Haze gray memories

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.
~John Masefield

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.
~Carl Sandburg

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 ]

Popeye was no vegan

1395286500-2During the years I served on Navy ships underway on deployment,  one of the most anticipated days was the mid-point of the cruise when the Command authorized a barbecue for the crew.   This was known as “Steel Beach”.  We all would form long lines to have a burger, roasted chicken, hot dogs,  and potato salad, baked beans and chips.  And a beer.  But I can understand the excitement about a barbecue – even a steel beach one.  It seems to be part of the human DNA to enjoy roasted meat.  Perhaps it was the way food had to be containerized, frozen, powdered, steam-blanched for long voyages.  At least, we never had salt beef, hard-tack or meal-wormy bread of our sailing ship forebears.

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Steel Beach, USS PHILIPPINE SEA

I guess I could have fared worse.  Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs have been issued to servicemen on the battlefield – or during Chief initiations – or in SERE schools for generations.   But in our changing society, I hope that vegetarians or vegans do not come to control the food selection of a captive audience be they on a forward operating base or a deployed destroyer.  In Twenty-First Century society,  we have a number of people who choose to eat vegetarian or even more radically, make food choices as “vegans”.  The latter disdain any product that has anything to do with animal-origin; these folks condemn animal-related food industries.   Of course, prior to modern refrigeration and frequent underway replenishment,  I imagine had there been vegans onboard a ship thirty years ago, they would have been hard-pressed to determine if what was offered from the galley had been a creature at one time.   SOS and powered eggs at breakfast, or sliders at lunch hardly seemed to be animal products.

One of my childhood cartoon heroes, Popeye, certainly had a thing for spinach.  But I don’t think he would ever have turned away from barbecued steak, ribs, or a brat.  I certainly never saw any war movie where the men (and women) lined up for soy or critically read the ingredients in any of the slop they were served.    I learned as a child while watching movies about dinosaurs, aliens, and vampires,  there is an undeniable dominance of meat-eating creatures over plant-eaters.   Tyrannosaurs were definitely the hunters that preyed upon the herbivores.   Lions and other big cats, wolves, foxes, and coyotes are predators.  Barracuda, killer whales and other cetaceans are meat eaters.   I know that human beings are more omnivorous, and when times were tough, hunter-gatherers would get by on flour ground from plants.  A rabbit or lamb might do if a bison was not available.  I have heard of some Amazonian warriors eating their enemies.  The Aztecs did have a thing about human hearts, but a Sailor would have to be very hungry to eat someone you had played Spades with late nights.

Gratefully, cannibals do not seem prevalent in the military services.  Nor do I encounter any at my employer.   But I have encountered vegans.  And some of these are a little ill-tempered, particularly when you tease them why they are not joining you in savoring barbecue for lunch or the team picnics.   But inquiring further,  I learn that vegans are predisposed to feeding their cats or dogs in the same manner they have chosen for themselves.   While I can understand personal choice in the type of sustenance that humans put in their bodies,  I am at a loss to understand how we humans project the same ethos on our dogs and cats.

Then again,  I was eating some cantaloupe tonight with my dog monitoring my every slurp.   To humor him, I gave him a small chunk.  He ATE the chunk of cantaloupe.   But of course, he had also just eaten scraps of the barbecue roast I had on my dinner plate.   Omnivores.  I would think it cruel and unusual punishment to restrict him to soy proteins and vegetables.   He might decide to snack on me one night.  Vegans can be a little unpredictable.

don’t smoke that mushroom

Eat it.

Compared to the years I served in the United States Navy, robust health and nutrition of sailors in the Nineteenth Century – the “iron men and wooden ships” of lore- was less a factor of the sea air than good fortune.  Logs of ships’ surgeons from that era contain reports of men lost overboard in storms at sea, accidents, cholera, dysentery,  over- consumption of alcohol leading to death, infections, sexually-transmitted diseases, run -ins with native populations )in the then- relatively isolated foreign ports), and poor diet.

In the years just after Desert Storm,  fresh dairy products, fruit, and vegetables became available fairly regularly at sea due to underway replenishment.   Even in the early 1990s,  it was not uncommon to have powdered eggs, and ultra-pasteurized milk ( the sort the US Army Veterinary Service certified as safe for consumption) in place of fresh more than a week out of port.

It leads me to wonder aloud,  whether the new health-consciousness of many activists for varied range-fed beef and compassionately-raised chicken,  organic vegetables and gluten-free choices, have filtered down to our armed forces.

Most of my peers who retired around 2009 -2010, know that the military began a renewed campaign to fight obesity – discharging members who failed to maintain a standard that – even with body-builders  – was difficult to achieve.   But we also know that society has gotten farther and farther away from healthy diets and regular exercise.

But there are choices.   Although,  I do not expect my local Pizza Port to alter the menus just yet.   And with virtually every town having small breweries popping up,  I do not believe “lite” beer is going to be on the minds of the young men and women today.   However, for those fewer of us, where the excesses of youth are around our waistlines, in our zeal to stay off medicines and out of hospitals,  may yet find ways to exercise moderately and eat tasty, and healthy, food.

When I heard about this Portobello mushroom pizza, I was skeptical.  It is remarkably tasty!

But this also has cancer-fighting properties as well as staying off my waistline.   And I surprised my doctor last Wednesday with my complete turnaround in health.   Thirty-five pounds lighter,  blood -chemistry all in the normal range,  and much happier.   He didn’t ask me how,  but when others may,  I’ll tell them, “Pizza, fish, Chinese food, fresh vegetables.  Yogurt.  And more cooking with garlic, turmeric, mushrooms, and herbal ingredients.”

That gives me the ability to enjoy a nice craft beer.   Guilt-free.    I’m still a Sailor, after-all.

What has “comfort zone” to do with “success”?

In the United States Navy,  and by extension, the other military services,  an individual has fairly equal opportunity to rise up the advancement ladder, and to qualify for challenging assignments.    Leadership, as practiced by some I have had the great fortune to be mentored by, has been recognized by their being awarded positions among the highest authority and responsibility in that service.   By mentorship I mean, demonstrating integrity,  fortitude (in spite of personal hardships), a commitment to excellence and encouraging others to reach beyond “comfort” in doing.

“Every Sailor has the potential to lead. I don’t care if it’s a seaman recruit or someone higher ranking than myself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. ” (All Hands Call, Norfolk, VA 01 May 2007)

 

“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other in dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself; while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
LTG John M. Schofield, 1879

Ask people whether they have a dream visceral enough they want accomplished.  Material possessions,  security, education, or a deeply-committed and loving marital relationship.   Then ask those same people if they were willing to do whatever it took, in terms of work,  being sleep-deprived, learning difficult lessons, memorizing, practicing, enduring criticism and overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams.   Fewer might push on.  Of that reduced number,  how many would endure whatever life handed them in the pursuit of that dream, as days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years?   Fewer perhaps.  In an article in Forbes,  a contributor has published eight traits to predict future success.  These include delaying gratification, being seriously motivated and organized, believing that they make the choices which affect their outcomes, and having fortitude during adversity.   Predictably, past success leads to future success.

To achieve “success”,  whatever that may be in terms of the dreams one has,  requires steadfast devotion.   Integrity.  Mental and physical toughness.   And determination that there is no “giving up or giving in”.   It may be an enlisted member’s goal to become an Officer or senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO).  For others, it might be to earn membership into the ranks of the SEALs.   The few Navy warriors who complete the BUDS training to become SEALs achieve their first qualifier.  Training continues from there.  Other services have their special forces as well.

But it can also be the single mother who is raising three young children,  in school for a professional certification, who then cares for her children,  studies all night, and maintains the family chores all at the same time.  And excels.    Or it can be the aging sailor with a dream to become a Chief Petty Officer who  commits to every training session,  early morning fitness challenge, seeks, finds and puts into practice the guidance from others with decades of leadership expertise.

“Success” can be the married young engineer, father of two, one a newborn, who spends time with his children and wife at those critical “family-building” times.  Yet he is working early or into late hours, and finding innovative and productive solutions to technical challenges simultaneously.

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19: 28 -29 (NIV)

And then there are the spiritually-rewarding opportunities that define “success”.  The young graduate of a university with a business degree, sought by several businesses, who voluntarily goes to aid the victims of a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian earthquake), as an unpaid volunteer for a charitable organization,  finds a mission and a calling that becomes a career.

“A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.”  –Richard Branson

Many of the most-recognized entrepreneurs today did not find instant reward and acceptance when they began.  Whether it was Ray Kroc and McDonalds,  or  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple,  or my company’s CEO, Mark Dankberg and his team,  it took determination, confidence,  a pursuit of excellence, and vision for the people they attracted, and the customers they served.  But each built multi-billion dollar, world-changing enterprise.

Do you have the integrity, the guts, and the desire to improve others with a dream you want to achieve.  Are you willing to get out of your “comfort zone” to achieve them?

Lessons of a military life

#2. If you’re gonna be stupid, you’re gonna be strong!

Flashback to 1977

My Navy career had a lot of great life, management, and leadership lessons. Many are undecipherable to those who have not been in military service but range from teamwork, testing physical and mental limits, courage, decision-making, and taking responsibility before being given authority.   In Navy boot camp, the first thing learned is obedience to authority.  Line up, no talking, do not move,  and other commands.  A second is quickly having situational awareness, introduced to recruits around 0400 (4 AM) on their first morning with a barracks wakeup.  On my first morning,  a metal trash can was hurled clattering across the floor.  That, and a simultaneous yell of “Get your @#$ up!”,  by the Company Commander.

For 9 weeks  recruits are converted from civilians into military service men and women.  Attention to detail was another lesson.   A military uniform is worn is a precise manner and everything from stray threads to “gig lines” – proper alignment – and cleanliness are inspected.  Deviations from the expectation often result in exercise – pushups, situps, 8-count body-builders.   In addition, some “special attention” is paid, verbally, to the offender.  However,  everyone in the unit is afforded the same attention.  To build cohesion, the expectation is for others in the unit to help their shipmate improve for the good of the unit as a whole.  Making one’s bed, or rack,  had to be done in an equally precise manner.  Proper stowage of uniform items is also according to regulations.  It was the proper folding and stowage of underwear that earned me “special attention”.  I had reversed the left-right folds prescribed by the company commander.  For that and other misunderstandings, I  became the “Polack” – an endearing term – to the company commander until I graduated and became a “Shipmate”.

 Thirty years later (2005)

Half a lifetime later, I was again in training.  This time it was as a Navy Reservist selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer (CPO).    There is a century and a quarter of tradition in the Chief Petty Officer ranks, where these senior enlisted men and women train and mentor enlisted sailors and junior officers.  Officers provide the mission and the direction.   Chiefs take their direction and delegate the execution to sailors they place in charge of their division. Chiefs oversee their divisional petty officers,  and they in turn, place more junior petty officers in charge of division Workcenters made up of several sailors. The purpose is to identify and mentor sailors to gain leadership skills and advance up through the ranks.  To be a trusted member of the Chiefs’ Mess, a First Class Petty Officer, who may be technically proficient,  has to be trained to think and act, not for self-promotion,  but to delegate and mentor more junior sailors.  Also, it is a Chief who deflects criticism,  rebuke or conflicting directions given by a junior officer to an enlisted person in their division.  It is the Chief who relies on advice from the years of expertise within the Chiefs’ Mess, to lead sailors, handle interpersonal conflicts, maintain discipline, and mentor junior officers to perform to the Commanding Officer’s expectation of warfighting proficiency.

As a Chief Petty Officer Selectee, prior to the promotion ceremony each September, each undergoes  a period of training (exercise, team-building, lessons in leadership, traditions and CPO history) and builds camaraderie within the Mess.  This formally begins when selection results are reported.  And there are invitations to Chief Petty Officers, both on Active Duty and Retired to participate in the “Season” to build the sense of identity as a Mess.

To this very day, I still chuckle over the introduction of our trainer, a Chief Petty Officer who carried a bullhorn with a frequently-used siren.  He combined exercise with Question and Answer sessions. We had “homework” every day, including Navy lore, songs, and so forth. We were supposed to share everything we learned and help our fellow Selectees with tasks and such.  If we “failed” the answer or task, our trainer had a memorable response:

“If yer (sic) gonna be STUPID, yer gonna be STRONG!”

And then,  “DOWN and give me twenty (push ups)!”

Everybody laughed, labored, and “suffered” together but everyone learned.  And everyone got stronger, leaner and became a member of the Mess.   But then, in the last ten years, politics, social pressures, and a lack of clear direction ( a military needs clear objectives), also affected the leadership at the deckplates.  But being a member of the CPO Mess,  “Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy”, is the recognition I will treasure for life.

I think a lot of the issues that were reported during the last ten or fifteen years within the leadership – the Chiefs and the Officer community – was due to abandonment or at least a minimalist approach, to training the Chief Petty Officers and mentoring junior officers.  I hear it is returning to the tried and true. 

deep waters

Anyone who has gone to sea for any length of time – and with a wink to my Coast Guard brothers and sisters I mean out past “ankle deep” (out of sight of the land) – knows the sea is vast.   And it really does not matter whether the vessel taking the mariner out is a sloop, a ketch,  a six-hundred foot Navy cruiser,  a thousand-foot aircraft carrier or nine thousand-passenger and -crew  cruise liner.  At some point, everyone realizes that we are but dots in the ocean.

For poets, scholars, kings, farm boys and  fishermen, the ocean casts a spell beckoning us to it,  and yet the depths and potential hazards have been a metaphor, even among land-lubbers, for danger and despair.  Who today has not heard or used the phrases “in over your head”, “you’re in too deep”, “the deep end”,  or being “out of your depth” to describe discomfort.

I sink in the miry depths,
    where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf me.   Proverbs 69:2 (NIV)

But getting in over my head was never a reason for me to avoid doing something.  I did  venture to sea, most of the eight years I was crew on 3 Navy ships.   Perhaps it was due to my early introduction to water.   I think I was learning to swim almost at the same time I was learning to walk.  My mother used to tell me how, as a toddler, I would venture off the step in the shallows of the community pool –  and her lightning-quick mother’s arm would shoot out to rein me in as my head went under.  I was a budding Jacques Cousteau.   As a young teen,  I took a class in Lifesaving, in order to become a lifeguard, and the instructor- as I recall it- tried to drown me simulating a panicked swimmer.  I punched him.  Later, in the Navy class on treading water, I never understood how some of my peers had never learned to swim.  I never feared putting my head underwater.  And in my twenties I obtained a SCUBA certification and spent some years going diving.

Still, I have a healthy respect for water whether it is gathered in rivers, large lakes, or the ocean. Perhaps it is due to my experience with lakes that appear deceptively shallow, or water that was particularly frigid on a very warm New England May day.  Or with currents in rivers, in saltwater marshes with an ebbing tide where I tried to navigate a little rowboat across.  And I’ve lost my footing in a shallow beach tidal outflow and been sucked out to the bay.

There is a magical quality to looking out at the sea,  and witnessing the deepening blue hue of the deep ocean, turn gray-blackish and whipped into white foam caps.  When a calm sea could become a violent storm in a matter of hours, there were some, myself included, who offered prayers of thanksgiving to Providence for never having been seasick . On a bright sunny day,  as the weather turns into a full-force gale.

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. Vincent Van Gogh  / brainyquote.com

In my childhood,  I was fascinated by nautical museums, sea captain’s two hundred year-old homes, touring lighthouses and old ships, steamers, and ferry boats.   And today I am blogging about such things now and again.   At my keyboard now  I remember the first work of fiction I wrote for a college literature class being a blend of all these memories.   And I quite clearly pictured Burgess Meredith as the crusty old Salt protagonist.

Dwellers by the sea are generally superstitious; sailors always are. There is something in the illimitable expanse of sky and water that dilates the imagination. Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Strangely, I never bought a boat after my assignments at sea ended.   While I have been on several since my career in the Navy ended,  I have never wanted to scrape barnacles, chip paint, or clean the salt-corrosion ever again.   But I still know port from starboard, and even on the maritime museum, the MIDWAY at the pier in downtown San Diego, I will still request permission to come aboard.  And I can wish for others a fond  time  getting  “haze gray and underway”.

Setting the mail buoy watch

In a politically-correct world that has tempered practical jokes, initiations and rituals, I miss some of them.  Twenty-five years ago,  I was assigned to a guided missile cruiser, my first time putting to sea that was not a harbor ferry or pleasure cruise.   Though my primary assignment was maintenance of the electronic systems in my division workspaces,  I volunteered to be a bridge-to-bridge phone talker during the Underway Replenishment, or UNREPs.  I knew I was going to enjoy life at sea, as I was initiated by the deck seamen who were the helmsman and lookouts.   Practiced in the art of good fun, the deck seaman handed me night-vision binoculars for my first watch. It was nearly pitch black on the bridge. He almost got me.  I caught the whiff of black shoe polish applied to the eyecups of the binoculars.

1395286500-2As for me,  a new crewman on my first ship,  my “salty” (experienced) maintenance supervisor sent me aloft to perform a maintenance check.   While this was in port,  I was to go about a hundred feet above the waterline, so I paid very close attention to the proper safety procedures.  He got me outfitted in climbing gear, lanyards, helmet, bucket of tools and sent me aloft to verify operation of the aircraft warning lamp atop our receiving antenna.  Once aloft, white-knuckled,  I found there was actually no physical maintenance involved.  But the experience cured my fear of heights forever.

w12-1-mail-buoySome time later,  it was one young seaman being prepared for a most-important mission that was most amusing to me.   His mission: Capturing the mail buoy.   It was one of the harmless but amusing initiations for a young Seaman’s first time at sea.  The build up  was important.  The crew was expecting mail, letters from home, Care packages, and so on.   A plane flew ahead on the course that the ship was following, dropping the mail buoy.   It had to be retrieved.  In hardhat, foul weather gear, sound-powered headphones,  life jacket, lifeline and a gaff,  the Seaman was posted to the forecastle and was instructed to keep his eyes peeled for the buoy.  Twenty or thirty minutes in the cold breeze and sea spray later, of course, one of the Boatswains Mates, lookout or bridge watch would then cuss him out (over the headphones) for missing it.  Of course, both the Deck Officer, the Bridge OIC and the Chief Boats were in on the joke.

CGN-39Another practical joke was played on new seaman on the Low-Visibility Detail.  These are lookouts posted to the forecastle during foggy conditions in busy sea lanes.  “Boats”, an experienced junior Petty Officer, requested the new seaman on the detail, to signal to the bridge to report whether the Ship’s Whistle (a truly thunderous horn) was working properly.  He straight-faced told the seaman, the bridge watch could not hear it. After protecting his ears with each blast,  he turned to wave up to the bridge. “It works”.    The fun lasted only a few minutes.  The Skipper came onto the bridge, demanded to know what that fellow was doing, and after a brief chuckle, put an end to it.   He gave us all sorts of oral navigation quizzes to torture us, since we tortured that poor seaman.