The State of the Navy

Many people have been talking recently about a new report commissioned by several veteran congresspeople including Tom Cotton and my personal favorite vet in office, Dan Crenshaw:

Concern within the Navy runs so high that, when asked whether incidents such as the two destroyer collisions in the Pacific, the surrender of a small craft to the IRGC in the Arabian Gulf, the burning of the Bonhomme Richard and other incidents were part of a broader cultural or leadership problem in the Navy, 94% of interviewees responded “yes,” 3% said “no,” and 3% said “unsure.” And when asked if the incidents were directly connected, 55% said “yes,” 16% said “no,” and 29% said “unsure.” This sentiment, that the Navy is dangerously off course, was overwhelming.

I have serious doubts as to the veracity of this “study” for two reasons:

Polls are notorious for being easily manipulated. Pollsters can handily get the answers they’re looking for by wording the questions in the right way.

For example, a poll that asks:

“Do you support the loophole that allows criminals to purchase firearms from unlicensed dealers without undergoing a background check?”

Will get entirely different results from a poll asking the exact same people:

“Should private citizens be required to seek permission from the government before being permitted to sell their personally owned property to other private citizens?”

The questions are asking the same thing, just in dramatically different ways and will result in completely different data.

The second issue I have with the “study” is the number of personnel interviewed.

77 unique and formal interviews were conducted with Navy personnel via an extensive hour-long process to establish a common controlled approach to the questions at hand.

Seriously? 77 people to represent the outlook of the entire US Navy? There are many different “communities” within the Navy, and although they all fall under the basic framework of the UCMJ and Naval Regulations, the different communities have vastly different cultures. The surface navy vs submarine navy. Black shoes (ship’s company) vs Brown shoes (aviation community). Small boys (destroyers, frigates, cruisers) vs flattops (aircraft carriers). Then there are the specialties that have unique roles like the Seabees, the SEALs, EOD, etc. There are even cultural difference between the East Coast Navy and the West Coast Navy, between the individual fleets and between different ships, even different ships of the same class.

I wouldn’t trust a poll of 77 people to be representative of the crew of a fully manned aircraft carrier (approx 5,000 people), let alone the entire Navy of 330,000+.

So, I don’t think this “study” should be touted as the definitive statement of the attitude of all Sailors. This is very likely just another exercise in confirmation bias. Conducting interviews with too small a sample to be truly representative and wording interview questions in such a way as to receive a desired response.

With that said…

Just because the “study” framework and execution raises questions in my mind, doesn’t mean the attitude they were trying to confirm isn’t real. Whether the majority of sailors are aware of it, or will admit it, the Navy of today is in a very sad state.

This started well before I retired. The members of any military unit’s very survival depends on the skills and abilities of each of those members in their assigned duties. When such an organization begins to place more emphasis on retaining and promoting individuals based on any criteria other than merit, that organization’s effectiveness is going to suffer. Those policies were in place long before I joined the Navy in the early ’80’s and did nothing but get worse throughout my tenure. Those policies have done nothing but escalate in the 18 years since my retirement.

Additional policies include the softening of standards and requirements, the dumbing down of training and qualification standards, the elimination of longstanding trust building and team building traditions, the overt rewarding of timidity and risk aversion over boldness and warfighting ability, the incessant harping and “training” on social issues leaving little time for training designed to enhance mission capability. I could go on.

The result of decades of senior leadership promoted on the basis of their political acumen and ability to avoid controversy rather than any leadership or warfighting skills has ultimately resulted in a Navy where ships crash into civilian freighters, small boat crews who instantly surrender to third world rabble when challenged, ships in the shipyard burning to the waterline because the crew is unequipped and unable to perform the single most important function for the survival of any Navy vessel: damage control.

Not to mention an entire new class of highly technological, extremely expensive ships that serve no practical purpose, a new generation of Aircraft Carriers that can’t effectively launch or recover aircraft due to the incorporation of unproven, unreliable (also extremely expensive) technology, and a remaining fleet of overtasked, undermaintained ships that the crews struggle to keep marginally operational.

We may still have the largest, most technologically advanced Navy in the world (for now, China is rapidly gaining and will soon overtake us), and the most highly motivated, creative and dedicated sailors in history, but our Naval capability has been hamstrung by multiple generations of poor leadership and misplaced priorities, with no signs of improvement on the horizon.

And I don’t need a weak “study” of the attitudes of sailors to tell me that.


Combat effectiveness through diversity

Apparently Tucker Carlson said something mean about the military’s new maternity flight suits.

He must have struck close to home because military spokesthings (got to be inclusive of all 846 genders these days) responded by deploying the mother of all internet click bait headlines:

Press Secretary Smites Fox Host That Dissed Diversity in U.S. Military

The Press Secretary didn’t respond forcefully. He didn’t ardently defend. He didn’t even pounce. No…he SMOTE him as Thor striking down his enemies with Mjölnir.

Whether he smote, pounced, or just ineffectually protested, I got a kick out of this sentence from the statement:

“I want to be very clear right up front, that the diversity of our military is one of our greatest strengths,”

Um…I’m pretty sure that military strength boils down to how effectively you can kill the enemy and blow their stuff up. I really don’t think the skin color, gender identity or reproductive organs of the killer and/or blower upper has much to do with it.

This is what happens when senior officers get promoted based on political factors rather than military ones; how outstanding warriors and leaders end up peaking at O-5 and owning car dealerships instead of leading men into battle and how the Navy that used to be the best in the world ends up repeatedly bouncing warships off freighters and tankers on the open sea.

Do you think the Chinese army gives a crap about diversity? There were recently stories about how their numbers of warships have exceeded those of the US Navy and includes newer, more capable vessels and weapons (using technology stolen from us). Their full time military is 60% larger than our total military including reserves. Granted their military is made up of mostly conscripts, but numbers matter. When you run out of bullets before they run out of bodies, you lose.

The bottom line is, when China gets froggy and decides to “restore” Taiwan to Chinese sovereignty…and they will – soon…unless something dramatic changes to refocus our military mindset away from “social justice” and “diversity” and toward combat effectiveness, we won’t be able to stop them.

I’m thinking when even your military has devolved into being more concerned with being “woke” than with being effective, your society is pretty much toast. As if that weren’t already pretty self-evident.


Aviation Maintenance humor

I started to leave this as a comment to this post over at Weer’d Beard’s place, but it got too long (surprise, surprise) so I decided to bring it over here.

His post was basically a link to a series of funny gripes purportedly written by FEDEX pilots and the signoffs that the maintenance people used to document the “solutions” to the problems.

The term “gripe” is slang.  The official term for a problem reported by pilots is a “discrepancy”, but pretty much everyone (at least in the Navy) uses the slang term “gripe”.

Not to rain on the parade but variations of that list have been around for a long time.  Where the list is supposedly from depends on where you find it.

I’ve seen similar lists (the “IFF in OFF position” one makes regular appearances on all of them) reported as actual gripes from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and even once saw them reported as being from the British Air Force.  I have to admit that’s the first time I’ve ever seen them being claimed by a civilian aviation community.

That does not reduce the hilarity though, and many of them are very similar to gripes aviation maintenance people see on a regular basis…which is what makes them so funny.  The best humor is rooted in reality.

This stems from the fact that the pilots generally know relatively little about how the equipment they are trained to operate actually works.  When I wanted to get under a pilot’s skin I would ask them “Why is it that it takes a college education to break an airplane but only a high school education to fix one?”…but I digress.

The funniest gripe I ever dealt with was when I was working on P-3’s when I was but a lowly Third Class Petty Officer.  P-3 Pilots don’t wear aviator helmets but use headsets with boom microphones similar to the picture on the right.

The Audio system allows the pilots to select specific radios to be heard in each ear.  The pilot can select one radio (or more than one) for the right ear,  and different radio(s) for the left ear, which can help them identify exactly who it is that’s talking to them based on which ear they hear it in.  It also helps to prevent the different radios from “walking on” each other and both transmissions becoming garbled.

I had a brand new pilot (actually still flying as a copilot) report that the audio channels were reversed.  I checked the radios and intercom system and they were working fine so I signed off the gripe “could not duplicate discrepancy” and didn’t think much more about it.

It is a faux pas for pilots to write gripes that get signed off that way because it often means they didn’t know what they were doing, so they get annoyed when we sign off their gripes as “could not duplicate”.

The next time the pilot flew (a different plane no less), he wrote the same gripe and complained to Maintenance Control because this was a “duplicate gripe” that had been signed off once already.  He was mad because I obviously didn’t know what I was doing when I made him look bad by signing it off the way I did last time.

The Maintenance Control Chief called me down to talk to the pilot.  I very patiently listened to him rant and rave about how incompetent I was for signing off his gripe when it obviously hadn’t been fixed because he had the same problem again today (it apparently didn’t even occur to him to be suspicious about the fact that he was having the exact same “problem” on two different airplanes).

I asked him very politely to demonstrate the problem for me and went out to the airplane with him.  We climbed into the cockpit and powered up the systems, he sat in the copilot’s seat, flipped the boom mike around and put the headset on his head.  He then proceeded to select UHF1 in his left ear and did a radio check with Maintenance Control.  “See!” he exclaimed.  “I’ve got the radio selected for left ear and the audio is coming from the right.”

I didn’t say a word.  I grabbed the earpieces in my hands, took the headset off his head, flipped the mike around again and put the headset back on his head so that the mike was coming from his left ear rather than his right and said “try it now.”

He didn’t even bother trying it again.  He uttered some expletive or another and just stormed off the plane…probably more embarrassed and/or mad at himself than mad at me.

I signed off the gripe: “Screwed Pilot’s head on straight, checks 4.0 on ground power.”

I don’t think that pilot said two words to me again that entire tour of duty.


Fleet Forces Command Rifle and Pistol Matches.

The Navy matches are considered teaching matches.  New shooters are welcomed and highly encouraged to participate.  Most shooters have at least some equipment, but spotting scopes and stands, shooter stools, shooting jackets and gloves, and even rifles, are provided for those that need them.

They also pair up an “experienced shooter” with a new shooter so that the experienced shooter can mentor the newer guys (and gals…there are usually quite a few of them as well).

Although I don’t feel like it since I haven’t competed in a match in four years, I was considered an experienced shooter and was paired up with a new shooter.

Luckily for me, my “new shooter” was a Naval reservist who was a prior Marine and already knew how to shoot (in fact he shot better than me the first day) but just needed some help with the finer points of match procedures, documenting scores on the scorecards, things like that.  To be honest, there was a lot about that kind of thing that I didn’t remember myself and had to defer to other “old hands” about many of those issues as they came up.

But we muddled through pretty well.

As I hinted at before, I got permission to take pictures, but they were pretty reluctant so I was very careful not to be too obtrusive about it.  Not only that but I was busy keeping score and providing what meager help I could to my “new shooter” so I didn’t get many.  I also wanted to concentrate on shooting so I put the camera away after first day on the 200 yard line and didn’t take any from 300 or 500.  Next week I’ll try to get at least one shot of the targets from the 500 yard line (NRA standard is 600 yards, but there’s a road in the way at Dam Neck so the long line is 500 yards there) so you can get an idea of how small they look from that distance.

One of the integral parts of shooting on a range like this is running “the pits” for the other relays of shooters.  When you’re shooting targets 200, 300 and 500 yards away, it would get pretty onerous to have to walk to the targets to score and repair them between each string of shots.  While some of the shooters are on the line shooting, others are in the pits running the targets up and down, marking the hits and patching the holes after they’re scored.

It’s a lot of work running those carriages up and down and up and down and, during the slow fire stages, you’re expected to hear the shot that hit your particular target, pull the target down, patch the hole from the previous shot, mark the new hole with a shot marking disk called a “spotter”, mark the score of the shot with another scoring spotter and get the target run back up, in less than 18 seconds.  You do get into a rhythm after a while and get pretty good at it, but it’s a lot of work.

Although Rifle is what I tend to focus on, there are also pistol matches conducted at the same time.  These are standard “bullseye” style service pistol matches and most people use match tuned, but otherwise government issue 1911A1 .45acp pistols.  Match grade Baretta M9 pistols are also authorized, but are surprisingly (considering that the 1911 hasn’t been issued to troops for close to 20 years) rare.

Bullseye pistol matches are quite a bit different from the “practical” shooting disciplines. The match is shot one handed, standing, unsupported.

At the Navy Matches, the individual pistol match uses the NRA National Match course of fire:  10 rounds slow fire at 50 yards, 10 rounds timed fire (two strings of 5 rounds in 20 seconds each), and 10 rounds of rapid fire (two strings of 5 rounds in 10 seconds each) at 25 yards.  The EIC match is similar but the 50 yard slow fire stage consists of 20 rounds versus 10.

As with the rifle matches, pistols are also available for issue and instruction for new shooters is provided.

Of course, one of the many advantages to having your own equipment is that you can personalize it to your heart’s content.

And for those who doubt that women can effectively use a large caliber pistol like the 1911, I imagine that the Commander to the left of center in this picture would beg to differ…

As would the young Marine that was on the extreme right end of the line in this one.

I really didn’t get a good picture of her, but she was about 5’5″ tall and probably 110 pounds soaking wet…and was handling a 1911 with one hand, shooting full power 230 grain ball ammo,  like it was nothing.

The guy in shorts in the foreground, by the way, was one of the Marine range safety officers.  They volunteered to run the ranges for us through the week, including over the weekend that they otherwise would have had off.  They were afforded the opportunity to wear civvies in “payment” for their generous donation of valuable time.  My hat’s off to them.  They were extremely professional and run an excellent, safe and organized range.

Ready on the right…

Ready on the left…

All ready on the firing line.


All in all, having to get up at an ungodly hour in the morning notwithstanding, it was a great 5 days of shooting and I’m looking forward to the All Navy match starting on Saturday.

As far as how I did.

Not as well as I’d have liked.

I shot OK and came out around the middle of the pack in the individual rifle match as usual.  The final EIC match results hadn’t been posted by the time I left on Tuesday, but based on my scores, I’d say I probably fell out about the middle of the pack again in that one too.

I had hoped to do better than that this year, but I can say unequivocally that it wasn’t the rifle’s fault.  It has exceeded my expectations from when I first decided to put together a match rifle out of the lower I had languishing in the gun cabinet.

I was “calling my shots” during slow fire…basically, you take a mental snapshot of the sight picture as the shot breaks.  If you’ve got the sights adjusted and aligned properly, wherever the front sight is on the target when the shot breaks is where it’s going to hit.

I was calling my shots very accurately.  I only mis-called two shots in the 75 or so rounds of slow fire that we sent downrange.  The rifle was poking the holes where I was pointing it…I just need to get WAY better at pointing it at the X in the center.

I simply don’t practice enough.  But that’s a deficiency that’s easy to fix.

During the rapid fire stages, I kept having stupid bonehead things get me flustered and make me rush.

The rapid fire stages require you to start from a standing position, then get down into the required shooting position (sitting or prone) after the clock has started.  Also, you start out with the magazine inserted, but the bolt closed on an empty chamber.

It was always something.  Once, I forgot to rack the bolt to load a round, got in position, all lined up, taking my time, pulled the trigger and “click”.  CRAP!

One time I almost fell down while standing, lost my balance and was all out of position so I had to completely reset after the timer started and we could get into position. Having to find my natural point of aim and get back into position cost me time so I rushed while shooting and was all over the place.

Once, in sitting, I forgot to unhook the bottom two fasteners on the shooting coat so I could hardly breathe when I got into position to shoot.

None of those are excuses.  Each and every one of them was a stupid mistake that was completely my fault and were completely the result of not practicing enough.  All of those actions should be so natural and automatic that there should never be any doubt.  But I screwed them up and my shooting suffered as a result.

I can’t express enough that, regardless of your chosen shooting discipline, or even if you only shoot for fun, practice is the key to proficiency.

To end on a positive note, one thing I did well is read and judge the winds and sight settings.  The only stage I had trouble with was the long line in the EIC match.  The winds on Tuesday were gusting and swirling and constantly changing and everyone had trouble with them so I wasn’t the only one.  To give you an example, when I shot at the 300 yard line, the flags down by the targets were pointing to the right and indicating about 5 mph winds.  I used one minute of left wind and was right on the money.  My group sucked, but it was centered on the X ring.

By the time I humped my gear back and settled in on the 500 yard line, the wind was completely opposite…the flags at the targets were now pointing left and showing 5 MPH or so.  In about ten or fifteen minutes, the wind had completely shifted direction by 180 degrees.

While I was shooting my 20 shot string from 500 yards, the prevailing winds shifted at least three times, requiring me to adjust for the shifts after seing my point of impact moving around on the target.

It was a tough day for everyone…but I think I did as well as anyone in reading and adjusting for the winds so I’m pretty happy with that aspect of my week anyway.

And hopefully, I’ll do better next week.


John Murtha a hero to the Navy?

It has recently come to my attention that my Navy warded John Murtha (Scumbag-PA) the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a non-employee civilian, the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award.

In light of Representative Murtha’s consistent maligning of US military personnel, I take great offense at his being honored in such a way.

I don’t know if anything can really be done about it at this point but there is a petition drive requesting the Department of the Navy to rescind this award. I seriously doubt that anything will come of it, but at least we will be on record as opposing him being so honored.

Please join me in signing the petition in protest of this award.



I’d heard about the controversy involved in filming the part in the PRC…where the Politburo of San Francisco refused to let them film on city property….but I hadn’t actually seen the video yet.

It is incredible. Almost makes me wish I’d been a jarhead rather than a squid. Heck, it’s too bad I’m considered disabled, I’d go join up right now.

Note: Yes, I realize the label is “Navy” rather than “Marines” You do know that the Marines fall under the department of the Navy don’t you?

Hat Tip to Grouchy Old Cripple, via Ride Fast


Response to a Comment

This comment from The Old New Englander deserves a post of its own.

Your profile says you’re a retired CPO, but that you don’t enjoy responsibility for others. I thought that’s what CPO’s did–surely you didn’t leave it to the officers.

The short answer is: I said I don’t enjoy it, not that I’m not willing to do it when necessary…and do it to the best of my ability. Leave it to the officers??? Please. Junior Officers are better educated recruits with an overly inflated sense of self-importance.

Ok. Anyone not interested in my history and philosophy of life can stop here because the long answer follows. Anyone who has ever read my stuff knows that I’m not capable of addressing a complex issue (heck, or a simple issue for that matter) without a dissertation so, consider this fair warning.

I was raised in a bit of a schizophrenic family. Not that my parents were dysfunctional or it was a bad family environment, just that my parents were VERY different in upbringing and attitude. My parents actually were very good at complementing each other, capitalizing on each other’s strengths and minimizing each other’s weaknesses. In short, I had a pretty darn good childhood. We weren’t rich and we weren’t coddled…in fact the farm life can be downright hard and unpleasant at times…but we were loved and cared for and taught how to be responsible, productive citizens. What more can you ask for?

Anyway, the primary difference between my parents was that my Mother was raised in a very devout Quaker family…which, of course, means that she was raised a pacifist. She is of the “violence is never the answer” mind. She hates confrontation and avoids it at almost any cost…even to the point of surrendering her own needs and wants in order to avoid having to defend them. She almost ALWAYS seems to be happy. She is, to this day, very meek and soft spoken, slow to anger nigh unto the point of impossible to anger, and quick with a smile and encouragement. She is a college graduate and received a Masters Degree from Ball State University. She was a school teacher for over 35 years and was very insistent that all of her children learn to use proper English, learn to read and write well and properly and learn how to act in polite company.

My father, on the other hand, was born to a dirt poor family in the mountains of Claiborne County Tennessee during the depression. His Mother and Father moved the family (all twelve of them) to central Indiana in 1938 in order to find work. He was raised in the standard rural southern tradition: Very religious, proud, independent, never asked for anything to be “given” to him in his life, slow to anger, but very strong in his convictions and opinions and not afraid to fight for his family or his honor. He did graduate from High School which was relatively rare for the area of the country he came from, but my Grandparents recognized the importance of education and insisted that their kids complete at least High School. Several of the younger kids went on to College and a couple even got advanced degrees. Pretty impressive for a poor family that many would consider “white trash”.

My parents never had any conflicts in front of us kids. They did all their arguing and compromising in private so that, when they confronted us with something, they presented a unified front.

There were some contradictions in cases where they hadn’t actually battled it out between themselves and there were some areas where they just agreed to disagree. For instance: If my mother saw us kids fighting, she would make us stop fighting and shake hands (or in the case of a particularly acrimonious encounter…even hug each other (shudder). My dad, on the other hand, would offer such helpful advice as “Ouch…have your momma put some ice on that after you’re done.” Or the classic: in a disinterested manner as he saunters past the altercation: “When you’re done there be sure to get them chickens fed.”

To get to the point: the combination of influences from both my parents created an interesting (and in my opinion, positive) confluence of personality traits in me and, to differing degrees, my siblings.

I am very independent and like doing things for myself. I don’t like asking for help and will avoid it at all cost, and I don’t like paying someone to do something that I can learn to do myself…even if I could afford to pay a pro. On the other hand, I’m always willing to help out when help is needed. Sometimes I get myself into too many projects and have to back off a little, but if I can, I will.

Because I’m very independent, I don’t like being told what to do personally. Don’t tell me how to live my life or how to complete a personal task unless I ask you for the advice. I’ve made it this far on my own, I must be doing something right. On the other hand, when doing things that affect other people. I very much want input because I’m afraid I’m not going to do it right for them. I want the other people involved to like the result and I’m very willing to sacrifice my wants and needs for the wants and needs of someone else.

So…if it’s a job I’m doing on my house, I don’t really care whether you like it or not, or think I should have done it [this] way…you don’t live there and I didn’t do it for you. But if it’s a job for the Church, or on someone else’s house…don’t expect me to tell you how it should be done…I’ll give you my suggestions if you ask, but ultimately, tell me how you want it done and as long as what you want is safe and legal, it’s going to get done that way regardless of what I think about it.

As a Chief, however, it was my job to direct, to teach, to take responsibility for others and to give orders. I didn’t enjoy it one little bit but I did it because it was a part of the job. I actually think that my traits made me a better Chief because, even though I was responsible for the decisions and for the work getting done, I was always very conscious of the effects that the orders I gave, and the manner in which I gave them, were having on my people. I wasn’t a tyrant and my people responded to that.

They knew that I would go to bat for them when necessary and they furthermore knew how much I hated doing so but would do it anyway. For that reason, they were willing to make personal sacrifices for “me” (really for the Navy that I was representing in my role) with the knowledge that, if it wasn’t necessary, I wouldn’t be asking (or demanding) it of them.

I wasn’t always the most “popular” with the upper chain of command and I wasn’t ever the most popular among my peers…but my shops almost ALWAYS exceeded the production of any other. More than once I had Chiefs that fit the typical Chief “my way or the highway” mold mention to me that they didn’t understand how I could get so much work out of my people when I “coddled” them like I did. My response was “the fact that you don’t understand it explains why you can’t achieve it.”

In other words, because I knew how to put the hammer down when needed, but was reluctant to do so unless necessary, I think I was a better Chief and a better Leader for it.

But I never did get used to the whole “responsible for the actions of others” thing. I don’t like it, I never have and I probably never will.

For those of you who have never been in the military, let me explain: No matter how many orders I gave to get things done. No matter whether my orders were followed to the “T” or completely disregarded, regardless of whether my subordinates did THEIR jobs or not: the success or failure of my shop was MY responsibility.

If we failed to meet a quota or goal, when I was called into the Maintenance Officer’s office to explain why, the reason wasn’t “because my guys suck.” The reason was “Sir, I failed to properly motivate and supervise my subordinates.”

If one of my sailors went out and got a DUI…when called into the MO’s office, it wasn’t because “Sailor Joe is a drunk and an idiot.” It was because “Sir, I failed to properly train my subordinate about the dangers of alcohol and the consequences of DUI.”

If the MO or any person over me in the Chain of Command had to speak to one of my people for any reason other than to comment upon the weather or present a well deserved award…I wasn’t doing my job.

Likewise…whether I had anything to do with it or not…when my crew did well, I got a lot of the credit. I could be at home in bed during the balls to 08 shift (midnight to 8:00 in the morning) while the Second Class Petty Officer supervisor was overseeing 5 technicians performing miracles. The next morning, when all the birds are flying, all the training is done and all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed…I would be the one hearing about what a great job my shop was doing. It was my job to pass that along to the troops and to put them in for awards as needed.

When we did exceptionally well on a mission, project, exercise or inspection. I’d put my people in for all the awards I could…but it was “unseemly” for several lower ranking people to get an award and not the leaders, so, not only would I get a higher award (that I didn’t deserve), but the Division Officer would often get an even higher award (which he didn’t deserve); but that’s just the way the military works. The Admiral ALWAYS gets the credit for winning the battles, even if he was miles and miles away, safe on his flagship.

As you can probably tell, that kind of flies in the face of my upbringing

I did what was necessary for the performance of my duties. I took my oaths and responsibilities seriously. I led my people when they needed leadership, taught them when they needed instruction, accepted responsibility when they blew it and graciously accepted (and passed on) praise on their behalf when they excelled.

In some ways it was very satisfying and fulfilling. But in some ways it made me very uncomfortable. I’m glad I did it. Second only to raising two kids (which, incidentally, is very similar in nature) being a Sailor and being a Chief were the most challenging and rewarding things I’ll probably ever accomplish in my life. But I don’t want to do it again. I just want to live my life and have people leave me alone to make my own mistakes…and I’m perfectly willing to extend that courtesy to everyone else.

For anyone patient and interested enough to slog all the way through to the end. Thank you for reading. I hope I answered the question adequately.

By the way, if you pay The Old New Englander a visit, be sure to check out his beautiful sailboat. He is justifiably very proud of her.


Sea Story

There’s an old Navy joke: What’s the difference between a Sea Story and a Fairy Tale?

A Fairy Tale begins with “Once opon a time…”

A Sea Story begins with “This is a no shitter…”

Mr. C posted a picture of a TF-9J hanging from the Flight Deck of the USS Lexington and asked if anyone had any more info. I speculated about it a little but didn’t have the details. You could probably get the official mishap report from the Naval Safety Center with a Freedom of Information Act request and the bureau number (on the side of the aircraft) but I doubt that it would reveal anything earth shattering.

The fact is that we lose Naval aircraft relatively regularly. An aircraft carrier at sea is a dangerous environment. The flight deck of a US Aircraft Carrier during flight operations has been described as the most dangerous four and a half acres on the planet. To the uninitiated it looks like utter and total chaos with turning aircraft parked, taxiing or being towed within inches of each other. Persons in multi-colored “float coats” and helmets running hither and yon. Fuel hoses and electrical cables strung across the deck intermingled with countless tie down chains, wing struts, test and support equipment, etc etc etc.

One of the first lessons you pick up…before even being allowed on the flight deck for the first time…is to “keep your head on a swivel”. You MUST be constantly aware of what is going on around you. It takes no time at all to be sucked into an intake, knocked over by a wing or tail, blown across the deck by jet blast or rotor wash, squashed by a trundling tow tractor or power cart, or…possibly worst of all…hear the dreaded call over the “5MC” flight deck speaker system: “You…green shirt…on the starboard side by the foul line…report to Pri-Fly on the double”. That means you REALLY screwed up and were about to have your a$$ chewed by one of the best…the Air Boss.

Another thing you learn quickly: you listen to what the old timers are telling you. If someone says run…run. Don’t look around, don’t ask why, don’t duck…RUN! If someone says, duck. DUCK. If someone says don’t move, you had better pretend to be a statue until someone says otherwise. Failing to follow the instructions of the people who know what they are talking about can make you very dead very quickly. Generally, death or injury on the flight deck is a relatively messy affair. Lots of fast moving sharp edges and pointy objects whirling around.

But once you get the hang of the ebb and flow. Once you start understanding what everyone is doing and why. You soon realize that the deck is not chaotic at all. It’s like an intricate dance within which everyone has a part. With that said, however, in a fast paced, dangerous environment like that, mishaps do happen. Whether caused by equipment failure or malfunction, incorrect procedures, fatigue from people having spent the last 14 hours doing the job, or simply someone letting their guard down for that crucial split second…it happens.

Sometimes we lose aircraft over the side. The deck is almost always wet; add to that hydraulic fluid, fuel, myriads of oils, cleaning compounds etc etc that get dripped, spilled or leaked onto the deck and it can make for a very slippery surface…even with the non-skid compound used to give traction. Now consider that the aforementioned slippery deck is mounted atop a ship’s hull which, coincidentally, is plowing through ocean waves…i.e. rocking and rolling. Further consider that the deck enjoys no protection from the winds that can approach 60 knots on a regular basis. Now imagine attempting to move a 50,000lb+ aircraft around the deck under those conditions. The fact that we lose the occasional aircraft is not the amazing thing. The amazing thing is that there are any aircraft left at the end of any given deployment to bring home. The fact that these occurrences are as rare as they are is a testament to the skill and ability of our fighting men and women of the sea.

Now on to my story. This occurred on a Med cruise in my very first command. I was stationed at VQ-2, Rota Spain and we flew the mighty EA-3B Skywarrior (affectionately known as “the Whale”).

One of our A-3’s was parked Tail Over Water (TOW). In order to save space, the aircraft in certain areas of the ship are parked with the rear of the main landing gear (MLG) wheels almost up against the “scupper” or metal lip that surrounds the flight deck. Because the MLG are so far forward, that means that part of the tail sticks out over the water.

On the EA-3B there was an electronics compartment in the tail called the “Hell Hole”. There was a hatch in the bottom of the tail with a small fold-down ladder used to climb up into it.

In this case, because of the way the plane was parked, the hell-hole was barely over the catwalk (the walkway that surrounds the flight deck…on the other side of the catwalk rail is a straight drop to the water). Basically, with the hell hole hatch open and ladder extended the ladder hung several inches past the catwalk rail out over the water. I suppose I should have requested that the bird be moved so that the hatch was over the deck for safety…but heck, I was brave and it was a simple task I needed to accomplish. A piece of safety wire had broken on one of the electronics racks and I needed to replace it. I dropped the hatch, lowered the ladder, climbed over the railing and scampered up into the bowels of the airplane.

This was shortly after flight operations had secured and aircraft were still being re-spotted and tied down for the night.

As I was busily pursuing completion of my task, half-way upside down, my body snaked through ribs and frame supports in a space that was decidedly not engineered with human occupation in mind, I suddenly heard some panicked shouting from outside the airplane. I stopped what I was doing and was instantly on alert. I then felt a shudder through the airframe that I was precariously occupying and distinctly heard a voice from outside yell “GET OUT OF THERE, SHE’S GOING OVER THE SIDE!”

Needless to say, my heart immediately leapt…nay…JACKHAMMERED into my throat. With visions of a cold aluminum coffin filling with water, my heart pounding in my chest and the metallic taste of pure adrenaline in my mouth, I squirmed, wriggled and writhed toward the hatch entrance. I got within striking distance in a split second and threw myself headlong through the hatch. I hit the top bar of the catwalk rail on the way past and landed on the metal catwalk with an authoritative “thump!”. Disregarding the sudden pain in my shoulder caused by bouncing off the catwalk rail, I quickly rolled to my back so I could see what was going on…only to witness an F-14 going over the side right next to the A-3 from which I had just been disgorged. It seems that the ship had taken an unfortunate roll as the F-14 was being parked and the tow bar had chosen that exact moment to let go. The shudder I had felt was the transmitted vibration of approximately 60,000 pounds of aircraft hitting, shrugging off and climbing over the deckedge scupper on its way to a refreshing swim. The shouted admonition to “get out” was directed at the brake rider who was, at the time, frantically mashing the toe brakes for all he was worth trying to tame the balking beast.

Luckily, no one was seriously hurt and the only real damage was the total loss of a 35 million dollar aircraft. Oh well. Congress has plenty of money right?

The funny thing is. As I laid in a pile on the catwalk deck waiting on my heart rate to back down from warp speed and return to impulse drive I realized that, in my haste to disentangle myself from the aircraft, I had neglected to jettison unnecessary equipment. I still had the safety wire pliers I had been using in my hand.


Veteran’s Day

Hat tip to PFB

When I first read about this I was a bit skeptical. I think I will feel very uncomfortable wearing my medals and ribbons on civilian clothes. But upon further reflection, I think it is a worthy effort.

I will not wear my decorations to draw attention to myself or to glorify my own service. My career was pretty mediocre. I am not a war hero, I’ve never been fired at in anger nor carried a rifle in a battle zone. I was an Aviation Electronics Technician. I fixed airplanes. I was not a warrior.

But I will wear my decorations to draw attention to the purpose of Veteran’s Day, I will wear my decorations in honor of those who truly were and are heros, those who sacrificed much…some who sacrificed all…for their fellow man. I will accept the thanks of those who offer it, not for myself, but in memory of those who came before me, those who now serve with honor, and those who will follow and uphold the great traditions of the American Patriot Warrior.

To those ends, a little discomfort for one day is well worth it.


Curtis R. Stone