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.

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!

hiking veterans

Wearing a “veteran” ballcap starts conversations.

Lord’s soldier

The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.

DOD recorder

There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.

View of the Virgin River in Zion NP. Angel’s Landing trail.
Though some start, few finish the ascent to the very top

“Airdale” trucker

Tomahawk night launch, Red Sea, 1993

On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.

Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.

Flooding, flooding!

The practice of medicine is a thinker’s art the practice of surgery a plumber’s. Martin H. Fischer

There’s not too much concern in my neighborhood with the dangers at sea.  No real danger from collisions ( unless a Cessna on approach to the airfield makes an improbably short landing).  There is no danger of grounding.   Likewise, the chance of sinking is very slight at a few hundred feet above sealevel.   And until I attempted tonight to replace the fill valve in my toilet,  I never considered flooding.

As a homeowner, and a technically proficient electronics engineering technician,  I tackle most maintenance myself.  Unless my wife is at home, in which case,  I will opt to call someone to do maintenance.  Some tasks are a little complicated in an old house  whether replacing a dishwater fill line or tinkering with the gas water heater.    With my wife on travel visiting the kids,  I thought tonight would be a good opportunity to replace an annoying toilet fill valve.  For a “water-saving” device,  the last valve I installed has required two or three flushes routinely, and sometimes a manual intervention to the tank.

0512-0707-1115-1056Tonight,  my famous last words were “it’ll only take five minutes”.   I studied the new valve.  I even consulted YouTube.  Simple job.  But the line into the tank – at the bottom continued to drip onto the floor even as I tightened the nut.  I gave in and removed the valve with more water going on the floor,  needing to grab several towels, and getting sprayed from the line as I did not shut the valve from the main all the way.  The job called for and resulted in a few choice “Sailor” expletives after assembly and the tank still had a small leak.

The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea. Ovid

I was about to resort to calling my neighbor when I noticed one small failure.  I had installed the rubber seal under, not inside, the inner (tank) seat of the fill valve!   And in my zeal, I had nicked the plastic nut which would cause leaking as well.   Fortunately, the old unit had a pristine nut that I was able to reuse.   The Damage Controlman and the Hull Technician can stand down.   Flooding in the compartment has been cleaned up.  General Quarters is secured.  All hands can get back to their Saturday evening.

I was planning to start preparing to paint the living room this week to surprise my spouse.  It would not take that long as I have all the tools, tape and drop cloths.  I have a couple days to call in some “expert” help before my wife returns.  On second thought, I shall postpone this Intermediate Maintenance Availability for another time.  I will not set a watch, but I think it prudent to check the compartment for flooding in the morning.

 

Condition Zebra

CPO_coverTwo retired Chief Petty Officers meeting over cigars one evening were only casually known to one another.  Two other veterans and two others, a high school wrestling coach and an auto mechanic were all enjoying the late afternoon absently watching a baseball game on the television.   As the cigar burned to a nub,  the two salt- and barnacle-encrusted old seafarers became fast friends.  It is the shared experience of Navy life. Deployments, wartime, and good and lousy beer five thousand miles away from home. Sharing stories of Red light districts and Shore Patrol.  Looking out for our shipmates who may have enjoyed liberty a bit much.

When did you serve?

Went to bootcamp, in San Diego, in ’77.

Oh, I went through RTC in Orlando in ’78.  I retired in ’99.   

You ?

2010.

Shellback ?  Oh yeah,  I remember those @#$# shelaylee (shillelagh)   

Went through 3 times. Wog first deployment and then Shellback for the next two crossings.

They used GREASE!  Took forever to get it out of my hair.  @#@#$@#!   

Did away with it ten years ago.  Sailors just aren’t tough anymore.

What about Chief’s initiation? They are bringing it back?  Great.

It was a great life.

Yeah. It was a great life!

Gotta be moving on.  CINCHOUSE is expecting me. 

Underway.  Shift colors.

w12-1-mail-buoy

Our other pals looked quietly confused;  all they heard was gibberish.

 

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 ]

Museum piece

Starting today, I am going to focus THTASS on funny observations, uplifting naval history and memories that are service-related that I find. As an old fussy Senior Chief, there’s plenty to ramble on outraged about. I’ll leave that to the Marines.

Every ship save on that I have gotten underway on, is rusting at the bottom of the ocean, or perhaps is reused as glow – in – the – dark blades. The one is the Queen Mary, a floating hotel in Long Beach California. And it, too, could use a little more upkeep.

All the electronic equipment I learned to maintain and operate is junked or in a museum. And even the uniforms I wore have been relegated to parades and retirement ceremonies. Of course, I can fit in them again.

My first voyage, not including the steamboat or submarine at Disneyland, was aboard the Cunard Lines RMS Sylvania in 1965. I was destined for the maritime life. I could swim. I never got seasick, and I could drink (sodas) like a Sailor.

But now I’m a museum piece. My stories about writing letters, 1 MB computer storage, and replacing vacuum tubes find a smaller audience these days. Maybe I can find a new audience for sea stories at the Midway maritime museum?