Lt. Cmdr. Steven Carpenter, gun boss for the amphibious assault ship Bataan, reviews procedures with his aviation ordnancemen. Carpenter is on his 17th deployment. (MC1(AW/SW) RJ Stratchko/Navy)
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Lt. Cmdr. Steven Carpenter has crossed the equator more times than King Neptune himself.
The 48-year-old aviation ordnance limited duty officer sailed on his 17th deployment when amphibious assault ship Bataan left Norfolk, Va., on Feb. 8.
In three decades of service, Carpenter has risen from an aviation ordnanceman to Bataan’s gun boss and along the way earned 14 Sea Service Deployment ribbons, eight Overseas Service ribbons, seven expeditionary medals, 12 campaign and service medals and the Combat Action Ribbon. The former chief has armed P-3 Orions and Marine CH-53E Super Stallions, and he’s served as member of NASA’s space shuttle recovery team.
His wife, Sally, may not get to wear such fruit salad. But make no mistake — she is a deployment veteran herself. Her husband was gone for more than 14 of the first 20 years of their marriage. Today, this mother of four pours lessons learned into the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group’s Family Readiness Group, a group of more than 900 families in which she serves as vice president.
The eight-month Bataan cruise will be the Carpenters’ last; he plans to retire in December.
Navy Times asked this dynamic duo to share their tips for making the most of a military marriage that’s seen plenty of sea time. Here’s their advice:
■ Prepare for overseas duty. You won’t have a network of family. Culture and laws are different. But go in with an open mind, be ready to make friends, immerse yourself in the culture, learn the language and you will have a wonderful experience.
■ Set goals. And make the most of a cruise. That’s how Carpenter earned such distinctions as Ordnanceman of the Year (twice), Sailor of the Quarter (five times), Blue Jacket of the Quarter, District Recruiter of the Year and Navy League Sailor of the Year. These helped him to make chief and later get commissioned.
■ Go to Japan. Officer or enlisted — if you want a challenge, an opportunity to see the world and to be rewarded for your efforts, being forward-deployed at this “tip of the spear” is where you need to be. The Carpenters spent a total of nine years there, and they count them as the best of their career.
■ Send care packages. Send something your loved one can hold. Send video messages on DVD. And sailors, you should do the same. Record a message to your spouse or reading a book for your kids. It may seem old school, but you are building cherished memories that one day they will look back on.
■ Mail letters. The Carpenters married back in the days of snail mail. They numbered each letter so the recipient knew which to read first when a stack of three-weeks’ worth arrived. Young spouses in the instant message era need to know that a one-line text doesn’t carry the same emotion. Whether you email, Skype or write letters, putting effort in pays off.
■ Tap resources. The family readiness group is the spouse’s support network and chance to get the right info. Find fleet and family service centers – they have been in your shoes and can provide a wealth of knowledge and services. Always have a power of attorney. And look out for the new sailors and their families.
■ Refocus ashore. Use your shore duty time to focus on your family. Give them as much attention as you give your career — if not more. Make the time together count. Celebrate when you can. The Carpenter’s 25th anniversary is in May. Instead of being mad about being apart, they’re shifting the celebration a little to the right.
■ Plan for life after the Navy. Carpenter will retire weeks after the Bataan is scheduled to return home late this year. Sally said it is “very scary because this is the only life we’ve known.” But they sat through the transition classes, got their house in order and have a plan for their lives when Carpenter retires.