When I wandered over to the Paint desk at my local Lowes, I had been tasked by my favorite “Admiral”, my spouse, to rehab our kitchen. This is where “Boats” comes in. Retired Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate, was, appropriately enough, working the Paint counter at Lowes the day I came looking for “cabinet” paint. I was wearing one of my favorite Retired CPO shirts, and we connected. During my career afloat in the Navy, I learned that salt water corrodes metal seven days a week, so it was a continual task for our Deck Division to chip paint and remove rust, and apply new. When it was needed, all hands took part in priming and painting.
Though our residence has never put to sea, periodic painting inside and outside is considered routine. At least, for married homeowners. My neighbor across the street completely rebuilt their kitchen at the behest of his spouse. Fortunately, I have a fiscally understanding Chain of Command. Since I am not a professional painter, Boats told me about cabinet paint and how to prepare the surfaces for painting. I bought a small can of primer, tinted to what we think we like, today. With friends coming over to dinner this week, I only got started before it was time to pack it up. Long ago, the mission would have been ’round the clock, to prepare everything for dignitaries arriving. Unfortunately, Senior Chief will be unavoidably detained.
The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.
There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.
On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.
Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.
It’s a birthday celebrated by a whole lot of people. Navy people, specifically, and to whom, the shortened form of applicable address, such as “Good Morning, Chief”, “Senior”, “CMC”, etc is heartwarming even to a Chief retired now for nine years. On April 1st, 1893 the United States Navy formally instituted the paygrade of Chief Petty Officer (CPO). How does one become a Chief? To echo a Brother Senior Chief many years ago, posing the question of a “Selectee” (and then answering her bewildered look), “I decided to work and act like a Chief Petty Officer. Then waited for the uniform to catch up.”
Together with rating examination scores, selection eligibility criteria, and a service record review by a board of senior Chief Petty Officers, candidates are selected. And once selected, a process of mentorship, instruction, leadership exercises and camaraderie ensues. This had been, and after a brief adjustment period, was reinstituted: the CPO initiation. Those of us who were selected to the rank of CPO, in whichever specialty rating we served, whether male or female, Active Duty or Retired, are all Brothers and Sisters in a worldwide fellowship, the Chief Petty Officer Mess. And in the grand scheme, the CPO takes care of the enlisted, mentors junior officers, executes the mission, all while leading from the Deckplate level.
For more on the history of the Chief Petty Officer, see this link to the Navy publication All Hands.
Reading some of my old letters my late mother kept in her scrapbook, I appreciate jogging memories of my initial service in the Navy forty years ago. At the time, I was stuck in limbo, waiting on orders, waiting on a medical evaluation, and bored. I had spent eighteen months training for a career as an electronics technician in San Diego, in Illinois, in Florida and again in San Diego. When I had received an opportunity to attend the Naval Academy, a medical evaluation accompanying the selection board was possibly going to prevent that. In the meantime, I was assigned to support a correctional unit on Naval Training Center San Diego, to guard and escort sailors confined and others pending transfer to the Naval Brig.
“January 13 1978
I was paid this morning and I have finally got some money in my pocket after being in the depths of poverty for the last week. I’ve been keeping a budget book to account for every penny. Setting aside a $120 to send to you to save for me, I spent most of my last paycheck on a stereo receiver and headphones. I got a great deal as the stereo store said it was a trade-in and not brand-new.
I have been chugging away at BE & E. My Learning Supervisor is better at getting the material across to me than reading the book. And I am frustrated at the computer based training – that I am taking remedial tests every time.
Next weekend I am thinking of the YMCA’s military special to Disneyland – everything including bus ride and ticket, for $14.75…. “
When I read these letters I recall that my focus was split between very difficult technical training, spending money slower than earning it, having a good time, and the things a sailor thinks about: cars, girls, staying out of trouble, and so on. And taking care of my mom.
“February 18, 1978
…it’s been a week since I was home for that short visit…. I’m expecting to finish BE and E School (Basic Electricity and Electronics) in seven working days and then ice and snow! (I was scheduled to transfer for further training at the Great Lakes NTC north of Chicago) I have been trying to spend money and save it at the same time….
I bought two books ” How to Buy Stocks” and “How to Build a Fortune Investing in Land””
“July 3 1978
Class 7825C, ET/A school Bldg 520, Great Lakes Training Center: Thunder and lightning this weekend. Thank you for the ever-increasing moral support. It helps this “screw-up” when I seem to be trying and trying over these multiple -choice tests and I miss the question because I don’t put down my first choice but over think them! Why can’t I learn! Some solace in that I got my PO3 raise today. A whole $10.
Congratulations on your new friend and you both seem to be on the same “astral plane”. And my little sister has a boyfriend! She is growing up fast. I ran into a friend who is very close to a bachelors degree having taking a lot of courses through the CLEP tests. He’s looking at Officer Candidate School and making some career-connections with several officers involved in the program. He’s shared with me several of the courses and tests to take should the Annapolis thing not get accepted. Studying electronics harder will give me a mental breakdown. I need some thing different.
I looked at that Naval Academy application. I think they want someone who is a cross between O.J. Simpson and Albert Einstein, not me!”
In the year between my initial training in San Diego, and returning back to San Diego, I had been undergoing technical training and screening for a government security clearance. Between the training, standing watches, and liberty in Chicago and Milwaukee, I was also trying to figure out if I could afford a TransAm like one in the movie Smokey and the Bandit. It was nearly eleven thousand dollars. I couldn’t. I did learn a lot about weather. Playing pool in the barracks. Guys who were playing some role-playing fantasy called Dungeons and Dragons. A summer music festival at the Navy Pier in Chicago. And working on cars. Being in the best physical shape of my life while in Pensacola, Florida. Running several miles a few times a week that started from a dare between roommates in the barracks while attending CT – school. A circuit of the base, inside the fence was about four miles. We would run it twice a night.
“Letter dated August 2 – 5, and 8, 1979
It’s the second day of August, and in one day following the
most insane twenty-four hours I have yet spent at TPU (ed: Transient Personnel Unit), I think I shall be ready for the funny
farm very soon.
Let me tell you some of the the goings-on at our “Hotel California”. Yesterday, we got a new boatload of lunies (sic) plus one who is trying to put one over on us that he’s nuts, and he is getting my goat.
Another case is my boss Chief Heller. His retiring soon and he continues to drop in
on Bldg 23 if only to holler and cuss everyone.
It is just as if he’s giving out a daily dose of castor oil.
Still another example was last night’s supposed-to-work-flawlessly relief of the day watch. A PO1(Petty Officer First Class) who knew he had duty never showed up, and despite all my efforts couldn’t be found anywhere on-base. No one knew who I was looking for- even though he was supposedly assigned to the same working area! So, as a result, an overworked PO2, a good friend of mine, was forced to stay all night as well as his morning workday.
In addition, I was forced to work late (a 13-hour day) which
it turns out shall be my regular working hours.
It was either that or work 10 hours plus have an extra watch in TPU
every three days.
Today was continued insanity when, in the early afternoon, one of our “mental” cases went berserk and smashed a wood-covered (barricaded) window with a chair. He demanded to go to the brig or he would do more damage! It’s a good thing I don’t sleep there- I don’t know if some night I might get my throat cut by one of these scumbags.
Tonight I went to the PO Club with two friends, George, who works in the NTC Police/Decal Office, and June who also works there. We all had a good time. But what occurred later is interesting. Well, June got very drunk, I was sober and George nearly so. June had to be talked into being escorted to her barracks. George (who went with her) in her car and I followed behind in mine. June wandered all over the road at speed and I sped up to catch her. And out of the dark an NTC (Naval Training Center) police vehicle pulled ME over. Luckily, he was a friend but since I was “rocketing along” at 20 or 30 MPH, he wouldn’t let me drive back to TPU. A quarter-mile walk later I was sober; June was the one all over the road – I’m sure the cop saw her. That will be the last of my “good Samaritan” gestures.
August 5, 1979
Yesterday I finally bought the 10-speed bicycle I was [going to get you] shopping two weeks. I’m sure you will love it, as a matter of fact I wanted to buy one for myself from the same people. Now I have only one detail to work out and that is how to get it home. Two possibilities are open to me, but I don’t know how much it will cost me to ship it, so if you don’t mind I am going to wait till I hand-deliver it.
In other news I have been heartened by a lot of mail, especially yours and from Nana, but I’m going through a lot of ups and downs. I’m almost at the end of my rope as far as this Restriction/ CC (Correctional Custody) “babysitter” job goes. Today I got yelled at for these a@#$@#$ goofing off even as I have been trying to imitate Attila the Hun with them .
I’m starting another entry in the ‘journal’ after putting the
pen down for two days. I am just putting down thoughts as they come to mind. My
mind is awfully screwed being run ragged.
I think I will drop this topic in favor of other topics to ramble on
Tomorrow I’ll begin packing a few things for the trip to San Francisco and I’m going to hopefully make a weekend out of it. What is your reaction to the earthquake this week? It think it is about time for the city to fall into the sea?
It’s all a bit tedious. I’ll hopefully be home sooner or later. “
These letters bring back some of the missing names – and the memory -recalling the faces of those Chiefs at TPU. These memories seem as fresh as having occurred yesterday. The more I recall of those months in school, in training, and time at the transient barracks, I am amused by the complaining, angst, self-righteousness, stubbornness, and shock of having to work long hours. In this particular letter, the reference to “Hotel California” my mother probably would have missed – her musical taste was stuck in the early 1960s and she never heard of the Eagles. But I was fortunate that my mother, who pursued a second career as a college English teacher around that time, and worked a full-time nursing job, never pointed out my ‘overworked’ complaints. As I look back after forty years of military and civilian jobs – on my youngest co-workers and their peers – their complaints about fairness, working conditions, and emotional safe-spaces are more their age than something “we” never did.
The United States Navy turns 243 on October 13th. And one of the nation’s most cherished – and still active – icons of naval heritage, the frigate USS CONSTITUTION is a little more than 220 years old.
To mark this occasion, as well as the other services on their annual birthday, my employer honors veterans in our workforce. This year, as a result of some unexpected events, I was offered the role of the “emcee” for the after-work celebration. Cake, some “refreshments”, sea stories, and naval lore and trivia for employees in attendance who had not served in the Navy.
And I entertained our friends with a little monologue and trivia.
Important dates in history
OCT 13 1775 Continental Congress authorizes construction of a Naval force.
April 1798 creation of the Department of the Navy
1797 USS Constitution launched
1803 -1805 Barbary war
1812 -1815 War of 1812 “Old Ironsides” defeated 3 British warships
Nautical and Naval lore
Which of the following are true?
The ditty bag used to be called a “ditto bag” because there were two of everything in it.
The flaps on crackerjacks were designed to keep hair grease off the back of the uniform.
Navy logs are named for the timber from which the paper was created.
Boatswain’s Pipes originated in ancient galleys. One whistle meant “row.”
“Chits” are named after Hindu slips of paper used in lieu of silver and gold.
Uniform stars have “two points up”, instead of one (like you see in the flag) to symbolize the Navy’s defense of both coasts.
Broadside is a large sheet of paper.
“Cup of Joe” (coffee) comes from “the cup of Jonas.”
A tattoo of a pig on one leg of a sailor and a rooster on the other is a charm against drowning.
The term “sick bay” originated in ancient times, when hospital ships (called “immunes”) would accompany Caeser’s legions and were kept far from battle, normally in the calm waters of a bay.
The only time 12 bells is sounded is at midnight on the Navy’s Birthday and on New Year’s Eve.
S.O.S. stands for “Save Our Ship.”
The P in P-Coat stands for Pilot.
False (the custom has no known origin)
False (named after Josephus Daniels – he’s the Secretary of the Navy who abolished alcohol on Navy ships in 1913.)
False (early hospital ships were called “immunes”, but the term “bay” comes from the round shape of ship sterns, resembling a bay.)
False (only on New Year’s Eve)
False (it doesn’t stand for anything)
True (Pilot cloth or P-cloth was the fabric from which they were made.)
This was compiled from the NavyTimes Broadsides blog (Jeff Bacon), from The Goat Locker, the Naval Historical Center, GlobalSecurity.org, and Wikipedia.
Fun facts: (USO.org)
David Farragut, was the first admiral in the United States Navy. He coined, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Bravo Zulu means “well done”
Through World War II, sailors who did well were told “Tare Victor George,” which was code for “well done.” After the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed and it standardized communications. NATO created a system of B-flags for administrative communication. The last B-flag was BZ. The Allied Naval Signal Book created the phonetics for each letter and BZ became Bravo Zulu.
The Chief Petty Officer rank was established on 1 APRIL 1893
Depiction of fouled anchors, in decoration, in the Chief Petty Officer insignia and in body art:
If an anchor is fouled, it means the line or chain is wrapped around the shank and fluke arms. This indicates the anchor is no longer suitable for use. These retired anchors are usually displayed for decorative purposes on base or in Navy communities. The symbol is also part of the Chief Petty Officer rank insignia. When used in body art, the fouled anchor represents a tour across the Atlantic Ocean.
Before everyone today under the age of fifty started getting tattoos, the history of tattoos and the symbolism had a long nautical tradition. An article describes significant tattoos, along with what each item means.
Swallows:Home (each denotes 5,000 miles at sea)
Compass/Nautical Star:Never losing one’s way (each denotes 10,000 miles at sea)
Rose:A significant other left at home
Twin screws or props on one’s backside:Propels one forward through life
Dolphin:Wards off sharks
Polar bear:Sailed the Arctic Circle
Dragon:Sailed the Pacific
Fouled anchor:Sailed the Atlantic
Turtle:Crossed the equator
Gold dragon:Crossed the International Dateline
Gold turtle:Crossed the International Dateline and the Equator where they intersect
Emerald fouled anchor:Crossed the Prime Meridian
Emerald turtle:Crossed the Prime Meridian and the Equator where they intersect
Full-rigged ship:Sailed around Cape Horn
Pin-up girls:Company at sea/port call
Hula girls:Sailed to or ported in Hawaii
Dagger through a swallow:Signifies a lost comrade
Pig and chicken:Superstition to keep from drowning
The words “HOLD FAST”:Signifies a deckhand’s tight grip on the lines
In naval terminology, and in many other workplaces, the twenty-four hour clock is used. The first hours of the new day are called “zero” as in “zero-thirty” or 1230 AM, or “zero -three hundred” for 3 AM. Sailors have a particular term for the mid-watch, between midnight and 4 AM, the “balls to four” watch.
Personally, I prefer the ‘balls to four’ than the ‘zero-four to eight’ watch. Because I was often working till late into the night aboard ship, and then getting a little rest, only to be wakened at 0315 to relieve the off-going watch by 0345. And as you get older you appreciate sleep more – I stood most of these watches in my early Thirties. I was just into that deep, wonderful place, seeming moments before someone roused me for my watch.
This morning, Tuesday, is one of those mornings! For the briefest of moments around 3 AM, I was in my sweet spot. And then my wife, who is boarding a flight today at “zero six” to visit the grandchild (and his parents) stirred me. For the briefest “Inception” (the movie) -like moments, I was in my rack with some Sailor shining his flashlight telling me it was time to relieve the watch. ARRRGH!
My wife is mostly a light-sleeper. I am one not by choice nor biology. I was on standby to drive her to the airport should our son (the one who does not work the nursing Third Shift) fail to arrive at “oh-dark-thirty” to pick Mom up for the airport drop-off.
Well, the son did make it. Mom’s got her mother and son time this morning. I’ve had two cups of coffee and been blogging for an hour. What the hell? It is going to be okay. I will get at least seven nights of solid sleep before I pick her up coming back.
Two retired Chief Petty Officers meeting over cigars one evening were only casually known to one another. Two other veterans and two others, a high school wrestling coach and an auto mechanic were all enjoying the late afternoon absently watching a baseball game on the television. As the cigar burned to a nub, the two salt- and barnacle-encrusted old seafarers became fast friends. It is the shared experience of Navy life. Deployments, wartime, and good and lousy beer five thousand miles away from home. Sharing stories of Red light districts and Shore Patrol. Looking out for our shipmates who may have enjoyed liberty a bit much.
When did you serve?
Went to bootcamp, in San Diego, in ’77.
Oh, I went through RTC in Orlando in ’78. I retired in ’99.
Shellback ? Oh yeah, I remember those @#$# shelaylee (shillelagh)
Went through 3 times. Wog first deployment and then Shellback for the next two crossings.
They used GREASE! Took forever to get it out of my hair. @#@#$@#!
Did away with it ten years ago. Sailors just aren’t tough anymore.
What about Chief’s initiation? They are bringing it back? Great.
It was a great life.
Yeah. It was a great life!
Gotta be moving on. CINCHOUSE is expecting me.
Underway. Shift colors.
Our other pals looked quietly confused; all they heard was gibberish.