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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Nicollette P. Martinez, 2002

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Object ID: WV0251.5.001

Description: Interview primarily documents Nicolette Martinez’s service in the U.S. Navy from 1990-1994.

Summary:

Martinez discusses joining the military to pay for college, her reasons for choosing the navy, and her deferred enlistment. She provides details of her boot camp experience, including the high attrition rate; her drill instructors; intensive training; swim training; schedule; and regulations. Topics relating to quartermaster school include: earning the right to wear civilian clothing; classes; and social activities.

Martinez focuses on her time stationed aboard ships, including being in the first group of women assigned to the USS Haleakala. Discussion of her time aboard includes: working in navigation; avoiding hazardous weather; driving the ship during ammo transfers; seasickness; using GPS (Global Positioning System); and celebrating the Fourth of July in Saipan. She also shares a story about being in the Philippines for the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and aiding in the clean-up process. Topics relating to her time on the USS Cape Cod include wearing long pants and shirts to respect the culture of Bahrain; a sand storm damaging the ship; the intense heat in Arab countries; and the meals served on the ship.

Other interview topics are servicemen’s opinions of servicewomen; the difficulty in getting stationed near her husband; patriotism; her opinion of women serving in combat positions; and her education and career in addiction counseling.

Creator: Nicolette Suzette Martinez

Biographical Info: Nicolette Martinez of Greensboro, North Carolina, was a quartermaster in the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 1994 and later worked as a substance abuse counselor.

Collection: Nicolette Petrone Martinez Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today I am in Greensboro, North Carolina. It's March the sixth—time is marching on—the year is 2002. I'm sitting down this morning with Nicki Martinez.

Ms. Martinez, thank you very much for agreeing to talk with us about your career in the navy today. I'm going to start with you with the same simple question I ask most folks, and that is, simply, where were you born? Where did you grow up?

NM:

I was born here in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I grew up here. So I clicked my heels like Dorothy and said, “There's no place like home.” [laughter]

EE:

Have any brothers and sisters?

NM:

Yes. I have one younger brother and an older brother and an older sister. The older brother is also a military man. He was a navy guy.

EE:

What about your folks? What do they do?

NM:

My mother is a substance abuse counselor, and she lives with me, along with my niece and nephew. She's my rock, of course. Then my father, he works for DiInterno[?], which is a crane operation, and he's also here in Greensboro. He lives with his wife.

EE:

Either one of them have any military background?

NM:

My dad's a Marine. He did his time during Vietnam.

EE:

Where did you graduate from school around here?

NM:

Smith High School.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school, growing up?

NM:

Yes, I always was very interested in learning, and I've been a bookworm since I've known how to read.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject when you were in school?

NM:

Probably English and writing was my favorite, because I was good at it, I guess.

EE:

Did you have an inkling of what you wanted to do when you grew up?

NM:

I knew I wanted to go to school, and I knew that I wanted to teach people. I've always been very good at teaching other people what I've learned how to do. When I was in eighth grade, I decided I wanted to become a schoolteacher, and when I graduated high school, I knew that I was going to go to college, but I couldn't afford it at the time, so the military was the answer.

EE:

I guess your folks probably were encouraging that as a good option, or did they?

NM:

My mother was very encouraging of that. My father was adamantly against it. He did not think the military was the place for women. You know, he grew up in a time where women stayed home, cooked and cleaned the house, took care of the kids, and he firmly believed in that. He was mighty upset when I told him I had joined the navy.

EE:

Did any of your classmates join the service as well?

NM:

A few, but no women, none that I know of, anyways.

EE:

When did you graduate, '88?

NM:

Eighty-eight, and went into the navy in '90. I worked for a couple of years, waited tables and supported myself and knew that I didn't want to do that the rest of my life.

EE:

You have a Marine background. What was it that made you pick the navy out of all the services?

NM:

I knew I wanted to travel, and with [U.S.] Army and Marines, you kind of stay put. Air force and [U.S.] Navy, you're more likely to travel. So that's why I chose navy, that and because my brother, my oldest brother, had been in the navy, and it seemed like something I could do, too.

EE:

Was he in the navy at the time you graduated?

NM:

When I graduated high school, he was still in, yes.

EE:

So he was giving you some advice, then?

NM:

Not really. He'd moved to Florida after he'd gotten out of the service and really didn't push that at all. But when I told him, he was glad. He thought it would be a good thing for me to do. He never discouraged me.

EE:

Well, that's good. That's good. You were telling me before we started that you, actually, to join the navy, you had to go down to Charlotte.

NM:

Charlotte is the MEPS center, Military Entrance Personnel Station.

EE:

So was there a recruiting station here that you went to first?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

And did you go in declaring, “I'd like to join the navy. How do I do that?”

NM:

Well, the truth is, when I graduated high school, I actually went to go talk to a recruiter then, and I had a boyfriend and wasn't ready to give that up to join the military. So I put it off. Then I woke up one day and said, “It's time for me to do something so that I can be successful in life.” Then I went to talk to recruiters and took the ASVAB [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery] and all that good stuff.

EE:

What's the ASFAB?

NM:

ASFAB is the actual entrance test, entrance exam.

EE:

Armed Services something?

NM:

Battery. The last part's Battery. I can't remember.

EE:

Anyway, it's what they tell you where your aptitudes are, right?

NM:

Yes. And then when I went to the MEPS center, they test you. They do all kinds of stuff down there, and then they give you an idea of where you rank among other people as far as scoring and what you're eligible for because of your scoring.

EE:

So when you went down, after this series of tests at that center, you pretty much knew the kind of work you were going to be assigned?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Before going to basic, before any—

NM:

Well, I could have left that day, depending on the job that I chose, and I chose quartermaster, which is navigation, but I ended up being a delayed entry person [DEP]. I stayed in DEP for almost a year before I actually left for boot camp.

EE:

So you graduated in '88, talked to a recruiter, but didn't want to leave. About '89 is when you went to take these tests. You were actually called up in '90.

NM:

Right. I went in in '90.

EE:

When did you get the letter?

NM:

I didn't get a letter. I stayed in MEPS, which meant that I went to visit them once a month, talked to them, saw videos, and, you know, they kind of tried to prepare me as much as possible for boot camp. Then I left in September of '90 for boot camp.

EE:

This extended recruiting process is sort of a delay in process and is different from a lot of the women I've talked to. Is this the standard procedure, then?

NM:

It is if you're waiting for a particular type of job.

EE:

So it was only because you were picky that they kind of made you keep in contact with them?

NM:

Right. Well, you know, because of my scores on the ASVAB, I was eligible for higher type of positions. You know, some people go in immediately as a deck seaman, where they don't have any classification as far as what type of job they're going to do, and I wanted to have something written about what I was going to do.

EE:

The world changed a little bit between '88 and September of '90. In August of '90, Kuwait is invaded. So, I mean, it's one thing to have this conversation at home, where it's sort of academic about when you're going to go in and okay, but after August '90, what was the attitude of the folks about your going in the month afterwards?

NM:

My mother was scared. Other people were just shocked. They couldn't believe I actually was going to do it, you know, but a lot of admiration for having the guts to do something like that. Truthfully, my purposes for joining the military were not for patriotic reasons. They were not for wanting to serve my country and be in it for war. My purpose was because I wanted to college, and I knew Uncle Sam would pay for it if I gave him a little bit of my time. It was a very selfish reason, but it ended up changing.

EE:

How much commitment did you have to give on the front end? How many years of service?

NM:

Well, it depends on your job, and my particular job required four years.

EE:

And for those four years, you'd be guaranteed three years of assistance in college, or how did it work?

NM:

You were guaranteed a certain amount in college, and at the time it was $18,000. Now it's $30,[000].

EE:

To be spent wherever you wanted to spend it?

NM:

Well, it had to be used for college. I mean, you could use it to pay for household expenses while you were in college. You got a particular amount each month.

EE:

Which you could apply to whatever school you wanted to for those purposes?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

You went to Orlando, Florida, for basic. Tell me how long that was, and what was a typical day like for you in basic?

NM:

Basic training was very scary. It lasted, I believe, nine weeks. Six weeks or nine weeks. I can't remember. It was grueling exercise and breaking you down as low as you could go and bringing you back up again. Boot camp is where I first had my taste of patriotism. They have five processing days when you first get to boot camp, and those five days, you're filling out paperwork, you're learning how to say, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” “Yes, ma'am,” “No, ma'am,” and kind of becoming a robot for those first five days.

They're not allowed to exercise you at all during those first five days, because you have to get used to not sleeping, eating at a specific time, having a very limited time to eat. You know, it was torture, of course, and I cried whenever I could. I missed my family very much.

Then, let's see. I was given a position in my company as a leader, but it was taken away from me about halfway through boot camp, which is common. You know, any minor infraction can get something taken away from you in boot camp.

EE:

How many women were in your barracks?

NM:

We started out with eighty-eight, and we ended up with, I think, thirty-something.

EE:

That's a high attrition rate. All women?

NM:

All women.

EE:

So the training was not coed when you were in?

NM:

Our classroom time was coed. The males sat on one side of the room, and we sat on the other side of the room, and we had to keep eyes and heads straight forward. We were not allowed to fraternize at all. We really weren't even supposed to be talking to each other during classroom training time. But we did not march together. Now they do, but they didn't then.

EE:

Were all of your instructors women?

NM:

I had one male and one female.

EE:

So did the male do the drill?

NM:

Both of them. I guess they kind of ran in shifts, and sometimes we had both of them together. He was higher rank, so he had the final word about what happened in our company. He was an old-school sailor, had been in for a long time, and cursed at us, which she never cursed at us, but she was mean as a dog. She was very intimidating. You know, she was a lot scarier than he was.

EE:

It obviously scared half of them away. What's the main reason folks left?

NM:

Well, a lot of them had medical reasons, where they were switched to another boot camp company; a lot of them had family reasons; and some of them just couldn't handle it and dropped out.

EE:

You were talking about the first five days. After the first five days, did you have any liberty at all, or were you pretty well structured?

NM:

Oh no.

EE:

No weekend liberty?

NM:

No, nothing. Up until right at graduation, we had nothing that was freedom.

EE:

So you could have been in Timbuktu. You didn't see any of Orlando while you were there?

NM:

I did after, you know—

EE:

After boot camp?

NM:

After boot camp, you know.

EE:

But not during?

NM:

Not during.

EE:

You could have been anywhere in the world, right?

NM:

After your first five days, you have what's called intensive training, and it's basically six or eight solid hours of exercise. And I'll never forget that day.

EE:

What was the hardest part about boot camp for you?

NM:

Being away from family.

EE:

Was that the first time you'd been out of state, away from them?

NM:

No. I've traveled and visited friends and stayed, you know, gone for a couple of weeks to go visit people I knew. I mean, I was used to that. But this was where I couldn't even call my mother when I wanted to, and that was very difficult to deal with, you know. And I also couldn't tell, you know, my company commanders to go somewhere. [laughs] And sometimes I wanted to do that.

EE:

Well, did you make any buddies at boot camp? I mean, was there any opportunity to let off steam?

NM:

None of those people that I've kept in contact with. None of them in boot camp. But, yes, you do have some camaraderie, you know, amongst certain people.

I did kind of make a—I wouldn't call her a friend, but someone who was in need. We had a woman who joined. She was right at the cut-off age, which is thirty-four for navy, and she was a Filipino woman. She could barely speak English, but she joined the military to get away from an abusive husband. And we were having some problems with this woman because she wouldn't take a bath, and she started to smell bad. After we'd been there for, you know, more than two weeks, she still hadn't bathed.

I was given what was called the first watch, and she got up at like three o'clock in the morning and went in to take a shower. I was like, “What is she doing?” Because we had specific times that we were allowed to do that. So I followed her into the restroom area, shower area. She was back there taking a shower, and I went in there to check on her, and she was crying. And she had whip marks all over her back. She'd been profusely beaten by her ex-husband.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

EE:

So it was as much out of embarrassment. She didn't want other people to know about that.

NM:

That's why she wasn't showering, is because she had all these beat marks, whip marks, all over her body. I mean, I cried when I saw her. I was like, “Manao, what happened?”

“Please don't tell anybody. Don't tell anyone.”

But I felt it was my duty to tell our company commander, so the next morning when they came in, I went in and told them, and she was pulled out of our company and put in medical hold. And I think that saved her life, really, because she needed medical treatment. How they never saw that when she went to enter, I don't know.

EE:

Because you had gone through this testing and knew where you were going to go, you sort of knew your next step after basic before going in, which would be staying—

NM:

Yes.

EE:

How long was the school for—

NM:

Twelve weeks, quartermaster.

EE:

Was it called quartermaster school?

NM:

Yes, quartermaster training.

EE:

You went in in September, so we're looking at probably, what, end of October when this got going?

NM:

I started down there in November.

EE:

So you called up in September. It took a little while to get things together. You started in November. So you're doing quartermaster after the first of the year in '91?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Which, given the way the Gulf War went, how long were you, twelve weeks?

NM:

Twelve weeks.

Let me grab the—

[Tape recorder paused]

EE:

I was saying, given the way the Gulf War went, I guess the air war was going on. It was about the end of January when they had the ground campaign in three days? Of course, still lots of tension over there the whole time. Tell me about quartermaster school. What was it you learned there, and how did that change?

NM:

Quartermaster school was seven floors of personnel who were going to quartermaster school. Well, some of them were going to signaling school. Some of them were going to torpedosman school. So we had barracks. There were seven floors, only one of which was female. So yet again, surrounded by lots and lots of men, and when you first get there, you can only wear your uniform. You have to earn the right to wear civilian clothes again.

We had, of course, women who ran the female floor, and then males who ran the male floors. And over at the school, my two instructors were both males, and they were awesome. I loved them. They were just great. They were fun and they were interesting, and we had a good group of classmates.

EE:

You told me this is a navigation focus, but what kind of subjects are you learning in school?

NM:

Lots of algebraic equations, learning about meteorology, you know, learning about scientists like Galileo, you know, people who used old-school equipment that's still used today, stuff that really, prior to my military experience, I didn't feel I was that great in. I was never a really mathematical person, but I learned that that's what navigation was all about, was algebraic equations. But I did well, and I enjoyed it.

EE:

You told me before we got started, you were the top of your class for females.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

How many women were in that group altogether?

NM:

Four. [laughs]

EE:

But out of how many altogether in that whole—

NM:

We had, in our particular class, because there were other classes going on at the same time—in our particular class, we had, oh, probably thirty.

EE:

Was there much socializing once class let out? There was a lot better social atmosphere?

NM:

Yes. We were allowed to go places and do things, you know. Most everywhere, we walked to where we were going, so there was a mall nearby and lots of different kinds of shopping nearby, lots of hotels nearby. So long as you'd been there a certain amount—I think you had to be there two weeks before you could stay out overnight. And you had to let them know where you were going to be and when you were coming back and all that kind of stuff. Kind of like telling Mom and Dad.

EE:

Yes, but it seems like they let you become adults again quicker than they might have at one time. You didn't have to come back to the base all the time.

NM:

Right. And you earned the privilege of wearing civilian clothes. We went to the movies a lot while we were down there, and we always went in big groups.

EE:

And you could call home?

NM:

Yes. I could call home. As long as I wasn't in class, I could call home.

EE:

When did you get the word about this assignment to Guam? Was this the spring?

NM:

About a week before we graduated.

EE:

And you were joining wanting to see the world anyway, so let's send you halfway across it.

NM:

Right. Six thousand miles away.

EE:

You were telling me that you were assigned to this ship, the [USS] Haleakala?

NM:

That's right.

EE:

That was really a very bold move by me to pronounce that, Haleakala.

The cover of your book says, “Bombs R Us”. It's an ammo ship.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

And you're part of the first crew of women on an ammo ship?

NM:

Yes. We were the first thirteen women to go on board a combatant-type ship. We weren't a combatant ship, but we provided for combatant ships, meaning we gave ammunition. We were the duty ammo ship for the Gulf War.

EE:

I assume you had self-defense. If you were guarding a delivery, you had some guns on there to protect yourselves if you came under attack?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me about what happened when you get to Guam. You're there for a little bit before you get on ship, aren't you?

NM:

They were waiting for all the girls who were new to get there so they could transfer us all on at the same time. So we stayed in the barracks there for a month. We worked for TPU, which is Transient Personnel Unit, and we basically did a lot of gofering and cleaning officers' quarters and, you know, just keeping the grounds nice and neat in the naval station there in Guam.

EE:

Your first trip to the South Pacific?

NM:

Yes, definitely. It was beautiful. I loved it there. You know, I want that weather all year round here. I got there at two o'clock in the morning, so I was pooped, you know, and they took me to the barracks.

EE:

Did you fly direct from California?

NM:

I flew from Charlotte, because I came home on leave first, of course, and then they flew me from Charlotte to L.A. [Los Angeles], L.A. to Hawaii, Hawaii to Guam. It's funny how we remember all those details.

EE:

When it's a flight that long, you remember every agonizing bump, I'm afraid.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

What kind of talk did they give you about being the first women coming in? Were they giving you any warnings?

NM:

Well, there were other ships that were stationed in Guam, and they told us some of the horror stories about our ship, that it was old but it broke down a lot, that, you know, they were out to sea a lot. So we got to hear the rumors from everything else there. But, you know, we also learned that they went to all these cool places like the Philippines and Japan and Korea, so we were excited about going to our ship.

We got there with thirteen women. They flew us to the Philippines to be on the ship.

EE:

This is out of a crew of how many altogether?

NM:

Three hundred forty. One of our women was a chief, and one of our women was an ensign. She was an ensign. So we had one officer and then one enlisted, higher ranking.

EE:

The rest of you were petty officers?

NM:

The rest of us were still seamen. We were still real low on the totem pole.

EE:

So you didn't get any advance up just by getting out of quartermaster [unclear]?

NM:

I went from seaman recruit, which is E-1, to seaman apprentice. Then I became a seaman almost directly after I got to the Haleakala. Then I passed the exam not too long thereafter, I think a year later, and advanced to E-4, petty officer third class.

EE:

Tell me about the work you did on that ship. What was it like?

NM:

I was in navigation, which was operations, and we were the ones who guided us where we were going, charted everything, kept up with the deck log, which is the military's way of keeping a history. Everything is recorded. Everything that happens, that's gone wrong, everything where they're checking things, when the captain arrives, everything that's pertinent to the ship is logged in the deck log. So we were in charge of that.

We were in charge of all the charts. We were in charge of keeping track of weather and turning us whenever we were trying to get out of a potential hazardous weather situation. I didn't know I was going to end up being a weatherman, but I did.

EE:

Lots of hurricanes, typhoons out that way, aren't there?

NM:

My god, left and right. That was one of the things that would drive you nuts, because we would finally get to be at home port, “Oops. Gotta go. There's a typhoon coming.” I mean, that happened on a regular basis, and sometimes it was just tropical storm, but you still have to go out, pull out, because it could be—

EE:

So it really is easier to ride it out, rather than sit in port, huh?

NM:

Well, you could get your ship torn all to pieces by staying in port. We had one typhoon where we had several ships who were in engine overhaul and didn't even have an engine to move with, so they got ripped all over the place. I mean, there was an inner harbor and an outer harbor, and they would be tied to a dock on the outer harbor, and after the storm was over, they ran aground on the inner harbor with serious problems.

No electricity throughout the island. That island lived off of generators. People always bought their own generators there because of the typhoons.

EE:

Let me ask you what may seem like a silly question. Do you know how to swim?

NM:

Yes, very well.

EE:

Did they train you? Was that part of your basic, swimming?

NM:

The basic is basically how to doggy paddle, to survive in water, basically, but I could swim very well before I went in the military.

EE:

Because some of the first WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] I interviewed couldn't swim.

NM:

Scared to death of water, too. We had lots of people like that in boot camp.

EE:

But I assume to be on a ship, you had to know how to swim?

NM:

You don't have to know how to swim to be on a ship, you know. You just have to know how to doggy paddle.

EE:

And put on that life preserver?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

What was the scariest moment for you on ship?

NM:

Scariest moment for me on ship. You know, I really can't even answer that. I was never scared on that ship at all. I wasn't scared on the second ship, and we were in a war zone, you know. That was one of the things that never even crossed my mind, not once.

EE:

How big is this ship size wise?

NM:

Five hundred twelve feet long.

EE:

Had you been on a boat much before joining the navy?

NM:

Never. I mean, I'd been on some little rinky-dink, little rowboats or maybe a speedboat every once in a while, but nothing of this size. I got seasick every time we got under way on that ship. It was a smaller ship compared to other navy ships, so I got seasick almost every single time. It was just something you'd get used to. Lots of people were like that.

EE:

So you and Dramamine got to be good friends.

NM:

Yes. Yes. Well, actually, I would take some kind of patch that they had, but it never worked. You just have to wait it out that first twenty-four hours.

EE:

Your CO [commanding officer] for your work, was it a man or a woman?

NM:

Both ships, my commanding officers were males, and I personally never—

EE:

You said you had a chief there. Was that chief also in charge of the women or just—

NM:

No. She was just an engineering chief, so she had her own division that she worked in. I never had any female bosses until I worked for JAG [Judge Advocate General Corps] in San Diego.

EE:

You were on the Haleakala for almost two years?

NM:

Two years.

EE:

So you went in on that ship in, probably, May of '91?

NM:

I think we got on the Haleakala in March of '91.

EE:

And through about same time in '93?

NM:

Yes. I left there.

EE:

The Gulf War is still another quarter of the world away from you, and yet everybody's on alert. But you're servicing ships, delivering ammo, taking it to ports in the South Pacific area to where you'd meet ships that were going to the Gulf? How did it work?

NM:

Both. We took it to ports, and we did underway replenishment out to sea, where we were out to sea side-by-side, and during those times, I had to drive. I was master helmsman qualified, and it was either me or one other female quartermaster, and she and I shared the duties of driving the ship at those times. They're critical times to drive, so you have to—

EE:

How old are you?

NM:

I'm now thirty-one.

EE:

How old were you when you were driving this ship?

NM:

I was—let's see—twenty-one.

EE:

So at twenty-one, you're driving a ship loaded with high explosives, trying to negotiate a transfer at sea? Doesn't sound like a safe thing to do.

NM:

My captain wasn't even master helmsman-qualified. I was. [laughs]

EE:

Wow. Wow. That does give you a little sense of responsibility, doesn't it?

NM:

Oh yes. I never got scared doing it. It was tedious. It was long, long days and boring, you know, and you're standing the whole time, you know, and you have to watch the rudder and the wheel at the same time, so you're kind of, you know, doing this. And you're getting orders from the officer of the deck.

EE:

This two-year hitch, this is continually shuttling back and forth between Guam and someplace else?

NM:

Guam, Philippines, Japan, Korea, and anywhere in the western Pacific towards the Gulf area.

EE:

What was your longest continuous time at sea?

NM:

We actually completed ninety-four days out to sea, and after ninety, they do a thing where you can get a beer. If you're out to sea for ninety continuous days, you're given a beer.

EE:

One beer. [laughs]

NM:

And I don't drink beer, so I gave mine to somebody else.

EE:

Oh, you made somebody happy, I'm sure.

NM:

[laughs] Well, navy sailors do like to drink.

EE:

What were some of the neatest things you did on that ship?

NM:

Oh, god, thousands of things. All the ports that I went to, I couldn't believe that I had done it. But the thing that stands out to me, out of all of my military experience, we had a new captain, and he was called by the government of Saipan, which is a small, tiny island above Guam. It's in the Mariana Islands, and the governor of Saipan called our captain and asked him if we would like to join them for celebrating Independence Day. They celebrate Independence Day the same day we do, July 4, because we granted them their independence. We saved them from the Japanese during World War II.

So we get there on my birthday, July 2, so I was real happy to be there. This was a liberty port, meaning we were going there to have fun, rather than work. And they were going to be having a parade on the Fourth of July and wanted us to march in the parade, and asked for volunteers. I was shocked because one third of the ship's crew is on duty. The other two-thirds volunteered to march in the parade. I was shocked. I thought, these people are going to be like this, “This is my liberty time,” you know. “It's time for me to go out and get some sun and have a few things to drink,” you know.

But I was one of the ones that had volunteered, and we got in our dress whites, looking just as sharp as sharp can be. There's nothing better than seeing a bunch of uniforms together doing it in unison, you know. We went to go march in the parade, and this is a very primitive island. These are people who still wear grass skirts and no shirts and that kind of thing. So we're marching down the street with all—I mean, every citizen of Saipan is on the side of that street if they're not in that parade, and they were waving the American flag in the air, and they were crying and saying, “Thank you.”

It was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen in my life. I'd never felt so patriotic. And I thought, we saved these people from becoming extinct, basically, you know, and they were so appreciative. You don't get that kind of thing for our veterans until September eleventh happened. That was not happening in this country. You know, people kind of shunned military people and didn't really give them the recognition they deserved, and I got to see that from another country, and that was just beautiful. I'll never forget that for as long as I live.

EE:

That's great.

NM:

Yes. It was incredible, you know, just seeing all these people, you know, little kids on top of their parents' shoulders, waving the American flag and waving at us, and we're doing our military straight-forward thing, you know. And I'm peeking out the corner of my eyes, looking at all of these people, going, “My god, I can't believe this.”

EE:

We take so much for granted, and they did not.

What was the regulation, when you were in, on hair? You've got, now, nice, long hair. Is it shoulder-length?

NM:

I had long, long hair before I went in, and I had to chop every bit of it off.

EE:

So you couldn't have it below shoulder-length?

NM:

I might actually have a picture of myself in boot camp, and this is before they made me cut another four inches off. That was like the second day we were there, and two days later, they made me cut every bit of that off. We looked like boys. So after boot camp, you can grow your hair as long as you want, but it has to be pinned up, and it has to be above your collar to your shirt.

EE:

So like when you're in these dress whites, there's a certain look they want to make sure everybody has.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

That's a great story. You were telling me before we got started that of the thirteen women, five left early.

NM:

Got pregnant.

EE:

Yes. And I guess in the service, you can be married and still pregnant. Even now, they've changed the rules on pregnancy, haven't they?

NM:

They've gone back and forth since then. They've gone back and forth about whether or not they're going to keep you in, or whether or not they're going to allow you to stay in, or whether or not you have the choice of staying in or getting out. So it's a big difference.

EE:

But when you were there, once you got pregnant, you were out.

NM:

You weren't out of the navy, but you were off a ship, and that is still in effect, because it's too dangerous for pregnant women to be out doing that kind of labor.

EE:

Are they really strict on trying to enforce fraternization rules?

NM:

You know, I can't really say that, because on our ship, our captain, our first captain, had a no-fraternization rule for everyone. Now, fraternization normally is between officer and enlisted. Now, that's always in effect, no matter what military you're in and what time frame you're in. That's always been in effect. But on our ship, we had a no-fraternization—

EE:

Men and women.

NM:

—for men and women, men and men, women and women, period. That was just a big—but it happened anyways. You can't put candy in front of junk food addicts and tell them not to eat it. [laughs]

EE:

Poignant analogy for someone who has a junk food addiction, yes. Some of the people that I've talked with, in earlier generations, women had a lot of resistance, because they were basically doing jobs that men were “supposed” to be doing. Some people didn't like it. Did you have any people who gave you static because you were a woman, “What in the world are you doing here?”

NM:

Oh yes. The day we checked on board our ship, the Haleakala, our XO [executive officer] let us know he didn't want women in his navy, he didn't like women in his navy, and he was not going to make it easy for us. We had lots of men on our ship who'd been in twenty years and never had been stationed with women before, you know, and here we are, the transition to bringing women into combatant-type ships, so it was a rough ride.

The captain, prior to us getting on board, had reamed it into those guys' heads, “You will not fraternize. You will not do anything to harm these women. You will protect them like they're your brother. You will treat them no different than you would treat your other shipmates.” You know, it was six months of serious training about us, and they were angry because they couldn't walk around in their underwear any longer. That was a big deal to them. Taking away some of their berthing area, the sleeping quarters.

EE:

Because you all had segregated sleeping quarters.

NM:

Right.

EE:

You were telling me that thirty-four was the top age that you could be in. How old were most of the men and women on this ship? Early twenties?

NM:

How old? Oh, I would say probably mid-twenties, mid-twenties, early thirties.

EE:

And your captain, how old was he?

NM:

Oh, god. The first captain was probably, I would say, late fifties, and my second captain was probably right around forty-five. The first captain was a Bible-beater, and he was trying to become a captain. He was a commander, and he was trying to get his bird, his wings. So he volunteered us for every terrible job there was. We didn't like him very much.

The second captain loved his crew. We loved him.

EE:

Sounds like your experience, overall, was a very good one.

NM:

Well, you know, there were times when I wanted to come home so bad I couldn't stand it. I wanted to get out so bad. Stress is very high when you're in the military, and you have to learn how to cope with that. But I think that a lot of it has to do with age, too. You get more experience, you get better coping skills, and after a while, it all kind of becomes easy to you. You know, you have rules and regulations whether you're not in the military, you know, and you just have to learn how to deal with those kinds of things and different attitudes. The only problem is, you live in close quarters.

EE:

You had brothers and sisters, and yet you didn't have three hundred of them, so you do have personality conflicts.

I want to get you to the next port. You married somewhere along the way in here.

NM:

Yes. I got married.

EE:

Did you meet somebody on a ship?

NM:

I met a Marine, actually, in Guam. I met him, actually, when I first got there at two o'clock in the morning, and we started seeing each other, and a year later we got married. He was a Marine. When he left his command in Guam, he went to Quantico, Virginia, so we were separated for a year of our marriage.

EE:

That makes it tough for anybody.

NM:

Yes. We got married Valentine's Day 1992, and I didn't get to see him again until February eight the next year.

EE:

Well, that puts big stress on anything.

NM:

It was stressful. I think that was a lot of the reason, too, that I was so stressed-out, because I wanted to be with my loved ones. I couldn't even be with my husband. And we were trying to get stationed together. We'd been trying to fill out the paperwork for that that whole time of our marriage, that first year.

EE:

So when you left the ship in '93, you saw him in February.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

So is that when you left the ship, February of '93?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Then you were both assigned to San Diego [California].

NM:

Right. He was, of course, a Marine, so he was at the Marine Corps base there, and I was on another—well, I was going to be sent to another ship. My next duty station was the USS Cape Cod, but because my ship was in the Gulf, they kept me at the JAG office for a month and had me working there.

EE:

JAG is Judge Advocate General.

NM:

Yes. I loved that job. It was awesome.

EE:

All the guys don't look as good as on TV, do they? [laughs]

NM:

People in dress blues look good. I don't care what they—

EE:

I guess you're right. You're there, but, now, you leave for the Cape Cod in Bahrain.

NM:

In May.

EE:

In May, and your husband is still stationed in San Diego.

NM:

Right.

EE:

So you get to see each other for three months, and—

NM:

And then I'm gone again.

EE:

And do you know in advance how long this tour's going to be?

NM:

Had no idea, but we came back in mid-July. We got back to San Diego in mid-July.

EE:

So, about three months. There's been a lot in the paper recently about women stationed in Arabic countries. Bahrain, I guess, is a little bit less strict than some of these others. You didn't have to wear a veil while you were over there?

NM:

No, but we did have to wear long sleeves and long pants. We weren't allowed to show our ankles or our arms or anything, but because the girls had to do it, the guys had to do it, too. That was our captain's rule, which I thought was appropriate.

EE:

That was very fair. Not to rub it in was very fair.

NM:

Now, when we were on base, we could wear whatever. You know, because it was so hot in Bahrain, we didn't actually wear a full uniform, and we knocked off work at one o'clock, rather than four, because of the heat. So we wore just our white T-shirts and cut-off dungarees. You know, we had dungaree pants that were cut off at the knees, and we could wear that as long as we were on the ship. Now, if we were off the ship, you had to wear the working uniform of the day.

EE:

This ship, is it an ammo ship? What kind of ship was it?

NM:

It was a destroyer—

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

EE:

The sandstorm had blown sand into the harbor and formed sandbars?

NM:

Blown so badly that it ran the ship aground and broke our propeller on the ship. So we had to be stuck there for a while, which was kind of nice, because I was on a ship that—we were going, going, going. We'd go into port one day then pull out five days. We'd go into port two days, we'd be gone two weeks.

EE:

Where are you shuttling to here? You're going up Kuwait. You're going around to Yemen?

NM:

All these little countries. Well, that was the Haleakala that we did that. Then when I went to the Cape Cod, we were stuck there for two months.

EE:

So you were with the Haleakala, you went all the way around to the Arabian Peninsula from Guam?

NM:

We went everywhere that had anything to do with the Gulf, as well as anything in the western Pacific. We were the duty ammunition ship, so that meant we were gone. We were [unclear] away all the time.

EE:

How many other ammo ships are doing what you were doing on the Haleakala?

NM:

There's only one duty ammo ship.

EE:

And it's shuttling to everybody everywhere?

NM:

Right.

EE:

So you go out to Yemen. You're going to Bahrain. You're going to the Philippines. You covered ground.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

And then the Cape Cod, as a destroyer, is simply patrolling the Persian Gulf? Is that what it was mainly doing?

NM:

Yes, we were patrolling the Persian Gulf. We were giving supplies to other ships as well. While we were in the Gulf, we went to Dubai and Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

It was very hot, but we had short days, so that was nice. That was way different from the Haleakala, because we worked in the heat. It didn't matter. They had to be real careful in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, because the dry heat was causing people to be dehydrated so bad. So that's why they knocked off ship work at one.

EE:

And you're going right in the summer heat.

NM:

Yes. Oh yes. It was treacherous hot. But we left there, and because we were finishing our tour in the Gulf, we went to liberty ports, boom, boom, boom, back to back. It was nice. We went to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Guam, Hawaii, and then back to San Diego.

EE:

Good gracious.

NM:

It was great.

EE:

We'll just call you guys Princess Lines on the way back.

NM:

Oh, we had shrimp and lobster and steak every day. I got sick of it. I was like, “Just give me a cheeseburger, please.” [Laughs] Because what happens is, ships who were coming from the Gulf, they had lots of different companies who donated their goods to us so that they could thank us, basically. So we had shrimp and lobster and steak every day, but, you know, you can only cook it so many ways.

EE:

I'm sure there are many people who'll read this who will want to try. [laughs]

NM:

Well, the other thing is that we had the difference, as well, in my first ship and my second ship. My first ship, the food was awful, and that's the only food you got, unless you had like Oodles o' Noodles in your rack. I got really addicted to Oodles o' Noodles at that time. I'll never eat those again.

And then the second ship, we had three chow lines. You had a deli line that had, you know, deli sandwiches every day. You had a hamburger and hot dog line that had that every day. And then you had a chow line that had whatever the meal was for—you know, it varied. So that was, “Wow. This is great. I've got a choice now.” [Laughs]

EE:

To very many people, it's like a ball, isn't it?

NM:

Oh, we had real milk on that ship. We had powdered milk and powdered eggs on my first ship, and I wouldn't eat it. I stayed away from it. On my second ship, you know, we actually had sodas, where you could get sodas and drink sodas. The first ship, all we had were, you know, you could buy sodas from the machine, but that didn't come with the meals, you know.

EE:

So you came back to San Diego in July of '93.

NM:

Right.

EE:

Did you stay in San Diego, then, through the time of your discharge in '94?

NM:

Right. And we did go out to sea a couple of times after that.

EE:

So you were still stationed with the Cape Cod.

NM:

Yes. And when we were on that ship, when they pulled in, a huge party. There were over two thousand people on the deck, on land, waiting for us when it pulled in, balloons everywhere, flowers everywhere, camera crews everywhere, because we were pulling in from the Gulf. That was a beautiful sight to see. Then back to work, you know, as normal after that.

EE:

And when you're not out to sea as a navigator, what's your day-to-day work?

NM:

Updating charts, keeping track of the weather. I did six months of what's called master-at-arms duty, where I basically had to be a police officer for my ship. I did secretarial duties for the navigator, who is the officer in charge of the navigation crew, so I was his right-hand woman and took care of, you know, learning how to run a computer for the first time in my life.

EE:

I imagine they're continually updating the equipment on these ships.

NM:

More so now than even then. Now the coolest thing is—

EE:

GPS [Global Positioning System] systems have come in.

NM:

I got the first GPS ever on the Haleakala. We got it when it first came out, and I had to learn how to show everybody else how to use it, you know.

EE:

It's really revolutionized finding out where you are.

NM:

Wow. It's incredible now. Now we've got them on cars. I know how to work these things. [laughter]

EE:

So you do know the difference between longitude and latitude.

NM:

Oh yes. [laughs]

EE:

Did you ever think about making the service a career?

NM:

Many times, and I still have those thoughts in my head about going back in, as an officer this time, now that I have a degree. When September 11 [2001] happened, that bug hit me really hard about going back in, and any person that was stationed with me said the same exact same thing I did, “I want to serve my country again.”

EE:

Like a lot of folks, I was looking to find a way to go back in, and I was too old to get in to do something.

You left, though, in '94.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

What did you do after '94?

NM:

Went back to college on my GI Bill, of course.

EE:

Were you still married at that time?

NM:

Mike and I divorced in '96, but we were separated when I first—right after I first got back here, we separated.

EE:

So you came back with the folks and went to school at Greensboro and were taking classes. Were you working as well?

NM:

Yes. I worked part-time and full-time.

EE:

That's where you were working here at this current job?

NM:

Some of it, yes, part-time here, but I also worked at other odd jobs.

EE:

How did you get interested in the counseling work that you're doing now? Is it because of your mom?

NM:

Well, partially my mom. My mother is a recovering alcoholic and has been sober almost twenty-five years. So I kind of grew up under the umbrella of Alcoholics Anonymous, Alateen and Al-Anon, and that kind of got me started with that. I started out in this field as a translator. I speak Spanish fluently, and then it's progressed, so now I'm working on my certification as a certified substance abuse counselor.

EE:

It's an Hispanic family name. Is your family first or second generation coming from—

NM:

Second generation. My grandfather's from Mexico.

EE:

So did you grow up speaking Spanish in the home?

NM:

No. I started taking classes in middle school and then got serious with it in high school, and then got a second degree in it when I was in college.

EE:

And today, good gracious, that's certainly a job skill that's in demand.

NM:

Yes. Nobody wants to pay for it, though.

EE:

Well, it's a sad thing.

Had you ever thought about putting the navigation skills to work in the private sector?

NM:

Yes, but the only way you can do that is through Merchant Marines, and you have to actually have seven or nine years of sea duty behind you before they will accept you as a navigator, as a captain, harbor pilot.

EE:

You just didn't want to put that much time in for—

NM:

That's a long time to be out to sea. [laughs]

EE:

Did you like being out to sea?

NM:

Sometimes I did. I mean, I loved navigating by the stars and knowing about things that people didn't have a clue about.

EE:

You look at the sky differently at night, I'm sure, don't you?

NM:

Yes. Learned about constellations and, you know, planets, and, you know, positioning, and it's just a phenomenon.

EE:

What's the one thing that non-military people misunderstand or don't understand about military people?

NM:

I don't think that they realize how really hard the military people work. And when a military person is in port, you know, on liberty, they play hard. They're trying to get that stress out that they've experienced while they're out to sea, because when you're out to sea, you might get two to four hours of sleep each night, you know. That's pretty commonplace.

I think another part of what non-military people don't really get as much as a military person is patriotism. It's embedded in you once you're in the military. You have a very huge love and pride for country when you've served your country, you know. You've done your duty, and you have this understanding, and all military people understand each other without having to say a word. You know, there's a different language, there's a different lifestyle, and, you know, we all kind of, “Yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about,” kind of thing.

EE:

You were a part of the first group of women to be on an ammo ship. One of the biggest changes that's happened in the last fifty years is just how close women are now to the front lines. In fact, in Afghanistan, I'm sure we've got women fighter pilots who are contributing to the war effort. What do you feel about women in combat?

NM:

I don't feel any different about it than I do men. My mother told me about a man one time that said to her, “Well, how would you feel about bringing your daughter home in a body bag?”

She said, “No different than I would if I had to bring my son home in a body bag.” And that's how I feel about it. We worked just as hard. We did the same jobs that they did. There was no difference. There are some whining women as well as the whining men, and that's just something of that person's character, not because they're male or female.

EE:

A young woman who's graduated from high school comes to you for advice. She says, “I'm thinking about joining the service.” What do you tell her?

NM:

Go for it. You'll grow up. You'll never, ever regret it. You'll think it was the smartest thing you ever did.

EE:

Obviously you've had a lot of pride in it.

NM:

I do have a lot of pride, and I will, you know. I don't know if other women share that. I know there are some that got out and wanted nothing else to do with it again. I'm also part of the AE Sailors Association.

EE:

I was going to ask you if you keep in contact with the official groups.

NM:

Yes. I'm actually one of the coordinators for that for my era, and I still keep in contact with several people from the Haleakala. One of the girls, she lives in New Jersey. She's been down here to see me, and we went to our AE Sailors Association reunion together in New Orleans this past year. Incredible time. We were with a bunch of old sailors, old salts, and we had a ball. We laughed so hard the whole time we were there, and they were just amazed. “Girls on ships? What?” [laughter] They were floored.

EE:

Have you been back to sea since getting out of the navy?

NM:

Not on a ship. I have been on some small boats, and that's way different.

EE:

Is there anything about your time in service that I haven't touched on, that you wanted to make sure we got across?

NM:

I was just thinking. You know, you'd asked me earlier about if there was a time I was ever scared, and it wasn't scared because of war, and it wasn't scared because of being out to sea. We were in the Philippines when Mount Pinatubo erupted. [laughs] I was actually in a hotel out in town in Olongapo. I'm taking a shower, and all of a sudden the walls started moving side to side like this [gestures]. I was like, “Oh, my god, what is happening?”

So I sat down on the floor and waited for it to subside. When it finally did, I got dressed real quickly and walked out into the hallway. “What the hell was that?” And found out that Mount Pinatubo erupted. The Philippines was caked in ash.

EE:

Were you at Clark? Where were you? Was it near Clark?

NM:

No. Clark was closed already at that point. We were at Subic Bay.

EE:

Because I know it covered up Clark, didn't it?

NM:

Oh yes. It covered the entire Subic Bay area, so we stayed there for the clean-up effort and dug the Philippines out of ash. It was like gray snow everywhere. It was very ugly. Everybody got sick because the water and food was contaminated, so we had what was called “the PI crud.” I won't go into details about that.

EE:

I can imagine. It's probably descriptively accurate.

NM:

Oh yes.

EE:

I think anytime Mother Nature decides to belch, it scares people.

NM:

That was the only time that I got scared, but it had nothing to do with navy.

EE:

That was Mother Nature's fault.

NM:

That was Mother Nature's fault.

EE:

Well, on behalf of the school, thank you for doing this today.

NM:

Yes. It was enjoyable.

EE:

It's great to hear so many folks like yourself that really had a life-making experience because of their time in service.

NM:

Well, to tell you the truth, I am trying to find someone now who would be willing to co-write a book about my military experience. I have great sea stories to tell and want the world to understand about it better. I sent an email to Jerry Blodsoe, and I hope I'll get something back from him to see if he'd like to maybe coordinate with me on that or help me find someone who'd be interested in that kind of thing, nonfiction, straight from the heart, “We were soldiers, too” kind of thing.

EE:

That's great. Thank you very much.

[End of interview]