Friendships made in the military are unique to any other walk of life. For those who have served, that’s an indisputable fact.
More often than not, military friendships are long-term relationships that last a lifetime.
“As far as the bond goes, when we speak or when we get together, it’s as if no time has passed,” said Andre Alba, who served in the USS Midway’s aircraft intermediate maintenance department in the early 1980s. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Andre recently helped coordinate a reunion with 10 of his former Midway shipmates who he served with 40 years ago. All worked together operating and maintaining the ship’s aircraft ground support equipment. Some remained connected occasionally over the years, for others it was the first time seeing each other in four decades.
Time may have added a few pounds here and there, and thinned their hair a bit, but their connection to each other is as strong as ever.
“It was a wonderful experience reuniting,” said Carl Shoemaker, who was an aviation support equipment technician on Midway from 1980-1983. “We saw what we’ve turned into from young adults to grandpas. Some of us were not destined to make it as far as we did without the Navy. Most of all, as young men, the Midway helped us with those Y-in-the-road life decisions.”
But what is so unique about life in the military that has such a profound impact on building and maintaining friendships? Is there a higher level of intensity to the work and life environment compared to that of the civilian world?
It’s well understood that the miliary has inherent hazards that you don’t typically find in the civilian workplace, and life on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is known as one of the world’s most dangerous work environments. There’s an unspoken code that shipmates keep each other safe especially in situations where life-threating injuries lurk around every corner.
“When you live, work, sleep, eat and travel together, you know each other in ways that can’t happen on the outside,” said Carl, who spent 32 years working for a utility company after leaving the Navy. “You always knew who was your friend and you could count on their word to be their bond. You trusted these guys with your wellbeing, your life and anything you have. They had your back and you had theirs.”
The challenges faced by those who serve, often referred to as “shared suffering,” not only helps develop the deep connections between service members, but intensifies these bonds at an accelerated pace.
“All of these shared experiences are what created a tight bond amongst us,” said Mike Hidalgo, who rose to the rank of 2nd class petty officer during his three years on Midway. “Whether we lost touch over the years or recently reconnected, that bond remains. Military friendships are unique and different from civilian ones because our shared experiences are unique.”
“We developed a close relationships because we ate, worked and slept next to each other for years and became a team” said Joe Price, a Midway sailor from 1979-1981. “Because we were so close, our relationships became for life. Even after 40 years of not seeing each other, each of us has our own unique personalities that still click.”
During the group’s reunion on Midway, they not only had the chance to once again walk the carrier’s deck, but also visited some of their old workspaces that brought back a flood of memories.
“It is almost as if we were just there yesterday,” said Mitch Cochran, who served as an electrical technician on Midway’s ground support equipment from 1980-1982. “As I am sure anyone who ever served on board Midway will agree, it was and is a special place. We were Navy, but above all, Midway sailors.”
Military life is not an easy one, but the friendships made are some of the most genuine and long-lasting in the world. Even after four decades, the reunion for this group of former Midway sailors was more than just a flash from the past.
“Reuniting with these Midway brothers has been a godsend,” said Mike, who spent more than 20 years working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons once his time in the Navy was over. “It was so much fun.”
“We got together and it was like the last 40 years haven’t changed our love and respect that we knew back then,” said Carl. “We took care of each other like we were family, cause we were.”