How much fun is DRB? It kind of depends…

Ship's Chief Petty Officers of USS Fulton (AS-1) photographed on board the ship at the New London submarine base, New London, Connecticut, in 1919. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ship%27s_Chief_Petty_Officers_of_USS_Fulton_(AS-1).jpg
Chiefs who will sit your DRB. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hey there loyal readers, fans, and people I am blackmailing to increase my readership.  Welcome back to Sea Stories and Other Lies.  Today I am answering another question from a reader just like yourself… well, hopefully not exactly like yourself.  Today’s question comes from Randall in Norfolk (of course it comes from Norfolk).

He writes:  Dear Rob,  Last night I went out to the bar with some friends.  I won’t go into the details (I don’t really remember them anyway), but suffice it to say, when I woke up I discovered that I was on the wrong ship and it was underway.  After a complicated helicopter flight back to my ship I was informed that I have to go to DRB.  What can I expect at DRB?  How should I prepare?

Thanks for the question.  It’s sailors like you, Randall, who keep me in business.  Before we dive into this question, let’s give some explanation.  A disciplinary review board (DRB) is an investigative part of the Navy’s non-judicial punishment process.  The board consists of a number of chief petty officers who ask questions, gather information, and forward recommendations to the executive officer and commanding officer concerning violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, like so many things in the Navy (getting OC sprayed comes to mind) things are not as simple as they sound.  Don’t worry, Randall.  It’s not really a big deal.  Which of us, having spent any time in the Navy, hasn’t found themselves underway on the wrong ship as result of a night of hard drinking?  I’m lying, of course.  This is a really big deal and however much you are worrying about it, it’s probably not enough.

Being late to work (unauthorized absence or UA) is a pretty big deal in the Navy.  If you are an hour late to work, you are going to be in a bit of trouble.  If the ship is gone when you get there then you are going to be in a lot of trouble.  If you are late to work because you are accidentally underway on another ship… well, now you are in unexplored territory.

Falling asleep on the wrong ship is a rarity in the Navy.  A rarity, but not unheard of.  Occasionally nesting ships (ships that are moored side by side) can have a problem.  A friend of mine, let’s call him Roy, once stumbled across the quarterdeck of the inboard (pierside) ship and just went below deck instead of crossing over to his own ship.  The next morning he awoke, in what would have been his own bunk, had he been on his own ship, with the actual owner of the bunk asleep on the deck (floor).  This is because the previous night Roy, who is built like the offspring of an NFL linebacker and a terminator, found “his bunk” occupied.  He then proceeded to throw (literally) the “intruder” to the floor.  This poor guy awoke midair and concluded that the deck he landed on was comfortable enough, as he watched this human gorilla climb into his bunk.  Fortunately, Roy did not find himself underway that morning and ended up becoming good friends with the guy he accosted.  So, in this case, it was a happy ending. 

Whether or not you enjoy DRB depends on what your role is.  There are three possible rolls at a DRB: the accused, the bailiff, or a member of the board.  Since Randall’s likely role will be as the accused, it will not be a whole lot of fun.  In fact it’s going to be a lot worse than that.  It’s going to be stressful, humiliating, and probably one of the worst experiences you will have in the Navy.  The best way to prepare is to ask your mother-in-law to point out all your flaws.

The bailiff is not going to be having a ton of fun either.  This is because the bailiff is going to spend the whole time standing right next to the accused to make sure he doesn’t try to strangle the chiefs (which he will want to do at some point).  On the upside, as the bailiff, you get to hear all the dirt dished out during the DRB.  Unfortunately, because of the sensitive nature of this information, you are not permitted to talk about anything you hear at DRB until you have had at least 4 alcoholic beverages.

The best job to have at DRB is to be one of the chiefs on the board.  Hands down, this is far better than the other options.  For one thing, the chiefs have chairs.  Also they have the solemn responsibility to find out the truth and guide the accused toward good judgment and humility.  This is normally accomplished by a lot of yelling.

I’m not going to lie, DRB can be a lot of fun if you are a chief.  Let’s say you are having a bad day.  You only got 2 ½ hours of sleep last night, your division just screwed up the weekly maintenance, and you just found out all your kids need braces (which is not covered by Tricare).  Just when you think you can’t take anymore now you have to deal with a seaman apprentice who thought it would be funny (which it was) to steal all the penguins from SeaWorld and put them in the XO’s stateroom.  Your mounting stress and  frustration has just found an extraordinary release and all in the service of the U.S. Navy.

There are different ways to approach this.  Some just like to yell at the accused.  Others like to play the nice (ish) guy and ask questions.  My favorite was the passive aggressive route.  I liked to ask a lot of leading questions and see how long it took for contradictions to develop, then let one of the yellers take over.  There is no wrong way to do a DRB, as long as you are pursuing the truth it’s all good.

In your case, Randall, it’s not going to be fun.  There are two possible outcomes.  You can get yelled at for an hour and be sent up to see the XO and CO for captain’s mast, or you can get yelled at for an hour and have the charges dropped and be assigned extra military instruction.  Given all the trouble you have caused, unless you also have recently discovered a cure for cancer, you are probably going to see the captain afterward.  The good news is that after your DRB, captain’s mast will feel like a vacation.

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Navy Engineers, Who’s the Best?

U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Steven King (Released) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s time again to open up the email bag and answer one of your questions in such a way that you will actually be less knowledgeable when we’re done.

Today’s question comes from Patrick in San Diego.  He writes, “Who are your most and least favorite engineers onboard a ship and why?”

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and assume that Patrick is an engineer, because, until something breaks, only engineers care about engineers.  This can be seen on the chart below:

This is a tough question to answer simply.  There are many different kinds of engineers and different platforms in which they work.  Before I answer this question, we must first look at the engineers as a whole.

I should make a clarification for any civilian or Air Force readers.  When I say engineer, I am not referring to scientific professionals who design and build equipment.  We have them in the Navy too, but they are called EDOs or engineering duty officers.  EDOs are a fun bunch, the type of people who would consider an evening solving equations as a wild night.  Engineers, in Navy parlance, are mechanics, electricians, and plumbers/fire fighters (yep we group these two together).

Typically called snipes, engineers can be divided into two camps:  pit snipes and fresh air snipes.  Pit snipes are the engine technicians (ENs, MMs, and GSMs).  Fresh air snipes are the electricians (EM, GSE) and repair types (DC, HT).

Pit snipes keep the engines running (you know, those things that move the ship) and spend most of their time in the engine room (the pit).  These guys are responsible for pretty much every piece of mechanical equipment aboard.  They are rarely seen topside, and never without a rag, ear plugs, and a generous coating of grease.  You don’t want to make the pit snipes angry.  They have the ability to turn off the a/c or water to your berthing compartment.

Fresh air snipes are a little different.  Their time in the engine room is limited to routine maintenance and catastrophic events (like an ATG visit).  They spend most of their time topside in the fresh air.  They’re like day-walker vampires.  They work in the daylight like topsiders (non-engineers) but make no mistake about it, given the chance they will suck out your blood and then cut your unauthorized electrical cable.

In addition to pit snipes and fresh air snipes there are a few unique engineers I should note.  Sailors who work in the nuclear field are also technically engineers.  They are normally found on submarines, aircraft carriers, and in comic book stores playing Dungeons and Dragons.  These are some of the smartest, if socially awkward, sailors you will ever meet.  Their generous enlistment bonuses also make them some of the best paid in the Navy.

The machinery repairmen are also a unique breed.  One of the smallest ratings, MRs are capable of fabricating anything required to repair any equipment.  In this role they are incredibly underutilized in the fleet, mostly engraving signs and placards or duplicating keys.  They are technically fresh air snipes, but they are the freshest of all the fresh air snipes, barely engineers.  I have always had a soft spot for them, since QMs (my rating) don’t really fit in anywhere either.

And let’s not forget the ICs.  Interior communication electricians are the ship’s telephone repairmen.  They are also engineers.  Except that they are not.  Or are they?  Nobody can keep these guys straight.  ICs started out as engineers since they work with electricity like the EMs, but as their gear got much more technologically advanced they began to morph into an electronics technician who fixes phones.  Several years back the Navy officially moved ICs from the engineering community to combat systems.  So that solved that problem, except that on older ships the ICs continued to work with and considered themselves engineers.  In the end I have no idea how they should be classified and am just going to move on.

So which engineer is my favorite, as Patrick asks?  That’s really a tough one.  Personally I have had many friends who are engineers.  On the subject of specific engineering ratings my affection level tends to be in relation to how much I need their skills at a particular moment.

Obviously this can vary quite a bit, depending on the day (or even the minute).  Thinking back the engineer I needed the most it would probably be the electricians.  On the rare occurrences that I had to tag out electrical equipment, they did it for me.  Also, they may have saved my life on several occasions when I was messing with equipment I shouldn’t have been touching.

But I can’t just say that electricians are my favorites.  Mostly because it might offend the other engineers who all have access to large hammers and wrenches and who also know how to hide a body.  So I’d just like to say that all engineering ratings are my favorite.

Unfortunately, Patrick also asked for my least favorite engineer.  Again, this is tough, because of the wrench and hammer thing.  So I’m going to have to go with the nuclear technicians.  I’ll just have to hope that none of their World of Warcraft talent can be used in the real world.  I’m sure that may break their hearts but their $140,000 bonus will console them.

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Yay! The PRT is Back!

Soon the PRT will make an enthusiastic return. (Source: Wikimedia Commons. U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Bennett/Released)

Guess what, everybody?  The PRT is back, and it’s back with new and exciting changes.  Isn’t that great news?  I’m sure you all have lots of questions, which would be easily answered by reading NAVADMIN 304/20, but since you aren’t actually going to read the official guidance, I will answer them here.

It’s been so long; what, exactly, is the PRT?  Power Ranger Time?  Preventative Resilience Timetable?

The PRT is the Navy’s physical readiness test.  The twice annual assessment ensuring you’re still in shape.  Your success on the PRT is dependent on a number of variables:  how many push-ups and sit-ups you complete, how fast you run 1 ½ miles, and how much money you pay the person who is recording this information.  Your age also plays a factor.  For example, if you are 18 years old you have to be able to do two thousand push-ups and sit-ups, and complete the run in less than 3 minutes.  If you are 40 you must complete the run without dying.  I might be a little off on these numbers, because the Navy is always tweaking the PRT rules.

What new changes has the Navy introduced to the PRT?

The Navy has done away with the sit-up (curl-ups) portion of the PRT.  Instead of sit-ups, today’s sailors will be flogged by a cat-o-nine tails for 2 minutes.  No, just kidding, it’s actually much worse.  Sit-ups will be replaced by planks.

No more sit-ups in the PRT. (Source: Wikimedia Commons. U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Barnes/Released)

What are planks?  Are we going to have to walk the plank?  Is this even safe?

Another great question.  No, you will not have to walk the plank.  At least not as part of the PRT, but there is talk of making it a punishment as a result of captain’s mast.  In the case of the PRT, a plank is an exercise that involves an individual supporting themselves on their hands (or forearms) and feet.  Like you are about to do push-ups, but instead you just stay in that position… forever.

Well, not exactly forever, it just feels that way.  Time seems to slow down as you perform a plank, as is seen on this comparison chart:

Real TimePlank Time
1 Second1 Second
10 Seconds15 Seconds
30 Seconds457,298 Years

Are there any other exercises being introduced to the PRT?

Yes, as a matter of fact there is another activity being introduced this year.  This year the Navy will also incorporate rowing as an alternative to the run.  I, in particular, like this new nautical theme in the PRT.  If I could make just one change, it would be to add an outboard engine and maybe some fishing poles.

“Are there other changes are happening this year with the PRT?”

One big change is that there will actually be a PRT.    This is a bit different from last year when there was no PRT due to the COVID pandemic.  As a result some sailors may be a little out of shape.  If at all possible, it is highly recommended that all sailors travel back in time to about a year ago and stay in shape instead of sitting around the house watching Tiger King and eating raw cookie dough.  You’re going to need a DeLorean and some plutonium.  Of course that would also involve reliving the house-of-horror that was 2020, and nobody wants to do that.  This means that you need to burn off 12 months of junk food, and you need to do it now.  I say “you” because as a retiree I am free to keep my cookie dough body for as long as I want, or at least until my wife threatens to leave me.

While trying to get back in shape, you are going need to start eating better as well.  Don’t worry, I am going to help you.  Mainly what you want to do is eat less. What little you do eat, should be healthy and nutritious.

The good news is that these go hand-in-hand, because healthy food isn’t known for its flavor.  Try serving asparagus instead of cake at a birthday party and see what it does for your popularity.  So while you are eating healthy, you are going to be less inclined to eat.

 Go into your kitchen and throw out all your junk food.  Next, go to the health food store and buy nutritious food, like kale (kale is still healthy right?) and anything that is gluten free.  Now when you get hungry just go to the kitchen and eat whatever your roommate (who is not on a health food craze) has bought.  These calories, acquired by theft, do not count and are perfectly healthy to eat (until you are stabbed by your roommate).

So get to work exercising and eating healthy.  The PRT is just a few months away, unless the Navy changes the schedule again, but really, what are the chances of that?

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New Naval Uniforms, you’re going to love them!

Could these be new uniforms? Probably not. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been said that the only constant in life is change.  I’m not sure who said this, but he was probably involved in naval uniform development.  The modern Navy has over a dozen uniforms currently in use with numerous modifications in the works.

All these new uniforms and modifications started with Task Force Uniform (TFU), the first task force created by the U.S. Navy for the war on terror.   You might think it’s odd that in the middle of the largest military operation since the Vietnam War the Navy created a task force to design uniforms.  Well nobody asked you, and it’s a good thing too.  Don’t you know that the most important aspect to any tactical operation is a well-dressed navy?  This is not to say that the US Navy is better dressed as a result of TFU.

For years the Navy has struggled to develop durable uniforms with a traditional look that also serve a practical purpose.  The result has been uniforms lacking a traditional look and at the same time serve no practical purpose, and durable enough to survive up to two washings before falling apart.

The best example was the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) Type I.  Not only was this a blue camouflage uniform providing camouflage only after falling into the ocean (literally the only time a shipboard sailor wants to be easily found) but also was likely to melt to your body if the ambient temperature was higher than the average cup of coffee.

Seabees wearing NWU Type III (left) and Type I (right).  U.S. Navy photograph by LS2 Darlene Kemble/Released. (Source Wikimedia Commons)

The NWU Type I was a failure.  Fortunately the Navy learned from it and issued the NWU Type III (the story of the Type II design is so ridiculous you wouldn’t believe it if I told you).  The Type IIIs are a real camouflage uniform, designed for the rigors of combat (as can be seen by the addition of Velcro).  The green woodland design is ideal for concealment in any forest (although I will admit there are very few of these on most warships).

This is a uniform so camouflaged that even your rank was hidden.  The rank insignia is worn inside the back pocket.  I’m just kidding, it’s worn in the center of the blouse (right behind any package you might be carrying).  This has resulted in comical situations as  sailors, passing on the street, study each other carefully (with sideways glances) to figure out if a salute is required.  It’s the Navy version of Where’s Waldo?

Now that I’m retired from the Navy, and would like to continue to eat, I’ve been wondering if the Navy’s uniform office is hiring.  Given the products recently introduced, there can’t be a very high bar to clear.  I’ve even started working on a couple new ideas, which we will now explore.

Working Uniforms

Working uniforms have been a huge challenge.  A uniform which is practical and sharp is ideal but merging both of these can be difficult.  Above all it has to provide for the safety of the wearer.  No more working uniforms that melt, from now on they will be made of leather (as we all know leather never goes out of style).

The new naval working uniform (NNWU) will also be camouflage, because in the modern Navy, for some reason, it is essential that we be camouflaged at all times.  The pattern will have to change though.  Digital camouflage is so 2005.  Now in the 20’s we need something new and edgy.  The new working uniform will utilize 3D patterns.  We could then sell 3D glasses to the enemy at a reasonable price.

Disciplinary Uniforms

If there is one group of sailors that have been left out of all the uniform developments, it’s the trouble makers.  With this uniform that is a thing of the past.  I present to you the Penitential Uniform (PU).  The PU would be made of blue burlap to provide a perpetual reminder to the wearer of their offence.  The PU would be issued following captain’s mast or court martial and worn for the duration of restricted duty or brig confinement.  Instead of ribbons or warfare devices the right breast pocket would be decorated with symbols of the offences.

Physical Training Uniforms

Physical training uniforms have been a difficult area since they were first introduced in 2006.  Durability, comfort, freedom of movement, and material that breathes are all areas that should be included in such a uniform.  We know this because these are the areas that were not included when developing the current uniform.  Which brings us to the new, improved, and highly modern PT Uniform version X (PTU-X).  The PTU-X will be made completely out of body paint.  Talk about freedom of movement and breathability.  What is more durable than the human skin?  Any wear or damage and the skin will heal and then can be touched up with official PTU-X touch up paint carried in the official PTU-X fanny pack adorned with a digital blue and gold pattern.

This is, of course, just the beginning.  I have a lot more ideas but I’m not giving those away for free.  I’ll save those for when the uniform office hires me (or until I need another idea for an article).

The challenges of the future are coming and we need new uniforms to meet those challenges.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there is no such thing as a bad idea when it comes to uniforms.  The Navy will buy anything.

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Getting out of the Navy? Looking for work? Good Luck!

800px-Naval_Base_Ventura_County_Job_Fair_(15269988921)
Job fair experience (Source: Wikimedia Commons. U.S. Navy photo by Darrell E. Waller, EXWC Public Affairs/Released)

No matter how much you love the Navy (and this can change dramatically over the course of the day), you have to get out some time. When this happens, whether you retire or simply get out after your enlistment is complete, you are going to need to get another job.

While you have been serving your country, you have received many heartfelt thanks for your service. Unfortunately that gratitude does not put actual food on the table and no matter how patriotic the public is, nobody is going to pay you a livable wage to sit around the VFW telling sea stories. Trust me, I have looked into this.

So how are you going to get by? If you are lucky, you chose a rate that you love and transfers easily into civilian employment. If you are like me, you didn’t. You instead chose a rate that has no standard equivalent or value to the civilian world. In this case you need to figure out what to do.

Before you separate from the Navy, you will have to attend pre-separation training called TGPS. It used to be called TAP (and everyone still calls it that) but, apparently, the guy who names schools needed a raise. During your schooling there you will learn about veterans benefits, educational opportunities, and how to find a job. Keep in mind that the person teaching the class already has a job and your success in finding adequate employment has no bearing on their paycheck.

Finding a civilian job is not as easy as it sounds. Looking for a new job that pays well is actually a lot of work. It’s pretty much its own full time job. Only one that doesn’t pay you anything.

As you embark on this exciting new adventure the first thing you have to do is write your resume. Next, you have to find out who is hiring. Then you have to rewrite your resume specifically for this job. Then you have fill out an application and send in your resume. Then you have to wait. Then you have to call and ask if they have received your resume. Then you have to wait. Then you have to kidnap the spouse of the hiring manager until they agree to call you in for an interview. Then you have to put on a suit, that despite fitting perfectly when purchased during your port visit to Singapore seven years ago, it has somehow shrunk the morning of the interview. Then you have to go to the interview and figure out how to lie your way through it (if you have ever been to a Sailor of the Quarter board, you will have a head start). Then you have to wait again. Then you will have to kidnap the hiring manager and probably resort to torture. Then you get hired. Then you have to work until you die. Of course this is a best case scenario, you could just as easy get fired and have to start this whole thing over again.

That’s all there is to it. Well, sort of. Before you do any of this you need to figure out what kind of job you are looking for. To do this you need to ask yourself some questions. Do you want to make a lot of money? Do you want to have a job you love? Do you want a job that is low stress? If your answer to these questions is “yes” then I have good news for you. All you have to do is fly your unicorn to the top of a rainbow and slide down into your very own pot of gold because you are living in a fantasy world.

There are jobs out there, but they are either low paying, miserable, high stress, or, more likely, a combination of all three. So if you want to do well, you are going to have to think outside the box. The good news is, I have some suggestions for you:

1. Bank Robber. Do you want to make a lot of money? Have a life of adventure? Live in housing complete with fee cable TV provided for by taxpayers? Then maybe bank robber is the job for you. All you need is a mask and a gun. If you don’t have a gun just pretend you have one. It always works in the movies.

2. Motorcycle Gang Member. If you want to be feared and respected while traveling the open roads with your friends, this is the job for you. The dress code is flexible, although the leather vest appears to be non-negotiable. On the plus side you will have a bunch of friends who are willing to die for you. On the down side your friends will expect you to be willing to die for them too. Also the hiring process is very complicated. You can’t just fill out an application online. You actually have to go down their place and apply in person. You may have to fight for your life as part of the interview process.

3. Lottery winner. If you want to get rich without any effort lottery winner is the way to go. Unfortunately you are far more likely to get struck by lightning (I don’t recommend this though, there really is no money in the lightning business, Benjamin Franklin was the last guy to capitalize on this).

4. Philosopher. This is a really good job. First you need a PhD then all you have to do is write about what you think truth is. It’s pretty easy work. You will starve to death, because nobody cares what truth is.

5. Movie star. Good luck. No, seriously, you need good luck… a lot of it. Chances are you will starve to death.

6. Rock star. See movie star.

7. Inheritance. This is another great way to get a lot of money without working too hard. All you need to do is acquire a wealthy and elderly family member who loves you the more than the rest of the family, then it’s just a waiting game.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. So get out there and find a great job and enjoy your civilian life. And when you get a job., put in a good word for me. These blog posts don’t pay as good as you might think.

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What’s in the box, Chief?

Source: Author

Today’s question comes from Bobby in Virginia Beach.  He writes:  “What’s the deal with the boxes the chief selectees are always carrying around?  What’s in them?  I asked one of the selectees about it and he told me to mind my own business.”

What a great question!  I’m sure the vessel carried by chief petty officer selectees (and for that matter, the entire initiation process) is a curiosity pondered by many.

So, to answer your question Bobby, mind your own business.

No, I’m just kidding, I will answer your question.

 Before we get started let me give you a little background.  In the U.S. Navy, the advancement to E-7 is like no other.  In addition to being advanced in paygrade, it also involves entering a fraternal organization referred to as the Chief Petty Officers’ Mess.

Just like all fraternities, there is an initiation process that you will absolutely hate while subjected to it, but will love when you are subjecting others to it. The chief initiation is a grueling six week marathon for selectees. Although some might disagree, the purpose of initiation is not to kill anyone, that is only a side benefit. I’m just kidding, it’s very rare that a selectee dies, over 75% survive. The purpose of initiation is to create a bond with the newest chief petty officers by training them, testing them, and subjecting them to a reasonable (high) level of humiliation.

What about “the box” referred to by Bobby?  During the initiation season the Chief Selectees are required to carry a locked wooden box, called a vessel, everywhere they go.  At no point during the process are they permitted to be without it.  Chief selectees are very protective of their vessels, never letting them out of their sight.  Losing the vessel is severely frowned upon and normally results in additional training.

A chief petty officer selectee vigilantly guards his vessel during an uncommon restful moment. (Source: Author)

The question remains, what is the deal with the vessel?  Why is it so important?  Just what is in it?  These are great questions but, unfortunately, as it happens, the true purpose of the vessel is one of the biggest secrets of the initiation season.  As such, it is absolutely forbidden to reveal its contents.

Got that?  It’s a secret, I can’t tell you.  If you want to know the answer you are going to have to be selected for chief yourself.

Okay, tell you what, if you promise never to tell anyone, I will tell you.  Here goes:

The CPO initiation season culminates with the last day of the season.  While the whole season has been difficult and challenging, this last day is grueling.  There are endless challenges that test physical and mental fortitude.

After satisfactorily completing these, the final test commences.  It is by far the most secretive and challenging.  It is also the most decisive.  This final test will profoundly affect these individuals as they transition to chief petty officers.  Standing before the Chiefs’ Mess, each selectee must cut out his own soul and lock it in the vessel where it won’t interfere with his new duties.

From this point on, the vessels will be displayed prominently in their offices or homes until the day they retire, when they may retrieve their souls.  Of course, by this time many of them have been living quite happily with their souls locked in a wooden box and choose to leave it there, where it won’t interfere with any future job opportunities.

You don’t believe me?  You think I’m just making all this up?  Well, just stop and think about it for a moment.  Think about all your shipmates who have made chief.  They were normal sailors until that last night, right?  The next day you saw them in their new khakis and they were a different person.  They were a chief now, and they weren’t willing to put up with any of your crap.

How do you think that kind of a change can take place so quickly?  Do you think the khaki uniform does it?  The anchors on the collar?  The mustache?  Of course not.  That kind of immediate change can only occur with the traumatic act of wrenching out your own soul. 

So there you have it Bobby, all chiefs are soulless and you too will be when you make chief.  Just don’t tell them I told you about the vessel, try to act surprised.

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An Open Letter to the Navy Housing Office

Navy housing. Photo by LTJG Danae Moore (Source CNIC).

Dear Navy Housing Office,

                This is just a little note to let you know how much I appreciate you.  It has been a real pleasure living in your community in Southern California.  To tell you the truth, I have spent most of my career avoiding military housing.  I guess I was reluctant have the Navy in my life even in my off time.  Maybe I was afraid that failing to mow my lawn adequately could be punished under the UCMJ.  However, due to the housing costs in San Diego (which are a little on the high side) I moved into a nice little duplex in Navy Housing.

A picture of a toilet (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

                First off, I love the toilets.  It’s not often that toilets are at the top of any list.  But that is because, until recently, I have never had a toilet that could easily flush a mature alpaca.  Thanks to the toilet’s vacuum feature, a clogged toilet is a thing of the past in my house.  So is children sleeping through the night, since it flushes at approximately the same volume of an F/A-18 catapulting off an aircraft carrier.  Sure there are some dangers, for example you do NOT want to be sitting on it when it flushes, but what is that compared to never having to own a plunger?

                The maintenance staff is top notch.  They have always responded in a timely manner (sometimes within the same calendar year), and they will not only fix the problem, but also provide helpful tips.  Earlier this year when our garbage disposal broke, the plumber cleared the clog in less time than it takes a ship to prepare for an INSURV inspection.  Afterward, the technician informed us that if we wanted to prevent future clogs we should avoid using it to dispose of food.  I asked what kind of food he was talking about and he told me that we shouldn’t use it for any food at all.  It’s these kind of helpful hints that we housing residents desperately need.  With a name like “garbage disposal” I had somehow concluded that it was designed to dispose of garbage, but you live and learn.  We now flush our garbage down the toilet.

Like many sailors, when I return from a deployment I normally have a hard time falling asleep without all the usual shipboard noise to which I have become accustomed.  But here that is not a problem.  The dishwasher and the heater/air conditioner provide a constant hum throughout the house at a volume similar to a ship underway, while conducting flight operations at general quarters.

Actual photo from playground (Source: Author)

My biggest concern when moving to the west coast was my family’s safety.  Just watching the news about all the violence in southern California was enough for me to make my children wear Kevlar even inside the house.  Imagine my relief when I discovered that safety is your top concern.  You have no idea how refreshing it is to see the signs warning of potential unexploded ordinance.  These are especially helpful at the playground where my children play.  It’s helpful to know that the toy my kids are trying to pick up might be an unexploded rocket left over from the cold war.

Having always preferred rural to urban areas, I was worried that living in the city of San Diego would take me away from nature and wildlife.  These fears were unfounded.  Every day we are enthralled by the sights of coyotes, rattlesnakes, rabbits (though these are normally being eaten by the coyotes and snakes), and of course giant poisonous spiders.

I could go on and on but I think I have made my point.  Living in Navy family housing here in San Diego is well worth the $36,000.00 taken out of my paycheck every year.

Best Regards,

A Happy (but bitching) Sailor

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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.

USS_Oscar_Austin_DDG-79_Crest

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.

 

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