My First Ship Turns 20 Today. Happy Birthday USS Oscar Austin!

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USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) after we found out we just won our first Battle “E.”  (Photo by Gia Mate).

Today is an auspicious day.  Today is a birthday.  Today is a very important birthday of an individual who has had a profound influence on my life and many others.  Few people in the world, or even the Navy, will realize it, but for those of us who know her, know that there is something to celebrate.  Today is the 20th birthday of the USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79).  What is so special about the Oscar Austin?  Who was Oscar P. Austin?  These are some great questions (I’m glad you asked) and I am going to answer them today.

USS Oscar Austin is the 29th U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer and the first Flight IIA (which has become the predominant subclass) of the class.  She was named in honor of Private First Class Oscar P. Austin USMC of Nacogdoches, TX, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroic action in Vietnam.

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PFC Oscar Palmer Austin, USMC (Source:  Wikimedia Commons)

Oscar P. Austin was an absolutely amazing warrior.  Although in the Corps for only 10 months, this guy jumped between a fellow Marine and a grenade on the field of battle.  This was enough earn the Medal of Honor, but Oscar Austin wasn’t finished.  Badly injured from the blast he began treating his fellow Marine.  When the enemy tried to shoot them, PFC Austin shielded him again with his body and was mortally wounded.  What happened next isn’t exactly clear, what with fog of war, but I heard that, even mortally wounded, Oscar Austin killed the enemy soldier before succumbing to his wounds.

What a bad ass!  Screw Chuck Norris jokes, kids should be talking about Oscar Austin:  “Did you hear that Oscar Austin had to sleep with the lights on because the dark was afraid of him?”  His name was fitting for a warship.  Here’s a bit of my story of the USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79).  My first ship, my favorite ship, and the best ship in the fleet (although I might be a little biased).

When I reported to the Oscar Austin in November of 1999 she wasn’t even a warship yet.  We were the crew of the pre-commissioning  unit.  Precom duty is interesting.  It’s like the opposite of boot camp.  It starts off really easy and gradually becomes very hard.  You start off living in barracks, working short hours and going to Navy schools.  By the time the ship commissions your working half-days (that’s 12 hours in the Navy) with a different inspector crawling up your butt every day.  But it doesn’t matter because it’s really impressive to watch a fully operational warship come to life.  We moved aboard the ship on May 16, 2000 in Bath, Maine and prepared to sail to our new homeport in Norfolk, VA.

On a hot summer evening in Norfolk on August 19, 2000, USS Oscar Austin was officially commissioned as a warship in the United States Navy.  A long list of distinguished guests (including my parents and grandparents) were in attendance.  Long and boring speeches were given, or maybe they just seemed that way to me as I stood at parade rest sweating for hours.  Our ship’s sponsor gave the command, “Man our ship and bring her to life!”  The crew ran aboard the ship and manned the rails.  Radars spun, guns elevated, the ship’s whistle bellowed into the otherwise quiet night.

Just before we manned the ship, the spirit of PFC Oscar P. Austin was rung aboard.  Eight tones of bell rang out with the Officer of the Deck announcing, “Medal of Honor recipient, arriving.”  It was a moving and touching part of the ceremony.  However, Sailors’ dark humor being what it is, we blamed everything that went wrong on the ship being haunted (we’re a sick bunch).

Not long after, Oscar Austin, or OA as we came to call her (we never called her “Austin” as there was an LPD with that name), was underway for her shakedown cruise,  visiting the Caribbean for the first of many times.

I spent 5 years with the OA.  It was some of the worst and some of the best years of my life.  I met some of the most incredible people and some of the oddest people, and every kind of person in between.  I sailed the Caribbean, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf visited numerous ports.  Drank a lot of alcohol and spent far too much time with my head over the side of a bridge (if you catch my drift).

Your first ship is a unique experience.  You’re still a new Sailor and you still miss being a civilian.  There is no frame of reference to cloud your experience.  No past duties to compare.  Everything is new, confusing, amazing, and overwhelming.

A ship is like a family.  A very dysfunctional family, but a family.  That’s the Oscar Austin.  There is not a person that served with me during those 5 years, that I wouldn’t die for.  Although there are a few for whom I would do it grudgingly.

What could I tell you about my time on the OA?  How about the Chief who went crazy in the middle of the night in Berthing 1 looking for stowaways (while we were still inport)?

There was the time I went to XOI for getting punched in the face by a much larger and much drunker Sailor and was stuck on “liberty risk” for half the cruise.  This happened on the same night that two SMs tried to climb the mast after drinking a bottle of whiskey (yet I was the one to go to XOI… not that I’m bitter).

I remember our ten day port visit in Brest, France (where I learned to speak with an obnoxious French accent) where the entire crew balanced duty days and alcohol poisoning.  After that we spent 4 days in Rotterdam / Amsterdam which was immediately followed by an all hands drug test (and we all passed).

I was eating lunch on the mess deck February 18, 2001 watching the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt hit the wall on the last lap, although I didn’t realize he had died until the newspaper arrived the next morning while sanding the pier sentry watch.  Later that year greater tragedy hit as  I was sweeping the bridge and heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11.  That event defined the rest of my tour and really the rest of my Naval career.

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T-Shirt from the maiden deployment.

My first deployment took me to war for the first time.  The first half of the cruise focused on the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, escorting war supply ships through the Strait of Gibraltar and Bab-el-Mandeb (referred to as the “BAM” for obvious reasons).  The rest of the cruise saw us supporting Shock and Awe and the invasion.  We launched at least 30 Tomahawk missiles into Iraq (and thanks to CNN, watched some of them land).

We captured an Iraqi tug boat off the coast of Bahrain after an all-night chase through shoal water on uncorrected charts (talk about pucker factor).  Just when our VBSS boarding team was going to get their chance for glory, the USS Cowpens showed up with their embarked Coast Guard law enforcement detachment to take the Iraqi sailors prisoner.  The OA was left to stand guard duty on a deserted, anchored old tug while the Cowpens and LE Det took the prisoners back to Bahrain for victory partying (I assume, I have no idea what they actually did).

I served with hundreds of American Sailors on that tour.  They fit in every category that you can possibly think of.  Every color, religion, or creed.  Every intelligence level, hobby, interest, obsession, and vice imaginable.  But they were all family.  A dysfunctional family, maybe, but family none the less.

Since my time on the OA we have lost some of these family members.  One to enemy action, one to a senseless murder, and others to accidents or illnesses.  Every time I hear about losing another OA shipmate, whether or not we knew each other well or whether or not we could even stand each other, it breaks my heart.

My tour on the Oscar Austin ended in October 2004.  I had spent just under five years with her and I was one the last five plank-owners still aboard.  Plank-owners are entitled to bells on their final departure.  Mine came shortly after the ship moored from a brief underway.  It is customary for the departing Sailor’s division and friends to see them off on the Quarterdeck.  In addition, I was honored that every division officer aboard showed up.  As a Quartermaster, who stood watch on the bridge with these officers, it is was one of the highest honors I could have received.

I have lost touch with most of shipmates from that tour.  Sometimes I’ll come across one of them online.  Even rarer I’ll come across someone in real life.  Whenever that happens, I regress to my younger self and start reliving my life on the old girl.

In 2018  there was a serious fire on the ship, and she is still in the shipyard getting repaired from that accident.  She’s not quite as pretty anymore.  She’s got some rust and whole lot more layers of paint these days.  But a 20 year old ship isn’t supposed to look as pretty as new ship.  A destroyer is a work horse.  She ages like a jeep, the older and more banged up she gets, the more impressive she looks.

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It’s been 16 years since I’ve left that ship.  I have had an great Naval career.  I’ve been on four more deployments and been to numerous countries.  I have been accepted in the Chiefs’ Mess.  I even grew up a bit (although there is some debate on how much).  But looking back, it’s hard to think of anything more impressive than that ship.  She was my first ship, and I was her first QMSN.  We started our Navy lives together.  Now I’m retired and she’s still standing the watch.  Congratulations on a proud and successful career.  Happy 20th birthday USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79)!  Next year you will be old enough to drink, and the first round is on me.

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Eval Writing Part II: NAVFIT’s Revenge

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A sailor writing a performance evaluation (Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo by MC3 Kay; edited by author.)

Hey there,  I hope everyone is having a great week and nobody got arrested as a result of my advice.  In my last post I answered a question about writing performance evaluations, but I wasn’t able to address the full process, mostly because it is so convoluted that it never really ends.  By the time you finish everything, it’s time to start all over again.

Nevertheless I would like to go into a bit more detail.  So here you have it, “How to Write Your Eval Part 2.”  When we last spoke, you had completed filling out the brag sheet (with lies) and were about to transfer that information (lies) to the official evaluation form using the NAVFIT 98 computer program.

The first thing you are going to have to do is open the NAVFIT 98 program.  It’s called NAVFIT because it’s a Navy program for creating fitness reports.  It’s called 98 because it was created in 1998.  Yes, 1998!  To put that in context, I joined the Navy in 1999 and retired last year.  And yet NAVFIT 98 is going strong, despite the pleading from a vast majority of sailors for it to submit its retirement papers.

So anyway, now that you have opened up NAVFIT 98 next you need… What do you mean you can’t open it?  Just click on the icon on the desktop.  There’s no icon?  Well just use the start menu to search for it.  Still not there huh?  Well this happens sometimes.

Sometimes the program is not loaded on all computers at your command.  Don’t worry, if you keep searching, eventually you will find a computer with a functioning NAVFIT 98 program on it.  It’s normally the computer with a long line of people waiting to use it.

Now that you have spent the better part of your day waiting to use the computer (rather than what the taxpayers are paying you for) it’s time to get started writing your eval.  Where it says “name” you write your name.  Continue to fill out the heading blocks using common sense.  Ha ha!  Just kidding.  You are going to need help here.  What you need is to grab a copy of the Navy Performance Eval System Instruction (BUPERSINST 1610.10E) and leisurely peruse its 199 pages.  Then it’s time to hop back in line to use the eval computer.

Once you have filled out the upper portion of the eval you will rate your performance on a scale of 1.0 to 5.0 in various fields related to your work.  Here it is tricky.  1.0 in any field means you are a degenerate and 5.0 basically means you have super powers.  You are going to fall somewhere in the middle.  In all honesty, any sailor who is not a dirtbag basically ranks 3.0 in all fields.  This is because 3.0 is defined as “meeting standards.”  It means you do your job as expected all the time.  As a result, in practice, only the absolutely worst sailors are ranked as a 3.0.  If you accidentally shot you supervisor while on watch, you would be ranked as a 3.0 in “Military Bearing.”

Having finished lying about your ranking, you will move on to lie about a recommended future assignment.  Here you have the opportunity to list two possible recommendations.  Just put any two you want.  It makes no difference whether or not you are qualified (or will ever be qualified) for these assignments, nobody is going to read it anyway.  You could put down any of the following, LCPO, instructor, MCPON, Fleet Admiral, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Batman, etc.  It makes no difference, the importance is to have a dream.

Now comes the part you have been waiting for.  Ha ha, no you aren’t done yet.   You are just getting started.  Now it’s time to write your eval.  Now it’s time to fill up the comments block.  If you didn’t do well in English class you are going to hate this.  On the other hand, if you did well in English class you are really going to hate this, because eval comments are not written based on any agreed-upon rules of the English language.

The comments block is written in “bullet format.”  This is a disjointed list of three to four outlandish claims followed by dubious justification.  These bullets are always preceded by an unrealistic adjective, for example, “outstanding,” “superb,” “excellent,” “great,” and if you’re feeling ambitious, “magnanimous.”   This list normally follows this order:  leadership, whatever it is you do, collateral duties, and community involvement.

In practice it might look like this:

-OUTSTANDING LEADER

-SUPERB TECHNICIAN

-EXCELLENT COMMAND INVOLVEMENT

-FANTABULOUS VOLUNTEERER

After each bullet you should add a couple unverifiable fragmented sentences that justify the preceding bullet.  You get this information from your brag sheet (remember your brag sheet?).  Once you’re done with that it’s time to print your eval out.

One of two things will happen.  Either you will forget to save your work and print out a blank eval, or you will realize the printed evaluation has, inexplicably, truncated your report.  Either way, you are on your way back to wait in line again at the eval computer to start the experience again.  Good luck, you are going to do great!

 

If you have a question you’d like to ask just click this link and I will be sure to answer it just as soon as I get around to it. If you would like an accurate answer, then you probably shouldn’t.

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Why Do I Have to Write my Own Evaluation? Because…

Eval again

Greetings loyal readers.  It’s that time again.  Time for one of you, the people to ask me, the voice of wisdom (you poor souls) a question and have it answered in a legally questionable way.  Today’s question comes from  Angelina Jolie (which, I suspect, may not be her real name) who writes: Hey Jack or Rob or whatever you’re calling yourself these days, my LPO just tasked me to write my eval.  Isn’t that his job?  How do I go about writing an eval anyway?

What a great question.  Writing a performance evaluation is one of the most important and most difficult tasks you will do in your naval career.  The Navy uses your periodic evaluation when selecting you for competitive orders, to assign points for the advancement exam, and, when you get more senior in rate, at the selection boards.  Additionally, after your military service is complete, the civilian world also uses it to see who is dumb enough to submit their eval as part of their resume.

Let’s answer your first question first.  Isn’t it your LPO’s job to write your evaluation?  No.  It’s your job.  I know it seems logical that your leading petty officer would write an evaluation on your performance, since as your boss, it is kind of his job.  In fact, this is not the case.  Your LPO has no idea what you do most of the time.  Sure, he knows what he told you to do at quarters in the morning.  But he has no idea all the hell you had to go through to accomplish those tasks.

For example, imagine your LPO has tasked you to run an aloft chit.  So you went down to CSMC and found out that they didn’t have any of your personnel’s aloft qualifications.  So you had to go to your workspace computer to log on to RADM to print out your quals.  But the computer was being used by the RPPO to order supplies (for which there was no funding and were not even authorized aboard ship).  So you went down to the engineering log room and paid (yes, you actually paid with your actual money) to use one of the 3 (completely free) engineering department computers.  But while you were still logging on to the network the Top Snipe dragged in the engineers to yell at them because they screwed up clearing the danger tags on the engines and told you to get the *@%# out of the log room.  So you went to the boatswain locker and convinced the BM2 who was watching YOUTUBE videos, to let you use the computer.  But then you realized that you were still logged into the computer in the log room and the network wouldn’t let you log onto another computer.  So you went back down to the log room to log off the computer and the Top Snipe took a break from yelling at the engineers to yell at you for your failure to follow simple instructions.  Then, when you finally got logged onto the network you found out that RADM was down for maintenance.  So you went down to Radio and had convince the ITs to bring RADM back online.  After you finally printed out all your aloft quals and delivered them to CSMC you found out that they were not authorizing any aloft activities today because the engineers are lighting off engines (which turns out to be the reason the Top Snipe was yelling at the engineers).

Your LPO doesn’t know any of this stuff.  Your LPO has a half dozen collateral duties to worry about and when it comes to your job is mostly concerned with you getting it done and keeping the chief off his back.

Another reason you need to write you own eval is for practice for when you are an LPO.  Eventually when you are running a division you are going to have to make your sailors write their own evaluations and need to know what you’re doing.

On to your second question.  How do you write your eval?  I’ll tell you as soon as I figure it out.  No, just kidding.  Before you write an evaluation you need to fill out a brag sheet, which is a form (but not a standardized form… there are thousands out there) that no one will ever look at.  A brag sheet is just what it sounds like, a piece of paper where you brag about everything you have accomplished (both real and, more often, imaginary) over the past year.

“What,” you may ask, “do I do if I don’t have any accomplishments to write down?”  What a great question!  I’m glad I pretended you asked it.  If you didn’t do anything worthwhile this year you have a few options.

First thing to do is to take credit for your subordinates accomplishments.  Anything one of your sailors did can be attributed to a result of your leadership.  You might feel uncomfortable about taking credit for someone else’s work but remember that time you got chewed out when your entire division was hung over and the ship was getting underway in an hour?  Well it works both ways.

Second thing is to take credit for anything the ship or command did.  This should be stated in such a way that even the most pedestrian task was intrinsic to the command accomplishing its mission.  Even if the only thing you did was to refill the vending machines once a week (despite the requirement to restock daily) it was integral to the nutrition and morale of hundreds of war fighters launching missiles against a hostile force.

The third thing to do is lie.  Just boldly make up anything you want.  Think about it, would your LPO be having you write your eval if he knew what you did anyway?  That said, lying is a tricky thing.  There are facts in play that you don’t want to contradict.  For example you wouldn’t want to claim that you sacrificed your life for your shipmates.  The chain of command would probably follow up on that.  Likewise you wouldn’t want to claim that you received the Medal of Honor.  People would want to see the medal, and you can’t just pick that up at the uniform shop.

I know you may have some moral qualms about blatantly lying on an official document, but here’s the truth about the eval system.  Everyone lies on evals.  I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s a fact.  If you were to just tell the truth, that you show up on time every day in a clean uniform and work a full day keeping up on qualifications without complaining within earshot of your chief, the chain of command would assume that you’re a dirtbag.  To be taken seriously, you are going to have to exaggerate enormously.

What to do if you are caught in a lie.  Deny it.  No matter what is said, stand your ground.  You want to emulate Shaggy in the song “It wasn’t me” where the singer is caught, and even filmed, red handed, by his girlfriend, in numerous acts of infidelity.  His friend’s advice is to deny it saying, “it wasn’t me” repeatedly.  The song was number one on the charts so there must be something to it.

Once you’re done with your brag sheet it’s time to write your eval.  All you have to do is transfer the best information from your brag sheet to the evaluation form using the NAVFIT98a program and cry yourself to sleep when the program crashes.

 

If you have a question you’d like to ask just click this link and I guarantee an answer… eventually.

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“I Love DTS” and Other Things a Sailor Never Says

 

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It’s that time again.  It’s that time where I, your helpful, retired Sailor, answer your questions thoughtfully with sensitivity, though not necessarily with accuracy.

Today’s question comes from Gary in Jacksonville, Florida.  He asks:  I’m heading up to Brunswick, Maine for training and they told me to take care of it using DTS.  I have never used DTS and have no idea what I’m doing.  Can you help me?

There are times in life where you just know that you can make a difference.  That the stars aligned to put you in the right place at a time crucial time to solve a problem that only you can solve.  That your particular experience and expertise has prepared you to intervene in a particular situation.  This is not one of those times.

I’m sorry, Gary, but I can’t help you.  I really wish I could, but despite numerous travels and TAD assignments, I have never figured out DTS.  While I am sorry that I can’t help you, I can tell you that I am in good company.  There are literally millions of people who can’t help you.  In the entire Department of Defense there are a total of 10 people who understand DTS, and only five of them can actually use it.

I have actually met one them, although she made me promise not to reveal her name or her location in exchange for her assistance.  It was amazing to watch her work.  It was like meeting a superhero, or a unicorn, or a unicorn who was a superhero.

For those of you fortunate enough not to know what I’m talking about, DTS stands for Defense Travel System.   It’s an online system used to coordinate official travel.  You can create itineraries, purchase airline tickets, reserve lodging, draft orders, compare costs, and file for reimbursement.  When I say “you can” I’m obviously not talking about you.  Or even me.  I simply mean that, in theory, this system is designed to accomplish this.

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The last thing a Sailor sees before losing all hope.

There are a few acronyms that simply strike fear in to the very soul of a United States Sailor.  INSURV is one of them.  So is  I.G.  But the worst is DTS.  Hands down I would rather show up naked, to a spot check with the CO… without hazmat, than deal with DTS.  First of all the spot check would be over faster.  A lot faster.  On the other hand you will be dealing with DTS until you die of old age.

Fortunately with only a little diligence and motivation you can figure out DTS.  I’m only kidding.  It take a lot more than a little diligence and motivation.  It takes a LOT of diligence and a LOT of motivation and divine intervention.

Fortunately, again, DTS has provided training guides to assist you.  Yes, you read that right, guides, as in more than one.  As in five.  There are five guides to help you figure out how to use DTS.  You just know it’s good program when they write five guides to help you use the program.  Compare that to civilian travel systems like Travelocity, which provide absolutely no training guides to help travelers use the program.  Using basic math this means DTS is five times easier to use than Travelocity.

This is just another time that math has lied to you (another time was when it told you that there was a thing called imaginary numbers).  DTS is not 5 times easier than anything.  It is not even easier that building a nuclear bomb.  If you make a mistake making a nuclear bomb your problems are over.  Whereas if you make a mistake using DTS your problems will never be over.  Years later you will be dealing with the government trying to recoup money that it never actually overpaid you.

So here’s where I offer you a simple solution to your problem.  Just don’t go to Brunswick, Maine.  It’s really cold (yes, even in the summer) and there’s nothing to do anyway.  It’s a whole lot easier to go to the brig for refusing to obey an order than to try to figure out DTS (in fact, someone else will do all the paperwork for you).  I’m glad I could help out.

 

If you have a question you’d like to ask just click this link and I guarantee an answer.  I can also guarantee the answer’s accuracy (it won’t be).

Follow me on Twitter: @rob_hoops

Thanks for reading.  Check back often.  Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE and SHARE.  Did you catch that SUBSCRIBE and SHARE.  SHARE this post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Parler or whatever has just popped up out there.  Especially those of you with lots of followers and friends.  C’mon, hook me up.

 

“OC” Pepper Spray is Fire in Eyes

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Source: Wikimedia Commons: U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Daniel Viramontes

If there is one thing I love to do, it’s help people. I’m not going to do it today, but I am going to do the next best thing. Well, maybe not the next best thing, but I am going to do a thing. I’m going to answer one of your questions.

Today’s question comes from Frank in Little Creek, VA. He writes: “My Chief just told me I have to get OC sprayed next week. Is it true that it really hurts? What’s it like?”

Well Frank, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that it doesn’t really hurt. The bad news is that you will wish it really hurts, because “really hurts” is woefully inadequate. In fact, to say it is the most horrific pain that you will ever experience, doesn’t quite get the point across either.

Oleoresin capsicum is the full name for OC spray, which is why we use the short name. Sometimes referred to as pepper spray (but in the Navy we love our acronyms), it is made by finely crushing an extraction from peppers.

OC spray is considered an intermediate weapon. Intermediate between using your hands and using your gun. It is a good choice when the adversary is much larger or stronger than you but the situation does not call for deadly force and thus you can’t kill them, no matter how much they are pissing you off.

The upside of OC spray is it can diffuse a dangerous situation without killing someone, while at the same time, making the people you sprayed wish you had killed them. The downside is that you might spray yourself, and that happens more than you would think.

This is why all personnel who carry OC must first be sprayed with OC. If you or a teammate accidentally spray yourself in the face (like an idiot) in the middle of a riot, you are still going to be in the middle of a riot. In fact, you will be in a riot, but now with a face full of OC and a crowd full of rioters that you just tried to spray with OC. You are going to have to still be able to fight and perform in this situation.

What does it feel like to be sprayed with OC? That is the question on the mind of Frank and pretty much anyone about to be sprayed for the first time. Before I was sprayed for the first time (yes, I have been sprayed more than once) I was told, it would feel like getting soap in my eyes.

That is an accurate description, assuming that it is soap mixed with gasoline and set on fire. It is so horrifically painful, that I would rather be shot than be sprayed again.

Quick note on that last point: Save your certificate that you receive after completing the course. I cannot stress this part enough. Make a dozen copies of the cert and put one in a safe or maybe even a safety deposit box, or bury it and create a complex pirate treasure map. Whatever you do, DO NOT LOSE THIS CERTIFICATE. How do I know this is so important? Because I lost my certificate (like an idiot) and had to be sprayed again. AGAIN!

Anyway, back to my first time being sprayed. Like I said, they told me that, it would sting like soap in my eyes. Suffice it to say, it was not quite like soap in my eyes. It was so much worse. My eyes were burning as described above, but that was not all. My nose was spraying like a firehose (on the upside, if you have any sinus congestion, this will fix it). It also has a tendency to throw off your equilibrium, so I was also stumbling around a bit.

In a perfect world, after subjecting an innocent human being to this ordeal, you would apologize profusely and have them lie down where they could cry like a baby (which was all I wanted to do).

But we do not live in a perfect world. In this imperfect world I was then forced to run (or more accurately, stumble) the course. The course is about five different stations containing your shipmates holding large kick pads. The object of these stations is to simulate hand to hand combat situations where you punch, kick, and baton strike the pads being held (even though you want to hit the people holding the pads). After all the stations it was time to face off with the final boss: the Red Man.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons: U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Phylicia A. Hanson

The Red Man is a man (or sometimes a woman) covered from head to toe with red pads. You have to fight and subdue the Red Man while he fights back. It is a full battle. Well, not quite. They go a little easy on you; by this time you are pretty tired, in a lot of pain, and have lost most of your body’s supply of phlegm (which may or may not be an essential bodily fluid).

You may ask, what I learned from this experience. I learned that I could handle myself in a riot if I was accidentally sprayed with OC, assuming that the riot was composed entirely shipmates holding pads.

I learned an even more important lesson the second time I was sprayed: DON’T LOSE YOUR OC CERT!

Good luck Frank, I’m sure you will do great. Remember, it’s just like getting soap in your eyes.

If you have a question you’d like to ask just click this link and I will be sure to answer it just as soon as I get around to it. If you would like an accurate answer then you probably shouldn’t.

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Ask Jack? – What’s with your name?

IMG_4777It’s that time again, loyal fans. Time to take your heartfelt questions and offer questionable advice. Why do I do this, you might ask?  I do it because I care.

Today’s question comes from Dante in New Jersey. He writes: I have been following your blog for a while and I have two questions.

1. How do I subscribe to your blog? I keep clicking the subscribe button but I never receive an email when you publish new material.

B. What’s up with your name? Your name was listed as Jack Quarterman for years, now is say’s “Rob Hoops (AKA Jack Quarterman)”. Is it Jack? Is it Rob? What’s going on?

Dante, thank you for the questions. I will answer them using the same incomprehensible numbering system you prefer.

Answer 1. In order to subscribe to my blog enter your email address in the block to the right (if on a pc) or at the bottom of the post (if on a phone) and then click the “Follow” block. But you are not done yet. You still have more to do (sorry). You will receive an email from this site asking you to confirm that you want to follow the blog. Just click the “confirm follow” block in the email and you will receive emails when new material is published. That’s all there is to it. What are you waiting for? Get to it. Stop reading and subscribe now. You can finish reading after you subscribe.

Now moving on to your second question.

Answer B. My name. What’s in a name? Wouldn’t a rose by any other name smell just as sweet? Just trust me, due to a strict bathing regimen, I smell just as sweet as a bouquet of roses.

Seriously though. My name is Rob Hoops… and Jack Quarterman. Kind of one of those split personalities type of things. Rob is the serious (well mostly serious) Chief Petty Officer with no sense of humor, and Jack is the sardonic, sarcastic, sometimes disgruntled Sailor who wants to tell jokes.

The difficulty of being a Chief… actually there are many difficulties with being a Chief… one of the difficulties with being a Chief Petty Officer is that everything you do is a testimony on your integrity and professionalism. Everything you do or say will affect how others view the Navy. Because I never wanted anyone to view their Chief (or worse, all Chiefs) as some joker who doesn’t take anything seriously, I consciously decided to use a pseudonym (a fake name, for you Army guys) in an attempt to be viewed as the “every Sailor” that anyone could identify with.

There is also a tendency in the military that as you advance in rank your sense of humor diminishes. Or maybe there is a tendency to only advance individuals who lack a sense of humor. Either way there a plenty of high ranking Naval personnel (not all, but enough) who would be highly offended by stories making light of life in the Navy. While I was on active duty I wanted to avoid any controversy associated with my writing. I have since retired from active duty and would prefer to publish material under my real name (even though some of my family will now have to change their name as a result), so I have updated the blog to reflect this. Since I originally published as Jack Quarterman, I left that name as my “AKA.”

That’s it Dante. I hope I answered your questions to your satisfaction.

If you have a question you’d like to ask me, click here

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Charts vs. Maps: A battle to the depth

Greetings loyal fans and anyone who ended up on this site while searching Google for information about the Navy (sorry about that).

It’s that time again. It’s time for you to ask me a question, and it’s time for me to give a completely unreliable answer. That’s right, it’s time to Ask Jack? (even though my name is not actually Jack – long story).

Before we get to our first question I want to remind (encourage… entice… compel… coerce… whatever) you to subscribe and share. Did you catch that? Subscribe and Share. SUBSCRIBE and SHARE! SUBSCRIBE AND SHARE!! SUBSCRIBE AND SHARE!! Do it now. The article will still be here when you get done.

Alright, now that you are subscribed to this blog and have shared it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Myspace, Reddit, Snapchat, LinkedIn, etc. it’s time to increase your wisdom and knowledge (although not by much).

Today’s question comes from Doc in California. He asks: “Why are water maps called charts and not just water maps?”

This is an interesting question. I get the impression that Doc knows me personally. Only someone who knows me would know how much it irritates me when someone refers to a chart as a map. Did you ever see Star Trek II where Captain Kirk yells “Khaaaan!”  That’s me when someone says “map,” but I’m yelling, “Chaaaart!”

A bit of context is probably due. My rating (job specialty) in the Navy was Quartermaster (QM). Quartermasters specialize in maritime navigation. This is distinct from Army Quartermasters who specialize in logistics and supply procurement. In the Army one is a master of quarters (i.e. living accommodations). In the Navy one is a quarter (1/4) of a master (the captain). Mathematically this means five quartermasters in agreement outweigh the captain. As a result Quartermasters are prohibited from agreeing on anything.

Of course I’m lying. No one outweighs the captain. A ship’s captain is the world’s one remaining absolute authoritarian. But it is true that QMs rarely agree on the best way to do anything. If you ask 4 QMs, you will get 5 different opinions.

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A Sailor plotting on a nautical chart.

One of the few things that all QMs agree on is that charts are not maps. Why? Because a chart is not the same thing as map.  A chart is designed to maintain a navigation plot. You are actually supposed to write and plot on a chart using a systematic method. A chart is an actual aid to navigation or ATON (you know it’s important if there’s an acronym for it).

You don’t plot on a map (I mean, I guess you can if you were so inclined, but it is not designed for that purpose). A map is a reference tool. It is designed to be referenced but not actually navigated upon.

Another difference between charts and maps is the method used to store them. A chart is folded in half twice and placed in a drawer in the chart table. A map is folded in an accordion pattern that, once unfolded, is impossible to ever properly refold, and placed in glove compartment after which it will never be taken out because nobody uses maps in cars anymore.

Superficially, of course, a chart is similar to a map, but is NEVER referred to as a map.  A truck is similar to a car but it is not referred to as a car.  A ship and boat are both watercraft but serve different purposes.  A Sailor and a Marine both serve in the Department of the Navy but only one has been lobotomized. It is possible for things to be similar but still be different enough to require different titles. A chart is a chart and a map is a map. You don’t have to agree with me, but that just makes you wrong.

In the Navy, Sailors tend to get really uptight about certain aspects of their ratings. Quartermasters don’t want their charts called maps. Culinary Specialists take it really personally when they get complaints about the food (and they get a lot of complaints because a Sailor will complain about anything, also sometimes the food sucks). Boatswain’s Mates get upset if you call the mooring lines ropes. Fire Controlmen have created an entire document explaining how everyone else on the ship exists just to support them. Hospital Corpsmen don’t appreciate it when you try to get them to falsify your medical record. ITs get kind of ticked off when you plug a flash drive into their network. Engineers are annoyed by topsiders leaving early, by having to help topsiders, by topsiders not helping engineers, and pretty much topsiders in general (engineers are a moody bunch).

Tess and Dad
Even my daughter can tell a chart from a map.

I remember on my first deployment when one of the ship’s generators dropped the load (crashed) causing the other online generator to carry the ship’s full electrical load. Immediately the Aegis Fire Controlmen were scurrying around the ship to try to salvage their systems. After the power had been restored, the Chief Electrical Tech was smoking a cigarette when one of the Fire Controlmen walked in, looked at the Chief and said, “Nice generators.” How did Chief reply? With years of experience, the recognized expert on the electrical plant, realizing that he must use tact and sound judgement, punched him in the face.

Just for the record this is not now (nor was it then) the approved method of mentoring a junior Sailor. However, it is worth noting that nobody again disparaged the generators (at least not within earshot of this Chief). We all learned an important lesson that day.

I’m not saying that I would punch Doc in the face for referring to charts as maps.  That’s just not my style.  Also I think Doc is bigger than me, so there’s an aspect of prudence there.  In a perfect world he would be publicly flogged and keel hauled, but we do not live in a perfect world.

 

If you have a question you’d like to ask just click this link to Write to Jack and I will be sure to answer it just as soon as I get around to it.  If you would like an accurate answer then you probably shouldn’t.

Follow me on Twitter: @rob_hoops

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Coronavirus, Impeachment, World War III… 2020 is Already Nuts

We’ve had quite the year so far. In January we looked with hope to an exciting new decade. We finally made it to the twenties, a brand new decade ahead of us with amazing possibilities. Then, while we were still nursing New Year’s hangovers, World War III was imminent.

On January 3, the U.S. military conducted a strike killing an Iranian general virtually no American had ever heard of (and virtually no decent person would mourn). Reactions to the strike were mixed, with Republicans pointing out that General Soleimani (whose name they were still learning how to spell) was a terrorist and murderer who deserved to die for his crimes and that they had always held this opinion, dating all the way back to yesterday. Democrats, on the other hand, objected that if the president was going to kill a terrorist the least he could have done was invite them to the after-party. Iran vowed immediate retaliation, but shortly after got distracted by problems with their aviation administration.

So World War III turned out to be less climactic than originally expected, with the only repercussion being that Millennials were able to claim the title of the “New Greatest Generation” for winning World War III. Since we were able to wrap up the global conflict in record time, the nation was able to move on quickly to the next apocalyptic event by impeaching the president of the United States.

The whole impeachment stuff started last year, but the actual trial in the Senate took place February 2020. For only the third time in the short history of this nation a sitting president was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Whether or not you believe the president was guilty depends on which news network you prefer. If you watch Fox News, then Trump’s biggest crime is that he is not publicly executing Democratic members of Congress. On the other hand if you watch CNN, then you know the president is selling children into slavery and performing live human sacrifice on an altar built in front of the White House. If you watch MSNBC, it is likely that you are unable to read this sentence.

So going into the impeachment hearings, Donald Trump was either the savior of all mankind, or the manifestation of the Anti-Christ. How was the average American to react to this conflicting news? Mostly with Baby Yoda memes. That was pretty much it. The general public was not all that interested in the impeachment hearings. The general public had just won World War III, this was no time to worry about the whatever was going on in Washington. On the other hand the news networks were interested in it on a religious level.

Regardless if you love Trump, hate Trump, or were trying to figure out if it was worth it to keep Disney Plus after season one of The Mandalorian, the president was found not-guilty of… something, I’m not really sure what. I kept Disney Plus.

With all that behind us it was time for a visit from the next horseman of the apocalypse, with the Coronavirus. At some point in February people started talking a lot about China and something called the Coronavirus. Like 95% of the country, I wasn’t really paying attention. I mean, I didn’t even drink Corona.

But it turned out that the Coronavirus is a major new disease that will kill the whole world in a matter of weeks. Or maybe not, it’s really tough to figure out how bad this thing is. On the one hand a lot of people have died from it and even more people have contracted it, but it’s being described as pretty much the same thing as the Flu, but it is definitely not the same as the Flu.

It’s times like this that I realize just how privileged I am to live in this country. A country where, in times of crisis, we can turn to our elected officials to reassure us that they will work with the best minds to find a solution to the problem. From our elected officials I have learned several very important facts:

1. Donald Trump is directly responsible for the existence of the Coronavirus. Although not explicitly stated, he may have actually funded the creation of the virus or maybe even developed it himself in the Oval Office.

2. Donald Trump is the only reason the entire population of the country is not already dead and has personally created a cure for the Coronavirus, but Democratic members of Congress are responsible for not being able to deploy it.

3. Congress is not going to let this important issue become politicized.

So I have no idea what’s going on. The news is telling me to worry about it, but also not to worry too much. It’s a really big deal, except that it is not really a big deal. As a result I defaulted to the same way I dealt with Y2K (kids ask your parents about this one), Swine Flu, Bird Flu, the Beltway Sniper, the Mayan calendar, and every other doomsday I’ve had to live through. My plan is, pretty much, to just hope for the best. I mean if the world ends, there’s not much I can do about it… and at least I don’t have to worry about finding a new job.

Then I was confronted with the truth of the virus. There I was, ignoring all the panic (but still not drinking Corona, just to be on the safe side), when I had to run to Walmart for some milk and toilet paper. Milk was no problem, but I couldn’t find toilet paper. At first I thought that I just couldn’t figure out where they kept it, so I kept looking. Eventually I asked an employee and he looked at me like I had just asked to buy heroin (not quite, he probably could have found heroin).

Not only was Walmart out of toilet paper, so was Target, Publix, Piggly Wiggly, and every other store I tried. Apparently the shortage is a result of the Coronavirus. I can’t figure this one out though. Does toilet paper cure the virus? Does the virus have (shall we say) symptoms that result in the need for 500 rolls of toilet paper? Did everyone in the toilet paper industry already get the virus, causing the shortage?

I wish I had known this was coming. I could have made a little bit of money dealing: “Whachu want, man? I got Charmin, Angel Soft, Cottenelle… I got one ply, two ply, ultra-soft, ultra-strong… The first roll is free.” Think about the possibilities. Oh well, maybe next apocalypse.

I guess my real worry with this whole thing is, what if this does turn out to be a worldwide apocalypse and I don’t die from it? What if I end up as the sole survivor? Like Will Smith in I Am Legend. Sure, it would be fun drive through town in a stolen Lamborghini and live in mansions by myself. Maybe shoot some mutants. But eventually the electricity would stop working and the food would go bad and I would have to default to my survival skills, of which I have none.

So this is 2020, and it’s only March. Things could still get a lot worse before 2021. It’s an election year, so it probably will. Someone really needs to figure this thing out. I would love to help, but I’m looking for toilet paper.

 

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Ask Jack? Why is it called Port and Starboard?

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It’s that time again, loyal fans! It’s time for me to open up my email and to read your many questions.

Billy from Sandusky, asks: Why don’t Navy guys get eaten by sharks more often? Because Sailors are on ships and the sharks don’t have proper I.D.

Maggie from San Diego asks: I’ve heard of people getting out of going to prison by joining the Navy. Is it possible to get out of the Navy by going to prison? Wow, I know the Navy can be rough at times, but is it really that bad for you? To answer your question. Yes, that is an option. See your master-at-arms for more details.

Randall from Houseton, TX (yes, “Houseton”) asks: Is it true that ships float because they’re bouncy? That’s what my science teacher told me, but I can’t believe a big metal ship would bounce. To tell you the truth, Randall, ships can be very bouncy in rough seas. I don’t think that’s why they float (although there were times I thought it might make them sink). Just a shot in the dark, but your teacher may have said that ships float because of buoyancy. See your local Army recruiter for more information.

After these fantastic questions, which caused only slight despair for the future of this country, I got this one from Reggie from Riverdale (please let that be his real name and city). He asks: Why does the Navy use “port” and “starboard” instead of “right” and “left?”

This is a great question (if only by comparison). There are a number of reasons for this one. First of all, nothing in the Navy is the same as it is in the rest of the world. Bathrooms, water fountains, mops, buckets, floors, etc. all have there own special names when on the ship. It’s part of naval culture. Like barfights in Singapore. If we just called it right and left how would that be special? You might as well be in the Army. And you don’t want to be in the Army do you Reggie? Do you?

Also, keep in mind, left and right can be confusing. Have you ever given directions to someone driving?

You: “Turn left at the light.”

Driver: “Left?”

You: “Right.”

Driver: “Right?”

You: “No left!”

Driver: “Left?”

You: “Right, left”

Driver: “Right then left?”

You: “No dammit! Turn left at the #*&$*&% light.

Driver: “Which light?

You: “The light your passing right now, moron!”

Driver: “Why are being so hostile?”

You: “Because you’re an idiot who can’t follow simple directions.”

Driver: “If you could give simple directions, it would be easier to follow them.”

You: “What is so %&$@ing hard about ‘turn right at the light?’”

Driver: “I thought you said ‘left?’”

You: “So now you heard ‘left?’ What the #@** is wrong with you?”

Driver: “You are just like your mother!”

You: “I want a divorce.”

See how confusing that can be? Historians now believe this is the how Christopher Columbus set out for India and ended up in America. Now let’s try that scenario again using port and starboard instead.

You: “Turn port at the light.”

Driver: “What the #@** is port?”

You: “I want a divorce.”

See how more efficient that was? This is why the U.S. Navy dominates the seas.

Strictly speaking port and starboard are not simply directions. They are locations in relation to the ship as a whole. Port is the left side of the ship when facing forward. Starboard is the right side of the ship when facing forward. Think of it like a car, where we have a driver side and a passenger side. Port is driver side and starboard is passenger side.

Little known fact: Early mariners actually used the terms “driver side” and “passenger side” prior to the invention of port and starboard. However it was cumbersome for lookouts to make reports, “I have an unknown contact off the passenger side bow moving passenger to driver.” Additionally, since this was before the invention of the automobile, nobody had a clue what anyone was talking about.

There is no exact consensus on why the terms port and starboard were chosen. Many believe that the port side was tied to the pier when they named the sides, and the only thing they could see on the other side was the stars. Also for some reason, the British started calling the port side “larboard” for a while. I’m being serious. Apparently, because “left” and “right” were too likely to cause confusion, they opted for two words that sounded virtually identical. I can’t imagine any situation where this could cause a problem.

So as you can see, Reggie, port and starboard have a long and important history, not just to the U.S. Navy, but to the entire maritime world.

If you have a question and you’d like me to pretend to give an honest answer click this link. I will be sure to give you a thorough answer just as soon as I get around to it.

 

Remember to subscribe and share. Go ahead share a link to this post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, LinkedIn, or whatever way you socialize these days. I’d like to thank the fantastic blog: Tales of an Asia Sailor for reposting my last post. Go check it out.

Retirement Speech: My shipmates’ last opportunity to listen to me ramble

THANK YOU NOTE: I would like to thank all my readers who have shared links to my blog. I would especially like to thank the blog: Tales of an Asia Sailor for reposting my last article. If you haven’t been there, go check it out. It’s a great site with some great stories. Additionally if you enjoy anything you read on my site please share it… even if you don’t like it you can still share it, I have no problem with that.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Several months ago I retired from active duty. The speech I gave at the ceremony was well received and there have been numerous requests for me to post a copy. I was initially hesitant to do so. There’s a part of me that thinks a speech is one of those “one and done” kind of things. However after reflecting on it a bit I realized that if I posted it, I wouldn’t have to write something new this week, and thus I was convinced. Here you go, “A Sailor’s Last Speech”:

IMG_9903

In my experience, it’s only a real Naval Ceremony if there’s at least one significant screw up. So don’t worry about making mistakes. It would be a shame to ruin a tradition.

According to Jerry Seinfeld, public speaking is the number one fear of the average person, death is the second. This means that if you are at a funeral you would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. (This is the first of many lines I will steal or plagiarize during this speech).

This is true for me. I am not a fan of public speaking. As a result you will most likely reap the benefits of a short speech.

A disclaimer is due here. I am, as I am often reminded, the oldest member of this crew. As such I have a very dated sense of humor filled with 80’s and 90’s references. Some of my millennial shipmates might not get all my jokes. So if you hear something that sounds like it might be a joke, just go ahead and laugh. It will make me feel better, and make those of us Gen Xers feel slightly less old.

Well let’s start this off with the obligatory long list of “Thank Yous” during which I will inevitably forget to mention someone, and will then hold a grudge for the rest of our lives.

I must first give thanks to Almighty God, for the many gifts He has given me: my health, family, and this great nation… Nothing happens without permission of divine providence and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our nation in the United States Navy. It is only with His blessing that I have been able to have a successful career.

To my beautiful wife Allana; thank you for saying yes to a proposal that not only would have you putting up with someone as insufferable as myself, but also would drag you across the county several times where your husband would spend well over half the time on the ship. Thank you for joining me on this crazy adventure. With my retirement you have my word that I will devote every ounce of effort to come up with believable excuses for why I’m still not helping out at home.

To my 3 (almost 4) children. Thank you for being my anchor to adulthood. They say you never really grow up until you have kids of your own to worry about. After a 38 year childhood I have finally grown up thanks to you. I even have almost as many tools as video games now. I never knew heartache at getting underway until you came into my life. After 43 years on this planet you are my greatest success. My duty days are done now and I will devote more time to ensuring that success… even if it kills us.

To my parents. Thank you for being the best parents I could hope for. God sure knew what he was doing. The only way this lazy, hard headed, stubborn, temperamental kid would ever amount to anything, was in the house led by your example. Your values, faith, devotion, motivation, and patriotism formed me into the man I am today (yes, that’s right, you have to accept some of the blame). Every success I have had is the result of following your example and, fittingly, every failure I owe to neglecting that same example. And, Mom, I’d like to point out that I followed your advice for my entire career and never fell off the ship.

To my sisters Katie and Mary. I know we spent years fighting as we moved around the country following Dad’s Naval career. But I guess that’s one of the things that leads to a strong family. You’ve been there every step of the way. My boot camp graduation, my pinning as a Chief Petty Officer. Thank you for being here. Katie, when you were initiated as a Chief, I guess you became my double sister. Just remember, that as I retire today, I still outrank you… for now. I’m sure soon enough you’ll surpass me.

To CDR Kevin Barnes. Thank you for making the trip out here and agreeing to lie by saying nice things about me. Who would have thought that young uptight ensign and this obnoxious 3rd class back on the OSCAR AUSTIN would be wearing scrambled eggs and anchors today?

To Father Mahowald. Thank you for your prayers here today and your vocation. You and your brother priests are an inspiration to be emulated to all the faithful. We owe you a great debt for answering the Lords call of service. While it’s possible that my service may have saved some lives. It is certain that yours has saved souls.

To Jade Kennard and Rob Landeros. Thank you for helping me coordinate this event. It has far surpassed my expectations. You have had to had to do the impossible, put up with me and my random ideas.

Stu Hooper, thank you for agreeing to MC this event and as a result have to talk almost as much as me.

To all participants in this ceremony. Thank you for taking your valuable time to making my day. And thank you to our shipmates who are standing the watch and can’t be here with us.

Thank you to the Air det guys for moving all their gear in and out of the hangar several times to make space for us.

To our Command Master Chief Pat McCormick. I have been a thorn in your side since you got here. But hey, that’s just my job: the devil’s advocate, the voice of dissent, the smart-aleck, and generally, just a pain the neck. You have been a great mentor… which is even more impressive since I am not really a cooperative protégé. When I had started to lose faith you smacked me upside the head as a true Chief would and told me to quit whining and anchor up. I’m not sure if I ever truly stopped whining but I did try. Thank you. You are a true brother, and I am proud to have served with you.

To all my brothers and sisters in the Chiefs’ Mess. Thank you for all you do and will continue to do long after I have left this stage. Blood is thicker than water, but not many bonds are stronger than the bond forged in the US Navy Chiefs’ Mess. The greatest fraternity I never knew I wanted to be a part of. Here’s a little secret: as a young… younger Sailor I never liked Chiefs. Those arrogant old goats who thought they knew better just because they wore those anchors. Sure I wanted to make Chief, but I didn’t want to be one of them. Then I was selected for Chief. I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid. I chugged the whole pitcher. I am a true believer. There is no organization I would rather be accepted in than the United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Mess. Y’all have had my back since day one. You have trusted me and always kept me straight; sometimes with advice, sometimes with a kick in the pants. Thank you.

To our Captain. Thank you for granting permission for this ceremony today. It’s a extremely busy week for the OMAHA and I know this cuts into the ship’s schedule. Thank you for being here today sir, and for your kind words. We’ve only served together for a short time, but it’s been an honor.

To my fellow Quartermasters. Only a QM can understand another QM. Life lived on the bridge among the officers but firmly entrenched in the enlisted ranks. At sea everyone seems to want to talk to us, so they can find out where the ship is (as if that location would make the slightest difference in their daily existence… “do you have a date or something?”) On the other hand in port, no one seems to care about us (which is ok since we like to leave at before lunch.) Thank you for all the support you have given me over the years, especially helping this old man figure out how to use VMS… I’ve almost got it figured out. It’s long been said “trust your keel to those who wear the wheel.” I’m proud to have served among you. Keep those ships off the rocks!

To the crew of the USS Jackson / USS Omaha. Thank you for an outstanding tour of duty to close out my career. There are so many of you that I have gotten to know but I just don’t have time to mention you all by name. I will miss this crew most of all.
And finally to everyone else I’m forgetting, the old shipmates, friends and family that have been with me along the way. Don’t feel slighted. I’ve got to wrap this “thank you” thing up or we’ll never get to have any cake. Thank you all for everything.

Well that just about does it for the thank yous. I’m sure I left someone out and I apologize for that.

There comes a point in every Sailor’s career when he knows it’s time to retire. This is different for every Sailor. For example, the average Warrant Officer experiences it just as his coffin is being lowered into the ground. For me it was about 15 minutes after I got off the bus at boot camp. Fortunately the Navy doesn’t have a 15 minute retirement policy, otherwise I would have missed out on the most amazing years of my life.

Most of you know that I am a Navy brat. My father was career Navy as was his father. I grew up traveling around the country from one duty station to the next. If you had asked me what I wanted to do with my life my answer was always “I’m going to join the Navy.” What I planned do in the Navy was never the same. During the 80’s I was going to fly F-14s like Maverick (who is apparently and inexplicably still in the Navy himself). Later I decided I was going to be a SEAL.

Well you know the old saying “if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” It seems that my calling was in the Surface Navy. The real Navy. The only part without some sort of adjective. The toughest group of Sailors in the Navy. Sure people will claim that Pilots, SEALs, EOD, or Submariners (that’s for you IT1) are tougher, but just send one of those SEALs to serve 5 years on a destroyer…

SEALs have an unlimited budget. Our budget is very limited. SEALs have a saying: “The only easy day was yesterday.” Huh, how about that? SEALs have easy days. In the surface fleet, yesterday was hard too.

Air dales, those guys can’t do anything without 8 hours of sleep. My last deployment that was how much I got weekly.

EOD… sure their job is dangerous, but if they screw it up just once they don’t have to worry about anything again.

And of course, those sub guys… yeah we’re not gonna go there… It’s too easy.

When the United States Navy was founded on October 13, 1775 there wasn’t any of that. John Paul Jones, David Farragut, George Dewey, Daniel Stevens, Osmund Ingram, Peter Tomich, Dorie Miller… Surface Sailors built naval history and tradition. The Surface Navy is the real navy, I’m proud to have been part of it.

Even so, my Naval career had a particularly rocky start. You see, it turns out the Navy is a whole lot more glamourous from the outside than it is on the inside. Even as a Navy brat, all you really see is the sharp uniforms and ships. You don’t see the PMS checks. Painting the ship. Working parties (which is one of the least fun parties I’ve attended). The duty days, the underway watch rotations, the deployments that remind you of the movie Groundhog Day where the same day is replayed forever.

We have a saying: “A bitching Sailor is a happy Sailor,” and during my first enlistment, according to this definition, I was a very happy Sailor. So happy, in fact, that still today I run into people I served with on my first ship and they are very surprised that I stayed in. But I survived my first hitch and I discovered that I actually wasn’t too bad at this Navy thing. About the same time Al-Qaeda decided to fly a few planes into some of our buildings.

As the country was thrown into the war on terror I was finishing up my first enlistment just before the maiden deployment the OSCAR AUSTIN. Well there was no way I was gonna miss out on the war especially since we would probably be going after the people who devised the attack on our country.

So I reenlisted. The OSCAR AUSTIN deployed. We escorted dozens of military cargo ships through the Strait of Gibraltar, captured an Iraqi tug boat, launched 33 Tomahawk missiles into Iraq (you should have seen those Tomahawk FCs strutting around…) and I spent 2 months on liberty risk (but that’s a story for another day… well maybe if you meet me at the bar tonight…).

I spent 5 years on the OSCAR AUSTIN. I started out as the disgruntled Sailor who couldn’t wait to get out but when I left to go to shore duty I was thinking, maybe, just maybe there’s something to this Navy thing…. I mean, my father did it. My grandfather did it… Might as well keep the tradition going.

A lot of Sailors live their first enlistments to just get shore duty, but when you get there you’re in for a surprise. Shore duty is boring. The comradery, the sense of purpose, the urgency are all gone. I had gone from a 2nd class divisional LPO where the Captain regularly asked my opinion, to a 1st class with virtually no responsibility. I probably should have taken more college courses but instead I counted down the days until it got back to the fleet.

My next sea duty assignment was PC Crew ECHO. PCs are the smallest commissioned warships in the U.S. Navy. Only 179 feet long with only a 28 man crew. I like to think of the PCs as the pirate navy. Where regulations were more guidelines than actual rules. We were commissioned naval warships but our adherence to naval regulations was a bit loose. Here’s a story for you:

So there I was standing OOD (inport) on the bridge of the USS TEMPEST (PC-2) (inport watch on a PC is in the bridge… it’s a really small ship). The Captain came on the bridge and sat in his chair. (Just so you understand, the bridge on a PC is about the size of a walk-in closet.) The standard greetings commenced “Good afternoon sir.” “Good afternoon QM1.” On the aft bulkhead the 21MC sounded off, “Bridge, Main. Start #1 MPDE.” I turned to the Captain and requested permission to start #1 Main Engine. He granted it and I went to verify that the bridge was station in control and that the throttles were in neutral. I went back to the 21MC and replied, “Starting #1 MPDE, throttles are in neutral, bridge is station in control.” I walked over to the starboard side of the bridge (right in front of where the Captain was sitting) and pushed the green start button, the engine roared to life. I went back to the 21MC and reported “#1 MPDE started.” Cheng repeated, “#1 MPDE started aye.

It was at this point I noticed that the captain was looking at me the same way my father would have looked at me if I’d showed up to meet the Pope in a pair of pair of board shorts. Incredulously the Captain asked (and I’m sure you engineers can guess where he was going with this), “QM1, what did you just do?” This strikes me as odd since he not only saw me start the engine, he granted permission not more than a minute ago.

It occurred to me that since he was relatively new to the ship he might not be aware that PCs start all the engines from the bridge and not in main control. So simply replied (as respectfully as you can imagine), “I started #1 MPDE sir.”

Still looking aghast he asked, “In accordance with…?”

“In accordance with the green button on the console.”

Now trying to control rage and frustration he said, “EOSS?”

“Bless you sir.”

Okay I didn’t actually say that. I actually knew what EOSS is. It’s a red notebook that says EOSS on it and has something to do with engineering things, but seeing as I was a Quartermaster I still had no idea why wanted to talk to me about it. But since this was obviously important to him I went to the front of the Ship Control Console and grabbed the EOSS book. It was covered in a thick layer of dust. And not just normal dust. It was that sticky kind of dust you find on the top of your refrigerator. This book had not been used recently. Definitely not in the past year. In fact it was possible that it hadn’t been used in the life of the ship. I opened it up went to the page about starting engines where is said “Push the green button.” How about that ? I was EOSS compliant.

It was with ECHO that I was selected and initiated as a Chief Petty Officer. I won’t go into the details. My fellow Chiefs already know about it, and if you haven’t experienced it no explanation will do it justice. Let’s just say I didn’t die in the process.

I won’t bore you with all the other details of my career path. If you are curious feel free to read my bio in the program… it’s a good treatment for insomnia.

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If there is one thing I love to do is give unsolicited advice. So I’m going to give you a list of wisdom and aphorisms I have picked up, plagiarized, and in a few rare cases, actually come up with on my own along the way.

-There are only two great ships in the Navy: Your last one, and your next one.

-The BMR says the backbone of the ship the keel. But the actual backbone of the ship is her crew.

-Once a Chief, always a Chief… unless you are expelled from the Mess for the unforgivable crime of becoming an officer. But that’s ok, my father is an officer and look what he accomplished: he raised 2 Chiefs.

-Duty is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more, and never wish to do less.

-There is only one test or inspection that really counts: Real Life.

-The definition of tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell and have them look forward to the trip.

-The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

-Sailors belong on ships, ships belong at sea, land is a hazard to Navigation… but we all know we kinda want to be where we don’t belong.

-Never judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you judge them you’re a mile away and have their shoes.

-Place your family before your job. The Navy was here before you, and it will do just fine when you leave… your family will always be with you.

-Never attribute to malice that which can be ascribed to sheer stupidity.

-The definition of a calculated risk is a gamble which military men take when they can’t figure out what else to do and which turns out to be right. When it turns out wrong, it wasn’t a calculated risk at all. It was a piece of utter stupidity.

-If you want something now really bad, you will get it now and it will be really bad.

-The reason the US Navy performs so well in war is that war is chaos, and the US Navy practices chaos on a regular basis.

-Nothing worthwhile is easy.

-Don’t be full of yourself. If your people will follow you anywhere, it’s probably out of curiosity.

-There is no such thing as a born leader. There are born jerks who like to be in charge, but that doesn’t make you a leader. Whether you are shy introvert, a head strong extrovert, at Type A, a Type B, or just a born jerk that likes to be in charge, being a leader means taking charge in spite of your personal characteristics. This is never easy. Being a leader is NEVER EASY. It is a constant fight against your selfish nature to focus on your people and the mission first.

This is the last day I will wear the uniform, so I will no longer wear the anchors I have worn for the past 8 years. Since I will no longer wear them, I need to pass them on to someone who will hopefully soon be able to give them new life. Since I am the only Quartermaster aboard I have looked to the ET/IT division as my surrogate division. They work up on the bridge (yeah, weird huh? That’s a first for me). And, while terribly understaffed, they work tirelessly and exceptionally to keep this ships networks and endless electronic gizmos functioning.

IT1 Dwyer: Front and Center. You may be a submariner at heart, and I have no idea what all that computer stuff you talk about means, but you’ve got drive and heart that motivates me. I hope to see you in Khakis soon, and maybe, just maybe these anchors have a little luck left in them.

But you know, I wear the same kind of anchors on my whites, so I guess I have to pass on that set too.

ET1 Thao: Front and Center. You are never without a smile and positive attitude even when you are stringing together an impressive outburst of profanity at the frustrations that come with being an electronics technician aboard an LCS. I’ve enjoyed our many conversations on the smoke deck. I hope these anchors can bring some luck your way.

Finally I’d like to close with a quote from one of greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, in one of his most famous speeches: “Be excellent to each other, and… party on dudes!”

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