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.

This is not a Drill

When the 1MC, the general announcing system aboard ship, calls away an actual emergency those words compel sailors instinctively into action. The fire that broke out Sunday morning, 12 July, on the USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD6) is still burning on Tuesday. However, the billowing smoke and flames that were visible within the superstructure early Monday seem to have been knocked down by the firefighting crews and hundreds of helicopter water drops. Yesterday, the volume of water to suppress the fire and cool the hull caused the ship to list slightly, but video today show the pumps aboard removed it adequately. Anytime a fire breaks out on a ship, it is an extremely hazardous time, but the condition of the ship when undergoing pierside maintenance made the conflagration it became Sunday and Monday.

As we have learned, the vessel was undergoing maintenance at the 32nd Street Navy Base after a two-year shipyard period nearby. (Almost every ship performs scheduled maintenance, which does not require being placed in drydock, at the pier.) While munitions do not remain aboard a ship during maintenance periods, the move to the Navy base indicated that it was in a state to have some daily operations continue. As the Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3, stated during a briefing, the major concern in mitigating the ongoing fire was keeping it away from the fuel supply stored decks below the fire. A semi-operational ship like the Bon Homme Richard has fuel, likely to stabilize the ship, while at the pier. With metropolitan San Diego and County residents within a thirty mile arc, the plume of smoke was an air quality concern. An operational Navy ship has stores, supplies, paper, bedding, and other combustible materials aboard. These, plus cleansers, lining of cabling and plastics in varied equipment will burn or vaporize, adding potential toxics to the smoke plumes. What made the conflagration so intense so rapidly was the inoperative HALON fire suppression system, which was itself, undergoing maintenance.

It is reassuring to know that the injuries that the sailors and civilians have sustained as a result of battling the fire are not very serious. As a sailor who spent several years aboard Navy combatants, I know crews are very well trained for emergencies such as this. The Navy team, comprised of officer and enlisted sailors, civilians, and other military and civilian firefighters are working around the clock to save the ship. The Navy will perform a very thorough investigation once the fire has been extinguished, and the Navy can expect the lessons applied to future pierside periods and training. However, with the intensity of the damage expected from the heat and flames, the confident “do not give up the ship!” attitude may be tempered. After a quarter-billion dollar refit, it likely may take a lot more to make her Bon Homme Richard.

UPDATED AT 2PM EST:

WASHINGTON (NNS) — UPDATED 2:00 p.m. July 14, 2020:

Below is the press conference opening statement from Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3.

Good morning. My name is Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck, and I am the Expeditionary Strike Group THREE commander. I’d like to start by thanking the people of San Diego, National City, Coronado, and all the other communities in San Diego County for their continued support. For more than 48 hours, brave Sailors from commands all across San Diego have been working tirelessly alongside Federal Fire San Diego to get this fire under control and I want to thank them for their efforts. I want to provide you with some updates on the progress we have made: First, we have investigated the four main engineering spaces and found no major damage. There is no threat to the fuel tanks, which is well-below any active fires or heat sources. The ship is stable and the structure is safe. We still have an active fire, which we are combatting from both within and outside the ship from multiple access points. HSC 3 helicopters have conducted more than 1,000 helicopter water bucket drops, which is cooling the super structure and flight deck enabling fire crews to get onboard internally to fight the fire. Tugs are also provide firefighting support from the waterline. I’m proud of the toughness of the Sailors and Federal Firefighters for making this significant progress possible. At this time there are 61 personnel, 38 U.S. Navy Sailors and 23 civilians, have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. Currently, there are no personnel hospitalized. Going forward, the Navy will do a thorough investigation of the incident to include assessing the cause of the fire and damage to the ship, but right now our focus remains on putting out the fire and keeping people safe. I’d like to also thank our partners from state and county as well as the Coast Guard for monitoring the potential impacts to the environment. As we continue to fight the fire, we remain cognizant of environmental concerns regarding the water and air quality. We recommend residents follow county advisories for safety out of an abundance of caution. Thank you again for your being here and we are now ready to take your questions.

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.

Military leadership, readiness, national security and armchair quarterbacking during a pandemic

There are a lot of outraged voices, from the mothers of Navy Sailors aboard the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, halls of the United States Congress, international and national news outlets, to crusty, retired officers and Chief Petty Officers regarding the Navy Department’s handling of (1) incidence of the Corona virus, COVID-19, sickening the ship’s crew, and (2) her skipper’s communications with senior leadership in the Pentagon. And the final outrage, was the Commanding Officer’s dismissal as commander of the TR at the direction of the Secretary of the Navy.

As the facts leading up to Captain Brett Crozier’s removal as the Commanding Officer become clearer, it appears that from the 3 crewmembers who were reported to the Navy Department to have symptoms of the corona virus on March 24th, as of Monday, March 30, that number had grown to one hundred Sailors. On Tuesday, April 1st, a letter from Captain Crozier, dated March 30, to the Navy Department was released by the San Francisco Chronicle detailing the emerging crisis. According to statements obtained after the Captain’s dismissal, during that same week in March, the Navy had been working to obtain medical beds and accommodations on Guam, for the Sailors who had not yet been exposed. One undisclosed spokesperson told the paper that the complexity of a nuclear-powered warship with weapons, billions of dollars of equipment aboard, and a specific mission priorities was not a matter of simply going pierside and offloading the crew.

According to an article published in Foreign Policy (foreignpolicy.com), the Captain had multiple conversations with the chief of staff to the acting Navy Secretary, Thomas Modly, just prior to his letter being leaked to the journal. According to the remarks of Acting Secretary Modly, loss of confidence in Captain Crozier’s leadership, primarily in releasing his communication with Navy senior leadership outside official Navy channels (unsecured email) was the primary motivation for his dismissal. At the time of Modly’s remarks to the Press, no implication had been made that Crozier himself emailed the San Francisco newspaper.

From his Navy biography, Captain Crozier has 28 years of experience as a Naval officer. He is a graduate of the Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, Navy Nuclear Power School, as well as his role as a aviator. His roles indicate his competence and increasingly stature, from tours supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, squadron commander, Executive Officer of the carrier Ronald Reagan and Commander of the USS Blue Ridge ( the Commander, Seventh Fleet flagship). From his pedigree and expertise, it does not seem that this man would be given to poor judgement or failure to command. Following the chain of command, for guidance is as much a part of military training for officers and enlisted personnel as is maintaining operational security (OPSEC). One of the tenets of military leadership is preventing potential adversaries observing a weakness or casualty of one of the means of a nation’s power projection. From the letter released by the Chronicle, the commanding officer’s opening remarks convey his human, if desperate concern for his crew.

For anyone who has watched the 1949 film, Twelve O’clock High, part of the curriculum for in a Navy leadeship seminar in the early 2000s, a failure of military leadership – was the rationale for an American bomber squadron commander being relieved. Fatigue, a lack of discipline, and over-protectiveness for his men were conveyed rather convincingly by the commander being relieved. The incoming commander portrayed by Gregory Peck, demanded military bearing, performance, and training standards that returned the unit effectiveness. (Note: while actor Jimmy Stewart actually flew bombers over Germany in WWII, Gregory Peck was medically exempted from service). Evidence from wartime, acts of terrorism, and peacetime accidents among all the military services tend to corroborate that a commanding officer cannot relax military discipline, rules barring familiarity, nor standards of professionalism because it may diminish effectiveness and bring harm to all members of a unit.

The Captain may have understood that the Navy, like large bureaucracies, takes a glacially -long time to respond to crises, and the exponential rate of infection aboard his ship needed swift action to preserve his crew’s health. The threat to the health of a military unit, from influenza, or a biological agent has been considered for years. A casual search online for training, policies and procedures related to the Department of Defense, military readiness, and contagious disease, found several official sources listed here.

Policies and procedures, if only considered as an academic exercise, when dealing with a global pandemic, may not be part of a tactical commander’s toolkit. Just as the rest of the country has begun experiencing the severity of the illness and the mitigation efforts of “social distancing”, aboard a Navy ship, it has long been known that an entire crew will put to sea – and any flu bug that some experience will work its way to everyone. With the nature of COVID-19, healthy Sailors might be dead within two weeks of exposure – and infect any number of shipmates before symptoms are evident.

As for the Captain’s options, it may have definitely been an error in judgement if his letter was not conveyed with the approval of his next senior in command, through official navy channels, or to include spouse or spouses unsecured (non-military) email addresses in a Navy unclassified email. However, it is certainly a lapse in judgement if purposely sent through unofficial channels and intended for senior leadership. While the message and not the medium is being highlighted by most non-military experts, Crozier’s options to expedite a response was equally damaging for him personally. While the Acting Navy Secretary may have provided a direct line for the Captain to communicate his concerns, going outside the Chain of Command, in bypassing the theater Air and Fleet Commanders, and the several seniors in command at the Pentagon, to directly communicate with the Secretary, would doom his naval career anyway.

It is unreasonable for civilians, young sailors, spouses, academics and politicians to demand as to what the Navy should or should not do regarding decisions, leadership roles, policy and procedures, or fitness for Command. Politics and public opinion should have little bearing on how the military operates. But veterans know that politics have had a great deal of influence on how the military conducts America’s foreign policy. With a pandemic threatening our global readiness, none of us ‘armchair quarterbacks’ can reliably comment how a commander should have responded. It was for superior conduct, making difficult decisions and carrying out the orders of the President and his senior commanders, that a warship commander is rigorously trained and selected. -ES

Ask the Chief: we follow orders

“.we follow orders..Or people die”

A Few Good Men, (1992) movie, line uttered by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson)

As a retired Navy Senior Chief, I spent 26 years following orders of those seniors-in-command, whether directly from Commanding Officers as their unit Senior Enlisted Leader, or indirectly, while carrying out my assigned duties, watches, or maintenance tasks during my career. As a civilian, I am trying to follow our State officials, medical experts, and emergency First Responders who have been asking the public to minimize their comings and goings. While the military has both non-judicial punishment and legal proceedings to enforce “social distancing”, in the civilian world, the public is “strongly suggested” to follow State Emergency guidelines for public safety. Some will always decide they know more than public safety officials. As we have seen during hurricanes, people who refuse to evacuate the path of the storm are frequently requiring rescue or hospitalization when disaster strikes.

Tonight, as I contemplate that the Governor of California has issued a Statewide mandate to limit public contact by restricting gatherings and use of public venues even further than two weeks ago, I think how an old veteran can be a model for others. It is the eleventh hour, and our political representatives have finally stopped fighting among themselves, and are seeking to do what is best for our citizens. Given the example of places like Italy which has been overwhelmed by the number of critically ill, we have only days till the numbers of the ill exponentially exceed our response. This thought about the eleventh hour, reminded me of the orders I learned in bootcamp forty years ago:

Eleven General Orders of a sentry

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. 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.
  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. 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.

I have not practiced military drills in the ten years since retirement. I might leave the heavy lifting to younger service members. But I am observant as to what has been lacking in the years, months and recent weeks leading up to the coronavirus response within the United States. Clear direction, unified communications, and orderly process. Precision and calm, measured response to emergencies requires frequent practice. That is what our shipboard drills honed into us, Collisions at sea and terrorist attacks are not the time to practice. In the eleventh hour, the nation needs to heed the “best practices” to minimizing the casualties from this pandemic.

trust betrayed

Thoughts and prayers to comfort the grieving and hurting members of the U.S. Navy family, residents of Pensacola, and the nation are needed today. A terrorist opened fire at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida on Friday, 6 December, killing four and wounding many. The killer was dispatched.

Apparently, the deceased was a Saudi national receiving pilot training. And a terrorist. As part of international alliances, agreement, and cooperation between militaries, the United States placed trust in the government of Saudi Arabia that their personnel were their “best”. That trust was betrayed today. At the cradle of Naval aviation, and in a part of the country I know well from years spent during my Navy career. The responding Sheriff’s deputies, Naval security forces, and military personnel acted admirably, and were wounded in the process of saving many lives today. May they receive the care and healing that our best can provide.

There will be another time to process this barbarity. And my hope for America and all those who oppose acts of savage barbarism, is that we can find that Love covers over a multitude of sins. Hatred has no defining color or nationality, religion or language, but it festers many places under the guise of “tolerance”. For today and perhaps tomorrow, let us cease being divisive about religion, politics, social status, whether rich or poor, and let us honor the victims, grieve with the families and be united in purpose.

a sea-dog’s mystical signs in chicken, bones, and Internet

Photo by Bezalel Thilojan on Pexels.com

“Why do chickens cross the road?” Yesterday, I encountered 3 of them doing exactly that on my early morning dog walk. And that evening, at our church men’s fellowship, I found we were eating chicken wings together before our devotional meeting.

After our dog- walk this morning, I had the urge to check the Navy pay system website, “Mypay” again for any sign that my pension was being processed. For the last couple months, I have been “retirement pay” eligible but have not been showing up in the online system. Of course, I am not superstitious, and don’t search entrails, bones, nor “signs”, but I did send a few prayers heavenward to ask whether I was rash in becoming “retired”.

I don’t know whether the prayers, or chicken had anything to do with it, but after the morning walk today, the website welcomed me with a “Retiree Pay” banner. No indication of payment, yet, but perhaps I might “roll” some chicken bones tonight. In my time in the Navy, my fellow Chief Petty Officers and I used to joke that we consulted the ‘rolling bones’ to help in our decision-making.

On my way home tonight, my spouse informed me we’re having baked chicken for dinner. Perhaps, once I get my retirement backpay, I should get those ancient sailor tattoos after all.

drowning protection, image credit, tattoodo.com

never ask a Navy Chief to be a decorator

what “we” think “we” want -cabinet color, but a darker countertop
surface preparation: Voyage-tinted primer

A Navy Chief Petty Officer is never given the “how-to” just the task to accomplish. The wisdom of the Chiefs’ Mess provides suggestions and a sounding board. That is the wisdom I have lived for the past thirty-five years. For the last several days, I have been dismantling, cleaning, and priming the wood cabinets in our sixty year-old galley kitchen. Removing grime of years needed scrub pads, many buckets of hot water and TSP, and elbow grease. Cleaning and dismantling was easy compared to the next phase of the “in-port Habitability period” (remodeling, for you civilian-types).

What color do I like? I am not sure what “warm”, “complementary” or “2019” colors are. What drawer and cabinet hardware do we want? After hours of online research for kitchens resembling ours, I was given some wide margin. The retired Boatswains Mate at Lowes suggested a cabinet paint that will be “one coat and done” at $50 a gallon. Suspecting, if up to me, I would get the wrong shade, I bought a small can of primer instead, and had Valspar “Voyage” tint added.

where can I find a Boatswains Mate?

In 2019, matching paint and counters to a thirty-plus year old floor was low on my list of worries. Few current-millennium homes have white-tile floors throughout (the previous owner cursed us). Tearing up the floor was a job all my friends said would be a nightmare, so my first thought, would a terrazzo coating over the tile be an option? I kept that idea to myself. I had some experience working with it aboard the USS PETERSON. Color-matching the terrazzo, cabinet paint, with a yet-undecided new countertop, would challenge this Chief’s can-do. We both decided that the floor could be covered with a mat. As for colors, I was going to opine to the Admiral that her next shade pick was a glossy (Navy) Deck Gray. Shipboard colors were kept utilitarian and for camouflage. Deck Gray for decks. Haze Gray for exterior bulkheads (walls) and White, plain white for most everything else. I decided to keep that to myself also.

will terrazzo cover tile?

Next item: these cabinets and drawers never had handles before. I am thinking how to install cabinet handles and pulls precisely. I will need to design a rig to do that. With the ongoing plan to repaint the whole house interior, I am scheduling my “Intermediate Maintenance Availability” for as long as it takes. But time is not really the issue; I am not commuting to a job any longer, so as long as the job is done well, the Admiral shouldn’t fire me?

Sherwin-Williams “Gray Harbor”

the paint locker

When I wandered over to the Paint desk at my local Lowes, I had been tasked by my favorite “Admiral”, my spouse, to rehab our kitchen. This is where “Boats” comes in. Retired Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate, was, appropriately enough, working the Paint counter at Lowes the day I came looking for “cabinet” paint. I was wearing one of my favorite Retired CPO shirts, and we connected. During my career afloat in the Navy, I learned that salt water corrodes metal seven days a week, so it was a continual task for our Deck Division to chip paint and remove rust, and apply new. When it was needed, all hands took part in priming and painting.

Though our residence has never put to sea, periodic painting inside and outside is considered routine. At least, for married homeowners. My neighbor across the street completely rebuilt their kitchen at the behest of his spouse. Fortunately, I have a fiscally understanding Chain of Command. Since I am not a professional painter, Boats told me about cabinet paint and how to prepare the surfaces for painting. I bought a small can of primer, tinted to what we think we like, today. With friends coming over to dinner this week, I only got started before it was time to pack it up. Long ago, the mission would have been ’round the clock, to prepare everything for dignitaries arriving. Unfortunately, Senior Chief will be unavoidably detained.

“Gray Area” to Blue retirement

My previous post talked about the not-so-smooth process that members of the Retired Navy Reserve (“Gray-Area” reservists”) who are turning sixty in 2019 are facing. For my shipmates and their families, I need to pass on what I have encountered to help you with the process.

First things first

The first step is to submit the member’s application for retirement pay to PERS-912. While the Navy’s website instructs the member to apply within six months of her 60th birthday, it would be more prudent to apply nine months to a year beforehand. An article in the Navy Times from August 2018, describes that the Navy was not prepared for the number of applications the last of the Baby Boomer Navy retirees submitted. And the current website advises the department is processing applications received eight months ago.

One unusual detail, which seems to justify an experience I had with the Veterans Administration evaluating me for disability (things that occurred during my last period of Regular Navy (DD-214-issued) service), is the Navy Retirement branch not possessing complete military records for the period after the member transfers from Active Duty service to the Navy Reserve. I remarried while I was Reservist, and though that information was entered into my Reserve record, into DEERS, and I received pay accordingly while activated, PERS-912 – four months after my January submission – asked me to provide a marriage certificate.

Blue ID card after 60

After the member submits an application (forms DD-108 and DD-2656) found on the PERS-912 website, the Navy clerk should contact the member acknowledging receipt within a week. A letter from PERS-912 usually follows in the snail mail. In subsequent months, the member turns sixty, and requires a new ID card, before eligibility for medical benefits and other access privileges are “turned on”. While I am unfamiliar whether “Gray Area” reservists who had enrolled in TriCare ( the medical insurance system for military members and their families) prior to turning sixty have the same issue, the TriCare enrollment site does not allow a member to enroll from the expiration date of one’s ID card until it is renewed. However, there is no information provided on the website clearly describing why the links are unworkable. Thus this tidbit is instructive.

On the website to request an appointment for a new ID card, there may be a statement about a window from sixty to ninety days prior to card expiration to renew, but that is NOT APPLICABLE to Reserve Retirees turning 60. The member can only renew on or after his sixtieth birthday.

Patience is rewarded eventually

Should efforts to contact PERS-912, the clerk that contacted the retiree about processing one’s record, may prove unsuccessful, there are additional contact numbers though not intuitively obvious. After the first of the month, when the member might expect to receive retirement pay (via Direct Deposit) comes and goes without payment, the obvious step is to contact first DFAS, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. MyPay, which is the same one used during the member’s service period may have an ambiguous non-statement. Contacting a representative requires a telephone and a lot of patience. Waiting on hold may take an hour or more to speak to someone. For Reservist retirees, use this number:

1-866-827-5672, Option 1

Be prepared for phone disconnection, the computer system to be “down”, and the like. If DFAS does not have your retirement pay being processed, the member is directed back to PERS-912. To avoid more confusion, but not the “on hold” of an hour or more, call

1-833-330-6622

At least, from every indication that one may find via social media from fellow Reservist retirees, payment does come through, and backpay is provided to the date of eligibility. It is not clear whether those members who first apply for retirement pay AFTER turning sixty will receive retroactively.

the check is in the mail

and other misadventures of Navy Reserve retirement

Ten years ago, in August, I began my last months of work for the United States Navy as a uniformed member of the Navy Reserve. The following April I officially retired from the Navy Reserve. While many of my fellow Sailors retired at 38, 40, or 45, I was then 50 years old. For many Reservists who do not elect discharge, they are placed in a status the Navy calls “Gray-Area Reservist” for the next fifteen or twenty years. Like me, when eligible to draw retirement pay at age 60, we would receive retirement pay calculated from the Active Duty rates in effect at that time.

I turned sixty a little over a week ago. I expected a couple of enrollments, phone calls, and some waiting to be required. And predictably, it is a Government bureaucracy after all, it has not been a smooth process. For anyone familiar with the Affordable Care Act and the complexity of the online process of a Government-run website, the application for military retiree- healthcare (TriCare) was somewhat nebulous.

As it turned out, when I and my spouse got our expired ID cards replaced ( needed because I changed status at my birthday) , the healthcare site I had visited several times last month then became user-friendly-ish. Apparently, it only worked for the brief time I, prudently, enrolled my spouse (first) in a healthcare plan. Telephone numbers resulted in long wait times or directed me to the same website where I had issues. For the next week, that website obstinately would not let me complete my own enrollment! Finally, I got online but it asked me to pick between two confusing status changes I had not seen before. I picked the more unintelligible of the two, and successfully completed enrollment.

As for processing my retirement pay, a different bureaucracy altogether. It was a redesign of the website I had years ago monitored for my Navy Reserve pay, but the messages this year only told me it had nothing to tell me. No updates. And for anyone who has tried to use a telephone – a last option – it requires more patience than most can muster. After three hours on hold (I was disconnected once), then reaching a person only to be told their computers were offline, I ultimately learned that my records were still at the Navy Department. And from the Navy Department – a telephone number I only discovered by reading some commentary and related military-news websites – my record was still in the queue. Apparently a document the Navy should have had for the prior nine years I had been in uniform, that I then re-sent them – held up processing. I decided to give them an additional month before trying again.

While many of my peers, my children and their peers – Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, all believe in the Government as the best delivery system for Free Healthcare, Free Education, Free Housing, and Happiness, they had better stock up on anxiety medication now. I have patiently waited for ten years to receive the promised pension for Navy service between 1977 and 2010. I can wait a little longer because I put aside a fund over the last twenty years to live on one day. Until the Government decides to manage THAT – and we are stuck in a jam of red tape and offline computer systems – I will not be in a bread line.

when dreams collide

The acronym CBDR in navigation terminology stands for “Constant Bearing, Diminishing Range”. When the navigator announces a radar contact as having CBDR, that contact and you are on a collision course! Time for evasive maneuvers.

Where this comes into play was very early this morning. I was dreaming about being back in the Navy though I just marked my ninth anniversary since retirement. Somehow I was not a Chief, but rather much younger, and was wearing dungarees. There was some confusion about my role in this dream, for in my real Navy life, I worked with electronics. In the dream, I was being directed, and none too kindly, by a nurse demanding bandages, gowns, and other medical “stuff” for a patient. For some reason, this shipboard space was something like a ship I used to deploy on, but looking like a much older class of ship – like something in the CAINE MUTINY movie. And oddly, medical manikins crowded the ‘sickbay’.

Just before waking up, I recall having some sort of struggle with poor fitting latex gloves. I was handling something nasty with a single glove half-on. As a Sailor for more than twenty-five years, there have been numerous occasions that I was confronted with nasty things. Rarely, have I flinched nor have I been tormented in dreams by them.

But the source of my problems may be carry over from new business that my wife and I are running. While all of my medical training has been as a patient over the decades, I am getting a lot of medical training by observation as our business provides testing services to nursing graduates. Perhaps that is why dreams are colliding?

At least I know the dream was PSYOPS (psychological operations a.k.a. warfare). There was no coffee mug in “my” hand. And none brewing anywhere. THAT alone is enough to know that whoever that hollywood was probing my dream this morning, he was navigating in dangerous waters.

No coffee?! Sound General Quarters!