I’m going to take you on a trip to the past and yes this will relate to the Philippines (Later). I was assigned to the USNS Mars (TAFS-1) (Formerly the USS Mars (AFS-1) it was my second time onboard and I was upset as it wasn’t fully converted to accommodate a civilian (CivMar) crew so they paid us extra to ride the old Navy beast.
We were in the Gulf tied to the quay at Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates (Arabic: جبل علي ) Yeah I couldn’t read it either. That day it was135 degrees Fahrenheit, 57 Celsius or just damn hot! Then a sand storm blows in to increase our delight in being there! Batten down (dog) every hatch and Water Tight door (WTD) on the ship, the food still always taste like sand (And yes we had some great cooks) Sand is wedged in every crack of your body. If the drinks at the Seaman’s Club were 100% free, I’d stay on the ship. Now during a typhoon, I might try to get there!
Cargo Hold II on the bottom Tween (deck) needed work so my crew and I worked there to get away from the sand. Or as best we could. While working I pulled a double inguinal hernia.
Off to see the ship’s medical officer, he wants to send me to a UAE Hospital, which BTW, is quite good. But there is a six week recovery period after the surgery. Did he want me to stay in a hotel on my own dime for all that time? No thank you, just pay me off and I’ll head to my parent’s house on Cape Cod in Massachusetts (If I were writing to just New Englanders I would have shortened that to “The Cape”) and I’ll recover there on Workman’s Comp. A summer on the Cape, well OKAY DOKIE just fine by me!!!
Remembering my Navy days where if you write it down, you would win. I bought a college ruled note book (It was 1994 so no electronics that I knew of or owned) and phoned the office in Oakland CA, and informed them where I was. I jotted down the time, date and the person I spoke to and what they told me to do. I then waited four months to hear back from them (But still phoning every week and getting full pay) and keeping copies of all correspondence with the registered mail receipt attached. Now I still needed that letter of permission to proceed with the surgery at the government’s expense. My insurance will pay for it, but to be reimbursed I needed that letter to also file for Workman’s Comp. Still writing all this down and keeping copies of all mail. It was getting to be quite a pile and I needed a second notebook.
I’ve been home freeloading off my parents and enjoying the summer on the Cape, but fall and lower temperatures were fast approaching, and my folks were heading to their house in Florida for the winter, it was time for me to get off the pot. And over the years I know I’ve mentioned my dislike for any cold weather.
I then received “The Letter” but I still had my six weeks recovery time, hell I can switch to Florida, my folks love me, so I turned in my rental car and drove them to Florida. I still had a Jeep in storage there in Clearwater Florida that I’d not moved in almost two years I sent a mechanic to get it running.
Next, I was informed that I would be off Workman’s Comp and back on the payroll as soon as I reported into the Oakland CA. office at the end of my 6-week recovery. What a dreamer I had become, but I was ready to get back to sea.
Oakland California from the Powers that be: Mr. Thompson, your operation took entirely too long, you must go before a medical review panel to decide your fate. I smiled and said; “What must be, must be!” and two more weeks passed on full pay, plus per diem, and a free room at the Holiday Inn. The panel calls me (And of course my lawyer) in and demanded that I account for my time. My lawyer dropped my files on the table, asked if they would like the time to read them as they proved that the delay was 100% the fault of the Oakland office. And we were considering a lawsuit for the harassment brought on by this panel. I had yet to be asked a question, as my lawyer told me to be calm, I attended many Clam Bakes or Clam Boils on “The CAPE” so that was easy. Next, my Barrister requested copies of the government’s file they were using to prove their case. They had none! I had plenty!
Paul was fully reinstated, cleared of any guilt (That same day), but was held on two more weeks of medical hold? I’ll assume it was the bureaucratic way they had to stick a finger in my eye. Let me see, I was still on full pay and per diem, they were still paying for my room at the Holiday Inn… Yes, Brer Fox please don’t toss me into that briar patch.
I was assigned to payroll to work. Here is the catch 22: If I was fit to work, I would sign into the office, fill out a form that “Paul is alive” and one hour later go back to my hotel. But while on medical hold I must work? God love the government logic!
The guy I’m assigned to, takes me to a storeroom and wants me to stack file boxes, I explained I was on medical light duty and was unable to do that. He assigned me to an older pleasant lady who I brought coffee to every morning and by 0830 she sent me off for the day!
Now for the Philippines part, my assignment officer Gloria told me I had a new ship, but it was ten days before they needed me on board. I asked if I could fly out in the morning and visit some friends in Asia on the way to the ship, I’ll pay all extra airfare above what the government paid for my fare to the ship. Goodbye Paul was all she said! (I was saving them Per Diem and the cost of the hotel by going)
I landed in the Philippines and called my friend, and told him to meet me in Angeles City he said he couldn’t but could I come to Olongapo? It was six of one, a half dozen of the other, so off to Olongapo City Ziggity Zig.
When I got to his house, his wife greeted me and handed me a cold beverage and I sat under the mango tree until he returned from the store. Big deal you say, but while there, through the gate came a pretty lady and I met Mayang (My future Bride) while, she was visiting my friend’s wife, who just happened to be her sister. And fate waved its mighty hand, and the rest is history. My thirty years of being a happy single dude I became a happy married man the following year.
One never knows what direction life will take you, now over a quarter of a century has passed, my plan to return to Puerto Rico changed and I found that I now live in the Philippines. Oh, with no regrets! Fate will push you in the direction you are supposed to go, I never tried to fight it!