USS Arlington: A Mission Full of Memories
BY IT1(SW/AW) Christopher Hooper, OutServe-SLDN Virginia Chapter Leader
For the past 18 months I have been stationed onboard Pre-Commissioning Detachment/Unit USS ARLINGTON (LPD 24). I used to be one of those people who took U.S. Navy ships for granted. Get orders, go to a new command—for the most part it seems simple. However, for me it has not been so simple.
While attending mission critical schools for four months in Norfolk, VA. at the Pre-Commissioning Detachment, I received the critical knowledge needed to establish the ship in a short period of time. I was then transferred to the Pre-Commissioning Unit in Pascagoula, Mississippi in January 2012. Upon arrival I set to work learning my way around the ARLINGTON. To see a giant clean hull and then to go inside and witness the work that it takes to build a ship is incredible. I was able to help the shipbuilders of Huntington Ingalls Industries install the gear that I would soon take ownership of and use.
Throughout my training a critical piece of my happiness was missing—my family! It is said the hardest job in the Navy belongs to the spouse, and in our case, this proved true. While I was in Pascagoula, my partner of two years, Joshua, was holding down the fort back in Newport News, Va., working a full time job and taking care of our pets. And for the first time, he was learning how to be apart from his partner for an extended period of time. For 15 months, our communication was limited to brief phone calls. I began to feel the emotional effects of being over 1,000 miles away from home. It took long days and nights of hard work to bring the ship to life, which meant days would go by without talking to Joshua. There were times when I worried we would not be able to maintain our sense of togetherness. But when we were able to talk by phone, Joshua was so supportive and reassuring—giving me the peace of mind I craved. He truly displayed the virtues of a dedicated Navy spouse.
I returned home to Norfolk on 22 March 2013 to a hero’s welcome. For the first time in almost 10 years, my partner was waiting on the pier to welcome me home, and I was able to give him a tour of our new ship. That day, the ARLINGTON was not only my ship, but his ship as well. He had maintained our home, fighting the wars that I could not fight because I was over a thousand miles away. He was my rock, and like all other ARLINGTON spouses, he had a crucial role in the building of the ARLINGTON.
The next major milestone for the ARLINGTON was her commissioning on 6 April 2013. On this day, my fellow crewmembers and I were joined by nearly 5,000 guests to witness our country’s newest ship brought to life when Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, directed us to man our ship and arm the main batteries. There were a few special guests in attendance for me, including Joshua, members of both of our families, OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson and her daughter Jubilee, Brigadier General Tammy Smith and her wife Tracey, and several OutServe-SLDN Virginia Chapter members. Some former shipmates were in attendance as well. Sharing this special day with all of them was so meaningful. To feel the support of the highest levels of OutServe-SLDN and the United States military gives me new hope that through all the pain and uncertainty, the LGBT community will have a stable home in the U.S. military defending our nation and the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As crewmembers of the ARLINGTON, we are taught to think about “Standards and Ownership.” When we apply these same principles in our professional careers and in our personal lives, we are an unstoppable force. Those of us who lived under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” set the standards for that time. Now a new group is setting the standards for the Defense of Marriage Act age. We have chosen to set these standards; we will not let them be set for us. We have taken ownership of these issues and we will not let anyone tell us how we should live. These are our rights as Americans. We are proud. We will stand up and be heard.