An Exchange of Perspective
A Sailor's trip aboard a New Zealand ship
Excitement and mystery flooded their system. They had found out just days before about the trip to an unknown platform. The step-by-step preparations only made them more anxious to find out what lay in further waters.
As they walked to their MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, from the "Eightballers" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, their emotions seeped to their faces, and the excitement crept into the corners of their smile. Their shining teeth revealing a subdued joy.
As the Helicopter left the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), the short ride over open ocean left many of their unspoken questions unanswered. Will they be friendly? Will I understand their accent? Will the environment be uptight? What is their food like?
Before long, the helicopter was chocked and chained to the flight deck of the Royal New Zealand Anzac-class frigate HMNZS Te Kaha (F77). As the group exited the helicopter and walked through the compact hangar bay, Royal New Zealand sailors were eager to meet each and every one of us.
I was one of the few lucky Sailors that were granted the opportunity to view life on the ocean from a New Zealander's perspective. I can't speak for the rest of the Sailors who were afforded the same opportunity, but this was my first time on a different ship besides Nimitz, let alone one from a different country.
The accent. This was the very first thing that hit me. It played right into my imagination, and perfectly exemplified what I thought a New Zealand sailor would sound like. It rang as a mix between dignified British and laid back Aussie. Within minutes I felt myself asking questions just to hear more of the foreign jargon.
We walked through the passageways of the ship, and my eyes darted in every which direction. It was immaculate. There was no dust or dirt to be found. This was the doing of all the sailors that were out and about cleaning when I arrived. They were all hard at work, but within the same moment of time, I felt their warm, inviting, relaxing faces hit mine. I could feel the warmth of each individual and the welcome they were extending to me with their body language.
The first stop was the mess, which shouldn't be confused with their mess deck, which actually is what they call where they sleep. We all walked in and set our bags down. Being in media, I immediately got my camera and gear out and started documenting my adventure. The televisions in the room were filled with modern music videos. Decks of cards and board games scattered the tables, and joyful, welcoming smiles blanketed the faces of Sailors around the room.
After an initial meet and greet, we headed to the kitchen. Organized, relaxed, and fresh. As we looked through the galley, three New Zealand sailors were hard at work, preparing the mid-day meal. The food was fresh, the equipment was extremely organized, and the sailors were talking and joking as they cut fruit, tossed salad, and prepared different pans and dishes for baking.
We headed to the bridge, and once again the ease and relaxed attitude pulled me into the space. It was after more introductions that it finally hit me. 'Not a single person here has referred to me by my last name.' Every person I met in my short time aboard simply called me Cole, which really only added to the feeling of family.
As we exited the bridge, our next stop was an enlisted mess deck. The equivalent of a U.S. Navy Berthing. As we reached the space, I looked around at some of the other U.S. Sailors.
Collectively in body language, but singularly with one voice, we all asked the same question, "Why are all your boots and shoes lined up outside the space?" With a peculiar look, one of the New Zealanders answered, "because we like to keep them off the carpet inside." it was a small detail, but it really embodied my entire experience.
Everything was so different here.
They have carpet in their berthing!
We moved on with the tour, and I mentally created a list of all the oddities I'd seen throughout the day. Men with beards, women with pony tails and jewelry, coveralls with no undershirt, first names with no formalities. The list went on and I really started to appreciate this different way of life.
Next stop on the tour was dinner. We headed back for the small but quaint galley and joined the short line of New Zealand sailors. I grabbed a white ceramic plate from the shelf and turned to the large oblong serving window in the bulkhead. I couldn't believe it. The food looked like something out of a magazine. Without tasting it, I turned to Riley, our guide for most of the day, and asked him if the feast I saw was only for the visit. He looked at me with wonderment and told me it was really one of their more average meals.
I couldn't believe it. After sitting down with my plate, I decided to take a picture as evidence to everyone back on the ship. After the first couple bites, we all extended our love for their food. When one Sailor explained that he had never had chow like this on the boat, the same befuddled look we saw so many times throughout the day resurfaced on a New Zealand face. An explanation was once again given on the miscommunication. Like so many other Navy terms, chow is simply called scran in the New Zealand Navy.
After dinner was over, there was plenty of time for cards, games and socializing. It was during these final hours that I reflected on my day and my experiences. I realized that although I would go back to Nimitz with New Zealand coins, patches and stickers, the biggest possession I was taking back was the experience of a different perspective.