“Can You Hear Me Now?” Your Guide to Navigating Port Calls

Photo Courtesy U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs, USS Indiana Conducts Safe Haven Port Visit in Rota, Spain

Submarine life is full of constant change and in a world now with COVID, quarantines and “clean piers,” it seems that everything has been flipped upside down. Whether this is your first deployment or sixth deployment, port calls are no longer what they once were. Recently my husband was deployed for six months during the peak of COVID, and we were blessed with just one, 10 day port call. Here are some tips and tricks to navigating the highly anticipated phone call.

Disclaimer: All commands currently are handling COVID protocols differently. Make sure to talk to you sailor on what information their command has provided in regards to port calls.

Follow Operational Security

Operational Security, or OPSEC, is the number one priority with any boat movement. So please remember do not share information unless face to face and those with a need to know. Most importantly port calls are not guaranteed, so there can be a lot of change even within the 24 hour window. With the current protocols in place there are less areas that the boat can pull in so it seems that change is sometimes inevitable. I personally got so excited to tell my daughter that daddy was going to call after nap time and when she woke up from her nap I had to explain he was still under the ocean looking for mermaids.

Remember Every Division Has a Different Job

So you received the phone tree message and you are patiently waiting with your phone on full ring to only get a text from a fellow boat spouse that she just got to talk to her husband for 30 minutes. Instantly your heart sinks, then you start to feel rage, anger and then return to sadness. You begin to text, message and call frantically to only be sent to voicemail and the rage returns. Trust me, I’ve been there. You feel crazy, sad, and mad all in one instant. Unfortunately every sailor on the boat has different responsibilities when the boat pulls in and some are able to make contact faster than others. The pull-in process can also take up to an hour as lines are secured, the brow is brought across, and COVID protocols are established. Try to remain calm and remember as much as you want to talk to your sailor they want to sprint up that ladder well to talk to you.

Be Prepared For Your Sailor To Be Tired

Typically when the boat pulls in it’s an early day for all the crew. The night before pulling in can be a mix of emotions, watch schedules and duty. As excited as you are to talk to your sailor, hitting them with tough questions usually is not very productive. The first contact you make with your sailor is typically short. Save the big questions for win they actually have time to have a full, uninterrupted conversation.

Keep a List of What To Talk About

You finally get to talk to your sailor and you freeze! Sometimes the excitement and time difference gets the best of us, and we totally blank on subjects we wanted to talk about, ask, or remind our sailor of. I find it’s helpful to keep a running list of things I want to discuss or tell them about to reference while they are in port.

Plan For The Time Difference

Depending on the port call location, time difference will be extreme make it feel impossible to figure out when you will get a chance to talk to your sailor. Once you know the time difference, try to set up a scheduled time so you aren’t obsessively checking your phone every minute and can get some sleep. If you have kids, it’s nice to set up a time for them to talk and then a separate time for you. We all know a toddler holding the phone during a video call while you are trying to ask about the water heater is chaos.

Prepare For Post-Port Call Emotions

Whether you had one day or 10 days to talk to your sailor, remember it’s normal to feel that you are “starting over” emotionally the first night after the port call is over. You will most likely be a little sleep deprived and emotional. Give yourself 24 hours to feel ALL the feelings, which may include an unnecessary Target run or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream. After that get back to your routine and schedule a little fun (ie. a wine night with friends, try out a new Thai restaurant, or check out that hike / trail you have been meaning to explore). Try not to feel guilty about getting back to your normal routine or even having fun because as much as your sailor would like to be right there with you, it is easier for them to do their job knowing that you are doing okay.

Plan For Limited Port Calls

This last deployment was tough, we made the most of our 10 day port call talking when we could but after that we had silence for months. The best way to cope is to just continue to email your sailor. Even if you never get a response (which sometimes can happen) writing how your day went like a dinner table conversation can help you process the day. Using a platforms like Google Photos, Facebook Messenger or Chatbooks to upload daily photos for your sailor to view and catch up on when they finally pull in.

Remember you’re not alone. You can continue to thrive, not just survive, through a deployment. Start a new hobby, join a book club and use The Submerged Life’s guides to explore the areas around you!

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