flying cowboys in 1959

Under a lifelong commitment to protect national security of the United States, describing what my military peers and I did for a living was often reduced to generalizations and debunking some misconceptions that Hollywood movies make about protecting national security. Though there were some 1960’s-era generals at the time unopposed to being ordered to use nuclear weapons, the satire Dr Strangelove, lampoons that a rogue can instigate WWIII. Or at the dawn of the Computer Age, that a young civilian might connect to a DOD system, as in War Games, discounts that computers even then were isolated in secure networks. (However, a spy on the inside remains a hazard.) While thrilling, that rogue cells within the Intelligence bureaucracy could operate with efficiency and lethality outside of oversight, as in the Bourne films, seems too incredible. (However, the efficiency which the Russian security apparatus can eliminate political enemies highlights what sanctioned operations can achieve.) In Crimson Tide, a nuclear submarine commander (with a dog aboard(!) and officers might be near mutiny over whether to launch nukes is horrifying, but the crew selection and training process, security protocols and backup systems exist to prevent that. On the other hand, a glimpse into a typical mission day in the life of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber is interesting in that it seems routine. For the last thirty years, nuclear war has seemed to be an artifact of history, but during the Cold War, military professionals conducted their duties in their flying “office”, preparing for a very real potential between nuclear-armed adversaries.

By accident, today I found a short film posted to YouTube, narrated by James Stewart, the renowned actor and WWII bomber pilot (and a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve) from 1959- the year I was born. For the last sixty-plus years, training has continued in that deterring war is most effective by trained and equally-lethal forces. With tensions rising again, with Russian aggression against Ukraine and China’s military reach growing, training will continue. Just as this short film depicts, each military professional does his or her duty hoping to go home at the conclusion of the “work day’.

‘White Phosphorus’ Claimed To Be Used In Ukraine May Really Be Russian Napalm Weapon

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2022/03/25/white-phosphorus-may-really-be-soviet-napalm-weapon/

Use of white phosphorus is horrendously evil even for an enemy combatant. Use of napalm is only slightly less evil. When a regime has little regard for the suffering it causes, the ends justify the means. Only if the regime is not held to account, that is. When a modern military like Russia’s is deployed against Ukraine, a neighboring country under a pretext that nobody believed, and their expected quick occupation turns into an implacable David against a Goliath, weapons are turned against civilians even more readily.

prayer remains the only secure comms

What hath God wrought?

Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, cit Library of Congress

Before someone discovered the Rosetta Stone, a fragment of stone which had inscriptions written in classical Greek and Egyptian, allowing modern transcription of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the pyramids and other ruins were secure witnesses to Pharoah’s secrets. Until modern times, protecting military communications took several forms from handwritten letters in cyphers that used increasingly more inventive means to encode them. When machines were developed to encode communications and transmit them over wires and then in the Twentieth Century wirelessly, communications had to grow more secure. Old diplomats who assumed “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail” (Henry L. Stimson, d 1950), were being unrealistic. As quickly as the medium changed, the means to obfuscate the messaging grew. The leap from the invention of the telegraph (1837 – 44) to global communication satellites and the Internet (~1980) is barely 140 years. And in that time, messages were intercepted and read that thwarted the Kaiser’s plans for Mexico, Hitler’s and Imperial Japan’s war effort, and other campaigns up to the present day.

With the invention of the cell phone, the move to secure civilian communications was spurred by reports that governments were listening in to narcotics traffickers and could determine the phone’s location using ELINT (electronics intelligence) methods. In the last thirty years, companies have made data stored on or transmitted via smartphones more secure, but encryption of voice communications over cellphone is still costly and not generally available. With smartphones becoming the ubiquitous means of communication, whether texting, looking up recipes online, or signing and sending electronically signed contracts to vendors, the expanded need for radio frequencies changed other inventions. Landline telephones, television, and commercial AM and FM radio which had been both a means to inform the public and filter messages through Government censors, are on their way to museums.

In autocratically-controlled countries, filtering the flow of information is a primary concern to those in power. As we have already learned from global corporations that “socialized” the Web, Google, Facebook, and other players throttle dissent and focus (target) messages to audiences that are in line with their beliefs – but mostly to benefit their corporate advertisers. Yet this means of control can also be circumvented in some areas, like we have seen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where other entities (SpaceX, for one) shipped satellite receivers to the Ukrainians to connect to the world via its new satellite network. But as we saw with a recent network disruption of Viasat’s satellite network, regimes and other adversarial actors are daily working to corrupt communication or spy on those whose data they wish to steal. However, as nations’ cyber warfare apparatus are becoming very proficient both in attacking and defending, old technology is coming back into vogue. With the focus on the Internet and satellite transmissions foremost in Russian and Chinese state filters, Ham (amateur) radio operators are able to communicate with people hunkered down in bomb shelters and isolated areas in the Ukraine. Frustrated Russian military units, hampered by Command-and-Control problems, fuel supply problems and soldiers complaints over unencrypted radio, are being intercepted by civilian operators half a world away.

Yet one medium is still unassailable by technology. Though a favorite target in science fiction, a person’s thoughts remain secure and unable to be monitored by an adversary. At least until they broadcast them on social media or send in military units. However, it may be that Someone is listening in to those “secure” communications. The same Someone who empowered David to slay Goliath, and for now, seems to have been staving off Vladimir Putin’s territorial aspirations.

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.