Friday, June 14, 2019

When a Bad Thing is Good

When a Bad Thing is Good (Part 1)

When I was the Weapons Officer on USS Capodanno (FF 1093) in the early 1990’s I had an incident that at the time, I thought was the end of the world. During the last six or so months of my tour I did not have a Gunnery Officer assigned, so I had to rely on the Chief Petty Officers in Gunnery to perform the officer’s role as well. I couldn’t do the officer’s job, because I had a department to run and myriad inspections and evolutions to prepare for.

Neither the Chiefs nor myself were fully prepared to run a Gunnery Division, and as a result, a few lapses occurred. One such lapse was that the daily inventory of small arms was not performed correctly. A .45 caliber pistol had been stolen, and the gunners did not report it stolen. It was not discovered missing until my replacement had come on board the ship for normal rotation at the end of my tour. Fortunately, the gun was ultimately recovered, and nobody had been shot with it.

Because I was the accountable officer, I received a poor Officer’s Fitness Report on detaching the ship. I learned shortly after detaching that I had been selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander (LCDR). This meant I could continue to serve if I chose to. But because of the poor fitness report, I was not able to screen to be an Executive Officer (XO) or select for promotion to Commander (O-5, equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel).

I had many wonderful tours as a LCDR, however, and enjoyed that period of my career very much. What’s more, I was able to retire with 20 years for pay. That meant that when my injuries got to the point where I needed to receive significant disability compensation, I was eligible to receive both my pension and full disability. People who retire with less than 20 years, even if on a medical or disability retirement, are not able to do that.

But why was this disaster a good thing? In addition to the above benefits, two classmates of mine had horrid tragedies occur in command.  The Captain of USS Cole, attacked by terrorists in Yemen was a Department Head School classmate of mine. The Captain of USS Greenville, which hit a Japanese fishing boat, killing nine Japanese civil mariners was a Nuclear Power School classmate. 

Recently we know of the collisions of USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain. In both cases, crewmembers were killed.

Other incidents of note include an aircraft carrier that accidentally shot missiles into the bridge of a foreign destroyer, killing their captain, and a cruiser that misidentified and shot down an Iranian civilian Airbus. There have been many other such tragedies at sea that involved the loss of life, as well as millions of dollars of damages. 

I carry no such losses on my conscience, either of members of my own crew or of the deaths of foreign citizens. Thus the incident as a department head spared me this grief. From day one as a Midshipman we are trained that we should strive for command at sea. Yet I am very grateful that I never held that position.

When a Bad Thing is Good (Part 2)

I have been very open about both my disabilities and my being transgender. Nobody is happy about having severe injuries in military service or anywhere else, and I count myself among that. When I was on my final sea duty assignment, in USS Long Beach (CGN 9), I suffered trauma to my neck. That trauma was worsened by a subsequent injury in the command center at Pacific Fleet. By the time I retired from the Navy at the end of 2000, I was already losing strength in my left arm, and experiencing numbness and tingling in my hand. This was the precursor to much to come.

By 2006 I would be dismissed from a Residency program in chaplaincy training at a hospital in Philadelphia, after needing surgery on my neck due to the situation. I have not been able to hold “gainful” employment since then. Due to the damage in my neck, and the degenerative conditions that began from the traumas on the ship and in the command center, three more operations have been needed. I have lived with severe chronic pain since 2006, along with significant reduction in physical abilities. Along with that comes profound depression.

This is all a very heavy load to carry, and it is highly emotionally destructive for many people. It was as well for me for a very long time. I am still grappling with severe depression, pain and disability, but my life is better. Why? How is this a good thing?

Being disabled has enabled me to engage in many volunteer activities over the last 10 years. I have done disability claims for veterans. I have provided counseling services for veterans. I have been a crisis line worker for transgender people. I provide private counseling services. I have been a member of the Jewish Community Advocacy Network. None of this would have been possible if I were working full time.

The chronic pain meant I needed to take substantial doses of narcotics. One of the effects of narcotics is to cause the Pituitary Gland, part of the Hypothalamus, to not function correctly. Its function is suppressed, and it does not produce the gonadal stimulating hormones. This then does not cause the testes to produce testosterone.

My urologist was working to determine why I was having this problem. At the same time, it led me to doing lots of introspection and learning. This self-study, along with discussions with family members and a new psychologist, led me to the conclusion that I am transgender.

As I have written elsewhere, I have always BEEN transgender. I was just not consciously aware of it. I was doing many things a trans person does; I just didn’t know why. So this was a catalyst to lead me to self-awareness.

On July 15, 2015 I took some small, private steps that officially began my transition. They were only visible to Susan and me, but because I took them, I count this date as my Tranniversary. I was able to consult with an endocrinologist in September 2015, beginning hormone therapy the following month, and 
I came out as trans on Thanksgiving weekend of 2015. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So my disability enabled me to finally discover who I am, and yes, it was another case of a bad thing being good. Would I rather be healthy? Of course. Would I have it any other way? NO!