Monday, January 28, 2013

12 Days Active Duty in Tennessee

Like all previous active duty stints, it's all TOP SECRET while I'm gone until I get back in order to protect my family. No need to tell the world I'm traveling. So for the past 12 days, I had the opportunity to go to the hub of all Navy HR...records upkeep, all Navy sailor promotions, officer selection boards, and the place where every sailor talks to when they pick their next ship and/or duty station...Millington, Tennessee. Millington is a small rural town about a half hour north of Memphis, TN in the SW corner of the state. Being that Memphis is #5 on the most dangerous cities in the country, I kept my distance. In relation to other cities in the state, Nashville is a diagonal line northeast by 3 hours. The base used to be called Memphis Naval Air Station. It's no longer an air station and now goes by Naval Station Mid-South.

Upon arriving, I quickly got to work on my reason for being there. I volunteered to serve as a "recorder" on an officer selection board. Back in January 2007 (6 years ago), I was selected to become a Naval Officer at this same exact board...a DCO (Direct Commision Officer). The boards consists of many senior officers, mostly Navy Commanders and Captains (O-5 and O-6) and chaired by an Admiral. For me, I'm a Lieutenant, an O-3, a junior officer. For selection boards, "recorders" prepare the records for review by the board prior to the board and then serve as admin support during the board itself. The real fruit from all of this comes from the networking with senior officers and with hearing the debate over candidates who are close to being selected or non-selected. Much is gleaned from all of it on how to best prepare my record for a promotion board in the future and for what's important or non-important. Being a recorder as a junior officer is a pretty priceless experience in the career progression of any Naval Officer. So, I spent the first week prepping the records for review the following week.

As soon as I arrived in Memphis from Chicago O'Hare, delayed of course, due to freezing rain in Memphis, I quickly scooted to the rental car counter to pick up my authorized compact rental. Arriving at space C44 as directed, looking for my compact, this is what I find. Yea, a candy-apple red Ford Mustang convertible covered in ice. (can't see the ice well in this photo but trust me, it's there.) I fired it up to melt the ice and quickly dug through my paperwork to find the problem. "NO WAY the Navy is going to fund me driving a convertible!" Eventually, an Avis employee came on out and confirmed that I was upgraded for free and no additional charges would happen. SCORE!!! The only problem is...it's sleeting outside and I couldn't exactly put the top down...nor would I ever during my 12 days except for a few minutes a few times.

After waiting a few days for the sleet to stop, I finally got the chance to start running on the base during my free time. It was shorts weather for the remainder of my trip after that freezing rain ended and honestly, the 5 1/2 mile trip around the base was pretty nice. Very little traffic at all and half of it is on the perimeter amongst the evergreens and barbed wire. :-) However, on my very, very first trip out...haha...first "trip" out...I tripped. HARD. This stinkin' rusted pipe was partially in the grass and partially on the very rough sidewalk. I wasn't even a 1/4 mile into my run. My right elbow, left palm, right tattoo :-), and my knee took the punishment with the majority from my knee. Bright red blood...pouring down my leg. I called my "nurse" and got some instructions, headed back to my room for some tissues then like the "hard core" runner that I am, I headed back out and did my 7 intended miles. :-) I never just did the loop but like my OCD self, I rounded up a bit. No blood is gonna stop me.

As the end of week 1 was coming to an end, I was thinking about how to spend the weekend alone in SW Tennessee and what all was around me. For sure, there was nothing in the Millington area and we already talked about Memphis. Nashville, on the other hand, was only 3 hours away. Being the country music capital and home to so many stars, I thought I'd research it a bit. I started by Googling the local running community to see if I could meet up with anyone or if any races/marathons/50Ks were going on that I could jump into. I did find the Nashville Striders homepage and through a series of e-mails, etc., I connected with a group who was meeting at 8:30am on Saturday morning for 13 or so. That sounded good to me and if I got on the road by 5am...and didn't get lost, I could make it and then tack on any extra miles at the end, if need be.

I've also become a pretty big fan of the craft brew/microbrew world. One thing I couldn't care less about is the intoxicating effect of too much alcohol. It's not my intent to consume much or pursue drunkenness but instead to seek out those entrepreneur-like establishments and breweries, hear their story, taste their "pride and joy" and simply learn from it all. There are certainly pockets of this industry in the country and I wanted to find out what Nashville had. NE Ohio is a great place for this and like I found out back in November, NW California is, too. But what about Nashville? I began by researching the area and there's no better place to do that than on beeradvocate.com. Whether it's a particular review/rating on a specific craft brew, a brewery/restaurant review, they have it. So by the weekend, I had my weekend run plans in, I researched the local craft brew scene (see right), and even made a hotel reservation in the wealthy southern area of Nashville, the town of Brentwood.

Saturday was pretty awesome. I was on the road at 5am, as planned, and met up with the locals for a morning, crisp run. Me in my shorts and T-shirt and others in pants, gloves, headbands, and winter hats. It was low 40s, sun, and projected to rise nicely. I was perfectly comfy. After about 10 miles and plenty of good conversation with my new friends about the local area, what to do, and the local running scene (which sounds robust), I went off on my own and ventured further out to get in a full 20 miles. It was good to share 10 miles but I'm a loner, by nature, so getting that private running time was a bonus. Mostly, I was on the Music City Greenway, a paved path that twists and turns throughout the eastern side of Nashville. Flat for a good part then some pretty good rolling hills, river crossings, and lots of birds I didn't recognize.
Me on the Music City Greenway around Mile 17
After the run, I put the top down in my Mustang and cruised through Nashville a bit to get my bearings and hit a few of the craft brew stops on my list. Hands down, my favorite was Jackalope Brewing. Two girls, in their late 30s, left their corporate jobs in New England and about a year and a half ago, and opened this place up. They don't bottle, they don't serve food, they just brew about 4 main craft brews and have a specialty one that is tied to a local charity. The current one is giving back to a local rescue dog shelter. They were the ones behind the tap room bar and the place was packed. It was very cool to read their story through newspaper articles on the wall and see the place so busy and supported. Great craft brew, too!

As evening came around, I headed into Brentwood and sought out Dave Ramsey's headquarters. If you've followed me for awhile, you know that I'm a big fan and have been credit-card free for about 3 years now. I knew his studio and home/mansion were in Brentwood and I was determined to find them. I did and I was amazed at how small it was. A simple 4 story, square building across the street from a mall. Looking in the front glass doors as the sun was setting on Saturday night, I could see his broadcast studio and the cookie shop he talks about on the air. I expected more of a "Dave Ramsey campus" but it was nothing like that at all. Afterwards, I found a Starbucks, did some writing, then found dinner. I wanted something local and a place that perhaps, served a good selection of local craft brews. One thing I was learning quick is that there really isn't a lot of local choices. Really, only about 5 craft breweries that I could find and a few weren't worth writing home about. I ended up at Burger Republic, a place known for serving great food and burgers from local grass-fed cattle. Actually, the used hops from the first brewery I went to, Yazoo Brewery, are fed to these cattle. Burger Republic was fantastic and once there, I opted out of any local brews and instead went for the "spiked shake" that was raved about heavily on Yelp! (pictured right).  Hershey Peanut Butter Cup on top. See the military magazine case behind it? That's the restaurant's condiment holder. Love it! Back at my hotel for the night, I crashed at a reasonable hour so that I could get a good run in on Sunday morning through some Brentwood mansions...which I did, to the tune of an additional 10 miles. It was a bright, sunny morning and perfect for a run. I did find that I was quickly becoming overwhelmed by the pursuit of "stuff". Every house was brick, a minimum of a 3-car garage and several thousand square feet. Pulling up my Realtor App a few times for homes for sale, everything was $1 million and up...and there were HUNDREDS of homes like this. For some, this could've been a turn-on of sorts of desire for it. Not for me. I was over it and I just couldn't understand it. Why do people need so much? So much excess? After my run, I showered up and tried to get close to Dave Ramsey's home which is located about 10min from his office. About 5 miles from it, you can see it on the top of a huge hill...at the highest point...like a castle. As I got close, what I found was a neighborhood like never before. Every turn, every street, every cul-de-sac, was protected by giant, pointed iron gates. Money, money, money...I thought I'd seen it all on my morning run. This was that...doubled...or tripled. I never did get close to "Uncle Dave's" home. Impossible to do so without parking then trespassing. So I didn't and headed into Nashville for the day before heading back to Millington.

Back in Nashville, I decided to find some free parking and tour downtown by foot. I heard about Broadway, all the honky tonks, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and local starving musicians playing everywhere. Here's a random photo on Broadway as I walked along. What I found quickly is that Nashville downtown looked like any other downtown but instead of the typical touristy shops selling Nashville hoodies and cups (there still were those), it was more shops selling a million cowboy hats and boots. There was also plenty of live music within the pubs and restaurants before the clock even struck 11am on Sunday morning. I did find a few more places to check out off of my list but wasn't impressed at all and by mid-afternoon, I hit the road for Millington, totally burnt out on Nashville. Sure, there is plenty of "country" history there but the self-pleasing feeling of downtown and honestly, in my opinion, not too much unique character, bored me and I wanted to be gone. I also found it sad to see beggars on the street corner just after leaving the super-rich area of Uncle Dave's neighborhood. The two demographics exist so close to each other. One is a complete life of excess while other of nothingness. What a contrast. What a sick feeling.

After about 1hr stop at a Starbucks to write some more just west of Nashville, I returned back to base in the early evening. Monday was a federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr Day, but I needed to be on base to start shuttling senior officers from the airport as they arrived for the selection board. After a good night sleep, another run around the base on Monday, I headed on out to the airport, but not before going to a sushi buffet I had spotted the week prior. Before 4:45pm each day, it was $11. After that...$22. So, I hit it up after my run and before the airport. OH MY WORD.....SOOOOO GOOD!!!! How good? See below for my first trip to the buffet. The sushi chefs were hard at work, making everything fresh and I loved it. I didn't overdo it but I sure did enjoy it...talk about a bargain!
The rest of the day was uneventful but good. I did my job in picking up at the airport and was ready for Tuesday morning to arrive and meet everyone. I was really looking forward to the networking and learning experience it would all bring.

There are lots of rules with selection boards regarding privacy and secrecy so I won't talk about the board. I'll just say that it was a priceless experience to have and I am appreciative for the opportunity. At the end, I was recognized by the admiral who chaired it and received one of her coins. That was pretty awesome!!! I'd love to share a photo of it but then I'd compromise her privacy so I won't. After the conclusion of the board, I found a runner among them and ended up doing a 7 miler on Wednesday evening on base. He is a very senior Navy captain and honestly, I hardly remember running those 7 miles. There was so much great conversation...about running, about the outdoors, about Navy career management...and more. I really, really enjoyed the run and what better way to network and be mentored than while on a run??? Seriously? Could there be?! I think not.

As the week and two weeks wound down, the board concluded, they headed on home, and I wrote the final selection letter to all of the recruiters. Every name, whether selected or not, was typed, checked, double-checked, and triple-checked for accuracy. It was my honor to do that. 6 years ago, I eagerly waited for that letter and to see if my name would be on the "select" part and it was. It was very cool to be a part of that same board 6 years later but in uniform. Very cool, indeed. So with that, it's back to the grind of a hourly government worker. I sure do enjoy being in uniform, no doubt. It's in my blood. I am thankful that I get to serve, even part-time, while still being home now with my family. Here are a few more random photos from the 2 weeks.
A jet from the Vietnam era...a nuclear strike bomber from the USS Ranger

Such a personal touch...a yellow sticky note on my headboard in the Hampton Inn Brentwood...just renovated. Totally caught me off guard but I loved the personal touch!


Downtown Nashville....see Mr. Moon left/center? :-)

Downtown Nashville at the Center for the Visual Arts...reminded me of home.
Going Home. 

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