Sunday, August 28, 2005

St Peteresburg Times Special WWII Section

The Commemorative section in the St Pete Times for the end of WWII today provided a wonderful look back into the war years, with some references to today's current events. You can find the entire electronic version here. Jim Helinger, Sr, a glider pilot, was the first person to fly under the Eiffel Tower and they have has a video interview here. Thanks to the Mudville Gazette for the open post!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

VJ Day Special Reporting - St. Pete Times

This coming Sunday's (8/28/05) St Petersburg Times paper will have a special section with the interviews they did with the WWII veterans in the area for a tribute to VJ Day. Last spring, the Times put out a call for veterans to share their story. From what I understand, about 100 people responded. One of them was Jim Helinger, Sr, the glider pilot who's story I have posted. I was able to sit with Jim when the summer intern reporter videoed the interview for the paper. I'm looking forward to reading the memories of those who answered the call and stood up for us so many years ago. I don't recall the reporter's name, but I do know he was sent on many of the interviews. He is on vacation now, and will be coming back to work full time for the St Pete Times. It struck me the day I sat with Jim and the reporter and as I heard the reporter discuss a few of the men's stories he had received for this section, I couldn't help but think what a wonderful gift of living history this young man received by sitting with these 80 some year old men and listening to how it was. I'm sure he will use those stories for many years, long after some of these veteran's have left us. Anyhow, I plan to get a hold of a few copies for my own files. If you're set on getting your own copy, I'd be happy to try to get them to anyone who want's them. The paper is $1 for the Sunday edition and then what ever the cost of an envelope that will keep the special section intact and postage. See my profile for the email address, or leave a comment here so I can get back to you. Update 8/26: I found out this special section will also include the interview with Ben Garrison, one of the crew members of the USS MASON (DE-529), the only large ship crewed by African Amreicans in WWII. Thanks to the Mudville Gazette for the Open Post!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy - Part V

You now are returning to your irregulalry scheduled sea soap opera... Part I, II, III, IV can be found on their links. Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy – Part V I can’t see the flight deck from the bridge, as it is obscured by the after superstructure. That castle of steel plating houses two hangers capable of holding the CH-46 helos, the wardroom, the officer’s staterooms, with the exception of those of the Operations Officer and the Navigator, which are in the forward superstructure two deck below me, along wit the Captain’s Cabin and Office. The Helo Control Tower in on the aft side of the after superstructure, with it’s miniature greenhouse set so as to oversee just about every square inch of the flight deck area. This view is important, so a second set of eyes might watch over every action that occurs on this non-skid coated danger area. While the flight deck crew, similarly adorned as the CV deck crews, wander about the dark olive glossy painted twin rotor helicopter, where there are no underwing mounted jet turbine intakes poised to suck in a careless crew member, there are still many things available to cause serious injury or death to one, or a team, who would let their guard down. As the aircraft was pushed manually out onto the gently rolling deck, a helo detachment member sat in the pilot’s seat of the "bird" as the brake rider as blueshirted men with a set of chocks and chains alongside the main mounts, ready to shove the yellow painted chocks on the tires if things start to get out of control, or when the aircraft gets into position. Things go well, and "06" is carefully eased to the center of the large white lined circle on the dark grey deck. Pallets of cargo are stacked near the deck edge, and towards the place where the helo has been chained down, wrapped in cargo nets and equipped with a pendant. While an outsider may look upon scene and see danger. To those who "work" here, it’s a well orchestrated positioning of ordnance, food, spare parts and mail, stacked no higher on the pallet than is safe to avoid the lowest possible arc of the rotor blades. More pallets are being brought up by elevator to the staging area forward of the hanger doors on each side of the ship. Once the material begins to move from the flight deck by "VERTEP" to the customers ships, the storekeepers will shuttle more loads with standup electric forklifts out onto the deck to replace those ones lifted skyward. I hear the whine of the auxiliary power unit (APU) of the helo start up begin and rapidly increase in pitch. “Request permission to spread 06” comes from the "bitch box." I walk to the centerline deck at the front of the bridge and pull out a 1 inch notebook labeled "HELO OPS" from the customized aluminum pocket on the left of the desk. I flip the pages in document protectors, looking for the one labeled "Daytime H-46." Finding the extracted page from NWP-42G, I glance up at the twin dials of anemometer display above the window and note the relative winds are coming from 20 degree to port at 20 knots. I consult the circle with the safe to operate wind envelope area indicated. The winds are well within the acceptable limits. I punch the helo tower button in on the 21MC and grant permission to spread the folded rotors. I punch the release button on the bitch box to clear the connection to the helo tower. I know soon, they will call to start the main engines up… (to be continued)

Friday, August 19, 2005

I Regret to Inform You....

I spent a career "driving ships," but whenever the opportunity presented itself, I got some "stick time." Had it not been for bad vision (inherited) and the fact that there was a time in not so distant past history when the RIO NFOs, even when in control of the awesome AGM-54 Phoenix missile system, with the guy in the front being a glorified bus driver, there was a "promise" of making O-4 and being cast squadron command opportunities,, I didn't choose to be "Goose." I have enjoyed flight simulators, as a result. Tonight, I found an interesting link that has a basis in reality. It's about flight sim crews "buying the farm."
If you need a laugh, read the "attached letter of condolence." Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the open posts....

The Hierarchy of Recognition - The Trailer

I say the trailer, as this is a just a teaser, but maybe it will get a few comments from the AD community. "Back in the 'Day'," we were fortuntate enough to have only a few categories of recognition (for purposes of this post, it's about positive recogniton). With the inception of email for everyone, and other modern miracles, I would suspect the heirarchy has expanded some. I dealt with (presented in order of importance): Personal Medals Letters of Commendation Letters of Appreciation Memo of Appreciation Phone call of Appreciation. It was an uncomplicated time, back when computers were mostly used for war like functions, or on the desk of someone in the Pentagon, eager to get their first Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) as an O-4. If they had a hard drive, it was worthy to be filled with data from the Fleet (where the real sailors lived, equipped with, at best, Xerox Star word processors, but more often, a Selectric like Dan Rather shoudl have used, well into the mid 90s. The question always was, what level was appropriate for recgonition, and...then the great stories sometimes are in how it was received by the subject.... Anyhow, work is busy, side work is busy, and I'm off on a long drive for the afternoon to make money. Any comments from as to how the topic above may have complicated and/or enhanced your life?

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Adventures of Jim, Sr - Part III

I have posted two parts of this story previously. It is the story of the a glider pilot that I had the opportunity to meet in person and hear this story myself. Read all of it to get a picture of the life style of those who hauled troops and freight to the front lines. He flew 41 combat glider missions, but the best part of the story is how he celebrated VJ day in Paris. Part I of the Adventures of Jim, Sr Part II of the Adventures of Jim, Sr Jim tells a story of a wartime romance that began in Paris, before the war had ended. Jim’s unit was stationed at St Andre, about 60 miles west of Paris. One day, Jim and his co-pilot, Eddie, were sitting at the Café de la Plait in Paris, having an aperitif when a young French woman, wearing a white angora sweater walked by. Jim said to his friend "I bet I can get her to have a drink." In typical aviator fashion, his co-pilot spurred him on with a "Go for it!" response. Jim took off down the sidewalk and caught up with Denise Bellicord and asked if she would have a drink with him in, as he described it, very bad French. She looked at him and said "I speak English." He said "I bet him an aperitif that I could get you to have a drink with us." Denise asked: "Is this your first time in Paris?" "Yes" was Jim’s response. "You don’t just try to pick up a girl." "I wasn’t trying to pick you up." She went back and had a drink with Jim and his co-pilot, and that began the romance for the next year. Jim met the parents, and spent their free time together. Later Jim moved east, as the war progressed into Germany. Jim left Denise and did not see her again until after the war. She thought Jim had been killed, because she never heard from him after he left to go east. The war in Europe ended, but with the war against Japan still being underway, and planning for the invasion of the Japanese Homeland in the work, there was still some uncertainty as to what would be the lot of the servicemen in Europe. While waiting for a decision on whether would be shipped to the Pacific Theater, the glider pilots would fly the C-47s. Jim saw an opportunity in the process of downsizing the troops in Europe. The Signal Corps were the ones who had flown the light spotter planes over the front lines. When the war ended, the Signal Corps troops were sent back to the states. They left their Stinson L-5 spotter planes behind in Europe to be burned. Jim and his fellow glider pilots, who were stuck overseas for the moment, had a better idea. The glider pilots went to the aircraft mechanics at the base, who had been assigned to dispose of the spotter planes, Jim and his men went to the mechanics and asked that they hold one L-5 for each of the glider pilots. There were spotter planes pulled from the pile, on the promise that in return for maintaining the planes, the pilots would teach them how to fly after work. It was a great deal all around. Each pilot had his own plane, complete with his name painted on it, to fly as they wished. Jim used this to his advantage. More on this later. On August 15th, 1945, Jim and his unit were still stationed at St. Andre, in France. On this day, the war with Japan ended. In order to celebrate this momentous occasion, Jim hopped in his "personal" aircraft and headed into Paris. The glider pilots had been using Renault Field as their local airfield, since the Renault Factory was not in operation, building aircraft. Arriving in Paris, he met Denise at a Paris café. Jim got a case of champagne, and they began drinking to celebrate. Then they decided to go to into the center of Paris, but the traffic was so bad, and the people so numerous, they couldn’t get to the Champs de Elise. Jim had a better idea. They could view the massive celebration from the air, in the comfort of his Stinson O-5 spotter plane, that had been tied down to a tree in at Renault field. They got in the plane (recall some champagne had already been consumed) and took off, heading to downtown Paris, he in the back seat, she in the front. Off they went, crossing over the Seine River. Jim’s trained eyes picked out a bridge, and being the valiant aviator he was, he proceeded to fly under it. He saw more bridges around Paris, and proceeded to fly over and under about 20 of them, then he had a better idea. Jim flew around the Eiffel Tower and scanned for obstacles and guy wires near or attached to the Tower. He saw none. Checking the Sun’s angle, he repositioned his plane. Jim did something that then put he and Denise Bellicord into the history books. He then flew under the Eiffel Tower, and quickly away into the sun. The next day, there was an article in the 15 August Paris Edition of the London Herald-Tribune, page one covered VJ Day, and on page two, there was an article saying a crazy American pilot had flown under the Tower, but could not be identified. Witnesses reported there had been two people in the plane celebrating the moment. After the war completely ended, Jim volunteered to stay in Europe. He was assigned as the Special Services Officer for the Munich Base. He was the man responsible to make sure there was something the keep the morale of the troops up. He was also responsible for two rehabilitation hotels, as well. He had his own jeep and….his own plane. While at Munich, Jim felt he had to see his French girlfriend, Denise one last time. Jim approached the Base Commander, a colonel, and the conversation went something like this: Jim: "Colonel, we have a problem." Col: "What’s that?" Jim: "You know the movie theater? The lens in the projector is cracked." Col: "Can we fix it?" Jim: "No, we have a spare, but it’s the only one." Col: "Requisition one." Jim: "It will take 6 weeks. I have some contacts in places you’re not exposed to that can help us sooner." Col: "Ok, what do you need?" Jim: "A plane." Col: "Ok, I’ll get you a C-47." Jim: "I’ll pick the crew.” Col: "There’s something else?" Jim: "We might want to see our old girlfriends one last time. You want us to be happy, right?" Col: "Yes." Jim: "We’ll need to RON (remain overnight)." The rest of the story is Jim took a co-pilot, flight engineer, a crew chief and a navigator. The RON ended up being three nights and 4 days. They did happen to see their old girlfriends, and yes, Jim did see Denise. A new projector bulb was not "procured" from the black market in Paris, as it seems the first bulb wasn’t cracked in the first place. At the end of the war, the Rockettes Show in New York was purchased and put on contract to the Army to provide entertainment for the troops who had remained behind in Europe. Jim said the contract for the show required the military to return the show members to the states in the same condition as they went over. Jim, as the Special Services Officer, was responsible for setting up the shows for Munich. With that, and his interaction with the cast and crew, one of the women in the cast, Veronica Bridgette Nolan, caught Jim’s eye. Jim met here and they began dating. Since the show was traveling around Europe, Jim needed some way to get around to see his new girlfriend. This is where his "personal" aircraft came in handy. He was able to just go pretty much as he pleased, particularly since the need for the actual flying of gliders had ended when the Germans had surrendered. Occupation duties went on, and he continued to follow his American fiancée around the circuit of the Rockette’s show in his “private” plane. Jim and Veronica courted, got engaged, then got married in the Catholic Church in Haar, Germany. She wore a nylon wedding dress, made from Jim’s parachute by a local seamstress. They returned to the States, settling first in New York City. In 1949, as Jim drove to work at Macy’s, he was listening to the Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg radio program. That day, they were interviewing the only actress in the movie "Battleground" that had appeared in the list of the stars in the film. She had a French accent, as she promoted the movie over the airwaves. Her name was Denise Darcel. As soon as Jim got into work, he called the radio station and asked to speak to Tex McCrary. He was routed to a secretary, who asked what the call was about. He said he’d like to talked to Tex privately about his guest. She told him they get a lot of calls and she would take his number and if Tex wanted to call, he’d hear from him. Jim asked if the secretary would tell Tex he had know his guest years ago as Denise Bellicord. He hung up the phone and went to work. A few hours later, Jim got a call, having put the earlier call out of his mind. It was Tex, saying because he had supplied Denise’s family name, which she had told them in the studio, and therefore no one else would have know it, he wanted to hear how Jim and Denise’s story had ended. Jim honestly answered "It didn’t." He told Tex how he had been transferred to Germany. Tex told Jim he would pass the story on to Denise, and leave it up to her if she would like to see him. About 4PM, Jim’s phone rang. It was Denise. He apologized and she asked when she could see him. He said he couldn’t, as he was now married and had two children. Denise said: "I must see you." "When?" "The matinee show tomorrow." Jim arrived at the stage door of the show with a dozen red roses. The stage crew ushered him in and put him in a center front row seat. When Denise came on stage to sing, she began with "You, Jimmy! I think he kaput in the war, you bad boy!" From there, she proceeded to tell the story of the two of them flying under the bridges, and the Eiffel Tower on VJ Day, August 15th, 1945. Jim and Veronica divorced and the Herald-Tribune paper of August 16th, 1945, attesting to Jim’s daredevil flight was lost in the split. Many years later, Jim and his second wife, Jane, traveled to Paris, and stopped in the London Herald-Tribune Office. Jim asked to see the publisher. Upon completing the introductions, the publisher told Jim he had heard the story, and they had a reporter who had been on staff in Aug, 1945. They met the old reporter and he confirmed Jim’s story. The reporter told Jim that he was the first of 6 people to fly under the Eiffel Tower to date. Unfortunately, they told Jim the archives were across town and couldn’t be accessed in time to get a copy of the paper for him. No story is complete, when you are speaking of an aviator of almost any kind without finding out what their "call sign" or peer given nick name. Jim’s call sign was "Bung." The moniker relates to the name of the wooden plug that is put in the side of large beer kegs. It is placed there after the keg is filled, using a mallet to seat it. It is also the thing that is removed to place the tap and empty the keg. Jim says his favorite song during the war was "Moonlight Serenade" by Glenn Miller. On his birthday, Jim occasionally goes to a local airfield and takes a flight in a small plane. He is unable to fly himself anymore due to health issues, but he flies with a certified instructor and gets in a little supervised "stick time" in remembrance of his service time. Jim joined the service on his 18th birthday and served with "The Greatest Generation." He returned to the States and has since become a father, and a successful businessman, and part of the economic engine of America. Today Jim Helinger, Sr. lives in St. Pete Beach, Florida, and runs his own business. He is also the Florida State WWII Combat Glider Pilots Association Commander and regularly gives speeches to interested civic and church groups on the eight major combat glider operations of WWII. Thanks for Mudville Gazette and Little Green Footballsfor the Open Posting opportunities!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Going to Sea

Off for the weekend on a 36' powered catamaran to once more be able to gaze at flat horizons uncluttered by stuff, to unconsciously work muscles that help you stand upright, regardless of the angle of the deck beneath your feet. I also felt a little tired (and I generally never am tired) by the end of the first day at sea. I always equated that as the work you had done without thinking, not just walking, but even standing on the decks. It was the bodies way of saying you'd not been exercising like that for a while. I'm looking forward to a sunset over the Gulf and lots more stars being visible than you get to see while you're near the polluting lights of the land. It sounds like a nice break from the busy work schedule that has been the last two weeks. For the faithful, returning readers, and those who may be mildly curious, please check back on the 15th of August for an exclusive post about VJ Day! I have had the opportunity to get to know a WWII vet who was the first to do something pretty interesting to celebrate the special day, and I'll post the story here. Just a side note, that may lead to more writing/commentary/analysis: I heard Suite: Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Still and Nash on the radio yesterday. Some of you know, but some may not, that this band (and one of Styephen Stills, Buffalo Springfield) was big into anti-war protests in the 70's and 80's. This one line caught my ear, and it seems like a bit of prophesy, or at least a good argument as to why you should make your choices well each moment: "Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now" More (possibly) later.... Have a great weekend and come back Monday!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Life in the “Fat Ship” Navy – Part IV

Previously on "Life in the 'Fat Ship' Navy:" Part I Part II Part III Part V "Captain, request permission to set Flight Quarters." The CO looks my way, the sound powered telephone handset still held to his ear, as the NIMITZ’s CO and he catch up on how things are going over on the carrier. You know the old A-7 pilot would rather be there, but by being where he is, there is a high likelihood he will be a CV commanding officer, with all the prestige, and responsibility that goes along with it, once more able to be closely connected with the crews of aircraft, and the “sound of freedom” that the aircraft generate. "Granted" he says, as he gives a redundant thumbs up hand signal. I hike back into the Pilot House to tell the Boatswain Mate of the Watch to set flight quarters. He knows the drill. "On the MILWAUKEE, Flight Quarters, Flight Quarters. All hands man your Flight Quarters Stations to launch helicopters!" The preface is so as to not confuse the crew of the ships alongside, as the loudness of the 1MC is sufficient to be heard across the 160 and 120 ft to the ships alongside. I prop myself in the port bridge wing door, holding onto the upper knife edge of this watertight fitting. I lean against the frame, having been on watch for several hours before the unrep started, it will be a long haul before we’ve passed gas and supplies to the other ship for the task force. I can count on my chief petty officer to come up and check on me periodically. He comes equipped with an extra cup of coffee from the coffee mess that is an almost 24/7 operation one deck below on the starboard aft side of Combat Information Center. He comes up when it’s calmer, while the two ships alongside are settled in and there shouldn’t be any significant passing of tactical signals that he or I need to monitor, or act on. While I don’t comprehend it at the time, he scoping out how I’m handling things, and using the time to inject more "training" into my still developing mind. Across the generally 160 ft to the carrier, I’m not quite eye level with the flight deck, as we still have a good load of cargo fuel. At other times, we are at the same level as the flight deck, later on operations, when the cargo tanks are much less. The CV rig crews are staged at the level of the massive aircraft elevators. They are fully outfitted in the same personal safety gear as is our crew. Plastic hard hats and bulky orange kapok life vests, bell bottom trouser legs tucked into their socks to prevent them from being caught in a running line. Safety is paramount around the rigs on any ship. The span wire that trolleyed the massive fuel probe across the small expanse between us is tensioned to thousands of pounds per square inch of air and hydraulically generated pressure. If it comes loose while under tension, it’s highly likely there will be accident reports that include personnel casualties. In contrast to the rig area, there are men in PT gear, jogging on the dark grey non-skid painted surface that is one of the mobile airfields of the nation. They seem no more concerned with the going ons around them than if they were running the track at the local high school. Other people on the catwalks around the flight deck edge lean on the life rails and visually survey the operations in progress. At sea, most ships don’t require the wearing of hats, and for the most part, no one I can see on the carrier has them on. Gazing up to the bridge of the CV, there is a mass of khaki clad people on the small starboard bridge wing. It’s easy to pick out the CO, as he is in the large chair, his chair, the one no one else dares to sit in (except those who do it in port, when no one is around, or sometimes at night, just to say they have violated the seat of sanctuary of the commanding officer). In front of him is the officer who is conning the ship. I lift my binoculars from where they hang on my chest, a symbol of current authority as an officer on watch, as well as a very practical tool. I smirk as I get an enlarged view of the “gaggle” of aviators over there. There are plenty of oak leaves on the collars, and two sets of eagles. I don’t know if I’m looking at the CO and XO, or the CO and the operations officer, but I can almost conceive of the background conversations. Aviators, reluctantly or not, need their ticket punched, saying they have the skills to conn the ship alongside a replenishment vessel. They love to fly, but most see the development of seamanship skills as no more than a distasteful exercise in order to hopefully ascend to being the one sitting in the hallowed high backed, swiveling chair, kibitzing over the shoulder of some younger aviator one day. I consider the single silver bar on the open collar of my shirt and bask in a prideful moment, realizing I’m the Officer of the Deck, in control of a myriad of intricate operations, yet only 24 years old and just beginning my “adventure.” "Bunny on the hop, OBOE!" comes out of the 21MC box next to the XO’s chair inside the port bridge wing door, as I marvel at the pained and frantic looks of those steering the CV alongside. Not more than a second later, the brass tube at the rear of the pilot house announcing the impending arrival of an aluminum tube with leather gasketed ends with the rushing sound of compressed air. From three decks below, a naval message has begun it’s journey to the bridge. I walk back near the centerline near the helmsman, glancing as the "bunny" drops into the box below the pneumatic tube. The helm safety officer picks up the tube and opens it, then shakes the single sheet of paper out, handing it to me. My eyes scan the top line for the "OOO" in the header of the message, indicating an operationally immediate communications. First I look to see who is sending the message and note it’s the USS BIDDLE (CG-34). Next, I quickly review the many addressees, looking intently for any of the many "titles" that make this communiqué addressed to us. In the "To:" section, there we are, "CTU TWO FOUR PT SIX PT ONE." This means there is an action required of us as task unit commander. I focus my attention to the message classification line just below the multitude of "Info:" addees, then the subject line just below that. It’s a "RAS REQ" (replenishment request) change for one of the units in the task force. The cruiser needs us to change the amount of milk they want delivered from their original tasking request. I take the message to the starboard bridge wing and hand it off to the XO, who has a Motorola walkie-talkie on which he can contact the Supply Officer. Ask the XO how it’s going, and he tells me the SPRUANCE is having a little trouble seating the refueling probe at their after station. The seated "flags" are popping out of the body of the probe, even when it looks like it’s seated in the receiving coupling. I look aft and see the probe is being pulled back up the angled span wire by our winch operator, then see it released to freefall about 10 feet to the "basket" on SPRUANCE. The blue helmeted sailors on the destroyer, under the watchful eye and skilled guidance of a petty officer heave back on the messenger line hard to help the process of seating the large probe securely in the bell housing. The metal parts slam together and a cheer, muted only slightly by the relative wind, is heard as the experienced men on the rig see the three metal tabs extend from the outside of the bell of the receiver. The probe is seated properly. (to be continued) Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the Open Posts!

Monday, August 08, 2005

"Inspectmanship" vs. "Getting It"

I had the occasion to work with a recent high school grad a few weeks back. We got to talking about having to rewire a specialized convection heater in the business after a problem, and I mentioned I just went back to my basic electricity education from junior high school shop (I guess we call that “middle school” now) to realize one of the wire grounded out one of the two heating coils. I just sat down and diagrammed the wiring, and traced it around functionally, only to find out when I had replaced the wires, I caused the problem myself. He said "They don’t teach that." That initiated a conversation about "shop." He told me when he took shop, it was taught by a teacher who had a different main subject assignment, and he didn’t even care if the kids showed up in class, since it was just an add on to his normal teaching. Freddy amplified this to say "they only teach us what we have to know for the FCATs." FCAT stands for "Florida Comprehensive Academic Test." FCATs have grown out of the "No Child Left Behind" initiative of George Bush’s presidency. The very concept is a powerful one, but it’s how the states reacted to this is interesting. I see parallels in how the attitude presented above may have come about. If performance of the students allows access to Federal funding, then the outcome of the testing cane take on a life of it’s own, leaving basic learning in the ditch of the academic process. That’s what I will attempt to analyze below. Freddy’s one line about FCATs stood out, and for the past week, kept cropping back up in things I read, heard or recalled of my past experiences. A few Saturday back, I was scanning the letters to the editor in the St Petersburg Times and came across a letter from a mother indicating she was considering pulling her children out of public schools, because all they were being taught was what they needed to pass the FCATs. Two "hits" in my scan of life in a week’s time. It took me back to thinking about all my years in the Navy, where inspections are a way of life, and most particularly, three years being assigned as the lead inspector for the surface ships in combat systems readiness. "Gouge" was a valued commodity in schools and around the waterfront. A regularly heard statement was: "If the minimum wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum." Plans of Action and Milestones (POA&Ms) for various readiness exams and training work were passed between ships. You found time to walk the piers and meet your counterparts on other ships, in order to "get the gouge." The rumors went around and it was common knowledge which ships did well and which tubed the inspections. Hint: Don’t use their "gouge." The culture was easily lulled into doing enough to get by sometimes, with the focus being that one and only inspection, the wolf closest to the sled. When times were hectic with deployment and training schedules, it seemed the next avalanche of work for the next big event kept coming. Sometimes the best you could do was to figure out the path of least resistance to the passing grade. Striving for excellence was an entirely different ball game. The FCAT issue reminds me very much of the situations I saw in the Fleet. My department had scrubbed check sheets for the areas in Combat Systems to be inspected to make sure we could tie a written requirement to every single thing we checked on. We listed the references and the mailed out copies of the check sheets to every ship. In other words, they had the complete list of things to be passed in their hands. The corollary to this is knowing the FCATs are coming and having knowledge of what areas they will test. No surprises here. Next comes: What will be your view of how to approach the "inspection?" You do have to get through it, so the "matrix" is satisfied for the paper pushers at higher headquarters. I saw two basic attitudes on the ships regarding receiving inspections: 1) Get the list, do all of these things. Make sure these things are ready/done right. Anything else is merely wasted effort and; 2) This inspection is a stepping stone to the future success of the ship, and here are many things we need to understand and make sure they are done. The difference is the focus on what to do, versus knowing your job, with the check points being an essential part of that knowledge. I think the educators here in the local area, based on Freddy’s comments regarding teachers who could care less about teaching shop and the letter to the editor claiming teaching is specifically targeted at only FCAT knowledge requirements, have adopted attitude #1. I’d recommend they try approach #2. Here’s my argument: Situation #1 discounts "peripheral learning" as wasted energy. Since there is a list of what to know, go for that, and that alone. Peripheral learning is where you learn things that will compliment your understanding of the main topics of concern, as well as just adding knowledge for later essential use. The ships I saw that took this approach, which actually was the majority, were the very ones who were inflexible in their thinking on most all other areas, which generally, at the least, kept their grades down, and at the worst, failed them. Life, and combat, are full of the need to be flexible, and practicing rigidity is counter productive to success. In attempting to attain the highest grades possible, it actually appeared they were their own worst enemy. I see the schools doing the same thing, based on my understanding that our schools are to develop young minds to come out and do excellent things in the economy. Approach #1 is the short sighted view. It is a selfish attitude in that it becomes an exercise in maintaining educational funding, which translates into job security for the administrators and teachers. Yes, some of the funding will go to school programs and equipment, which will be used by the children, but how does that do the children any good if they are unequipped for entering the workforce? I will admit I haven’t used calculus in detail since I took it, but the understanding of this form of math has helped me make sense out of some things I’ve dealt with. Approach #2 demonstrates an understanding that all the preparation/study effort is to clear a hurdle, enabling you to grow to new levels of knowledge, and that the inspection criteria are representative of the areas of study, but not the only things to know. It’s the maturity of the professional attitude. In the case of the educators, it would be to understand the skill sets tested in the FCAT are essential elements of knowledge, but no guarantee that the exact question will face each of the students later in life. It also demonstrates an understanding that the real success of the students will be shown in later years, when they are in the economy, fully participating for the betterment of the society as a whole, while being able to care for themselves. I submit to take this method to heart will achieve the very goals of showing improvement in the FCAT scores. It facilitates learning, and better yet, understanding. Here is my supporting "sea story:" I met a prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) in one of the offices on the CINCLANTFLT compound. He was then a Commander and the prospective commanding officer of a OLIVER HAZARD PERRY Class Guided Missile Frigate (FFG) . My Officer in Charge and I had just dropped the final draft of the revised Combat Systems Assessment (CSA) procedures off with the COMNAVSURFLANT Chief of Staff for signature by Admiral Reason. I had a copy of the final draft in my brief case. As my OIC was giving this PCO and another one their briefing as to the services our training unit provided, he mentioned the CSA was just revised and would be "all new" and designed to test the ship’s ability to retain it’s performance via use of an on board training team of the ship’s company. The CSA would evaluate the our confidence in the ship to carry out and critique training effectively, and that would determine passing or failure of the CSA. I quietly reminded the OIC I had a copy of the new instruction with me. He told them we would give them the final draft to get familiar with. I went and found a Xerox machine and made two copies. When my OIC was done, I spoke with the PCO and told him I welcomed riders on our inspections, so they could see how we worked, but more importantly, to get a good idea of how to handle the mass of information on the check sheets. The FFG for this PCO was homeported in Newport, RI. One "O-Dark-Thirty" morning on a tug boat in Charleston Harbor, my team and I were heading out to one of the Charleston based ships, that had been out at sea the day before, practicing their teams. In Charleston, this was a standard practice for DESRON SIX ships, and we got a nice ride to the sea bouy as the sun rose. As I drank my coffee in the pre-dawn twilight, I noticed a chief petty officer nearby. I assumed he was ship’s company, who was headed back to the ship. I asked what his division on the destroyer. He told me he wasn’t assigned to the ship, but had come from the the FFG, because his CO said we were welcome come along. I grinned. He told me the "new" CO had said that before they had their CSA, he would have every man wearing khaki (officers and chief petty officers) ride along on one of our CSAs as observers. That’s what happened. An attentive rider from the FFG became our companions on subsequent CSA the length of the east coast. The procedures back then were to conduct a "basic" CSA (CSA-B), where we ran all the check sheets, but would assist the crews as needed. We graded things as close to as we found them during those 36 hours, so the ship might see where it stood. The results were between us and their squadron, but were not provided to the type commander. A few weeks later, we would return and redo the CSA, but this time, it was for the grade to be reported up the chain of command. This was the "advanced" CSA (CSA-A). The FFG had briefings by the returning crew that had watched over our shoulders. The worked on their check sheets, and gamed out ways to do the work better, and to make sure all who needed to understand the material were trained and “plugged in.” I remember getting calls from the Combat Systems Officer of the FFG, asking if they could use some testing equipment from the SONAR system to generate a target track for the operational drills. I discussed this with my system experts, many of whom had been instructors at the school for that piece of equipment, and they had never thought of doing it that way, but agreed that would be a little manpower intensive, but provide very realistic training for the operators. That illuminated the attitude of the crew of the FFG One time, we had scheduled a CSA out of Newport, RI. A few days before we flew up, now CO called me and said "I understand you aren’t flying out until the next afternoon following the CSA. I wondered if your and your team might have some time to come aboard and sit down with my crew that morning?" He had had his crew thinking ahead of the game, looking for opportunities to get more instruction and training and they had researched our schedule to find out when they could see us. That morning, we arrived aboard and the leadership was ready to talk business. They had cleared the schedule for our impromptu visit. My men, as usual, rolled up their sleeves and went to work. The FFG crew picked their brains, asking questions that certainly indicated they had read the references well, and then some more material. They had the focus of preparing the ship and crew for deployment, not just how to get the best grade for this one inspection. A few months later, it was time for the FFG CSA-B. As we walked down the pier, I saw CO at the foot of the brow. As I approached, he called me aside and asked that I ask my team to not interfere with his crew, unless a safety issue arose, going through the CSA (this was the basic, and interaction was routine), so they could tell where they stood. He thought they were ready, but he wanted an assessment of his crew alone. I passed this to my men. The result was they scored as high as most ships were on their CSA-A. Not one time did my men have to step in for anything the entire 36 hours. Yes, there were flaws, but then they got right on them. A few weeks later, the CSA-A was held. The crew was unflappable, the execution almost flawless, the ship clean, and the equipment was in working order. Record keeping, across the areas of maintenance, training, certification were all in order, and it was obvious it had not been "constructed" the few days before from scratch. The CO allowed his chain of command to make decisions at their level, and he watched, but never interrupted so long as they were making good decisions. The one time the Tactical Action Officer made a less than optimum choice, he waited until there was a lull in the action, took him aside, corrected him, then sent him back to keep going. The 189 man crew of a guided missile frigate scored the highest grade to date. Until I left my inspector job, about a year after this had happened, the FFG retained the highest score for Combat Systems Assessment for the Atlantic Fleet surface ships. I believe they may have even held that record until the CSAs were dropped, two years later. I heard they passed their Operational Propulsion Plant Exam (OPPE) with similar outstanding results. Later, during weekly briefings for COMNAVSURFLANT, it wasn’t unusual for briefer in some area to mention some outstanding report of the FFG performance while deployed to the Mediterranean with COMSIXTHFLT. Reports like this were uncommon, so there had to be something special going on aboard the FFG. There were many ships that tried to preemptively up their score by "smoozing" my team. I do recall sitting down for the inbrief at the wardroom table and a can of cold Coke and a bag of peanut M&Ms was next to the folder with my name on it. They had called the ships before them and asked "what did I like." They did OK, but I would have preferred they would have called to ask how to make sure their crew training was done well, so they would be ready to show my team how proficient they were. This CO of the FFG not only "got it," he communicated it clearly to his crew. If he was in charge of FCATs, I think the Florida children would be pretty close to the top of the nation in scores, but not because he would have educators focus on getting a good score each year, but to ready the children to perform on a "forward deployment" in the real world after school, as productive members of the economy. He didn’t settle for an individual good scores, he only settled for success in the end game. Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the Open Post!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Little Pieces of History and What They Mean 60 Years Later

The 60th Anniversary of the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima is upon us. The discussion is still with us today as to whether we should or should not have. I have a little puzzle piece that alone makes me believe it was a good thing that it happened. One of my fellow officers had served in Sasebo, Japan in the 80s. As a going away present, his office staff presented him with a nice pen and pencil set for his next desk. Of course it was on a wooden base, carved in a distinctive oriental style. His name and rank adroned the piece, as did two china porcelin spheres, about 4 inches in diamter. Of course, these orbs managed to invoke a conversation. Here's the story: Many years after the war, long after we had an established Naval Base at Sasebo, some dredging was needed in the harbor. As the dredging progressed, thousands of these spheres were coming up with the slit. No one had a clue as to what they were, but there many thousands of them. Each orb had a small tube, open to the hollow interior. The search began to find out what these were for and determine their age. After mnay questions of the residents, they found out that the spheres had been manufacturered by Noritake near the end of WWII, which had it's plant there in Sasebo. No records were kept of the production, for the intended use of these orbs were to be hand grenades. The plan was to issue them to every man, woman and child in the event of an invasion of the Allies, to ensure as many invaders were killed as possible. When the end of the war was obvious, they were dumped in the harbor to hide them. Today we see suicide bombers around the world and seem to take it as a modern phenomena. It has been with us for a long time, and the china spheres on Paul's desk are a testment to that. I have read about the history of modern war for most of my life, but it has been in moments like a seemingly offhand conversation with a shipmate, that make me realize the human cost of WWII is far less than it was due to the use of those two atomic weapons. Couple that with two other docuemtned things in the conduct of the war: 1) The "kamakaze" efforts by the Japanese in the air, on the ground and the sea; 2) the understanding that Japanese propaganda regarding what the Americans would do to them to the Okinawan civilians caused many families to commit suicide, either by the family gathering around a hand grenade, while the father pulled the pin, or jumping off the cliffs. Not only would the cost have been high for our troops, which is regularly quoted as a defense of the reason to drop the bombs. The two other situations I mentioned above tell me that not only would a fanatical Japanese military fight to very close to the death, but they had also convinced the civilian populace that their sacrifice would also be necessary, and weapons and tactics had been devised to that end. We risked losing the Japanese culture, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, had we resorted to an amphibious invasion of the islands of Japan, and I can only conclude the horiffic events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually saved lives in the long run. Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the Open Post!

Friday, August 05, 2005

The "Peace Dividend" Benefits Former Enemy

Today's news: Russian mini-sub is stuck in 625 ft of water with a crew of seven, with air to last about a day. If you need technical details, get to Bubblehead's Blog - "The Stupid Shall Be Punished", or Chapomatic's Blog. Both are "plugged in" guys who earned their "dolphins." Those are but two who know the business of the "Silent Service." Take a moment and think about it. How far have we come? It's just over 19 years ago, I was in the central Ionian Sea (center of the Med) riding the flagship of the battle force commander. Libya was rattling their cheap pot metal saber, and the Soviets were their ally. I recall seeing the Sovremmny guided missile destroyer shadowing us, constantly staying on our north side, but within easy range of their 130mm guns and cruise missiles. One nite, one of the frigates under our staff's control was almost run over by a Soviet cruiser. The FFG had the right of way by the International Rules of the Road. Tensions were high and not only were there Soviet vessels, but a number of submarines, diesel and nuclear powered, patrolling in our vicinity. Our main concern, since the Soviets had supplied some of the same type subs to Libya as they had in theater, was if there was a subsurface contact threatening the three carrier battle group, and we punched a Mk 46 into the water, would we be taking out a Libyan, or starting WWIII.... Today, we are flying a remotely controlled submarine to help. I understand the British are on their way to help, also. The "Peace Dividend" of the Cold War is that former enemies are now rolling up their sleeves together to save lives. It took from 1945 to 1989 to reach the point where we could begin to work together. How does this apply today? If anyone wonders what we are doing in Iraq, they need look no further than this story to see, as with the Germans and Japanese after WWII, our relations with a former enemy are now the opposite of what they were. We can look forward to this type of relation with the middle eastern countries if we stay the course. Strength works to secure peace for us all. Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the Open Post!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy – Part III

Previously, on "Life in the 'Fat Ship' Navy": Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy – Part I Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy – Part II Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy – Part IV Life in the "Fat Ship" Navy – Part V The activity is fast paced, yet controlled chaos. The myriad of issues that are arising, are being handled almost subconsciously at this point. Most of the Ship’s organization are at their maximum output, while others are doing what they always do. Deep in the bowels of the ship, just about half way between the bow and the stern, and several decks below the Main Deck is Fuel Control Central. Here engineers work for a seasoned warrant officer, who manages the flow of cargo fuel to the ship’s alongside. Not only does he have to select the tanks to pump from, it is crucial that he balances where he takes fuel from. Despite how gracefully the ship appears to handle it’s load of about 8.5M gallons of fuel, poor decisions could possibly cause the Ship to "hog" or "sag," putting dangerous stresses on the keel. Hogging is when there is little fuel in the midships area, with the remaining liquid distributed in the forward and aft tanks. The stress of hogging cause the bow and stern to settle lower in the water, bending the keel up in the center. Sagging is the opposite. Little liquid is forward or aft, so the weight is concentrated in the center area of the keel. Both conditions are to be avoided. Even if they don’t cause a catastrophic failure this day, extended period of this type of shifting to flex the keel reduces the life of the hull. The corpsmen wander the deck of the ship, wearing white "float coats" with large red crosses. White plastic hardhats and green medical bags adorn them. The Ship’s doctor is also wandering about, just in case of an accident. In the cargo magazines below, Gunner’s Mates and Boatswain’s Mates, with Storekeepers, located the cargo ammo to transfer it, inventory the projectiles, powders, missiles and small arms ammo by production lots. They segregate the items by the unit they are to be delivered to. It’s hot, it’s loud and they are handling pallets and “coffins” of explosives. The accounting is critical for two main reasons, one obvious, and one more subtle. The first is to account for this expensive and dangerous material, the second is to be able to find specific items, in the case of a safety issue, or a need to send your ammo to some place that needs it. It wasn’t unusual to receive messages indicating lots of ammo had gone out of date, or determined to be unsuitable for use. You have to be able to track down all that hasn’t been expended and mark it to make sure it’s not set out for use. The ammo if forklifted onto the ammo elevators and sent up to the cargo deck for staging. In After Steering, a space, like Fuel Control Central, deep in the bowels of the ship, except it is deep in the stern, in the space right above the massive two rudders that protrude into the sea to provide directional control for the Ship. Under normal operation, the bridge helm as direct control of the rudders via electro-mechanical connections to After Steering. There are large cables that run almost the length of the ship for this purpose, one on the port side of the ship, the other to starboard. This provides redundancy in the event of battle damage. Large switches on the forward bulkhead of After Steering control which one is being used. In After Steering, a pair of hydraulic motors are mounted to each rudder. This provides another layer of redundancy for this critical function of steering. The space is manned by an After Steering Safety Officer, a quartermaster, who is a qualified helmsman, and an electrician. Under normal circumstances, they have nothing to do. In an emergency, they immediately must take control of the rudders and steer the ship safely, without the benefit of being able to see where they are going. Rudder orders can be relayed by "pointer," a small arrow head that indicates on a degree scale how to place the rudder. “"fter Steering, take control of both rudders, steer by pointer" would be passed on the sound powered circuit. A gyro repeater is also provided in this space, where a helmsman could watch I, so the Bridge has the option of telling them to take control and to steer by gyro. The hope nothing too exciting happens. The "rudder horns," the large round tube that penetrates the hull and is the attachment point for the steering engines have access plates, held in place by studs and nuts. The labeling on each of them reads "Contaminated Dead Storage." It is a grim reminder of the world we exist in. It would provide a very isolated area to store those who may have died as a result of radiation sickness and couldn’t be decontaminated, or those who may have been exposed to bio agents and might still be infectious. (to be continued) Thanks to Mudville Gazette's Open Postings!

It Must Be Marine Week...

This showed up in my email tonight.
The Marine By: Corporal Aaron M. Gilbert, US Marine Corps USS SAIPAN, PERSIAN GULF March 23, 2003 We all came together, Both young and old To fight for our freedom, To stand and be bold. In the midst of all evil, We stand our ground, And we protect our country From all terror around. Peace and not war, Is what some people say. But I'll give my life, So you can live the American way. I give you the right To talk of your peace. To stand in your groups, and protest in our streets. But still I fight on, I don't bitch, I don't whine. I'm just one of the people Who is doing your time. I'm harder than nails, Stronger than any machine. I'm the immortal soldier, I'm a U.S. MARINE! So stand in my shoes, And leave from your home. Fight for the people who hate you, With the protests they've shown. Fight for the stranger, Fight for the young. So they all may have, The greatest freedom you've won. Fight for the sick, Fight for the poor. Fight for the cripple, Who lives next door But when your time comes, Do what I've done. For if you stand up for freedom, You'll stand when the fight's done.
Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the Open Posts!

I Like It....A Great Quote About Marines

Thanks, Chap, for posting some interesting links. Chasing a link he has about the best insult of the week, I found this quote at the top of the blog titled Cerebus:
"Marines are about the most "Peculiar Breed" of human beings I have ever witnessed. They treat their service as if it were some kind of cult, plastering their emblem on almost everything they own, making themselves up to look like insane fanatics with haircuts to ungentlemanly lengths, worshipping their commandant almost as if he was God, and making weird animal noises like a band of savages. They'll fight like rabid dogs at the drop of a hat just for the sake of a little action, and are the cockiest SOB's I have ever known. Most have the foulest mouths and drink well beyond man's normal limits, but their high spirits and sense of brotherhood set them apart and generally speaking, of the United States Marines I've come in contact with, are the most professional soldiers and the finest men I have had the pleasure to meet." – Anonymous Canadian
I have posted before my observations about seagull on the beachball stickers on cars all over the place. I admire the kinship the Corps engenders. I second the Anonymous Canadian's sentiments. Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the open posts!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Did Col Husband and His Crew Die for "Environmental Correctness?"

I was listening to Todd Schnitt this afternoon and he was reading this article on an analysis of how the change in that materials used in producing the ceramic insulating tiles on the shuttles casued 11 times more tiles to fall off in a flight. The change? They had to quit using Freon in the production process due to compliance with Federal environmental laws. The problem was reported on in 1997. sarc I feel so much better now, that the owls and whales are safe, but a group of humans had to be sacrified as a trade off, as I'm sure Evelyn Husband and the other spouses and families of the Colombia does, too. /sarc Btw, if you haven't picked up Evelyn's book, "High Calling", you need to find it and read it. It's quite a story about Rick. Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the Open Post!