VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Vice Adm. (ret) Starling began his last assignment as commander of Navy Cyber Forces at its establishment on Jan. 26, 2010. There he was responsible for organizing and prioritizing manpower, training, modernization and maintenance requirements for networks and cryptologic, space, intelligence and information operations capabilities. He concurrently served as commander Naval Network Warfare Command, where he oversaw the conduct […]

via VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Takes one to know one

The last time I boarded a vessel the size of the Allure of the Seas, it was gray and I was an enlisted volunteer(ed) carrying equipment. While an aircraft carrier does not deploy lounge chairs nor launch aircraft, on this voyage, my wife and I saw divers launch into a pool several decks above the waterline. This was all part of an entertaining acrobatic and sychronized diving show.

However, the most entertaining part of this trip has been having brief conversations with passengers who are fellow veterans. You see, I wore my “Retired Navy” ballcap boarding in Florida and disembarking on our first port of call. From the first greeting in the line with a retired Bo’sun while getting registered at the embarkation terminal, to the Air Force vet my wife and I sat with at a dinner, to the Navy Vietnam Nam-era airdale, there have been a lot of quick greetings and instant recognition.

” I can recognize veterans”, one Navy wife said.  I think she actually said, she could “smell ’em a mile away”, but I knew what she meant. I think people who served have an instant kinship. One of my fellow passengers, a man and his wife about half my age went snorkeling with my buddy, me and four others at our stop in Haiti. He smiled knowingly, when I remarked how cool it was to be zooming away toward our dive spot in a RHIB. Most Navy people recognize this acronym as Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. Yet I think he or possibly his wife, was Dutch or German.

Yeah. The folks who are frequent cruise vacationing people also seem to have that camraderie. Many start around our age. I think cruise veterans and particularly Navy veterans get the best new sea stories to swap with one another from trips like this. It does “take one to know one”.

(Image) The last time I was off the coast of Haiti (USS PETERSON)

“when it’s time for leavin’ “

Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,
Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.  – Ramblin’ Man, 1973)

American music lost another icon.   Tonight I read that Gregg Allman, a founder of the Allman Brothers Band,  died today at age 69.   By the time my musical taste broadened from the British Invasion,  Beatles Rolling Stones,  Elton John, the Who to Southern Rock, I was 18 and enlisted a year in the Navy.   My barracks room -mate, Ferdinand W,   was another enlisted Navy technician, a few years my senior at the training command, Great Lakes.  In the early morning hours, he would be returning from liberty (we had a rotating duty schedule and class) and usually wasted (very drunk).  He wrecked his sportscar, on base, on one of those binges.  But I remember him mostly for the southern Rock he listened to, and the squeeze box (concertina) he would play along.  A broken ankle from the car accident kept his partying subdued- and the while the Navy was investigating the incident.   download

When I was given orders to the cryptologic maintenance school at Fort Gordon, Georgia in 1978,  I had gained a little exposure to Southern rock- music of Lynrd Skynrd,  the Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, and Marshall Tucker Band.   About the time that the Navy students in my class were earning top marks, which gave us some early liberty ( we attended an evening schedule of classes) several of us found a small club in nearby Athens, Georgia that must have been named for the Allman Brothers’ song,  the Whippin’ Post.    Many live bands played there.  I remember one Saturday night,  whether a cover band – or the actual Lynrd Skynrd (I don’t recall) played there.  One guy kept screaming “FREE BIRD!!” In forty years, I forgot about those times when you could sit in a club twenty feet from bands that defined a rock era, and then next weekend do it all again.   But history dims with time.  I read a report from 2013 that the long-closed club was torn down.

May memories

A lot changes in forty years. In  May, 1977,  prior to my departure for Boot Camp at Naval Training Center, San Diego in October,  I was graduating high school.   Jimmy Carter was President, a fact that I thought, being a former naval submariner officer, would make him an excellent leader.   People didn’t want Gerald Ford as he had pardoned ‘criminal’ Richard Nixon, but I remember him for sending in Marines to retrieve the Mayaguez, which had been seized by the Khmer Rouge a month after the last battle involving U.S. troops of the Vietnam War.

In those last two years of the Seventies,  the Zumwalt-era of loosened grooming standards – longer hair, mustaches and beards worn by Sailors were okay.  Dungarees (bell-bottom style) and dixie cups, were the working uniform.   Pot was a problem on military bases including San Diego.   A community that now is marked by the upwardly-mobile, well-heeled beach crowd, Ocean Beach, was then a place where druggies and ex-military,  tattoo parlors and bars were less restrictive than up the coast near the UCSD campus.

A visit over the Coronado Bridge to the Naval Station Coronado, where carriers were berthed was my first view of a ship – the USS Recruit was a wood and metal reproduction on the Recruit Training Command, to introduce us to naming convention, etc – so did not count.  The ‘aroma’ of the interior of the USS Kitty Hawk was the first ‘knock out’ that I will never forget.  Jet fuel, grease, human sweat, urinals and generally,  the stink of at times, 3500 men (no women then) wafted fresh new sailors who had more recently been accustomed to PINE SOL clean scent.

At the time, I was a student learning to work on complex electronics and mechanical maintenance of teletypes.  Where I now cannot see without at least one or two orders of magnitude, I was able then to discern two from three centimeters adjustments.  The instructor was quite ADAMANT about that ability before graduation.   We had Iranian military students – this was prior to the Iranian Revolution – and when they were recalled by their government,  we were relieved.   Suffice it to say that American and Iranian hygiene were on different tracks.

In May of 1982,  with several of my fellow Russian Language students and the professor – I was able to travel  to Russia – prior to the end of the USSR (1989) – visiting cities – St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi.  If only for all but one – a socialist-  the trip was very informative and probably saved them and their future families from the ‘snowflake’ sensibilities, the mantra of “coexistence” and “socialism’s great”.  The people may have been interesting and interested, but the economy was a shambles. Ambition was reserved for the underground economy — some of whom are today’s Russian millionaires and billionaires.

In May of 1984,  I had been out of the Navy four years, attending the university in Tucson, Arizona.  Four three of those four years I had been actively involved in the Veteran students organization on campus,  and while peers were pursuing commissioning programs,  I was looking toward a government job after graduation.  Strangely,  in my second year after graduation,  when my graduate school plans went unfunded – I re-enlisted in the Navy -Reserve – that is.  The entreaties of one of my friends finally had me join his unit, only to see him quit!

After petitioning to resume an Active Duty career in 1987,  the next major May milestone I recall was May of 1997 when I was transferred from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego, California.    1970 Dodge Chargers, if you could find one in decent shape were then ten thousand dollars or more,  homes which had been an unheard of, eighty thousand dollars – for an ocean view, were nearly eight hundred thousand,  and NTC was closed but for a few administrative medical functions.

And in the twenty years since that time,  friends and mentors went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq,  the Soviets became Russian trade partners, the Chinese became the world’s second-most powerful economy, the Islamic world tried to separate the economic need for the non-Islamic world – from the ideology that wants to reduce infidels to ashes,  and we are again at some form of odds over military preparedness against the adversaries that were no longer adversaries?



Red Sky in the morning….

There’s an ancient mariner’s rhyme that says, “Red sky at night, Sailors’ delight; red sky at morning, Sailors take warning”.  From Wikipedia,

It is based on the reddish glow of the morning or evening sky, caused by haze or clouds related to storms in the region.[2][3][5] If the morning skies are red, it is because clear skies over the horizon to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds. The saying assumes that more such clouds are coming in from the west. Conversely, in order to see red clouds in the evening, sunlight must have a clear path from the west, so therefore the prevailing westerly wind must be bringing clear skies.

Talking with a elder friend and mentor this morning,  Jack related a story how, as a Navy man fifty or more years ago, he had been a Tin Can Sailor ( alternately known as a destroyerman)  on a World War II-era ship.  He had been a yeoman and the Captain’s bridge talker.   Jack relished telling me how he had been selected for that job by the CO as he could translate the southern drawl of the Engineering crew muddled by ship’s intercom system.  And he loved to share with me the story of his ship taking 40 to 50 degree rolls in a Pacific storm they rode out for a week.

A ship of Task Force 38

I too, was blessed with a strong constitution, riding out a few violent Atlantic storms in the destroyer PETERSON, ( launched in the 1970s) where most personnel not on the binnacle list,  were at their positions with barf bags at the ready.   I do recall the one or two times I foolishly ventured on the upper deck by our workspace – the “Oh- three”  (03) Level, to witness the power of the wind and the waves.  Metal bent or was torn away by the power of the sea.   Fortunately with modern navigation, we did not ride through the center of these storms where the waves were reportedly fifty feet high from trough to crest.

Typhoon Cobra

I started to think what the Sailors of WWII dealt with – battling the Japanese in the Western Pacific and typhoons.   On a website this morning,  I discovered that an error underestimating the weather put a heavily armed Task Force, with some top-heavy ships directly through a violent typhoon – Typhoon Cobra –  with fatal results.   Ships were heavily damaged, some capsized and sank with hundreds of men lost,  and generally raised more havoc than the enemy they were to battle.


a sentry’s recollections

In the Navy I stood a lot of watches.  For those not familiar with our terminology,  “watchstanding” is an assignment for a specified number of hours, to monitor area security, equipment performance, duties according to one’s training and seniority,  or other duties “as assigned”.

As a young Sailor (I capitalize the “S” following a Navy custom),  my first watches were patrols of the recruit barracks I was assigned from the first days in the Navy forty years ago.  We patrolled for safety mostly, but it was also to train us to be light sleepers, and accustomed to getting up within moments to carry out duties.

Later assignments, once I had been in uniform for a year or so, was assignment to the base gatehouses, sometimes the Main Gate but more often the mostly deserted back gate.  Watches – as a student during that time – were mostly starting at midnight, “balls to four” or 4 AM, because I had a class schedule that ran two sessions until early evening.   One night, I was assigned to be a floor watch,  sitting at a desk in a quiet corner of one of the middle floors – decks, we called them – and with the lack of air, humidity, and heat -in a Florida summer,  I dozed off.  A thump in the back of the head and a shout in my ear – the Base Duty Officer that evening was an old Senior Chief – and I was wide awake.  Never dozed off again – ever – while on watch.

Ten years later ( I had left and then gone back into the service) , on my first shipboard ‘tour’,  I was a Petty Officer of the Watch, in port.  Every Navy ship, while moored has a security station, at the brow -entry gangway- to provide protection, announce visitors, note the commanding officer’s arrival and departure, and check for authorized ship’s company to depart or return.   As a Third Class Petty Officer, I was limited in the scope of my assignments, but once I earned my next rank, Second Class Petty Officer,  I sought to train and qualified as the Officer of the Deck (in port).  The OOD is responsible to that day’s Command Duty Officer (CDO) who monitors compliance to the commander’s orders while in port.  On a subsequent ship, I again performed that OOD role until as a Chief Petty Officer, I had oversight of the shore enlisted personnel in my capacity as the unit’s Senior Enlisted Leader.

I was fortunate that during my tenure aboard the various ships I served to have few altercations but for a couple inebriated Sailors.  My watchstanding duties which normally required me to be armed, including at various times carbines or shotguns as well as a 45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, were mostly routine.  But failure of security cannot be allowed. A case, where failure of security personnel at the Norfolk Naval Base a few years ago, allowed a deranged civilian truck driver onto the base and onto a pier, ultimately resulted in the death of a Sailor – and the assailant.   That Sailor gave his life defending his shipmate, a POOW who was attacked and disarmed. Another Sailor performed his duty to eliminate the threat.  Particularly in the post-September 11th world,  there are more random dangers, criminals, mentally unstable people, and web-enabled terrorists on friendly shores.  Being wary of the threats in foreign ports,  assignments for the 18- to 38 year old Sailors ( and Marines, Soldiers and Airmen) who stand watch at their posts are now a matter of serious professionalism.

As a result of being in that environment, witnessing a lot and fortunately only hearing some of the stories,  I have a lot of respect for law enforcement officers today.  The job of securing your assigned watch can be routine, dull, aggravating and demanding.  And there aren’t a lot of second-chances to get it right when dealing with a dangerous world.  To protect us they stand the watch.

Never quit on yourself

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan,

I read this quote tonight, while browsing a blog post with 20 inspirational quotes and accompanying pictures, in themselves, very moving.  A family member in the service is weighing the possibility that he may be discharged for not maintaining the demanding physical standards of that service. (Even athletes get runners knee and shin splints.)

It is news that I know all too well.   As a younger man than he is now,  I also faced the same exhausting bureaucracy of my service branch,  weighing whether or not I would be medically discharged a couple years into my enlistment.  “Hurry up and wait”,  is the operational tempo of everything non-combat-related in the military.  But a determined mind, sharpened by knowledge of your adversary, bureaucracy, and equipped to respectfully and yet, unyieldingly, play ball is honored whether it leads to a win or loss.

Michael Jordan is a legend in the sports world for work ethic and results.  To win a lot, you risk a lot and lose a lot.  But every failure is a lesson in NEVER QUIT.  An opportunity to learn and improve.    I am glad that my wife and kids never quit  under adversity.  When I was young I was tempted several times.   Bouts of self-pity a few times.  Illegitimi Non Carborundum was my dad’s advice to me.    I finished my race by completing a career and retiring as a Navy Senior Chief.   So my son,  whether you serve 20 years or 6 more months,  I will not be prouder of you for never saying “I quit”.  You will always be ARMY STRONG to me.

if Jonah had a Spanish accent

15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. – Jonah 1:15 (NIV)

At sea,  even on a Navy warship, when the storm is raging, you feel very small and vulnerable.  In eight years, on three different ships,  I have been through squalls, gales, and hurricanes.  It is truly awe-inspiring – and foolhardy – to venture out on the upper weatherdeck when a destroyer is rolling 30 – 35 degrees port and starboard.   The churning, foamy grey and black sea is so different from the steel blue calm water of several hours earlier.   The power of the sea to bash in metal plates is also that same ocean that can leave sailboats without a breath of wind to move them.   In either condition,  I never want to be at the mercy of the ocean.

If one is to be stranded at sea, there are some more preferable spots than others.   Shipping lanes are well-traveled and charted,  like marked highways around the globe.   And then there are those when outside those lanes, who if they become stranded, rely on the grace of God,  or Neptune,  or  whales, dolphins or whatnot will send help their way.   The ocean, out of sight of land is a very lonely place, even in a part of the ocean that is well-traveled.

I was aboard the TEXAS, one of the last great nuclear-powered cruisers  about eight hours southwest of the Panama Canal  on a bright, sunny day.   I was performing some routine maintenance near the forecastle ( pronounced foc’sill”) when an announcement over the ship’s 1MC,  its intercom, that we were rendering aid to a small boat off our starboard bow.

“Boat” was an approximation as I recall.  It was more like a dugout, with two Panamanian men, and a couple of chickens – roosters, actually, in small cages in between the two men.  In the first minutes,   I was the only person on the deck who spoke Spanish and the deck officer asked me to translate some questions and directions for them to be brought aboard.    Apparently,  they were traveling from one of the islands off Panama to another – the birds were to be in a contest – and the motor started to have problems.   In starting to work on it – the motor clamp dislodged and motor and all fell into the depths.  They had been drifting with the currents for a day.

We were fortunate to be at that place and time to rescue the men and return them  to Panama with only a delay in our schedule.   Oh,  as for schedules,  sometimes they can be a pain in the neck with military precision.   At the moment we had the small boat along side,  and were preparing to bring them aboard, they happened to be under a bilge valve.  Yes.  Engineering began pumping waste overboard at that exact moment.  Furious calls over the radio,  straining on ropes and a few dozen choice expletives succeeded in halting the pumps, getting the men – and roosters, and their boat on board.

I wonder if those men recall the day the “americanos” rescued them.  And do they tell their children, when you are going to a cock-fight, be sure to bring a lot of rope for lashing,  maybe have all your shots updated, and most importantly, get a bigger boat.

night at the museum


Looking at old mementos this evening,  of my days in the Navy makes me feel, well “Well-seasoned”.  As I look back,  the ships where I was a crewmember are all now dismantled,  and sunk to the depths of the ocean.


The USS TEXAS, a nuclear -powered missile cruiser was several firsts for me: first year at sea; designation as an Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (in 1991);  and Shellback.   I did enjoy living near Seattle for nearly a year – the ship was in drydock – before I was transferred at its decommissioning.  It was decommissioned,  dismantled and scrapped at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the late 1990s.

I first fell in love with Canada – Esquimalt,  B.C,  and Vancouver aboard the TEXAS.  I visited, Ecuador,  Panama and cruised through the Panama Canal on that ship.

The  USS PETERSON, a Spruance-class Guided Missile Destroyer,  where I made friendships still strong twenty five years later, was decommissioned and sunk in the Atlantic.  But that’s the ship where I got the opportunity to visit Europe – Spain, France, Italy, Greece,  and Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Egypt, and island nations of Crete and Cyprus.  On the USS PETERSON,  I visited Panama and Ecuador a second time – was based out of the East Coast. (That has to be a first two-coast, two ship and back-to-back visits for any Sailor since that time!)    On another PETERSON deployment, we visited Nova Scotia.   Halifax has a friendliness towards seafarers of all sorts.

And from San Diego, the USS CORONADO, a special projects testbed, and command ship for the U.S. THIRD FLEET, took me to Japan, Korea and Alaska ( and Honolulu a number of times)  was decommissioned and sunk in the western Pacific.


Equipment I used to maintain I found in a museum a decade ago.   Uniforms I wore when I first enlisted and then subsequently through 3 uniform changes have been sent to resale and thrift stores.  Occasionally,  I see a homeless person with one of the old pattern utilities and foul weather gear.

Memories are now appearing regularly on EBAY and other second-hand online stores.  But I have a few things that are still worth keeping.   shopping One of the last USS TEXAS calendars, postcards issued by the USS PETERSON, and pictures and challenge coins given to me by CINCPACFLT for earning Sailor of the Year for THIRD FLEET in 1998.  And my retirement shadow box lists installations that have either disappeared or been revamped, remodeled, and redesignated.

So in some future yard sale, should you, dear reader, happen upon a bunch of trinkets from an old Sailor’s box of mementos, enjoy them.  We can now Pinterest and Twitter and Facebook around the whole world.  But, trinkets, salt air and ocean waves are still analog.

Treading water

Gadsden flag, 1775


As I get older,  I wonder what has become of my military-physique – the early one, not the rounder one of my last year – and what became of the ‘forego the mission, clean the position!” fanatical routine with cleanliness.   Not that I don’t love the smell of PINESOL in the morning,  but leaving the house all day with two big hair-shedding dogs results in a truce between the advance of dirt and actual boot-camp standards of clean.

Attitudes that once were socially and fiscally conservative,  I generally vote in every election, hold ‘personal responsibility’ in high esteem — welfare is for the most-desperate and least able to work,  and believe military service is beneficial to everyone between 18 and 50 years old.    Now, I hold fast to my church family, my spouse, and keep my personal values fairly close to the chest — outside the street I live on.  Fortunately, I have neighbors who were also military or police, and are now retired.  A neighbor on a street where I walk the dogs has a “DON’T TREAD ON ME” flag above his door.  Another proudly has a TRUMP sign.   Both have pickup trucks with Marine and Army stickers on the former.   Then again,  I wear “VFW Life Member” and Navy Chief t-shirts to work.   But I am mellowed with aging.

I have YOSEMITE, bicycling, and Grand Canyon hiking stickers on my car, a VFW license frame and a Nature Conservancy brochure on my car seat – I contribute to purchasing wildland around San Diego to preserve it.   What happened to the guy who owned firearms, enjoyed target plinking,  and was a fan of talk radio?  Gone.

I need to get out of California.  I’m starting to love it here.

Burial at sea


One of the privileges that a Navy man can request,  when the end time comes, is to be buried at sea. While I was on board the USS PETERSON in the mid-1990’s,  I was on the honor detail when we performed the last rites for (ashes of) a veteran of World War II. The ceremony was a solemn, set on the fantail of the destroyer.  Taps was rendered.  The Navy Hymn was played ( we had a boom box with a recording).  An officer, selected by the duty roster, read some words about the veteran and the tradition.  And everything was recorded on videotape for the deceased’s relatives. This was 1994 or 1995, so there was nothing like today’s live streaming technology.   When the time came to commit our Shipmate into the deep,  the wind shifted.   Our brother went partly into the briny — and also across the fantail.  A little splicing that evening in the Media center edited the re-shot final images of the burial at sea.   No need to stress the family with the ‘Sweepers’ call that was mustered up.

A burial — and a rebirth at sea, was exactly what occurred for me personally when I spent eight years on sea duty assignments with three different ships.   As I continue to read letters written in my first two years in the Navy, and from time when I went back into the Navy seven years later, I see a person that I no longer recognize.  I had tackled one of the most-rigorous technical skills the Navy offered,  but it took trial, error, failure, and opportunity that unexpectedly resulted in a review that medically discharged me.   At that time  I was an introverted teenager trying to escape Arizona and a negative self-image by joining the Navy;  in the Eighties, as a twenty-something stuck in a rut, with a challenging relationship, and poor job outlook,  I was able to re-enter the Navy, but only in that same field that had so challenged me previously.   The grass, or rather the salt air was beckoning me and I chose selfishly.   As my letters from this period show, I markedly changed as I matured.  When my personal life fell apart- my then wife took up with someone else,  I became more callous, even cynical at times, and a workaholic.    The go-to guy if something needed to be done.

However , San Diego changed all that.   I, metaphorically, died again, and was reborn –while I was still on active duty and assigned sea duty.   My new spiritual chain of command started with God and Jesus.  You listen when your ISIC (Immediate Superior in Command)  wears actual stars on his uniform. As stuck as  I had been in my past lives and self-interests,  I enjoy now a real freedom with my wife, family and church.  My skills, passions, and commitment is focused positively.   For almost twenty years, I have found that a burial at sea, and resurrection into a new life is truly freeing.  Thank God.

Knossos, but no bull


4000 years ago, the Minoan civilization, on what is now the island of Crete, was a thriving,  sea-going people.   The Classic Greek legend of the Minotaur, a half-man, half bull-like beast which is still being taught in universities today, was a story set in the Palace of King Minos at Knossos on Crete.  In the 19th Century,  archaeologists began excavating this site;  some of the buildings were partially reconstructed to show the amazing art and technology that they developed.   in 1994, I had the opportunity to see this site with fellow crew members of the USS PETERSON during a port visit.  One of the highlights for me was the world’s first flushing toilet, in the queen’s chambers.

I still laugh at one of the comments made by a young sailor on that trip. ‘What a bunch of crap, everything is in pieces”,  he said.

“Well, this entire site was buried in the ground for FOUR THOUSAND years”. someone responded.  “I wouldn’t expect it to be all standing at all.”

“Oh,  wow.”

Who knows what history would have recorded about the Minoans had not a little environmental disaster overtaken them.   Four thousand years ago,  in one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever,  the island of Thera, about a hundred miles to the north of Crete, vaporized.  The resulting tidal wave obliterated the Minoans.  According to history, the Bible, and other records,  elsewhere around the Mediterranean,   the Etruscans – who were the forerunners of Romans, the Egyptians, Israelite tribes all were impacted by the Minoans.

Sailors get around.   And that ain’t no bulls…”