Seeing the U.S. Navy in action on a recent adventure led a path to meeting many new people. One of them is John Ruzicka, brother of Smokin' Joe Ruzicka who is a Radar Intercept Officer and Weapons Systems Officer in the F-14 Tomcat and F-18 Hornet with over 17 years in the U.S. Navy. John saw a tweet from me saying I was going on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and said to say hi to his brother. My dad is the Sailor on the right in this photo.
With over 5,000 Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier, it was a needle in a haystack proposition but thanks to the awesome Sailors who organized the logistics and the fact that I think Joe's detail was already worked into our itinerary, I met him! I was able to pass along his brother's message and tweet him a photo afterwards.
I thought it might be interesting to learn a little bit about John since he served in the Navy as well and find out what it was like being in the Navy.
How long were you in the Navy? What did you do with them?
I served from 1998 – 2004 following four years at the U.S. Naval Academy. I chose to be a Surface Warfare Officer (meaning I'd be on ships); and chose to work in the amphibious forces – Navy ships whose primary mission is to deliver Marines from the ship to the shore anywhere in the world. I wrote a little about it on my blog a few years ago. That should give you a better visual of what I did. Quite a different experience than most standard Navy jobs!
When is the last time you saw your brother?
Since we both live in San Diego, I actually see my brother quite often. His kids are roughly the same ages as mine, so we get together about twice a month or so. When he wasn't living in San Diego, we'd go for months or sometimes a couple of years between visits.
What does it mean to family and loved ones when they are able to see photos and hear from their sailors and soldiers who are currently serving in the military?
When I served, just getting a letter in the mail with a few snapshots was a great connection back home. I remember that we did have email – but no attachments were allowed. So we could correspond frequently with people back home, but the bandwidth on the ship while underway was reserved for mission critical applications. We did have limited internet access, which was actually much slower than dial-up if you can believe it (I remember buying a few books from Amazon and that process taking the better part of an hour). Of course, this was 1999-2001 timeframe, so there was no such thing as social media and not all cameras were digital. Still, it was always great to hear from my family – either by snail mail (usually with snapshots), or by email. (wow, do I sound old or what!)
How did you stay connected to your family and friends while you served?
In addition to the previous answer, I also remember pulling into port and buying a pre-paid calling card. Still nothing like hearing Mom and Dad's voices on the other end.
How can people at home best support the people serving in the military?
There are a lot of great opportunities for people to support the military, even if you don't have close family or friends who are serving overseas. The USO does so many great things for the troops, and they maintain a fairly lean operating budget so you know your money is really making a difference. Donating your time and money to the USO helps them provide a lot for deployed troops – concerts, comedians, celebrity visits, phone calls back home, care packages, and now using technology to connect families – all things that help soldiers, sailors and Marines feel connected to back home. I remember the USO support on my second deployment – when we were underway for nearly four months straight following 9/11. They brought a comedian onboard for a couple of shows, which gave us all a few laughs and took us out of our lives on the ship for a while. It was really appreciated by the entire crew.