Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at Sea, or
"We Sail to Defend, What We Hold So Dear.
"The DDGs, Welded to the Pier."

I hope that you are having (or that you had) a nice Thanksgiving, Gentle Reader. Please spare a moment from your day of food (and football) to think of those men and women in the Armed Forces who are away from home on this day, with a special thought to those on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those who are sailing into uncertain waters off the Korean Peninsula.

I've spent a Thanksgiving or two at sea, it's not terribly uncommon in the Navy. If the cooks are halfway good, the meal is a feast like none other[1] (though cigars and cigarettes were no longer provided). It was a good idea to reflect on one's underway watch rotation before sitting down to eat, as showing up for watch ready to fall asleep from overeating was not a good idea.

On larger ships, a VIP might show up to thank the crew. A DoD or USO entertainment group might perform, which resulted in a sort of "mandatory fun" if not enough sailors showed up to watch the show.[2] Smaller ships were luckier, usually they got to be on their own. Unless it was truly wartime, Thanksgiving was a day of holiday routine; no work was done other than sweepers, watchstanding and cooking. Everyone could sleep in if they didn't have to be up.

I was surfing around, saw the usual press releases, and found this Plan of the Day from a warship's Thanksgiving thirty years ago.

I don't know the story behind it, but it sounds as though the USS Joseph Hewes had to leave for Thanksgiving to cover something that the USS Sellers was supposed to do. Probably one of the crewmen, or more than one, wrote that poem. If I remember correctly, only line officers could qualify for surface warfare pins back then, so it is possible that one of the wardroom rats had a hand in that.

Covering another ship's commitments was a bittersweet thing. The bitter was that it meant more time away from home.[3] If it was over a holiday, your plans, the plans of your shipmates and everyone's families were ruined. The sweet was that there was considerable unit pride in being on a ship that could be told, on very short notice, to get underway and do someone else's job. [4] That was a hard thing to sell to one's family, but it was still true. The reverse was that the waterfront reputation of a ship that was indeed "welded to the pier" was not good. The higher-ups in the squadron and the group could be counted on to lavish the sort of extra attention on that short of ship which nobody on that ship relished receiving.
[1] If the cooks produced a terrible Thanksgiving meal, that may result in the Supply Officer and the chief cook getting fired.
[2] "You will attend and you will have fun."
[3] Between deployments, exercises and in-port duty days, it was common to sleep in your own bed maybe 60-70 days a year.
[4] I have no doubt that copies of that POD were mailed to the USS Sellers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lockout and Tagout

One of the jobs I had before I went into the Navy was cleaning machinery in a factory. Each one of us on the cleaning crew was issued a padlock and a lockout hasp.

The first person on the job turned off the power to the machine, inserted the lockout hasp on the power switch and then locked the hasp with a padlock. Every additional person on that job added their lock to the hasp. Only the individual worker had the key to his or her own lock. The machine could not be cleared to run without everyone removing their locks. It was a suspendable offense to leave the site without clearing one's lock. Working on a machine without locking it out was a termination offense.

That didn't work that way in the Navy. There were redundant sources of power to a lot of machinery. There could be several inputs of things that might hurt someone working on a piece of equipment.

What there was, instead, was a tagout system. Yellow was used for caution, red for danger. Most of the tags that one would see were red tags. Sometimes there were a shitload of red tags. Tagging out a boiler required tagging out everything that fed into the boiler, was operated to service the boiler or fed from that boiler. Tagging out a boiler required over sixty red tags.

To do a tagout right, a sailor had to bring all of the proposed tags and the piping/wiring diagrams to the EOOW or the Duty Engineer, as well as a tagout sheet, which listed each tag (now they are serialized) and its location. The Duty Engineer (since most tagouts were done in port) was supposed to go over the tagout sheet and the diagrams with the worker, then they would sign all of the tags and the tagout sheet. After the equipment (valves, switches) were all tagged, the tagout sheet was logged into the Tagout Log in DC Central.

Tags were supposed to be inspected daily by the workcenter supervisor, the LPO in charge of the relevant work center. A missing tag meant that the work had to stop until both the thing tagged out was checked and a new tag procured and hung.

To remove the tags, the worker brought the tagout sheet to the Duty Engineer, who signed to authorize removal. The worker then removed all of the tags and brought the tags and the sheet back to the Duty Engineer, who would inventory the tags. Both the worker and the Duty Engineer signed each tag for removal and signed the tagout sheet. Once that was done, the sheet and the removed tags were entered into the tagout log. Then, and only then, was whatever was tagged out cleared for operation.

Violating tagout was a big Bozo No-No. It was a damn near certain guarantee of getting maxed out at Captain's Mast (demotion, restriction to the ship and extra duty for 45 days and loss of half-pay for two months). The tagout system was at the heart of plant safety; I know of no Chief Engineer or Captain who had any sense of humor about tagout violations.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Rifleman Went to War

I picked up a copy of "A Rifleman Went to War" from inter-library loan.

The author, Herbert McBride, was an interesting fellow. He clearly was eager to go to war, somewhere, as he wrote that he tried to get into the Boer War and the intervention into Mexico, both without success. When World War I broke out he had to have been in his early 40s, yet he went to Canada and enlisted. He fought in France until he was medically discharged in 1917 for what appeared to be a combination of battle wounds and shell shock.

Two decades or so before the war, he was living and working in Colorado to get over a case of tuberculosis. Working as a cowboy and for a coal company, he became acquainted with some of the famous gunfighters of the Old West:
From these men I learned many things, the most important of which was the point which they all insisted was absolutely vital: the ability to control one's own nerves and passions--in other works, never to get excited.
(pg. 5)

If you want a cold, unsentimental yet proud look at life in the trenches, then the book is well worth reading.

If you have ever seen the somewhat execrable movie "Enemy at the Gates", you might recall a scene where Vasilii Zaitsev is talking about the unnatural actions of a German sniper in not relocating after reach shot. McBride machine-gunned a German sniper who didn't move after firing; he saw where a litter party was shot down and was able to triangulate back to a likely firing point.

McBride believed that the problems that occurred with the Ross rifle were due to substandard ammunition that was made in the rush to ramp up production for the war. He hinted at a manufacturer on the Hudson River, "National something or other", which unless he was referring to the Watervliet arsenal, I have no clue as to who he meant.

Update: National Conduit and Cable Co., Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.