You can tell a sailor by the shoe that they wear (And that’s a fact, Jack!)

Lately I have enjoyed some of the posts on a Facebook page for Navy members that I joined awhile back. The page certainly reminded me of how firmly my feet are planted in the “black shoe” Navy, one of the monikers for those whose naval service was primarily rooted in the Surface Warfare community.

It might surprise those with little or no knowledge of the service, that “the Navy” is not a homogenous branch of what is now the Department of Defense. Oh, and “homogenous” has nothing to do with the gay and lesbian communities of the armed forces.

The Navy is certainly more than ships even though the surface Navy has its own sub-groups. For instance, the “Gator Navy,” uses vessels such as Dock Landing Ships, or LSDs, that can launch smaller craft inside a well dock. The LHAs, or amphibious assault ships are what many would have years ago referred to as a “helicopter carrier” but these behemoths are much more than a place to land a whirly-bird. The name gator refers to landing ships that have either giant stern gates or small gates on the bow, depending on how you look at it. In any event these gates can literally hit the beach, so the reference to amphibious. These ships are the most likely to have contingents of Marines on board, which is always good for a little culture clash.

I have known and even have friends who are “jarheads” who served on these amphibious ships. But I know few swab-jockeys from the Gator Navy. But I’ve been told these are a wholly different bunch of sailors than say those of the tin-can, or destroyer groups.

Tin-can sailors these dayx are most identified with what are now guided missile destroyers and guided missile frigates. Most destroyer squadrons are usually groups of destroyers, cruisers and frigates, all of which today have a “G” in the ships’ hull names to indicate they are guided missile type ships as opposed to the old “gun ships” of my day. Although, an entire class of “DD ships” have come and gone since I last sailed. But, I was on the last active-duty, World War II-era gun destroyer, the USS Agerholm (DD-826.) She was decommissioned in December 1978, seven months after I left it to separate (honorably) from the Navy. The ship was sunk in 1982 off the Pacific coast of San Diego in a Tomahawk missile test.

The tin-can sailor, at least of my day, were certainly a whole different breed. Why some folks even wondered if some of us were even of the human race.

Other groups of sailors who sail on the water are those on carriers, or “bird farms,” as we called them. Although the regular crew are surface sailors, they are most often affiliated with the “brown shoe” Navy. These are the people associated with aviation, known for their officers and chiefs wearing brown shoes with their khakis instead of black ones. The true “airdales,” another term for aviation folks are those assigned to the various type of aircraft squadrons which rotate on and off the carriers.

Then, there are submariners. They are certainly a breed apart. One of my Yeoman “A” School instructors was a submariner who put it succinctly: “When we are up here (on land), the world stinks. Life is only good down there.” Okey, dokey, Pal!

Of course, there are the special forces types, SEALs and those who operate the Special Ops boats, all of which have grown quite a bit population-wise in just the last decade. I don’t know very many true SEALs. I met way more people who said they were SEALs than who really were in that elite bunch. The one guy I knew who I believe really was a SEAL was a pretty strange dude. However, one didn’t have to be a SEAL to fit that description in the Navy.

Last but surely not least are the Seabees. These are the construction types who also are trained in mostly defensive military combat training. “We Build. We Fight,” their motto, although, “We Drink” could be added to the slogan for most Bees I knew.

The majority of my Navy time was spent with the Seabees, the name comes from “CB” meaning Construction Battalion, which is how most Seabees are organized. I wasn’t in a battalion. I served 2 1/2 years at the Naval Construction Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., one of two homeports for the Bees. These are the Atlantic Fleet Seabees. The Pacific Fleet Bees are based at Port Hueneme, Calif., located in Ventura County  near Oxnard.

I thought I might reside on the Mississippi Coast after I finished my tour in the Navy. I didn’t, I moved to Texas. But because the thought crossed my mind, I transferred to the 20th Naval Construction Regiment in Gulfport to finish my time of about three weeks after saying good-byes on my tin-can. I really didn’t do much militarily there during my very short time except getting my last Navy regulation haircut some scum-sucking lifer forced me to acquire. (Note: Not all lifers are scum-sucking, though I thought that at times of some career Navy back then.)

The Seabees wear mostly combat boots, by the way. The Gator Navy? I don’t have a clue. SEALs? They can wear any damn kind of shoe they want! And that is my point, if there is one to be made. There are a bunch of different types of Navy folks. If you want to know a little bit more about what kind of sailor a sailor is, try looking at his or her shoes.