Saturday, June 25, 2005

Life At Sea

This turned out to be a long post, but if you'd like a "flavor" of what it's like working aboard a Navy ship, get something to drink, and make sure your chair is comfortable, and you won't be interupted for about 20 minutes, and you'll find out from some of those who have been there, the little things that define the moment to moment realities of this lifestyle. Yankee Sailor is becoming quite a good read, with a daily "read log" posting, a great summary of news. I commented on one of his posts, where he described a watch rotation, which was very different from what I was familiar with for 24 years. I knew watches on a ship as: Written as, Actually Stood, Called: 0000-0400, 2345-0345, Mid Watch 0400-0800, 0345-0700, Morning 0800-1200, 0700-1145, Forenoon 1200-1600, 1145-1545, Afternoon 1600-1800, 1545-1745, 1st "Dog" 1800-2000, 1745-1945, 2nd "Dog" 2000-0000, 1945-2345, Evening This schedule is pretty much as "old as the sea" and goes back to the British Navy, and I'm sure well before that. The watches were marked by a bell being rung every 30 minutes (yes, in the days before we all had watches), with each bell representing 30 minutes, so a watch was 8 bells long. The bells are sounded in a pattern of pairs, and I'm sure this remark will make you recall the backround of the bells ringing in all those navy documentaries and movies. Sometimes, usually when you only had two shifts of people, it wasn't uncommon to shift to 6 hour watches, beginning at midnight. The new watch rotation I wonder about. Since Yankee Sailor is on a "Big Deck Gator," and the aviation influence abounds, it might be something unique to that type of ship's culture. We all are aware some of our brown shoe brethren have a fondness for doing it differently to show they are "different." What's most humorous in this is that in the link above, another SWO guy, Cdr Salamander posted this comment, as a short testimonial to the realities of the watchstanding life. It's far funnier if you have found yourself in the similar thoughts/situations, and I'll vouch for the accuracy of his report (any notes I put in here are in "[]" for clarification):
Ahhhh.... 2200-0300: Watch 0330: Headbreak if needed or not["head" = bathroom] 0345: Rack 0-something too bleary-eyed to see: Revelry [Reveille]. Close eyes. +15 minutes: needle gun [meaning someone is chipping paint with an air powered tool, that has a bunch of little rods that hammer the paint free of the metal, and yes, the metal structure is quite efficient at transmitting this noise with full fidelity and volume, far better than air, to be precise - envision LOUD and without rhythm - making sleep impossible, unless you are about 2 minutes from dead]. Feeling of hopelessness. 0715: Stale corn flakes, milk, coffee. 0730: Coffee, need smoke. 0740: Feel bad for the folks waiting in line at the Enlisted smoking sponson [smokers are banned to the far corners of the vessel in designated areas, on the "weather" (outside) decks. Sponson is a blister type thing sticking off the side of the basic hull form of the ship, where they mount weapons and extra electronics stuff, out of the way of aircraft decks] 0750: Working on third smoke. Think about buying more Cuban cigars. More professional. 0755: Don't give a damn about professionalism right now. Lighter busted and just spilled your last bit of coffee. 0810: Some guy from the TACRON [Tactical Air Control Squadron - people who make sure the close air support from the ships is properly integrated into the battle - if not doing this, they have little to do besides be in the way, from a SWO's perspective, since they don't help make the ship go]is bitching about his career [we all like to do this, conversations usually begin with some reference to questionable lineage of the "detailer" who is "working" for us - topic of completely separate series of posts]. Starting to get another headache. Need more coffee. Leave sponson. 0815: Nail head on overhead [ceiling] valve [these things are all over the place on the bulkheads (walls) and overheads and decks] on the 02 Deck right after you remember your 0800 meeting. 0820: Try to look alert as you walk in to your meeting late. The boss shows up at 0822. You try to look like you have been there the whole time. Don't notice he keeps looking at that big red spot on forehead. You think he is trying to catch you falling asleep [and you thought only GTMO detainees suffered from sleep deprivation]. 0935: Remind yourself to shoot whoever decided to make RM into IT [CDR S, if you're reading this - I helped. Are you wearing an "E" on your pistol ribbon?]. Your Outlook Personal Folders are hosed again [I never had this luxury. Paperwork with cellulouse fibers was king - the real deal]. 1010: You realize you have been talking to your Chief for the last 20 minutes with your fly open [in "the OLD Navy" not too much cause for alarm - it was all guys, at worst a cause for a nickname or "callsign" for you to be referred to as that wouldn't be permitted in polite company; in the "New Navy" possible courts-martial for exposing yourself]: at the same time you notice that everyone can see the goofy underwear your wife bought you. You have been wearing them for the last 3 days. Don't care [the laundry cycle, planned with military precision many times was anything but regular]. 1115: Manage to make it back to your room. Look at the rack. Think about lunch. Needle gun goes off again. Curse. Leave your room listening to your bunkmate snoring [roomie is taking a "nooner" - term for the nap you grab after you slam down lunch, sometimes even when you cheated and ate with the on going watchstanders, to avoid small talk and the XO running the list of things to get done while you tried to eat, so you could get about a full hour in the bag before "Turn to" was passed at 1300]. Go back to smoking sponson. The head nearest is secured. You get to the head port forward and realize you left your smokes in your room. Get to room realize your zipper is open again. It’s quiet. You look at rack. Needle gun starts again. Feeling of hopelessness. Grab smokes. 1230: Your "buttphone" goes off [must be one of those fancy FRS like systems so your boss can tag you anywhere on the ship. I know we had walkie talkies for the deck guys and then for damage control we sometimes used like this, but that was before the cell phone era]. The boss wants to know why you missed the 1200 Human Capital Strategy brief. You mumble something about TQL [AHHHH..Thank you Adm Kelso and Dr Deming for such a wonderful gift that keeps on giving!] and make your way to frame 49 [ships have a method of labeling places by using references to the ship's structure, e.g. 49-02-0-L would be the "room" called a "space," with it's forward bulkhead at the 49th frame of the hull, on the second deck above the main deck, being set on the centerline of the ship and it is a berthing (living) space. This system helps for finding your way around during routine and emergency times, sure as when you hear "FIRE, FIRE, FIRE, Class BRAVO Fire in Compartment 130-5-0-M."] 1232: You walk into the boss’s office to discuss other non-HCS [human capital strategy, I'm guessing - what a "girly man" way of saying personnal issues] issues and realize you still have a pack of smokes in your hand. Boss asks how you’re doing. "Heck, I can go 40+ hours without sleep..." 1250: Buttphone goes off again. Your Chief reminds you of the stack of evals [enlisted people's performance reports] waiting for you and needs to talk about the urinalysis results with you. Rinse-Repeat. CDR Salamander
While there is a degree of humor mixed with the reality CDR Salamander presented above, it's a story of a hard profession. Here is a account written by a Neptunus Lex describing the life of an enlisted sailor, and it is exceptionally well detailed with those things that define the environment for our service members at sea. I need not comment on it further, as the Captain writes it well enough that all can comprehend it. Please take the time to read it an know what those young men and women face, on any Navy vessel that leaves port in defense of this country, wheter it is a sub, aircraft carrier, oiler or destroyer. Here's the teaser:
"A day in the life aboard an aircraft carrier at sea. 0330 – the alarm goes off in a coffin rack in the Ops berthing. A hand gropes in the darkness behind the rack curtains to silence the alarm. The curtains serve as a demarcation line – they mark this space as the owners. This space is his only privacy, the only thing that is truly his own in a berthing area shared with 100 other men, themselves stacked in bunk beds three high, arrayed in cells that fade into the greater darkness."
Much has been written about the living condtions of our Army and Marine counterparts "on the beach," which help us understand what they deal with, but Neptunus Lex will introduce you to the life of those who make it possible for the F/A-18s to be lurking overhead to deliverprecisely guided ordnance on the bad guys, when the call goes out for air support. These people face a degree of danger themsleves, not from hostile fire, but incredibly complex machinery, which, when it fails, generally takes out peple and equipment on a large scale. Thank you, the GreyHawk Team, for Open Posts. I'm close to the 10,000th visitor to my blog now, and most of the hits have come because of the graciousness of the founders of the MilBloggers Web Ring!

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