Ask the Chief: Ceremonies in the life of a naval ship, Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

Commissioning

After christening and launching of a naval ship, commissioning is the next major ceremony in its life. The builders turn over the ship to the Navy, to an authority who will bear responsibility until the ship is commissioned. Prior to commissioning, no pennant, jack nor ensign is flown from the ship and no honors are rendered, other than courtesies upon his or her arrival. Honors are rendered at his departure. The ship is turned over to the commanding officer who accepts her and assumes command. Invitations reflect the host of the ceremony, including the crew among the hosts. Invitations are issued in the form, “Commanding Officer and Ship’s Company” or “Commanding Officer, Officers and Crew”. This is the first time that the title “USS” or United States Ship may be used as it is a commissioning ceremony. Established practice is to have a basic, official ceremony and when the ship is officially in commission, to continue with official speeches, personal remarks, and presentations. It is during this latter part of the ceremony that officers and crew are on duty and manning their station as in-port watches. This process adheres to Navy Regulations regarding commissioning. Officers fall in aft by dress parade stations on the quarterdeck or at the fantail, and the crew is marched aft, by division, to assigned stations. The ceremony begins with an invocation by a chaplain. The executive officer reports to the prospective commanding officer that the officers and crew are at their stations and everything is ready for the commissioning ceremony. By seniority, the official party, the admiral or designated representative and the prospective commanding officer arrive at their places on the ceremony platform. The officer conducting the transfer reads the orders delivering the ship and the orders to commission the ship are relayed from the commanding officer to executive officer to the navigator. At the “attention” signal, the national anthem plays, and ensign, commissioning pennant, and jack are hoisted at the same time. The commanding officer reads orders to assume command and orders to set the watch. The Officer of the Deck takes his (her) station and makes the first entry in the ship’s log: ” The ship is now officially commissioned.” Speeches, addresses and presentations by the official guests continue; the ceremony concludes and the official party departs. A reception usually follows.

IMAGE CREDIT: US Navy photo by MS1 Ernesto Bonilla, USS Daniel INOUYE, DDG-113 (navy.mil)

the restless Earth

Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

An undersea volcano near Tonga in the south Pacific Ocean created tsunamis that flooded the nearest islands and were measurable five thousand miles away in North America. An undersea earthquake off northern Japan was so violent it disturbed the Earth’s axis, and the tsunamis caused the Fukushima reactor to break down and release radiation. Tsunamis created by an undersea earthquake in Indonesia caused a quarter-million deaths along the coastline of Indian Ocean and Java Sea. On an island near New Zealand, tourists were killed in an eruption when the tour operators were ignorant of or ignored warnings of the impending threat. All over the world, millions of people live along the tectonic boundaries where continents bump against each other, ocean floors spread apart, or dive one under the other. Though weather and movement in the earth are rigorously monitored by technology and experts all over the globe, a pyroclastic cloud obliterating a Latin American community, or a tsunami that washes away homes and livelihoods in Indonesia may strike the vulnerable before the warnings can be acted upon.

As much as the global community is compelled to act to counter Climate Change, tangible support and actionable assistance or infrastructure, in regions where earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity damage and kill or injure tens of thousands is warranted now more than political activism and questionable initiatives. Would collective action to install better warning systems, engineer stronger buildings, or investigate “flood-control” measures be useful to counter natural disasters that are happening now?

garbage in and cannot get garbage out

Garbage is humanity’s biggest problem. Specifically, “what to do” with garbage we humans generate. It is a way more immediate a problem than the ice caps melting as my neighborhood is not expected to be waterfront property even in my grandson’s lifetime. When populations numbered from dozens in an area to a few million across a continent, garbage was not contemplated for the problems it generates today. But nine billion people on Earth generate a lot of waste. Communities in major cities around the world live in garbage dumps. Burning trash, tires and chemical spills make large swaths of the planet barely livable. Plastics and other toxics are collecting in thousand square mile ‘rafts’ in all of earth’s oceans. While I may empathize with global authorities who want to reduce human influence on changing global climate, and where to dump what and recycle other materials, the immediacy of the problem about garbage, for me, is collection.

I live in southern California, and this past December, the company whose trash service I contracted for the last dozen years became embroiled in a labor dispute with its employees. Without weekly collection, residences, businesses and even cities have been overwhelmed with trash. The company quietly noted that subscribers could dump in the company-run landfills without additional cost- but that requires the means to bring it to the landfill which I did not have. A week ago, I paid for a private company to take it all away. Republic Services only yesterday ran a garbage truck down my street. It was almost insulting. They had brought other employees in from other regions to mitigate a potential dispute with the largest municipal contract. Those of us in the unincorporated county had staged our bins each week in hope of being served. After four weeks without further notice from the company, neither of my neighbors had left their bins for collection on the curb! That probably was the emptiest garbage truck moving through our community that morning.

Not mentioned in this whole affair is the new legislation enacted by ‘our’ representatives in Sacramento. California has mandated that food waste as well as other decomposable matter now has to be screened into “green” bins, separating ‘greenhouse-gas’-generating waste, recyclable waste, and landfill -acceptable waste by all residents and businesses. At least, that latest maneuver was anticipated by me late last year. I began a compost program to create fertilizer for my home-grown fruit and vegetables. As for what to do with animal bones – the beef, chicken, pork and fish we eat? I am now supposed to put them in the Green collection. I could crush and burn them at home, as one website advises about minimizing landfill gases, but then the fuel to burn them and the smoke that will generate might get me cited. I am already frivolously barbecuing and smoking away on the pellet smoker Santa brought me for Christmas.

Hopefully, the new service (the one with green, methane-run trucks) I engaged at the end of the year will deliver the means for me to separate my trash today (as promised). At the very least, even if our food waste requires some extra effort to dispose, one effect of the legislation enacted on January 1 will be to minimize burying food that goes unsold in groceries and restaurants in California. Saving the additional space in landfills while feeding people struggling, is noble. What California does to enforce the new environmental rules among the tens of thousands living on the street, whom they were supposed to house by prior legislative initiatives, as they do not subscribe to a waste removal service.

Let us table that discussion. I have trash to dump. Regulations to read. And the environment to save.

Ask the Chief: Ceremonies in the life of a naval ship, Part 1

Image (Christening), DD-462, FITCH, from US Naval History and Heritage Command

There are four traditional ceremonies in the life of a naval ship: the keel-laying, christening and launching, commissioning, and the decommissioning. The keel-laying ceremony is relatively simple, with formal invitations made to interested parties for the “laying of the keel of Name or designator and hull number (e.g. DD-123), if not yet named. Notably, prior to commissioning, “USS” is not used in conjunction with the ship name. At the shipyard, after invocation, an official such as the shipyard president welcomes guests and introduces a guest speaker. After remarks, the speaker may direct or affix a nameplate or weld his or her initials on the keel. Finally, the keel is moved into position by shipyard workers, and it is announced that “the keel has been truly and fairly laid.”

When a ship is christened today, the event continues the long history in maritime cultures of ceremony. Originally a dedication to maritime deities, the ancient Greeks and Romans, Chinese and Polynesian cultures used water or wine or blood (Polynesia) in the ceremony honoring the gods. In France, sea-going vessels were blessed by Catholic priests; wine was not splashed against the ship but was reserved for the guests! Beginning in the early Nineteenth Century Europe and America, with Queen Victoria in Britain, naval ships’ sponsors increasingly became women. US Navy ships were initially christened with water though wine or champagne has christened ships for almost two hundred years except for the period of Prohibition in the United States. Interestingly, Naval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions, Sixth Edition, (Naval Institute Press) recalls a story where USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) failed to launch when water was used, twice. It only slipped down into the Boston harbor when a bottle of choice Madeira wine was splashed against it. The ceremony itself is a dedication and named, involving speakers who will relate historical or other association with the person, place or event for which the ship is named. The sponsor is introduced and then the actual christening occurs. And again, until the ship is in commission, “USS” is not associated with its name.


Talking like a Sailor: Navy terms and acronyms

For 2022, I wanted to introduce readers (and recall or reinvigorate in my case) terms, acronyms and abbreviations used in the Navy. Earlier today I was reminded of the times I used to talk on the phone with our son while he was serving in the Army, and how his mother found Army jargon unintelligible. However, I would run everything he said through a translator in my head. After a quarter-century of serving with or working with other service veterans, I put others’ jargon into Navy-speak, and pretty much follow along.

Terms

  • Alive. Usage includes “look alive, shipmates!” (energetic, move quickly)
  • As you were. Order to carry on with what you had been doing.
  • Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). Food allowance (pay) received when no military galleys are present/ authorized to mess separately.
  • Black shoe. Slang term for a surface Sailor (ship’s company). Its opposite is Brown Shoe.
  • Brown shoe. Slang term for an aviator.

Acronyms

  • AOE. A combat support ship and the fastest auxiliary ship in the Navy. It provides fuel, missiles, ammunition and general stores.
  • CCOL. Compartment Check Off List. Part of the Planned Maintenance System. There must be a CCOL located in every compartment and weather deck area where a Damage Control facility is located.
  • COSAL. Coordinated Shipboard Allowance List. Contains the nomenclature and nameplate data on equipment, identifying repair parts and materials, and provides for the allowance of such to be in the unit’s supply storerooms.

Ask the Chief: honors and salutes

The United States Navy has a tradition and a future. We look with pride and confidence in both directions

Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN

Honors and Salutes

Aboard a naval vessel, an officer serving as the Officer of the Deck (OOD) must ensure that all proper traditions, courtesies and ceremonies are observed. The overall effect of these properly executed conveys discipline and close attention to detail of that military unit. Some of these courtesies and honors the OOD is aware, by current instruction, instructs the rendering proper honors by signalmen. Additionally, the OOD ensures lookouts observe, and pass to the Officer of the Deck, approaching dignitaries and senior officers; and acknowledges senior (command) authority aboard passing vessels through use of “attention” and “carry on” signals.

Sailors in today’s Navy should still be aware of the history of customs and traditions that are part of their “DNA”. A book I have had on my shelf for the last fifteen years is Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, Sixth Edition, written by CDR Royal Connell, USN (Ret) and VADM William Mack, USN, (Ret), published by Naval Institute Press (2004). One of the introductory passages in this edition speaks to the evolving history of the United States Navy. The Navy today has, in the last fifty years, experienced two of the pivotal transition periods, namely, the post-Vietnam era and the Global War on Terror – from first Gulf War, piracy in the Horn of Africa, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Ask the Chief: the shine makes a fine Navy day

The shiny glow of my new concrete patio and driveway gives me a moment of pride. It is the same sort of pride I had when, forty-plus years ago, I had learned that the discipline required to spit-shine your boots to the point the inspector could see his reflection, polish brass belt buckles and other metals to a glow, and to present a spotlessly clean and sharply pressed uniform, marked a Navy man’s accomplishment of minimum standards set by the inspecting authority. While in training and then again in our units, inspections followed prescribed “field days”. Every surface from overhead to the crevices behind the urinals in the head were meticulously cleaned to remove debris and stains. The shine on the waxed decks were routinely reapplied, scrubbing off the old floor wax, reapplying new and buffing them to a high gloss. The regimen we practiced to achieve that shine carried over to the meticulous manner that every Sailor applied to the equipment that each operated and maintained. Being acknowledged by the Executive Officer, often the prize for the least number of observed inspection “hits” might be an extra night of liberty or bragging rights among your peers.

Though it has been more than twenty years since I last had rolled up my coverall sleeves and set about scrubbing for a shipboard field day, the shine I observe on my new sealed concrete patio and driveway fills me with a “little” Navy pride. Even the strong odor of the sealant when it was first applied a few days ago, brought back memories of the blue terrazzo deck coating and sealant my team and I applied during an in-port maintenance period. I must admit I have not worn dress shoes all that often in the last decade or so, and it has been a few years since I really put a spit-shine on them. I believe the last time I really did so, was either for a wedding or a retirement.

When you live in a dusty environment as we do in eastern San Diego County, meticulous cleaning might be required more frequently than the four times a day our shipboard crew did so. My spouse and I, as dog-people, have settled for a little dust though we clean deeply before others drop by to visit. Now that we have all but completed our outdoor spaces and it is the season (for San Diego) to host parties, we are probably going to schedule field days routinely from this point to show off a tight ship. However, the shine that greets my eyes looking from driveway to back pation is nothing less than invigorating. And I am hearing myself say once again: I am having a fine Navy day.

Ask the Chief: listen and comprehend

I recall a time when listening, and comprehending what I heard, was not one of my strongest qualities. Boot camp “helped” me change that weakness.

“What is your major malfunction, Numb***s?“, the Company Commander bellowed at me. Because everyone was part of a team, he explained when one member fails, the team suffers: He continued, “EVERYONE – DOWN and give me Twenty [pushups]!!!”)

Active listening, which at that time meant, listening intently to the Company Commander (Drill Instructor in the Marines) internalizing or instantly responding to his instructions. For some, it was coerced, due to members of the team encouraging a weaker recruit to focus. Those who successfully completed recruit training, gained skill in listening and comprehending what they were told, so they might become effective sailors, soldiers, airman or marines. However, those proven methods for military cohesion and performance are unsuitable for most other occupations.

Active listening

A service my business provides administers one of the state licensing exams. We provide test candidates with instructions about the exam beforehand and monitor them during the test. Though I repeat myself four times about the bathroom policy or warn about message-capable devices being prohibited during the exams, someone with a need to use the restroom, or another having a cellphone or IWatch on their person, after the timed test begins, tests me. As a matter of state policy, once an exam begins, nobody can be out of eyesight, to prevent cheating. This includes a requirement to monitoring in the bathroom. While a matter of ethics and not necessarily comprehension, there are sufficient reports of people distributing images of the test questions to reinforce these policies.

Most of our test candidates are prepared for admission to the state test. Some have not listened nor understood what they must bring to be successfully admitted. One of the most arcane line items for many teens and Twenty-Somethings, is a properly- sized, properly-addressed and properly-stamped envelope to receive test results by mail. With an Internet of tens of billions webpages and videos, a remarkable number of the young have not searched for things they do not understand. A significant number have not reviewed test checklists – for the acceptable identification, a pencil, envelope, and state application form -which are sent by mail or email from the test administrators a week or two before the test.

Language comprehension

A number of candidates are not adequately prepared to take the state exam due to their lack of English language comprehension. Where the secondary school system or junior colleges may be structured for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, trade schools on accelerated schedules often omit competency tests (in written or oral skills) as a prerequisite. However, some skills with a state or Federal licensing requirement, are tested only in English.

At the same time, many non-native speakers of English successfully complete training through schools, local governments and community programs that provide classes in ESL to prepare immigrants and adult learners for careers. As for those who fail to certify for licensing, some get the assistance to gain comprehension in written and spoken English for their career field. Some find members of their ethnic community to assist them and they eventually may succeed.

incentivize listening and comprehension

As a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, I have more than thirty years experience witnessing how a structured system of training, and of unbending standards – in performance or conduct – could advance someone from weakness to strength. People who are incentivized to succeed, provided the tools to do so, and not given special accommodation nor lowered standards, will succeed. The issues that are central to success in one’s country of residence is skill-attainment and comprehension. It is a systemic failure, both in the public sector (government bureaucracy) and society when people are not adequately prepared to be self-sufficient. However, it ultimately is the individual who determines whether they comprehend the information they receive. And the individual has to engage the trainers to gain that comprehension. While some are unmotivated and squander the opportunity, others may find another school or resource that offers additional training in listening or language comprehension. Once these challenges are resolved, I will welcome the day the greater challenge for test candidates, is to properly address and affix postage on a business envelope.

Honoring the fallen and defending the living

September the eleventh, 2001 began as an ordinary day for millions of people in the United States and around the world. By the mid-morning, in New York City, in Washington, D.C, and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the suffering and death of thousands because of terrorists would forever change our perception of normalcy. On the anniversary of examples of the depth of depravity which mankind can sink, the selfless sacrifice and amazing bravery of those who challenged the terrorists (particularly on Flight 93) is inspiring. As inspiring as those who sought to aid the injured and trapped in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. And as inspiring as those who spent months combing the wreckage in New York. In the last twenty years, almost every person in the United States, and in many countries around the world has been touched by a loved one impacted by that day or in the wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere. These are the stories worthy to honor.

The United States has sent military forces into regions around the world, to defend US trade, personnel and alliances, since the turn of the Nineteenth Century. And since the end of the Cold War, the world has gotten more unstable and violent with the extra-national threat posed by “Islamist” extremists. All my adult life, there has been conflict involving the United States in the Middle East. Before 9/11 and the ensuing twenty years of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, blood was shed on the USS LIBERTY during the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt (1967); and in Iran when our team attempted to rescue our Embassy personnel held captive (1979 -80). From that point, military actions in the region faced tribal rivalries, discounted historical defeats of “Western” powers and resistance to “First World” social norms. Since Lebanon when terrorists blew up the Marine barracks (1983); the missile strike by Iraq aircraft against the USS STARK (1987); the Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm) in 1991; and bombing of the USS COLE (2000), unconventional warfare using zealots or victims strapped to bombs and IEDs has threatened our forces. On the anniversary of 9/11 the murders of our ambassador and embassy personnel (US Special Operations veterans) in Benghazi, Libya (2012). America has lost military service personnel in operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And in the chaotic conclusion of the military mission in Afghanistan in August of 2021, the last casualties there -hopefully – include 13 Marines and Navy Corpsmen killed by a terrorist wearing a bomb.

While I had been in a Navy uniform from 1977 to 1980, and again from 1987 until 2010, it was that first September morning, when I lost a mentor and former shipmate in the Pentagon attack, that defined the purpose for which I had enlisted. Protecting my fellow servicemembers. Honoring the fallen. Providing comfort to the families of the injured and deceased.

As military veterans and their families, we mourn our dead and help the living. And as citizen-soldiers, we vote for the Government that reflect our values. As veterans and currently serving military personnel, we best can reflect on the costs of conflict. It should give us determination to protect our citizens and defend our homeland. The lessons of September 11, 2001 and from all those who have borne the battle, is to protect our future. And for that reason, it is a veteran who should strive to become a teacher and professor, a journalist, a city council person, a business owner, a judge, and a United States Senator. A veteran can oppose complacency and false doctrine with firsthand accounts and perspective. To honor the sacrifice of those whom this day commemorates. And to deter evil.

Ask the Chief: IGWT AOPC

There are certain folksy “wisdoms” that accompany someone going into business for themselves. Some have not stood the test of time; however, not all customers are trustworthy just as not all sellers are ethical. But when learned and applied, most of these will enable the self-employed to succeed.

  • the customer expects a service to be performed on time and at the agreed fee
  • offering a price discount is a way to draw customer interest
  • customer and entrepreneur both understand the scope of work prior to acceptance; additional work requires an additional fee
  • buy now, pay later is a service to generate sales; this should only be offered to reliable, repeat customers
  • count out the customer’s payment and any change due, at the time of service
  • in God We Trust; all others pay cash (IGWT AOPC); this is particularly important with new customers who may wish to pay with credit that the processor refuses.
  • respond quickly and appropriately to negative feedback (especially online)

Cleaning house

To someone other than a veteran, the idea of possessing only the minimum essential items to sustain life, military preparedness, and fighting effectiveness, may be strange. To a fighting force, whether a ground, air, or naval unit, storage space comes at a premium. Mobility, which means a fighting force’s lethality or in defensive situations its survivability, requires individuals, units, or battlegroups to necessarily limit the amount of stuff to drag along. Too much stuff not only means complicated storage, but the likelihood of being unable to have sufficient resources for things that break down or need more maintenance.

if it cannot fit in your seabag, you do not need it

Civilians entering military service are conditioned to this sort of thinking in the first weeks of recruit training. We are issued seabags, ruck sacks, or compact lockers to store our gear. It’s the sort of preparation for young military men and women to pare down to essentials. Of course, as some sailors I served alongside got financially stable, they tended to acquire things like clothes to go clubbing, camping, scuba, fishing gear, or golf equipment. Others developed hobbies that require a place to store equipment. Self-storage facilities thrive around military communities. Yet these facilities are not necessarily catering to single people. Young couples starting out get caught up in the consumer culture that drives so many economies. So the idea of traveling light as a uniformed military member runs into a civilian mindset of “accumulation”. It arriving in – or exiting – middle age with the more common tweaked backs, and moderating enthusiasm for having stuff one has not touched in years, saving money and preparing for retirement that brings us back to traveling “light”.

Helping move a family member into his family’s first home proved to be one of those occasions where my inner-voice of incredulity of what two people can accumulate in a few years struggled to remain “inside”. Relatively little of the thousands of odds n’ ends that we boxed, bagged and stowed on a moving truck or in personal vehicles would likely be missed if lost in the move. In the end, the young family should make a decision about their possessions and whether to begin disposition. Yet the odds are that they like most of us, will just stow everything in an outbuilding until some future time.

What the experience over the past weeks has wrought is to create an angst in me What am I leaving to my children, my spouse or another to wade through? For the twenty years prior to my marriage, I rarely owned anything more than what I could carry in my car. Increasingly, I have gone through things I have accumulated, but only disposed of items that I “wouldn’t miss” or have little value to me. There are still hundreds of items I could shed and not miss. I thought it was my Boomer generation that liked to accumulate “stuff”. It starts off with small things, home maintenance projects, spare parts, projects that need work, and of course, “toys” we need to have to cope with all the long years of working. I’m nearing retirement now. I just do not have the will to go through my “stuff”.

I have storage bins of electrical parts, copper tubing, and nearly full gallons of interior paint. Pictures, some framed, I have not put up for five years or more. And “collections”. I recently donated thirty or forty glass medicinal bottles from the last century. Dozens of books on various subjects I have not re-read in ten years. Some fragments of charcoal art from the 1920s and century-old stamps in an album I have held onto since age 13. Anybody want a 120 year old English ceramic vase, a slightly-worn New England carved chair, or a decade-old, still-unused bathroom exhaust fan?

The junk dealer is on speed-dial.

Ports of call: memories of Cartagena Spain

“JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD”

Navy recruiting slogan in the mid- 20th Century

High school Spanish, as well as years living in southern Arizona near the Mexican border made travel in Latin America easier. Traveling to Spain, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge. I was amused that they do not necessarily speak “Spanglish” or the Sonoran (Mexico) dialect there.

My second Mediterranean deployment on the USS PETERSON, a SPRUANCE-class guided-missile destroyer, began in October, 1994. One of the first ports we visited was Cartagena. Located in the state of Murcia, it is a port city that has seen sailors on its streets for a few thousand years. Having lived and visited modern cities, from San Francisco to London, UK, seeing a Roman-era coliseum and medieval architecture as well as only a few-centuries-old buildings, was fascinating.

Cartagena, Spain, a bit more modern after thirty years (image via web)

I ventured out on liberty alone, trusting that my Spanish would help me get around. A family-run cafe, Restaurante Casa Pepe, (a small lighter I kept all these years in trinket box, reminds me of that port visit), welcomed me. It was from a son who offered to show me around his city, when I learned that Murcia has a distinct dialect from Castilian or other Latin America dialects. (When I traveled to Panama, speaking something like a resident of northern Sonora definitely obscured that I was an American). We joked as to whose Spanish was “really” Spanish (or “Mur’th’ia -n”).

I should plan to visit the places I saw while in the Navy. I may live in America’s “finest city” (open to debate), but I would like to stand again where Romans, Arab merchants, Etruscans and Jesus apostles stood. Though I think I will upgrade our mode of travel. Anything more luxurious than a Navy ship is preferable.