Sea Story

Sorry it’s been awhile, I was out of town on a business trip and then I spent most of a week on The Estate getting frustrated with my lack of progress…but that’s not the point of this post.

I read a story the other day about how the USS George Washington has been experiencing a rash of suicides lately.

More than 200 sailors have moved off the USS George Washington aircraft carrier after multiple deaths by suicide among the crew, including three in less than one week in April, according to the Navy.

The GW is in Newport News Naval Shipyard right now undergoing a refit so people may wonder “if they’re not going anywhere, they’re just sitting in port and can go out on the town in the evenings, why are they so stressed out they’re killing themselves?”

I thought it might be enlightening to share a bit of my Naval History.

Through a stroke of pure unluck, I was stationed aboard the USS Enterprise for the end stages of a major yard period at Newport News shipyard. The primary reason for her being in the yards was for a reactor refueling, which on the Enterprise with 8 reactors, was a major undertaking and took several years.

At the point I was on board, the refueling was complete and they were just trying to get the ship back together to get her underway. There had already been several delays and she was late by over a year.

Command of the ship had recently changed and I’m certain that the new CO (Captain Naughton…a name which shall live in infamy – at least in my mind) was under a lot of pressure to get things done. As they say in the military crap rolls downhill so he was passing that pressure on to the department heads, who passed it on to the division officers etc etc etc. The general attitude perfectly matched the old adage “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.

By the time it got down to the worker bees, it was pretty oppressive.

We were working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week (plus watchstanding and duty) and were constantly required to demonstrate that we were making progress. They were threatening to go to 7 days a week if we didn’t show better progress. The carrot was that if we met certain milestones, we could go back to 5 days a week and maybe even to normal 8 hour shifts.

One of the “innovations” being used to save money on the refit was that the ship’s crew were responsible for rehabbing all the personnel spaces…berthings, offices, workspaces and such. That means stripping down to the bare bulkheads, replacing any plumbing, wiring, equipment or hardware that needed replacing, reinsulating, tiling the floor, painting the walls, reinstalling any furniture and fittings (on a Navy ship, bulky furniture isn’t just moved in…it can’t be loose to just roam the decks while in heavy seas…it has to be bolted to the decks and bulkheads (and sometimes overhead).

The biggest problem we were having was in finding supplies. Here’s an example. Our crew was rehabbing one of the crew heads near a berthing space we were also responsible for. Our big hold up at the time was that we couldn’t get the replacement urinals we’d ordered for the head so we were at a standstill and weren’t able to show any progress, which wasn’t sitting well with our superiors. We finally got a supply of the urinals in and started installing them…but at some point at night, some other crew, who apparently were having the same problem we were, came into our head, disconnected and stole several urinals from our space in order to install them in theirs.

Of course, we couldn’t just let stand the fact that not only were we showing no progress, we were moving backward so…we stole urinals from another space being rehabbed. A few days later someone else stole them from us again. And on it went. We were so desperate to show progress that the same equipment was being installed in different spaces over and over and over again.

It wasn’t just urinals, it was most things, but that was the example that I remember most distinctly…probably because they were such a pain in the butt to install and remove, stealing them was no easy task. For some of the smaller items, paint, hardware, etc, people were going out to Lowes and Home Depot and buying the stuff on their own dime because we couldn’t get them from supply in a timely manner.

Another problem was coordination between what the Navy was doing and the shipyard. A space would get finished being rehabbed, and then the shipyard crew would realize “oh, hey, we still need to replace some fittings and piping in the next space over and the only way to get to it is through that space you just rehabbed. tear everything back out again so we can cut the bulkheads out to get to what we need to do”.

The point is, that the crew was working as hard as they could and doing way more work than was necessary because of the ridiculous pressures being put on them from above. It was hugely stressful.

Apparently one of the big differences was that the Enterprise at the time wasn’t in nearly good enough shape for the crew to be staying onboard. There was a big barge that mainly just consisted of barracks-like rooms and a chow hall docked to a pier nearby. It was called the “FAF” (Floating Accommodation Facility) and was where most of the (lower ranking) crew were housed. There were also some apartments out in town that higher ranks got to use.

The GW still had crew onboard. Let me tell you, a ship in the yard is not an environment that anyone wants to be living in. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and it’s not an…um…restful environment.

I can say from experience that pretty much everyone would rather be at sea than onboard a ship during a yard period. It really and truly sucks.

The fact that sailors are taking their own lives to get out of the situation tells me that the command environment on the GW is probably similar to what I experienced on the Enterprise…or perhaps even worse.

One of the big problems with the modern military is that the “leaders” aren’t promoted due to any leadership ability or military acumen, they’re promoted for being the best politicians. Kissing the right butts, saying the right things, toeing the right lines, etc. The ability to inspire men (and women now) to follow them into battle, the willingness to sacrifice their career (or even the next evaluation cycle) for the well being of their subordinates, the willingness to take a stand for what is morally right even when it’s personally costly to do so…those characteristics are extremely rare (possibly extinct) in the military brass.

So when they are pressured to “get the ship out of the yards now” by the politicians above them because it looks bad if they have to announce (another) delay, their response is to beat the people under them relentlessly to try to get more blood out of that turnip, because they know that if the job doesn’t get done, they may get passed over for promotion until next time and that just won’t do.

The really sad thing is that what ends up happening is the hardest working, most dedicated, most skilled people end up getting beat right out of the Navy. They can be successful anywhere and they know it. Why would they stay in for the abuse when they can get a nice, stable, well-paying job in the civilian sector where they’re actually treated like human beings?

There are times for utmost effort and sacrifice and when those times arrive, members of the military answer the call willingly, selflessly and without hesitation; but solely for the purposes of saving some pampered politician’s reputation and career ain’t it. I strongly suspect that this is the root of the problem on the GW.

And the really sad thing is that it’s unlikely to change any time soon. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

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Aaaaarmy Training Sir!

1,000 internet points to the first person to tell me the movie reference from the title of this post.

They call the Army’s new fitness standards “controversial” but I don’t really understand why.

Internal Army figures from April show 44% of women failed the ACFT, compared to 7% of men since Oct. 1. “Female soldiers continue to lag male soldier scores in all events,” according to a United States Army Forces Command briefing obtained by Military.com.

The story linked above is actually old, but it was brought back to my attention by an article about a recent “scandal” wherein someone leaked a date that the Army was going to fully implement the new standards and start using them for promotion evaluations and performance reviews…which the Army promptly denied.

But what I don’t understand is why this is controversial. Feminists on the left claim that gender roles are a social construct and that women can do anything that men can do, so they should be all for using the same standards for everyone right?

As far as I’m concerned, I don’t really care what race, creed, color, gender, sex, or species a military member is, as long as they are capable of performing the job. The job doesn’t change depending on those listed attributes, so from my perspective, the fitness standards SHOULD be the same for everyone who claims they can do the job.

I wouldn’t have a problem with different standards for, say, supply clerks, than for infantrymen in the Army, but the army is the only service that this applies to because the other services have common denominators. In the Marines, everyone is a rifleman so the standards should be the same across the board (except for special forces, which should be, and are, higher). In the Navy you’re all on the same ship and everyone has a job during emergencies or General Quarters. If there’s a fire on the ship, I’d feel much better knowing that everyone on board is just as capable of fighting it as everyone else…so the Navy should have equal standards. Same for the Coast Guard. The Air Force should have equal standards but for the opposite reason…It’s a country club so their standards could easily be “can you get up off the couch once per day?…Pass”. Don’t know much about the Space Force but I’d guess it’s equivalent with the Air Force.

At any rate, my point is that it makes perfect sense to me (and I’ve always thought it should be so) that the standards should be…well…standard – for everyone. The job doesn’t change depending on whether you’ve got innie or outie genitals, so the fitness standards for holding that job should be the same as well.

The Army is implementing that, so what’s the problem?

Especially since the military is now going woke, so every weakling guy who shouldn’t be there in the first place could easily claim to identify as female in order to have lower standards applied.

I wonder if they’d let me in the Officer’s Club if I identify as an Admiral trapped in a Chief’s body?

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Pearl Harbor Day

I realize I’ve exceeded my recommended daily allowance of posts today, but I couldn’t let December 7th pass without comment, especially on the 80th Anniversary.

My father was too young to serve in WWII (he was only 5 on December 7, 1941) but he was a huge WWII buff and there were lots and lots of WWII history books around my house growing up.

I was a voracious reader as a youth so I was exposed to quite a bit of WWII history through those books. I was especially enamored with Naval history, which was the impetus for me enlisting in the Navy at 17. I knew I was going to be a Sailor from the time I was about 12.

Anyway, as a result, Pearl Harbor Day has always been a seminal date for me.

The importance of that day faded somewhat at about 9:05am on September 11, 2001, but it still has significance to me and so I thought it worth a mention.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think 9/11 was more significant than 12/7, or that 12/7 is any less a date that will live in infamy; it’s just that I was around and was active duty military on 9/11 so it hits a bit closer to home.

What brought this to mind is the basic fact that most of the people I work with are young. I work in a department in my company that is primarily made up of entry level positions, so most of my co-workers are recent college graduates. They’re all younger than my kids, a couple not much older than my oldest grandkids.

Most of them don’t know anything about the significance of December 7. If I say “Pearl Harbor” some of them (not all) may have some vague notion that it had something to do with WWII, or that it was an attack, but most don’t really “get” it and wouldn’t remember the date had any significance if I didn’t mention it.

Heck, most of them don’t remember 9/11…they were literally infants then.

It’s ancient history to them, and irrelevant.

But considering what’s been happening in our military lately, what with purging patriots in the name of “domestic extremism” and “white supremacy”, espousing critical race theory, and subordinating readiness to political correctness, I think it’s important to reflect on what led up to the attack on 12/7.

It, after all, wasn’t an attack on an undefended civilian target, it was an attack on one of our most important military assets in the middle of a heavily defended military base, and at the time of the attack, the rest of the world had already been at war for over two years so we should have been on the alert.

The point is that 12/7/1941 is a case study in allowing the military to become complacent and in failing to take world threats seriously enough. Allowing our military to focus on anything other than combat readiness and effectiveness during this troubled time is a recipe for disaster. We ignore the lessons of history at our peril.

Of course, that’s pretty much what humans do, so I imagine when the next “date that will live in infamy” occurs, we won’t be any more prepared for it than we ever have been.

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
~ George Washington

And, of course, the antipode is equally true: To be militarily unprepared is one of the most effectual ways of inviting war.

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The Military experience

This post by Old NFO at Nobody Asked Me encapsulated it so well it actually made me tear up a little:

To understand a Military Veteran you must know:

We left home as teenagers or in our early twenties for an unknown adventure.

We loved our country enough to defend it and protect it with our own lives.

We said goodbye to friends and family and everything we knew.

We learned the basics and then we scattered in the wind to the far corners of the Earth.

We found new friends and new family.

There’s a lot more and it’s perfect. You may not get a sense of what military life is like from that list, but you’ll get a sense of how we feel about it.

One of the biggest culture shocks of moving from the military to civilian employment after I retired was the absence of the camaraderie that military units share.

Even in units with crappy leadership (yes, there are those) and even with fellow service members that we didn’t like personally, there was just a sense of brotherhood and unity. We always knew that, as a group, when the metal hit the meat, we had each other’s backs. When we had a problem, on duty or off, we could count on our shipmates and our command to help us work through it…even if that involved a bit of “tough love”.

In civilian life, that sense just isn’t there. The job is just that, a job. I live in a “right to work” state…a policy which, incidentally, I agree with…but that means the company doesn’t need a reason to fire anyone. If you piss off the boss bad enough, that’s it; pack up your stuff and get out. I actually work for a very good company that tries to take care of its employees, values our individuality and doesn’t get political at all. But that doesn’t mean they’d hesitate to fire me if I ever became a drag on the company or even got the point where they felt I wasn’t providing the value they’re paying my salary for.

I guess one way to describe it is this: During my Naval service, I held many different primary and secondary roles*. Some of them were related to my Rate (the actual job specialty for which I was trained), some of them not at all related. My career was as a Sailor; my particular work duties at any specific time were my job.

In the civilian world, it’s exactly the opposite. My career is what I do; who I do it for is my job. I can quit my job right now, take my skills and experience and apply them equally to any other employer with a need for my particular skillset. That doesn’t impact my career choice at all, just who I’m drawing a paycheck from.

I think that’s the distinction that’s so hard to describe to anyone who’s never been in the military. The Military career is just that; what particular job we’re doing at the time has nothing to do with the career, that’s just the job we’ve been assigned at the time. Do it to the best of your ability and your career will flourish.

Of course, that’s only a part of it. Part of it comes from the shared knowledge that our very lives depend on each other. I never served in combat per-se. I served in combat zones, but not against a nation with a Navy that could actually threaten our ships. No one was ever shooting at me; but the flight deck isn’t called the most dangerous four and a half acres in the world for nothing. Anyone who’s spent much time up there has seen people die and/or be maimed for life. There is simply too much going on in too crowded a space to have perfect situational awareness at all times. We rely on each other to watch our backs and keep us safe. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been grabbed and pulled out of harm’s way…or how many times I did the same for others. When you are depending on others to help you stay alive…well…that tends to create a bond even with people you don’t particularly care for on a personal level.

Some of it comes from the dedication it takes to work 12 to 14 hour days 7 days a week for months on end. To work for 72 hours straight to get a mission accomplished. To be on call 24/7/365. To miss holidays and birthdays and anniversaries. To be deployed away from home for half a year even during peacetime…much longer during war. To not know for sure that you’re going to make it back home in one piece…or at all…at the end of such a deployment.

By the way, when I retired, we were just beginning to get fairly consistent (if often delayed by up to 24 hours) e-mail delivery. For most of my career our only way to communicate with loved ones during deployment was with written letters and, during port visits, long distance phone calls.

I’m just sort of rambling so I’ll leave it at this: If you’ve never served in the military, it’s hard to grasp what it’s really all about. It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life that’s hard to describe in any meaningful terms.

To all my brothers and sisters in arms who’ve ever served, happy Veteran’s day. Be proud of your service…you’ve lived a life that most can not even imagine.

*When I was in the Navy, my official rate (job description) was Aviation Electronics Technician. My formal training was in repairing communication, navigation, fire control and other electronics systems onboard aircraft. Throughout my 21 year career, I did that primary job for years, primarily during the first half of my career, but also was called upon to do many other things: I worked in the security department as a Naval Police Officer and patrol supervisor; I worked as a formal classroom instructor; I worked as an Ordnance Quality Assurance Safety Officer (QASO) supervising the loading and arming of aviation ordnance; I worked as a final checker and QASO for launches and recoveries on the flight deck; I was full systems qualified meaning I could provide quality assurance inspections on every system on the aircraft from engines and gearboxes to hydraulics and airframes systems (and was the enlisted supervisor of the entire Quality Assurance division at the time); I worked in Maintenance Control managing maintenance and aircraft flight schedules and releasing aircraft as “safe for flight”. And those were just primary duties, we’d be here all day if I started going through all the collateral (secondary) duties I held. The point is that the military was the career, the job description was just in support of that career.

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How the mighty have fallen

Just another in the long list of Naval Incidents in the past decade or so that illustrate the downfall of the US Navy.

A U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine that was damaged in a collision with an unknown underwater object in the South China Sea last weekend has arrived in port at Guam, the Navy said Friday.

We just can’t seem to stop bouncing ships off of stuff. In peacetime. Doesn’t bode well for our capabilities in making war.

One other point:

When it disclosed the Oct. 2 accident on Thursday, U.S. Pacific Fleet said that there had been no damage to the sub’s nuclear propulsion system and that it had not yet determined what underwater object had been struck.

I don’t know if that was the Navy’s way of describing the incident or the reporter took some liberties, but when I was in the Navy, there was no such thing as an accident. An “accident” implies that it was an unavoidable incident primarily just the result of bad luck. What we called failures like this when I was in the Navy is a “Mishap”. Indicating that it was entirely preventable and was a result of one or more failures in performance and the chain of command. Most typically a mishap is caused by a chain of cascading failures that ultimately were direct result of poor decisions high in the chain of command and the lack of leadership required for anyone in that chain of command to say “hey…wait a minute! This is a BAD idea”.

With our current military “leadership” I certainly hope they’re able to stay out of any wars with technologically advanced, capable enemies, or we’ll get our asses kicked. We’ve had decades of politically correct policymaking and weak, ineffective leadership to degrade the fighting spirit and capability of our military forces. They can run roughshod over a bunch of goat humpers using technology that dates from my military heyday, but I fear if we went up against the big boys, we’ll find out that an emphasis on teaching our military members how to identify white supremacy in themselves, how to walk in high heels (at last for those who weren’t already experienced at it), and how to properly utilize all the most current and trendy socially conscious buzzwords doesn’t translate well into warfighting ability against a capable and motivated foe.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Fire.

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.

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