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

IMG_0256
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.

476px-Austin_OP_USMC
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

Adobe Photoshop Image (2)
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.

Follow me on Twitter: @rob_hoops

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

 

DSCN3115

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.

DTS
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.

1024px-USS_Mesa_Verde_(LPD_19)_140606-N-HB951-047_(14210986309)
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.

Follow me on Twitter: @rob_hoops

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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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