Monday, December 19, 2011

Lousy Places to Be Stationed

The shorter term, of course, was "Shithole."[1]

First, there were two types of permanent duty: Accompanied and unaccompanied. The difference was whether the military would move your family and all of your shit there. For unaccompanied tours, the answer was "no". Unaccompanied tours of duty lasted generally one year. For an accompanied tour, the answer was "yes". The shortest accompanied tour was a department head on a warship, that was an eighteen month tour. Most tours were longer and, depending on what the job was, it could be three years or longer.

By now, you should be getting the picture that a "permanent move" meant no such thing to a military family.

In the Navy, there were a couple of places that were known service-wide to be shitholes. They were Naval Air Station Adak and Naval Station Bahrain.[2] Adak was accompanied duty, Bahrain was unaccompanied duty.

Bahrain was, before the Persian Gulf Wars, primarily a shithole for surface sailors. Bahrain was the location of the Commander-in-Chief,[3] Middle East Forces, which was a Navy afloat command. That meant that traditionally, the admiral in command had to have a flagship.[4] That ship was the USS La Salle, a former LPD. To say that it was ghastly hot in Bahrain, especially in the summer, is sort of like saying that dry ice is kind of chilly. Even with painting the hull of the ship white and installing a large air-conditioning plant, life on that ship was reportedly not fun, especially in the engineering spaces.

Bahrain, at least back in the day, was not exactly known as a fun liberty port, being possibly a bit more relaxed than Saudi Arabia, but not by much.

The USS La Salle did not exactly get the cream of the crop when it came to personnel assigned. A common deal in the Navy was to re-enlist for a set of orders. Or, if your enlistment was up and the Navy wanted to send you where you didn't want to go, you refused to re-enlist, at first. As it came time to leave your command, you'd be transferred for a few days to the Navy Retention Barge, where career counselors would work on you to get you to re-enlist and they'd work on BuPers to get you a better assignment.

So sailors who had orders to the La Salle would work the system to get out of them and, if they were Petty Officer A.J. Squared-Away, they often got out of them. But if they were a lifer first class petty officer with 16-18 years in who was never going to make chief, they went to the La Salle. As far as BuPers was concerned, those guys weren't going to get out to avoid the tour and, if they did and went into the Reserves, the Navy would not have to pay them retirement until they turned 62. So despite what the CO of the La Salle and even the 5th Fleet CinC wanted, the La Salle was populated with sailors whose personnel records were populated with marginal evaluations.

For aviators and certain other specialties, the shithole was NAS Adak. Adak was in the Aleutian Chain off Alaska. While you couldn't see Russia from there[5], it was close enough. Adak wasn't known for being exceptionally snowy or colder than, say, upstate New York, but what Adak had was ferocious winds. 110 mph winds or stronger in the winter were not unusual, with milder winds of 50 mph or better in the summer. Adak had all of the amenities, including a college, fast food and a good hospital, but what truly made Adak a shithole was its location.

The only airline service to Adak was out of Anchorage. The length of the flight was equivalent to flying from New York to New Orleans. Not a lot of people wanted to go to Adak for fun, so the commercial flights were expensive. It was possible to get a "space available" flight off the island, riding on a standby-basis aboard a military passenger or cargo aircraft heading to Anchorage or CONUS, but the rule for traveling Space-A on leave was that before you could go, you had to show that you had the funds to buy your own tickets back.

That was prohibitively expensive, especially for families. So taking leave in Adak meant going off base, renting a room, and drinking heavily. The Navy wanted sailors to take leave,[6] for leave was a way to regain one's equilibrium and recharge. But until the Navy changed the rules for Space-A travel[7], a known tactic was to show up at Adak with a negative leave balance at the maximum (thirty days) and then take three years to build up to the maximum positive balance (sixty days). But three years of duty with only two or three days off at a time meant for seriously cranky people, so the Navy discouraged that practice.

When the Cold War ended, so did the need for NAS Adak and it was largely abandoned. Bahrain is still an active naval facility, although it does not currently seem to have an assigned flagship, as the Fifth Fleet command has been effectively absorbed into Centcom.
[1] The title difference is due to a need to be family-friendly, as least in the title of my posts.
[2] NAF Diego Garcia was also known to be a shithole, but I never knew of anyone who had been stationed there. I did know people who had been stationed in Bahrain and Adak.
[3] This was before a certain former president became unsecure when anyone else had the title of "CinC".
[4] This is why the sloop-of war USS Constellation served as the Atlantic Fleet flagship during the Second World War.
[5] You could from Little Diomede, which was too small for military uses.
[6] Leave was earned at a rate of 2.5 days per month of active duty (30 days a year).
[7] They eventually did, but only for Adak.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Seventy Years Ago

By this time (8 EST), America had been at war for several hours.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you have a good Thanksgiving, Gentle Readers.

(Post from last year)

Friday, November 18, 2011


One of the target drills practiced with the 5" naval rifles found on most of the tin-can Navy was an anti-surface target shoot. Basically, an ocean-going tug would tow a target sled; the warship participating would lock its fire-control radar onto the target sled and shoot it with BL&P[1] rounds.[2]. A spotter on the tug would watch for the splashes and impacts of the rounds on the sled and grade the ship on its accuracy of fire.

The target sled was tracked by radar in Gun Plot, where a fire controlman (FC) would designate the radar blip of the target to the gunfire control computer. The gunfire control computer took in the ship's course and speed, the target's course and speed, as well as the wind and other factors to generate a firing solution. It was normally an easy exercise, it was a full-up test of the gunfire system. A failure usually meant that something was broken or out of calibration. A failed exercise was usually followed by a CASREP.

The Spruance class introduced a more-computerized fire-control system, the Mk-86, that was designed to have a faster reaction time against small, fast-moving patrol boats. So in the late `70s, one of the then-new Spruance-class destroyers was taking part in an anti-surface gunfire exercise. The target sled was deployed and the range was clear.

The ship opened fire on the target. The Mk-86 tracked the target, tracked up the tow line, and fired on the tug. Accounts differ on the number of times that the tug was hit before the ship was able to cease fire, but it was apparently more than once. The word was that one 5" round went into the Goat Locker.[3] Nobody was injured by the shelling.

The immediate fix was to double the length of the towline anytime that a Mk-86 equipped ship was to shoot at a towed target. The other fix was to require that the ships also optically track targets in gunfire exercises.[4] Depending on who you talked to, the story I heard was that the coaxial TV camera for the gunfire radar was either out of commission or not installed at the time of the incident.[5]

Lore has it that the tug was unofficially awarded a Purple Heart by the destroyer's captain.
[1]BL&P stood for "blind, loaded and plugged". BL&P projectiles had no fuzing and they were loaded with an inert material to make them weigh as much as war rounds. The projectiles were painted blue and they weighed over fifty pounds.
[2] 5" guns used "semi-fixed" ammunition. "Semi-fixed" meant that what appeared to be the cartridge case was the powder casing, the projectile was loaded separately. The powder case also weighed over fifty pounds. The other types of ammunition were "fixed" (like small arms ammunition) and "bag" (the powder was in silk bags), used in battleships and pre-war cruisers.
[3] A/k/a the Chief Petty Officers' Quarters.
[4] This was SOP in the earlier Mk68 GFCS, as the gunfire director itself was manned.
[5] I'll go with "not installed."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Ships routinely discharged their wastes overboard. By that, I mean that if you flushed a toilet, what you flushed went through the sewage lines and out a discharge set just above the waterline. For all I know, it may still be that way.

But when people began to become concerned about pollution, attention inevitably turned to the Navy's ships, which were sitting at anchor or tied up to the pier and discharging raw sewage into the harbors and coastal waterways. That had to stop. The first thing that happened was that the piers were outfitted with sewage lines. The ships were re-piped so that instead of simply discharging sewage over the side, ships in port would pump their waste to the pier lines. This was not so simple, as the pier discharge lines were higher up than the overboard discharge ports, so that sewage pumps had to be fitted to some ships.

Then came the issue of transiting coastal waters. Ships were fitted with tanks, called CHT tanks. CHT stood for, depending on whom you asked "collection, holding and transfer" or "contaminated holding and treatment". The tanks were sized to hold several hours worth of waste. The hammer for making sure that the tanks were used was that the captains and chief engineers could be held personally responsible by the Coast Guard for any discharge of untreated wastes.[1] And some poor saps did have to pay the fines.[2]

After a ship cleared coastal waters, the sewage drains would be aligned to go back overboard and the CHT tanks were flushed out and pumped out. The navigator was responsible for determining when the ship was far enough out to sea.[3] Of course, it wasn't the navigator who had to pay the fine if the word to cut the sanitary drains overboard was given too early.

When the Navy began to send ships on goodwill cruises along the Great Lakes, some people noticed at first that it was almost always the same ships that were sent. That was because those ships had to have greatly increased CHT capacity in order to hold their wastes for the time it took to steam from one port to another.[4]

The sewage system and the CHT tanks were maintained by the HTs, which earned them the nickname "shitter techs". The CHT pumps could be a nightmare and if they failed, then raw sewage backed up into the shower drains in the heads that were on the low points of the system. And that would make the XO very, very cranky.
[1] The fines were about $25,000 per incident.
[2] Paying them off at $250 a month for a hundred months sort of put a crimp in one's cash flow.
[3] A by-product of the requirement to not pump wastes overboard in port was that the age-old practice of using anchorages in home port came to an end.
[4] They also needed permission from the Canadian government, as the Great lakes were demilitarized under the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1818.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Is an "Aircraft"?

If you are familiar with firearms, you know that there is a part that has a serial number. That part is normally the "frame" or the "receiver". You can replace every other part and it is still, by law, the same weapon. You may go to a match and see a tricked-out .45 race gun that started life as an off-the-shelf Government Model, but by law, it's still the same gun.

With airplanes, the "this is the airplane" part is the data plate. It is normally a piece of sheet metal, stamped with the maker's information. This is one from a Lockheed Vega.

You may, on occasion, have gone to an air show and seen airplanes from the early days of aviation. There, you might have sen a 1923 This or a 1934 That. It might be touted as a "restored original". What you probably don't know is the original parts may be a very small percentage of the airplane you saw and it is possible that the only original part was the data plate.

This is no shit:

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, flying naval aviation jets was a far more hazardous line of work than it is today. It was not unheard of for an fighter jet squadron to deploy for six months on a carrier and suffer a 20-25% attrition rate. In plain English, that meant that a quarter of the squadron's pilots were either seriously injured or killed. And this, mind you, was in peacetime.

Which meant that the Navy needed to buy lots of replacement airplanes. But money for replacement airplanes was difficult to come by; especially during the time that the spending on the Strategic Air Command consumed two-thirds of the military budget. Congress closely scrutinized the amount of money spent on new airplanes.

But Congress paid less attention to the repair budgets. So what some bright soul thought of was to take the data plates from the wrecked airplanes and send them to the manufacturers for "depot-level repairs".

Which meant that the manufacturers would build a new airplane on their production line, affix the old data plate to the new airplane and Voilà! The old airplane was "repaired" and returned to service.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thirty Days Hath September

In my last post, I alluded to the fact that after the 1970s oil shocks, that Navy ships were limited to a transit speed of sixteen knots, absent operational urgencies.[1] Let me follow up on that a little.

You might have heard of the tragedy of the USS Indianapolis. That ship was torpedoed and sunk, very late in the war, by a Japanese submarine.[2] Because of a comedy of errors on behalf of a lot of officers, nobody realized that the ship was lost for four days. In that time, over half of the men who survived the sinking died from exposure or shark bite.

Out of that tragedy, the Navy developed the Movement Reporting System, or MOVREP. A MOVREP was a sailing plan, similar to an aircraft flight plan in concept. A MOVREP set out the time a ship was leaving port, the time it was going to arrive in port (or on station), the times the ship was to pass by certain positions (latitude and longitude) and the course and speed between positions. In essence, the position points were dictated by the need to change course and since a great-circle sailing plan had a lot of course changes, MOVREPs could be rather detailed. Ships were allowed to deviate a certain distance off the course line and there was a time window for the position points (plus or minus four hours, if I remember correctly).

The idea was that if a ship went out of contact, at least the Navy would know where to go looking for her.

This is no shit:

There was a ship that was supposed to go from a port visit in one nation to a port visit in another nation. Pursuant to the fleet commander's scheduling order, the ship was to get underway at 1200 local time on September 28th and arrive at 1000 local time on October 2nd. A few days before, the Navigator[3] and his Chief Quartermaster plotted out the courses and distances necessary to go from Port A to Port B. When they did that, the Navigator saw that they would have to transit at a speed of about 24 knots.

That was a puzzle, for the Navigator knew of no reason why they had to go so fast. The Navigator then added in twenty-four hours to the transit time and bingo: That resulted in a sixteen knot transit speed. It was clear to him, at least, that somebody in the Fleet staff had forgotten that September has only thirty days.

He drafted his MOVREP and took it to the Captain. In the "remarks" line, he had something snarky like "transit speed would be 16 knots if September had 31 days." The Captain read it over; he told the Navigator that there were no points awarded for being right if it embarrassed the staff of a three-star admiral. The Captain struck the remarks line, replaced it with "none" and had it sent out.[4]

[1] This applied to nuclear-powered ships as well as oil-burning ships. The thinking was limiting the transit speeds of nucs would prolong the time between nuclear refuelings.
[2] W. Graham Claytor received the Medal of Honor for his rescue efforts.
[3] This was in the days before the XO was required to be the Navigator. After that time, the junior officer who actually did the work was designated the "Navigator's Assistant" or the "Navigation Officer" or something like that there.
[4] The ship sailed four hours before the MOVREP departure time and arrived four hours after the arrival time in order to save some fuel.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Twenty Knot Tommy

Back in the 1970s, after the Vietnam War was finished, the Navy regarded shore duty as a sort of paid vacation. The idea was something along the lines of since sailors spent a lot of time away from home when they were on sea duty, when they were on shore duty, they should work regular hours. It was highly frowned upon to require sailors on shore duty to work outside of normal hours.[1] It took damn near an act of Congress (or a C/M-4 CASREP) in order to get the shore establishment to work overtime.[2]

"20 Knot Tommy" was the skipper of a tin can that was homeported in Charleston, SC.[3] He got that nickname because his preferred speed during sea and anchor detail was 20 knots. The Charleston Naval Station was several miles up the Cooper River. A lot of recreational boaters[4] could be found in the Cooper River. The Coast Guard asked the Navy to limit the speed of its ships when they were transiting the Cooper River. That cut no ice with 20 Knot Tommy. The Coast Guard would complain to the Navy, the commander of the naval base would send a letter to 20 Knot Tommy, who would ignore the letter.[5]

This is no shit: 20 Knot Tommy and his ship were returning to port after a series of exercises. From the time the last exercise ended, a normal transit[6] would bring 20 Knot Tommy and his ship to the Cooper River sea buoy[7] at 0530 on Saturday.

The ship sent the normal logistics requirement message to NAVSTA Charleston, which said that the ship would require two tugs, linehandlers and the usual services early on Saturday morning. NAVSTA Charleston replied that the ship was to remain at sea until no earlier than 0900 on Monday.

Tommy was not going to keep his ship and his crew at sea for two extra days to accommodate the shore establishment. At 0600 on Saturday, his ship was sitting in the Cooper River off the naval base. Tommy got on the radio, called the naval base and asked for the tugs. The duty officer told him to go back out to sea and come back on Monday.

20 Knot Tommy wasn't having any of that. So he anchored his tin can right in the middle of the Cooper River, just offshore of the Bachelor Officers' Quarters (BOQ). What Tommy knew was that a number of senior officers had left their families in the DC area and those officers lived in the senior officers' section of the BOQ. Those rooms faced the river.

Tommy's next move was to hold early reveille on those officers. He did that by having the ship's whistle sound long (and very loud) blasts at short intervals.

One of those senor officers was the commander of one of the two destroyer squadrons in Charleston. He was Tommy's boss. Within 15 minutes, the Commodore was on the radio and the conversation went something like this:

"Good morning, Thomas. You're back early, I see."
"Yessir. Request permission to enter port."
"Permission granted. The tugs will be out to you shortly."

And they were. Someone on the Bridge spotted the smoke from two tugs as the duty crews started the tugs' diesels. The tugs got underway, Tommy ordered the anchor raised, and his ship was brought alongside the pier. Other ships at the pier sent over linehandlers to help moor the ship and a crane was waiting to lift a brow.

20 Knot Tommy was the hero of the waterfront for the next week or so.

But I imagine that his career went nowhere. For you didn't buck Big Navy and survive.
[1] 0730-1600.
[2] The sailors on ships used to say that their main mission was to support the shore establishment.
[3] By "tin can", I mean a warship other than a cruiser or a minesweeper.
[4] Also known as "bubbas with boats".
[5] Supposedly he said that sailing in and out at 20 knots effectively halved the time his crew had to stand at Sea and Anchor Detail and if that made the Coasties unhappy, fuck `em.
[6] Warships were limited to a transit speed of 16 knots, unless authorized to go faster.
[7] The "sea buoy" is the last buoy in a marked channel before the open sea.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Career Choices

"Give Me Operations" by Oscar Brand.

(The annotator has it wrong, he sang "rockets, radar and AB" (afterburner).

Fairchild jet fighters were indeed ground-loving whores. The joke used to be that if they built a runway that went around the world, Fairchild would build a jet fighter that would use every inch of it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Albert Brown, R.I.P.

He was the oldest survivor of the Bataan Death March. Born in Nebraska, he was Buffalo Bill Cody's godson and Henry Fonda's cousin. He was 36 when the Death March occurred.

Monday, August 8, 2011

USS Monitor

This is the inside of the turret (inverted):

A lot of details about the Monitor's design are in this article in the NY Times.

This is what I found fascinating: The War Department in 1861 opened a public competition to design a new class of warships. The designs had to be submitted in a month. They built the ship in four months. From one end to the other, it was a ship with new technologies and it was in combat a month after that.

The closest thing that I've heard to that was the first class of LSTs, which went from the beginning of design at BuShips to sea trials in less than a year. Over a thousand were built during the war. One of them is still working for a living.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Scenes From Wardrooms

All places and names have been changed to protect the guilty.

In port, San Diego, Sunday morning: A number of officers are having breakfast. Between the oncoming and offgoing duty sections, plus the handful of junior officers who live aboard the ship, maybe a third of the officers are there.

A young female officer walks through the wardroom. She is wearing a rather short skirt and a low-cut shiny top. She has on flats and is carrying a pair of spike-heeled sandals.

The Ops Boss looks at her and says: “That’s a pretty risque outfit to wear to church, Cindy.”

The Weapons Officer doesn’t even glance up from his plate of eggs. “She’s just returned aboard, Ops,” he says, and adds, sotto voce, “you fucking moron.”

Port visit, Haifa, Israel: It is Saturday night and officers are gathering in the wardroom to go out for a steak and some nightclubbing.

The Weapons Officer is waxing ecstatically: “Man, this is one friendly town. The women are fantastic. Anybody can get laid in this place.”

The Chief Engineer is skeptical. “Even the EWO?* I got a hundred bucks, says that you can’t get him laid, not without hiring a hooker.”

Weaps: “Hell, I’ll take that bet.” Other officers offer up bets, as well, and soon there is about $500 riding on whether the Weapons Officer can get the EWO laid.

Then the EWO, who knows nothing about this, walks into the wardroom. He is wearing plaid trousers and a striped shirt. He is the poster child for bad taste. The Weapons Officer takes one look at him and yells: “The bet is off!”

In port, Norfolk, VA: The admiral commanding Surflant** pays a visit to a destroyer tender to talk to a few commanders of repair activities. After the conference, the admiral meets with the officers of the tender for a little morale-boosting. During the meeting, the admiral says something along the lines of: “Earlier this year, I went to Charleston and Mayport. The piers on those waterfronts are so clean that you could eat off them, but the piers in Norfolk are shithouses. We need to do better here in Norfolk.”

That pronouncement is met with an audible snort from the tender’s Repair Officer. The Captain doesn’t let it pass: “Commander, you have something to add?”

The Repair Officer*** says: “Yes, sir. Is the Admiral referring to his visit to Mayport in April?”

The admiral said that he was.

“I was stationed there,” the Repair Officer said. “They shut down the fucking waterfront for three days prior to the Admiral’s visit just to clean up all of the crap. They washed the piers, removed all of the stuff from the piers and even painted the guard shacks.

“But if the Admiral were to hop on a plane and go down there right now, unannounced, I guarantee he won’t see anything different in either Mayport or Charleston than what he sees right here, right now, in Norfolk.”
* Electronic Warfare Officer.
** "Surflant", or Commander, Surface Forces Atlantic, was the "type commander". His job was to ensure that the ships were ready.
*** He was actually a lieutenant commander limited duty officer who, if my recollection is accurate, was about fifteen days away from retiring.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Last weekend, I was in the same restaurant where this scene took place. Also there were three men in aquaflage.

They looked stupid in that uniform. They looked like mall ninjas.

I know that I may sound like a broken record on this topic.* But I remain unshaken in my opinion that the aquaflage uniform is one of the dumbest looking uniforms around.** I predict that neither aquaflage or the new enlisted service uniform will be around by the end of this decade. And those clowns that recommended adopting them will luckily escape the flogging that they so richly deserve.

It could be worse, I suppose. At least the Navy didn't adopt the "Working Uniform; Blockbuster Best Buy" that the Air Force has adopted:

It definitely could be worse.

* It's my blog.
** The new enlisted service uniform with the black pisscutter cover is almost as bad.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Return of DASH?

I wrote briefly about DASH (Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter) in this post.

DASH was a failure for several reasons. It was too cheaply-made, with multiple sources of single-point failure which would result in the loss of the drone. Because of DASH's small size and the fact that no transponders were installed, they had a propensity to disappear from radar and once that happened, they were effectively lost. There was also no feedback from the drones to the ships; so the controllers had no idea what a drone might be doing at any given moment.

35 years after DASH was canceled, the Navy began trying again to operate drone helicopters rom ships, though not for ASW. But that'll probably come to pass in the not-so distant future.

Friday, May 20, 2011


A "CASREP" was a "casualty report." CASREPs were not sent out for people being hurt, but for equipment damage/failure.[1] There were two categories: Combat systems readiness (C) and engineering (mobility) (M) readiness.

C1 and M1 meant that the ship could sail and fight. A 2 level meant that there were minor, but serious degradations. A 3 level meant that there were damn serious degradations. A 4 level meant, in common parlance, that the ship was broke-dick and wasn't going anywhere.

Actually, it wasn't that clear-cut. While a M4 CASREP meant "we ain't getting underway, or if at sea, "send the tugs", a ship might possibly sail with a C4 CASREP. The combat systems CASREPS were by warfare area, so for ASW, the ship might be completely dead, but it could still shoot its guns or fire missiles.[2] If part of the mission was armed diplomacy ("showing the Flag"), then it didn't matter if the Tartar launcher was broken.[3]

CASREPs were sent by teletype radio message. The effect could be like kicking over an anthill, often as the shore establishment scurried around to fix the things that they should have fixed anyway. A simple lack of repair parts could trigger a CASREP, which was really embarrassing to the supply pukes if that part was supposed to be in ship's stock.

CASREPs could also request technical support. This was common in serious leaks in the main steam piping, as repairs required highly certified welders and X-ray quality control examination of the welds. Usually the staff pukes confined their assistance to expediting parts and technicians and refrained from offering their idea of helpful (and unsolicited) advice, but not always.

If a part was needed and not available, the supply system would sometimes send the "next higher assembly". I once saw an entire antenna assembly delivered for a SPS-49 because the radar repair guys needed one part from it.[4]

The more twisted mess was when the supply system's records indicated that there was no part available. Sometimes the divisional supply petty officer would go over to the supply center and do a physical stock check. That could be embarrassing for the supply pukes if they really did have the parts.

This is no shit: There once was a minesweeper in drydock that needed a new dunce cap. The supply system said that there was not one available and that one would have to be manufactured. So one day, one of the more worthless division officers went to check out with the XO and go home (this was around 1300). The XO felt like screwing with that junior officer, so he told him that he could leave after he drove over to the supply center and got a new dunce cap.

This kid was dumb enough that he had no clue what the proper procedure was to go get parts from the supply center.[5] What he did do was to drive his car to the base supply center and drive around until he saw where those parts were kept. He asked the grizzled chief there if they had any dunce caps for that class of MSO. The chief said: "Yeah, I got them, how many you want, sir?" The kid signed where the chief told him to sign, the chief had a couple of guys put the dunce cap in the kid's car (they weren't that big) and the kid was soon back at the ship, showing the dunce cap to the stunned XO.

The supply system was also good at losing parts. I knew of one double-ended cruiser which had one of the motors in its aft launcher burn out. They CASREP'd the launcher and a new motor was sent. It disappeared en route. The supply system said that it had been delivered, the ship denied receiving it. Now this was no tiny motor, it was a big-ass 440 volt motor with a fair amount of horsepower. A second motor was sent and installed. Six months later, the first motor mysteriously appeared on the pier alongside the ship. There was no tracking paperwork, nobody knew who delivered it or where it came from. It was just there.

CASREPs could be (and often were) amended. A CASREP level might be reduced if the ship's force was able to jury-rig a partial repair. When the casualty was fixed, a CASCAN (casualty cancellation) was sent out.
[1] I believe that the CO of an AO or AOR did once send out a CASREP for undermanning.
[2] And maybe the Soviets didn't know that the best ASW ship in WestPac had all of the ASW capability of the Staten Island Ferry.
[3] My recollection is that the USS Compte de Grasse was sent on a "show the Flag" cruise to France soon after she was commissioned, interrupting the ship's training at Gitmo.
[4] The techs just cannibalized the part from the antenna on the pier, took the broken part off the installed antenna, installed the new part and it worked. they then put the bad part into the antenna on the pier, marked the thing as "unserviceable" and sent it back. The supply pukes ashore were not amused and complained. The ship had, by then, cleared the CASREP and nobody gave a damn.
[5] Fill out a Form 1250, have the XO sign it, take it to the ship's supply department, where they would then type out a Form 1348 and take that to the Supply Center. Doing this when the ship was in-port could alleviate the need for a CASREP. If they would give you the part. Sometimes they wouldn't.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Brown Shoes, Brown Pants?

The SH's in the ship's laundry had better have some pre-treatment stuff to use on that pilot's skivvies (and flight suit):

In the part of the video with cross-hairs, being in the center of the screen is to be on line-up and on the glide slope. That jet got pretty low close in, much lower and that guy would have smeared his jet all over the stern. It looks as though he attempted to abort at the last second or so (or got a wave-off) and then snatched the number 1 wire in flight, but what the hell, I was a black shoe, so what do I know about such things.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Flight Deck Fire

First, watch the video on Defense Tech.

I'm not going to address the reliability issue of the F/A-18s. That's outside my wheelhouse.

Note that the fire crews don't approach the burning jet from the rear. That's probably because there must have been at least 30 knots of relative wind over the flight deck, which might have increased if the Captain or OOD ordered up more speed to keep the flames blowing away from the flight crew. Spraying foam onto a fire is rather difficult if the wind is blowing in one's face.

You can also see that burning JP-5 dripped down into the catapult shuttle track.

The fire never reached the forward end of the jet, so the crew stayed with it. A flight-deck ejection might throw the crew over the side, which has its own risks.

Good work by the flight deck fire crews. That's what they practice for and it paid off.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Convincer

Ships were supposed to have safety-themed events from time to time. The Damage Control Assistant on one ship, who had the collateral job of Assistant Safety Officer*, arranged for a program of traffic safety. One of his ideas was a hot-dog cookout on the pier, offering free hot dogs and soda.

The catch was that anyone who wanted the free food had to first take a ride in the Convincer. In case you didn't click the link, the Convincer is a gizmo that you ride in; the seat slides down some guides and then slams into some bumpers to give you an idea what a low-speed crash feels like (and why you should wear your seat belt).

The Chief Engineer thought it was a good idea if he rode it first. After being slammed to a stop, the CHENG had a revelation and an idea. The revelation is that the shoulder strap for a seat belt naturally goes over the collar points of a uniform shirt. If you were wearing a shirt that had what the Navy calls "collar devices" (rank insignia), the impact drove the collar device into your collar bone and it hurt.

The idea was to combine the Convincer with a demonstration of why it was a good idea to get a car seat for kids. He told the DCA to have someone get two 5-lb bags of flour or sugar from the cooks, to put them into a plastic bag and to wrap them up with duct tape to make a simulated baby. You'd ride the Convincer, hold onto the "baby" and see the "baby" go flying out of your arms when you jolted to a stop.

That turned out to be a great idea, for it developed into an informal competition to see who could hold onto the "baby". Hardly anyone could.

So the XO came down to make an appearance and ride the Convincer. He got in and strapped in. The CHENG and the DCA were watching. The DCA asked the CHENG if maybe he should tell the XO to put his collar over the shoulder belt. The CHENG smiled and said: "Nah."

The XO rode the Convincer, it slammed to a stop. He said: "Kee-rist, that hurt." afterwards and rubbed his collarbone. But he didn't drop the "baby"; it spun out of his arms and he was able to catch it.

Oh, and when the Captain rode the Convincer, the XO didn't tell him about the shoulder belt.
*That was true for all ships. The DCA had the collateral duty of serving as the Assistant Safety Officer, the Chief Engineer was the Safety Officer. They did those jobs in their copious spare time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


A century ago today, the U.S. Army officially adopted the M1911.

As I've written elsewhere, both the .45 ACP cartridge and the M1911 set the gold standard for self-defense handguns.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Attention to Colors

I've mentioned before that I was on shore duty at a facility in the DC metro area for a spell. A large number of people worked there, the vast majority were civilians. The commander of the facility was a captain in some engineering career path. The facility also had about a dozen or so naval officers of varying designators; the idea was explained to me that we all brought real-world fleet experience to the job the facility did.

We were sort of dispersed around the various departments and, brother, most of the civilians that we worked for were scared of us. For instance, my boss had at least three people in his hierarchy between himself and the facility commander, maybe four. He knew, as did all of the other bosses who had naval officers detailed to work for them, that in the "blue suit" chain of command, we all reported directly to the facility commander. It griped the living shit out of my boss that he couldn't make an appointment directly with the facility commander, but I could.

He really hated that once a month, there was a "military lunch" in the executive dining room at the cafeteria, where all of the blue-suiters had lunch with the base CO. When I realized that seriously gnawed on his liver, I made a point of telling him when the lunches were scheduled and reminding him on that day that I'd be gone for an hour or so.

We all stood a 24 hour watch as the Command Duty Officer. We didn't have to sleep at the facility, but we had to be available by phone or pager the entire time. (I think in a 30 month period of time, I had to go in maybe four times.) Turnover was at 0745 and at 0800, the ongoing and offgoing CDO stood in front of the administration building and saluted the raising of the Colors.

Now at most naval bases, all traffic stops for morning and evening Colors. Even if you don't know it's going on, you can see the pedestrians stop, face towards the Colors and salute while the Colors are raised. Even if they can't see them, they can hear the bugle call.*

But not at this facility. We would be standing on the steps of the Administration building, saluting the Colors and watching the traffic drive by. It bothered every one of us.

So one day, when I was ongoing or offgoing CDO, I don't remember which, when the four-note "Attention" call was played, we smartly marched right into the middle of the street, blocked traffic, and when the bugle call for Colors played, we saluted the Colors. When the "Carry On" played, we executed an about-faced and marched out of the street.

From then on, that was part of the drill for every duty day. I don't think we ever were honked at, for they probably believed that we'd just drag them out of their cars and beat the shit out of them. And we might have done just that.
* Bugle calls were pretty much only used for morning and evening Colors in the Navy. The Army and the Zoomies were, of course, big on bugle calls.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


A videographer embedded with a Medevac unit in Afghanistan for ten days. This is the documentary that resulted. It is well worth the 25 minutes that you will spend watching it.

The Army has to be proud of these guys. This video could be used as a recruiting tool. Hell, it should be.

The kicker is that it aired on al-Jazeera.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Uniform Disasters

While I was quite proud of referring to the new naval working uniform as "Battle Dress Oceanic," I have to admit that a commenter on "the Stupid Shall Be Punished" came up with a better term: Aquaflage.

Aquaflage. So it is written, so it shall be.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sea Legs

The old Grumman documentary about carrier aircraft from the 1970s.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Brown Shoes

100 years since Eugene Ely made the first arrested landing on a warship (USS Pennsylvania, ACR-4)

Ely wasn't in the Navy, but his shipboard landing is now commonly regarded as the birth date for naval air. The first American aircraft carrier was authorized just after the end of the Great War and was commissioned in 1922.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Garbage Out, Garbage In

Ships generate a fair amount of garbage and trash (which our cousins in the Royal Navy refer to as "gash"). In port, it was handled as any other business would; it was thrown into a dumpster on the pier.

I don't know how the Navy handles garbage and trash at sea now. Submarines supposedly compacted it and then ejected it overboard, so it would sink. Back in the day, surface ships would just throw it from the fantail; naval ships pretty much left a stream of garbage bags floating in their wakes. [1]

When a ship was at an anchorage, typically a civilian firm would be contracted to come by the ship once or twice a day to pick up the garbage. In some countries, a garbage lighter from a local navy base would do the honors and there would be impromptu trading of goods between the sailors on the warship and the crew of the lighters.[2] The lighters were supposed to take the garbage ashore and then it would be trucked to the local dump.

In Italy, of course, it didn't work that way. The garbage lighters would wait until it was completely dark. Then they would go several miles out to sea and throw all of the shit over the side. This often had one bad diplomatic ramification: Garbage with papers bearing the name of the USS UMPTECLUTCH would then drift ashore onto beaches favored by tourists. The mayor of that town would either complain to his foreign ministry or sometimes just call the local consulate directly and scream at the consular officials about American ships fouling his pristine beaches.

That usually resulted in a cable going to Foggy Bottom, which then was passed along to Fort Fumble. Some desk-bound captain or admiral would then send a message of inquiry to the offending ship, with the message copied to the commanders of the Second Fleet, the Sixth Fleet, the home cruiser-destroyer group, CTF 60, CTG 60.1 (or 60.2) and the home destroyer squadron. That was usually answered with a message that explained that garbage services were contracted through the local consular agent, or "we did what we were supposed to, whaddaya want from us?"

So one time (probably more than one time), there was an American naval ship anchored a mile or so off the coast of an Italian town. Garbage services were arranged as I described above. The garbage was handled by the lightermen as I also described. There were currents that took the garbage from where it was dumped into the Mediterranean Sea (more precisely, the Tyrrhenian Sea) back towards that town.

And back towards that ship.

When the garbage had floated back towards that ship, the garbage bags had taken on water. Some of them had submerged and were floating along about twenty or so feet under the surface. That put them right at the level of the sea chests[3] for the generators, the evaporators and the fire mains. The suction from the sea chests sucked the garbage into the sea chests, where the garbage clogged the inlet screens.

All that stuff kept tripping offline as cooling was lost. The cure was to connect a fire hose to the sea chest and backwash the shit back out. The chief engineer and the captain soon realized that the time might come when all of the firemain pump inlets were clogged at the same time. So the captain ordered that the Sea and Anchor Detail be set, the anchor was hauled up and the ship headed out to sea.

This happened around midnight or so, stranding several dozen sailors ashore. After it was fully light out, the ship came back in, though well away from the garbage current and sent in its boats to retrieve the rest of the crew. The boat crews were told to keep a watch out for garbage so that the sea chests for their engines weren't fouled.

In due course, the sailors who were ashore were recovered and the ship went off to its next mission.

[1] Classified material was put into burn bags. Stuff classified as "secret" or above was supposed to first be shredded and then burned.
[2] In Muslim nations, a very desired trade good by the lightermen was American porn.
[3] A "sea chest" is the point of salt water inlet for a given system. For generators, sea water was used for cooling the condensers and sea water also cooled the air-conditioning plants. For evaporators, sea water was the raw material for making fresh water. Water for fire-fighting was also sea water.