Your post-military career can be a refreshing change of pace, or an opportunity to put everything you have ever done to use, testing of your faith, and the hopes and dreams of your neighbors and friends, right where you are needed.
The United States Navy turns 243 on October 13th. And one of the nation’s most cherished – and still active – icons of naval heritage, the frigate USS CONSTITUTION is a little more than 220 years old.
To mark this occasion, as well as the other services on their annual birthday, my employer honors veterans in our workforce. This year, as a result of some unexpected events, I was offered the role of the “emcee” for the after-work celebration. Cake, some “refreshments”, sea stories, and naval lore and trivia for employees in attendance who had not served in the Navy.
And I entertained our friends with a little monologue and trivia.
Important dates in history
- OCT 13 1775 Continental Congress authorizes construction of a Naval force.
- April 1798 creation of the Department of the Navy
- 1797 USS Constitution launched
- 1803 -1805 Barbary war
- 1812 -1815 War of 1812 “Old Ironsides” defeated 3 British warships
Nautical and Naval lore
- Which of the following are true?
- The ditty bag used to be called a “ditto bag” because there were two of everything in it.
- The flaps on crackerjacks were designed to keep hair grease off the back of the uniform.
- Navy logs are named for the timber from which the paper was created.
- Boatswain’s Pipes originated in ancient galleys. One whistle meant “row.”
- “Chits” are named after Hindu slips of paper used in lieu of silver and gold.
- Uniform stars have “two points up”, instead of one (like you see in the flag) to symbolize the Navy’s defense of both coasts.
- Broadside is a large sheet of paper.
- “Cup of Joe” (coffee) comes from “the cup of Jonas.”
- A tattoo of a pig on one leg of a sailor and a rooster on the other is a charm against drowning.
- The term “sick bay” originated in ancient times, when hospital ships (called “immunes”) would accompany Caeser’s legions and were kept far from battle, normally in the calm waters of a bay.
- The only time 12 bells is sounded is at midnight on the Navy’s Birthday and on New Year’s Eve.
- S.O.S. stands for “Save Our Ship.”
- The P in P-Coat stands for Pilot.
- 2. True
- True (“citthi”)
- False (the custom has no known origin)
- False (named after Josephus Daniels – he’s the Secretary of the Navy who abolished alcohol on Navy ships in 1913.)
- False (early hospital ships were called “immunes”, but the term “bay” comes from the round shape of ship sterns, resembling a bay.)
- False (only on New Year’s Eve)
- False (it doesn’t stand for anything)
- True (Pilot cloth or P-cloth was the fabric from which they were made.)
This was compiled from the NavyTimes Broadsides blog (Jeff Bacon), from The Goat Locker, the Naval Historical Center, GlobalSecurity.org, and Wikipedia.
Fun facts: (USO.org)
- David Farragut, was the first admiral in the United States Navy. He coined, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
- Bravo Zulu means “well done”
- Through World War II, sailors who did well were told “Tare Victor George,” which was code for “well done.” After the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed and it standardized communications. NATO created a system of B-flags for administrative communication. The last B-flag was BZ. The Allied Naval Signal Book created the phonetics for each letter and BZ became Bravo Zulu.
- The Chief Petty Officer rank was established on 1 APRIL 1893
- Depiction of fouled anchors, in decoration, in the Chief Petty Officer insignia and in body art:
If an anchor is fouled, it means the line or chain is wrapped around the shank and fluke arms. This indicates the anchor is no longer suitable for use. These retired anchors are usually displayed for decorative purposes on base or in Navy communities. The symbol is also part of the Chief Petty Officer rank insignia. When used in body art, the fouled anchor represents a tour across the Atlantic Ocean.
Before everyone today under the age of fifty started getting tattoos, the history of tattoos and the symbolism had a long nautical tradition. An article describes significant tattoos, along with what each item means.
- Swallows:Home (each denotes 5,000 miles at sea)
- Compass/Nautical Star:Never losing one’s way (each denotes 10,000 miles at sea)
- Trident:Special warfare
- Rose:A significant other left at home
- Twin screws or props on one’s backside:Propels one forward through life
- Octopus:Navy diver
- Dolphin:Wards off sharks
- Sharks:Rescue swimmer
- Polar bear:Sailed the Arctic Circle
- Dragon:Sailed the Pacific
- Fouled anchor:Sailed the Atlantic
- Turtle:Crossed the equator
- Gold dragon:Crossed the International Dateline
- Gold turtle:Crossed the International Dateline and the Equator where they intersect
- Emerald fouled anchor:Crossed the Prime Meridian
- Emerald turtle:Crossed the Prime Meridian and the Equator where they intersect
- Full-rigged ship:Sailed around Cape Horn
- Pin-up girls:Company at sea/port call
- Hula girls:Sailed to or ported in Hawaii
- Dagger through a swallow:Signifies a lost comrade
- Pig and chicken:Superstition to keep from drowning
- The words “HOLD FAST”:Signifies a deckhand’s tight grip on the lines
The practice of medicine is a thinker’s art the practice of surgery a plumber’s. Martin H. Fischer
There’s not too much concern in my neighborhood with the dangers at sea. No real danger from collisions ( unless a Cessna on approach to the airfield makes an improbably short landing). There is no danger of grounding. Likewise, the chance of sinking is very slight at a few hundred feet above sealevel. And until I attempted tonight to replace the fill valve in my toilet, I never considered flooding.
As a homeowner, and a technically proficient electronics engineering technician, I tackle most maintenance myself. Unless my wife is at home, in which case, I will opt to call someone to do maintenance. Some tasks are a little complicated in an old house whether replacing a dishwater fill line or tinkering with the gas water heater. With my wife on travel visiting the kids, I thought tonight would be a good opportunity to replace an annoying toilet fill valve. For a “water-saving” device, the last valve I installed has required two or three flushes routinely, and sometimes a manual intervention to the tank.
Tonight, my famous last words were “it’ll only take five minutes”. I studied the new valve. I even consulted YouTube. Simple job. But the line into the tank – at the bottom continued to drip onto the floor even as I tightened the nut. I gave in and removed the valve with more water going on the floor, needing to grab several towels, and getting sprayed from the line as I did not shut the valve from the main all the way. The job called for and resulted in a few choice “Sailor” expletives after assembly and the tank still had a small leak.
The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea. Ovid
I was about to resort to calling my neighbor when I noticed one small failure. I had installed the rubber seal under, not inside, the inner (tank) seat of the fill valve! And in my zeal, I had nicked the plastic nut which would cause leaking as well. Fortunately, the old unit had a pristine nut that I was able to reuse. The Damage Controlman and the Hull Technician can stand down. Flooding in the compartment has been cleaned up. General Quarters is secured. All hands can get back to their Saturday evening.
I was planning to start preparing to paint the living room this week to surprise my spouse. It would not take that long as I have all the tools, tape and drop cloths. I have a couple days to call in some “expert” help before my wife returns. On second thought, I shall postpone this Intermediate Maintenance Availability for another time. I will not set a watch, but I think it prudent to check the compartment for flooding in the morning.
Are you, or do you know someone who served in the U.S. military, at least some of which was during a period of wartime, and has financial and/ or physical hardship? Do they know that they may receive assistance from the Veterans Administration?
Reprinted from the VA website
Supplemental Income for Wartime Veterans
VA helps Veterans and their families cope with financial challenges by providing supplemental income through the Veterans Pension benefit. Veterans Pension is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income wartime Veterans.
Generally, a Veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a wartime period to qualify for a VA Pension. If you entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally you must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions), with at least one day during a wartime period.
In addition to meeting minimum service requirements, the Veteran must be:
- Age 65 or older, OR
- Totally and permanently disabled, OR
- A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
- Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR
- Receiving Supplemental Security Income
Your yearly family income must be less than the amount set by Congress to qualify for the Veterans Pension benefit. Learn more about income and net worth limitation, and see an example of how VA calculates the VA Pension benefit.
Additional Pension Allowances
Veterans or surviving spouses who are eligible for VA pension and are housebound or require the aid and attendance of another person may be eligible for an additional monetary payment.
How To Apply
You can apply for Veterans Pension online or download and complete VA Form 21P-527EZ, “Application for Pension”. You can mail your application to the Pension Management Center (PMC) that serves your state. You may also visit your local regional benefit office and turn in your application for processing. You can locate your local regional benefit office using the VA Facility Locator
To apply for increased pension based on A&A or Housebound payments, write to the PMC that serves your state and provide medical evidence, such as a doctor’s report, that validates the need for an increased benefit.
When I chose to make the military my career, I vowed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Never in my nearly sixty years of age, did I think that, disagreements on policy priorities and governance aside, that our two-hundred forty year old nation would be so divided internally, and so poorly governed.
Since the first Gulf War, in 1991, the members of Congress in particular, and the Government bureaucrats and advisers, generally, with military service -especially wartime combat service have declined. With a world view fueled by lifelong academics with little to no experience abroad, the men and women who are seeking to “fundamentally transform America” ( then-candidate Barack Obama) do not have American interests, nor practical American foreign policy concerns at heart.
Whether it is the shortsighted foreign policy objectives or the politically-encumbered execution of military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, military men and women have been sent into harm’s way. And the bureaucrats, industrial lobbyists, politicians, academics, and news media corporations, all vie for primacy while the American soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and our border enforcement agents all are treated shabbily.
When I heard today that Jeff Bezos of Amazon donated millions to a PAC, With Honor, I started to look into it. The idea that military, particularly combat-veterans, should run for political office and senior bureaucratic offices at all levels of government, cheers me. It sounds intriguing. I have served with some who have held offices in state governments and have brought a lot of wisdom and value to serving their constituents. But with electoral campaigns running into the millions of dollars, few can compete without well-connected benefactors. There needs to be effective support systems that are independent of party affiliation. And with veterans in the workings of government, there may be better opportunity to provide well-earned services to our veterans, and to provide some sober judgement about policies that may send others into harms way.
More to come.
All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962
I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea. For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet). I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean, and Caribbean Seas. Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning. As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War, made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece. Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old. I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan, and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt. We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego. But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships, and to shore stations around the country. Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.
We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan. We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze. Into the heat, dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them, and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship. At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.
Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking. The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows. Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.
Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes. One of the wettest places on Earth, the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus. Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs. For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak). Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams. For the other, when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles. Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.
The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates, these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time. With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories, having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century. My shipmates and I have marveled at the different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours. I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea. Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line, as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.
And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you, especially at night. Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups. Or being especially vigilant while manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment. Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas. Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace. Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by. While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)
For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand. For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life, at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly. Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood, the sea spray on our skin, and the experience of working together in times of routine, in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.
[quotes, except where noted, via writebyte.net ]
A story I heard today set my jaw, got my dander up, and got me to thinking what sort of incapable hands, and I am speaking of the enlisted Navy khaki community – have my Brothers and Sisters in the CPO Mess (Retired) left behind? In recent years, story after story of accidents, improper behavior (fraternization) and issues with ships, aircraft and installations continue to be reported. The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, the MCPON, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, resigned due to allegations of improper leadership this year. And I heard today that a Sailor, who happens to be a career top performer and a person who shares my faith (and a member of my congregation), is being allegedly PERSECUTED by the unit CPO Mess for (allegedly) sharing values with another sailor. Honor? Courage? Commitment?
I have to wonder what has happened to the Navy I served for twenty-six years. For as long as people have put to sea, spiritual beliefs have gone to sea with them. For the last two centuries, members of a faith community have been guaranteed the freedom of expression, worship, and other rights, as well as equal protection under the law. I certainly understand that everyone is entitled – and in the military particularly – to believe whatever they want to believe – as long as the mission and the team performance are not negatively affected. A conscientious objector in charge of a weapons system is not expected. A polygamist or adulterer is not expected to respond to policies that define conduct which brings discredit the unit. A person with addiction, particularly to alcohol or prescription drugs, is not the model of reliability in a moment of necessary quick response or judgement.
A search online on the topic of faith and military duty will reveal articles that support that servicemen and women of faith make better and more capable members. And there has been at least one who was convicted at courts martial for refusing to obey orders to remove a display of religious quotes in her workplace. That conviction was based in part on disobedience to a lawful order, and failure to demonstrate that she had taken all the proper steps via the chain of command to remedy her particular issues.
In the case of the Sailor I heard about today, I know that conduct was not the issue. Disobedience and disrespect of a shipmate was not the issue. If good people of faith, technically capable and ethically sound, are forced out of serving in uniform, then the nation as a whole suffers. I do not expect all members of the military to share my Christian faith, nor even to have a belief in a supernatural Deity. But I have known men and women in positions of responsibility whose conduct and attitude demeaned their peers and subordinates. Some of those subordinates chose to leave the service at the end of their contracts.
Honor. Courage. Commitment. Leadership in the armed forces of the United States is a privilege. And respecting the spiritual beliefs of capable, ethical, and valuable members of the team is but one trait that an exceptional member of the Chief Petty Officer Mess can impart.