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The Navy's traditions live on in the hearts of those who serve

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?!