Swift | Silent | Deadly

My Luminox Dive Watch: A Constant Companion

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Few physical objects that pass through our lives seem to last more than a few years. Despite costing tens of thousands, vehicles are usually gone within a decade. TVs, refrigerators, washing machines? They’re gone within half a decade. Shoes? A year or two. For those of you forty and over: what do you own right now that you owned when you were twenty? I can’t name many but the one item that comes unerringly to mind is my Luminox dive watch.

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I apologize in advance; this post is going to be a little self-indulgent. There’s probably not much to learn from this post, except the story of a watch that has enjoyed – or endured – two adventurous decades. All the photos here show me, and my Luminox dive watch.

My Luminox Dive Watch

I purchased my Luminox dive watch in 2001. It has a quartz movement, a stainless steel case, and a resin bezel. The numbers and hands are illuminated by tritium vials…or were, until the tritium died about ten years ago. I hated that it said “Navy SEALS” on it. I never had any designs on being a Navy SEAL and I certainly didn’t want to misrepresent.

Old school cool! A young, fit, tan Corporal Fields wearing his Luminox dive watch back onto base after a day of adventuring. Note the ankle tattoo – that was the first tattoo my friend ever gave. He gave it to me in a barracks room. Ah, to be young again.

I was compelled to buy this watch for couple reasons. While stationed at Camp Pendleton I began diving and had gotten pretty into it. I did shore dives with sea lions off La Jolla, boat dives, shark dives, and dove the kelp forest at Point Loma. Naturally, I wanted a dive watch. I also just wanted a good watch for life’s adventures. The Luminox certainly looked like it would fit the bill.

On a fun, run’n’gun range in Okinawa. This is before I had any real pistol training, as is evidenced by the shitty grip.

Somewhere along the way I replaced  the original rubber watchband with an Australian “Waterborne Safety Strap.” These were all the rage at 3rd Recon Battalion at that time, and they are fantastic bands. I still have one, and unfortunately they seem hard to dig up online. Amazon has some very similar bands, and I’ll probably try one out when my Waterborne dies.

Along with an excellent pistol, a good knife, and a good flashlight, a good watch is something every man should have. The Luminox is not a good watch, but I’m sticking with it.

One other mod: with the Waterborne strap I often wore a wrist-compass opposite the watch, inside my wrist. Usually this was a Suunto M9. I went through a few of these because, frankly, I found the plastic case to be a bit fragile. In the future I may try a Cammenga or a Suunto Clipper. There are also some knock-offs that look decent.

The Start of an Adventurous Life

I was stationed at Camp Pendleton when I bought my Luminox dive watch. It’s probably unnecessary to say that I overpaid for it. Young Marine at a watch shop in a mall in a military town – what could possibly go wrong? It cost around $250 if memory serves – quite a sum in in 2001-dollars. Anyway, $250 seems like a bargain now even though a purchase like this was a huge luxury back then.

Back in disposable-camera days. Look at that quality…and zoom! Here I am just prior to boarding a CH-46 for a flight from Ternate, Cavite up to Angeles City for a few days of San Miguel-soaked debauchery. Note the Luminox dive watch on my left wrist.

I sincerely wish I had some pictures of the Camp Pendleton days. All those photos were actually printed on paper. Unfortunately a box of my photo albums was lost in a move a few years ago. I don’t have a single photo left representing that period of my life. My first big adventure with my Luminox dive watch was my permanent stationing in Okinawa.

A 21-year old Corporal Fields standing radio/fire watch in the Philippines. I’m wearing the official “in garrison” uniform for that deployment: battalion t-shirt, Ranger panties (interchangeable with optional UDT shorts), green jungle boots, and a dive watch.

Okinawa was awesome. First, I was traveling overseas, to Far East, to the site of one of WWII’s bloodiest battlefields. Second, I was moving from a POG unit to a Marine Reconnaissance unit. Though I was still a POG at the time, it was definitely an upgrade. Finally, there were the deployments. Marines in Oki got to bum around the Pacific Rim.

Some fun on a demo range. This was my first time playin…uh, working with high explosives in Ban Chan Krem, Thailand. Those are pound-and-a-quarter blocks of C4. Check out those green, Altama “JCBs” (jungle combat boots), complete with dog tag. Also note that my watch still has its original rubber band at this point.

My first deployment from Oki was to the Philippines. I was down there for about a month this time this go ’round. This is where I cut my teeth patrolling in the jungle. I got my first taste of helo-casting (jumping into the ocean from the back of a moving helicopter). My Luminox dive watch was with me every step of the way.

First Repair

Unfortunately my Luminox dive watch has required repair several times. My next trip from Oki was to Thailand,  in 2003. I was on liberty in Pattaya Beach when I looked down at my watch. I was checking to see how long I had until curfew. It’s only 00:30, two hours left – awesome! A little while later I looked down at my watch again. Still 00:30…wait a minute! I looked more closely. I could see that the second hand was loose under the crystal and the hands weren’t moving. Uh oh. I quickly found someone who could tell me what time it was and verify I wasn’t out past curfew. Whew!

The scene of the crime – the streets of Pattaya, Thailand. This must’ve been before it broke because I’m wearing it.

As soon as I got back to Okinawa I contacted Luminox. I explained that I was active duty military and I broken my watch on a training deployment. I received a very curt response and instructions on how to get my watch repaired. No military discount, no “thank you for your service,” no rush service, no “we’re glad to see our watches are being used hard.” I was slightly miffed by this complete lack of acknowledgement but I paid to have the watch repaired anyhow.

Zeroing rifles in Djibouti. This was a quick, three or four day stop before flying into AFG. Don’t know if it’s still there but the SOF compound on Lemonnier had a bar called The Bitter End… because “life is sweeter at the Bitter End!”

Subsequent Repairs

Getting the watch repaired was a good decision. I would have the watch repaired at least three more times (and possibly four). Once, during a CQB package with my platoon, I dropped it in a barracks latrine. It landed on the crystal, cracking it, and letting moisture in. Obviously this couldn’t stand in a dive watch, so that was the second repair.

Um, no, I definitely wasn’t posing for this. It was just a, uh, totally candid shot of me moving tactically across the range *cough cough*. On a serious note, it’s fun to look back at my setup. The big leg pouch is for breaching charges; for GP I usually had a tape charge and two or three strip charges, plus any mission-specific charges. Check out that super old-school SOFT-T tourniquet with shiny, silver windlass. And the Strider knife with paraloft-made drop extension and IR strobe taped to the sheath.

Luminox has always had me send my watch to the same place: Saltzman’s in Cranston, RI. And I’ve sent it there a bunch. Most recently I had it repaired because the minute hand became free-spinning, the second time this particular problem has occurred. That’s four repairs in total in 20 years – not the worst track record, but certainly not the best. Honestly I feel that a watch should have – at most – half that number of repairs in twenty years.

U.S. military? This guy? Noooooo, what gives you that idea?  A very immature, undeveloped idea of being a “grey man.” Even without the backpack this get-up isn’t fooling anyone. Please don’t dress like this when you’re here: Petra, Jordan.

Desert Phase

After my time in Asia my photo album suddenly gets very tan and brown. After transferring back to Camp Lejeune I would spend the remainder of my active duty either training for the desert or deploying to it. My Luminox stayed on my wrist from my first deployment through my last.

On a grenade range in Kuwait. If his size and the five live grenades hanging from his vest didn’t tip you off, the dude to my left is an absolute BEAST.

My Luminox watch was on my wrist for challenging military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also in ancillary locations on these trips Turkey, Djibouti, Jordan, Kuwait. Though I don’t have the pics to prove it, it was also with me for stops in Italy and Spain.

The Udari Range Complex in Kuwait, playing with a M40A3. My watch is lying on the plywood under the rifle with the wrist compass – a Suunto M9 – facing up.

When I left the military my Luminox dive watch kept traveling with me. It stayed with me on half a dozen more trips to Afghanistan and to some other interesting places that I won’t name here. In total this watch has been to about 25 different countries. It’s also been to over 40 of 50 US states. It has traveled more and better than anyone in my family.

With some friends, just before an altitude dive in California. I’m the dude with the Luminox dive watch.

Other Adventures

It’s been on countless adventures. My Luminox dive watch has been hiking, backpacking, and mountain-climbing. It has been deep under the surface of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, mountain lakes, and seen shipwrecks and coral reefs. It has been firmly affixed to my wrist as I’ve stepped out of perfectly good airplanes and helicopters. It’s been to high-performance driving courses and shooting courses and medical courses. It has patrolled hard-packed desert and triple-canopy jungle. And it’s spent the night on a few nightstands.

Believe it or not that’s in Afghanistan – at Band-e Amir, deep in Bamiyan province. With lakes hundreds of feet deep and absolutely crystal-clear water his was one of the most surreal places I’ve ever visited.

This watch has been with me through thick and thin. It has come along with me as I’ve traveled the world, and dug deep into traveling my own country. My watch has been there for funerals and memorials of teammates and friends, and it shared their company while they were still here. It has been there for the joy of graduating rigorous schools and receiving a paddle from my mates. It has been with me during the solemn duty of teaching others from the instructor’s podium.

On an overnight op in central Asia. We were staying with a local family; here I am just popping out to get a radio check.

Days Still Ahead for my Luminox Dive Watch

So, is it time to hang up the old Luminox dive watch? The last time my watch died was a couple years ago. I decided then and there that I was finished wearing a watch. I declined to have it repaired. Then two things happened.

Conducting a “hi-viz” op in Central Asia in an up-armored Land Cruiser.

First, my friend (and all-around great guy) Nick Coffman came out to visit. Nick has written a couple things for Swift|Silent|Deadly that you’ll see in coming weeks, and you may already know him as the former editor-in-chief of SOFREP. Anyway, Nick came to visit, and he brought a nice bottle of Doorly’s 12-year rum. Late into the night we talked guns and knives and flashlights. I asked Nick about his watch. I reminded me of the one I’d relegated to a junk drawer.

And thus the talk turned to watches. I dug out the old, broken Luminox. Nick has much more appreciation for watches than me. Instantly it fascinated him. “Man, the stories this watch has…” I decided then and there to get my watch repaired. Nick told me there’s no way he would let a watch with so much history sit around, unworn and forgotten. I mailed it off to Saltzman’s just a few days later.

The other thing driving this train is my new job. Having a watch is pretty critical to marking drug administration times, watching 30 seconds tick by as you check a pulse or respiratory rate, etc. If I’m going to wear a watch, why not make it one I’ve already worn for 20 years?

Would I Recommend a Luminox?

The question that is bound to arise from this article is, “would you recommend a Luminox?” Short answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT! If you want my advice, do not buy a Luminox watch. First, don’t buy a Luminox because of the watch. It will break. I’m deep into sunk-cost territory. I’ve more than doubled the cost of this watch on repairs. One of them was my fault (dropping it on the crystal) but the other three repairs weren’t really my fault; the hands just fell off the watch. I don’t trust on this watch not to die on me. Honestly, a Casio G-Shock would almost certainly last longer. I keep this watch around only because of the history we share, not because it is the best watch.

Luminox’s customer support philosophy seems to be, “we make watches that last for our warranty period. After that, you’re on your own, pal.”

Second, I wouldn’t recommend a Luminox because Luminox customer service… well, it kind of sucks. Luminox’ customer support philosophy seems to be, “we make watches that last for our warranty period. After that, you’re on your own!” There’s nothing specifically bad that I can point to. Instead I just have a general sense that they selling another watch to another customer is massively more important than taking care of an existing customer like me.

And I get it – lifetime warranties are almost untenable for a successful business. Still, customer service is non-existent, and If you keep a Luminox more than a couple years you will – more than likely – interact  with customer service. They could at least make the effort to pretend they care. Take it from a guy who has probably spent over $600 on a $250 watch, and loves his Luminox watch: don’t buy a Luminox. Still, this one is mine and I fully acknowledge that my dedication to it is emotional. If it sounds like a complicated relationship, it is, just like any relationship going into it’s third decade.

One More Thing…

A million years ago, at my first duty station, I ran across a poem. It’s about a Special Forces soldier as seen by various people in his life. The poem (which I retrieved here) reads:

A Special Forces Soldier as seen by:


A tall, handsome, non-mess association joining, highly trained professional killer, female idol, star sapphire ring wearing, demo knife carrying gentleman who is always on time due to the reliability of his Rolex watch.

His Wife

A stinking member of the family who comes through Fort Bragg once a year with a rucksack full of dirty clothes and a hard-on, wearing a star sapphire ring, a Rolex watch, and carrying a demo knife.

His Commander

A fine specimen of a drunken, brawling, jeep stealing, woman corrupting, mess association joining, liar with a star sapphire ring, a Rolex watch, and a demo knife.

Higher Headquarters

A drunken, brawling, jeep stealing, woman corrupting, mess association joining, liar with a star sapphire ring, Rolex watch and a demo knife.

Headquarters, Department of the Army

An overpaid, over trained, tax burden, that is indispensable because he has volunteered to go anywhere, do anything, as long as he can booze it up, brawl, steal jeeps, corrupt women, not join mess associations, lie, wear a star sapphire ring, a Rolex watch, and carry a demo knife.

This poem has always stuck with me. I mean, how cool is that? I’m not a Special Forces soldier and my Luminox dive watch surely isn’t a Rolex. But if you see a handsome, highly-trained gentleman packing a 1911 who is always on time thanks to his Luminox dive watch…

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