The Union Recorder

March 29, 2014

ROWLAND: The knot in my stomach that just won’t go away

Mike Rowland
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — My habit is to rise each morning at 5:30. I sleep with my cellphone slash alarm clock on the nightstand next to my bed. Shortly after I awoke Monday morning, a text came through from my sister - a shooting at Naval Station Norfolk.

According to news reports, a civilian stormed the quarterdeck of the USS Mahan, disarmed the petty officer of the watch, and gunned down a responding security officer who shielded his fellow sailor from the gunfire. The civilian truck driver with a base credential was killed by the ship’s topside rover.

All of this happened as the Mahan was docked at Pier 1.

Normally, a story like this would strike me as just another appalling episode in what seems to be a world gone mad. Normally, I’d just shake my head, say a silent prayer for the murdered sailor’s family, and wonder what it is about this world that makes each newscast more about dying than about living.

But today is different. You see, I have been in this exact location. I have seen Pier 1. I have stood at the quarterdeck of a missile cruiser as a uniformed petty officer wearing a 9mm sidearm and appearing to be no older than a teenager reviewed my credentials and granted me access to the ship.

My mind’s eye has a clear vision of the area because my own son is a petty officer in the United States Navy at Naval Station Norfolk. His ship is docked at Pier 2, and he has stood watch at the quarterdeck. I am sure he has been the topside rover, too.

And although I knew he was at home Monday night at 11:20 when this incident occurred, my stomach wouldn’t settle until I got a text the next morning from him saying he was OK.  

I know absolutely nothing about the 24-year-old man who gave his life protecting his fellow sailors. I don’t know anything about his ambitions, his family, or his background.

I do know this: There is something about such a tragedy that hits this close to home that made hearing my sailor’s voice Monday night just that much more special.