March 5, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Beer Day

Today may be Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, but Roman Catholic sailors aboard the USS Camden in the Persian Gulf got their chaplain's blessing to party like it's still Fat Tuesday. The Camden, a Naval support ship, has been on station in the Gulf for 50 days without a crew liberty stopówhich means it's time for a "Beer Day." Under Navy tradition, a crew that goes 45 days or more at sea without a port call is entitled to have a beer party onboard.

I remember my own Beer Day onboard the USS Ranger, after we too had steamed around the Persian Gulf for 50 days. We hadn't just been at sea for a month and a half; we had also just completed a successful campaign against Iraq, when planes from our flight deck helped liberate Kuwait. That day, however, crates of canned beerónot bombsócovered the flight deck. The bar was open on Steel Beach.

The waters of the Persian Gulf always look roiled, like the ocean at the edge of the breakers right after a set of waves has crashed on the beach. Perhaps it's because the average depth of the Gulf is less than 100 feet, and the waters of the isolated body of water take three to five years to cycle out into the Indian Ocean. Whatever the case, the unsettled, turquoise waters don't instill the same sense of peace as the deep blue of the open ocean. But that day, we didn't care. The sun shone down on five thousand free men, sailors who were enjoying their faux liberty as if they'd just been paroled.

Since we were all technically still on duty, the powers-that-be allotted us each two beers. Nevertheless, capitalism got into full swing that day as enterprising sailors willing to stay thirsty sold their allotted beers for $10 each or more. After 50 days of tax-free paychecks, with nothing to spend money on except soda and candy bars, $10 for an ice-cold brew was chump change.

Every time I watch "The Shawshank Redemption," that scene where Andy Dufresne barters a bucket of beers for his fellow inmates always hits home. I too know how "a bottle of suds" on a warm day, after a long period of confinement, can make you feel like a man again. I salute the sailors onboard the USS Camden as they enjoy their well-earned brewskis, and hope the rest of the military men and women stationed in the Gulf get their own Beer Day soon.


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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3/4: Pulling the Trigger
3/3: Make 'Em Laugh
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