Medical Officer's Guide to the Navy

Getting Underway

The daily routine is relatively the same for the medical department at sea as in port.  The big difference is that sick call is twice per day.  As the ship’s surgeon, you may or may not be required to see sick call.

Meal hours are posted, however, food is generally available 24 hours a day.  Outside your responsibilities in the medical department, you will have plenty of time to exercise, read, work on surface warfare qualifications, or to peruse other interests.  The ship has a gym, treadmills, stationary bicycles, elliptical machines, a library, a chapel, a small NEX, free laundry facilities, etc. There is a ship-wide entertainment system that plays movies around the clock.

Communicating with home is very important.  Oftentimes the ship will leave for deployment months before the holidays.  It is important to remember Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries.    Snail mail and the internet are both available to keep in touch with home.

Calling home is also an option.  Ships have Watts lines or pay telephones that you’ll have access to.  Either way, you will likely need calling cards as the accessible lines are tied to your homeport.  Calls outside that area are long distance and the ship is not about to pay for them.

It is important to keep your family informed with happenings of the ship.  Nothing is more important for your first deployment than the pre-deployment brief.  The brief is usually held on the ship and covers a wide range of information like how to contact the at sea sailor, will writing, powers of attorney, red cross involvement, emergency contacts, family support systems, etc. 

A will is a legal document that details where your personal belongings and assets should go in the unfortunate event of death.  Laws do vary by state, but don’t take the chance.  It only takes a few minutes to complete.  The ship’s legal department will have all the necessary information for you.

You also may want to consider a power of attorney.  There are two types- general and limited.  A general power of attorney gives an individual the ability to act on your behalf in ALL facets: financial and personal.  They can buy and sell your house, create new credit accounts, etc.  Limited powers of attorney are usually recommended.  They give specific rights to an individual to act on your behalf.  These rights are delineated in the document.  Like a will, the ship’s legal department will have all the necessary information for you.

Advanced degree educational opportunities may be available.  Some universities offer masters courses at sea.  MBA’s are usually offered via distance learning and may be helpful in passing the time.

The federal government has passed several bills to protect the deploying sailor.  Recently, President George W Bush passed a revision of the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Relief Act (SSRA).  It does not, however, absolve us from personal financial obligations.  Ensure you have arrangements in place to take care of your obligations before deployment.  In the case of the single sailor, if parents are not an option, there are companies that will pay the bills “while the knight is away from the castle”.

Lastly, in certain instances, the new Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act allows sailors to break leases once the ship has been given orders to deploy.  This applies to all leases:  houses, apartments, automobiles, etc.  There are restrictions, however.  Consult the JAG office for further details.

Sea Bag / Shipboard Uniform

Up to this point in your career, most of your time in the navy has been spent in CNT’s or scrubs.  Fleet uniform requirements are a little different.  The fleet wears working uniforms- “wash khaki’s” (n.b. as a general rule, if you cannot wear the uniform out to dinner, it is should be tax deductible).

Shipboard uniforms consist of long-sleeve khaki’s (no ribbons- only warfare qualification pin above left pocket, name tags above the right pocket), steel-toed boots, web khaki belt, and either cotton garrison cover or ship’s ball cap.  At sea, you are authorized to wear coveralls with embroidered insignia (including name) with khaki belt and steel-toed boots.

Remember, collar insignia is a little different on the long-sleeved uniforms.  Both rank and corps devices are aligned parallel to the leading edge of the shirt collar.  The top of the device is one inch down from the neck edge.

This link will take you to the Navy Uniform Regulations homepage.  On the right hand side of the page you will see a drop down menu entitled "Uniforms Regulation Menu".  Here you will find EVERYTHING imaginable when it comes to wear of uniforms, grooming standards (e.g. hair length for men and women), how to arrange your ribbons, which uniforms get name tags and which ones do not, etc...

Having a difficult time deciding the correct arrangement of your ribbons (order of precedence)?  Ribbon Checker is a great website created by LCDR M.R. Gustafson, CEC, USNR.  Select the ribbons you have earned, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create a graphic representation of how your ribbons should appear.

It is a good idea to label each item of clothing with your last name (or at least last name initial) and last four of your social security number.  Shirts should be labeled either on collar (take care not to have name showing) or on the tails.  The NEX uniform shop has stamping equipment available for purchase.

When deciding what other uniforms to take to sea, consider the ship’s schedule.  Will you need a sweater or P-coat for going outside underway?  Will you be pulling into New York harbor for fleet week?  Will you be heading to Nova Scotia in January?  You will also want to bring workout gear and sneakers.

Remember, being gone for 6 months is a long time.  There is ample free time.  So, bring music, books, laptops, etc- anything to help pass the free time.  A note concerning electrical equipment:  to be used on board, it must undergo ground fault electrical safety checks by the ship’s electricians.

Your stateroom will have plenty of room for storage.  There are typically long and short hanging closets, a desk, numerous drawers, a sink and your bunk.  Wardroom attendants clean the rooms on a daily basis.  There are also laundry and dry cleaning service available.

Unlike cruise ships, there are no windows.  Outside of the required running lights, a warship remains dark at night so as not to give its position away, visually.   So at night, all passageways (especially those with doors that open outside) are lit with red light.  The red light serves two purposes.  The first is to minimize changes in night vision.  The second deals with physics.  Simply put, red light does not travel as far as white light.

The navy is doing away with needing cash on board.  Most of the larger ships have switched to a system called “Navy Cash”.  Here is a link that describes the program: 

Essentially, dispersing gives you a card.  This card has both a strip and a chip that can be loaded with money directly from your checking account.  The strip works like a debit card and can be used in town.  The chip is how transactions are carried out on the ship.

Mess bills, vending machines, wardroom dues, and ship’s stores only take the card to conduct business.  If you are a permanent part of ship’s company, the card will be tied to your bank account.  If not, you will need to bring cash or check when reporting aboard to charge up the card.