NINE TO FIVE
But Not For Everyone!
Written by Jim “Gymbeaux” Brown, December 22, 2021
tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
Yawn and stretch and try to come to life
the shower and the blood starts pumping
Out on the street, the traffic starts jumping
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5
9 to 5, what a way to make a living
Barely getting by, it's all taking and no giving
They just use your mind, and they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it
Dolly Parton sang about working 9 to 5 and she was right about so many things in the lyrics to that song, especially when she sang, “It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.” Most people actually have 8 to 5 “jobs”, others have 8-hour shifts and some in the medical field 12-hour shifts. Offshore oil workers work a week offshore and then enjoy a week on shore. Of course, the times vary, I’m just trying to make a point – people work different schedules but until the pandemic, most people put their time in at work.
I served for twenty years in the U. S. Coast Guard. Millions have served in the Coast Guard, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and now the Space Force. I can’t speak directly for the other branches of the military or for that matter for people who work for the police, fire, and other first responders, but I can for my fellow “Coasties.”
Birthdays and Births, Anniversaries, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and the Christmas/New Year celebrations tend to be the toughest to endure when you are away from home, especially the birth of a child.
When I signed on to the military, I don’t remember giving much thought to being away from home on such occasions, after all, I was a 20-year-old, more recently just a snot-nosed kid, not knowing for sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was single and I was both excited and scared when I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and put on my Coast Guard Dress Uniform for the first time in 1965. It was the first time I was going to be away from home, alone and heading off to Boot Camp. It wasn’t until about the third week of Boot Camp when I realized that I was going to miss Thanksgiving. I never missed a Thanksgiving with my Mom and Dad, and my Sister and Brother. But that was life in the military as I then came to learn. We were constantly reminded in Boot Camp that we all were lower than whale sh@#, and in the ocean there was nothing lower than whale Sh@% so we had better get used to it! It is easy to understand, years later, that the drill instructors were just doing a job. They wanted us to understand that maybe for the first time in our miserable lives (their term), we were not just a bunch of individuals, we were a team. And even though we were the lowest rung on the ladder, eventually we all would come to understand that we were a team of low rungers if that is actually an official word. When we graduated weeks later, we understood that when we were given an order to jump, the only question that remained was how high were we supposed to jump?
This became the life of someone in the Coast Guard for their next four years and maybe, for some like me, the initial four years turned into twenty years and a career path. Leadership was earned through experience and promotions and an understanding of the “system” for lack of a better word. The system required that you understood you were always on duty, even when you weren’t. You were a Coastie 24 hours a day and should act like a Coastie 24 hours a day. The old saying that one bad apple spoils the bushel was true. One bad action by a Coastie, especially when in uniform, adversely reflected on all Coasties. If someone working in a bank was arrested for driving under the influence, the newspapers may or may not cover the story. But if a member of the military was arrested for the same offense, the papers would assuredly point out the fact that a member of the Coast Guard or a U. S. Marine was arrested for driving under the influence. That became a fact of life, at least for me, (not the drinking and driving; the exposure of being in the service) to cause me to always be aware that I represented the 35,000 members of the U. S. Coast Guard no matter what I was doing.
Back to the holidays. Every Coast Guard unit and I assume all branches of the military and first responders are the same, have calendars and schedules to meet. From this point on I will address only the Coast Guard because that is what I know. If you were fortunate enough to serve on a shore station, you had a better chance of spending the various holidays at home with your families. But not all shore duty is the same. Some duty involves office work. Other duty involves the operation of a search and rescue type unit with small boats and others involve air operations. These types of duty stations require that people be onboard and ready to respond at a moment’s notice 24/7. Even if a small boat is dispatched, there are other boats that require additional crews and there must be people on watch back at the station while those boats are dispatched. The same is true for air stations. There are people always on watch 24/7, 365 days a year. That means that a lot of people are required to be at work and on the job during the holidays aforementioned and as such away from their families.
Shipboard duty is different. The Coast Guard has ships of varying lengths and they perform different types of missions. The “white hulled” ships are engaged in search and rescue, drug interdiction, human trafficking and now they are being deployed all around the globe in support of other official United States missions. The “red hulled” cutters are ice breakers and they do what the name implies but they also are engaged in scientific studies and oftentimes carry civilian scientists onboard for that purpose. The “black hulled” cutters do a lot of different missions. Some are primarily required to maintain buoys around the States and rivers but also at times perform search and rescue when they are in the area of a specific case near them. Others look more like large tugs and they have a multitude of missions they engage in including ice breaking on the nation’s rivers and large lakes.
I don’t know what the official “on watch” number is on any given holiday but with 35,000 plus active-duty members, I would guess that at least one-third (or about 11,000) to as many as one-half (or about 17,000) of that number are required to be on duty let’s say on Christmas. Remember the need for these people to be ready to respond or to continue to be working never stops. Never! Also keep in mind that during a 24-hour period, 1/3 are on watch or ready to go, 1/3 are resting/relaxing and 1/3 are sleeping. This would represent a typical 24-hour period in the day of someone stationed at a search and rescue station or on a ship. Then during times when something breaks that requires the unit to spring into action, it is literally “all hands on deck” meaning forget about sleeping and relaxing, it’s time to respond. Of course, that would not be the case for people stationed at office type jobs ashore but even at these duty stations, there are often people “on watch” 24 hours a day.
You have heard the moto, “God, family and then work.” In the military, like it or not, at times, it is “God, Work and then family” and you have no choice in the matter. Aside from God, your work comes first when you are on duty. When you are not on duty, not so much. Most military people also understand that even when you are not officially “at work”, you are always on call, ALWAYS!
I write this Nugget not so much for members of the military but rather for non-military people to give them a better feel for what it is like to be in the military. Most military people have an appreciation for what they do and they do it with pride of country knowing that freedom and liberty is a crucial thing to help preserve. As such, they must always be ready, regardless of the branch in which they serve. To a lot of civilians (non-military), they know the military exists but I doubt they understand the daily sacrifices members of the military give to keep America free. In the case of the Coast Guard, saving lives at sea and land as well as keeping the ocean and river marine commerce flowing and ensuring the overall safety of anyone involved, what the Coast Guard describes as Marine Safety (ship building, oil & gas facilities, licensing and testing, vessel registration, etc.) is what we have done since 1790.
I retired from Active Duty in 1985 after twenty years of service. I write this Nugget in December of 2021 some 36 years separated from active duty. During those 36 years I have never forgotten the members of the military currently on active duty serving our country but never so much as during the Christmas/New Year end-of-the-year period. I looked up the definition of “fervent.” It identifies the word to mean: having or displaying a passionate intensity. It is my fervent wish that everyone will keep the men and women of the United States Military Forces, all of them, in their thoughts and prayers, that as many as possible will be able to spend this time with their families and that if they are unable, that those who are “on watch” know we all have their backs. We wish them a speedy and healthy return to their families when their duty permits. Just as important, we wish the same for the families who sit at home and wait for that day of return, late as it may be.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!