Halloween COMTHIRDFLT style

In 1998 or perhaps 1999, when Commander, US THIRD Fleet, Vice Admiral Herb Brown was embarked on the USS CORONADO (AGF-11) we had the first and only Halloween that the embarked Staff celebrated underway. Or I should clarify, that the enlisted members of the Staff celebrated underway. It might have been a first-ever “trick or treat” that was robustly and enthusiastically celebrated in an underway Navy vessel.

Several of my peers in the Petty Officer First Class Mess had the idea, with us underway to Anchorage during Halloween, to make unfinished compartments in the aft part of the ship a “haunted house”. We had made a port visit to Pearl Harbor earlier in October, where we picked up supplies. My “partner-in-crime”, Storekeeper First Class, aka “SK One” decided that we would add a little to evening by going around-in costume – Trick or Treating – but handing out candy to various members of the Staff and crew. I wore a Frankenstein mask and an old suit bought at a Honolulu thrift store, and my partner, the Grim Reaper (complete with a rubber sickle). The most memorable door we knocked on was the Admiral’s cabin. He was traveling with the ship up to Anchorage and had a family member with him at the time. I think the sight bowled him over with laughter. We bestowed a couple pieces of candy and a toy “Death Star” ornament.

Meanwhile, for members of the crew off-duty we had a great time with our “haunted house” – complete with ghouls, Davy Jones, and a booty chest. Since that part of the ship was still under construction, glo-sticks provided the only light, adding to the spookiness. For days afterward, there was a lot of scuttlebutt going around about who might have dared to go trick or treating the Admiral, the ship’s Commanding Officer, and others aboard. I don’t think we admitted to it, but the Supply Department Head I think figured out SK1 had to be involved. (I was suspected also, as I had made a remark to my Intel officer a week or so earlier.)

Twenty-five years later, and retired eleven years now, each Halloween has become an opportunity to be a little creative, to entertain the neighborhood children and our grandchildren. Tonight was no exception. But that particular Halloween nearly 25 years ago, was memorable, such that it still makes me chuckle when I put up the inflatable Frankenstein yard decoration.

NOTE: While the AGF-11 has been decommissioned and scrapped a long time, the communications call sign for this command and control ship, during my assignment on her, was re-designated “Death Star” in response to a quip by an enlisted member of the crew published in the NAVY TIMES. The CORONADO was a SPAWARS (now NAVWAR) testbed for all sorts of new bleeding-edge technology during my time aboard – and was pretty amazing for a renovated old LPD. As for the gifts we gave out to certain senior officers? During a port visit in Seattle, after the “Death Star” designator made the rounds among the Staff, SK1 and I found a memorabilia store in Pikes Market where we bought several Star Wars “Death Star” ornaments. Oh, that remark I mentioned earlier? “Wasn’t the Death Star, the ship in Star Wars that was blown up…. TWICE?”

Ask the Chief: the shine makes a fine Navy day

The shiny glow of my new concrete patio and driveway gives me a moment of pride. It is the same sort of pride I had when, forty-plus years ago, I had learned that the discipline required to spit-shine your boots to the point the inspector could see his reflection, polish brass belt buckles and other metals to a glow, and to present a spotlessly clean and sharply pressed uniform, marked a Navy man’s accomplishment of minimum standards set by the inspecting authority. While in training and then again in our units, inspections followed prescribed “field days”. Every surface from overhead to the crevices behind the urinals in the head were meticulously cleaned to remove debris and stains. The shine on the waxed decks were routinely reapplied, scrubbing off the old floor wax, reapplying new and buffing them to a high gloss. The regimen we practiced to achieve that shine carried over to the meticulous manner that every Sailor applied to the equipment that each operated and maintained. Being acknowledged by the Executive Officer, often the prize for the least number of observed inspection “hits” might be an extra night of liberty or bragging rights among your peers.

Though it has been more than twenty years since I last had rolled up my coverall sleeves and set about scrubbing for a shipboard field day, the shine I observe on my new sealed concrete patio and driveway fills me with a “little” Navy pride. Even the strong odor of the sealant when it was first applied a few days ago, brought back memories of the blue terrazzo deck coating and sealant my team and I applied during an in-port maintenance period. I must admit I have not worn dress shoes all that often in the last decade or so, and it has been a few years since I really put a spit-shine on them. I believe the last time I really did so, was either for a wedding or a retirement.

When you live in a dusty environment as we do in eastern San Diego County, meticulous cleaning might be required more frequently than the four times a day our shipboard crew did so. My spouse and I, as dog-people, have settled for a little dust though we clean deeply before others drop by to visit. Now that we have all but completed our outdoor spaces and it is the season (for San Diego) to host parties, we are probably going to schedule field days routinely from this point to show off a tight ship. However, the shine that greets my eyes looking from driveway to back pation is nothing less than invigorating. And I am hearing myself say once again: I am having a fine Navy day.

Ports of call: memories of Cartagena Spain

“JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD”

Navy recruiting slogan in the mid- 20th Century

High school Spanish, as well as years living in southern Arizona near the Mexican border made travel in Latin America easier. Traveling to Spain, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge. I was amused that they do not necessarily speak “Spanglish” or the Sonoran (Mexico) dialect there.

My second Mediterranean deployment on the USS PETERSON, a SPRUANCE-class guided-missile destroyer, began in October, 1994. One of the first ports we visited was Cartagena. Located in the state of Murcia, it is a port city that has seen sailors on its streets for a few thousand years. Having lived and visited modern cities, from San Francisco to London, UK, seeing a Roman-era coliseum and medieval architecture as well as only a few-centuries-old buildings, was fascinating.

Cartagena, Spain, a bit more modern after thirty years (image via web)

I ventured out on liberty alone, trusting that my Spanish would help me get around. A family-run cafe, Restaurante Casa Pepe, (a small lighter I kept all these years in trinket box, reminds me of that port visit), welcomed me. It was from a son who offered to show me around his city, when I learned that Murcia has a distinct dialect from Castilian or other Latin America dialects. (When I traveled to Panama, speaking something like a resident of northern Sonora definitely obscured that I was an American). We joked as to whose Spanish was “really” Spanish (or “Mur’th’ia -n”).

I should plan to visit the places I saw while in the Navy. I may live in America’s “finest city” (open to debate), but I would like to stand again where Romans, Arab merchants, Etruscans and Jesus apostles stood. Though I think I will upgrade our mode of travel. Anything more luxurious than a Navy ship is preferable.

US Navy’s soft sugar cookie recipe from WWII, and how to make it at home | Fox News

https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/us-navy-soft-sugar-cookie-recipe-wwii

As a retired Sailor with 8 years spent at sea, I remember my initial introduction to Navy chow was not very appetizing. From breakfast where hot sauce was the most-prized condiment for the scrambled (rubbery) eggs, to the other meals that were often recycled leftovers, especially sliders that became the meat in spaghetti dinners the following day. But these soft sugar cookies were probably the tastiest of any dessert. Before I earned the rank to eat with the Chiefs’ Mess, when the menu items were planned and paid for – by the members of the Mess, those cookies were a treat.

Just like a show I remember from years ago, when “Cookie”, a onetime cook aboard an Aircraft Carrier was reciting a recipe for his friends, the recipe reprinted in the linked article is crew-sized quantity. You may want to follow the pared-down version.

The Fox article was from material originally published by the Naval History and Heritage Command in April, 2021.

craigslist and sea stories

It was the tone of the ad on craigslist that caught my wife’s attention. We were looking for a used filing cabinet for our business and personal files.

“Text or call”, the ad said. “I don’t do email”.

It said to contact the seller between “0800 and 2200, that’s between 8 AM and 10PM for you landlubbers”. The number was phonetically spelled to frustrate scammers and telemarketers. The ad continued that the seller did not want payment in anything other than cash. When I read the ad on craigslist, I “knew” this was another old Salt.

In the manner of two old shipmates, though meeting for the first time, it was typical Navy. He challenged, “You got your shots?” (Meaning of course, the COVID vaccine.)

I replied. “Which ones? Hepatitis? Anthrax, Cholera, Typhoid? – I’m a Sailor- had ’em all”

Laughing, he retorts, “No the one that hurts like hell!” The mystical shot with square needle story, I winked knowingly.

His wife gave the two old Salts a smile and went inside the house. “She’s heard it all before”, he chuckled. We swapped stories on the places and ships we had both seen. And that was thirty minutes after we traded greenbacks for the cabinet we put in my SUV. And that is no bull**. (Comments edited for you landlubbers out there.)

Ask the Chief: General orders of a sentry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Guest blogger: Kelli Brewer

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

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

Consider Working Toward a Master’s in Social Work

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

Look for Career Opportunities with Veterans Affairs Hospitals

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

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

Help Veterans and Active Duty Without Changing Your Career

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

Hire a Military Spouse

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

Assist With Home Needs

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

Contribute to Nonprofits

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

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

Photo Credit: Pexels

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

the moral of this morale story

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

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

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

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

deckplate leadership?

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

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

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