Sunday, July 17, 2005

Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy - Part I

or: Moving Bullets, Beans and Black Oil - Part I In the style of Neptunus Lex in his Rhythms series of posts, here is an account of a "UNREPs" (Underway Replenishments) from the other side....If you're not familiar with his series of posts, chase his "previous" links back to the beginning of his series and read them all. They protray a very real picture of what happens "out there." Upodate 8/4/2005: Part II is here.. Part III is here.. Part IV is here.. Part V is here.. And, now on with the show... Settled in on base course and speed, the USS MILWAUKEE (AOR-2) steamed at 12 knots on a southerly course in the North AFWTF (Atlantic Fleet Weapons Traing Facility) Operating Area north of Puerto Rico. Flying half way up on the outboard halyards, both port and starboard, are the "R" or "ROMEO" signal flags, signalling the crew is still making preparations to receive vessels alongside while moving. OOD: "XO, the Replenishment at Sea Checklist is Complete. OOD: "Request permission to receive ships alongside port and starboard." XO: "Standby. Captain, the checklist in complete. Request permission to commence UNREP" CO: "Granted!" XO: "OOD, permission granted to commence UNREP. Pass the word." OOD: "Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch: Pass the word 'Standby to receive ships port and starboard, at stations 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11 and 12!'" BMOW: "Aye, aye, Sir!" The BMOW flips on all circuits and sounds "attention" followed by "all hands" on his bos’n pipe, the verbatim announces the order into the General Announcing System (1MC) microphone. The crew all about the ship shift their attention to the detailed evolution that is to follow. Standing half in, half out of the port bridge wing door, I glance aft at the starboard bow of the NIMITZ Class aircraft carrier. They are holding in “Waiting Station” astern of us, offset to our port side. Despite the safe distance, she seems very close. I look to the port bridgewing and see the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) is standing with his left arm wrapped around the gyro repeater, his head tilted so he can quickly check the Ship’s course, yet not take his glance from ahead of the Ship for more than a few almost immeasurable moments, certainly less than a second. His binoculars hang from his neck, a MC handset in his hand, feet planted firmly. Looking inside the bridge, the Helm Safety Officer is standing diligently behind the Helmsman and Lee Helmsman, a set of sound powered phones on his head, with one ear piece pushed back behind his ear. His right hand clutches the mouthpiece, holding the metal plate away from his chest, the rubber mouthpiece about an inch from his lips, with his index finger poised over the button he will push to talk to Main Control and After Steering, if the need arises in an emergency. I step out fully onto the port wing of the Bridge and look up to the next deck. "Sigs, Close up ROMEO port and starboard!" "Aye, Sir!" comes back, as the petty officer at the flag bag gives a takes the line off the belaying pin for the outer halyard and smartly hand over hands the line until the ROMEO signal flag is raised to the yardarm. "Sigs, stand by the restricted maneuvering signal." "Aye, aye, Sir!" I scan between the UNREP rig posts, looking back to the area of the starboard quarter. The aft superstructure obscures my view of the waiting destroyer, but I know she is also patiently waiting her turn for a "drink." I look at the halyards of the CV, her ROMEO is still "dipped." The BMOW calls that the Aft Lookout reports the destroyer is commencing her approach to starboard. "Pass the word 'The SPRUANCE is Commencing her approach to starboard!'" "Captain, the SPRUANCE is coming along side." "Very Well." I see the CV is raising her ROMEO to her yardarm now. "Captain, the NIMITZ is beginning her approach." "Roger!" “Boats, the NIMITZ is commencing her approach to port!” The announcements of each of these two events is passed and the crew heightens their alertness. The replenishment rig crews, wearing kapok inherently buoyant orange lifejackets, construction style hard hats, stand in a line at parade rest, facing outboard. Their bell bottom trouser legs have all been turned around their ankles and secured in their socks above the top of their “boondockers.” The adjustment straps of the life jackets are similarly secured, keeping the long, loose ends tucked away for safety. The color of the plastic helmets indicate the responsibility of the men at the rigs. Some also wear long sleeved flight deck jerseys under their life jackets to further identify them to our crew, and to the crews that will be facing them from about 160 feet away in just a few minutes. Messenger lines are snaked out on the deck near the crew, neatly “faked” for ease of use. The gunner’s mate in the red jersey holds an M-14 on his hip, a seemingly strange attachment, looking like a beer can with the end cut off is mounted on the barrel. Protruding from this “beer can” like arrangement is a large plastic projectile, the steel rod attached to it hidden in the barrel, and a small piece of orange line connects this contraption with a spool on the deck beside the gunner’s mate. Forklifts run down the center of the rolling deck delivering palletized material to the replenishment stations. "Sir, Aft lookout reports the bow of the SPRUANCE has crossed our stern." "Pass the word: The Ship is now in restricted maneuvering." "Aye, Aye, Sir!" With this word being passed, pre-planned actions change. No longer are we a single entity in a big blue ocean. Our 40,000 tons of steel, fuel, bombs, bullets, chow and spare parts is now caged in. The Engineer and his Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW), know if a casualty to the propulsion plant occurs, they are required to keep us moving, even if it means sacrificing some of the extremely costly machinery, until the Captain and the rest of the ship’s control personnel can get the ship into a condition where the engineers are free to make decisions to save the plant. The radar operators and lookouts become more vigilant for traffic that may normally require the ship to maneuver, but now has the right of way. On hearing this word, the signalman briskly hoists the black "ball – diamond – ball" set of "day shapes" to the yard arm. Regardless, some civilian vessels are poorly manned and don’t pay attention, so an early decision may have to be made to do an emergency breakaway from the replenishment in order to avoid a collision. "The NIMITZ has crossed our stern!" I look to the starboard side and can now see the bow of the SPRUANCE passing Station 7. "Boats: Pass the word on topside: On the SPRUANCE, Welcome alongside USS MILWAUKEE. Standby to receive shot lines fore and aft!" The XO, perched in the starboard bridge wing chair, passes orders to the starboard unrep stations via his bridge to station sound powered telephone talker. He is in control of the routine operation of that side of the ship. The Captain is busy scanning the starboard side to the NIMITZ as she moves forward at about 5 knots relative speed. 40K tons. His eyes are alert for seemingly minor shifts in the bow of the CV as she closes. As the bow of the NIMITZ came abeam our stern, there is a suction action that occurred. In this case, the our stern is more likely to be pulled in the direction of the CV, as they outweigh us by about 10K tons more than we displace. Our helmsman, supervised by two sets of eyes, will compensate for the interaction. The SPRUANCE, on the starboard side, will have her bow pulled towards us. Her helmsman and bridge watch team will adjust accordingly. The whine of the SPRUANCE’s LM-2500 engines slows, as she settles alongside, matching, within feet, the position of her fueling stations to ours. A shot rings out, followed by another as the forward and aft gunner’s mate fire the blanks that then propel the plastic tipped projectile, that trails the shot line. The small orange line arcs up and over to the destroyer, a mere 120 ft away. Station crews on both vessels break ranks and get to work. Line handlers tend the outgoing shot line and then attach it to the messenger. On the SPRUANCE, a group of line handlers heave around in unison, quickly getting the messenger aboard. "Boats, welcome the NIMITZ. They will shoot to us." "On the NIMITZ. Welcome alongside USS MILWAUKEE. We are ready to receive your shot lines fore and aft!" "Sigs, Strike ROMEO port and starboard!" "Aye, aye!" "Sir, Fuel Control Central wants to know how much JP NIMITZ needs." "CIC, Bridge. Get out the RAS message, confirm the amount of JP from NIMITZ and then call Fuel Control." "Roger." More shots ring out, but this time the shot lines fly across our deck and the line handlers scramble to recover them. They find the end, and attach it to the messenger line. At Station 4, a fueling station, the rig captain tells his signalman to give the "heave around" signal to the NIMITZ. The signalman begins circling his green paddle in front of him. The CV crew hauls in the line. I walk between the two sides of the ship, usually through the pilot house. My eyes scan a myriad of places, ones I don’t even have to consciously think about much anymore. My ears are tuned to the sound of the radio and internal circuit. The scan is both to ensure the normal operation of so many things, and primed to react to anything out of the ordinary. A quick conscious glance at the chart. Our UNREP course is pointing us at Puerto Rico, but it is still a ways off just now. Dropping my face to look into the hood over the AN/SPA-4 radar repeater, as my hand grasps for the ever present yellow or white grease pencil tucked in between the bezel of the repeater and the intensity control knobs. Then my hand pushes into the hood through the flap and I place a small dot of grease over the current position of each contact, our formation ships, and the “skunks.” I then connect the new dots with the prior dots for each contact. Most of the formation ships are in the same relative spot. Other unidentified, assumed friendly, contacts are tracking so as to be well clear of us at their "CPAs" (closest point of approach). I then deliberately, but quickly concentrate on the overall picture, focusing on the place right behind the sweep of the AN/SPS-10 surface search radar, looking for new contacts. My ears remain scanning the many audio signals around me. Things are normal. Standing upright from my hunched over position, I look forward, out the windows and ahead of the ship. Our escorts patrol ahead of us. A LAMPS Mk I SH-2F helo skims low over the water on our starboard bow, heading parallel, and opposite to our course, offset about 500 feet. From the starboard wing, I hear the XO’s phone talker, one of the ship’s yeoman, say to the Exec: "Request permission to tension the span wire forward on SPRUANCE." The XO raises his voice against the moderate wind and says: "OOD, tensioning forward!" "Permission granted to tension forward." He says to his talker. Announce, loud enough to be heard in the entire pilot house: "Tensioning forward, starboard side!" The helm safety officer repeats the message verbatim into his sound powered phones, informing both main control and aftersteering of the current conditions. The helmsman focuses closely on his gyro repeater, and notices a slight course change to the right. He compensates with a well practiced hand on the large ship’s wheel. This cycle for the after connected fueling station on SPRUANCE repeats in quick succession. I walk to the port wing, and stand next to the JOOD, looking at the massive ship alongside us, having to look slightly up to the flight deck level. We are almost completely full of the 6 million gallons of F-76 diesel fuel, and 2 millions gallons of JP-5 jet fuel. We are drawing every bit of our designed 40’ of draft. "Sir, request permission to commence pumping to SPRUANCE." "Standby. Captain, we’re ready to pump to SPRUANCE." "Commence pumping to SPRUANCE." "Permission granted to commence pumping to SPRUANCE." Dolphins are riding the bow wave of the NIMITZ. About 180 feet from me, a pod of these mammals are not only keeping pace with the ship, they burst ahead, leaping clear of the water. Sometimes they barrel roll while airborne. Using the hydrodynamics of the water pushed ahead of the bulbous bow of the CV, they don’t appear to be using much energy, unless they are launching themselves into the air. That’s when you see the exaggerated movements of their tails, otherwise, they are just cruising. I look inboard and up. One of the signalmen is doing semaphore without flags to the signal bridge on the NIMITZ. He breaks into a big smile and chuckles. Sometimes, you just didn’t want tot ask what that was about. PRITAC comes to life with the screen commander sending a delayed executive coded message to CONYNGHAM from her screening station to lifeguard station on us, flowed with direction to JOHN KING to prepare to move to waiting station starboard on us. Both ships roger for the messages. SPRUANCE doesn’t need much fuel today, and we are only passing one pallet of 5"/54 caliber BLP projectiles (Blank load and plugged non-explosive rounds, used for practice shoots) to her. She should be alongside only about 30 minutes. The “skunks” are still tracking safely away from us. The sky is clear, the seas low, and the breeze across the decks fresh smelling. So far, just another day at the office. "OOD, the helo tower requests permission to roll out zero – 6." "Captain, CO of NIMITZ is on the line for you." "Request permission to tension Station 4 and 10!" (to be continued) Thanks for the Open Posting at Mudville Gazette.

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