Skip to main content

We Are All Enlisted

Aloha! Sister Mullaney and I are thrilled and humbled to be here with you. Whenever we are on this campus, we think about the beginnings of our relationship, and we give thanks for the many friends, faculty, and staff that positively influenced our life’s journey. We are so grateful for you.

I learned a lot of important lessons after 27 years of wearing the uniform of the United States Navy, many of them life-changing. The application of those lessons allowed me to rise quickly through the enlisted ranks, but they also blessed my life tremendously as a husband, father, and member of the church. In the time we have together this morning, I will share with you some of those lessons learned and hope they will bless your life too. I hope you will not mind that my message is primarily in the first person and encourage you to see yourself through my experiences. I pray for the influence of the Holy Ghost to rest upon us as we share and learn together through the Spirit. Let’s get underway!

Lesson Learned #1: Know That He Knows

Later in the same year we were married, we jointly decided I should enlist in the Navy, and off I went to San Diego for basic training, the indoctrination phase. Boot camp was a rude awakening, and I was convinced I had made the worst decision of my life. That first night as they played Taps on the loudspeakers across the base to signify “Lights out,” it felt like I was at a funeral, my funeral because I felt nigh unto death! I missed my wife terribly, and I silently wept in my rack as I heard others sobbing around me in the open bay barracks where we slept. What have I done? Taps still bring tears to my eyes when I hear them.

Reveille in the morning came early and loudly as metal trash cans were thrown down the passageway followed by angry yelling to get up and get moving, in very colorful language. Our leaders were working quickly to break us down and weed out the weak. In a few days, the haircuts that left us with less hair than we were born with and dungaree uniforms fresh out of a World War II poster began to transform the look and behavior of this ragtag group of civilians into the beginnings of a military unit. We commissioned Recruit Company 263, and I was the guidon bearer assigned to carry the company flag whenever we were in formation.

This is when I began to appreciate Heavenly Father’s tender mercies. As the guidon bearer, I needed to be the first man out in the morning for the company to fall in behind, so my rack was in the best location in the barracks; first one in the door, bottom bunk. Then, the company commander, a Chief Petty Officer, took me aside to tell me that he was a member of the Church and if I ever needed a blessing, he was there for me. Of all the company assignments or company commanders I could have ended up with, Heavenly Father made sure I knew that He knew who and where I was, and He was watching over me.

Sunday came, and I made my way to church. A missionary couple conducted the meeting, and you could not find a humbler group of sailors pleading for grace and mercy than that small bunch of Latter-day Saint recruits. The opening hymn was #250, We Are All Enlisted. The irony of the statement was too thick to ignore, but before we began singing, the sister missionary was kind enough to make important corrections to the words of the hymn.

“We are all enlisted till the conflict is o’er; Happy are we! Happy are we! (we weren’t that happy)

Sailors in the Navy, there’s a bright crown in store; We shall win and wear it by and by.

Haste to the battle, quick to the sea; Truth is our helmet, buckler, and shield.

Stand by our colors; proudly they wave! We’re joyfully, joyfully sailing to our home.”

Hymn #250, Text: Anon., The New Golden Chain, New York, 1866

Music: William B. Bradbury, 1816–1868

We sang with great enthusiasm, having the false doctrine of the Army erased from our hymnbook! I still sing hymn #250 this way today.

The sacrament hymn was #98, I Need Thee Every Hour. Truer words were never spoken or sung. Oh, how we needed the Savior every hour, every minute of every hour. That church meeting was a tender mercy, and it saved me. I knew that day that God knew what I needed and that I was going to be okay, and so was my wife back home. Boot camp got a whole lot easier after that first sacrament meeting. Enduring the indoctrination into the service and the separation from my wife, who was expecting our first child, was still hard, but not as hard as it could have been.

The technical phase of training began after boot camp as we headed East to Great Lakes, Illinois, and then to Orlando, Florida, before turning West to Idaho Falls, Idaho. We were young, married, and parents of a newborn and far from home. We wondered when we would see Polynesians like us again, so we were grateful to meet a Samoan sister in our ward in Illinois. What are the chances, we thought? Imagine then how overjoyed we were to go to church in Orlando and find Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, and Tahitians all in our ward! Of all the places we could have lived and all the possible wards we could have been in, what are the odds that we would find ourselves in a place that felt like home? Chance had nothing to do with it, shipmates. Once again, and time after time after time, over the entire course of our career in the Navy to the present day, the Lord reminded us that He knew who we are and where we are, and He cared about us.

Perhaps you are struggling with what feels like the worst decision in your life, or you are young, married with a newborn, and far from home. Maybe you think no one sees you, understands you, or would notice if you didn’t show up one day. Take comfort in knowing that He knows you, He cares about you, He loves you, and He is always there for you. In times old and new, He has reaffirmed His place in the journey of our lives. From Nehemiah 9:12: “Moreover thou leddest (us) in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give (us) light in the way wherein (we) should go.” And from D&C 78:18: “And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.” If you only remember one thing from today’s message, Know That He Knows.

Lesson Learned #2: Know What to Do Before You Have to Do It

Initial training is now complete, and it is time to report to the Fleet! Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is the headquarters of the Pacific Submarine Force and the homeport of more than a dozen nuclear-powered attack submarines. Submarines are engineering marvels that push the limits of technology. They are incredibly complex warships, consisting of tons of high-grade steel, miles of cabling, and many other materials all designed, constructed, and tested to the highest standards of craftsmanship. The men and women who are the officers and crew on a submarine undergo an equally challenging training regimen that pushes them to the limits of their capability.

Being “Qualified in Submarines” and earning your warfare insignia, the submarine dolphins is a requirement of every new submariner. I have a smaller version of mine on my lapel. Your dolphins signify your successful completion of the rigorous training program that makes you a trusted shipmate, someone we can count on to operate the ship safely under normal conditions and respond correctly in a casualty. There is a written procedure for just about everything we do on a submarine. For normal, planned evolutions, there is time to break out the procedure and follow it line by line.

Casualties, however, like fires, flooding, high-pressure system ruptures, and weapons malfunctions, require immediate action. Submarining is dangerous business. The loss of an Indonesian diesel-powered submarine last month off the coast of Bali is a stark reminder of that for us all. When a casualty occurs, no one is coming to help you right away. YOU are the emergency responders. So, we memorize the immediate actions of our casualty procedures; there is rarely time available to get out the book before the situation escalates out of control. You have to know what to do – big picture ship actions but also your personal responsibilities. The safety of the ship, your life, and the lives of your shipmates depends on it. Where do I go when the alarm sounds or when I hear the 1MC announcement? What do I take with me, and do I know where to find it, no matter where I am on the boat? Where is the nearest fire extinguisher, fire hose, or breathing apparatus so I don’t suffocate? Do I know how to isolate the ruptured hydraulic header or the rush of seawater into the people space? Can I find my way around in a smoke-filled compartment? Can I stay calm in a chaotic situation and work the problem?

The best way to prepare yourself for a casualty on the boat is through training and practice. We train incessantly on a submarine and test our knowledge by running drills to increase proficiency and sharpen skill. This approach heightens your awareness of your surroundings; you operate the ship with all of your senses to learn what normal looks like, sounds like, smells like, and feels like. Knowing what “normal” is helps you know what “abnormal” is and what to do about it promptly and correctly.

This is true in life, too. On a day-to-day basis, we have time to think about what to do next and how to do it. However, when the “casualties” occur, the ethical dilemmas, the off-the-wall situations that require a split-second decision, the invitations to go down a treacherous path that could lead to tragic consequences; do we know what to do before we have to do it to keep the casualty from getting out of control? We have been assured that, “…if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30). The Lord has admonished us to, “…watch steadfastly…” (3 Nephi 1:8), to be, “…watchful and careful…” (D&C 42:76) and to, “Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready.” (D&C 50:46). Being watchful and vigilant helps to protect ourselves from danger but the Lord has also, “made (each of us) a watchman unto the house of Israel…” (Ezek 3:17). This is the higher and holier ministering our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, desires of us to watch over each other in proactive ways to prevent or mitigate the casualties in each other’s lives. Diligent study of the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets and leaders, meaningful prayer, obedience to the laws and commandments of the gospel, and ministering in the Saviors way will prepare you for the casualties in your life and the lives of those around you and help you to know what to do before you have to do it.

Lesson Learned #3: Celebrate Your Achievements

The Navy has many traditions dating back centuries. “Crossing the line” or crossing the equator is one of those celebrated traditions. If you have never done it before, you are a Pollywog and are initiated in a ceremony to become a Shellback. However, if you cross the equator at the international dateline, you become a Golden Shellback, a rare species among Shellbacks. In 1995, the USS KAMEHAMEHA (SSN 642) was on its way to Brisbane, Australia, to participate in Special Operations exercises with the Royal Australian Navy, and obviously, we would be “crossing the line.” On our way, we took a little detour and surfaced at that unique spot in the Pacific Ocean. The seas were calm, and the weather was favorable, so we scrambled topside and took part in a golden shellback ceremony. For as far as the eye could see, from horizon to horizon, 360 degrees around, there was nothing but deep blue seawater. That was an impressive and humbling sight. No one was there to witness the proceedings or celebrate with us, but it was special, nonetheless. Shipmates, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, no matter if there is no one else there to witness it, take time to acknowledge your successes, the milestones you reach, life’s little victories. You are doing incredible things and will accomplish many more in your life. Heavenly Father created you that “(you) might have joy” so have joy and celebrate your achievements.

Lesson Learned #4: Life is Cold and Lonely Without Family

In 2003, the USS HONOLULU (SSN 718) left Pearl Harbor and headed north. We transited right through the Pacific into the Arctic Ocean, participating in another “crossing a line” naval tradition to become a Blue Nose before driving directly through the North Pole. Pretty cool! A day or so later, we surfaced through a polynya, a body of water surrounded by sea ice not far from the North Pole. After settling into a stable ice shelf, we were able to get off the ship and go play on the ice. For as far as the eye could see, from horizon to horizon, 360 degrees around, there was nothing but snow and ice. At that time of year and at that latitude, the sun did not pass overhead; it sat a few degrees below the horizon and went around us. The scene was beautiful and lifeless at the same time. It was bitter cold, and not having enough extreme weather gear to wear made it worse. We had a satellite phone on board, and the captain allowed each of us to make a phone call home. As I made my way up to the bridge and took in the view from that elevated position where I would make my phone call, it felt cold and lonely. We were far from home, literally at the top of the world, where the scientists on board were doing some neat things, but nothing was more important in that moment than to connect with my wife. The chill in the air melted away with the warmth of family when she answered the phone, and for that brief moment when we were able to talk, I was no longer cold or lonely.

If it has been a while since you have called home, call today. Your family will be happy to hear from you, and you will be better for it. Call on your Heavenly Father in prayer today too. He wants to hear from you and have you Hear Him. If you will let Him prevail in your life, you never have to be cold or lonely, even when you are on top of the world.

Lesson Learned #5: Manage Your PUC (Position of Uncertainty)

Open ocean navigation technology has come a long way in history. Navigation by means of a compass, sextant, and chart were the norm for centuries, along with an understanding of the waves and wind. Since the late 1970s, the Global Positioning System, or GPS, has provided us with a reliable means of navigating on land and at sea. Surface ships maintain a near-continuous link with navigation satellites that pinpoint their location to within the tolerances of their instrumentation, which minimizes their Position of Uncertainty or PUC. Submarines, however, spend as little time on the surface as possible. Stealth, the ability to travel and operate undetected anywhere in the world’s oceans, is our great tactical advantage, so a submarine will submerge as soon as conditions permit and only surface when necessary. That near-continuous GPS link that surface ships rely on stops for a submarine when it submerges, and over time the PUC increases. Precision inertial navigation systems and proven processes that track course and speed can help limit the course error. Coming to periscope depth periodically to get a fix helps determine the delta between where you think you are and where you really are. If you happen to be near a fixed point on the chart, you can also use that information to pinpoint your location. Having an effective plan that utilizes independent, reliable information sources helps you to know where you are at any given time. Without them, your PUC grows, and the likelihood that you are off course increases.

We have the benefit of reliable and perfectly fixed sources in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to chart our course through life. The scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets, seers and revelators, and general church leaders provide light and direction in a busy and noisy world. Local leaders and ministering brothers and sisters give encouragement and support to stay on track. Giving of ourselves in charitable service strengthens our resolve to do what is right. And even with our own internal instrument error by virtue of our mortal weaknesses, we can fix our position firmly on our Savior and Master Navigator, Jesus Christ. We can enjoy a near-continuous link with his perfect love to minimize our PUC and safely navigate through tempests and calm seas and every sea state in between.

Lesson Learned #6: Stay Center Channel and Trust the Pilot

Our final lesson learned today brings us back to port. As important as properly navigating across the open seas are to make sure we will arrive where we intended to go, inland harbor navigation is critical to ensuring we do not run aground or collide with anyone or anything else on our way to the pier. All inland waterways utilize a mix of navigation buoys, markers, sounds, lights, or flags to mark the edges of safe water areas. At the head of the channel entering a harbor, a pair of range markers allow the ship to align with the center of the channel and drive safely into port. When the range markers are misaligned, you are off course and will steer into trouble without a course correction. When they are stacked in perfect alignment, you are center channel and on the safest course possible. The last legs of your transit to the pier always requires the assistance of a pilot. This trusted individual has detailed knowledge of the intricacies of the harbor; where and when to turn with the proper amount of rudder and speed, where to straighten out, where to watch out for tricky currents and other hazards to navigation, and how to get you safely against the pier, moored and home.

Those same reliable and perfectly fixed sources we referred to for open ocean navigation work just as well in inland waters. They will help you stay center channel just as accurately as they will get you from Point A to Point B. The center of the channel is the safe track, free of hazards with plenty of water below the keel. Don’t get distracted by what’s going on around you; stay on track, in the center of the channel.

Jesus Christ is our Eternal Pilot. He knows where the hazards are, and He knows how to guide us safely through life and home to Him and our Heavenly Father. I love the words of hymn #104:

“Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life’s tempestuous sea;

Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal.

Chart and compass came from thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore, And the fearful breakers roar

’Twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on thy breast,

May I hear thee say to me, “Fear not; I will pilot thee.”

Hymn #104, Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me

Text: Edward Hopper, 1818–1888

Music: John Edgar Gould, 1822–1875

We have come to the end of our deployment and hopefully enjoyed our time underway together. Lessons Learned from others are the best way to stay on course without having to make our own mistakes or endure unnecessary hardship. Jesus Christ is our Savior, Redeemer, Master Navigator, and Eternal Pilot. Know that He knows you, He knows who you are and where you are, and loves you. Know that He can teach you what to do before you have to do it. He rejoices in your successes and will keep you from feeling cold and lonely no matter where you are in life. Relying on His Infinite Atonement and letting Him prevail in your life will help you manage your PUC and stay center channel. We are all enlisted ‘til the conflict is ‘oer on this wonderful journey through life. May we center our lives on Jesus Christ. Happy are we as He pilots us, joyfully, joyfully, sailing to our home. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.