Boating Is A Lifeline For This Veteran

By Dave Livingston
Published: August/September 2014

He went to war, and dreamed about a life after. He imagined his wife, himself, a boat, and freedom.

Illustration of holding a lineDuring my time in Afghanistan, I had to find a way to dream. My wife and I added it
up once; I've been gone for more than half of our eight-year marriage.

I started to keep a journal while I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, but every day is pretty much the same over there — Marines call it Groundhog Day, after the movie. After writing down all the events of just one of those difficult days in my journal, I decided that keeping a record of my time there wasn't going to work out. I'm grateful I put that one day down on paper, though. I never want to forget those who didn't make it back with the rest of us. That one entry reminds me of all the men and women who got hurt or died while we were there.

I work in an operations center as a Senior Air Coordinator. I have not been, and most likely will never be, in a firefight myself, but the decisions I make can result in life and death for others risking their lives. My job in Afghanistan was to manage air support for those in combat, and to coordinate medical evacuations. Though confined to a room of computers, TV monitors, radios, and liaisons, the decisions we made in that ops center were demanding. The day I wrote about in my journal was September 28, 2011. During my shift, within a four-hour time span, five men died; six were blown up by an improvised explosive device and needed urgent care; and a medevac helicopter we sent out came under rocket-propelled grenade fire and was almost destroyed, with injured personnel onboard.

At times, no matter how fast we got a medevac helicopter out, or how much air support we provided troops on the ground, it wasn't enough and our brothers died. It's not the kind of thing you want to focus on, but it's the kind of thing that took place every day. During my time in Afghanistan, I had to find a way to dream, to escape what I could not change.

Dreaming Of A Boat

It's been eight years since I first set foot on a sailboat, and it's become something I think about and dream about on a continual basis. In 2005, my wife Jessica and I were on a vacation in San Carlos, Mexico, a few hours south of where we lived in Tucson, Arizona. Jess, a teacher, had spent some summers there with her family, sailing the Sea of Cortez on their boat Borborygmus. She has always loved boats, and when a chance came for us to go sailing with Barracuda Bob, who owns a local ice-cream store, she jumped at it and took me along. Jess and I sat on the leeward side of the boat, dragging our feet through the water, getting splashed from head to toe. The sun was out, the breeze gentle, and Barracuda Bob played Santana on the radio. The sails sounded crisp against the wind and, as if to make it all the more perfect, a huge pod of dolphins came to play in the boat's wake. It was my first time on a sailboat. I loved it.

Two years later, in the summer of 2007, I kissed Jess goodbye to attend The Basic School (TBS), a six-month infantry tactics-and-leadership school for new Marine Corps officers in Quantico, Virginia, 50 minutes south of Washington, D.C. With the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay close, it was a great boating area. Jess encouraged me to sign up for a four-day introductory sailing course with Mariner Sailing School in Alexandria. Their 19-foot Flying Scots are one of the most fun boats I've ever sailed. During my six months in Quantico, I rented boats every now and then, and loved being in control, trimming the sails, handling the tiller, making the boat heel, and keeping it in balance.

After my Virginia training, Jess and I moved to North Carolina. The ocean was 45 minutes away, and the Neuse River could almost be seen from our backyard. For $4,500, we bought a 1986 Catalina 25 with an inboard diesel, small galley, head, and room to sleep three or four. We owned Un Poco Amor (a little love) for three years, and kept her at one of the two Cherry Point Base marinas. We'd hoped to sail down the Neuse, out to the Atlantic or Pamlico Sound, and take trips to the Outer Banks, but I was gone so often that we only ended up doing day trips.

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