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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The USS Caron (DD 970)

My time on the USS Caron was some of the best times of my Navy career.  Also some of my most frustrating.  But, I choose to dwell on the good times.   I served in both capacities, as the Leading Gunner's Mate and the Command Master Chief.  I have written about this before.  It was the Captain's view that the Command Master Chief also be a working member of the crew.  It was terribly demanding on me, but I agree with him now, more than ever.  It gave me creditability and kept me from becoming a ward room bureaucrat like today's Command Master Chief's seem to be.  I believe making Command Master Chief a permanent rating and taking the Master Chief out of his/her speciality is a waste of experience, training, and turns that person into the same useless wart on the ass of progress that the Command Career Counselor and the Master at Arms rating has become.  Again, all of these were meant to be collateral duties!  Not professions for people who can't do their real job.  You might as well add Musician and Religious Programs Specialist into that quagmire of no loads also!!   OK, I feel better now.

I had some great Gunner's Mates on the Caron, and three of them were unique characters.  My leading GMG1 was a big, dedicated, hard working, fellow who everyone in the crew and the Captain called "Fred"  That was not his name, but he looked like "Fred Flintstone", so that's what he was called.  He was on the Caron doer 11 years when I came aboard.  That's right, 11 years!  He stayed on the Caron until he retired from the Navy with 20 years of service!  He knew the ship.

Then there were two Third Class Petty Officers, (GMG3) one nicknamed "Cone Head" because one day while doing Pre-Fire checks, the test casing for firing primers to check the firing circuit fell from the gun and hit him in the head.  Now this thing weighed 20 pounds and it fell about 10 feet.  His statement upon getting hit was; "ouch".  And then he went on with his duties.  Tough man.  His running mate was a slightly overweight, like able, individual who's name escapes me.   These two had taken to building broad swords from scrap metal they retrieved from the ship fitter's shop.  They would work for hours at night, shaping the swords on a grinder, wrapping the handles with old hemp line, and just having a good time.  After all, underway for 30-60 days, no where to go, how many times can you watch a rerun of "Conan the Barbarian" before you just have to have a broad sword?!   One evening, after dinner and "Eight O'clock Reports", I was relaxing in the Chief's Quarters when the telephone rang.  I answered it and it was the Executive Officer.  The first XO I had on Caron was an exceptional officer and leader and I would follow him anywhere, any time!  In any case, on the telephone, he asked me; "Master Chief, do you know where Smith and Jones are?" ( not their real names) I replied with an inquisitive; "no?"  He said; "I do, they are in the helo hanger having a broad sword fight!" I asked him how he knew, and he said he could hear the clanging of the steel swords as they beat together from his stateroom.     It must have been loud, because his stateroom was one deck below, behind two doors, and down a passageway 20 feet!  He asked me to make sure they were not doing permanent harm to themselves.  In XO speak, that means, stop them from sword fighting.  Both of my GMG 3's were fine, sweating from throwing these heavy swords around, buy no blood flow.  They were also very disappointed that I mad them stop their "work out".  But, in the interest of medical safety, I though it best.

Those two were best friends and could find the most interesting and creative ways to entertain themselves.  They never got in trouble, worked extremely hard, and were dedicated to the Navy.  What more could I have asked for!  I miss those days and those shipmates.  But their memories still make me smile.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


When my wife started me on this Blog journey, the idea was that it would be good to write down all of my "Sea Stories" and memories about my Navy career for the grand kids to read, sometime in the future, when they are interested in them.  My neurologist thought is was a good idea because it would stimulate my mind.  Both are true, but I never in my wildest dreams, expected the readership, support, and friendship that has come to me through the Blog experience.  I am amazed that so many people, worldwide, are interested in reading about a juvenile delinquent from Cleveland, Ohio, who found success and a home in the United States Navy.  I never thought many people would want to read about "Suitcase" Simpson or me frying the skin off of my neck doing small arms training on the equator.  But, you do!

I enjoy writing these events in my life and describing the Navy of my time, to you.  I also enjoy remembering and describing the men that I think were "Hero's" to me and our Navy.  I hope that my family enjoys these tales and uses them to remember me, when I am no longer here to bore them with the hundredth telling of a story.  I also hope that those of you in my extended "Reader" family will use these stories as a source of inspiration, humor, and enjoyment.  The Navy has been exceptionally good to me and for me.  I owe the organization and it's people much of my success.   I will keep writing as long a GOD lets me.  I enjoy hearing from all of you and I enjoy telling my Navy story.  Thanks for being there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Middle East.

It seems perfectly clear to me, and I hope to the people who are charged with our countries defense, that we have LOST the Middle East to militant Islamisists.  The Islamic Brotherhood will rule from Libya to Bahrain before the summer is over.  Yemen, is done, as is Egypt, and others  Saudi Arabia is presently purchasing their countryman's loyalty bu that will not last long and they will fall to the militants also.  Anyone who thinks this is a good thing, or that it is a march towards democracy in these countries is either stupid, naive, or on the side of the militants!  The truth is, we have lost any and all allies in this region.  This administration and all the administrations since President Regan have mishandled relations with these countries, and one at a time, alienated them from us.  I read an article last week stating that Saudi Arabia was trying to form an alliance with China!   So, the real question is, what do we do now?

The first thing is we need to find sources of oil that WE control!  That means domestic oil unless we intend to conquer an oil producing country and that is not likely.  But, this administration would rather have us riding bicycles that drill a single oil well.  Cuba is drilling in the gulf, very close to Florida, and the President seems perfectly fine with that, but he will not let our country drill for independence.  He does want to give $50 billion to Brazil to have them drill oil and be our friend.  That did not work out too well with the middle east.  Remember the old saying; "Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."  It is clear the kids in Washington failed history class.

But, back to the question, what to do.  We need to become a self sufficient country again.  If the cartel wants to charge $150 for a barrel of oil then a bushel of corn or wheat is also $150!  That should set things on a more even plane.  Then, we need to bring our manufacturing back into the country.  The hell with NAFTA!  If a product is made outside the country, tax it's import to a point that it is more expensive that any similar  product made inn the country.  That's what Japan and China do right now!  Turn about IS fair play.  Also, tax the profits of any company that is based in America or wants to do business ion America, regardless of where that money is made!  GE, Ford, General Motors, others all make and sell products all over the world, using American technology, and we don't get one cent of taxes from it!  GE did not even pay taxes last year, as the news reported, and they had a $77 billion profit!  Lastly, if we want to encourage the investment and use of alternative energy sources, like solar and wind, then we need to incentivize it.  Tax breaks for individuals and companies that get off the electric grid.  Changes to local and state laws that prohibit wind turbine installations in cities, on the coasts, or in high value neighborhoods.  Not in my back yard will not work for this.  Lastly, stop taxing the working man on the earnings of his savings!  Set a limit of income, say $500k, and don't tax the money those families scrimp to save.  We need more investment capitol and this is a way to get it.  Ronald Regan did the same thing with "Small Savers Certificates" and it was a great success for capitol investment and the working man.

No, I am not running for office, I have just been around long enough to steal other great ideas fro some wonderful Americans.  Gee, couldn't the kids in Washington do that?!   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Relieved of Command!

I have read a number of stories about Commanding Officers, Executive Officers, and Command Master Chiefs, being relieved of their positions of authority on Naval ships over the last few years.  It seems to me, a casual, but very interested, observer, that this trend is increasing at an alarming rate.  I cannot help but wonder how many other officers have been relieved for cause, at sea and ashore, that we do not hear about in the news.  The reasons reported in the news are varied, but they all boil down to a breach of good order and discipline!

First, let me state, having been a Command Master Chief at sea for a Destroyer and an A-6 squadron, that Command at Sea is a demanding, difficult, self-sacrificing, position that demands more from the individual than anyone who has not been a Commanding Officer at sea can imagine.  Long, sleepless, stressful hours, worrying about every small detail.   No rest, even when in home port or on leave.  Yes, the Commanding Officer is responsible for what happens on and to their ship, even when they are on leave or at home on the weekend!  This level of responsibility leads to CO's staying on or close to their ships during the entire command period!  Think of it, no rest, no escape from the pressure of command for 24-30 months!  That is a recipe for disaster.

Then, let's discuss what I believe is the real cause of these lapses in good order and discipline.  I believe the total blurring and erasing of the lines between the different levels in the chain of command are the exact reason for the total breakdown in the exercise of good order and discipline.  Let me draw an analogy.  When I was a young GMG3 on the USS Stein, the Gunnery Officer, a fresh young Ensign, was just a couple of years older than me.  We were having a division party  in Singapore.  Naturally, we were drinking heavily, as was the custom back then.  I called my Division Officer by his first name, and my Chief beat the crap out of me.  All the time explaining to me that Officers were called Mr.  Jones or Ensign Jones, and who did I think I was calling him by his first name when the Chief did not even dare to call this young Ensign by his first name.  The Chief was old enough to be his father, but he still respected his position as the Division Officer.

Today, Chiefs are standing every officer watch, including, I am told, Command Duty Officer of a ship.  This was traditionally a position help by Department heads in the line of command succession!  Why, because they are empowered and qualified to get the ship underway and fight the ship in the absence of the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer.  Now a Chief is doing that?  Why is this detrimental to the exercise of good order and discipline?  Because the Chiefs and Officers now call themselves by their first names.  They have become "Familiar" with each other, thus blurring or erasing that line in the chain of command.  First Class Petty Officers are standing Junior Officer of the Deck underway,  again, blurring a line that is watched by the rest of the crew.  These blurred lines confuse the entire crew and place everyone on the same plane.  Thus, we are all equal and all "Buddies".  So, when I correct Seaman Jones for some minor infraction, she says, " Don't be so picky Bill", instead of, "Yes Sir Mr. Smith".  If you are not military, you may not understand or see the difference.  But look at our schools.  There is NO discipline in the school system and our schools are a combat zone.  Students are not respectful or frightened of the consequences of their actions against other students or teachers.  When I went to school, teachers wore business attire, were addressed as Mr. Jones, and their authority was absolute.  Being sent to the Principles office was a frightening event, even in High School.  Now I challenge you to pick a student from a teacher! They all dress like bums and call each other by their first names!  Some teacher and students even have sex!  See, there is no division and therefore no good order and discipline.

Again, why is a strict chain of command so necessary for good order and discipline?  Simple, everyone must know who is in charge, all the time.  Ashore, on the ship, on liberty, in the mall, everywhere!  That is one reason I so dislike the new powder blue camo uniform.  Everyone looks the same, therefore everyone IS the same, and we can all just ignore the rules and customs!  The Marine Corps does not seem to have these problems.  They have not changed their uniform in one hundred years!  Of course, the Marine Corps does not have a problem with all of their male members shaving either!  Maybe they screen their people for pseudophaliculitus before enlistment.  NOT!.  It is discipline!!  A Marine Corporal has a much authority and respect from his/her troops as today's Chief in the Navy.  Heaven forbid, a young Marine should run afoul of the Gunnery Sargent!

How shall we fix this issue and re institute good order and discipline?  Put everyone back in their places and hold them accountable for their piece of the puzzle.  Yes, it will hurt for a little while, but it will keep us from firing good Officers from Command Positions and maybe, it will save some sailors lives when the shooting starts.  And trust me, it will start again, soon, I am afraid.

What think ye?  

Friday, April 22, 2011

An Enlisted President!?

I guess, if  am honest, I really do respect officers.  They are there for the purpose of command, good order, and discipline.  The military needs and requires that type of command structure.  It is the culture of the officer that I dislike!  That "I am better than you" attitude they project every time they look down their noses at enlisted personnel.  I remember when I was on the USS Mullinnix (DD 944).  We were ALWAYS on water hours.   Showers underway were a dream.  Once, we went 30 days without showers or clean laundry.  However, the officers took showers and had clean pressed laundry!  I also remember us out on deck, naked, trying to shower in a rain storm!  No officers there either.  So, you can see where my dislike for the culture of the Naval Officer comes from.

If we look at politics, Officers have always made their way to the top.  George Washington was the first President under the Constitution.  Note, he was NOT the first President.  There were, I believe, seven Presidents under the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the Constitution.  Look it up!  But in any case, there were others, Grant and Eisenhower come immediately to mind.  Jimmy Carter was a Naval Officer as was John Kennedy.  There were others, but no enlisted individuals were ever President, Vice President, or any other high ranking government position.  The highest position held by an enlisted person was Senator John Tower.  He was a Master Chief Boatswain Mate in the active Naval Reserve when he was a Senator from Texas.  I have heard that he turned down a commission that was offered after he was elected to the Senate.  I cannot confirm that.  But my question is;  Why are enlisted personnel under represented in our elected and appointed government officials?

There have been a number of intelligent, experienced, highly educated, individuals who have served as the top enlisted person of the services.  Any one of these individuals would make a superior Congressman, Senator, or even President.   To have worked your way from E-1 to E-9, and then through the various leadership positions as an E-9, to the top of your service, is an accomplishment that no one can compute mathematically.  I have told you before, but for a refresher, promotion to E-9 is limited to 1% of the service population!  Then do the math of that one E-9 that works his or her way to the top enlisted position.  Position one of the one per centers!  Let me tell you, right now, there are 51,680 Officer on active duty in the U.S. Navy.  There are 331 Admirals!  I know, I counted them.  That's .6% of the Officer Corps!  I worked for  Vice Admiral that said; "It is easier to make Admiral than Master Chief!"  The numbers do not agree with that, but it's close to being the same.  Especially if you discount those Officers in the medical community that are only repaying their college time!

All of that being said as back ground, I would really like, no LOVE, to see some senior enlisted member of the Armed Forces to step up and run for a national position.  I would also like to see a President take the un-president act of appointing a career, senior enlisted person to a cabinet post!  I am tired of Admirals and Generals being paraded out for every post, commission, or election!  The retired Enlisted Personnel have just as mush experience, education, and leadership ability as an Officer.  It's time WE participate in the process of governing our nation!!   What say ye?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I can die now, I have seen everything!!

Lately, I have spent more time than normal, looking back at all that I have seen in my life.  Lately, I have seen new things that I never expected, for instance, last weekend, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I paid more to fill up my Subaru Forrester than I did for my first car!  Never thought I would see that!  That brought me to an event that was one of those "Surprise" moments that I never forgot.

Not long after I retired from the Navy, a friend of mine retired and invited me to his ceremony.  It was a warm day, and the event was outside at a Special Boat Unit.  The stage was all set up, a MK III Boat was on skids behind the stage as a back drop.  There were Admiral, Captains, two former Master Chief Petty Officers of the Navy, a retired Fleet Master Chief and myself.  We were seated in the front row, the MCPONs, Fleet Master Chief, and myself.  I was seated next to MCPON 3.  Seated on the stage was the Admiral, the Commanding Officer of the Spec Boat Unit, the unit's Command Master Chief, the Chaplain, and the honoree and his wife of over 30 years. The official part of the ceremony went off without a hitch.  Everything from the parading of the Colors, the invocation,  the Admirals remarks, the Award presentation, and the presentation of the gifts, all happened as rehearsed.  Then it was time for the Master Chief who was retiring to make his remarks.  He stepped to the podium and said;  "Before I speak I would like to share a surprise with you and introduce all of you to my 16 year old son who I just met this morning!"  Naturally, the crowd was stunned.  I leaned over to MCPON 3 and whispered; "I can die now, I have seen everything."  But the real surprise was that the honoree could still stand, talk, or even move.  As a matter of fact, his wife kept her smile all through the ceremony.  Now that IS AMAZING!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The FIRST Female Gun Mount Tech Rep!

That is not a proclamation, it is a report.  This did not happen this week or this year, but over 20 years ago!  I was a participant and a witness to a very successful change in the field service engineering support provided for U.S. Naval gunnery.  Now, I can read you minds already!  Those of you who read my blog regularly think I am going to slam females.  Right!   Well, you could not be farther from the truth.  I have written before about my vast respect for the pioneering women who first entered the Gunner's Mate rating, way back in the early 1970's.  Those true pioneers blazed a trail, through some very treacherous waters, to earn their position as Gunner's Mates.  They never asked for quarter and never sought out an advantage because of their sex.  Instead, they performed, in most cases, much better than their male counterparts without complaining. This story elevates that struggle to a new level.

As you know, females have always had to be twice as good as their male counterparts to even begin to gain respect in a previously all male occupation.  And while I will not hold myself up as a good example, I will say that, when anyone shows a determination to excel at their chosen profession, I want to support them.  That goes for anyone, including females!  In any case, after I took my "War Suit" off, I went to work for NAVSEACENLANT in Norfolk, Va.  The favors I had to call in to get hired have been discussed in earlier posts.  Just the same, I found myself working with a young, Electrical Engineer, who happened to be a female.  She had been a Co-Op student with NAVSEACENLANT and was now, since gradation with he Bachelor's Degree, full time.  She was young, well presented, extremely intelligent, and not afraid of men.  It seems that she had been fighting the "Female Stereotype" since high school.  I remember her telling me that her high school counselors tried to keep her out of the higher math courses because they were not for women!  That did not deter her.  She wanted to be an electrical engineer, and she was going to succeed!  I also watched as she, carefully but boldly, navigated the waters of this "Good Old Boys" club that she now worked within.  In the field service engineering, (Tech Rep) field, degreed engineers are looked down on, big time!  Female were just not permitted!!  She was obviously both.

It was nice working ships with her, because all of the ship's Gunner's Mates enjoyed looking at her, talking to her, and trying to get her telephone number.  We got great support from ship's force whenever she was with us.  I also remember that we used to change in to our coveralls in the loader room.  That meant, for the men, that we would take our trousers and shits off, put on our coveralls and work shoes, and get ready to get dirty.  Of course, all of us men would pile into the loader room and change together.  It was just like being in the Navy, and we all were retired or ex-Navy.  She however, got her own changing room.  We would leave her alone in the loader room, and we would stand guard on the doors until she open the door, dressed in her coveralls.  No, I do not know what she wore under her coveralls!  I never asked.

Another challenge was head facilities.  Most of the ships we worked on had not been converted to "Females at sea" yet.  So, all of the head facilities, (bathrooms) were male only.  There was only one private head on these ships, and it was on the 03 level behind CIC.  Our female tech rep had to trek up there any time she had to answer the call.  And, many times that head was secured. (closed)  We did get pretty good at using the Chief's Quarters head for her and just standing guard on the doors.  But, this was another problem she had to overcome.

I watched as she was denied the "Transfer of Knowledge" from the old "Salts" that normally happened when the new tech rep came on board.  Also, most of the men hired were like me, retired Navy Gunner's Mates.  This only perpetuated the "Good Old Boys" club and made it even more exclusive.  Of course, an Engineer would not be a retired Navy Chief.  And especially, not a female.  Just the same, she was determined to succeed.  She bravely took the hazing, the jokes about her gender, and the crude language that permeated our profession.  She learned quickly and mastered technical portions of the MK 45 gun mount that most Gunner's Mates only cringe over.   She was not afraid to get greasy, covered in hydraulic fluid, or work in the confined spaces of the gun mount.  She was not effected from working in close proximity to men, who would rather ogle her than talk to her.  All of this only made her resolve greater.  I was so impressed that after two years, I actually asked her permission to write a paper for my own college course on group development concerning the issues she was encountring.  By the way, I receive an "A" on that paper with a long note of agreement from the professor.  In any case, that young female became a competent, professional, MK 45 field service engineer who was second to no one, male or female.

I remember on time, she and I were working on a two gun ship, I no longer remember if it was a Cruiser or a Spruance class DD.  Just the same, we were working in both guns at the same time, and I asked her to check something up in the gun mount.  The only way up into the gun mount was to climb up the loader drum, starting in the loader room, the deck below the gun mount, and then climb through the gun pocket, and squeeze between the slide and the safety cage.  It was a tight fit, and since my retirement, I don't think I would fit anymore.  In any case, I soon came back to the gun mount that she was working in and I asked her if she had checked what I asked for in the gun mount.  She abruptly said; "NO".  I asked her why.  Then I was informed that she could not fit past the slide because her "boobs" were too big!  Her words not mine.  I won't say I never noticed her physique, I am a man.  But I never consider that her physique could get in the way navigating around the confines of a gun mount.  However, as you can imagine, I was shocked by this revelation.  And, I was at a loss for words as to a reply!  Me, the "Senator" at a loss for words!  I did regain my composure and told her to use the air motor and depress the gun barrel for better access.  Whew!  Another uncomfortable moment averted!

All of this story, funny anecdotes and all, is meant to illustrate the difficulties that this young female and all who came before her and after, have had to endure to succeed.  They have not had an easy road, and us men, in many cases, have tried and succeed to make that road even rougher.  Yet. in spite of all the obstructions, they succeed and excel.  Unfortunately, this young engineer went into management and is well on her way to being a senior civil servant and probably an agency head.  Yet, I know she always carries with her the practical application that she learned as a MK 45 tech rep.  I was proud to work with her, and I will always be proud of her accomplishments for the U.S. Navy.  The MK 45 gun mounts lost a great tech rep, but the Navy gained a well grounded leader.