Sharline Clairmont-Bluemel Nov. 12, 1976 Desert Storm Era – Golden Eagle Squadron, VP-9 U.S. Navy – E-3
When Sharline decided to join the military and spoke with the recruiter in Kalispell, she checked out all branches of service. Out of defiance, she didn’t want the Army, Coast Guard or Marines because her family had joined them. She wanted something different. At the time, the Navy offered benefits for female recruits in advancement and education, and for a small-town girl, that was important. She signed up for a commitment of four years and chose October of 1999 as the date she would go to boot camp.
Before reporting for boot camp, Sharline decided to cut her long hair. Some of her family members threatened not to speak to her if she cut it, but it made sense for what she was going into. She donated her hair to “Locks of Love.”
Sharline went from Kalispell to Butte and then was on her first plane ride ever to the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois. She arrived in the dead of winter and the weather was horrendous. Boot camp seemed easy to her. While there, the instructors tried to break her down and then build her back up by getting in her face and yelling. She had “been there and done that.” Her sometimes smart remarks resulted in pushups — lots of pushups.
At Christmas, far from home, a friend’s family invited her to celebrate through the “rent an REC” (recruit) program for the holiday. She remembers stripping off her dress blues and changing into civilian clothes in the car. The family had a gift for her: Navy perfume.
After boot camp, the next stop was apprentice school as an unclassified recruit where you figured out what you were good at through different classes and tests. Sharline picked aviation mechanical structure. One of her recruitment benefits was to choose east coast or west coast for her duty station. Thinking she would be closer to home, she chose the west coast. She didn’t realize it included Hawaii. She ended up at Barbers Point on Oahu.
Living in the barracks was interesting with people from so many different states. She enjoyed cooking holiday dinners for submarine buddies and made good friends, and still is in frequent contact with many of them and their families.
Honolulu was a big-city culture shock for her. It was “scary, interesting and awesome.” When a guide first took her to Waikiki Beach and she saw 43-floor skyscrapers, she thought, “Do they really make them that tall?” At the beach for the first time, the water seemed to go on for infinity.
She said she experienced many different cultures and traditions during her stay. Later, when living in civilian housing, she had a dog and was approached by someone who wanted to eat it. The answer was, no.
Her duty was to mainly work on the structure and hydraulics of P3 Orion aircraft, which were anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft. Her job was to check out the aircraft after their missions and make needed repairs, such as patching the skeleton. Every day, she went to work, first as a “peon,” watching for aircraft, taxiing planes in, driving equipment, checking planes for corrosion and cracks and washing them down. She was sometimes in charge of the tool room, checking out special tools and making sure they came back. This phase lasted a couple of years, but, eventually, she got promoted to the shop and also worked on studying.
Barbers Point was shut down and work transferred to the Marine base at Kaneohe Bay. The work was the same. Personnel worked on the base for 12 months and then were deployed for six months and then the cycle repeated. Sharline spent two deployments on Diego Garcia, a small island in British territory in the Indian Ocean. It covered about 12 square miles, which was so small there was barely room to land and not much to do but fish or fight.
During this time, Sharline got married. After returning from a deployment, she was pregnant. She didn’t want to be relegated to a desk job, so she hid her condition as long as possible. When she couldn’t get her coveralls belted, it was time to confess. She was taken off the flight deck and became a paper pusher. She thought, “I can make this work.” When her schedule showed that she would deliver two weeks before her squadron’s next deployment, trouble started.
Her unsympathetic, female command master chief refused her request for maternity leave and gave her an ultimatum: either she deployed with her squadron or not at all. Sharline was being asked to decide between her family and her career. She couldn’t imagine leaving her newborn, so when she chose family, she had to sign papers that would end her career. When her commanding officer found out what had happened, he “ripped the chief,” but by that time, Sharline was too bitter to try and get reinstated. The chief had ruined it for her. Sharline couldn’t go on active recall status because of the pregnancy and was put on inactive recall status.
She would join again in a heartbeat. She would have made the Navy a lifetime career. She loved the people and the travel. She believes every young person should try it. Often the military is an opportunity to break away from drugs, drama or a dead-end life, she said. Her daughters are proud of their mom for joining and doing something bigger and better for them, their country and protecting their rights. She participates in veterans’ organizations and events, not for praise, but to honor those who came before and especially those who didn’t make it home. With emotion, she says, “It’s a little that I can do, but it’s not much.” They are her heroes and she is proud to walk in their shadow.
Thank you for your service, Sharline.