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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A New Chapter

Last Monday, a new chapter in my Navy career started. I came home from work and opened the mail, as usual. I found a letter from OPM, the Office of Personnel Management. These are the folks that were deciding on my Disability Retirement. My application had been out of my hands for about five months. Now I don't want anyone to think it takes that long for one person to make a decision. There were a number of stops, endorsements, and forms that had to be completed for this process to be complete. Just the same, OPM received my application, with my doctor's endorsement and ALL of my medical files pertaining to my Parkinson's and Dementia, on 24 September 2009. In any case, I was VERY apprehensive to ope the letter. I thought it strange that the letter was sealed with adhesive tape. Also, the envelope was very bulky. My first thought was, they have denied my request and asked for more information. But, I opened the letter, and boy was I shocked. The first line of the letter read; " Your request for disability retirement is APPROVED. I was overwhelmed, I did not know how to reply or react. My wife was worried about my expression and thought I had received bad news. Then I told her that OPM had approved my retirement. She was happy, relieved, even ecstatic.

Why was I in such a state of disbelief? Well, for the last few years, in the back of my mind, there was always this little thought that I was not really sick, this would go away, I would be fine. I believe doctors call that denial. This letter proved that I was not going to get better. This IS my fate. So, it has taken some getting used too. After 40+ years, I no longer work for the United States Navy. That is a shock! Last Friday was my last official day at work. Now with the Christmas holidays, I don't really feel like I am retired. But, the first Monday after the New Year, it's going to hit me. I really don't know at this time, how I will react. Maybe I will finally relax and enjoy myself. I hope so. Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tough old salts!

It always amazes me how events of today, bring back very fond memories of my past. I have written about this tough old Gunner's Mate before, Master Chief James Smith. Jim was a tough, robust, professional Navy man. He was with Admiral Buckley when they shut the water supply off from Castro's Cuba going to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He did two in country tours in Viet Nam running the rivers on PBR's and Zippo boats. Read back in my earlier postings to refresh your memories about this extraordinary individual. This remembrance comes from later in his career.

Jim was a Senior Chief when he had his first of three documented heart attacks. That lead to his first bypass operation. It was a quad bypass. This was in the early 1980's and bypass surgery was still relatively new. Now doctors do it almost in a nonchalant manner. In any case, Jim had over 24 years in the Navy, and his cardiologist got it in his little mind that it was time for Jim to retire. He was even brave enough to tell Jim that, foolish fellow that he was. This was about 3 months after Jim's surgery. Jim told the doctor that he was going back to sea duty!! The naive doctor told Jim, if you can find a ship that will take you, I will release you to full duty! Jim had been on the USS Waddell (DDG 24) when he had his heart attack and the Captain loved him. So, Jim marches down to the ship and meets with the Executive Officer, one of my old bosses at BUPERS, LCDR Phil Marco. He was an exceptional officer and I respect him to this day. He gladly accepted Jim's proposition and called the cardiologist immediately to tell him the "Warship Waddell" would be glad to have Senior Chief Smith back. The doctor was amazed, but he kept his word and released Jim to full duty. The Waddell and Jim deployed to WESTPAC one month later. That's 4 months after an emergency quadruple bypass!! Now that is a Tough Old Salt!!

Jim completed 33 years in the Navy, and just before he retired, he had another heart attack. That one lead to a sextuplet bypass. He survived that, retired, drove city bus for North County Transit in San Diego County for five years before his luck ran out. He died of a massive heart attack in his den, after a full days work.

Jim never gave in to his fears, pain, or a challenge. He showed everyone who knew him how to lead, set the example, and how to live. He had his plans, goals, standards, and principles, and they were ALL set at a higher level than that of the ships he served on, the Navy's, or the world's. Yes, he was a tough old salt and I am convinced there are not many more left.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The humor of being sick!

Sorry I have not written for a few days. The doctor was trying a new medicine on me, and the results were less than spectacular! Now, I will admit, she told me to start this medicine when I did NOT have to go to work. She warned my wife and I that there might be some rather drastic side effects. But, what resulted was a surprise, even for me. Many of you know I am dealing with Parkinson's and Dementia. No big deal, they are both early, and I even find some humor in my little inconveniences. But, I have started to see things that are not there, hear things that are not said, and feel things touching me, when there is no one close. I used to have these issues when I drank a lot, but that was a long time ago!! So anyway, my neurologist wanted to put me on a med that would "Do Away" with my issues. However, that med COULD cause some side effects, but she did not think so. Oh, those side effects would also point to a more destructive form of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia.

So, last Friday, with a long weekend looking me in the face, thanks to the guy they named the capitol of Ohio for, I started the meds, as directed. Saturday morning the first side effect occured, I had the most difficult time waking up. Like after an all night drunk! Saturday afternoon, I took a long nap, mainly because I did not want to do anything! That evening, I began to get very angry, frustrated, and in a rage. Nothing was right, I even picked at my wife, something I never do. Sunday, I had difficulty waking up again and the rage got worse, and I was difficult to talk to, even at church. I took a nap Sunday afternoon. Sunday evening I was increasingly overwhelmed by rage. Monday, I did not wake up, even though my wife went to work. I finally managed to get up at 10 Am, eat, take some other meds, and go back to sleep until 1630, when my wife came home. We had an event at church and I was a real bear by then. I even got snippy at the Pastor and his wife over college football!! Later that evening, my dear wife told me to stop taking that med. She also told me I was experiencing involuntary movements of my legs and hands when I slept. All of these issues are symptoms that MAY lead to the Lewy Body diagnosis. I called my neurologist today and told he the news! She has not replied, yet.

OK, I can hear you, so WHERE is the humor?!?! Some years ago, I had a Senior Chief Gunner's Mate friend in the Navy that I had known since he was a GMG2 and he was my student at Gun School at Great Lakes. My friend always wore glasses. And those glasses were always thick. I always thought, if Coke quits making glass Coke bottles, they will never be able to make him a pair of glasses. Anyway, I ran into him one day at the Navy exchange at Naval Station Norfolk. I had not seen him for a while because I was deployed. I asked him how he was doing, and he replied; "Fine now". I further inquired and found out that he went to get a new prescription for his glasses and the doctor's discovered that he had a brain tumor. They did the required surgery and after some radiation therapy and chemo, he was doing much better thank you. I did observe that his glasses were much thinner, now only as thick as the glass top on a coffee table! He did tell me about one, slight, side effect of the chemo therapy that he was presently on. It seemed that the treatment made him uncontrollably angry!! Now, that made me sit up and take notice, since he was always a BIG boy, and the surgery did not reduce his size. I asked my friend, how did you find this out. He replied; "The other day, I decked a Captain!!" I took one big step back, as he explained that he was in BIG trouble until his doctor explained the side effects of his treatment to the bruised Captain. He retired shortly after that.

So, while I was angry, in a silent rage, and hard to get along with, no one got hurt. Yet!

Friday, September 18, 2009

An old friend, whom I miss...

As I speed down memory lane, sometimes I linger on an old friend, whom I truly miss. And I wish that somehow, some way, I could get in touch with that friend, one more time to relive good memories, say thanks for what he did for me, and to apologize for bad things that I did. If you are a reader of my Blog, you know I stray away from using the names of the people in my memories. I do that to protect them, in case I write something that would embarrass them, and to protect their privacy. I have revealed some names of old Shipmates, that have gone on to their reward, or those whom I believe would not be offended by my ramblings. This time, I am going to reveal the name of this old Shipmate, because I REALLY want to get in contact with him.

His name is Carl Morris. Master Chief Gunner's Mate, Carl Morris. An exceptional man who helped me in my career from the very first time I met him. That was at Gun School Great Lakes, 1971. He was in my MK 42 "C" school class. He was a Chief and I was a Third Class Gunner's Mate. If you have read earlier posts, you will remember my debacle with the GMG2 test and how Master Chief Mowery went to the Exam Center and squared away the scoring error on my exam. Well, Carl Morris was part of that event also. Later in my career, when I was on the USS Stein for the second time, then Master Chief Morris was at SRF Subic Bay. I needed a new MK 18 Mod 3 gun barrel and the Weapons Officer did not believe me. You see, there was a limitation on the number of rounds that could be fired from that two piece barrel. It was 2700 rounds. If you went much beyond that, the Ordnance Circular said it would result in "Catastrophic failure of the gun barrel". The problem was, I did not have the documentation to prove to my Weapons Officer that we had this problem. All I had was my then "Total Recall" memory, nothing concrete to prove to this very insistent Department head that I really needed a new gun barrel. There was no Internet or instant communications. Then, in rode Master Chief Morris on his mighty steed and rescued me. We got our new gun barrel and I successfully shot 600+ rounds of Naval Gun Fire Support training for the Third Marine Division.

And it was Master Chief Morris that recommended me for the job as the Gunner's Mate Detailer. That job catapulted me into Senior Chief and Master Chief. Carl Morris did as much to help me promote as anyone in my entire career!

While I was the Detailer, Master Chief Morris was the head of the Gun Line at Dam Neck. He ran the MK 42, MK 45 and MK 75 "C" schools and he helped me staff those schools, keep the students flowing, and ensured that the Navy had highly trained Gunner's Mates.

Later, when I was civilian at NAVSEACENLANT, FTSCLANT, I got involved in a pierside overhaul program for the MK 45 gun mounts. I was very proud of that program, and very self centered. We at FTSCLANT, believed that we were the only folks that could do that job, and there was quite a rift between the In Service Engineering Agency (ISEA) and us. We we were full of ourselves, and I was the fullest. That jealousy and self centered attitude caused a lot of hard feelings between me and quite a few of my friends at Louisville. One of the pierside overhauls was being done by the ISEA, and I was jealous. Carl Morris was the lead Field Service Engineer on the event, and I had heard that he was having problems and might not get done on time. I said some untrue and mean things about the capabilities and professionalism of the professionals at the ISEA, including Carl to my friends at the Type Commander. I was trying to make myself look good at the expense of some truly talented professionals and some of my oldest professional friends, including Carl Morris. I was wrong. No excuses. I truly regret that time of my life. I regret not trying to team with the professionals at the ISEA, and I regret the hard feelings that I caused because of my selfish, self centered attitude. Carl was one of those true professionals that I treated poorly, and I am ashamed of myself and deeply regret what I have done.

Like so many others, now that I am faced with my mortality, and the impending demise of my memory because of my Dementia. I long for the opportunity to tell Carl Morris that I am sorry and that I hold him in the highest esteem. If you read my Blog and know Carl, please have him read this. If I am lucky enough to have Carl as a reader: My friend, I am sorry for what I did. Our parting of the ways has hurt me deeply and I am sure I disappointed you.

But, time marches too fast these days for me, and I know I may never get the chance to apologize and maybe, rekindle an old friendship. Some memories are bitter sweet. This one is, but my sins against Carl, and the others at Louisville, make this a particularly difficult memory. Remembering my own shortcomings is always hard.

Yes, you can look up someone on the Internet. But do you know how many Carl Morris' there are out there? Maybe I should just start calling until I find the correct Carl Morris. Again, Carl, I am sorry.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pomp and Circumstance, Sort of....

The Navy I joined was steeped in tradition, ceremony, and honors. We would wear Dress Whites to pull into a port in a foreign country. It did not matter that the pier we were using was covered in animal feces and the people were about as interested in us as they were in the rats that were running around in the affore mentioned feces. We were in a dress uniform, in ranks, at attention, looking SHARP. I remember handling wet mooring lines, that were dragged through the water that was filtered through that affore mentioned animal feces, in dress whites!! Looking good was more important that anything.

And ceremonies were at the top of the list. I have written before that I remember being underway on the USS Mullinnix, no water to take showers for weeks, covered in oil from the gun mount, and being REQUIRED to put on an undress whites or blues uniform to eat the evening meal on the mess decks!! I guess the Navy thought beanie wienies would be more palatable, dressed up.

I also remember being required to fall into ranks, while approaching the replenishment ship, oil, food, or ammo, at 3 AM, 3000 miles at sea, where no one but the tired sailors on the replenishment ship could see us. But, we looked good!! When I was the Command Master Chief on the USS Caron, on one of these 3AM replenishment, the Captain, who I still have the utmost respect for, complained that some of the men on the in haul line of the fueling rig, had white socks on. He know because we tucked our pants into our socks for safety reasons. It made it harder to trip or get your bell bottom dungarees caught on something protruding from the deck. That is true and a good safety rule today. But I was required to get those offenders in black socks before we went along side!

One of the most hallowed traditions was the reporting of the approach of the hour of 12 o'clock. It was called "12 o'clock reports" and was presented to the Captain, normally while he ate his lunch in the wardroom, prior to noon. Now this is a time honored tradition, dating back to the British Navy and sailing days. The purpose of the ceremony is to report the status of the ship to the Captain. Like he did not already know. I always thought it funny that the messenger of the watch was required to interrupt the Captain's lunch, regurgitate a verbal report that was written in the ship's Quarterdeck procedures manual, and hand him a stack of paper reports ranging from magazine temperatures to the draft of the ship. Of course the amount of fuel on board, water available, and, the all important report on the chronometers being wound and compared were also included. Most of this has been available on the ship's LAN for 30 years!. But to this day, the messenger of the watch, knocks on the wardroom door, proceeds into the officer's inner sanctum and nervously salutes the Captain while stating from memory: "The Officer of the Deck sends his respects and reports the approach of the hour of 1200. All chronometers have been wound and compared, and he requests permission to strike 8 bells on time." I always thought, what if the Captain said, "Permission denied!"? Would noon be late? Probably not.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

SEALS

Boy, have I been waiting a long time to write this one. But, I needed to know it was not classified anymore. SO, the other day, I used GOOGLE and PRESTO! There it was. So, now I can tell this story.

Now let me state this up front. I am not, nor have I ever been, a SEAL. I do hold our Special Warfare brethren in the highest degree. They are specialists in what they do. The BEST in the world. I know, I represented them when I was the Force Master Chief at SURFLANT and I observed their capabilities first hand, on a number of occasions. This is one of them.

During the Iran/Iraq war, the Atlantic Fleet Master Chief and myself decided to visit the Atlantic Fleet units operating in the Persian Gulf. They were under extreme pressure. The USS Stark had been shot with a cruise missile. A Ticonderoga CG had been the victim of a mine, and there were worries that the Straights of Hormuz would be closed at anytime. You will remember we had Coast Guard officers on foreign tankers that were flying American flags in the straights. You may also remember we quickly moved some old "Wooden" MSO class minesweepers into the gulf. With all this happening, the U.S. Navy decided, and I am sure, the President himself had a vote, to station a contingent of SEALS, EOD personnel, and Special Boat Unit folks in the Persian Gulf, on some "Rented" oil drilling barges. They were Barge Hercules and Winbroun Seven. The SEALS were in charge of this conglomeration of Spec Warriors. There were even some Army helo crews flying machines I had never seen before. The SPEC Boat Unit folks brought the MK III PB's with them and equipped them with all sorts of fun toys. 40mm Bofors cannons, 20mm and .50cal machine guns, 81mm mortars, MK 19 grenade machine guns, and enough small arms to equip a third world country's entire military, for life. SEALS don't go under gunned. The Army helo's were also well equipped including 2.75 inch spin stabilized rocket pods, 20mm mini guns, and some cool IR equipment. The barge itself had been transformed into a "Fort" complete with machine gun emplacements, Stinger missiles, and some exceptional communications equipment. From what I know and what I have read on the Internet, GOOGLE "Barge Hercules" for yourself, these Warriors took the battle to the Iranians on a number of occasions. They captured at least one Iranian"Boghammer" boat and sunk many others. The Spec Boat folks continually worked on the MK III PB's like a NASCAR pit crew. They put new engines in, to make them faster, tried new propellers, and continually updated the weapons suite. They were the BEST at what they did, and it paid off for our side.

During our visit to the Gulf, the Fleet master Chief and myself took the "Desert Duck" out to Barge Hercules and stayed a few days to talk to these warriors and learn exactly what was going on. We arrived to a hearty welcome and did our usual "Dog and Pony" show telling them what was going on in the political side of the Navy. A few weeks before, I had met with the wives of the Spec Boat, SEAL and EOD folks, to let them know I was going over to see their husbands. The SURFLANT staff also had the disbursing, medical, and family services representatives at this meeting to make sure all was well while the warriors were deployed. This was particularly important since they left on short notice. Even the Force Commander, a Vice Admiral named "Scott" McCauley was there. Well, as with any other dependents meeting, some of the wives were angry that their husbands were deployed at such a short notice. Yes, some of those warriors were actually on "Shore" duty. But, they volunteered to go. And I tried to explain that their husbands were professionals who wanted to do what they were trained to do, for real! Well, a couple of the more irate wives gave me "Hell". Now the Chaplain, who was also there, had arranged to have the entire event video taped, to be mailed to the warriors. So, when I got to Barge Hercules, they had already seen the video tape. Boy was I received with open arms. Many guys apologized to me and all of them thanks me for being there. I understood their wives worry and frustration, but as a warrior, you want to do your job. I know as a Gunner's Mate, that I always wanted to be where the shooting was. These guys have it worse than I do!

While we were on the barge, we observed every facet of this stressful, combat live. Every night, there was a intelligence briefing where the nights mission was planned. No telling where the Intel data came from, but it was up to date and good. Then, about 2Am, a number of MK II PB's and some of the Army Helo's would go out on patrol. They were hunting for Iranian boats, using creative means to trap the faster 'Boghammers". It was impressive. The senior SEAL, a Commander had titled himself "CINCBARG", Commander in Chief, Barge! He had built a rather impressive Combat Information Center in a room on the barge, complete with secure comms to the world, a rad picture, and Intel data. He would direct the battle from there like "Halsey" at Midway! This was the real thing! On the third day, the Fleet Master Chief and I were supposed to leave, but, the Desert Duck was broke! CINCBARG told us, you can only stay if you go on patrol tonight! He did not have to tell me twice! We attended the Intel brief at midnight and quickly manned the boats. I even had my own .50 cal machine gun!! I was in Hog Heaven! As we got underway it was evident that it was going to be a rough night. The seas were choppy and the small boat rode rough. Just the same, I was having the time of my life. The boat's radar spotted a fast boat, and off we went. Not long after, silent as death, one of those Army Helo's that I could not identify, flew up behind us, not 2 feel off the water. Then, just as quickly and silently, it was gone. Soon, we thought we were in the vicinity of the fast boat, and the crew fired three star shells from the 81 mm mortar mounted on the port forward part of the boat. But nothing was spotted. We spent the remainder of the night trying to locate the bad guys, to no avail. But, it was still an event I will never forget.

We left the barge the next day, but on an Army "Black hawk" helo. The pilot, an Army Captain, gave us a flight demonstration I also will never forget. I never knew a helo could do an outside barrel roll!! What made this even more frightening and impressive is, the Fleet master Chief and myself were not strapped in!! No, we were sitting on a life raft in the back of the helo, holding on for dear life and trying not to throw up! I did however, get to shoot the mini gun! Wow!

The bottom line is, those men were doing thing on a daily basis, with no consideration for their own safety, that most men would not even try. They were, and are to this day, REAL WARRIORS, and I salute them. I also appreciate the hospitality the SEALS and EOD folks showed me through my entire SURFLANT tour. I wish I could tell you more, but it is still classified.

P.S. A few weeks after we returned to Norfolk, There was a Master Chief's Symposium, at Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek. A gathering of Command Master Chief, from all over the Atlantic Fleet, for information, networking, fun, and well, you figure it out, it was held in the Chief's Club. We had a number of wonderful speakers including the CNO and the Chief of Naval Personnel, then Vice Admiral Boorda. When the Fleet Master Chief spoke, he spent a long time telling our stories about our visit to Barge Hercules. The Group Master Chief for the east coast SEALS, leaned over to me and whispered; "He just declassified an operation that WAS classified higher that top Secret! Oh well." SEALS don't sweat the small stuff. And anyway, what a few "Top Secret" sea stories among a group of Master Chiefs?!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Battleships

OK shipmates, I know it's been a while since I posted anything. It has been a busy, crazy, long, exhausting, but enjoyable summer. But now, my creative juices are flowing and a memory has come to mind. Actually, many memories have come to mind, so I hope to keep writing for then next few days. This blog is about my days as a tech rep for NAVSEACENLANT and not my days as a sailor.
After my retirement, I went to work for a large insurance company. They hired me as a "Management Intern". Fundamentally, that means, you are the guy no manager trusts because they are afraid you will take their job away, be their boss soon, or tell top management where their skeletons are hidden. So, after 11 months of that fun, I decided I wanted to work for the Navy in my "old" profession. After contacting some old friends, I was hired by Naval Sea Support Center, Atlantic, as a gun tech rep. The one condition was that I work on 16"/50 triple gun turrets. The very turrets on the Iowa class Battleships. That like asking someone who likes chocolate to be a taster for the Hershey company! Now mind you, even though I was a Master Chief Gunner's Mate, I never worked on 16" turrets. Yes, I knew they operation, in theory. And yes, I knew how all the components worked, in theory. But that's like doing a correspondence course in brain surgery and then being asked to do a brain transplant. However, after some very intensive on the job training and a 9 week Navy school in the 16"/50, I was at least able to find all the components, not get lost in the turret, and sound like I knew what I was talking about.
While I was still working for that fortune 500 insurance company, the USS Iowa incident occur ed. After I returned from 16" school, I was soon part of some of the testing that accompanied the investigation into the incident. One such test was thrust upon my supervisor and myself one late afternoon. The Navy Captain leading the investigation wanted to know what effect there would be on the "Rammer Operator" if the electrical power was cut off from the electric motor that operated the hydraulic system that was the rammer. At this point, a short course in 16"/50 triple gun turrets is in order.
The 16"/50 triple gun turret was 1910 technology. No particular safety were built in. everything was manual. It goes without saying that everything was BIG. There were NO small bolts, screws, motors, pumps, or parts. everything in the turret reflects the fact that the gun shoots a 2700 pound projectile, 18 miles, using 660 pounds of gun propellant! It was designed to be maintained, operated, and repaired by farm boys who were used to working on big tractors, combines, and farm equipment. The electric motor that turned the hydraulic pump to move the turret in "Train", that's left and right to you non-Gunner's Mates, had a 300 horse power rating and was designed to operate after being completely submerged in saltwater! Like I said nothing in this turret was fragile.
So, back to the story. The test was supposed to determine, that means NO ONE HAD A CLUE, what would happen to the rammer operator of the electric power was secured to the rammer drive motor. This specific motor was a 40 horse power electric motor turning a axial piston pump with variable displacement. How the rammer worked was; The rammer operator pushed a lever forward, that moved the tilt plate on the axial piston pump, which moved fluid to the hydraulic motor, that turned the gear, that moved the rammer, that pushed the 2700 pound projectile and the 660 pounds of gun propellant into the chamber until the projectile was seated in the forcing cone of the rifling in the gun barrel. The the rammer man, shifted the lever in the opposite direction and retracted the rammer. Simple huh?! Remember, farm boys and the year 1910. There were no safety interlocks, no backlash compensator's to isolate the rammer man from the hydraulic pump being rotated by the 40 horse power electric motor. Hell, there wasn't even a seat belt for the rammer man, who by the way sat on a 'Tractor Seat" on the left side of the loading tray, which was on top of the projectile hoist, and to his left side was the powder hoist. Directly in front of the rammer man was the gun assembly, which recoiled towards him when the gun fired. Oh, I forgot to mention, right where the rammer man's toes sat, was a precipitous 22 foot drop into the gun pocket, where the gun assembly went when the gun elevated for high elevation shots. Again, not even a safety rope here. OSHA wasn't even thought of in 1910! So, with that, the testing begins.
My boss in the 16" world was an exceptional technician and very bright. He was also 15 years younger than I. That didn't bother me. I never asked him if it bothered him. He served 4 years in the Navy and went into the civilian part of maintaining ships. And he was good. He got a call from the Captain running the investigation at about 1500 that established the testing requirements. We were told that we would have to video tape the tests and send that tape to him in Washington D.C, to be viewed by the House Armed Services Committee, or some group of House/Senate suits, the very next day. We procured a video camera and headed to the USS Wisconsin to do the testing. The directions for the tests were very specific. We even had to use the same gun, on Wisconsin, that was involved in the incident on Iowa. Now I have told you how I respected held my 16" leader. He had the lead, and I was confident in his ability. I knew nothing about video cameras. I still am ignorant about them. He was not much better off than I, but he seemed to know how to operate the camera, so He would operate the camera and secure the power to the motor, I would act as the rammer man and operate the rammer. The directions for the test were to span the loading tray, as it would be for loading, naturally the breech plug would be open. We placed an oak 4" X 4" piece of shoring across the chamber and slowly advanced the rammer until the hydraulic buffer in the head of the rammer was compressed. Now the fun begins!
Remember I told you earlier, No one knew what would happen when you secured the electric power to the rammer motor with the hydraulic pump in operation and under load? We were about to find out. There I was, left hand on the rammer operating lever, the system running, my toes at the edge of the 22 foot precipitous. Our plan was to run the first test at FULL STROKE!! That means MAX POWER!!! Why?!? Why not, we had no idea what was in store. So, my boss had the camera, running, I placed the lever at "Full Stroke". The hydraulic motor was straining against the immovable shoring, and the noise was unbelievable. My boss counted: One...Two...Threee!!!! and shut off the electric motor. At that instance, the lever that controlled the stroke on the axial piston pump violently kicked. Since my elbow was locked and I was braced for the unknown, I went flying forward, over the edge of the gun pocket, towards a certain hurt locker event. Somehow, I grabbed the spanned loading tray with my right hand, I never let go of the rammer actuating lever that my left hand now had a death grip on, and hung there until I could get my feet back on the gun platform!! Naturally, there was much profanity, laughter, and vibrato, all caught on this video camera. We had to do the tests in a number of different power stroke percentages and we accomplished all of the testing, with a little Gunner's Mate ingenuity. And we got the tape to the Captain in Washington D.C. for his dog and pony show, on time. Later the next day he called us and said; "Good tape, bad language!" We replied, "What language" The Captain said; "Didn't you guys know the audio record was on?" Like I said, I know nothing about video recording equipment. But I guess we embarrassed a few of the suits in Washington. At least, that's what the Captain said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The NEW Navy...

Like any "Old Salt" I believe the sailors in our Navy today are not as well trained, not as dedicated, and not as tough as the Shipmates I sailed with. I heard that from the "Old Salts" that were there before me and I say it now. We worked together, played together. We worked hard and played hard. The "Chief's Mess" was cohesive. We had close ties, socially and professionally. Today's "Kids" don't play Pinochle or Acey-Deucey after work hours in groups of four or more. Instead, they go off, alone, and play computer games. We had to wait for "Mail Call" before we knew what was going on at home. Today's "Squid" can get an instant E-Mail or just call home, from any where in the world, on a "Sailor Phone". We went out at every opportunity and got pucking drunk, got into fist fights, and chased "Sporting" girls!! That build friendships, camaraderie, and team work. Today's "Sailors" get training on alcohol abuse, Trafficking in Humans, and conflict resolution. We had gun mounts that could shoot when all the power was out and the ship was sinking. Today's "Sailors" have weapons systems that are afraid of EMP. When I was a "Sailor" we did.........

Get the idea, nothing changes. Today's "Sailor" is every bit as good, if not smarter, than the stock that I came from. None were sent into the military by a juvenile court judge, like I was. They still go to sea, leave their loved ones, and face tremendous danger. Today's "American Blue Jacket" still serves a country he or she loves. There are no "Draft Dodgers" in today's all volunteer Navy, like there was when I wore a uniform. Yes there are differences between the Navy I served in and today's Navy. Just like there were differences in the Navy my Uncle John joined in 1941 and my Navy. But All Navy is Good Navy.

Case in point; I have had the privilege, over the last year, to meet and make friends with an extraordinary young Naval Officer. He is an Naval Academy graduate. He just made Lieutenant. He is a Surface Warfare Officer and as sharp as a tack. He knows more about today's weapons systems, Naval engineering, and the threat that our ships face than anyone I ever met. He can expertly discuss quantum physics, the MK 45 Gun Mount, an M16A1 rifle, or the Bible. He is an expert shot with a pistol and a rifle, and he beats me on a regular basis in that endeavor. He loves the Navy, and really understands LEADERSHIP. He has become my friend, even though we are 30+ years apart. And now, he is headed to the Navy's Post Graduate School to get a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering with a major in Satellites. This young fellow is the Navy's future and I think the future is very bright indeed. If I could get recalled to active duty, I would give all I have to serve with him as my Department Head, my XO or my Commanding Officer. But truly, the Navy does not need me, because it has him, and many more like him. And I, for one, am very glad.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Operation End Sweep

During my first tour on the USS Stein, we made a Western Pacific Cruise and in those days, WESTPAC meant Viet Nam. We got to the combat zone right at the end of the designated war. I say it that way because if you were alive then, you will remember that the hostilities did not stop because Henry Kissenger said they did. After doing a few weeks of Plane Guard for what ever carrier we were assigned too, the decision was made to begin taking the mines out of Haiphong Harbor. We were assigned to guard the little wooden MSO's. These Mine Sweepers were totally made of wood, so as to be non-magnetic. A good idea if you are looking for magnetically actuated mines! The escorts were us and an LPH. I believe it was the Guadalcanal, but I may be wrong on that. In any case, two events stick out in my mind from that time.

First, a brutal Typhoon came out of no where. At that time, ships had no weather forecasting capability. There were few satellites looking at the weather and the ships did not get the imagery anyway. Yes, the carriers had Aerographer's Mates (AG) who we called weather guessers. But forecasting the weather was as accurate as predicting the next mail call. So, this Typhoon caught all of us off guard. The LPH was really getting beat up. They lost a number of CH 46 helicopters off the flight deck from waves crashing over the deck. Us on the Stein were getting the snot kicked out of us. Let me give you a visual picture of riding a small ship in a Typhoon, or Hurricane. Get in your bath tub. Fill it half way up. Put a small toy boat in the water. Now, thrash your legs and hands as hard as you can. Look at how the toy boat rides. That's a small ship at sea in a Typhoon. Now, if you can imagine, the MSO's were about one fourth the size of our little Destroyer Escort and made completely of wood! I was on the bridge, watching the storm, and listening to the radio communications from the mine sweeps. One transmission said, anything connected to the deck or the overhead, isn't connected anymore! The ships could not make any headway no matter how much engine they used. So, we were all doomed to ride it out. The storm lasted about 36 hours and when it was done, we were all still there, battered, damaged, but still intact. That was a memorable storm.

The second memory is directly related to Operation End Sweep. We were protecting the Mine Sweepers since they had very little self defense capability. Pretty much, a couple of .50 caliber machine guns. We were steaming in Condition Two, which was called War Time Steaming. The gun mount was fully manned 24 hours a day, in two shifts. The rest of the ship's combat systems were manned also, and the ship had most of the water tight doors and fittings closed. I was in my rack, since I was in the off section, and at 2230, (10:30 PM) the General Quarters alarm was sounded. I jumped out of my rack, as everyone else did, grabbed what I thought were my pants, and ran to the Carrier Room, my GQ station. As I got in the Carrier Room, I heard the FTG3 who was on watch in the MK 68 Director stuttering and trying to give gun commands. This FTG3 had the same problem as the late country singer Mel Tillits. He could sing and not stutter, but he stuttered terribly when he talked and even worse when he was excited, and boy was he excited! He would shout "Mow, Mow, Oh Shit!! Mow." The GMG2 on watch in the gun was equally confused so I took over and started all of the hydraulic motors that operated the gun mount. Finally, an FTG 2 took over and I found out what was going on. It seems three North Viet Nameese, Soviet made, "Commar" missile boats had come out of the Delta at a fast rate of speed radiating "Styx" missile radar on us. Thanks GOD the WLR-1 operator was good! The Captain was on the bridge and called the Admiral on the LPH. The rules of engagement were extremely tight at this time, so shooting was done only with permission. The Admiral on the LPH said, Wait One". The Commodore was on the bridge by this time and the Captain said to the Commodore, " You see the situation, I need to shoot first to defend the ship and the MSO's. If I wait, we will be sunk before we can shoot. The Commodore told the Captain, "You heard the Admiral, Wait One". The Captain did something I will admire him for, forever. He told the Commodore," This is my ship, I request you leave the bridge, Helmsman, right full rudder, Mount 51 to remote!" At that time, I out the gun in the control of the Fire Control system and we began to track the missile boats. The Captain was must about ready to shoot when they turned away and ran. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his BOLD move of turning into the aggressors shocked them and saved our lives. Now that's leadership!

PS- Remember those pants I grabbed. They were not mine. They belonged to the skinniest guy in the division! I froze my tail off in the carrier room during that 2 hour GQ!

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Officer stories

As long as I am writing about officers, I might as well tell you about an Indian Ocean cruise. My second tour on the USS Stein, we deployed to the Indian Ocean. It was an uneventful period of time in that normally troubled waters, and we were steaming around in the balmy weather on a Sunday morning. I was taking temperatures on the Pyro Boxes that were top side just after breakfast. Gunner's Mates always take magazine and pyro box temperatures at least once a day. This is to make sure the ammunition is being kept at a safe temperature, to check the house keeping of the magazines, to provide powder temperatures to the Fire Controlmen to enable them to compute initial velocity of the 5", or any other caliber gun with a fire control system, and in general, to give the Gunner's Mates something to do early in the morning. It is some what a tradition. in any case, I was on the 02 level, by the signal bridge when I saw Rear Admiral Miller. He was riding Stein since we had been configured for a DESRON Staff. I don't remember why a little Knox class frigate had an Admiral, but we did. In any case, he asked me< "What are these tubes for?" I was sure he knew, after all, he WAS an Admiral. But I explained to him they were the new MK 34 Rapid Blooming Off Board Chaff launchers that we had installed in our last availability. RBOC was relative new at this time and the system belonged to the Gunner's Mates then. It belongs to the EW's now, so it seldom works, just like CIWS belonging to the FC's. Weapons systems belong to Gunner's Mates if you want them to work. Oh well, enough editorializing. The Admiral's next question was, "Do they work?" I proudly stated, "Certainly, they work!" The Admiral then ordered, "Then, let's shoot them." I asked, "How many?" He replied, "All of them". So I quickly found the Captain who was sitting on the bridge and told him of the Admirals' edict. His reply was, "Shoot them". Since all 24 tubes were loaded with real "Chaff", I had the "Boatswain Mate of the watch pass on the 1MC, "Stand clear of the 02 level while firing RBOC." With that, I opened the launcher panels on the bridge and fired, one tube at a time, all 24 "Chaff" rounds. This made a tremendous cloud of aluminum foil in the sky above and behind the ship. Anyone tracking the ship on radar had one big surprise as this new "Target", bigger that an aircraft carrier, appeared, and then slowly disappeared. II then went back on the 02 level and asked the Admiral if there was anything else? He replied, No, that was nice" and went back to his stateroom.

Now if you shoot Chaff, you have to have permission, clearance, and a firing plan bigger than the one for the atomic attack on Nagasaki. But then, Rear Admiral Miller wanted it shot, and we did.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's a small, small world.

If you have read any of my early postings, you know I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I went to Putitas Elementary school until the sixth grade. The building is still there, or at least it was a couple of years ago when I last drove by it. However, it is now a nursing home. In any case, my third grade teacher, Mrs Condon, was a wonderful lady and very proud of her son. While I was in third grade, her son was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy. A marvelous accomplishment and she was very proud of him. She had him in our class to tell us about being selected, and she talked about his accomplishments with great pride. Move the clock ahead a few years, I had just completed my tour as the Gunner's Mate detailer, and I was flying to meet the USS Caron in the Med. The trip to meet the ship was complicated by the fact that they were off the coast of Lebanon, support the Marines during that difficult period of time. So, we flew from Norfolk, to Rota, Spain. We stayed there for a few days and then flew to Souda Bay, Crete in a C-2. Now a C-2 is not a comfortable, spacious, passenger plane and it has no amenities. There is no Head!! Meaning no place to go to the bathroom. Some C-2 has a place for men to vent some liquid waste, (How's that for being delicate) but that hole was sealed up on this plane. So, by the time we got to Souda Bay, I had to GO! As soon as we arrived in Souda bay and they opened the back ramp on the plane, I was "hot footing it" to the first place I saw marked as a "HEAD". I saw the door in the hanger and made a be line for the door. I crashed into the "HEAD". found the urinal, and was immediately glad I did. Then, out of the blue, a Female sailor came out of the stall behind me screaming, "Didn't I see the wheel?!?" What wheel! What was a wheel? I had never been stationed with female sailors, except at he Bureau, and they had Male and Female HEADS. Oh well, I didn't care. I'm a Gunner's Mate, I'm not bashful. And anyway, I felt much better. So, as I departed the Head, I did see a "Wheel" on the door with a Male/Female portion. I guess the drill was which ever sex was on top meant that's who was in the Head. Burt it is hard to see the Wheel through eyes clouded with urine!

To continue, we were told we had to stay overnight in Souda Bay because of weather and that we had to stay out in town because there were no rooms available in the barracks. So, people were teaming up to get a room out in town, because that was the Base Commander's rule. There was this Commander, the only officer on the flight. He looked lonely, so I grabbed him up and said, "Let's go get a room and a good meal." The Commander agreed and off we went after changing into civilian clothes. I guess they wanted us to look like we were from Crete. Didn't work, I don't speak Greek. The Commander and I got a room, and started to get to know each other, He told me his name was Condon. I told him about my third grade teacher and about her son. I told him how proud I remembered her being about his acceptance into the Naval Academy. He looked at me and said, "That was my Mom." It really is a small, small world after all.

Maybe someday, I can get a room in the nursing home that was Puritas Elementary school. Maybe even in Mrs. Condon's third grade classroom.

The death of a barber.

My last deployment on USS Caron was very eventful and full of wonderful memories. We had the pleasure of having Destroyer Squadron 36 staff aboard for much of the cruise. DESRON staffs can be a pain, but this staff was anything but. They were pleasant, helpful, and truly became part of the crew. Today, I found out that the Commodore, a gentle man named Bob Goodwin passed away this week. His career after his Naval career really emphasizes his character. In uniform, I saw him a a mentor, a leader, and an instructor of the art of Naval warfare and seamanship. In his retirement, he became a math teacher at a very accomplished Catholic elementary school. He was in the Navy for over 30 years and was a teacher for another 20+ years. Commodore Bob Goodwin was always teaching someone, something.

I remember an in port period during that cruise. We were in Naples Italy, and he had noticed one of the ships in his charge had let their military appearance slip. Yes, we went on liberty in civilian clothes most of the time. But, he noticed the lack of military haircuts on a specific group of sailors and found out, discretely, what ship they were from. Now other Commodores would have handled this lack of military appearance with a surprise personnel inspection, a stern note to the Commanding Officer of the ship in question, or any other number of disciplinary measures that the Squadron Commander has in his bag of tricks. But not Commodore Goodwin. Instead, one Saturday morning, he just happened to be on the signal bridge, when morning colors was done. He walked over to the duty Signalman and handed him a written message. The Commodore said too the young signalman, "Here, Send this by flashing light to that ship over there." The ship was across the pier from us. The young Signalman looked at the message and replied, "Are you sure?' The Commodore said in a calm voice, "Yes. I will wait for their reply." So, the young Singleman flashed "C" "C" "C" to the ship until they replied. He then sent this message. " The Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 36 wishes to express his condolences at the death of your ship's barber." There was no reply. But the message was received.

Subtle messages sometimes get the best results. I learned a lot that day. I will miss Commodore Bob Goodwin.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The stinger strikes again!

I know I have spent plenty of time writing about outstanding Gunner's Mates that I have know, worked with, and held in high esteem. It might give you the idea that there are no less than outstanding Gunner's Mates that ever served in the U.S. Navy. We do screen our folks pretty well, but once in a while someone sneaks through. Not that that person is a bad person, or does not try to be all that he can be. I just had to borrow that from our Army brothers. But some folks just don't have the nerve to be in a gun mount or turret that is ready to blow up. I am not being too dramatic here. But it is a fact. One such Gunner's Mate was on a two gun DDG, with MK 42 Mod 7 gun mounts, during the Viet Nam war. His ship was providing naval gun fire support for the troops on the beach, and during that firing, Mount 51 had a foul bore. The gun would not fire. Now let me break in here and explain the MK 42 gun loading system. It was a fully automatic, hydraulically operated, electrically controlled, loading system. Designed to shoot 40 rounds per minute of 5"/54 ammo from a single barrel. It used a two sided gun loading system. everything was electrically interlocked to ensure that everything was in it's place before the next step happened. A pretty neat design if you remember that the gun is cycling at 40 rounds per minute! Again, that's moving a 75 pound projectile and a 44 pound powder charge, projectile stacked on top of the powder, a total of 119 pounds, at a rate of 40 rounds per minute. At this time in the gun's evolution, there was no solid state switching, no circuit cards. The gun loading system used 1492, 115 volt AC, micro switches to monitor the position of every component in the gun loading system. If you were on a MK 42 Mod 1-6 gun mount on an aircraft carrier like the USS Constellation of the USS Kitty Hawk, you had 1496, 115 volt AC micro switches, because they has "Anti-Chucker" Pawls. Someday I will tell you what they were for.

In any case. Mount 51 had a foul bore. Hot gun or Cold gun, I don't know. But instead of checking where the equipment was, and trying to find out why the gun did not fire, this NERVOUS Gunner's Mate used the Stinger to fire the gun and clear the bore. His real problem was that the right transfer tray did not come up and therefore was in the way of the recoiling mass of the gun housing. You guessed it. He turned the right transfer tray, the empty case tray, and most of the components mounted in the slide to scrap metal. One gun down! Not to worry, the ship can continue their mission, they have Mount 52.

Late that same day, the same NERVOUS Gunner's Mate was in mount 52 as the Mount Captain, shooting naval gun fire support. They experienced another foul bore. And this NERVOUS Nellie grabbed the stinger and ..You guessed it. Folded another transfer tray into scrap metal.

Now both times it was the right transfer tray. Which, if you have been in a MK 42 Mod 7 gun mount should cause you to wonder about his competence, since the stinger was on the right cradle guide arc, and you have to lean over the right side of the gun to "sting" the firing pin. I guess he thought it was nice to have all the room, with the transfer tray being down and all.

But it gets better. Later, in the Navy's infinite wisdom, this NERVOUS Gunner's Mate was sent to Great Lakes as a MK 42 "C" School instructor!! He did decide to leave the active component of the Navy and join the reserves. I'll bet there were plenty of MK 42 Mod 1-8 gun mount that breathed a sigh of relief.

Note; It amazes me how I can remember so much about things 30 or 40 years ago, but I can't remember what I had for breakfast. Well, it give me comfort and joy to share these stories with you, while I still can. You should see the smile on my face right now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grenades!!

When we commissioned the USS Leftwich, the Navy decided we would go through a full refresher training, called REFTRA. It was six weeks of drills, training, exercising ever piece of equipment on teh ship, long hours, no sleep and lots of pressure. There are three "Battle Problems", one in the beginning, a mid term, and a final. The equipment check, the Friday before REFTRA started had already set the tone of events. First of all, my REFTRA observer was a Chief Gunner's Mate Missiles, with no gun mount experience at all. Second, Mount 52 had a catastrophic hydraulic casualty that took the combined efforts of me, the NAVSEACENPAC tech reps, the ORDSTA Louisville tech rep, and my friend at the manufacturer of the gun mounts, FMC, to discover what was wrong and it took the better part of six months. To say the least, it was one difficult problem.

But this post is about the three battle problems. When the REFTRA observers come aboard for the battle problem, one of my jobs was to provide three concussion grenades. They were used to simulate the three "Hits" the ship would take in the simulated battle. For the first battle problem, I was on the quarterdeck and provided the three concussion grenades, complete with their cardboard safety liners. This was to ensure the grenade did not accidentally go off in case the pin fell out. Trust me, those pins won't fall out. And, you can't pull them out with you teeth like you see in the movies. Your teeth will come out, but most likely, not the pin! In any case, I provided them to the observer, a GMM. I never thought to train him, after all, he was there to train me and my folks. He SHOULD know what he is doing and I don't want to humiliate the guy who is grading me.

The first battle problem begins, with no Boom! As a matter of fact, no boom for hit Alpha, Bravo, or Charlie! After the days events, the Combat Systems Officer, a real dolt, and the Captain are on me about having bad grenades. Well, I had a lot to fix, procedures to write, training to do, and I did not have time to chase grenade issues. So, I put them off and forgot about it.

Three weeks later, time for the mid-term battle problem and I am hoping to do better. The observers come aboard including my Missiles Chief. I handed him three grenades and I went about my work. The battle problem begins with Hit Alpha, and no boom. No boom for hit Bravo or Charlie either!! Now I am worried. There must be a problem with the grenades. Of course, the CSO and the Captain are really on me know. But, again, I manage to push the issue aside. However I did check to see if there were any issues reported with concussion grenades, none. Curious.

The day arrives for the final battle problem, and again, I am on the Quarterdeck with the required three concussion grenades. I turn them over to my Chief Missile Gunner's Mate observer, and set about my duties. The battle problem begins with hit Alpha and again, no boom. I am in Mount 52 and the observer calls me on the 21 MC and asks me to come to Mount 51. My thoughts are on what is wrong now!?! When I get to Mount 51's loader room, I am met by a puzzled look on this Chief's face. He asks me, "When I throw the grenades, do I have to take this cardboard ring off the spoon and body of the grenade after I pull the pin?"

Somewhere, off the coast of San Diego, are seven concussion grenades that went off after the sea water deteriorated the cardboard band and the spoon popped, probably when a ship was going by. I would have loved to be there.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What is that smell?!

I was a First Class Gunner's Mate, (GMG1) and well into my second tour on the USS Stein, that's right, I didn't get enough punishment from a Knox Class DE the first time, We were off the coast of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Look it up on a map. Diego Garcia is right on the equator! We were doing small arms familiarization firing on the fantail. My job was to get the entire crew and a contingent of Midshipmen familiarized and able to fire, safely, a number of small arms. Not a small task! Most sailors don't shoot pistols and rifles very much, if at all. If you have read some of my earlier postings, you already know that. I believe we shot the 1911A1 .45 Cal Semi Automatic Pistol, the M16A1 rifle, and some shotgun. In any case, I was up on the fantail, in the blazing sun, all day. We started at 0800, broke for lunch, and shot until dinner. I was wearing a white "Skivvy "shirt, dungaree pants, and shoes. No hat, NO sunscreen, just me and the sun. During the afternoon, I kept smelling this "Burning" smell. Something like meat being cooked on a gas grill. But I just could not identify the smell.

After we returned all of the weapons to the armory and the ammo to the small arms magazine, I went to take a shower. As I was washing my neck, a big piece of burned skin came off the back of my neck, in my hand. It did not hurt, but I swear, it was about three inches square. I smelled the skin, and presto! The smell of cooking was me!! Needless to say, my neck was a little sore for a few days and I now have more than my share of moles that the skin doctor has a field day with. I have often said, If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. But, maybe not.

Friday, June 5, 2009

We have to get this one over the side!

Late in my first tour on USS Stein, most often, when we were shooting, I would man the EP2 panel in the carrier room. That was the panel that controlled the entire MK 42 Mod 9 gun mount including all gun loading system operation and the movement of the gun. My Chief, Chief Mowery, someone who should be familiar to you by now, would be in the carrier room also. On day we were shooting and the right lower hoist malfunctioned. Chief Mowery went to the magazine, one deck below the carrier room, to see what was wrong. That left me in the carrier room to answer the onslaught of questions I have talked about. It did not take long for the Chief to call me to the magazine scuttle. He said, "we have some severely damaged ammo down here and we have to get it over the side, quick!" So, I called this GMG3 down from the gun mount to open "Water Tight " doors for me Now this GMG3 was a small, slight gentleman. He was an individual with a BA in English, who joined the Navy to "Beat" the draft! Macho he wasn't. Normally, he could not open a quick acting water tight door that was completely dogged down with both arms! But, he was the best I had. So, I told this diminutive GMG3 that he needed to get me to the Port boat deck, quick. With that, I got down on my knees and Chief Mowery passed this mangled projectile up to me. Let me describe this projectile. It seems the projectile drum rotated the same time that the lower hoist raised. It jammed, with 1500 psi of hydraulic pressure, the projectile into the one inch thick top of the loader drum. The projectiles nose fuse was broken off the projectile, hanging by wires, The projectile was cracked all the way down the side, to the rotating band, and layed open, Oh, did I tell you this was real combat ammo. Explosives, designed to sink ships? Yep. The real McCoy.

So, I cradled the broken round in my arms, and stood up and turned around slowly. It was that time that the GMG3 got his first look at this mess. His eyes got as big as saucers!! He ran for the door in the carrier room and opened it up with one arm in one motion, and did the same, on a dead run, through the ship, up a ladder, and not only to the Port boat deck, but all the way to the fantail!!. Of course, I stopped and threw the projectile over the side from the Port boat deck. Then I went back to the gun and got an equally smashed powder charge and did the same thing. Them I went to the fantail and told a panting, scared, GMG3 that everything was OK now. I never saw him open door like that again, but I am glad he did so well that day.

We're Ready!!

When I was on the USS Mullinnix, we had three 5"/54 Mk 42 Mod 7&8 gun mounts and a twin mount 3"/50. The 3"/50 was aft and between mount 52 and the after stack. It was the source of many funny stories. One time, we were shooting mount 31. I was in mount 52, Mount 31 had stopped firing and they had a foul bore condition in the right gun. The manual fire would not work, for reasons I don't remember, so the GMG1 in charge of the gun decided to use a "Stinger" from one of the 5"/54 mounts. We had "Stinger" in the 5" guns to fire the gun if the electrical circuit failed. It basically was a Ten Cap Blasting generator from demolition charges that had a long metal rod connected to a 6 foot lead of wire. To make the voltage you had to crank a handle that in turn turned a small generator in the unit. The GMG3 got the "Stinger" from mount 52. I know, because I handed it to him. I decided to sit in the left hand gun door and watch this circus. Now remember, I have told you before, that the chain of command, through the Fire Controlmen, have a inane ability to ask the same question, "What is the ETR of the casualty?" in a hundred different ways. Well, mount 31 had a large speaker on the bulkhead of the ready service magazine, and it was blaring stupid questions. Mean while, the GMG1 has the Blasting Machine in his hands and he is cranking the handle, unbeknownst to the GMG3. Why, I don't know. I guess it was fun. In any case, on the other end of this "Stinger" was the GMG3 who was trying to find a safe way to touch the "Stinger" to the firing pin, while not being in the way of all the recoiling mass of components that were going to come at him when the gun went "BOOM:".. The Fire Controlmen in Plot asked, "When are you going to be ready to clear the gun through the muzzle?" The GMG3 replied, "I will call you when I am ready." Just about that time, the GMG3 found the firing pin, at the same time the GMG1 cranked the generator on the Blasting Machine. BOOM!!! The gun fired. Plot immediately called mount 31 and asked, "What was that?!" Not even flustered, the GMG3 replied, "We're Ready!"

On another occasion, I remember the ship had some expanded metal bins mounted around teh gun tub of mount 31, The purpose of these bins was to store onions and potatoes. I don't know if storing fresh potatoes and onions outside, in the ocean air is good or bad. But, that's what we did. Just after the bins were installed and stocked with fresh onions, we got underway. As was the Captain's habit, as soon as we cleared the sea buoy, we shot all guns. When it came time to shoot mount 31, an interesting thing happened. With the first round from that twin mount, onion skins filled the air!! There were onion skins everywhere as they continued to shoot. I don't remember how may rounds mount 31 shot, but the Stew Burner's did not need to peel onions for a while!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Swine flu... 1976

With all this hype about the "Swine Flu" it has brought back a story to mind. When I was at Great Lakes, a fellow First Class Gunner's Mate made Chief. He had had vale replacement surgery. That's right, in 1976, when all this open heart surgery was new, the Navy doctors replaced a valve in his heart with a "Pig's" heart valve. At his time, Chief's initiation was far more demanding than it is today. Far more "Trust" was required from the Prospective Chief than today. I am not saying what we did was better, I am saying it was far more wide open. One of the Prospective Chief's "Charges" was being the culprit who caused "Swine Flu" and made it so all of the "Real Chiefs" would have to get a vaccination!! In any case, the Cardiologist was worried that all of the festivities would ruin his good work. So, the Cardiologist volunteered to go through "Initiation" WITH the new Chief. Since I was not a Chief at that time, I don't know how it went,, but both survived and the Chief went on to complete his career.

I asked the Chief later, if they would have to replace the "Pig" valves. He said "Yes, every ten years or so." I told him they should have used Velcro to close him.

Swine flu is not new, a Chief Gunner's Mate started it!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A true Shipmate!

I have written before, briefly, about Master Chief Gunner's Mate James Smith. Jim was ten years my senior, yet we became fast friends when I was an instructor at Great Lakes. Jim was the real thing. Not a phony or a wannabee. He did two in country tours in Viet Nam as a small boat commander. One in PBR craft and one on Zippo boats. The latter were flat bottom landing craft type boats, modified to carry a large flame thrower and a large amount of napalm gas for the flame thrower. A very effective weapon in the jungles of Viet Nam. Both tours in country, he was wounded. In addition to those tours, he did at least four "Gun Line" tours on destroyer type ships providing naval gun fire support for the troops on the beach. Jim was a real combat sailor. And truthfully, he was my hero.

Now James Smith was a stout man. Strong, with a quick temper and a great sense of right and wrong. He also had an astonishing ability to drink more beer or bourbon than anyone I every knew. That was the Navy of the past. We worked hard, played hard and fought hard. Jim fit that mantra to a tee.

He had great sea stories, some I doubted. although I never told him, but many I believed. At the end of Jim's tour at Great Lakes, he got orders to teach at the new Iranian Gunner's Mate school In Bandar Palaviv, Iran, which was on the Caspian sea. Yes, at that time, with the Shah in power, Iran was our allay. Remember DDG 993-996. Well, those ships were build for Iran. But the Shah fell, and we kept them. In any case, Jim came home a little early from his scheduled year in Iran. I asked him why he came hoe so abruptly and he explained that a certain, Iranina Commander had called him a liar in public, and he decked him! That did not surprise me. Again, Jim had a keen sense of right and wrong, and calling him a liar was on the wrong side of Jim. So, as the story goes, since Officers in the Iranian Military were considered part of the Royal family in some way, to save face, the Shah signed an execution order for Jim!! But, he called the U.S. Navy liaison in Bandar Abass and told him to have Jim out of the country in 48 hours. Thus, his quick exit from Iran.

Now I must admit, this story seemed a bit difficult to believe, but there he was, about 2 month early. So, I believed him. Some months later, I reported to the Pre-Commissioning unit for the USS Leftwich (DD-984). The Chief Electronics's Technician, ETC Ripley and I were getting to know each other and he asked me, "Do you know a Chief Gunner's Mate named Jim Smith?" Right then and there he told me the story of how Jim decked this Iranian Commander for calling him a liar! I thought, this story must be true.

Then, I got transferred to Washington D.C, to be the Gunner's Mate detailer. One day I ran into an LDO friend of mine, the previous Officer in Charge of Gun School. His name is Loren Dixon. He said, "You will never guess what your friend Jim Smith did in Iran!" Loren went on to explain that HE was the Navy Liaison in Bandar Abass and had to get Jim out of the country in 48 hours. Wow!

Another great "Smith" story comes from one of his in country tours in Viet Nam. It seem, after getting wounded, he ended up in a hospital, More of a MASH unit. Jim was mobile, since his wound was in his arm. The fellow in the bed next to him was not. Jim said, this poor fellow was in a body cast from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. There were tubes going in and out, and a square hole that should line up with where his mouth should be. Jim said, one day he heard this fellow whisper, "Is anyone out there?" Jim said, sure I'm here. The fellow in the cast said, "Can you get around?' Jim said sure, what can I get you? The fellow in the cast said, "A pint of bourbon!" Jim said, he went to the small store in the compound and bought two pints of bourbon. One for him and one for his new drinking partner. One rule for those of us who used to or still do drink a little. You should always drink with a friend. In any case, Jim said, he poured bourbon in the hole where this fellow mouth should be, in amounts that roughly equaled a mouth full. Jim said, the fellow, and he, drank both pints!! Now that's a Shipmate!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Standing up for your people

When I was a student in MK 42 "C" school, at Great Lakes, Illinois, I was blessed to have a class of exceptional individuals. There were three Chiefs in my class, two who later promoted to Master Chief, a First Class who I has written about before briefly, Red Mills, a Second Class who was an exceptional leader even then, myself, a "Fleet Return" Third Class, and a number of new Gunner's Mates just out of the Boot Camp/"A" School pipeline. I worked hard in "C" School, because I wanted to succeed and I wanted to advance. I had a God given ability to remember anything related to my rating. Some of my friends said I had near total recall. I may have, or it may have just been my love for the Gunner's Mate rating and what we did. In any case, I was academically, number one in my class. My friend, GMG1 Red Mills, was getting ready to take the Chief's test and he asked me to help him study gun mount power drives and fuze setters. I agreed and we began to study evenings at school. Soon, other First Class Petty Officers joined our study group. That was good, because I was also getting ready to take the Second Class test at he same time. So I was learning and so were they.

The day came and we all took our advancement tests. Actually, the tests are on different days, but we all took our tests. Then the wait for the results. When the Second Class results came I was in shock! I had FAILED the exam!! I could not understand. I studied for six months, what the bibliography for advancement said to study. I was number one in my "C" school class, and I was helping others through a study group. How did I fail the exam. I was devastated. The best score I received was a Very Poor!! Well, two of the Chiefs in the class, Chief Mowery and Chief Morris, both thought the same way. They told me to go to the barracks and get the sheet I received when I took the test. That sheet tells the serial and series of the advancement exam that you take. They they compared those numbers to the serial and series on the results sheet I was given. Chief Mowery found the problem. I took a 67 series test and was graded on a 72 series answer sheet. He told our instructor he was going to the Navy Exam center to straighten things out. At this time in Navy history, the Navy Exam Center was at Great Lakes, Illinois. Not far from Naval Training Center where Gun School was. Armed with my two pieces of official paper, off he went to the Exam Center. The Chief was gone the rest of the day.

Now I have told you a little about Master Chief Mowery, but let me expand a bit. Bill was a big man, powerful, even ominous in appearance. He normally got what he wanted, when he wanted it. He was a professional and he expected perfection. We later served on the USS Stein together, and he was a big reason I made Chief. That being said, I can imagine Chief Mowery stomping into the Navy Exam center and demanding to see my test and demanding they grade it on the correct scale! NOW!! In any case, the next morning, Chief Mowery walked up to me and said, "You made Second Class. You will be promoted in the first increment." And a couple of weeks later, the paper work came backing that up.

I learned a lot that day from Bill Mowery. You stick up for your folks, especially when the system has failed them. You always go the extra mile to make sure your sailors are treated correctly. He always treated me that way, and everyone else who met his standards. Master Chief Mowery was a real leader, and a great mentor. I owe you Bill, and I will always remember you. Thanks!!

A closing note; As many of you know, I have been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD) and Dementia. That is one reason I am writing this blog. The PD is annoying and sometimes disabling. I now use a cane to help with stability. But the Dementia is robbing me of my ability to remember and learn new things. My near total recall is now completely gone. I have trouble remembering words or even forming sentences when I am tired and on a few occasions, briefly, I have lost the ability to read. I get lost in my own mind, and can't remember from one moment to the next what I wanted to do. I see folks that I work with everyday, and have for twenty years, and I don't remember their names. This is the frustration and demoralizing truth of Dementia. Today, my mind permits me to remember the past, I know that will be taken from me soon also. So, I will write as long as I can. To preserve what I have learned to help others, and to help me remember what was so important to me for 40 years.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Leadership is being out front!

When I was early in my Gunner's Mate training, on the USS Mullinnix, I witnessed something that shocked me and impressed me at the same time. We were shooting Naval Gun Fire Support training at Viequez Island, for some reason, I was in Mount 52, a rarity. We had fired a large number of rounds when Mount 52 had a casualty and quit firing. Naturally, we ended up with a "Foul Bore". Again, that means that the gun is loaded, a round in the chamber, and it won't fire. On top of that, because of the large number of rounds fired, we had a "Hot Gun". Again, that means in theory, the temperature of the gun barrel and chamber are sufficient to cook off the powder charge or the projectile. Now, if the powder charge cooks off, it is the same as the gun firing. Unless you are behind the recoiling parts of the gun, or have the firing mechanism out, not a bad thing. But, if the projectile cooks off, it will cause catastrophic damage and possible death to personnel. I got that from a Navy circular on the MK 18 Mod 3 gun barrel. In any case, "Hot Gun" and "Foul Bore" are any Gunner's Mates worst nightmare.

However,, I was a young, inexperienced kid, and all I was doing was exactly what I was told. Chief Sadowski was assessing the situation, trying to find out what went wrong, when the Captain stepped into the gun mount. The Captain himself!!!! Now I was surprised, shocked, and scared all at once. Do I salute, stand at attention, get out of the way, hide?!?! Chief Sadowski was not so impressed, he looked at the Captain and said in his gruff manner of speaking, "Captain, get out of my gun mount. You don't belong here." Now I was confused, because the Captain left. He said nothing, he just left. I was sure that he left to draw up the courts martial papers. I was sure my Chief was going to be busted to E-nothing!! As things happened, Chief Sadowski solved the problem, cleared the muzzle through the bore, and we went on firing. But, I was sure the Chief would have to pay for his actions. But, nothing happened. One day, two days, three days passed, and nothing. Everything seemed to be normal. So, on the forth day, I mustered ALL the courage I had and I asked the Chief after quarters why he did not get in trouble for what he said to the Captain. He replied, "Because he knew I was right! He did not belong in the gun mount. Only essential personnel should be there in a "Hot Gun" "Foul Bore" situation. That's what the book says!!"

Chief Sadowski lead from the front, we all knew it, and moreover, the Captain knew it.

Well, I am the sum of all that I learned from all who taught me over the years. Many time through my career, in tough situations, I would ask my self, what would Chief Sadowski, Chief Mowery, or fill in the names of the many who mentored me, do? So, one day, late in my career, on the USS Caron, I had a similar catastrophic casualty while shooting. I don not remember where we were, or if it was a combat situation of training, and it really does not matter in the ordnance field, but, Mount 51 had a catastrophic failure that left a projectile in the breech, a powder half in the breech, the breech open, and the cradle up. The entire gun loading system was full. So, about 23 rounds of ammo direct exposed. Plus, the loader room had about 100 rounds of ammo laying on deck, in racks, and in general every were. Then of course there was the 600 rounds in the magazine, and too many rounds in forward staging.

To make it as easy to understand as I can make it, we had a very hot gun, a foul bore, and an open breech, with a lot of ammo capable of blowing the front off of a Spruance class destroyer and sending her to the bottom causing catastrophic loos of life! There's that phrase again. The "Hot Gun" predictor from "Clearing Live Ammunition From Naval Guns" tech manual said to evacuate the gun and wait 2 hours or until it exploded. I just could not do that, and I did not think those who trained me would either. So, I followed the rules, somewhat. I evacuated the gun mount and all spaces forward of Frame 58, just like the book says. But I stayed, to try to close the breech and start cooling of the gun barrel. My GMG1 would not leave either. I was glad, because I needed help.

The chain of command had an endless need for information. The FC2 on the Gun Control Console in CIC kept asking me stupid question after stupid question. I know, not his fault. But its' hard to think and read electronic prints when you are being asked,"What's the Estimated Time of Repair? (ETR)" Hell, I don't even know what's wrong, how can I tell you how long it will take to fix it? And they have a torturous way of asking the same question a hundred different ways. So, I took the sound powered phones off, turned off the speaker amplifier, and tried to troubleshoot this problem before we all got sent to the bottom.

Not long after I quit answering their inane questions, the Combat Systems Officer opened the completely dogged down door of the loader room and looked at me. I gave that young Lieutenant "The Look"! And he closed the door and left. I knew there would be more.

Now, the gun hydraulic motors were running and GMG1 was up in the gun, when the Captain opened the door to the loader room. He asked me where GMG1 was, and I told him, "He didn't want to know." He left on that note. Soon after that, the Executive Officer opened the door. His statement was, "the Captain wants to see you when this is over." I already had that figured out.

Twenty minutes into this dangerous situation, GMG1 and I managed to get the powder charge back into the cradle, the cradle lowered, the test casing into the breech, and the breech closed! Then and only then could we, by the rules, start internal and external water cooling to the gun barrel. Of course, if it was going to blow up, it would have by now. Thank God it did not.

Then GMG1 and I evacuated the gun and I reported to the Captain on the bridge. The ship was at General Quarters, so the bridge was full of enlisted and officer personnel. I reported to the Captain, who was sitting in his chair on the starboard side of the bridge. I saluted and stated, "Master Chief Dolence reporting as ordered. The gun is secure and internal and external water cooling have been started." The Captain glared at me. I remained at attention. Then he let me have it. He stated in a loud, authoritative voice, "How am I supposed to enforce safety on this ship when the leading Gunner's Mate and my Command Master Chief violates every ordnance safety precaution written!!!!" My reply was, " Sorry Captain, I did not have a choice." He replied, "Never let it happen again! You are dismissed!" At that, I saluted, did an "about face" and started to walk towards the ladder that lead off the bridge. The Captain yelled "Master Chief!!" I turned and said, "Yes Captain". He smiled and said, "Thanks"

He knew what we had done, and he knew the danger. Probably better than I. But, he had to enforce the rules. He had to let everyone know that's not how it should be done. But, he appreciated me leading from the front. I know that, because that Captain is still my friend.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bravery

I know many Gunner's Mates, and sailors of other ratings that I consider real hero's and very brave. My friend and mentor James Smith, himself a Master Chief Gunner's Mate is one of those. He served two tours of duty in Viet Nam, running the rivers on small boats. He earned, two purple hearts during those tours. I said earned and meant it! Both were from gunshot wounds received during fire fights. Not from paper cuts like some politicians, who will remain nameless here. He also did a number of gun line tours providing gun fire support for those on the beach who carried the fight to the enemy.

But this posting is about a Gunner's Mate who did not receive decorations for what he did. Although you will agree, after reading this, he should have. When I was on the USS Mullinnix, besides the three MK 42 Mod 7&8 gun mounts and the twin mount 3"/50, we had two MK 11 Hedge Hog launchers. They were forward, under the bridge, where the forward 3"/50 was when the ship had two of them. If you are interested, there are pictures of the DD 936 with both 3"/50 gun mounts and the gunnar computer still on Mount 52. In any case, the Forest Sherman class ships rode terrible. They bounced and thrashed from side to side in moderate seas. In a rough sea, it was an "E" ticket ride, for those who went to Disney Land in the 60's and 70's. Well, we were underway one day, I don't remember where, and it was rough, very, very, rough. So rough, that the Captain passed "Holiday Routine" and told everyone not on watch to hit their racks. Now the Mullinnix actually had "Bunk Straps" that we could strap ourselves in the rack with, and people were using them!!

Our Leading Gunner's Mate, GMG1 Harold "Suit Case" Simpson was touring the spaces to make sure all was secure. He was a tough, big man, who was a real sailor, and exceptional leader, and a great Gunner's Mate. He went down three decks from the main deck, to check the Hedge Hog magazine. Now the Hedge Hog magazine was midships, starboard side. When "Suit Case" got the door undogged and unlocked, he opened the door and found something truly scary and very dangerous. It seems, a live "war shot" Hedge Hog had fallen from the top of the stack, about 6 feet high, and landed on it's nose. The protective cap was broken, and the impeller was driven into the war head. Trust me, not a pretty sight.

Yes, all Navy ammo is 50 feet bore safe, meaning it takes the setback of the round firing and 50 feet of travel to arm any detonating chain. However, I have seen projectiles blow up 5 feet out of the barrel of a 5" gun!! So. I don't always trust what the engineers tell me. There is another fact you need to make the decision to give GMG1 Harold "Suit Case" Simpson the Medal of Honor for BRAVERY, and for saving a Naval ship under extreme conditions. The Hedge Hog round had 44 pounds of HBX3 explosive in the war head, plus a rocket motor capable of propelling that charge 188 yards to its' mean point of impact!.. The entire round weighted just over 50 pounds. In any case, "Suit Case" immediately picked up the smashed Hedge Hog round, cradled it in his arm, just one, because now he had to climb straight up, three decks on vertical ladders. No landings, no place to rest, no place to set down his burden, and no one to help. He did not go for help, heck, he did not know if the ship would be there when he got back. He just reacted to save the ship, his shipmates, and yes, himself. In any case, he hauled that 50 pounds of "ready to blow" explosives up those three ladders, back to the fantail, and threw if overboard. Then and only then, did he tell the Officer of the Deck on the bridge of the danger the ship WAS in. Was is the operational word, because it was no longer in danger. Then, "Suit Case" went back to the Hedge Hog magazine and made sure all the other rounds were properly secured. He then completed his rounds of all the other spaces, and then came to the berthing compartment to "Instruct" us on the proper way to make spaces ready for sea!!

For his efforts, GMG1 Harold "Suit Case" Simpson received....nothing. Nothing except my respect, admiration, and desire to be as good a Gunner's Mate, Petty Officer, Leader, Example, and Hero as he was. Suit Case, I never forgot you, what you did for me, what you taught me. Thanks!!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Picture this, Lebannon, 1984

I arrived on the USS Caron by being lowered from an SH 46 helo in February, 1984. The ship was off the coast of Beirut Lebanon during the war that claimed so many Marines and Sailor's lives in that barracks. After getting settled in, I was was walking around the ship, meeting the men in "G" division and many others in the crew. It came to me how young they looked, and since we were in a war zone, I could not help but wonder how they would perform in combat. Not too many days after my arrival I got my answer.

One evening, were were given a firing mission. We were just off the coast, next to the Beirut airport. This is where the Marines moved to after the bombing of the barracks. The Druse militia were shooting artillery and mortars at the Marines and our mission was to stop that shooting. We were within 1200 yards of the beach shooting. I was in Mount 51, a habit I never broke from my first ship. We were shooting both guns, rapid fire, broadside, and Mount 52 had a catastrophic casualty in the loader drum. Hearing that report, I ran back to Mount 52 to assess the damage. The loader index valveblock had a piston that came through its' cover, pushed a complete round of 5"/54 ammo into the top of the loader drum with high pressure hydraulic pressure, and jammed the gun loading system stopping the gun. Even though the Mount Captain, a very competent GMG1 shut down the hydraulic motors, there was oil everywhere! We started to take the loader index drive valveblock off when I heard on the speaker, "Mount 51, surface action starboard". Mount 51 responded and the next thing I heard was, "Mount 51, 100 rounds rapid continuous fire, commence fire!" The gun started to shoot, naturally we could hear its' report and feel the rocking of the ship. In my mind, as I was turning the wrench, I counted the 100 rounds off. The gun performed without a hitch, as did the gun crew. The gun was then ordered to Ready Surface" meaning to go to the stow position, center line. AT that point, I got up from where I was sitting and walked around the loader drum to the 21MC, and called Mount 51. I told the Mount Captain, that as soon as they let him shut the gun down, I wanted him to check the entire gun out for any loose components. That was quite a shock for the MK 45. As I walked back to my seat on the deck, next to the loader drum, I heard, "Mount 51, surface action starboard." Then I heard, "Mount 51, 100 rounds rapid continuous fire, commence fire!!" I was amazed! But, on cure, Mount 51 started to shoot. However, the magazine crew, loading the lower hoist were getting tired. So, the gun would shoot 10 or so rounds and then stop firing. Well, for a Gunner's Mate,, that stop in firing means "Foul Bore" or in layman's terms, the gun loaded and did not shoot!! Bad news. But, then gun would again start shooting as ammunition became available from the loader deck, four decks below.

I couldn't take it. I dropped my wrench and ran up to Mount 51's loader room to watch things unfold. The gun made the 100 rounds, a little slower than the first time, but without any issues except a dead tired loader crew. The gun was extremely hot, both the gun barrel, which now had the paint blistered off, and the hydraulic system, which was working harder than designed to. It was an amazing accomplishment for those Gunner's Mates. The Fire Control team was dead on, the firing stopped on the Marines, and I got my answer, these were real professionals. I never had a question about them again.

The Navy, its' more than a job...

If you have read any of my posts, you realize that I had humble beginnings. My parents never owned a home, but always had love. I joined the Navy under the tarnish of a juvenile record, but found a place where hard work and dedication paid off. I have known, worked with, and been mentored by some of the most professional, dedicated, caring men, that anyone could know. I married a sweet, loving, dedicated Christian woman who changed my life, rescued me from the self-destruction of alcohol abuse, and stood by me through 7 major deployments including three combat deployments, and numerous underway periods of undetermined length that were not called deployments. I say all this to reflect on something that just happened to me. Early in my life, my parents rented a home from some wealthy folks. They sold their business and moved to a very well off executive community on the out skirts of Cleveland. They had a swimming pool, a big brick house, and drove Cadillacs. I remember thinking, how good they had it. Well, today, I talked to one of the rich families sons. 40 years have passed since those days. Their wealth is gone, they have all suffered the disappointment of divorce, disability, and death. Those who we think have it made, may be far worse off that we are.

Yes, the Navy is a demanding profession. It requires much of its' members. The pay is better now, than when I was on active duty, but you will never get rich as an enlisted man. But, what the Navy teaches us, Courage, Dedication, Honor, shape us and make us far richer than anyone who did not serve, and for that alone, I thank my shipmates who taught me.

How far did you fly?

When I taught at Great Lakes, there was a First Class Gunner's Mate that was on the USS Blandy when they had mount 51 blow up. Yes, we were having problems with gun mounts blowing up long before the USS Iowa. As a matter of fact, that is one of the inherent dangers with being a Gunner's Mate and what probably makes us just a litter off center. In the early days of the MK 42 5"?54, we had man gun mount explosions. Some, like the USS Benjamin Stoddard, that killed my "C" school class mate Red Mills, were cause by bad decisions during "Hot Gun" Foul Bore" emergencies. Some were caused by the gun loading system itself. You see, the MK 42 gun mount was originally designed to automatically shoot 40 rounds per minute out of one gun barrel. That is a great engineering accomplishment when you realize it is moved semi-fixed, 5" ammo, whit a projectile weight of 75 pounds and a powder charge weight of 44 pounds, from 3 decks below the gun mount at a rate of one round fired every 1.5 seconds. Early in the MK 42 deployment the powder cases were case combination primed. That meant that they could be set off, made to fire, either electrically of through percussion. They later found out that the rammer, hitting the back of the powder case, was setting off the powder before it was in the chamber and the breech was closed. Not good for the Gunner's Mate!!

In any case, this particular GMG1, was missing his left ear and we, as you can imagine, picked on him without mercy. Why?? Because we could! One year, the GMM1 that had the fly swatter incident with the Master Chief, gave this GMG1 an ear ring for Christmas, and told him he would get the other one next year. We always asked him how the barber knew where to cut his hair on the side without the ear. And sometimes, someone would pretend to talk in the side of his head that the ears was missing, and then he would say, "You didn't hear that did you?"

In any case, I asked that GMG1 on day, where he was in the gun mount when it exploded. He told me, in the OMC Bubble. Remember the bubble where the local sights and train and elevation controls were? So I asked him , "How far did you fly when the gun mount blew up." He replied very quickly, "Fifty feet!!!" I asked him how he was so sure it was fifty feet. His reply was, "I had a fifty foot sound powered phone set on!!! Wow! He never did work in an enclosed gun mount again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Hate bugs!!

Gunner's Mates have always been different. I met some GM's from the World War two Naval Armed Guard, those brave men who provided security for the merchant ships in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. I was on a cruise on the John Brown, an old "Liberty Ship" still being used as a floating museum. The John Brown, homeported in Baltimore, makes stops in east coast ports and takes tourests out for the show of their lives. In any case, during one of these events, My best friend Jerry, his wife and mine met a number of Naval Armed Guard Gunner's Mates. They were having a reunion on the John Brown and enjoying the cruise. They were crusty, tough, and very proud of their accomplishments. One of the fellows had 6 ships sunk out from under him in the Atlantic! He had some stories. I intently listened to every story they had, and they had a bunch. They knew Jerry and I were Gunner's Mates, and they enjoyed the fact that we both understood what they were saying technically and loved what they stood for. We were "Brothers in Arms".

Now as I started out, Gunner's Mates have always been a little different, a little crazy. I guess that comes from what we do, play with explosives. In the case of some of us, playing with explosives being moved quickly, by high pressure hydraulic equipment that has a history of smashing ammo and not shooting when it should. Trust me, having a loaded gun, and a barrel hot enough to cook the round off, and not being able to clear that round out of the barrel, while being surrounded by another 600 rounds of explosive ammo, will make anyone a little off center.

There was one of those characters with me as staff at Gun School, Great Lakes. One day, he sauntered into the office of the Master Chief that was the head of "A" school. This Master Chief was a large, muscular, red headed Irishman, with the temper to match. This slightly off center GMM1 had is hands behind his back, and asked the Master Chief, "What does BUZ spell?" The Master Chief replied in his gruff tone of voice, "buzz". The GMM1 asked, "What does that spell?" This time the Master Chief replied more loudly and more emphatically, "buzz damn it!!" The GMM1 once more asked, "What was that Master Chief?" This time the Master Chief lost his temper and yelled. Buzz damn it!!" At this time, the GMM1 pulled a fly swatter from behind hi back and swatted the Master Chief while stating, "I hate bugs!!" With that, the Master Chief turner his entire desk over and started to run after the GMM!. The GMM 1 was faster and ran all the way out of the school. It too that Master Chief a long time to cool down before he saw the humor.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Super Professionals

During my career in the Navy, I met, was taught, and was mentored by the best group of Professional Gunner's Mates, Petty Officers, Chief Petty Officers, and Officers anyone could ask for. As I said in a previous posting, we spent much of our time in the Gun Mount, even after normal working hours, telling sea stories about equipment failures, most of which were instructive and embellished, and trying to impress each other with how much we knew about our rate. These times were highly instructive. Remember, we did not have television underway, or even in port, we did not have computers, DVD movies, video games or telephones to call home on. So, we told sea stories, learned from each other, and played an occasional game of Spades, Hearts, Acey-Deucey, pinochle, or sometimes poker. All of these pass times served to bond us together. In port, especially deployed, we went on liberty together. We drank, sometimes too much, took tours, eat strange foods and took advantage of the offerings of the occasional foreign military base. But all of this built a bond that stood the test of time.

There is one place I was stationed that stands out in my mind as being a collection of the most exceptional Gunner's Mates ever, that was my tour as an instructor at Gunner's Mate School at Great Lakes. The "Green House" which is no longer standing I am sorry to say. I spent three years on staff at Gun School and did some time in "A" school and some time teaching MK 42 Mod 9 & 10 "C" school. That was a great time of learning for me. When you are teaching, or in our vernacular "On Stick", you had to have the answers, because you were going to be asked difficult questions. Many time, during that era, we had foreign navy students in our classes, both "A" and "C" schools. In many cases, that presented a language barrier that the instructor HAD to overcome. During my tour at Great Lakes, I had students from Germany, Japan, Iran, South Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Australia.

Another challenge related to "A" school. Many times, you taught the same section week after week. I remember one exceptional Gunner's Mate (Missiles) First Class got stuck teaching Power Supplies and Amplifiers for three months. He invented words, to keep himself entertained and to keep the students on their toes. I still remember those phrases and still use them to this day. One was "Matriculating Force Fields". The other was "The insegrievious portion of the belemajestic curve". These invented terms threw even the best student of electronics and absolutely was hilarious when a foreign navy student was barraged with them. One time, a Japanese student was in my MK 421 "C" school class and I used "Matriculating Force Fields" in a lecture. I saw him in the back of the room frantically looking through his English to Japanese dictionary trying to find the words and their meaning. I finally, out of compassion, told him they were not real words. But it really was funny to see.

Another interesting thing about my instructor brothers was the advancement rate. Of the 14 First Class Gunner's Mates I taught "A" school with, all made Chief, one made Warrant, three of us made Master Chief and three made Senior Chief. When you look at the percentages permitted by law to promote to E-7, E-8 and E-9, those numbers are astonishing. Another remarkable fact is how fast we all advanced. Now I realize that we benefited from President Regan's desire to build a 600 ship Navy, but, we still did really well considering two of us advanced to Master Chief with 14 years service or less. That group of professionals was and is still, the best group of Gunner's Mates ever assembled in one place. Since I don't mention many names, if you are reading this and recognize that time, my hat is off to you!!

Much was lost in the education, training, and assimilation of individuals into our Navy culture, when we went to computer based training and programed instruction. The transfer of knowledge and culture that happened when a highly professional senior Petty Officer conducted hands on training on a real gun mount or missile system cannot be duplicated through ANY technology. The young men ad women I see daily in the fleet today do not have an understanding of their job, its' importance to the mission of the ship, or their responsibility to their shipmates. We do not assimilate individuals into the collective. Instead, they isolate themselves with computers, video games, and email home. Long gone is the even sea stories session in Mount 51, or the game of Hearts in the compartment before Taps. It's sad.