September 10, 2021
It started to snow. While this might sound inconsequential, it happened to be August and I happened to be standing in the middle of an ocean. While I am a Chaplain, I do not claim to be able to walk on water, unless of course it is frozen. I was, actually, standing on ice at the North Pole.
Additionally, I was roughly a half-mile away from my mobile home at the time, the USS QUEENFISH (SSN-651), a fast attack nuclear-powered submarine. The snow was wh
ite, the sky was white, and the ice was white. This fact made for a confusing experience.
Our submarine was conducting some research in the Arctic Ocean and took time to surface at the pole for some ice liberty. The ice was approximately 5-foot thick, and the air was very dry. There’s not a lot of humidity in the Arctic which made the falling snow drift around on the surface of the ice without real accumulation. As a result, I had left no footprints on the ice and while I circled several times around in amazement of this enchanting spectacle. But, I quickly realized I was completely disoriented and had no idea where my submarine was located. Visibility was an entire 3 or 4 feet. Plus, there was the threat of polar bears. Bears that far north don’t interact with humans and tend to think of them as mere food. Arctic ice also tends to fracture and open unexpectedly. The Arctic Ocean was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit which is also lethal if one falls in. The prospects of safely returning to my mobile home was diminishing by the minute.
Fortunately, it stopped snowing approximately 20 minutes later (the longest 20 minutes of my young life), and I realized I was a long way from home and way too far from my mobile home. I swiftly returned to the comfort of our 292-foot-long steel cylinder to unite with my shipmates, my Navy family, for the journey home.
Home away from home is a phrase we use from time to time. The Navy provides that home in the form of a naval vessel. The crew is a sort of surrogate family, a family which must work together for the benefit of all. The military is not the life for everyone. Spending days on end away from your actual family is a real sacrifice, not only for the service member, but also for the family. When I look back at my 4 years in the Navy, I can honestly say it was an adventure. However, it was also a sacrifice, yet one I was willing to make for the benefit of my larger family, my American family.
This September 11th, we remember the horrific attack on America 20 years ago. Our American family suffered greatly that day and because of that, many chose and continue to choose to answer the call to serve in the military and as first responders despite the risk of losing their lives. I think this is a most fitting time to pause and remember the sacrifice of our military members and first responders who sacrifice daily to serve the American family. This beloved nation of ours, while it has its faults and challenges, is still, I believe, worth sacrificing for.
Let us, as the American family, show our appreciation to the men and women who have given the last full measure of devotion to this nation with their very lives, and to those who have served and continue to serve as the first responders and military members who guard our way of life.