
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