The book is now out and available on Amazon! You can also purchase directly from me—and that way you can not only have your copy autographed, you get a free Kindle version for free—a $9.99 value! Read more →
By, JEFF DONOHUE
Once upon time, long long ago, I was in the Navy for three tours to Vietnam. My job was being a Boiler Technician and about the least desirable position anyone could ever want. It was mostly hot and miserable. We would work 16 to 18 hours a day on the average. We sweat so much that at one point you realized that you had no body odor. In my time there I worked my way up to 2nd Class Petty Officer (E-5).
As one gets close to their discharge date you have the opportunity to reenlist for another hitch. I was interested in doing so if I could make E-9 (Master Chief). The Career Counselor laughed at me and told me that Boiler Techs couldn’t ever make E-9. So my back up plan was to leave the US Navy and become a Chief Engineer in the US Merchant Marines. A considerably higher goal.
Once you leave the military, in those days, there was very little support to make the transition to civilian life. I didn’t have much of a support system waiting for me so I went home to my parents house and filed for unemployment.
I began my short term goals of growing my hair out and restoring old chevy muscle cars.
I had dreams of getting that Chief Engineer’s license and actually using it but didn’t really
know where to start except to talk to the Coast Guard who I later found out was in charge of Merchant Marine Licenses.
I started the process to get some basic seamen’s papers for unlicensed engineer ratings. This was a fairly tough task for me but I doggedly followed through. Later I realized that this was really a psychology test more than anything. In fact everything to do with this was a psychology test more than anything to do with skills or aptitude.
With Vietnam being shutdown there were few jobs around now for Merchant Marines so I kept growing my hair and working on muscle cars.
One day a friend of mine, who was a Port Engineer for a Coastal Freighter company in Seattle comes driving into the yard. He tells me to get in the car he’s taking me to work.
I argue with him. He just lost several of his Mechanics and I was the only one he knew that could help get this ship underway. Anyway I did get in the car with him but kicked myself later. He didn’t bring me back for 3 days after we left.
I found myself gainfully employed. We did all kinds of conversions turning old Navy Yard Oilers into Coastal Freighters that hauled groceries to Alaska and returned with holds full of Fish Product. These were old fashioned product haulers. All the cargo was hand stowed and off loaded the same way.
Going to work is by far the best therapy especially if it’s in a field you are interested in.
I had grown up stream fishing and was working on big machinery, two of my favorite things in one.
I now know I was also suffering from PTSD, I would get depressed and if there was no work I pretty much became a vegetable on my time off. I reasoned that I had to have some new experience that made Vietnam seem like child’s play. So after many years of getting my Engineer’s license the chance to go fishing in the Bering Sea came up. What else could be more intense than that? I questioned. I had heard so many stories of the rough conditions and fishermen that had lost their lives. Here was the experience that I thought I needed.
So my shallow depth of Merchant Marine Licensing had been greatly expanded over the years. Previously I didn’t know anything about Maritime Academy’s or the snobbish side
of credentials. Although I did finally have the whole picture of what I was trying to achieve and that was to become a very real “Chief Engineer Unlimited Horsepower”.
In the industry, it was said, that a real Chief Engineer could walk on any ship in the world and get it underway in 24 hours. This wasn’t a license requirement but more of a personal measure of oneself. So to be able to confidently walk on any ship in the world and get it underway was a knowledge and feeling I wanted to have. Maybe do a little fishing on the way.
It takes many years of experience, classes and certificates on the way to becoming a Chief. The rules are always changing but the basics remain the same.
On the path I was always tempted to try something else. With partners I tried starting 3 different companies which all crashed and burned. My Engineer’s License pulled me through more of these experiences than I can remember.
So off to the Bering Sea I went. It was like many years of life on a Roller Coaster but the awesomeness of the Sea and the wildlife was sometimes beyond description. Other times we went through storms with waves up to150 feet and winds almost as fast as the wave were tall. Finally you have a break through and it becomes a meditation. Vietnam was just a memory and the Bering Sea had given me a peace of mind I was searching for.
After the Bering Sea experience I still had to complete the upper level licensing I started after many years previously. Now it didn’t seem so important to me so I moved to Hawaii and waited for the right job to come along. I took a year off and didn’t wear any shoes the whole time. It relaxed my feet so much that when I did finally go back to work I had to buy shoes that were two sizes bigger.
Merchant Shipping was picking up again, after a 15 year break so I was able to finally use my Engineer’s License for what it was designed for. I eventually did get my full Unlimited Chief’s License and attain my Goal set back in 1974. I did it in 2004, a full 30 years later and have worked in that position ever since.
In talking with many of my Veteran friends, they all agreed that what worked to my benefit was having that Goal. I have to agree. Whenever I crashed and burned in life somehow that little thought in the back of my mind would surface and I would strike out again to become that Chief Engineer, if for no other reason than to be true to myself and show that lousy old Navy Career Counselor that I could do it. Not that he really gave a hoot.
In pursuing my goal I always looked for skills that would contribute to achieving what I wanted to do. My Aikido Sensei called these Side Training. Aikido helped me develop a Calm Mind or living calmness. At least the concept of it seemed worth following through on and was a great tool to becoming a decent Engineer.
PTSD was an obstacle I recognized and the only thing I could think of was do more of the same. Now that I’m older and wiser it makes the most sense.
In nature you find examples of this. The Ginseng root is said to live up to 300 years if not eaten on the way. It gets attacked by all sorts of things and develops immunities and ginsenosides to fight off these things but they are some kind of experience and the Ginseng deals with them and becomes stronger each time. That is why a Ginseng plant over 20 years old is fully mature and nothing much can bother it. To eat a fully mature ginseng root is to taste immortality they claim.
I have a Chinese friend that goes home regularly and I ask her to bring me a Thousand Year old Ginseng Root when she returns. She always asks what color I want?
One thing that really frustrates me is when someone I know is continually lamenting how they can’t get to everything they need to do around a major project, even mentions something specifically they need help with—but then, when I offer to help with that specific item, they decline my help (or the offer goes in one ear and out the other)…and then continue to complain how overloaded they are.
Especially with that one specific sub-project they specifically asked for help with. Read more →
I realize that the title of this post sounds trite, or like the headline of some generic pamphlet sitting in a holder in a clinic somewhere. A cliche. Something said by someone who has no idea what someone’s personal struggle is. A phrase that rolls eyes more than inspires.
But it’s true. Read more →
I lost my job in December 2015. First several days was a chunk of time where I felt very surreal and existential. What does this mean? What do I mean? What is my purpose and meaning now? Then that passed and I felt better. Then I moved into the, “OH MY GOD! CHEESE COSTS MONEY! I CAN’T EAT THE CHEESE BECAUSE CHEESE COSTS MONEY!” phase…and that passed. I do have to feed myself, after all. Just more cheaply.
Read more →