Hello! My name is Michael Ivey and I’m a Sailor in the United States Navy.

I grew up in a farming community in Dunn, North Carolina where life was comfortable, but uneventful. When I was 19, I read a line from the Navy’s recruiting campaign that spoke to me: “If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?”

I realized I wanted to make a difference in the world, so I enlisted as an Equipment Operator (Seabee) and left ten days later. In my career, I’ve built ballistic fish tanks in Iraq, forward operating bases in Afghanistan, and hospital waiting areas in Jamaica. My job is basically to keep people safe and make sure my fellow Sailors get home to their families.

Joining the Navy transformed my life into a story worth telling. Ask me anything.

Proof: https://twitter.com/AmericasNavy/status/1034133452709347328


This was originally intended to run from 1000-1100 but you guys kept the questions coming. Some of those questions were tough, some of them made me smile, more than a few made me chuckle out loud. I want to personally thank every single one of you that participated in this AMA and I hope that I was able to answer a few questions in turn. If there are any others that I failed to get to, you can always find me over on r/Navy or occasionally on r/DadJokes (and also not using an official Navy handle). I want to close with a thought that you can take for what it is worth to you...

Every day of our lives we are afforded opportunities to be a force for good in the lives of others. We can enrich each other. We can raise each other up. We can help. We can heal. We can teach. We can learn... or we can do nothing. There is nothing wrong with living on a sweet potato farm in the middle of nowhere if that is what makes you happy and completes you as a person, but for me I needed something more. The Navy gave me that chance and my only regret thus far is that I did not dive onto that opportunity sooner. It is my personal belief that each of us is guilty of all the good we have never done. The Navy simply allowed me to do more.

Comments: 622 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

tinywords_164 karma

Why were you chosen to do this AMA?

AmericasNavy151 karma

A few months ago I got selected to be part of a documentary series called Faces of the Fleet (Episode 5: Dirt Sailor). While every one of the flicks is amazing for it's own reason imho, mine went viral. I think that happened because I am a Redditor and shared it around some of the circles that I frequent. The Navy decided to pull that thread.

Pun intended.

ZummerzetZider86 karma

How do you feel about being used for PR? Aren’t you slightly cynical about them using you as the friendly face of the navy when many of your comrades are engaged in much more violent activities? I’d be interested in your response, hopefully it’s you not the navy’s press office writing the responses.

AmericasNavy66 karma

I'm not cynical at all about it, and I feel that those who are typically just speak with a louder voice than the rest of us. I have been "engaged in much more violent activities" before and it's now I have a job that is more in the lime light. I work for a command that goes above and beyond the call of duty, and now, much more than the "violent activities" I find fulfillment in being the guy that brings them home.

Totes me writing the responses.

FlashyTell124 karma

I hear that the tallest guy you work with has great hair AND is the most attractive. Can you confirm this?

AmericasNavy108 karma

He certainly thinks so.

DannyShikari116 karma

What in the world is a ballistic fish tank?

Does the US navy train grenade fish what is going on?

AmericasNavy110 karma

So... no grenade fish though we used to have dolphins and seals that could locate underwater mines and alert EOD personnel.

The "fish tank" was a 1/4" steel plate and ballistic glass cube that we would build for the Marines when we were in Iraq, then in the middle of the night, go out and place them in areas to be used as watchtowers.

Malhallah104 karma

You started an AMA and not an AMAA and assuming you aren't here just to spread mindnumbing recruitment propaganda: Can you name 5 things you would change in the current state of Navy that you see as outdated or wrong and what are your views of the Trump's transgender ban?

AmericasNavy218 karma

You're absolutely correct that this intended to be an AMA and not an AMAA. It's because of that I am trying to hit up a wide span of questions... that said, the intention of this AMA was to highlight my personal story, not to act as a platform for social reform or to drive people to choose to join the military (or away from it). I don't write the rules nor do I have the ability to alter them and I DO have to be careful when I respond to questions like this as I do not want to come across as "THE VOICE OF THE NAVY" when I answer them.

Are there things that should be changed? Absolutely. I am not a fan of the 3M maintenance system nor the idea of funding via fiscal years. I dislike that Seabees can only perform 15% of construction in the states as I feel it dwindles our ability to stay sharp, though I understand that it is done to put money back into the economy by hiring civilians. I also really really hate the idea that they are changing our eight point covers to no longer show our rank.

As for the Transgender ban... *takes deep breath* ... I believe in happiness. I believe we are all entitled to that. Who you love is no concern of mine. What makes you happy is not my business. If you want to be called He or She or They or Steve, if it makes you happy then you need to capitalize on it. My only concern for YOUR pursuit of happiness is when it encroaches on mine or causes harm to others. Do people who identify as transgender serving in the military encroach on my happiness or cause harm to me?

No. No they do not.

readparse95 karma

Was this AMA organized in coordination with the Navy, as part of the same recruiting campaign that is featuring your story on their website?

I'm glad the Navy is working out for you. I was in the Air Force, and it was a good experience for me also.

AmericasNavy83 karma

Bingo. I had honestly contemplated doing an AMA for a while, if for no other reason than to say that I had. Then they approached me and stole all that sweet sweet potential Reddit Karma.

I'm glad the Air Force worked well for you as well! We give each other a lot of flak between services, but at the end of the day I think we all know that we need each other.

zbeptz70 karma

So now that you are the voice of the Navy for a day, can you ask CNO when we are getting beards?

And real question: is u/Americasnavy doing future AMAs by other Sailors/communities?

AmericasNavy55 karma

I don't think my lime light will last long enough for me to get attention from THAT level, but if I get TAD orders to DC for a sit down, I'll be sure to ask.

That said, if this doesn't crash and burn I think they'd be thrilled to do more of them!

TyGO2869 karma

Disclosure: I would read a book about sweet potato farming.

  1. Is it true that >50% of all sweet potatoes grown in North America are grown in North Carolina?
  2. What is your favorite preparation of sweet potatoes?
  3. Is there a strategy to picking out the best sweet potatoes?

AmericasNavy83 karma

  1. I'm not sure... but I will add that to my memoirs. If it's on the internet, it must be true.
  2. Baked with butter and cinnamon sugar.
  3. Walk around in the field barefoot and feel for them with your toes. Not even kidding. Or... were you talking about from the store? I have never actually had to buy a sweet potato.

aecht67 karma

I thought the seabees were being shuttered?

AmericasNavy67 karma

News to me. That said, the military DOES fluctuate in it's numbers depending on what is going on in the world. We actually just saw the largest numbers advancing to Chief in my rate than I have seen in years.

Nametab1143 karma

What is the craziest thing you have built during your time as an Equipment Operator?

AmericasNavy163 karma

Our waterwell rig went down hard when we were in Afghanistan and we had a few days of downtime while waiting on parts to fly in. We were on this huge stretch of land that we were turning into a base for the Army to roll in and take over... and it looked sort of like a beach. Not a beach that you would take your family to, mind you, but there was a lot of sand.

So... we built Adirondack chairs and palm trees out of plywood scraps. Placed them sporadically around the camp. It wound up being such a moral booster that they began making more of them and tucking them it random places around the base.

MoodSwingzzz41 karma

Spend a lot of time in Fayetteville? As I recall Dunn is right off 95, I’m from Fayetteville myself. Never went through Dunn much, may have stopped off for food once or twice.

AmericasNavy79 karma

I... may have been a mall cop up there before I joined.

Copterwaffle28 karma

Are you a recruiter? Because this reads like recruitment propaganda.

AmericasNavy38 karma

I'm not... though I DO have one hovering over my shoulder to make sure that I don't fumble this too hard. And a legal officer to keep me out of trouble.

The Navy is giving me the opportunity to share a bit of my story in an organic manner. Do I WANT someone to read up on this and realize that there might be an opportunity for them outside of the confines of their comfort zone though? Totes.

PMnewb25 karma

Is your LPO reading this over your shoulder right now?

AmericasNavy57 karma

No... but I do have a PAO in the corner of the room with a water bottle that I think she'll wing at me if I step out of line.

Onaimlos22 karma

What's your favorite food on ship, MRE flavor, and out of port duty?

AmericasNavy23 karma

Cheese and Veggie omelette. All day, every day. Everyone hates that one... so you will never be disappointed when you go looking for it.

Bacteria_Colony21 karma

Hi Mr. Ivey, just a quick question, how and what was physical training like during bootcamp?

AmericasNavy75 karma

So... don't tell your RDC that I told you this, but Boot Camp was the easiest pay check that I ever earned. It's a culture shock when you get there because someone is telling you what to do and how to do it and when to do it and EVEN if you do all of those things somehow it is still wrong.

That said, the things they are telling you to do are all the things that you are going to be doing on a daily basis for the rest of your career... and that includes the physical training. When I was there (and mind you, this was back in 2005) it was mostly calisthenics and cardio. Push ups, sit ups, running around yelling catchy rhymes; you get the picture. To me, it was honestly easier than doing it on my own because you were with a team. You started together. You finished together. And you pushed yourself harder because you wanted to be a part of that pack.

TheCardsharkAardvark20 karma

Why would anyone join a service where you can't have beards?

Jk good on you for doing this ama man.

AmericasNavy43 karma

So... I'm 32 and can't grow a mustache. The hair literally does not do anything more than wisp in the center of my lip. Trust me. The Navy not allowing me to grow a beard is one of it's greatest gifts to the world.

CTMalum18 karma

If you could choose any other rate in the Navy besides a Seabee rate, what do you think you'd go with?

AmericasNavy26 karma

HM. Hands down.

sirkittencorn8 karma

Why? I’ve been thinking about joining as an HM and I would like to know your reasoning. Thank you!

AmericasNavy18 karma

I operate best in environments where I am not doing the exact same thing every single day. I would not survive in a factory. The concept of going FMF Corpsman, being THE guy that they run to... that's amazing to me.

Jynx318 karma

What's your favorite way to prepare and dress a sweet potato?

AmericasNavy39 karma

So... I didn't touch a sweet potato for two years after I joined the Navy. I was kinda like a sweet potato version of Bubba from Forrest Gump before that so you can imagine that I had my fair share of them. When you grow up on a sweet potato farm, sweet potatoes are free. You eat a lot of them.

All that said, you don't dress a sweet potato. The nutrients are in the skin. Also, I made a sweet potato wine once that was delightful.

PushZeeButtons17 karma

One very important question: What the heck is a ballistic fish?

AmericasNavy23 karma

14" steel plate and ballistic glass. The Marines would go out in town and set up Combat Outposts (COPs) so to keep them safe, we would build these 8'x8' "fish tanks" then go out in the middle of the night and crane them up ontop of buildings as watch towers.

making_cents11717 karma

Are you hydrating?

Also since it looks like this is the closest I’ll get to asking anybody in big Navy a uniform question, Johnny Cash uniforms and beards when?

AmericasNavy24 karma


I miss the Johnny Cash uniforms too but that stuff is way above me. I think the idea behind it was to narrow down the number of uniforms that you had to lug around in your sea bag. That said... the pants that we wore with them are the same that we wear with the newer peanut butters. My Johnny Cash's live on.

ejfree11 karma

Which do you hate more, Gulfport or Hueneme?

AmericasNavy20 karma

Hueneme has the weather. Gulfport has the food. You have to make a trade off somewhere.

Zestymangoman11 karma

You mentioned using scrap wood to make trees, what else have you made out of scrape wood and spare parts?

AmericasNavy46 karma

Honestly... everything. When we were in Iraq it cost a crap load of money to send over equipment and gear. We got a CAT D-9 Dozer, but it would have cost so much to send over the armor kit that it got pushed a month. That was a month we didn't have. We needed to get to work. So some of us started shopping around... bit of steel here... ballistic glass there... by the end of the week we had welded enough steel to this thing that it was safe to use, but looked like something out of Mad Max.

Biggest issue? The blade on that doze is upwards of 12" wide. Our window? 5"x8". Once you got started moving you kicked up so much dust that you couldn't see. We would have a guy walk beside us with a cargo pocket full of rocks and lob them at the door when we needed to stop.

Chtorrr10 karma

What is the very best cheese?

AmericasNavy59 karma

My cheese. Because it is nachos.

LessLikeYou9 karma

What's your favorite kind of pizza and why is it Hawaiian pizza?

AmericasNavy29 karma

Hawaiian... with hot sauce. Lots of it. I'm that guy who likes Peanut Butter and Jelly wings and ghost pepper tacos. There is a reason our appreciation of taste and a variety of colors are both called a palette.

bluetailtailfly9 karma

In your experience how does being a seabee differ from a surface ship, submarine, or aviation job in terms of work/life balance? do you stand duty? if so how many sections?

AmericasNavy12 karma

That's all going to depend on your command. I still stand duty but the watches change depneding on where you are at. That said, the balance IS going to be different. Ship life hits ports and goes to all sorts of places in a single deployment. The Bees? You are going one place and unless you get picked up for a Det site then that's likely where you are staying for the duration. We uh... don't have General Quarters drills though.

TimbraFruit9 karma

How much do you get paid?

blue_ch0p8 karma

Have you ever considered going Officer? And, if you could change rates, would you choose a sea-going one?

AmericasNavy18 karma

I HAVE considered going officer, and while I appreciate all that they do, growing up on a farm has geared me more towards the wrench turning, hammer swinging life style. That isn't to say that officers don't work hard. They are the first people in the office and the last ones to go home at night... but I couldn't find happiness in that capacity.

I love the Bees and I'd try to stick with them if possible, but if the word came down tomorrow to get on a boat or pack my bags, I'd start watching YouTube videos on how to get my sea legs. I've always loved the unity within the MM and MR community and HM has always called to me.

Yorikor7 karma

What kind of equipment are you working with? What are some of the machines the Seabees operate that you were able to see live in action? And what is a ballistic fish tank?

AmericasNavy19 karma

I play with Tonka Toys for a living. Caterpillar and John Deere and so on and so forth, all painted a lovely shade of olive drab. Probably the coolest was an old 1950's "Duce n' a Half" truck we had at my last unit. We were supposed to have gotten rid of the thing years ago, but the needles on the gauge were painted in a radioactive isotope that you can't just throw away. So... we can't throw it away, we might as well use it.

Coolest thing about it? It had an old multi-fuel engine. I have no idea how many miles to the gallon that beast got, but it would run off of candle wax if you got it hot enough.

SmugFrog7 karma

Hi Michael! Thanks for doing this AMA. What is the longest length of time you were deployed for?

AmericasNavy16 karma

Hi SmugFrog!

My longest was 10 months. The Navy sent me to a school to learn how to drill wells and offered me a spot on a humanitarian deployment to Cambodia and the Philippines. That sounded particularly awesome to me so I asked for, and was granted an extension with the command. This was juuuuuuust before Christmas in 2009 and we weren't supposed to leave until March or Aprilish.

I was home on leave when I got a phone call informing me that I needed to buy a plane ticket and get back to California. The Army was going to plus up their troops in a BIG way down range... and someone had to build them a place to live. Someone also needed to drill them wells, so I still got to do the job that I trained to do even if the scenery wasn't quite as nice.

snm1187 karma

Hi Michael! Curious to hear more about your travel experiences- what are some of the most interesting places you’ve been able to visit?

AmericasNavy42 karma

So... fun fact: I had never left the state of North Carolina before I joined the Navy. Going to Basic Training was my first time ever getting on an airplane.

Since then? Well... I've driven cross country twice. The Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, England, Italy. The absolute most beautiful though? Kyrgyzstan. Hands down. We got there in January with two feet of snow on the ground. It was dark outside until 1100 because the sun had to rise over the Himalayan Mountains that overshadowed our tents. Absolutely breathtaking.

fangfufu6 karma

Why were you in Kyrgyzstan? It is a landlocked country with no access to the sea! lol.

AmericasNavy11 karma

We were on our way to Afghanistan. Normally they put you in Kuwait for a week or two to acclimate and get an "In Country" brief... but Kuwait was full. There is actually an Air Force base there that is pretty legit.

Sawses7 karma

Nice. I lived in Dunn until I was 12, then in Wilson until I graduated. Now I'm up in Boone getting a BS in biology. Would you ever go back to live in NC? I tried to join the air force or navy, but...asthma. I still haven't ruled out trying to get a waiver now that I'll have a degree. Think I should?

AmericasNavy11 karma

The farm that I grew up on is still out there. I go back as often as I can. Getting out and seeing the world and winning and losing and loving and learning and fighting and living... all of that has given me a deeper appreciation for that little town than I would have ever organically developed had I never left. North Carolina will always be home.

As for if you should, only you can answer that question. For me, it was the best decision of my life.

fasterranger7 karma


I’m in school studying civil engineering. What are your thoughts on the CEC program? Any insight you can provide would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

AmericasNavy19 karma

I think Reddit knows that I am enlisted and not an officer. This is the third time that I have tried to answer this question and it has told me No.

That said, I have always had a deep respect for CEC officers. I cannot answer much about them as I AM enlisted, but there are Recruiters that specifically deal with those of use that did the college thing. If you have the opportunity, I say go for it.

glableglabes6 karma

Thus is very clearly US Navy recruitment propaganda.

I mean very clearly.

Why wouldn't the Navy just come out right and be transparent about this rather than trying to package this as an organic AMA?

You could have worded it as an "Official AMA from a US Navy Personnel" or something. But the half ass way you tried to make it seem like a genuine Joe Blow from North Carolina AMA just reads kind of disingenuous.

I mean half the questions so far are clearly from Navy owned/invested reddit accounts.

AmericasNavy35 karma

I think it's pretty organic. The "team" that I thought was going to be hovering over my shoulder is just kind of... giggling in the corner as they read my responses. Also... most of the questions here have been about beards and dairy products.

deafy_duck6 karma

Are you currently in Gulfport? My old boss was a seabee before he joined the nonprofit world.

AmericasNavy13 karma

I'm actually out in Virginia working with EOD now, but before that I was a "Hollywood" Bee out of Port Hueneme.

ShotoGun5 karma

How do you motivate yourself to do your job when the people you serve seem to value a hostile nation more than its own veterans? Doubt this will get an answer but I can’t find myself being patriotic anymore.

AmericasNavy9 karma

In another post someone asked me why I joined and I told them that I grew up with the philosophy that we plant trees under who's shade we never intend to sit under. I cannot control how we spend money on the VA. I cannot control what policies are pushed and which are rejected.

What I CAN control is my own personal actions and the way I live my life. I've been called any number of things for my military service. I've been thanked and cursed equally. I smile to each of them and continue doing the things that I do that help me to sleep at night, knowing that at the end of the day, I have given more than I have taken. That is what motivates me. Knowing that I have contributed to something. I have made someone's life better.

Maybe the world will thank me for that. Maybe not. It doesn't matter. We don't do the job for the thanks. We do it because we want to give back.

Nametab115 karma

I know America's Navy has a podcast series as well...I think it is called Sea Story? Do YOU have a Sea Story?

AmericasNavy12 karma

Quite a few. Actually... a lotta few. Or just a lot. Hang around. I am sure that there are going to be a bunch of them sprinkled around on this AMA.

Nametab115 karma

When you went to a recruiter to join, did you want to be a Seabee/Equipment Officer?

Did they give you options to choose from?

My cousin is thinking about joining the armed forces but doesn’t really know exactly what she wants to do yet.

AmericasNavy23 karma

I scored a 90 on the ASVAB and had a slew of options... but I wanted to achieve escape velocity from my home town as fast as possible. I asked what he had available that left soon. EO left in 10 days. I became an EO.

In hindsight, I was super lucky. I ended up randomly choosing a career path that I fell in love with. If your cousin has the gift of time, I would strongly recommend looking at her options and weighing them. There are a few subreddits on here that us Navy folk frequent who would be more than happy to answer any questions that she may have.

Nametab114 karma

What ultimately made you want to join the Navy and what was your recruitment process like?

AmericasNavy18 karma

I grew up on a tiny farm back in North Carolina. One of those little places that likely wouldn't exist if a major highway didn't run through it. My family had lived in the town for generations and that was the standard. If you were born in Dunn, odds are you were going to grow up in Dunn, work in Dunn, and retire in Dunn. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the simplicity of "Home" now, but it was something that I had to leave in order to fully appreciate.

Joining the Navy was an opportunity to take hold of the reigns and direct my life where I wanted it to go. To reinvent myself. And to get away from what seemed like a life of perpetual sweet potatery.

ShotgunzNbeer2 karma

Hey Michael, I am always curious what peoples moral justifications are for their participation in the United States wars of aggression. Most importantly, what gives you the right to participate in the overthrowing of democratically elected governments?

Considering the very large debt load that the military adds to unborn generations, do you ever feel like you are taking too much from the taxpayer? If not, what does the average working American get in return for your high cost burden?

AmericasNavy22 karma

Phew! Right out of the gate with a doozie!

Let me preface this by saying that I am neither a politician nor policy maker. I am not a philosopher or fortune teller either. I know not what long lasting reprocussions my actions or inactions will take, nor do I know how my life has effected those that I have touched. All that I can do, all that any of us can hope to do, is the best that we can. When I was a child, I was taught that the purpose of life was to plant trees under who's shade we never intend to sit... and I have tried to take that concept with me into my military career.

While I cannot say that I have ever personally overthrown a democratically elected government, I have been to Afghanistan twice. The first time in 08-09 where the only people you saw on the street were armed police officers and Afghani National Army Regulars... and then again in 2010 where I was able to witness children walking to school. I saw murals on walls, hand painted by locals where only a year before there had been craters. I sat down and had chai with truck drivers and ate bread with local vendors... people who had hid in their homes for fear of insurgents in time past.

I hate to start this AMA off with a question that I cannot answer, but I truly do not know the answer. I all know is that I can only do the best that I can for all of those around me, that I can plant trees under who's shade I never intend to sit, and continue to make moral choices that allow me to be a friend to the man I see looking back in my mirror.