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STA-21 "Officer's" Program

We are reaching the end of our time here in North Carolina. My husband has been working on his mechanical engineering degree as part of the STA-21 "Officer's" program. I've made many civilian friends here. During this time, most of them have been uncertain about what his active duty status has meant ("Will he be deploying soon?") or what happens once we move ("So he'll deploy when you get to South Carolina?"). I thought I would do a recap of his schedule the past three years for fellow STA-21 wives and a summary for all the civilian friends we have made, help spread some awareness of what it means to be a military family.

My husband has been enlisted in the Navy for 9 years this summer. We have been married for the last 6 and a half years. During that time we have not done a deployment. We have done two Change of Homeports, one tour in shipyard where his submarine had a complete overhaul, and countless underways and fast cruises. I even stayed with my parents for a little over 6 months shortly after our oldest was born because his schedule was so intense. When we lived in Hawaii, he was gone nearly 75% of the time we were there between underways, fast cruises, and just general boat life. A fast cruise is when the boat "pretends" to be underway, in layman's terms. They run and test certain systems in preparation for real underways. (Note: A submarine is called a "boat." A surface ship-- air craft carriers, destroyers, etc-- is called a "ship.") If he had not been picked up for the STA-21 program, he would have gone on deployment, which, for his boat, would range from 5-6 months. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when he got picked up and "got out of" deployment. He was less than thrilled having spent the past couple months doing all the work for deployment without getting the chance to go on it. Not only do deployments offer "exotic" port calls, but they are great chances to get qualifications completed. The other big difference between our college life here and real Navy life is duty days. On a boat, duty days mean spending the night on the boat, the frequency depending on what duty rotation they are on. If he is on 2-section, every other night he stays on the boat, complete with work days before and after. If he is on 3-section, every three nights. 4-section is every four nights. While on a boat, they do not work 9-5 jobs, especially since he was a nuclear mechanic in the engine room (where everything goes wrong-- at least, that's how it felt to me! lol!). He has musters, sometimes shift work, sometimes just long, long, long hours-- and duty days. We have not done a proper shore tour yet, so I'm not sure of the differences between the hours and duty days. From talking with my girlfriends, it really depends on the shore tour. (Note: Sea tour is when you are attached to a boat. Shore tour is the "break" between sea tours. These shore tours vary by duty assignment-- and they can really vary.)

All in all, we were on his first boat for 3 years before coming to North Carolina, where we've been for 3 years. Our next move this August will be our 3rd PCS (Permanent Change of Station, which means you are moving on orders). Altogether, this will make 7 moves since marrying my sailor:

  1. To New Hampshire when we first got married
  2. To my parents' house after having our first born
  3. To Hawaii-- PCS #1
  4. To North Carolina (our 2-bedroom apartment)-- PCS #2
  5. To a 3-bedroom apartment in North Carolina
  6. To our house with a fenced in backyard in North Carolina
  7. To South Carolina-- PCS #3
This will be our first PCS where he is moving with us. All the other times he was underway. I am so glad he is moving with us because this is our first move across state lines with three children. Our oldest was the same age our twins are now that we are moving away-- a lot has changed these past three years!

After graduating in August with his mechanical engineering degree (which he got in three years, a stipulation of the STA-21 program), my hubby will be commissioned as an officer in the Navy. He will then have to complete three Navy schools: nuclear power school, prototype, and SOBC (Submarine Officer Basic Course). I have really enjoyed reading this blog about what it is like to go through these schools: "(Very) Unofficial Submarine Officer Pipeline Rundown." Prototype sounds like it will be much more time consuming than power school, from this guy's blog posts; he also includes a post on SOBC. Power school is roughly 6 months long, as is prototype. SOBC is 10 or 12 weeks long and in Connecticut. We are moving to South Carolina for him to go to power school and there is a chance he can complete prototype there as well. However, they may send him to upstate New York for prototype. We would move with him if that happens and it may be good thing because we would be closer to him while he went to SOBC. I think SOBC is an unaccompanied move for him (meaning the Navy will not move his family there). Even if they do, I hear they will only put the family up at the "chalet," which is a hotel room. We will find out more details about where he is going to prototype as he gets closer to completing power school. The next year or so for us will be very "wait and see."

Once he completes power school, prototype, and SOBC, he will get orders for his first sea tour as an officer. At some point we will put in a request for our top 3 choices. We've done some chatting about where we would want to be stationed. Our list waffles between wanting to be within driving distance of family, traveling abroad while our kids our so young and flexible, and his dream boat assignments. I don't know what we will finally put down when we do put in our request or the types of assignments available when the time comes; I also don't know how loyal the Navy will be to honoring those requests. From chatting with my friends and reading Navy wife forums, it sounds like they do their best to honor those lists, but every once in awhile pull the "for the needs of the Navy" card and send you where they want. :)

My local civilian friends have asked me how I feel about moving, if I have any trepidation about starting over in a new place or if I'm used to it. I felt very nervous moving here, away from the support of the military community. I wrote a blog post called "Making friends" about the subject. Now that we've been living psuedo-civilian lives for the past three years, it makes me sad to think about what we are "missing." Our friends here are settled. They have houses they own and school districts picked out. They have neighbors they plan on living next to for years and years. It makes me think of my childhood and how our children's childhood will be very different. D had lived in three different states by the time he was two. On one hand, I am very excited to get back to that sense of community offered by fellow military families and, on another, I am sad to close this chapter of our lives. We have enjoyed our family time here and the friendships we have made.

Both my husband and I will be very glad to have his bachelor's degree behind us. Don't get me wrong-- we have absolutely, 100% loved having family time (and getting a break from boat life). I have loved-- loved, loved, loved-- a reprieve from duty days. But we had a huge pay cut coming here with the STA-21 program. It was also exceedingly stressful for him balancing family life and his college career. We had to extend his contract to come here, committing ourselves to the Navy until 2018. If he couldn't get his degree in three years, if his grades slipped, if whatever worst case scenario happened, he would get sent back to the fleet at his old rate and fulfill his contract. I can't imagine putting myself under that level of stress-- a mechanical engineering degree in three years with a family of five (a wife and three kids) plus the threat of being sent back to the fleet if you failed. 

While his Navy schedule has not been demanding here (he PT's twice a week and has a once a week Navy lab in the evening), I've found myself sometimes struggling with his school schedule. It was much easier being understanding of a schedule imposed on him-- 20 hour work days on the boat followed by a duty day versus 2 classes in the morning, studying all afternoon, and meeting up with a group to complete a project in the evening. There were many days we argued because I wanted help with sick kids and he needed to get some reading done. There were many times we argued over finances. There were many times I felt like, "If I can't deal with this schedule, what am I going to do when we get back on a boat? What are we doing this for?" His senior year was really, really difficult. He had group projects in almost every class during the fall semester and his senior design project due in the spring semester. Our twins' first year was busy, but senior year was the hardest to get through for us. Thankfully we were both willing to roll up our sleeves and work on our marriage. We've communicated our thoughts and feelings and have come out on the other side of this as an even better team.

All in all, the time here flew by. For us, the first year was a huge adjustment. We were getting used to living under one roof without duty days and underways interrupting our time. The second year we had twins and that was a big adjustment, going from one child to three children plus hubby's school schedule. The third year was his senior year and was an absolute whirlwind. We have no regrets how we spent our family time, but still feel like we should have explored our local area more. We've lived in North Carolina for three years and have made it to their beautiful beaches once. We live in prime BBQ land, but stick to one restaurant (a very, very good restaurant at that). I suppose there are always those "I wish we had..." when you are a military family and preparing to PCS.

I've written a few blog posts about our time here in North Carolina--including why we moved so much locally-- and the STA-21 program. If you would like to read them, here are the links:

Comments

Anonymous said…
NSI is 10 weeks? I thought I read that it was 8 weeks, possibly less for nurse/medical corps candidates... my real question was did the navy pay to move your family to NO before your husband started school as they do with normal pcs orders
Kimber said…
I am not sure for nurse/medical corps. I was also talking about Submarine Officer's Basic Course in this post (SOBC).

When he was picked up in the officer's program, we moved from Hawaii and he went to NSI in Rhode Island. I do not remember how long it was. I moved to North Carolina with our son; we did have orders since NSI was unaccompanied.

He left NSI and joined us in North Carolina where he completed his degree in mechanical engineering.

Now he's going back to subs and is working his way through the officer pipeline: power school, prototype, and SOBC.

I hope that helps!

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