Church on Sunday with Young Children: Easier Than D-Day

Stop what you are doing and click this link.  It’s my new article at Crisis Magazine.  I’m not sure how I convinced them but check it out before they come to their senses.

As I exit church on Sunday morning, gazing off into the distance like a soldier back from the front, a (normally older) parishioner will tell me how well-behaved my children are. This happens every week, but I’m always a little surprised.

The behavior being complimented was right next to me, and my perspective is a bit different. I felt like the foreman at a nuclear power plant managing five volatile reactors on the verge of meltdown. Apparently, everyone else saw the von Trapp children…

Read the rest:

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Understanding the Midterms Without Narcotics

The 2022 midterm elections are finally over.  Right?  I think they’re over.  Please tell me we’re done with the midterms.  The commercials are gone and the polling centers are closed, but like a lingering party guest at 2:00 am, the election just won’t go away.

U.S. Government photograph.  Source: Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Government photograph. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The midterm election was November 8th with the final results posted in December, which seems like a long time to wait but there is a good reason.  In the United States elections are conducted in accordance with each state’s constitution.  In some states, votes are hand counted by a committee of 3rd graders with ADHD.

With the final results posted, it was time to get on with our lives.  No, sorry, we don’t do that anymore.  Instead, it was time to file lawsuits challenging the results. These cases will work their way through the courts methodically, ensuring that they will neither end, nor affect the outcome of the election.

Next came the Georgia runoff elections, required by state law in order to preserve a sense of mystery.  Neither of the two Senate candidates received a majority of votes in the general election and both appeared equally undesirable.  Democrat Raphael Warnock had few fans as many voters associated him with the need to find a co-sign to buy milk.  On the other hand, Republican Herschel Walker, a retired football star with no government experience, was averaging 38 scandals a day.  Republicans appeared to have an advantage when it was revealed that upward of 87% of the state’s population had been fathered by Walker.  In the end however, Warnock won, which is sad for the Walker family.

 The completion of the runoffs marked the end of the midterms.  At least it should have.  Instead there was some drama in House of Representatives.  Electing the speaker of the House took a few more ballots (approximately 6,295) than normal (one).  As the voting wore on, members took turns accusing each other of being Nazis.  Many feared a despotic future, lacking the wisdom of a functioning legislature.  Things looked bad, but then a hero emerged from the group.  Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) fearlessly conceded to an elaborate list of demands (it’s rumored he ritually sacrificed a senior EPA official to prove his loyalty) and secured election as the speaker of the House.

So now the election was finally over and if there is one thing we can learn, it’s that we all hate each other.  The whole country is acting like a divorced couple dividing the property, “Oh yeah, you want California, you can keep California.  Keep California and your earthquakes and wildfires, but don’t you mess with Texas, I’m keeping that.  And you know what, I’m also keeping the Dakotas.  Yeah, both of them.  And Georgia?  We’ll talk about Georgia later.”  So things aren’t perfect, but at least we can put the midterms behind us and move on to more pleasant things like war with China.

But wait, no, not yet.  Even though it is clearly 2023 and we have plenty of our own problems, the 2022 election still won’t die.  There are allegations that newly elected Congressman George Santos (R-NY) lied during his campaign.  This, in and of itself, is hardly noteworthy.  We expect politicians to lie, and we pretend to believe them as long as they to put forth a moderate effort to avoid getting caught.  That’s the social agreement.

George Santos: A face you can trust.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Congressman Santos, however, is pushing it a little.  It looks like he lied about every credential aside from his name.  From his religion, family history, education, work experience, to a brain tumor, he has pretty much lied about everything that has ever happened, ever.  Not surprisingly, members of congress are divided in their reactions.  Democrats (definitely not motivated by weakening the GOP majority) are calling for his resignation.  Republicans (definitely not motivated by maintaining their tiny majority) disagreed.  Republicans note that Santos was fairly elected and will have to answer to the voters (who are definitely paying attention to all this).

When challenged, Santos admitted to “embellishing my resume,” immediately making him the most honest representative in office.  “I’m sorry,” he added, which sounded sincere, and I see no reason why we should not trust him.

 Surprisingly, Florida had no issues despite a reputation of electoral difficulties.  In recent years the Sunshine State improved ballot counting so effectively that the November election results were completely tabulated in September.  Ron DeSantis was then installed as dictator-for-life in a lively ceremony where he drank from the severed head of Mickey Mouse while tossing his opponents to the alligators.

And so, it ends?  We can hope.  The 2022 midterm election is an experience best left in the past, only referenced when we need to tell our grandchildren about real problems.  Our attention now turns to the important work these elected officials are going to screw up for the next two years, when we will definitely hold them accountable (probably).

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Lucky Recruits Get 2 Extra Weeks at Boot Camp

If you have been following the news (my condolences) you may have noticed about a thousand articles (or possibly, one article posted a thousand times on social media) reporting that the U.S. Navy boot camp has been extended from eight to ten weeks of training.  Fortunately, in this ever-divided world, the Navy is finally taking action that cannot possibly be interpreted as a partisan political issue.

Recruits pass-in-review at boot camp graduation. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t be a moron.  Everything these days is a partisan political issue.  If you watch Fox News, you know that this is part of the plan for the woke military leaders to turn the Navy in to a hippy commune.  On the other hand if you watch CNN, you realize that this is a vital change to ensure that our sailors aren’t extremist neo-Nazi rapists.  If you watch MSNBC, you probably have a long stream of drool puddling in your lap.  No matter where you look, you can see the military’s public image is doing well.

I for one support this new plan.  Why, you may ask?  Because I, like so many retired sailors, realize that it in no way affects me. 

 What’s going to happen during these additional two weeks?  That’s a great question.  The focus is on preparing sailors for the fleet.  Now I know what you are thinking, “Isn’t that what the other eight weeks are for?” 

Don’t be stupid.  The first eight weeks of boot camp are devoted to marching, making your bunk 47 times a day, and doing pushups as a punishment for not marching well or making your bunk correctly.  Also there are classes on naval culture and procedures and some uniform inspections.

With all this vital training there is no spare time to teach recruits what they need to know in the fleet.  Initially the plan was to make boot camp even longer.  At the planning stage they wanted to lengthen boot camp to 20 years and at the end, instead of graduation, there would be a retirement ceremony.

But the question still remains, what is the important training that will take place in the additional two weeks?  To answer that we turn to the Navy Times, the source of all naval wisdom for those who don’t know how to look up instructions.  According to the Navy Times this time will be utilized for the “Sailor for Life” module, which is a retention tool designed to ensure that all graduates reenlist.  As part of the training all sailors will be implanted with a microchip that will provide an electric shock any time they think about getting out.

Okay, that’s not 100% true.  It turns out that the Sailor for Life module contains training on sexual harassment/assault prevention, suicide prevention, anti-hazing, organization, financial management, and time management.  Since this is basically the same training sailors in the fleet attend at regular intervals, it is perfect for preparing new recruits for their first assignment.  Although the article doesn’t mention it, I like to think that the module incorporates simulated ATG assessments, underway schedules, watch rotations, 3M maintenance, etc. throughout the day while sandwiching the training in the middle as the instructor speed reads 150 slides to a half-awake audience.

The fact is, sailors need this training in the fleet, and the last thing the Navy wants is new sailors reporting for duty without the basic ability to attend this training without falling asleep.  We train the way we fight.

The only problem with the Sailor for Life module, is I don’t think it covers everything.  The U.S. Navy is a complex organization with many nuances that are confusing to new recruits.  With just a couple additional weeks the curriculum could be expanded to include the following essential subjects:

-Where to find all the 400 million instructions and references (from the Defense Department, the Navy, your region, your fleet, your squadron, your command, your department, etc.) that regulate every part of your life.  There are four people in the Navy who know where all of these are.

-How to set Yoke.  (Everyone not in the engineering department is guessing).

-How to draft an outgoing message (ask the ITs to do it for you).

-How to conduct drills without waking up the air detachment personnel, who require 16 hours of sleep.

-What to do if the shower curtain touches you (report to medical immediately, they may have to amputate).

-What to do if you take a shower without shower shoes (get your affairs in order).

-What you should say at captain’s call when they ask if there are any questions (nothing).

-What to do when you are late for watch (apologize profusely, offering up your first born as a sign of contrition).

-What to do when you wake up naked in a foreign prison with a hangover (pray).

-How to make more money by marrying someone you just met.

I’m sure I’m leaving out something here.  If you have any ideas let me know and we’ll send them off to the Navy.  Remember, boot camp is ten weeks now, but with a little imagination we can round it out to a solid three months (or more).

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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.
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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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!

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.

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.

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.


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.

Check out some of my other articles here.

If you have a question for me and don’t mind a dubious answer click here.

**MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL**  Share this post.  Go on and SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, um… Tinder maybe?? I don’t know.  The important thing is to SHARE.  Remember “SHARING IS CARING!!”

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