By Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Trenesha Clark
I’m very family oriented. I’m pretty much doing the unthinkable right now being in the Navy. I have a little bit of family background in the military but I’m the only female, I know, in my family who was in the military.
I always thought about joining the Navy. My uncle, who was a [master-at-arms], was always kind of pushing me into it and telling me to think about it, but I wanted to see what was out there first, as far as the real world. I was on a basketball scholarship and my main focus was studying criminal justice. I had numerous jobs—two or three jobs at once, so I was pretty much everywhere and then all of a sudden I got the urge to join. I thought, why not just give it a shot? I was in [the delayed entry program] for five to six months and the next thing I knew I was in boot camp.
My mom was kind of like, are you sure? But she’s always said that I was responsible and make good decisions as far as what I want to do with my life. She was pretty confident I was going to do well. She was still a little nervous, you know, her baby girl was leaving. I was kind of surprised though. I thought she was going to say, “Oh no. I don’t want you to go. Not the military,” but she let me go.
I was undesignated coming in. I was actually unaware that I was undesignated. I thought I was going to be an electronics technician; that’s what my recruiter and I were talking about. The next thing I know, when I got to boot camp, they told me I was probably going to go to Nimitz and be undesignated. I was like, “Huh?” It completely threw me off, but I took it as if there must be something out there different for me. I’ll take advantage of whatever opportunity I have.
For undesignated seamen, ‘A’ school is about 10 days, but I was there a little bit longer than I was supposed to be. When I reported to Nimitz, I was still undesignated. I came in as an E-2, or a seaman apprentice. Coming here was kind of a big culture shock. I mean, I’ve been around a lot of different people especially in high school and college. But on a ship, there are just so many different people as far as ages, genders, race, ethnicity, sexuality and all that stuff. I kind of just thought, ‘ok, this is what the real world’s all about.’ You’re just kind of thrown into it. I just thought, how will I stand out above all these people? Being undesignated, especially in Deck Department, you have a lot of different people—people who have been in longer or people who just got here like myself, so just coming in I was just like a little, well I wouldn’t say intimidated, but I just kept thinking, where do I stand? What do I need to do to make myself stand out?
When it came down to choosing which rate I would be, I had the option of being a [culinary specialist] but I didn’t want to do that because I knew the underway schedule would be busy. I could’ve been a [logistics specialist] but I didn’t want to do that either. I knew I wanted to strike [boatswain’s mate]. I started learning everything I could and the tradition behind the rate. It’s been around so long—it’s the oldest rate in the Navy. That really amazed me. I would say it’s a big community but it’s really small, especially for females. It’s very much a male dominated rate, so that inspired me to want to do it more. Yeah, I’m probably going to be compared a lot to the males and be a little criticized, but that would make me stand out, so I thought, why not? The Navy is mostly males. As females we have to do what we can to stand out and being in that rate, I knew I could do that. I’ve only met one [Chief Boatswain’s Mate] female, and one [Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class] female. It’s a pretty small community for females in that rate. I thought I could be the addition to it. I wanted to actually make a difference and make more females want to be a BM.
People think being a BM is just painting, it’s not. There’s a lot more stuff that you do. Sometimes it can get a little tough, but in the end it’s all worth it.
If the ship is pulling out of port, we have sea and anchor detail and we’re probably up at least three hours before anyone else is; just setting up on station and getting prepared. We have [communications] check, we have to make sure all of our mooring lines are right, all personnel is ready, has their proper [personal protection equipment] and knows where they need to be. There are a lot of things we need to do. We have to get the ship underway, and we have to get it underway in a certain amount of time. We have to be very efficient.
We also have [underway replenishment] where we are either fueling at sea, or replenishing at sea. When we’re fueling at sea we have one delivery station. We also have the master helmsman program where you drive the ship during those evolutions from six to eight hours, sometimes even longer. That’s a big job in itself just driving the ship. Safety overall is our number one thing. People need to know what they’re doing and make sure they are watching other people as well.
The underway watch bill includes aft steering, the helm, aft lookout, forward lookout all the way up on the Signal Bridge, starboard and port lookout. When you’re at the helm, you’re actually driving the ship, which is pretty cool because you’re up there with the officers and you get the feel of what it’s really like to be underway and to be a Sailor on a ship. I love it. I love driving the ship.
We also have boatswain’s mate of the watch where we come over the 1MC and we’re piping which is a very big tradition. It’s been around since the first boatswain’s mate. I’m learning and working on getting my qualification right now. It’s fun, but then again you can tell if someone messes up, even just a little. You really have to know what you’re doing because the whole ship—5,000 people—can hear you and the Captain could be standing right there next to you.
The pipe is small, and it has five different positions that make five different sounds. You really have to pay attention to the sounds because the different sounds mean different things – you have all hands, sweepers, secured. It’s cool, but lung capacity…let’s talk about that. I’ve been out of breath just trying to hold it! But if other BMs can to it, I know I’ll be able to.
With everything we’ve got going on daily, being out of touch with society and home is the most difficult part. I’ve talked to my mom maybe twice since we’ve been underway this time around. Even when we were in port in San Diego I just knew that we had a lot of work to do. I wanted to go grab something to eat and then come back to the ship and just lie down. It’s just very time consuming. You know what has to be done but in the back of your head you’re thinking about home. I miss home, I miss being able to have my own personal time. I have nieces and nephews who I’m missing growing up. Pictures can’t really replace just being there and actually seeing somebody grow up. My mom and dad just got their first home, my brother’s almost graduating college, but I have a job to do. You sign up knowing eventually these things are going to happen. I’m in the Navy now. I really need to take care of this before I worry about that. It’s very mental and emotional sometimes but I try to keep it all together.
I believe that anything I do has a purpose. A lot of people might say, “Oh, we just clean all day.” But look at everything we actually do-- we’re launching helicopters, launching jets. I may not personally be in Air Department but I watch it happen. We drive the ship, we’ve got to make sure everybody is taken care of and we’ve got to take care of ourselves as well. I try to believe I serve a purpose some way, somehow. I also try to stay involved with community service. That’s just a little bit extra rather than just saying, “I’m in the Navy.” It’s awesome to say, but look what else I’m doing. I’m doing a little bit more than just coming to work and doing what I’m supposed to do. I expect that, I expect that from myself and I expect that from other people. But are you doing a little more extra? It’s not just about you.
My motivation everyday is to not slip up. I don’t want any other females, or someone who wants to become a boatswain’s mate to think I don’t do anything. I want to show them it is fun, but don’t think that it’s always going to be easy. Most days I wake up and I don’t want to get out of my rack, but I know I have to. I don’t want to let my family down. I don’t want to let anybody down. That’s just the way I am. I don’t want to let my senior leadership down, I don’t want anyone who’s junior to me or even my peers to feel that I’m slacking. I want them to be able to look at me and say, “She’s a great boatswain’s mate. She’s doing what she’s supposed to do.” I don’t want to be looked at as a dirt bag. I want to know that I’m standing out and I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and I want everybody else to see that too. That’s my motivation.