I wouldn’t say being in Hawaii particularly reminded me of my Navy days, but there were triggers, prompts to my memory of how, once upon a time, I sailed in large gray aluminum and steel warships, not unlike those that were stationed nearby at Pearl Harbor. But it wasn’t the proximity of those warships that brought back my Navy days. It was the Fruit Loops.
I hadn’t had them in years, but at the breakfast buffet our first morning in Waikiki, there they were. In one of those tall clear glass cylinders that look like a gumball machine. You turn a knob and out comes the sweet, crispy goodness inside.
As I munched on my cereal and my wife gave me the “really, you’re eating that?” look, I was reminded of an early morning, serving breakfast in the Wardroom on USS Normandy, and an officer who wanted something specific.
The compartment was empty, it still being early, and he had come in and looked at the offerings of cereal, shook his head, and swore.
“I don’t want Rice Crispies,” he said. And he looked at me like I could solve his problem. He was somewhat correct, for at that time in my Naval career, I was in charge of food.
The Navy did some things that really bothered me. Big surprise. Little things. Like how they put me through nearly two years worth of advanced electronics school, trained me in computers, radar, and advanced missile systems, and then when I showed up at my first ship, they assigned me to a duty station in the very bowels and rear-end of the guided missile destroyer, locked in a room with two large groaning hydraulic engines, so that I could take over steering of said destroyer if it failed on the bridge. By the time I got to my second ship, I’d spent even more time in school and was a qualified missile shooter for the AEGIS Defense System, the most advanced weapons system in the history of the world. Surely, I reasoned, I and my training would be put to good use.
So they sent me to the officer’s Wardroom to serve meals for three months.
You learn something while working in food service for a bunch of officers. In boot camp they teach you how the chain of command starts at the Captain and goes down from there. But when you get to sea, haze gray and underway, you learn that there are other things which start at the bottom and go up. Things like cereal.
While deployed we’d do UNREPs, Underway Replenishments, once a week if we were lucky. It involved bringing palettes over from a supply ship via cable high-line transfer, or having them dropped on the flight deck by the big twin-rotored helos that beat the hell out of the air so soundly it made your skull vibrate. Every UNREP we’d get pallets of various foods: somewhat fresh fruits and vegetables, more canned ravioli than you can shake a bad Italian sterotype at, bread, beef (sometimes stamped “Grade E: Fit for Human Consumption”- I kid you not), and the like. And we’d often get a pallet of cereal. They were those little boxes like you get by the 8 or 10 mini-box packs in the grocery story, just a lot more of them. Once they got onto the ship they’d start to disappear. Boxes of Fruit Loops and Cocoa Crispies would go first. Sometimes the pallet wouldn’t make it off the flight deck before someone’s knife had slit the plastic and a few boxes vanished into pockets. What remained went to the general crew’s galley, where more would be taken off the top, now the Frosted Flakes and Super Sugar Crisp would disappear. Then on to the Chief’s Mess. By the time the cereal got up to the officers in the Wardroom, you were looking at a motley collection of Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes (sans the Frosted qualifier) in badly-handled little boxes.
I’d never taken much notice of this before, or perhaps I had, but just figured it was one of those things I needed to put up with until my time was over and I became a civilian once more. I compensated, bought my own large boxes of Captain Crunchberry while at the Navy Exchange in Naples, and stashed it in my locker.
And it all went on like that, me not caring, until the one morning when that junior Lieutenant came into the wardroom and asked for cereal. I told him what we had. The man must have had a bad mid-watch or something, because he lost it.
“I don’t want Rice Crispies,” he said. “I know there are Fruit Loops. I saw them come onboard with my own eyes last week.”
“I don’t know what to say, Sir,” I said. “We only get what they send up to us from the galley.”
“I’m the guy in charge when they set that stuff down on the flight deck,” he said. “I guide those helos in. I see what they bring us. I know there are Fruit Loops on this ship!”
His hands were gesturing pretty good at about this point.
“I went to the Naval Academy,” he continued. “If I want Fruit Loops, I should be able to get some!” And at that point he slapped his hand down on the table and that Naval Academy ring of his made a nice hollow THUNK.
“I’ll see what I can do, Sir,” I told him. Not because I thought I’d be successful, or because I wanted to help him, but because sometimes in the military as well as in the civilian world, you just tell people what they want to hear to shut them up.
He grumbled, filled his coffee mug, and stomped out of the Wardroom. I and the two guys working with me laughed about it, and life went on. The officer in question never brought it up again. For a while he’d avoid looking me in the eye when we passed each other in the passageway. I kind of felt bad for him. Losing it over a box of cereal. But when you’re crammed onto a floating metal cracker box for weeks at a time, eventually everyone loses it over something.
About two weeks after the incident, I did find some Fruit Loops in the boxes that made their way up from the galley. One single box. They were pretty tasty. I was sure to leave the empty box on the top of the garbage can in the Wardroom, easily visible.