Gratitude During the Storm: Thankfulness in a Sailor’s Life

By LT Jamieson Prevoznak, Museum Volunteer

The Grateful Dead song, “Lost Sailor” sings the tale of a lonely seafarer who has “been way too long at sea.” On the ship, the compass is spinning uncontrollably and there is no one at the helm. The “ghost wind” is blowing, calling to the sailor, saying there is “no place in this world you can be.”1 Many sailors know this feeling, but the winds of gratitude and thankfulness is what propels them back to safe harbors.

Nothing cultivates feelings of gratitude and thankfulness more than the changing colors of falling leaves, crisp cool air, hot apple cider next to the fire, and the inescapable smell of pie wafting through the kitchen. However, an unmeasurable number of sailors have missed these hallmarks of Thanksgiving while serving away from home. Thanksgiving in the Navy is a special, yet challenging time for sailors on deployment. It is a reminder for sailors of how distant their loved ones are, but it also gives new and salty sailors alike an opportunity to be grateful in any climb and place they may find themselves.

Sailors stand for mess on Thanksgiving Day at U.S. Naval Training Camp, Charleston in the 1910s. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Navy life is hard. It always has been hard and probably will always be hard. Not only are sailors away from home, but there is a constant hum in the back of your mind that you may never return to your loved ones. A sailor looks out onto the open ocean from the deck of their ship never knowing when they will see land. The ocean is a vast and open space where there is nothing but water, and that water becomes the very symbol for emptiness in our lives. Yes, life is hard for a sailor, but they can choose between focusing on “the suck” or focusing on the good in their life. Living a thankful life when life is hard is most certainly a trial. We want to be thankful, but we often quit when life becomes uncompromising. We tell ourselves there is nothing to truly be thankful for, ignoring the goodness that is inherent in every moment.

Sailors become stronger when they elevate gratitude by not only enduring through the challenges life brings, but by thriving despite them. There is certainly no shortage of challenges the Navy provides to sailors, but this is exactly the opportunity to make small leaps from day one towards gratitude. It all beings on day one at Recruit Training Command where some of the first thoughts and feelings a recruit has are, “I want to go home,” “I want my phone,” “I want to sleep.” Recruits learn the process of moving from want to gratitude as a matter of survival. Deep gratitude does not leave us in a space of survival but gets us to a place of thriving in life. By focusing on the good things in a sailor’s life, the sailor can move beyond “the suck” and into a place of thriving. These skills are now taught to Navy recruits as part of the Warrior Toughness program, in which sailors utilize mental strategies to move past the difficulties they are experiencing and to successfully complete the mission.

Recruit Training Command began teaching Warrior Toughness in 2018, to better mentally prepare sailors for life in the fleet. Today, Warrior Toughness is a core component of recruit education. Courtesy of U.S. Navy.

Throughout a sailor’s career, sailors can draw on the skills they learned in Warrior Toughness, cycling through difficulties to a place of gratitude and contentment. The first stage of this cycle begins as a recruit upon arrival at bootcamp. It transitions to a state of maturity upon graduating Recruit Training Command as they head to A School. The transition from recruit to sailor comes with the gratitude of getting that chosen duty station location, then comes deployment and its hardships and joys. But, nothing truly brings more gratitude into a sailor’s life than returning from deployment and seeing their loved ones. It is for those loved ones that the trials of Navy life become worthwhile. If a sailor can focus on those things, they can thrive as a United States sailor. Ultimately though, the most thankful moment in a sailor’s life is their last day in the Navy. This is when the cycle of gratitude begins again where a sailor returns to the point where it all began; as a civilian who is just hoping to make the world a little bit better.

Sailors are thankful for…

For family, friends, and community.

For the memories and stories that will last a lifetime.

For calm seas and the sight of land.

For 96 weekends.

For watch ending right before the weekend begins, and not having watch over a 96.

For advancement results, and their name being on the list.

For not getting picked for that burdensome collateral duty.

For pay day.

For per dime and Basic Allowance for Sustenance.

For a pay raise.

For a care package and a letter.

For a good meal.

For a safe landing on the flight deck.

For the galley not serving steak and lobster.

For hot, strong, and good coffee.

For the NEX to be fully stocked with energy drinks and protein supplements.

For a good gym.

For PCS orders and the anticipation for a new beginning.

For the opportunity to have served.

For no night ops.

For eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

For the detailer responding to your email with good news.

For free Wi-Fi and strong cell phone reception.

For a BZ.

For getting that one coin that has alluded your collection.

For a career well served, from those who served one contract to the maximum years and highest rank achieved possible, or somewhere in-between.

For returning home, however long it takes and wherever that may be.

The adage that a smooth sea never made a good sailor applies not just to seamanship but to life. The tides, currents, storms, and rough waters of life are constant, but the winds of gratitude and thankfulness are strong and are best captured in small, simple phrases that cut straight to the truth. It is this truth that allows sailors to live and thrive in the worst of life’s storms.

  1. Grateful Dead. Lost Sailor. By John Barlow. 1980.
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