Top positive review
A gung ho new Ensign discovers the real Navy and her true self.
April 1, 2016
This is a fictionalized memoir by a former Navy officer (female, and feminist) about her 18 months of service aboard Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) in 1997-1998. She details the stressful reality of actual Navy life--including a boss from hell!--during five years of service before honorable discharge in 2001. The ordeal de-glamorized the military for her and catalyzed discovery of her authentic self. The author's skillful and honest narration gripped me, and I couldn't put the book down..
Ambitious, idealistic and patriotic protagonist "Brenda" is a "young junior officer [Ensign]...within the first wave of women to be stationed aboard combatant ships." A talented and determined "dutiful daughter" of conventionally practical and patriotic parents, "Brenda" absorbed their ideals and planned a practical career
in the US Navy. She attended Boston University on a Naval ROTC scholarship and graduated with an M.S. cum laude in Mechanical Engineering. She worked as a summer intern with the CIA and got a taste of sea duty on a midship(wo)man summer cruise aboard the destroyer USS Spruance (DD-963). After college graduation and then six months of Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, RI, "Brenda" flies to Sydney, Australia to rendezvous with her first ship, whose home port is the U.S. Naval Base at Yokusaka, Japan.
Her dream is to attend Naval Nuclear Power School and then serve on one of 10 U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. (Women are banned from serving on the 70-plus nuclear submarines.) To qualify for nuke school, she has to apply her academic training to practical operations on her ship and win the essential Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) pin. That achievement is jeopardized by stresses of chronic sleep deprivation, difficult new technical duties, discovery that her past academic success is insufficient for complex practical shipboard problems and--above all--a new Lieutenant Commander who makes life hell for her and her shipmates.
The poetic title and dramatic cover photo of this book express the disillusion and despair that "Brenda" felt, beginning with her very first day of shipboard duty. The ensuing 83 short chapters describe her interactions with the captain (CO, Commanding Officer); with the second-in-charge (XO, Executive Officer,); with department heads (CSO, Combat Systems Officer), (WEPS, Weapons Officer), (OPS, Operations Officer), (CHENG, Chief Engineer) and (SUPPO, Supply Officer); with her fellow officer/roommate "Julie," a Naval Academy graduate; and various other members of the 283-man-and womancrew. The book also details shipboard and shore leave life of naval officers, the routine duties and training exercises of the crew, and their interpersonal interactions and reactions. The narrative is skillful, and the written dialogues are probably burned into the author's excellent memory.
Midway through the book (p. 272), we meet the villain, new "Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Heather Gates...the woman's blue eyes piercing...like daggers." "Brenda" describes the XO's routine, profane and violent screaming at subordinates, which destroy's their morale and even endangers the ship. Subordinates must tolerate her outrageous behavior, and the Captain overlooks it because Navy brass intend "Gates" to be a poster child for recruitment of a new generation of woman naval officers.
Instead, 12 long years later (2010) "Gates" was relieved of command and discharged from the Navy for cruelty toward her crews and conduct unbecoming an officer. ("Brenda" could have warned them about a disaster in the making.) The Navy minimized that scandal, however; and a peek at the Wikipedia page for this "historic" naval officer could very well be a Navy recruiting poster. Author Waybright ("Brenda" in the book), on the other hand, is the kind of person most of us would prefer to see in public service--bright, brave, honest, articulate and kind; but in military and corporate hierarchies, it seems, "Nice guys finish last" and psychopaths rise to the top.
Readers will be grateful for the 4-page glossary of shipboard titles and terms (with acronyms) at the the end of the book. There is no table of contents; but each chapter begins with a brief synopsis. The Epilogue and final Authors's Note about Jungian psychology, naval history and "War Culture" give important perspective to this tempestuous, true tale aboard the USS Curtis Wilbur. A short bibliography of 18 titles in Psychology and Naval Science concludes the book, which I enjoyed a lot. The young author's life after honorable discharge from the Navy constitutes a "happy ending" which, I hope, will yield another book--or more.