I am back on nightshift. Again. You can go ahead and insert your own unenthusiastic “yay” in there for me. If you’ve ever worked shift work, you probably know where this is going. I can bet even in the civilian world, unless you really, reeeeeeeeeeeeally love your job, there are days when you are ready to pack it in, find yourself a nice little 9-5 and enjoy sleeping at night like most normal people.
While there are many jobs in the military that operate almost soley on a dayshift schedule (bastards…), there is always the possibility of being recalled, deploying to some bare base and being on weird hours, no matter what you do. In my career field, office hours seem to only happen if you’re a Master Sergeant or above, lucky, get in trouble (yeah, that’s right..chew on that for a few minutes) or find yourself at some tiny middle-of-nowhere place. I am none of those things. I have been stationed at two major Aerial Ports in my 10-year career, Travis AFB in California and Ramstein AB, Germany. My uncanny ability to end up at what we like to call “super ports” has given me an opportunity to experience all kinds of shifts, on all kinds of hours, at varying ages and stages of career. I thought tonight it would be fun to break down military shift work for my peeps. You’ll notice the age ranges below. These are an estimate of the various eras of my career. I was 19 when I came in, married at 25 and am now careening toward 30. Enjoy!
Dayshift: Age 19-24, first base, typically the first time you’ve been away from mom and dad. I was 19, single, had one little stripe and a doe-eyed glaze to my face. I was ready to experience all these new challenges that would be put in front of me. Little did I know I was about to end up on 12-hour shifts, 0700 in the morning to 1900 at night, Tuesday and Wednesday off and scheduled to deploy in 7 months. At this point all I thought was “holy fuck my recruiter was a lying bastard who told me I was going to work Monday- Friday, weekends off, and never deploy.”
At age 19-24, dayshift meant come home from work, drink until you puked, ignore the voice saying “hey, asshole, you know you have to work in the morning, right?!”, pass out at 0300, sleep for a few hours, go to work and hope no one knew you were hung over, come home and do it again.
Dayshift: Age 25-29. By this point in my life I have a family. I also have a few more stripes, and a few more responsibilities. Dayshift at age 29 includes getting up at 0400 to shower and dress, in hopes of being out the door by 0500 so you can be at work between 0530-0600. It also means trying to do all those things without waking up the kid, scrambling around trying to find all your uniform shit without turning on lights and waking up the spouse. Most mornings you slap the snooze button too many times, realize it’s like 0445 and you should be out the door in 15 minutes. No longer can you use the excuse of living in the dorms and having a 2-minute commute as an excuse to sleep in. The 15-20 minute wake-up shower becomes a 5-minute combat shower. No time to take the dog out. Hopefully the spouse gets up early enough to feed and walk her before she poops in her bed.
At age 25-29, dayshift means pound whatever coffee or other caffeinated beverage you can find in hopes of keeping yourself awake. Instead of hiding because you are hung over, the goal now is to find things to do that keep you motivated and moving and out of the way of the big bosses in hopes they leave you alone, but typically there is some distinguished visitor coming around and you’re needed to supervise a cleaning project, not actually do any important work. Avoid falling asleep. Hope you don’t have training or EPRs to write, because that’s almost a guaranteed nap-inducer. Go home, hope you don’t power nap on the sofa because that will totally wreck your 2000 bedtime. That’s 8-pm for the non-military folk. You try and gather up some motivation to cook your family something that isn’t breaded/frozen fish or boxed pasta. If that fails, make the kid a peanut butter sandwich, eat whatever leftovers are in the fridge, and hope you can get the tiny person to comply with the above-mentioned 2000 bedtime. Good luck.
Swing shift: Also called middle shift or simply swings. From age 19-24, swing shift was the coveted shift. Most of us in this age range, especially the young and single, wanted to be on this shift. It provided a perfect balance between sleeping like a normal person and drinking yourself into oblivion. You worked from roughly 2pm to 2200. This meant you had enough time to come home and hit up a local bar or club before they closed down at 0200. If you weren’t into the club/bar scene, go back to the dorms and drink until the asscrack of dawn. Typically you’d wake up on someone’s couch or in your dorm room with people passed out on your floor or in your chair. Or someone else’s dorm room, passed out on their floor or in their chair. Most days you still have plenty of time to get in an early morning nap before lather, rinse, repeating. Have an appointment in the morning? No biggie, you go home at 2200 and go right to bed, get up at a normal hour and go to your appointment.
Swing shift at age 19-24 meant…well, let’s just say I don’t remember too much about those days. A lot of that time period is a black void. Some of it I choose to not remember, a lot of it was lost in a bottle somewhere.
Swing shift: Age 25-29. Probably the worst shift to work when you have a family. It is notorious for messing up an entire family’s schedule in a nasty way. It’s by far the most difficult to squeeze family time into. You get home between 10 and 11 at night and one of two things is going down. Either the family is up, or they are not. Both of these are negative for completely different reasons. If the family is up, it means….good luck getting the baby to sleep because apparently moms are like crack to kids. Especially on preschool days where the most you see the kid is the hour he’s awake, eating, getting dressed, then dropping him off at school. You’re gone by the time dad picks him up. On non-school days, swing shift usually means everyone is up late, sleeps late and you’ve wasted a day off. Then dad has to make the decision to allow the kid to nap when he inevitably falls asleep on the couch at 5 in the afternoon, or wake him up knowing he is going to be a screaming, blubbering, tired mass of nasty and no more likely to go to bed at a reasonable hour. If you come home to everyone asleep, well, that’s kind of boring usually because you aren’t quite ready to go to bed yourself, so you sit in bed with them asleep, watching movies and partly wishing they’d wake up.
With dayshift and swing shift out of the way, here we are at nightshift, where I currently bide my time writing this blog.
Nightshift: Age 19-24. Next to swing shift, the best shift. Young and single, it provided ample drinking time on the younger half of the age range. You just have to get used to drinking when the sun is up. It’s often quieter, and there is less bullshit. Typically there is no senior leadership around, unless someone has done something fucked up recently or there is an impending inspection. If you work with good people, you knock out all the work and then sometimes you can either catch a sprout (go home early) or an extended lunch; unless you work at Special Handling. Usually working Special Handling means you typically cram a sandwich in your face with one hand and navigate your truck with the other. If you can’t eat and work three planes by yourself, you’re probably not cut out for working this duty section. I had this one supervisor who was pretty cool and let us take power naps on shift. I still think he’s pretty cool. Yeah, that supervisor became the Mr. to my Mrs. I spent the majority of my last few years at Travis on nightshift. The early months of my marriage, it wasn’t a big deal, as the husband just pretty much stayed on a nightshift schedule with me. When the baby came along, that card really didn’t play well anymore.
Nightshift: 25-29, the tail end of the age range I currently sit at. I’ve been at Ramstein for 3-years and most of it has been spent on nights. When the kid was a baby, it wasn’t too awful. He was up periodically at night anyways. We found activities to do during the day. At one point we did swim mom/baby swim lessons. Oh and he took naps back then. It’s a little more difficult now days. I think he comes up to do periodic welfare checks. The first few times it’s cute. I’m afraid I sound like a raving lunatic when I talk to him while I’m half asleep. It’s hard to find schedules that work for everyone. Finding family time often feels like the impossible dream. Trying to do dinner out requires me to pound coffee so I can actually carry on a conversation with my family so I’m not sitting there drooling into my food. Not to mention, nightshift where I work now is pretty God-awful boring. The length of this blog should be an indication.
If you’ve ever had a shift-worker job, how did you manage? Tips for others who may be in the same situation, or about to be in the same situation? Feel free to leave advice in the comments.
Post song title: “Night Moves” by Bob Seger