Ask the Chief: General orders of a sentry

One recent Sunday, my church congregation held an outdoor worship service at a community park to celebrate the relaxing of COVID precautions in our area. Two retired Navy Chiefs were asked to help with the set up of sound for the stage and facilitating our members to park their vehicles. I was one of these who coordinated parking, and assisted my Brother Chief (among retired Navy members a CPO is always a CPO) with setting up and afterward, tearing down and storing of the equipment. What made the day a bit hectic was the park was also the setting for the local Chaldean community celebrating the Easter season with family picnics, loud music and children running between the Chaldean festivities and our afternoon church service. Apparently, in an effort to maintain public safety (the parking lot was filled to capacity before our service arrived), the local police had set up traffic control into the park.

Wearing my HOPE “uniform” – a t-shirt that all our members recognize, I stood with the police at my “post” at the entrance to the park. Two other volunteers I asked to stand at the pedestrian entrances to the park to assist our congregants and their guests. We were walking our assigned post in a manner of speaking.

A casual conversation with one of the traffic control officers, a fellow Navy veteran, inspired today’s post, “General orders of a sentry”. Sadly, forty years after my recruit training, and eleven years since I was last in uniform, I had to review what those General Orders specifically stated. I could recall only the first two verbatim.

  • To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  • To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  • To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  • To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  • To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  • To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  • To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  • To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  • To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  • To salute all officers and colors and standards not cased.
  • To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

On a warm and very pleasant afternoon, the service was conducted without incident. One elderly gentleman who had strayed off toward the Chaldean’s festival at one point was gently redirected to our community. And children who had likely decided a game of tag passing through our worship service were gently guided back toward their parents. A Navy Chief’s mission is still the same, even in retirement. Execute the mission.

3 Truly Meaningful Ways You Can Help Veterans, Active Duty Personnel, and Their Families

Today’s Guest blogger: Kelli Brewer

Kelli is part of DeployCare (website: deploycare.org), which offers support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment.

Have you ever thanked a veteran or military member for his/her service and wondered if you could do more? Despite general support from the public, veterans and active-duty personnel of the armed forces — as well as their families — still face a multitude of daily challenges. One of the best ways to support these communities is to take an active role in solving those challenges, and these are just a few of the ways you can do so.

Consider Working Toward a Master’s in Social Work

Social work is a great field to get into if you want to help veterans, active duty service members and their dependents. Professionals in this field provide a multitude of services for these communities, ranging from re-integrating active duty personnel into civilian life to helping military families adjust to their unique lifestyles. Getting into social work is pretty flexible, too, as you can complete a Master’s of Social Work curriculum through various universities throughout the US. These programs generally require about 900 to 1,200 hours of qualified fieldwork, but some do allow the completion of academic work online. These online options make this a great field for current military spouses and dependents to pursue since coursework can be completed from just about any location. There may even be scholarships that can help offset tuition and expenses for dependents of veterans and active duty service members, for a Master of Social Work program or other educational pursuits. 

Look for Career Opportunities with Veterans Affairs Hospitals

One of the most critical elements in maintaining a veteran’s quality of life is the availability of quality healthcare. Lack of mental and physical health services can lead to devastating consequences for veteran populations, including increased incidences of suicide. If you are interested in becoming a mental health professional, you could take an active role in reducing this risk by pursuing a career within the VA hospital system.

In addition to a shortage of mental health services, VA hospitals are also plagued by a shortage of nurses. So, you could also assist veterans by taking up one of the various nursing roles that are available at VA facilities in just about every US state and territory. There are other roles to fill at the VA as well, including patient advocacy and various administrative roles. Committing yourself to service in a VA hospital isn’t easy, but it is one of the most important ways civilians can provide assistance to the men and women who committed their lives to military service.

Help Veterans and Active Duty Without Changing Your Career

Filling desperately needed roles within fields that directly benefit veterans, active duty service members, and dependents are some of the best ways for civilians to help. Still, these careers aren’t necessarily for everyone, and there are other ways to support these communities.

Hire a Military Spouse

If you are in a decision-making position within your organization, hiring more military spouses can make a world of difference to active-duty families. Nearly 28 percent of military spouses struggle with unemployment, often due to misconceptions about their lifestyle, but employers can help change this statistic. Entrepreneurs can make a difference as well by hiring veterans and providing training that will smooth the transition into a civilian occupation.

Assist With Home Needs

Maybe you aren’t in a position to hire someone, and you aren’t looking for a new career. Don’t underestimate the power of time and information. Senior and disabled veterans often struggle in their own home environment, for instance, but don’t know about the many programs available to help them with home modifications. Along those lines, they might be better off moving to a more manageable home, whether in terms of affordability or physical space, but may not feel like they can afford it. There are loan programs designed especially for veterans. Encourage your veteran friend to review the options available to learn about the perks of VA loans (including low interest rates and no downpayment). With a little guidance, you may be able to help them find a safer and more comfortable home environment.

Contribute to Nonprofits

Finally, one of the simplest ways to assist these communities is to donate or volunteer with organizations that are dedicated to veterans, active-duty service members, and the families that support them. Be careful when choosing an organization to support so that you know your time, money, and effort will actually make a difference for these individuals and families.

If you want to express your gratitude and support for veterans, military members, and their loved ones, actions will always speak louder than words. There are so many opportunities to show your appreciation and make a difference in the lives of the men and women who have served this country. So, find one that speaks to you or simply take the time to listen when a member of one of these communities chooses to speak. After all, even the simplest of gestures can be meaningful in the lives of others.

Photo Credit: Pexels

This post was first published on Truths, Half-Truths, and Sea Stories, March 27th, 2021. All rights reserved.

Ask the Chief:Formula for success

The month of March is touted as a time to recognize achievements by women today and in history. In my social media feed, warriors, astronauts, authors and civic leaders are presented as outstanding examples and role models for their gender. I am married to one such as these, whose circumstances thirty-some years ago might have dictated a much different path had she not had the internal motivation and applied herself to becoming a Registered Nurse, then an educator, a program director and lastly, an entrepreneur. My interpretation of a formula to succeed in Life, has a lot to do with personal motivation and how much someone applies herself or himself to the task.

Results (R) equals Motivation (M) times Application (A), in a Skill (s) that is in demand, in a society.

Eric Saretsky

A story published by wearelatinlive.com that was distributed in my Facebook feed is one of these success stories that strikes me as representative of the possibilities that many, particularly in Government, act as not being possible by the majority in the United States. The story of Diana Trujillo, Director of Flight Operations for the Mars Perseverance Rover, speaks to a Latina immigrant from Columbia who came here, not speaking English, and with $300 in her pocket. Working as a cleaning women, she attended community college, then transferred to a university and became one of few women studying to become an aerospace engineer advancing to her position today.

CMDCM Barbier

Another story that was remarkable was a video interview published online by Mike Rowe. He interviewed a young lady, who is a highly-skilled specialty welder earning a six-figure income today. This young lady, with a passion for fancy eyelashes seen in the video, applied herself starting with a high school elective, after realizing that a teenager’s idea of a career in medicine was not really her goal. And there there are the examples of my female Shipmates from my years serving in the United States Navy. Two in particular have always reminded me of the formula I noted earlier in this post. One, a now-retired Admiral, Linnea Sommer-Weddington, began serving as an enlisted linguist, and after earning a college degree, received a commission. Twenty-five years later, facing a mid-career health situation, she had the tenacity to overcome it and through her leadership example, experience and skill, advanced in her career to Flag rank. It was her motivating those she lead to also reach their full potential that impacted the second female I am reminded. Navy Reserve Command Master Chief Kristie Barbier , I had the good fortune to serve alongside and lead for a time as the Senior Enlisted Leader for a Reserve unit that then-Commander Sommer-Weddington headed. Kristie’s expertise in her civilian occupation supported the Department of Defense. In her military role, ambition and skillset, she volunteered for service in the combat zone of Afghanistan. Through skills and exceptional leadership, she earned the highest Navy enlisted rank and serves as a Command Master Chief today. While this may sound extraordinary to many, there is one other caveat that makes these stories noteworthy. All of them were accomplished by females raising families or other ventures who shaped their circumstances – instead of being burdened by them.

RDML (Ret) Sommer-Weddington

As a veteran I have had the good fortune to work with people from every background and circumstance who volunteered for military service. Mentors and friends whose career success were shaped by application of a success formula whether or not they knew it as such. And in the civilian community, many with whom I have worked who strived to have the life they earned. Circumstances, from economic declines and health challenges, to worldwide pandemics will occur, but it is the ones who have skills that are continually needed who will thrive throughout. In my business today I see examples of civilian and veteran, men and women, young and older, immigrant and native-born, through exceptional work ethic and ambition, achieve certification. And sadly, I have witnessed those whose self-limiting formula delays their success.

In some I know, through my military experience and in my marriage, there is one other caveat that makes these stories noteworthy. Most of them were accomplished by females raising families; working while in training; in business with husbands or partners; or varying degrees of all of these. These are women who shaped their circumstances – instead of being burdened by them. And I have met men, immigrants, who have had skills, authority or respected careers in their home country who achieve competence in a new language and culture, and support their families working from the bottom upward, in a field that is in high demand.

Ask the Chief: obtain credentials in the service

If I had the opportunity to mentor young Sailors just beginning their Navy career, I would counsel them to take advantage of every opportunity afforded them in the training the Navy provides. However, there are opportunities far beyond “A” school or specialization “C” schools, to develop natural talents and intellect. In fact, there are many opportunities to develop personally and professionally, only limited by the individual’s awareness of them. For decades the military has facilitated correspondence and on-base college classes offered for off-duty servicemembers. There is access to Tuition Assistance which many have used for off-duty education at local colleges. Recreational programs through MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) offices have included SCUBA certification, rock climbing, auto mechanics and woodworking, with skilled mentors available. One of the longest associations for obtaining professional tradesman certification, is through Journeyman Apprenticeship in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Credit by examination, correspondence courses, classroom work, and military training -equivalence credit have been accepted by many universities to obtain a college degree. This has facilitated motivated Sailors, Marines and other service members to advance in their military specialties. In the last twenty years, particularly since 2013, the rapid development of technology and the drive for a more qualified and educated service member, has brought about a watershed of opportunity for both enlisted military, commissioned officers and civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Through online resources access to education, credentialing, and licensure has meant that anyone can complete a military enlistment and return to the civilian workforce with qualifications that are immediately recognized by employers.

Through the United Service Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP), ratings and occupational specialties have translated to civilian trades, by crediting work experience toward Journeyman certification. While I was aware of, and enrolled in, this credential program in 1989 – 1990, I took advantage of other education opportunities in place of becoming a Journeyman. At the same time that civilian trades people were seeing a decline in young people engaging in those occupations, by the second decade of the millennium, the military had seen significant growth in participation in an apprenticeship program. This was documented in a DOL study published in late 2015. Beginning in 2002 with the Army, all the service branches have embraced Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) to coordinate military and civilian employees of the respective branches becoming a more professional workforce. COOL does not offer accreditation but instead facilitates access to resources for individuals looking to pursue licenses and certifications in their respective occupations.

A future post will examine some of the best available college courses, though not for credit, yet available completely free of charge. These are available through a consortium of American universities, often delivered by online lecture with complete syllabi, notes and assignments.

the moral of this morale story

The following are excerpts from an article published on the USNI News webpage, 27 January 2021.

“The commander of a guided-missile destroyer was relieved of command after attempting to make a morale-boosting plaque from a captured weapon for his crew to celebrate the 2019 interdiction of an Iranian weapons shipment, an attorney representing the commander told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“Cmdr. Frank Azzarello was the commander of USS Forest Sherman (DDG-98) when the destroyer and a Coast Guard cutter interdicted an unmarked dhow in the North Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019, Azzarello’s attorney Tim Parlatore told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“In a statement, the Navy says the relief is due to a loss of confidence in command by Rear Adm. Ryan Scholl, who commands Carrier Strike Group Eight. Cmdr. Greg Page, assigned to Afloat Training Group Atlantic, will assume duties as commanding officer.”

deckplate leadership?

The unanswered question in the article describing the Commanding Officer’s dismissal, is whether the senior enlisted leadership, comprising the Command Master Chief and the unit Chiefs Mess, made any objection or provided counsel to the Commanding Officer regarding the propriety, and violation of military regulations prior to the display being created.

As one of the roles of the CMC and Chiefs’ Mess, is to provide the Commanding Officer with any deficiencies in the command, were any objections raised to this plaque being created from a seized article? If not, this tends to put the Chiefs Mess, the traditional collective wisdom and decades of experience as deficient, at least aboard the USS Forest Sherman. Whether the Commanding Officer chose to disregard an objection raised by a member of the Chief’s Mess or the Wardroom, then the objection raised by the attorney is unsupportable. Since the military only conducts such contraband interdiction on the high seas in concert with the United States Coast Guard (Law Enforcement), the Commanding Officer was actually in violation of several standing regulations, when he authorized the display of an article from that seized shipment as a trophy. It is against military regulations and federal policy, to dispose, confiscate, or otherwise repurpose articles seized during military or law enforcement actions, without clear direction and lawful disposition.

oaths, rights and wrongs amended

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In the United States of America the notion of an oath of fidelity, (faithfulness or allegiance) is not something suggested or required for most occupations. A half-century ago, as schoolchildren, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance before our first class every morning. As Boy Scouts, we recited its promise to obey God, do one’s best and uphold the Scout Law. Enlisting and re-enlisting in the military, members take the oath to support and defend the Constitution, to obey orders and military regulations. Federal employees as well as naturalized citizens take an oath to defend the principles of our founding document as well.

to the Constitution’s defense

Recent events involving people storming the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., were alarming. Even if unintentional, the misuse of his influence by a now-former President was not justified. He encouraged a demonstration that became mob mentality, Though citizens have the First Amendment right of peaceable assembly , to gather Trump’s emotionally-charged supporters around the Capital Building at the time of the certification of the Electoral College votes, was improper at best. But the undermining of faith in the Constitutional process sits squarely with Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

Government officials spent years unsuccessfully to determine if the 2016 election of Donald Trump was manipulated by foreign agents. In the prior eight years of President Obama’s presidency, his opposition, decried alleged misuse of Constitutional authority on many of his Administration’s policies, particularly “Obamacare”. Politics is normally unsavory, but there is ample evidence that journalists, bureaucrats, politicians and social media stoked the emotions of their respective constituents. They fostered suspicion that the Constitution was being usurped – either by one side’s “fascists” or the other’s “socialists”. The system functioned as intended however. With the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, the military has a new Commander-In-Chief and new civilian authority. Regulations and the UCMJ are still in effect. And the oaths men and women took to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of those in authority are still in effect.

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Long Term Care planning for active military, veterans, retirees and family

Turning sixty-two this year is not all that worrisome for me. Of course, in the middle of the second wave of the COVID pandemic, the potential long-term impact to ones health of contracting COVID at this stage of life is probable reason for concern. Though I had considered enrolling at a much younger age, with insurance premiums much lower the younger one enrolls, the invincibility of youth encouraged me to put it off. In the last quarter of 2020, I thought it prudent to begin the enrollment with a commercial insurer, accompanied by physical exam, several telephone interviews and waiting for term and premium calculations. The cost of commercial insurance seemed exorbitant, so my wife and I decided against it. Then I learned that LI (insurance) was available to retired military. Planning for a Veterans Administration facility as a fallback was my last consideration, should I subsequently require reevaluation of a presently non-compensable service-connected disability. After a military career, a professional career, and self-employed business owner today, we should plan for any potential health situations in our “golden years”.

Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP)

While most married service members have enrolled in federal benefits under TriCare, and include dental and vision program benefits when selected, Long Term Care insurance is not included in the annual Federal Benefits Open Season. However, FLTCIP is available to Federal workers, Postal Service employees, and military members. Eligibility for this program is linked to eligibility for Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). The link to the FEGLI handbook is here. The key point to note, is that eligibility for FEGLI does not require a person seeking FLTCIP to be enrolled in the FEGLI.

Open Season, physical exams, and Qualifying Life Events do not apply

For those who may be familiar with Tricare Open Season, which runs from November to early December of each year, FEGLI also has a banner regarding Open Season. The Office of Personnel Management, OPM, “Outside of an open season, eligible employees can enroll or increase their FEGLI coverage by taking a physical exam or with a Qualifying Life Event,” However, no such open season limitation exists to enroll in the Long Term Care insurance. Details as to eligibility are found here. To access more information, and to begin enrollment, the link is here.

Most of this information comes from a website, https://militarybenefits.info, opm.gov and the FLTCIP program webpage.

Is it time to head back to school?

This week’s Guest Post, is by blogger Kelli Brewer. Kelli is part of DeployCare, made up of veterans and their families which offers free support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment. Please visit their website for additional articles on various topics of importance to veterans -Ed

Are you thinking about going back to school now that your time in service is done? If so, keep reading. Popeye To Admiral wants veterans and their families to have access to the best educational resources available. With this in mind, here are a few quick tips for vets set on earning a degree after their time in service.

Choose Wisely

When it’s time to go back to school, your first obligation is to choose an academic or vocational program. Be cautious here, however, because not all schools are G.I. Bill-approved. Furthermore, many schools suffer from accreditation complications, tarnished reputations, and few working graduates.

Aside from school, you’ll also want to take your time when making a decision on your major. There are many fields that make sense for veterans, including management and law enforcement. Another highly sought-after degree is information technology. Any of these — and many more — can be earned all or partially online. This is more important than ever in the pandemic society in which we live.

Start Small

Even if you are eligible for veteran funds, it might make sense to consider a community college for your first two years. Crucially, if you plan to use your G.I. Bill benefits for your children, many states now pay for an associate degree — meaning the funds may be used toward a graduate degree. U.S. News & World Report asserts that money is just one reason to consider a community college over a university when just starting out.

If you are not yet sure what you would like to do, you can also start off earning a certification. Taking a career aptitude test geared toward veterans can help you decide what type of job you would like in the civilian world. There are many options ranging from entry-level medical to business management.

Trade School Is An Option

Finally, keep in mind that you do not have to go to college to complete your education. You may also consider trade school to earn your HVAC or electrical license or ASE mechanic certification. Blue-collar jobs often pay as well as white-collar jobs, and some of them are even more lucrative.

For more information about going back to school, contact your institute of choice’s admissions counselor. Good luck in your endeavors, and thank you for your service.

Popeye To Admiral offers quips and quick bites of wisdom for veterans and their families. Visit the blog often for your daily dose of delectable posts and veteran resources. Let us know more of what sort of resources you might want to see. You can also find us on Facebook here, .

politics and Pine Sol

See the source image

The slightest whiff of pine oil cleanser is enough to bring the Navy instantly back to life for me. One of my earliest memories of military service was as a Recruit, the culture-shock of boot camp where civilians were turned into military – Sailors, in my case. We were daily required to clean our barracks top to bottom. Our performance in that task indicated how the remainder of that day, or subsequent days, would go. Most memorable, is that the “head”, what other services call the “latrine”(restroom to civilians), was scrubbed even more intensely. Not a speck of dust, nor urine stain, pubic hair, razor stubble or soap scum escaped notice during inspection. After two decades using Pine Sol as disinfectant and deodorizer aboard a military installation, that smell is indelibly stamped in my brain. Clean. It is still a pleasing aroma.

Politics have no relation to morals

Niccolo Machiavelli 

If politics had an aroma, the stench would be offensive to any military-trained nostril. And despite the eloquence of some Twentieth Century statesmen and pols – Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan come to mind – politics now entering the third decade of the Twenty-First Century, is nothing short of gag-inducing rotten garbage. I do not join either side in the American spectacle that is President Trump and his camp, or the Democrat-socialist- progressives and theirs. Politics needs a complete “field day”. And so does the would-be electorate.

I think all the garbage in the world is thanks to a very small handful of idiots.

Jeff Dunham, comedian, ventriloquist

As a military veteran, I think, as many do, we need to get rid of all the career politicians and their allies. Twenty, thirty or forty years of politicians complaining the other side is not fixing < insert the problem here> as the reason why they need to be elected or re-elected. Or incessantly being in opposition to the other camp, without having well-thought out solutions to real short-comings. The whole of education, arts, social media, and governance, in America and elsewhere has elevated minority opinion and practice while condemning the society, history and individuals who as a unified country, created medicines, landed people on the Moon, and put cellphone computers in every hand in the world.

We need a deep cleansing. Perhaps we put the military veteran in charge of all institutions, bring back idealism, respect for law and order, freedom OF religion, and family values. Put everyone in the country through a unifying experience of military service. Get into the dark and dank corners. And use lots of Pine Sol. We desperately need a top-to- bottom renewal. We need to take out the garbage. We need “field day”.

Proper application and value of “lessons learned”

Preliminary opinions, mostly “armchair quarterbacking”, of the horrific fire aboard the almost-completed refurbishment of the USS BON HOMME RICHARD, (ed. note: abbreviated here as BHR) have started. Murmuring that “lessons learned” regarding the ship’s material condition, monitoring of contractors, and security and safety duties by the crew may reveal inadequate measures taken in one or all areas. Or that an electrical malfunction or overheated equipment started the fire. Reduced to “duty section” personnel aboard ship during weekends in-port in the United States, as the fire was initially called away on Sunday morning, is a long-standing practice of balancing the safety needs for the ship, reduced operations, and liberty for crew who may be at-sea and away from home for nine months a year. This reduced manning may have prevented casualties. Published reports indicate that construction materials were stored in a large interior area where the fire is suspected of igniting. Equipment, furnishings and materials used aboard Navy ships are specifically designed to be fire-resistant and low emitters of toxics. However, during the transition from the yard to an operational state, material may have still been staged in containers called “tri-walls”, These rugged, large-volume, cardboard cartons and their contents might have fed the blaze. For anyone familiar with shipboard life, cleaning is an around-the-clock process aboard a vessel. A maintenance period makes the effort more difficult as well as more important. Dust removal which is omnipresent on ship, salt corrosion due the maritime environment, any trash left by the contract workforce, and improper stowage of cleaning rags and agents all contribute to ship safety issues. Work performed in the vicinity preceding the fire may be suspect. Investigation will likely include any activity in the twelve hours prior to the fire being reported.

Existing practices

Standards in place over several decades, incorporating “lessons learned” from reports of incidents around the Fleet, are managed by several departments within the Department of the Navy. Guidance is distributed by directives from the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), from Naval Safety Center’s investigations, and from Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) which oversees all afloat construction, maintenance and repair, including shipyards and at other facilities. In past, established practices to monitoring work being performed at any hour, scheduled inspections and audits, and well-practiced safety operations would likely be sufficient to mitigate risk. As with any work or potential hazard, human error, negligence or malicious conduct is not always preventable.

Fire is an ever-present danger

Fire is an ever-present threat at sea. On a ship or submarine, crews are thoroughly trained to fight several emergencies from flooding, collision, munitions, toxic gases, electrical and different classes of fire. Identified by the combustible materials, those that burn leaving an ash such as paper, bedding, clothing, or stores can be extinguished with one agent. Fuels and oil require an oxygen disrupting agent. And Class C fires, are electrical in origin, and take different methods to extinguish. On the latter two, “starving” the fire of oxygen knocks the fire down. Besides corrosion to metals and equipment, the danger of electrical shock to firefighters or arcing is present with water, while its use against fuel fires disperses flaming fuel instead of extinguishing it. On three different classes of ships during my eight years at sea, we practiced incessantly for emergencies at-sea and in-port. And practiced security drills. With millions of dollars of valuable equipment aboard and in a time when espionage and terrorism are real concerns, members of the ships’ crew are assigned to accompany contractors, not otherwise cleared for unrestricted access, while aboard. For all “hot work”, that is, welding or grinding, a Sailor and/or a civilian performed as a “fire watch” for the welder. Sometimes, shipboard personnel charged with the vessel and crew’s safety would monitor both the welder and the fire watch. Why such a fuss? The danger from welding or grinding is due to heat or random sparks being generated which could cause combustible material to smolder (sometimes for hours) or set material ablaze in adjacent compartments through convection or radiated heat.

Systems and thorough practice

Aboard ship, the Engineering Department is the primary team responsible for damage control and management of the fire safety systems. These systems consist of pressurized fire mains, firefighting chemical (Aqueous Firefighting Foam or AFFF) and Halon gas (fire suppression) systems. The corrosive properties of seawater on metals and electrical components is well-known, so the Damage Control team evaluates available resources to fight a fire. However, the danger (the BHR fire was reported to be as hot as 1000 F) of water flashing into steam adds to the hazards for firefighters. As has been reported, the Halon system was undergoing maintenance and unavailable to flood a compartment that was on fire. Seawater therefore was apparently the primary means to fight the fire and attempt to cool the hull and compartments to contain its severity. According to one report, the team using AFFF were evacuated due to an explosion in one of the machinery compartments, and it is unclear whether they were able to resume its use. (According to another source, some non-Navy firefighter personnel abandoned their stations when a pump exploded requiring the Navy personnel to be withdrawn.)

Danger during Maintenance periods

The conditions during a maintenance period can contribute to safety hazards. Combustible materials may be used during maintenance contributing to conflagration. Sometimes a heavy paper is affixed to bulkheads (walls) and decks to minimize abrasion from equipment being moved. Terrazzo, a chemically-bonded interior decking material, sometimes has plywood overlaid by shipyard workers to prevent marring by heavy equipment and foot traffic during a maintenance period. Sometimes hatches are not dogged properly, which might either be due to inattention, protruding temporary cabling or poor placement. An improperly closed hatch or scuttle might then allow flammable material or gases to receive sufficient air to burn, or fire to penetrate other compartments. Or improper placement or shifting of material used during the maintenance period might cause running equipment to overheat. Or an electrical problem may cause arcing (sparking) to occur.

The human factor of safety practices

During my time in the U S Navy (nearly three decades), willful damage (in the case of USS MIAMI or USS COMPTE DE GRASSE) was not often suspected, and particularly not suspected to be caused by members of the crew. However, in 2012, a Navy contractor aboard the former, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine deliberately started a fire which resulted in the sub being scrapped. In the latter case, in 1994 a Navy crewman on the SPRUANCE-class destroyer, purposely damaged reduction gears causing extensive damage to propulsion and prevented the ship from deploying.

The investigation of the submarine fire revealed that the perpetrator was not being monitored continuously by a member of the submarine’s crew for a specific period of time. The civilian deliberately set a “small” fire expecting to get off work early. Having too few members of a “duty section”, assigning additional tasks for the crewman assigned to monitor that contractor, or improper vetting of civilian workers may have contributed to the incident. Once the reports have been issued by the investigation aboard the BHR, and the repair costs evaluated. the Navy may return the same verdict as in the MIAMI.

While Navy veterans and those currently in uniform, hope that the destructive fire aboard her was the result of accident, lapses in judgement, or an “act of GOD”, the Navy should not rule out sabotage. Evidence will reveal one or all of these factors. If sabotage, justice will be meted out. In the case of the civilian in the USS MIAMI case, the perpetrator was given a 17-year prison sentence. The sailor in the USS COMPTE DE GRASSE incident also received a lengthy sentence.

Lessons to be learned and then applied

However, the most important lessons to be gathered from this recent fire are to find where the shortcomings were, what worked well, and to implement change with practices, systems or personnel. Others have commented that implementation of lessons from prior incidents and casualties may have been slow to promulgate due to the bureaucracies responsible, or the incident the practice inspired receding into history. The practices that need to be changed will be studied, but the immediate operational effects are more troubling. The loss of the ship’s ability to deploy will cause more problems for the Navy meeting its commitments. With the recent quarter-billion dollar overhaul making it one of four similar ships to provide amphibious F-35 fighter support, the loss is substantial. Billions of dollars and years of construction and validation may be required to replace the USS BON HOMME RICHARD. The void left in the interim will likely result in longer deployments for other ship crews in order to balance the increasing militarization by Russia, China, and other actors in the world.

Preserve, protect and defend

My career in the Navy was committed to preserving the American people and the principles found in our Founding documents. This nation experiences problems that have contradicted those principles all along the last two hundred years. People that have wanted to ignore or redefine those principles. Particularly in the last four years, we have witnessed those who violated their office to uphold public good, safety and the Constitution at all levels of government. At every level, from local to the Presidency, the courts, and state-appointed bureaucrats, we have had a lack of leadership. Division, Fear and ideology replacing honest assessment and problem-solving.

If you have never been in combat, you cannot “understand” what a combat veteran with PTSD is going through. In America particularly, you may never have had guns drawn on you by police, or stopped to question you – simply because you are a particular skin color. Consider anyone you prejudged by their race, religion, origin, unemployment, homelessness, politics, physical disability, or weakness – alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, etc. How would you want others to treat you if situations were reversed? Many of us completely absolve another person of horrible attitudes, behavior, or past due to a characteristic we share or a certain point of agreement. We attribute any negatives brought up by others to “bad apples” and refuse to consider anything deeper.

We need to address, and correct the deficiencies, starting with race, but also determine how to accomplish change peacefully. Not by murdering police officers, blocking streets, burning buildings or adding slogans on advertising. Not with lifetime pols in public office, nor vigilante patrols, or by destroying monuments, and deleting history that offends someone. Not by white killing white, brown killing brown, or black killing black – or such. Not with one-sided simplistic journalism to trigger fear while driving ratings up. Honest assessment. Building up not tearing down our differences. So we start with race, law enforcement, crime and punishment. Correct the wrongs and punish the guilty. Change mindsets, and change the conditions that set people up from childhood to experience inequality. Promote discussions. Then work on the next inequality.

In the military, we started with a process – changing mindsets from civilian to military. Physical and mental conditioning. Working together, problem-solving, succeeding or failing as a team. Never quitting and above all, protecting one another and completing the mission. Otherwise, this country’s enemies will not respect us – they will snuff out our dreams for our grandchildren, turn others against us, and cheer us on as we destroy ourselves.

You have two basic rights

I am dusting off and republishing a few of my oldest efforts blogging. Rough around the edges. Originally published in July, 2009.

My old Senior Chief back in the days before political correctness blanched most of the testosterone from the military, used to introduce himself to his charges, “You have two rights in this world, one, to live, and another, to die. Gentlemen, when you f*** up, I will take one of them away from you!” I was the Petty Officer assigned to escort restricted and brig confinement -bound men at the NTC San Diego Correctional Custody unit, when the Navy Training Center and not an artsy community/ civic center.

It was his responsibility – and by delegation, mine as well, to attempt through proper application of discipline and hard work to turn last-chance misfits – clowns, chronic whiners, and immature boy-sailors into rule-followers, and rehabilitated men. There were of course, two alternatives that several ended finding – discharge at the convenience of the government, or hard time at the Navy Brig – and then discharge.

After those formative days of my youth, I see my responsibility as training young people in my charge, Sailors in my Reserve unit, recent graduate-engineers at work, and especially my sons, to help them develop along the right course. There is a culture in the military that juniors respect the senior enlisted mentors, as this is how the former progress to becoming the latter. In the civilian workforce, particularly in companies which nurture and reward excellence among all employees, there is a lot of the same cameraderie, cross-training, and shared purpose.

As a parent, though, raising boys who were as independent-minded and stubborn as mules, was work! These teens were self-disciplined only to the extent of things which held their interest – guitars, skateboards, and motocross bikes. Perhaps memory of similar behavior in those young men from the Correctional Custody days, urged me to impart some cautionary pearl of wisdom. Often the effect was wrath and counter-accusation, and exasperated red-faces. It would have been so much easier to find “a fan room”. (a Fan Room is a noisy air handling compartment where 2 could a disagreement with a few fists, without a public display). But political correctness has broken down all the means to apply discipline at any age.
Too much is thought of individual liberties, psyches, and others well-being, to the detriment of everyone from classroom pupil, to those helmsmen of a warship or even public transport operators. Policy which prohibits certain behavior (texting on cell phones while operating a train) is only effective when the individual has ingrained self-discipline.

Were it within my ability, I would like to see a return to the days of the old Senior Chief at NTC. A good butt-kicking would nip a lot of these problem behaviors.