One hundred and fifty days ago was the last time we saw land. At ninety consecutive days at sea, the CO can authorize beer call onboard a U.S. Naval vessel. Ours didn’t.
One hundred and fifty consecutive days is the reason why sailors drink the way they do when they hit port. One hundred and fifty consecutive days is the story behind my only run in with NCIS.
The mundane sounds of the ship’s bells and whistles could no longer be heard in the distance, but were instead replaced by the zips and zooms of families of five astride scooters cutting through traffic. After a grueling three-hour wait for liberty call, we made it off the ship, let loose on the tropical port.
The first thing I learned in my humble beginnings as a young sailor was to order the biggest alcoholic drink I could find, as soon as I could find it. Today, my five-course meal was four orders of shots and a burger. After months of MIDRATS and MREs, my stomach was torn. Like a true intellectual, instead of indulging on local culture and foods, I stuck to what I know — a place we have back home: Hooters. I traveled 7,326 miles to dine at a fine establishment that I often frequent in the states.
Two shots in and the ship’s coordinates were starting to fade quick. After months of mandatory sobriety, the alcohol quickly replaces the blood in my veins. The bad-decision hamster wheel starts turning and, suddenly, sh*t ideas become the best ideas. I stand in line at the ATM behind a white expat that’s surrounded by girls that were obviously paid to be there, rubbing his back as he withdraws more cash. I punch in my four-digit pin to see seven months of tax-free, pathetic petty officer pay screaming at me, eager to be blown on warm beer, greasy food, and squalid strippers.
Earlier that day, getting briefed on liberty, we were told thatthe most important thing to remember was to never leave your battle buddy. If you don’t check in with the same person you checked out with, you might as well become a deserter. Find yourself a dish-washing job, maybe a wife,and learn the native language. You’d be stupid to do it, but you wouldn’t be first.
Four shots in and we’re stumbling down the streets, stopping at various times to piss the letters “USA” sloppily down alleyways and all over buildings — exactly the opposite of what we were briefed to do. It’s like trying to wrangle kittens. The most responsible of us (or, the guy most motivated to see strippers) is the voice of reason that keeps pushing the group forward. After a seemingly ten-mile hump, we arrive at the gate: AREA 51.
Inside, the smell of a fog machine and cheap perfume attacks my nose. The spotlight is a flood light, the light show looks like a couple of blind kids playing laser tag, and the girls look like a lineup of failed The Bachelor contestants. There was a girl dancing on stage, moving offbeat to the loudest techno song in the world, in between four unused poles. Unprovoked, I suddenly found myself onstage beside the dancer, doing my best Magic Mike impression.
Six shots in and I’m swinging my shirt over my head like a rodeo clown with money stuffed into the lining of my pants. The whole club is cheering me on — the strippers, the servers, everyone. When the song ends, my drunk ass follows the dancer into the back room. I hear a mix of laughs and excited screams coming from all the girls and the madams that are getting them ready. They drop what they’re doing to run over and take a picture with me.
In my drunken stupor, I assumed it was my handsome good looks and my devilish charms. It wasn’t — it was the big, red target on my back. A giant, green money sign.
We rented out a private room for pennies on the dollar. The drinks were cheaper in buckets and we got a complimentary bottle of kerosene disguised as vodka. The drinks came with dancers, and so the night rolled on. Loud music, bad drinks, and worse company.
Out of nowhere the door flies open.
Flashlights wave in our faces, screaming girls run off half naked, and there we are, a circle of drunk sailors thinking we’re f*cked. The team of agents clears the entire club, going room by room, scanning for sailors. My heart is pounding. Sobriety has never hit harder. The brief on off-limits areas flashes into my head, suddenly crystal clear:
Area 51 – OFF LIMITS TO ALL U.S. PERSONNEL.
F*ck. The club manager runs around frantically, trying to collect his money. A couple agents ask us if we’re squared away with our tab. We are and, against all protocol, he sneaks us out the back.
With a throbbing head and fuzzy memories of the night before, I pop the first of many Advils of the day and make my way through the hangar bay of the ship to morning passdown and shift change. I walk by faces I recognize from the night before and I pull down the front of my cover and gaze away.
Over fifty sailors were put on restriction, a handful of them were processed out of the Navy.
It was the only run in I’ve ever had with an NCIS Special Agent and he saved my ass.
Editor’s note: So, you think your sea story is better? If you’ve got a tale that the world needs to hear, send it our way.