Twilight Tour: My epic journey on USS NITZE for my 10th and FINAL major deployment…

Dear Reader, if you choose to join me on this voyage down memory lane, please allow me to set the narrative.

As I am dictating these series of events to my fingertips, I am recalling the details through previously written stories and connecting the stories together in a semi-logical (at least to me) series of events. In many instances these stories prompt new details.

But I digress, fyi – this is a common occurrence, fair warning, dear Reader, this is another long-winded one. However, ’tis nothing but words for future senile CHIEF D to worry aboot : )

The journey begins in the Sandbox

Saturday, 10 February 2007:

The journey began at 1600 hours in Norfolk, VA. At this point in the journey my carry on luggage, a laptop and a backpack, weigh seemingly nothing – that will change as the journey progresses. I arrived at the airport about two hours early, just to make sure there are no problems. As it turns out, that was a smart move. The ticket agent had never processed an overseas flight where the passenger didn’t carry a passport. Oh by the way, traveling on military orders doesn’t require a passport, both good and bad at times. So, after calling in for assistance, which was conveniently just around the corner the international paperwork is figured out and I am on my way to the plane. When I get to the screening checkpoint, I am one of the ‘lucky’ ones who are randomly’ selected for the pat-down search. No big deal because I left my shot-gun in my other jacket. Anyway, I get past that checkpoint and meander around the airport waiting for my plane to board. In a freak alignment of the cosmos, my flight boards early and we are off to Detroit! On approach to the Detroit airport, as we begin our descent, the pilot was doing his pilot things with the flaps and stuff. I mention this because as he repositions the flaps, there is a rather loud and metallic sounding ‘Kathunk!’ followed by another such ‘Kathunk!’ a few minutes later. Not a good sound from a plane that’s headed to the ground at about 300 mph! I still have no idea what made the noise but we made it to the ground in one piece. All else seems well and we arrive in Detroit about fifteen minutes early. Now we find the connecting gate, here’s a shocker, it’s not anywhere near the gate we arrive at. Luckily it is only a fifteen minute walk. Remember that ‘light weight’ carry-on baggage? Now each piece weighs about ten pounds and neither wants to stay on my shoulder for more than two minutes before sliding down my arm and slamming into the floor. Ah what fun, what fun! So, I finally arrive at the boarding gate for the transit across the pond to Amsterdam and let’s just say it was a wee bit crowded. Not a seat in the house and I have an hour to wait for boarding. Ain’t I the lucky one? Well the plane finally starts to board, me I’m in the last group to board – the group that includes ‘all remaining rows’ and the gate attendant tells everyone that their passport is not needed. However, that story changes as we pass through the door into the boarding ramp where Homeland Security is waiting to see our papers. Here’s where the lack of a passport first bites me in the ass. Just ahead of me is another sailor traveling on orders (without a passport) and he is waived through with no problem. Also ahead of me is a civilian who attempts to walk right past the guy with the gun and attitude problem. This, of course, puts the security guy in a better mood. Now it’s my turn and after looking at me like I was crazy for boarding an international flight with no passport he looks at my orders yet another time and gets even crankier than before. After grilling me as to why I have no passport he grumpily asks if I have government ID since I kept trying to tell him that I don’t need a passport while traveling on government orders. I comply by pointing out that the card in his hand, that I produced with the orders, is my government ID and we move on. By the way, the other sailor – you remember, the one who breezed through this check-point, didn’t have to show his ID. Don’t I feel special! By the way, it’s about 2130 when this flight gets in the air. So we begin the trek across the pond in the middle of the night. In some way’s I’m lucky since I have a window seat but that didn’t completely counteract the fact that economy class seating is extremely cramped. Merely shifting in the seat requires extensive choreography. Add to this the fact that the magazine pouch on the seat is broken and digging into my leg. About three quarters of the way through the flight, I woke up the passenger between me and the aisle so I could use the bathroom and the vicious magazine rack snagged my pants leg. By the time that I figured out why my leg was stuck, there was a hole in the pants. Oh well, that’s life, they were old jeans anyway. Fortunately the plane had an in-flight video on demand system and I had my choice of several movies and television programs to chose from to keep me occupied. So we finally arrive in Amsterdam at 0930 local time (about 0230 back home) and I have slept for about 30 – 45 minutes on the 8 hour flight. Let’s just say that I am a bit on the tired side. Once again, the departing gate is no where near the arrival gate. But, this time I have about 4 ½ hours to kill in the airport. Oh by the way, the airport has very little seating and you can’t get into the boarding area until the plane boards. To add more fun, I have to convert cash to Euro’s if I want to eat. That wasn’t a problem since I brought enough cash. However, Amsterdam is a pretty expensive place and my breakfast cost me about $15 US. Now, remember that carry-on luggage, it now weighs about 20 pounds each and won’t stay on my shoulder for more than 30 seconds without falling off. Each hour there, the weight increases by about 5 pounds. On the bright side, I was able to pick up some Dutch chocolate for snacking. And since I am tired, but cannot sleep, the 4 ½ hours drags on endlessly. Finally, the boarding area opens up. Now in this airport, your baggage is not screened until you enter the boarding area. This time, the lack of a passport was no issue, just a quizzical look. However, as my carry-on luggage is being screened, they grab it and run it through a second time and finally ‘request my permission to search’ my back pack. It’s not like I could possibly say NO. Anyway, they were curious about the prescription meds in my bag. Apparently, you are only allowed to carry medications required during the flight and I was carrying more than a six months supply in my bags. Well, after we cleared that up I was allowed to pass through to the customs check point. This plane is the same type as the one I flew to Amsterdam on, only no broken parts to attack me. This leg of the flight leaves at 1330 local time and was only 5 ½ hours long. After an uneventful flight, where I still couldn’t sleep, we arrived in Bahrain at around 2130 local time (1130 back home).

Now I wait in the line for passports for about an hour, pass through with no issues and proceed to baggage claim. I dig through the piles of baggage and find my bag. Luckily the customs inspection is broken into two areas, one for those who have items to claim and one for those without items to claim. I take a gamble and go to the line of those with nothing to claim and get through without incident. Here is where ‘someone from the base will meet you’. Yeah, right! Out of the thousands of people waiting for passengers, not a single one is waiting for me. However, I found sailor waiting for someone else and hitched a ride to the base with them. We finally get to the barracks at around 2330 and I found my way to my room just after midnight. Now, even though I haven’t slept since the day before, it is still early afternoon back home and I haven’t yet adjusted my internal clocks to compensate for the 8 hour time difference. Well, I finally get to sleep and manage to get in about 5 hours before the morning rolls around. When I checked in, I was told to call the front desk each morning to let them know I was still here. However, I was actually required to muster (check in) with the group of sailors in my battle group every morning at 1000, I found this out at 1300 by the way. Anyway, we cleared that up and all is well.

The first day here, I found the other Chief from NITZE here on base and we decided to wait for the local shops to open up at around 1600. We had dinner at a local Philippine restaurant that he discovered his first day here. After dinner, we went shopping in ‘Gold City’, a specialty mall that sells primarily gold, silver, and diamond jewelry at a significantly discounted price in comparison to the US. While he was haggling over the prices on some diamond jewelry for his wife I found an 18 kt gold ring with the CPO anchor and decided it was an appropriate retirement gift for myself. It is the first gift I’ve ever bought for me while deployed. After a few hours of shopping, we had stopped by o Philippine bar for a quick desert. I experimented with a mixed ‘stuff’ bowl (flan, ice cream, coconut, tapioca, & other assorted fruit-ish stuff) and was pleasantly surprised. Next stop was back to base and retiring for the evening.

I had one last mission to complete before the journey to find NITZE begins. Through my daily updates with my kids on NITZE, I knew that a popular end of day relaxation routine was “Jazz & Cigars on the Fantail”. Bahrain is a popular destination for cigar smokers due to what apparently is one helluva cigar shop with bargain basement pricing that is duty free. The big guy flying two stars on his crow asked me to grab a box of some fancy named cigar-thingy because NITZE was not scheduled to pass through the Straights of Hormuz. While I was there, I hooked up Charlie Oscar with a gift from a international island neighbor on this side of the pond.

I’m not a smoker but a short walk to the piers is the most awesome little 7-11 knock-off in the universe. If you can buy it in the UAE, this shack has it – duty free. The mid-east region has some of the coolest & weirdest candies and foods around. Think along the lines of puff-fried sardines and you’ll be in the neighborhood. Walking through that shop is one of the things that I’ll miss from my career

The epic journey continued early Saturday morning (at least I think it was Saturday – the days seem to melt into one lately). We boarded a decrepit old school bus and headed for the airport at 0600. Once at the air terminal, we checked ourselves in for the flight. You know you’re in for a fun ride when the first question they ask, after verifying your name, is ‘How much do you weigh’ and the second question is ‘Who is your next of kin’. Anyway… While sitting in the airport, minding my own damn business, this young Bahraini (?) national struck up a conversation with me. He was a little nervous about his helicopter flight to his next assignment. Apparently he is a translator for our forces in the Northern Arabian Gulf and this was only his second assignment. So we started talking and as it turns out, he is a hot rod fanatic who loves old Dodge muscle cars. What are the odds of running into a car nut in the middle of the dessert? Anyway…. We chatted for a few hours until his chopper left. Shortly after that we climbed into a van and headed off to find us a plane. After what seemed like forever in the van, we arrive on the tarmac at the airplane. However, the driver pulled up next to the plane, you know to make the boarding process easier. This, of course, did not sit well with the air crew and we were redirected to a tent about 200 yards away. So we all gathered up in the tent and waited for permission to cross the tarmac and board the plane.

The plane… well the plane is officially called a C-130. While waiting in the van for permission to board the plane we noticed that one of the engines had a large pool of ‘important looking fluid’ accumulating on the tarmac. This reminded me of something a helicopter pilot once told me – ‘we only worry about leaks when they stop’ The rest of my nervous group of passengers failed to see the humor in that statement. Anyway, the C-130 is a cargo plane with ‘seats’ for passengers. The seats were four long benches with nets for backs. The bench part was designed like the litters you see in war movies only made of that fake leather material instead of canvas. They were arranged in two rows with two benches facing each other in each row. Between the benches there was about 4-5 inches of ‘legroom’. However, on the floor between the rows were rails and rollers for cargo pallets. Directly behind us were several pallets of parts and mail. To draw a mental picture of the roominess of the accommodations, imagine placing these two rows of four benches in the dining area of a studio apartment and fill the ‘seats’ with 35 adults and their carry on baggage. This flight lasted around 5 ½ hours. Since this is a cargo plane, the cabin was not pressurized and was only heated to about 50 degrees. I mention that because we were all bundled up for the cold only to emerge in Djibouti, Africa where the temperature was 110 degrees in the shade. We finally get off of the plane and congregate at the air terminal to be told to grab our bags and get directly on the bus – the ship is leaving in two hours with or without us. An hour later, they finally bring us our luggage and send us on the way to the ship.

The bus ride was only about half an hour long. You know those movies where that are set in poverty stricken nations where you can be killed for shoe-laces; well this is one of those places. To get out of the air terminal, we passed through three barricaded check points with heavily armed Marines at the gates and Humvees with gun turrets patrolling the perimeter.  We finally get through all of the security check points and head towards the piers. Just outside of the last check point lie around 40 beat up taxicabs, a bus converted into a rolling mini-mart, a donkey drawn carriage with ‘fresh’ produce, and a couple of dozen locals looking for a dollar. The city was about the size of Johnstown only not as developed or civilized. Most of the streets were hard packed dirt and the buildings were mostly mud shacks with no roofs. The traffic on the streets was a mixture of broken down taxis, camels, donkey drawn carts, and mopeds. The piers were located on the outskirts of the town and were even more depressing. The entire area reminded me of an abandoned toxic waste dump. However, in the middle of all of this squalor, was a relatively new, large soccer stadium. It seemed odd to me to see a new stadium constructed in an area where the nicest hut had a roof and walls that were not made of corrugated plastic or tin. Anyway, as we are driving through the industrial complex to find the ship, we pass the oddest assortment of activities. In on lot, literally in the middle of a dirt lot, there was an old man – about 120 yrs old – sitting on a block with an ice pick chipping the block into shavings. He wasn’t collecting the shavings, just chipping them into the dirt. Further on up the road were the goat pens, and ‘Honest Joe’s Used Camel Lot’. I don’t know if I got the translation right on the camel lot but it sounds good. So, here we are, 35 people with luggage arriving at the civilian run supply ship that wasn’t expecting 35 people. After sorting out the details, they decided to take all but six of us onboard and sent us on the way to another supply ship that was at the fuel depot. Now we’re driving away from the ship that was supposed to carry us out to the ship enroute to a ship that may (or may not) know that we are coming. By the way, in the event that we are not permitted to board this next ship we will have to spend the night in the camp at the air terminal (think tents, sand, and all associated critters) before flying eventually to another camp with slightly better accommodations. And, oh by the way, we would need booster shots for malaria and yellow fever. You’ve heard of third world nations, this is closer to fourth or fifth world. Well as luck would have it, this other supply ship has plenty of room – and get this – was actually expecting us and prepared for our arrival.  After settling in, we got our first meal of the day, by the way – its 1800 by now, and a chance to relax. One good thing about this leg of the journey, the food is excellent and FREE. Well, that is the journey so far. With any luck, I’ll be sleeping in my own rack by the end of the week and I can stop lugging around all of these heavy bags

After finally settling in onboard for this last leg of the seemingly endless journey in search of NITZE, I wandered up on deck and finally was able to recharge my soul with that rich, glorious, salty, sea air. Home at last! This part of the trip is by far the weirdest for me, I don’t know how to be a passenger on a ship at sea. All I did was read books, eat, and sleep. The funniest part was the day before we were scheduled to VERTREP to NITZE, the Personnel CHIEF assigned to the ship (USNS FLEET OILER), tracked me down and tried to read me the riot act for not mustering for duty every day. She looked at me with a sour puss when I asked why she never bothered to call the stateroom she assigned me or checked the Wardroom where we were told to hang out. However, what really pissed her off was the fact that I did not wear my uniform while onboard. My response was to simply state that I was a “passenger, enroute to permanent duty station” and NOT a charge under her command. Even better, this challenge came from a tadpole – I had a lifetime of leadership experience over her and schooled her on the proper ways to communicate and cooperate with her Broters and Sister in the Mess.

Alas, my Lady ’tis on the horizon, reunion is imminent. From here, we will meander through my Twilight Tour which The Fates graciously paired with NITZE’s Maiden Deploment

The role of the modern day Destroyer is vastly different from that of our predecessors. In the past, our Destroyers were the disposable asset used to protect the big deck and battle gun for gun with the enemy. Today we still steam in formation protecting the big decks, but more and more our Destroyers are running independent missions in uncharted waters. This is the story of America’s newest and most lethal of Destroyers running solo in the waters off the Horn of Africa in search of modern day pirates.

The modern day pirate takes in many forms and has been elusive to the local Navies. They are used by the major terrorist networks to smuggle guns and drugs for profit, they ferry human refugees into slavery, and act out a plethora of other vile and nasty deeds. When their ships are identified, they attack and commandeer commercial shipping and fishing vessels. It is our job to find and stop them.

The first few months of our tour here keep us steaming off the coast of Mogadishu, Somalia. Our Visit Board Search & Seizure teams board all unknown vessels and gather information on where they have been, where they are going and who they have seen in their travels. While most of the ships we board are legitimate merchant seamen or fishermen, they all have information to share in our quest for the pirates. The legitimate merchant seamen know what waters to avoid, therefore where we should start looking. After gathering a lot of intelligence and mapping the most probable route the smugglers are using we move on to our next mission. Next on our list of targets are human traffickers running between Somalia and Yemen. Here is where we made our biggest impact. On at least two separate occasions, we were able to identify and herd the human traffickers into the hands of the Yemeni Coast Guard.   While we would typically prowl around in our designated box, occasionally we would get to stretch our legs and run to the fight. On one instance, the British ship RFA Fort Austin’s helicopter encountered a ‘suspicious’ merchant ship enroute from Yemen. By ‘suspicious’ I mean they failed to answer any queries. At around a hundred miles from their position, we were the closest coalition vessel and quickly came to full power to investigate our new friend. As it turned out, the merchant ship was North Korean and pretending to not understand our queries. On our first approach, we checked them out, ran their registry information, took all the intelligence information available and kicked up the mains to lead them to believe we were done with them. However, the following day, we again queried them. This time when the pretended not to understand English we broke out our ace in the hole – one of our Engineers is a Korean National. Anyhow, they refused to allow us to board and inspect their ship. They claimed to have just left Yemen after picking up cargo but at first refused to open their cargo hold doors for the British helicopter to inspect from the air.  They appeared to change their mind when the Frigate HAWES arrived with a bigger, badder helicopter than the Brits were using and we successfully brought the merchant ship to all stop. Anyway, after a couple of hours, Fifth Fleet decided not to board the Koreans, maybe for the better considering our tenuous relations with North Korea these days. We may not have been given permission to board and search the Korean ship but we did prove to them and their government that we know they are selling arms to our enemies and we are capable of and not afraid to stop their ships. If needed, we could have easily boarded their ship without incident, and they now realize this fact. Shortly after this incident we received a distress call from a commercial vessel under attack by suspected pirates. They were about four hours away by sea but The HAWES deployed one of their helicopters for recon. Anyway, when the helo arrived, the pirates turned tail and ran away. By the time we arrived on station, it was near nightfall and the bad guys had faded off into the sunset.

To break up the monotony of our routine, the Captain kept the crew on their toes through his daily “Quick Draws”. Quick Draw was an impromptu tasking thrown at various divisions or organizations on the ship – usually totally unrelated to their particular area of expertise. The typical Quick Draw revolved in some way around damage control, probably due to the high probability of getting the responding crew members soaked to the skin (did I mention that the Captain appears to have an evil streak?). The ruptured piping and bulkhead rigs would be stationed on the forecastle and the unsuspecting victims would be called into action to plug the leaks and patch the pipes. Usually the victims would be the Supply Department, Admin, or the cooks – people not usually tasked with pipe patching. If it wasn’t damage control related, the tasks would usually involve guns, again with the victims not normally tasked with the use of weapons. One of my favorites was calling the junior medical personnel (baby doc) to the port and starboard bridge wing for the task of manning the 50 cal and shooting 50 rounds down range, or calling the gas turbine electricians (GSE’s)to the fantail to shoot a barrel in the wake with 9MM pistols. When the Main Engineroom One gas turbine mechanics (GSM’s) were tasked similarly, they managed to shoot the tending line and lose the barrel.  Saturday’s were special with the Smackdown, pitting one group against another to see who can complete the task first. The Smackdown ranged from operating the P-100 fire fighting pump and putting water over the side, pipe patching competitions, manning the primary attack team from the lockers and putting water over the side to routine gun shoots. However, many a Smackdown had a twist, my favorite was when two teams of force protection team members were tasked to shoot rounds from the 50 cal but weren’t told about the missing firing pins. But as an engineer, my favorite Smackdown event was when Engineering Watch Team One and Two were tasked to bring the ship from dead in the water to 32 knots speed over ground. To set the stage, the Engineering Training Team (ETT) took the watch and sent Watch Team One to the flight deck. Watch Team Two was left scattered throughout the ship blissfully unaware of the impending tasking. Once ETT had the watch, thrust control was taken from the bridge and all four mains were stopped. When the ship had drifted to dead in the water, the Captain called for Team One and Two to man the Enginerooms, take control of the engines at the local Shaft Control Unit and with the propeller pitch in manual at 100% start all four mains and bring the ship to 32 knots speed over ground. For the record, from dead in the water with no main engines running, we achieved 32 knots speed over ground in less than six minutes – ya gotta love gas turbine engines!

In addition to the Quick Draws, we started a new weekly routine of Jazz, Cigars, and Sunset on Fridays. Apparently our Triad (CO, XO, CMC) and several members of the crew are cigar aficionados. During our port visit to Bahrain, the crew bought just about every cigar available at the Duty Free Shop so the XO decided that it would be a good idea to celebrate the end of the week on the flight deck smoking cigars and listening to jazz music as the sunset. This and the weekly flight deck picnics on Sunday were the crew’s rewards for another successful week at sea.  

When we were sent here, neither Fifth Fleet nor the Coalition Forces thought that a single ship could drastically impact the events occurring off of the Horn of Africa. However, they forgot to factor in the fact that the NITZE crew enters every task with the realization that success is inevitable.  We proved that one ship, can and did make a difference. Our presence off the coast of Somalia dramatically decreased the number of successful attacks by pirate ships and disrupted the channels that the world wide terrorist networks rely upon to generate revenue.

After turning over the watch on the Horn of Africa, we headed for the port of Manama, Bahrain early the morning of 21 March, early as in 0530. (this is kinda where I started from)When we arrived at the pilot pickup point at 0800, as scheduled with the manager of port operations, our pilot was nowhere to be seen. Before I continue, I must explain who the pilot is for the landlubbers out there. The pilot is the person to whom we pay a lot of money that ‘drives’ our ship from a predetermined position to the pier and back out to the predetermined position upon our departure. In theory, we do this because the pilots are ‘professionals’ who know the channels better than our navigators. By the way, our navigators use the same charts as the pilots and have the extra added benefit of GPS. Anyway, finally at around 1030, the pilot shows up only to determine that the ship’s draft (depth of the keel) is too deep to navigate the channel until high tide – around 4 to 6 hours away. We find this out after we traveled several miles and were within eyesight of the piers, oh by the way. So, now we turn around and head back out to the pilot pick-up point where we send him back to his office and wait until 1700 to try it all again. Several times during the day, we hear announcements that we will be raising the anchor and heading back into port. However, the pilot (remember him?) has not graced us with his presence yet. Finally, at around 1700, the pilot comes back onboard and we start driving towards the piers again. This time, we actually make it all of the way in and start throwing over the mooring lines. At around 1800.  Normally, it takes only a few minutes to shut down the engines and shift our operating procedures to the in-port routine. Not today, here we are getting ‘shore power’ and we have to wait for the locals to start the generators on the pier and rig the shore power cables to our ship. Shore power is essentially a big extension cord between the ship and the pier. We will run a total of ten cables to provide power to the ship while in-port. Normally we cannot get shore power in foreign ports, due to the power differences – 220 volt 55 Hz in most European countries – and security reasons. At this base, we have several small ships home based and the generators provide ‘normal’ power.  We are running shore power here because it is available and to allow us to perform some much needed maintenance on our generators. As an added benefit, it is actually cheaper to pay for the power ($40,000 for seven days) than to run our generators (fuel costs of over $84,000 for the seven day period). The other pier services we need to hook up are potable water (fresh water) and sewage. Normally we will connect to pier connections or tankers for one or both of these services, this port we are connecting to a barge that is moored to our seaward side of the ship (the side not tied to the pier). And as the start of a disturbing trend, both barges are late. Since we had been sitting off the coast on our anchor for about 14 hours longer than expected, we are low on water and past full on sewage. We make our own water but are not permitted to do so within 12 nautical miles of land, for health reasons, so our distilling units are secured. We carry just over 12,000 gallons of potable water and it gets used up fast. Sewage is yet another problem. Our capacity for sewage retention is 1000 gallons split between two tanks. A crew of just under 400 personnel will fill these tanks up within 6 to 8 hours if we cannot process and dump it. Again we are prohibited from dumping it at sea due to our proximity to land (less than 3 nautical miles). At this point, until the sewage barge shows up and we connect to it, all shower are secured, we can’t wash dishes, and we are about ready to secure the toilets. Let’s just say, hooking up to the barge is a priority. After about 3 hours, both water and sewage are hooked up and we are ‘happy campers’. Now, after about 60 days of continuous sea time, the crew is anxious to leave and blow off some steam. However, it ain’t that easy, first we need to get the liberty brief from the Executive Officer, and Commanding Officer. Basically a liberty brief is a detailed, and I do mean detailed discussion about what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go once we leave the ship and go explore the town. By the time all of this is done and the crew is left loose, it is just past 2100, by the way – we were supposed to be pierside by 0800, and most of the crew has to be back by 2400. We break down the curfew by rank, my curfew s a Chief Petty Officer is 0200 (along with all officers). The rest of the crew has curfews of either 2400 or 0100. I don’t have duty on the first day, so I elect to go to bed and catch up on some much needed rest.

Our first day in port starts with several significant repairs to major systems. One of our three generators needs the transmission replaced in the starting air motor, one of the hydraulic systems that controls the propeller pitch system requires major maintenance to the filters and hydraulic flow valves, one of our two ‘small boats’ – called RHIBs for Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat – needs major work on the propulsion system. The RHIBs are a vital piece of equipment for our missions which require us to visit and board foreign ships for inspection. We use them to transport our search and seizure teams and their equipment. Add to all of those all of the little things that add up to one big headache.  Anyhow, we manage to get all the work started and finished well before our scheduled departure on the 27th.

On the pier with us are the ‘permanently’ stationed ships – around four mine sweepers, three or four coastal patrol craft, an ocean-going tug boat, and the Bahrain Navy’s only frigate (one of our decommissioned frigates). The final group of ‘permanent’ ships deserves it’s own recognition, for they have no real purpose over here – on any given day, of any given month, we have two to four US COAST GUARD SHIPS stationed here. Now, I realize that I learned geography a long, long, long time ago but exactly which coast of the United States are they over here patrolling???????????? Anyway, among the ships visiting Bahrain with us are a US frigate, two US Supply ships, a Royal Navy supply ship, a Royal Navy small combatant, and two Egyptian mine sweepers (former US mine sweepers sold to Egypt by Bahrain). I bring this subject up to wander off the beaten path and discuss the concepts of ‘heightened state of security’. Bahrain is a relatively stable nation but it is one of those nations that is ruled by the royal elite society that comprises less than 20 percent of the population. This leads to many disgruntled nationals who want to change the government, many also want to remove the US presence from the region. As we have learned from the past, the leading terrorist groups recruit the disgruntled nationals because they have an easier time finding job positions that benefit the terrorist ideals. Jobs like, pier security and barge workers. At one time this week, there were just over 20 foreign ships on this pier. Many, like mine were in a status that prohibited a quick departure from port, by quick I mean underway in less than an hour. My ship was tethered to the pier by 10 shore power cables and nested between at least two barges. The barges were manned 24 hours a day and frequently visited by various tug boats and occasionally another barge. To me this put us in an extremely vulnerable position. I thought we had learned a lesson from USS Cole, apparently I was mistaken. The really sad part of this is the fact that I am the only one who viewed this situation as ‘un-good’. Oh well, we survived to set sail and live another day, maybe I’m just paranoid.

During the week, I spent most of my time off visiting the base where I visited the base exchange and stocked up on necessities, relaxed and chowed down in the food court (fast food, ya gotta love it), and bought a few unnecessary items like the lap top I’m writing these stories on. To explain the ‘need’ for a new laptop I must divulge that the one I brought over here with me has a slight overheating problem. Now, I did fix that problem with an external fan but I couldn’t resist the new laptop. I’m also justifying the purchase by using the excuse that I will need a better laptop for my post Navy days when I return to school. Yeah, school, that’s the story………… Anyway, I did manage to wander out of the gate into the city of Manama on a couple of occasions. 

My first trip out of the gate was on a tour of the Grand Mosque. The Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the nation and was built by the royal family a few years ago. Normally, outsiders are not permitted to visit or photograph mosques or any type of religious ceremony in Arabian states. However, since the spent a ton of money making this one, the government allows, even encourages, visitors so they can show it off.  Now, my knowledge of Islam is based around the radical fundamentalists who would like nothing more than the total eradication of all non-radical Muslims from the face of the earth. That said, I learned a lot about the Islamic faith and Muslim traditions. Granted, most of the information was probably political in nature to counteract the actions of the radical fundamentalists. Our guide was a German national who had a less than favorable view of the Arabic culture and their treatment of their women. The mosque is a beautiful work of architecture with Italian marble floors, French crystal chandeliers, beautiful Indian wood work, and Scottish hand woven carpet. Most of my shipmates were disappointed by the tour, I guess they expected to see more than an empty mosque. They missed out on a chance to learn about a different culture because they were biased against the Islamic faith. Their loss.

 My next trek out on the town was another tour, this time to a five star Lebanese restaurant with live entertainment, including a belly-dancer. I had never had Lebanese food before and, how sad is this, I was more interested in the food experience than the belly-dancer. I guess old age is really kicking in. The food was nothing less than fantastic. The appetizers were pita breads with a dozen ’fixins’. To be honest with you, I don’t really know what most of the stuff I ate was. That said, there was a tomato and cilantro mixture that tasted awesome in the pita bread with tofu.  The main course was a mixture of grilled chicken and lamb. The chicken was good but the lamb, my first time eating lamb -oh by the way- was the highlight of the meal. For desert, we had a wide variety of fresh fruits and pastries. The pastries looked good, but I elected to eat the fruits. Who knew that watermelon grown in the Arabian desserts could taste so good. The entertainment consisted of a young lad who was painful to listen to. It was either the unique Arabic language put to music, or he was tone deaf. Either way, it was painful to listen to. Think house band at the local airport motel. The next singer was a young lady who didn’t know the words to any song, even with the lyrics right in front of her. She spent most of her three song set laughing at herself. The final piece of the entertainment puzzle was our belly-dancer. It was less than I had expected but still a half-naked woman gyrating to exotic music is fun to watch even for an old man like me. Once again, my fellow tour mates lost out on the opportunity and didn’t fully grasp the opportunity they were given to experience a different culture. All they did was pick at the food they didn’t recognize, overly criticize the quality of the food and service, and make fun of the guests in the lounge. I have met the Ugly American once again. Oh well, I had a good time, that’s all that mattered. As the evening wound to an end and my fellow tourists were trying to figure out their large alcohol tabs, I wandered through the hotel lobby. While waiting, I found a duet of violin and acoustic guitar playing opera music. It was a beautiful sound, I would have rather listened to them play than listen to the ’entertainment’ provided to us in the dining hall. Oh well, thankfully drunk American sailors take a while to pay their bills and I was able to listen to the last three or four songs in their set. 

After all of that fun, we finally departed and headed out to destinations and missions unknown. Bahrain was a well deserved break after a long tiring two months at sea. Our next port visit is as of yet undetermined. For all we know, it may just be Norfolk.

Up to this point, this has been a fairly typical maiden deployment for the average Destroyer. However (comma) things were “a fixin’ to get interesting”…

On our exit from the Arabian Gulf we approached the transit through the Straits of Hormuz around Zero Dark Thirty. The Straits are a stressful transit for Charlie Oscar and the Crew simply because of the political climate. Passage through the Straits requires transit through a very restrictive (roughly 2 mile wide) channel of disputed International waters between Iran and Oman. Basically, Iran claims a greater range of waters from their shores and the United States does not recognize their borders. Even when following the recognized rules governing the “ownership” of national waters, the transit requires passage through the National Waters of Oman and Iran due to the restrictive landscape of the Straits. Basically you have a hostile, unstable, volatile, extremely anti-American nation on one side of the channel. And, … , on the other side you have a “friendly” nation with no real concerns towards policing the area for terrorist activity. All in all, a really stress free time, eh?

I bring this up because, on our exit from the Arabian Gulf, at the worst possible time, NITZE had a nervous breakdown. Before we get to that, we need to discuss the ‘spidey senses’ of the typical Tin Can Snipe. We who roam the pits of Hell tending the boilers and feeding the turbines will immediately wake from the deepest of sleep when they hear the following sequential events: the ‘click’ of the switches cycling on the emergency battle lanterns and the attempted start of the emergency diesels if configured (the DDG 51 class does not utilize diesels). You can’t us up to relieve the damn watch but we can hear a relay open when it loses power, go figure.

But I digress, back to our regularly scheduled sea-story…

On our departure from the Arabian Gulf, we transited the Straits of Hormuz at Zero Dark Thirty. As fate would have it, one of the two on-line electrical power generation systems (gas turbine generator (GTG) and associated switchboard (SWBD)) failed due to an electrical fire that was eventually traced back to a turbine control system component enclosure. Normally, this would be a quick recovery as the stand-by generator, Number 3 GTG in this instance, was running and only a breaker away from taking up the surge from the loss of Nr 1 GTG. Unfortunately, routine emergency protocol failed to favor the watch team on deck. What occurred was Nr 3 GTG turbine tripping off-line while the electrician was trying to parallel the load with Nr 2 GTG. Here is where the fun started. Ya see, when good ole’ Nr 3 GTG took a nap, the entire ship’s electrical load (full combat suite up and running = 65% maximum load of two paralleled gas turbine generators. This, of course, resulted in an overload trip of Nr GTG. So, for those of you keeping score, within less than 60 seconds, NITZE went from about full-speed ahead running all four gas turbine engines with all combat equipment in operation protecting the ship from the ever present and imminent treats on both sides of the most dangerous chokehold channel that the US NAVY encounters to totally dead in the water and totally dark. The good news is that with all of the training we were doing in preparation for a bold attempt at Engineering Certification on the outbound leg of the trip through the Mediterranean Sea (we’ll talk about that later), our watch team on deck was able to restore power and get Nr 2 & 3 GTGs up and running. Nr 1 GTG was down for the count.

Now, when all of this went down, I was racked out and not planning on regaining consciousness until the Bosun’ blew that silly whistle. However, the relays opened and I heard the words “Charlie Fire … Nr 1 Aux…”. By time I had heard the relays click I had already split the distance between my rack and the Central Control Station where I got the details I needed to control the scene. Now all that stood between myself and my stricken generator was a gaggle of hungry sailors in the chow line. Normally when one is in a hurry and there is a group of sailors in one’s way, a gentle ‘make a hole’ is requested. Homey don’t play that. One of my children (the turbine) was potentially hurt and more importantly the team that I trusted to take care of her may also be in peril. So, my method of clearing a path was to yell a loud, booming “MOVE!“. Now, when you see a 165 lb CHIEF who is known to plow through or over whoever or whatever was in his way in an emergency – you scatter and hug the bulkheads to get the hell outta his way when you hear that not so subtle ‘request’. Anyway, as I mentioned, this was the most prepared and well-trained crew that I have ever worked with and the situation was well under control before I arrived. All I needed to do was verify isolation and troubleshoot the problem. It turned out to be a fault in the wiring of a component in one of the subassemblies for the turbine control systems. The failure to start & load on Nr 3 GTG was a Windows 2000 problem – yup Winders 2K. We got through that, congratulated ourselves on a job well done and joked about the Maiden Voyage being soiled.

Little did we know that going dark in the Straits was child’s play and merely another day at sea…

Shortly after entering the Red Sea, NITZE decided it was time for a catastrophic failure of 2A Line Shaft Bearing. The after oil seal failed, resulting in a loss of over three quarters of the oil sump capacity over a short period of time. This loss of oil caused the bearing lining temperature to increase from 100 F to over 400 F in less than one hour. The bearing is constructed with a Babbitt lining. Babbitt is a soft white metal allow consisting of tin, lead, copper, and antimony with a melting point between 460 and 600 F. Close inspection of the bearing by removal of the casing end seals revealed that the bearing liner had melted and was extruding along the drive shaft. This casualty resulted in the loss of propulsion on one of the ship’s two drive shafts and drastically reduced the ship’s maneuverability and speed. Under normal circumstances, a ship that suffers this type of equipment failure would simply proceed into the nearest Industrial Repair Facility and have the repairs effected by a group of highly trained contracted workers. However, to do this, the ship would need to return to either Dubai or Bahrain and spend a minimum of five days in the repair facility while the bearing was replaced. This was not the ideal option on this particular day given our mission tasking and critical rendezvous the following week.

However, as it is often said, “fortune favors the foolish”. The offending bearing is carried onboard in the ship’s supply system, two of the ‘old salts’ in Engineering Department have many years experience conducting this type of maintenance, and two other ‘old salts’ in Deck Division are experienced riggers. But, none of these experienced sailors have ever attempted a task this daunting while underway with an inexperienced maintenance crew. Phone conversations with the ashore technical community assured the Captain and Chief Engineer that ship’s force was not capable of replacing the bearing, especially while at sea. After weighing the pros and cons of returning to port and letting the professionals tackle the job against the pros and cons of proceeding to our scheduled rendezvous and allowing the Chief to execute the repairs at sea, the Captain chose to gamble on his Chief and highly motivated, if inexperienced, Engineers and allow ship’s company to make the repairs while making best speed towards the next mission area.

The Line Shaft Bearing is used to support the weight of the propulsion drive shaft as it transits through the ship. This particular bearing, Number 2A, is located in the space known as Shaft Alley. Access to the Shaft Alley is through a vertical trunk that extends down three decks. The base of the bearing is mounted to a foundation approximately three feet above the deck plates with the top half flange at around five feet above the deck plates. The clearance between the top of the bearing housing and the overhead is less than three feet and is congested with piping from various critical fluid systems. To further complicate the repairs, access to the bearing is through tight passages of less than 3 feet wide with several sharp turns.

The first task was to remove the damaged bearing from its housing. First we had to cool down the bearing housing which three hours after the casualty was still too hot to touch. To do this, first the bearing top shell had to be removed. This shell weighs just over 900 lbs and is machine fitted to the top bearing half. Due to the space constraints, the housing could not simply be removed and placed on the deck plates, it had to be suspended from the overhead over the propulsion drive shaft. Preparing the site for the maintenance required removal of interferences at the work site and the path to be used to rig the damaged bearing out and new bearing in. The process of removing and suspending this housing required the use of five chain falls, three of which were used to suspend it from the overhead and took over five hours. Next the bearing oiling system had to be removed and inspected for damages. The oiling system is simply a large bucket wheel that drags oil from the sump and delivers it to the top of the bearing where the motion of the shaft draws the oil across the surfaces. This particular oil ring weighs just over 200 lbs and had to be lifted by hand. Luckily the oiling system had not suffered any collateral damages; a new one was not available. After removing the oiling system, the bearing top half was removed. The top half of the bearing weighs just over 600 lbs and required the use of another five chain falls (at this point, every chain fall on the ship was in use). While removing the top half of the bearing we discovered the extent of the damages. The bearing material had welded itself to the shafting across the entire surface. With the top bearing half removed the tasking shifted to removal of the bottom half of the bearing. To add to the difficulties associated with the fact that the bearing had welded itself to the drive shaft, the weight of the shafting had to be overcome. Additionally, with the bearing removed, the shafting required support while the housing and damaged shafting were cleaned and prepared for reassembly. The shaft was supported and raised 0.060” by hydraulic jacks from the Repair Lockers. While 0.060” may not seem like much, it is just enough clearance for removal and installation of the lower half of the bearing shell. However, due to the extensive damage, removal of the lower bearing required over eight hours and the use of sledge hammers.

During the removal of the damaged bearing, the new bearing was located and rigged into Shaft Alley. This too was easier said than done. The new bearing was located in one of the aft supply store rooms on the fourth deck and had to be rigged in their shipping containers to prevent damage while transporting to the top of the Shaft Alley access trunk. Five hours later, the new bearing halves were staged at the deck of Shaft Alley awaiting cleanup and preparation for installation.

Installation seemed to be proceeding smoothly until the new bottom half bearing became stuck half way through the installation. When lifting the shafting for the removal of the damaged bearing, wooden blocks were used with the hydraulic jacks to prevent damage to the shafting surfaces. Unfortunately, during the removal of the damaged bearing half the stresses caused by the sledge hammer blows caused the wooden blocks to fracture. These fractures allowed the shafting to settle just enough to prevent the new bearing from rolling into place. Quick thinking by the Damage Control experts provided the solution of using metal shoring from the Repair Lockers to support the shaft while the hydraulic jacks were repositioned, this time with metal blocks and rubber for additional support and protection. Once this hurdle was overtaken, the installation proceeded smoothly. Before the upper housing could be reinstalled, the oiling system had to be reassembled. This task was more difficult than expected due to the fact that the oiling ring needs to be installed precisely at 1.12” from the end of the bearing for proper operation. Fortunately, installed in the lower housing were four pins designed to align the oiler ring with the required clearance while securing it to the shafting. With the oiler ring installed, the next step was to set up a dial indicator to ensure the ring was installed properly and would not ‘wobble’ when the shaft rotated. To do this the ship needed to come dead in the water and rotate the shaft on the electric jacking motor. However, for the past 30 hours the ship had been making way at twelve knots with the shaft locked and at 100 % propeller pitch. This caused the shaft locking device to be over-torqued preventing its disengagement. Normally it takes less than a minute to disengage a shaft locking device. This time it took over twenty minutes of creative massaging for disengagement. By the time that the lock was safely disengaged, the ship had fallen too far behind schedule and could not remain dead in the water for another twenty minutes to conduct the testing. Instead, the trueness of the oiler ring was validated using precision measurement. Finally the final reassembly was completed and the testing could commence.

Testing was conducted by first rotating the shaft using the jacking motor while dumping fresh oil over the bearing to establish the initial oil film and verify the proper operation of the oiling ring. With the first test successfully passed, the shaft was rolled under the power of the opposing shaft and inspected for unusual temperature rises and noises. Next the shaft was rolled under the power of its associated engines at various speed ranges, each time checking for proper temperatures. With all tests passed the bearing and shafting were returned to unrestricted operation. In order to arrive at our next mission area on time, we needed to proceed at 25 knots for the next four days. During this time the bearing was closely monitored and performed flawlessly.

The total time for repair and testing by ships force was just under forty-four hours. The reason that I mention the total time for repair and testing is due to a simple piece of trivia; you see, shortly after NITZE recovered from her Line Shaft Bearing casualty, a Sister Ship who had relieved us on station suffered a similar bearing failure. However, that ship elected to have one of the shipyards in the Gulf perform the repair “due to the complexity and high risk of uncontrollable flooding in Shaft Alley”. With their Port Shaft being locked at Zero Pitch, the Port Propeller acted as an effective braking rudder which limited the ship’s maximum speed and most importantly maneuverability through the Straits. This cost them around a week of time lost on station. Once in the shipyard, the repairs required just over four days work of two shift work. That would be (4) days times (2) shifts times (8) hours per shift + (4) days times (8) hours off shift = 96 real-time hours and 64 man-hours at 6-man repair crew, 8-man rigging crew, 4-man diving crew, … = $$$$. Then add on the pier services (power, water, sewage, trash, fresh air, access to solid ground, … ~$40K/day. All in all I heard the whole kit-n-caboodle rang up at close to half a mil and the ship was off station for just over three weeks which jacked up the schedule for the Battle Group. (insider sources)

On good ole’ NITZE, Uncle’s Wallet was only hit for around $6000.00 for the bearing core, and I think we arrived on station early as was the NITZE Way.

Any-who, we successfully transited the Big Ditch, my 13th passage by the way, we meandered into one of those Mediterranean ports. For the life of me, at the time of this writing, I cannot remember the name but I do know they spoked one of them Mediterranean languages, I loved the food, and the weather was awesome. That ourta narry it down, eh? But I digress, the real reason I wandered into this memory is because it began the first milestone for NITZEs Engineers as well as my final Engineering Victory…

Engineering Certification / Main Space Fire Drill.

We had spent the entire deployment shoe-horning training in all departments schedules in order to be the first DDG-51 Class ship to successfully complete all major departmental certification and damage control certifications on her maiden voyage. For us in Engineering, it was a no-brainer, we had a ringer. Prior to my assignment to NITZE, I was assigned to Afloat Training Group Atlantic, Norfolk – Gas Turbine Team Two (whew!). What that really boiled down to is that I was assigned to a team of senior peoples who were ‘experts’ in the engineering plants on the DDG-51 Class Destroyers. Our job was to train shipboard watch teams how to read the mandated step-by-step common sense logical sequence of events that the watch team did in the event that something unplanned turned into something un-good. For instance, if we see flames in a trash can ==> PUT THE WET STUFF ON DA HOT STUFF!!. Or, if we see arcs shooting from a controller, there might-could be an electrical problem. The biggest thing we really taught was gamesmanship, in reality casualties happen so fast that you have clue in real-time. The other half of the job as a trainer was certification of the administration programs. Here also, we groomed the programs to the standards of ‘perception management’.

For the uninitiated, perception management is the subtle art of presenting a sub-par or below standard program or report in a manner as to which the superior ranking officials accept said sub-par or below standard as the greatest thing since they, the senior ranking official, last invented sliced bread. Synonymous and often confused with the Subtle Art of Male Bovine Excretion.

Anyhow, once again, I meandered off track…

All ‘Engineering and Main Space Fire Drill (MSFD)’ certification really mean is that the ship can get underway by herself without outside adult supervision. Kinda like Mom & Dad giving you the keys to the Yugo for 18 months and hoping for the best. The Enlisted side of the Inspection/Certification team assesses the administrative programs that govern the day to day safe operation of the Engineering Plant. I oversaw the Lube Oil/Fuel Oil Management, Fuel Oil Conservation, Quality Assurance, & Safety Programs and I assessed all programs, including my own, at the Inspection level scrutiny on a monthly basis. My philosophy was to never grade a program as greater than ‘satisfactory with corrections needed’ in order to ensure continual improvement of the associated programs. When I was assigned to ATG as an assessor, there was an inside bet with the Officer side program inspector to find even the smallest fault in any one of the my major program assessments (fuel/lube oil, safety). The Officer side of the teams are responsible for the actual determination as to whether or not the ship’s crew performed satisfactorily during the emergency action training drills. Although, to be honest, the Oskifers cain’t figger out if the ship done did it right or not without asking their CHIEFs.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Through a weird trick of fate, Big Navy elected to maintain continuity in training and keep the same training that was assigned to NITZE during the pre-commissioning phase of crew training through the first training cycle. This is fairy important for us in Engineering; ya see NITZE was trained by ATG Atlantic Gas Turbine Team 2 (sound familiar?).

So, here is the pre-game review…

While at ATG, I trained the Engineering and Damage Control Teams on the NITZE and groomed them to sail through any and all inspections/assessments. My enlistment contract ended during my tour at ATG but I did not want to retire from a desk so I extended for orders to a ship. I score orders to NITZE. NITZE attempts to certify as many departments as possible on the Maiden Deployment. For the Engineering and Damage Control Team assessments, ATG Norfolk Gas Turbine Team 2 (my old team minus me) is assigned. So, my ATG team trained the ship, I get assigned as ship’s company, my ATG team is assigned to inspect my ship, I know all of their tricks, I should be able to out think them, lets see …

The first stage of the game is the onboarding of the inspection team. This is basically setting them up with a secure meeting room and berthing spaces. The smart host goes the extra mile and caters to the inspectors with treats in the meeting room and courtesies to ensure that the inspectors remain ‘happy campers’. Since I had a wee bit o’ inside knowledge on the team’s members, preparing their meeting room was a no-brainer. I had local coffee, a specific Italian decaf, hot chocolate, loose leaf teas, and a killer sampling of yummy fruits, cheeses, and evil pastry. I even had a coffee/tea station set up in the berthing for the CHIEFs. We took care of our guests.

Next came in-brief; here the inspection team gathers in the ‘Weird Room’ (Officers Mess – Ward Room) with the shipboard training team to discuss the plan of attack and safety protocols for the selected casualty scenarios that the inspection team wants to see demonstrated by each of the designated watch teams. The inspection team bases their selection of casualty scenarios based on their perceived team weaknesses as observed during the ATG training phase.

So, let’s step back a second and look at this; I was an integral member of the ATG team that trained the NITZE Engineers, I extend my contract for orders to NITZE, my NITZE team trains to ATG standards that I helped develop, my former ATG team inspects my ship.

NITZE was developing a reputation as a ‘Bad-Ass’ when it came to operational excellence in real-world exercises. Because of this, several inspection teams had decided to do all that they could to fail NITZE in as many categories or exercises as possible. On NITZE, we could not have cared less about these petty jealousies about our excellence in performance and merely went about our daily business. But I digress, the inspection team was unaware that I was a member of the ship’s training team. The look on their faces when they say me in the Weird Room was priceless! The best reaction was the team leader, a cranky old full-bird Captain (former CHENG on a Diesel Gator) that hated my guts. Lets just say that we had some ‘discussions’ in regards to my reluctance to lower my standards in regards to allowing a ship to get underway based on their ability to manage their fuel oil. I had a simple rule, the fuel feeding the engines was required to meet the minimum standards as set forth by Naval Sea Systems Command. Cut and Dry. In the end, I helped the Fleet track a batch of bad fuel through the Atlantic Fleet surface combatants and the full-bird got his wings tarnished. I do believe some steam started to boil from the old fart’s ears.

The casualty control drills are fairly simple and consist of a sampling of situations that can occur during an average watch shift. These are things like electrical fires, trash can fires, flooding, fuel oil leak, lube oil leak, hot bearing, etc. The Inspection team is theoretically onboard to assess the shipboard training team’s ability to assess the watch team’s abilities in regards to the casualty simulations presented. Anywho, our watch teams ace their respective drill sets so we get set up for the big show – the Main Space Fire Drill. {cue dramatic music}

The brief for the Main Space Fire Drill (MSFD) is anything but brief, as is any typical military meeting. Typically when the inspection teams decide the location of the MSFD and which watch team to observe they have an idea of how to play the MSFD to sway the inspection results towards their desired endgame.

SPOILER ALERT: ATG ASSESSMENTS WERE “POLITICALLY MOTIVATED” WITH “TARGETED FAILURES”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaanyhow, the inspection team was in a kerfuffle. Both of the primary watch teams performed well above requirements and there was a third fully trained team in stand-by that was not manned by the ship’s training team. We had trained in each of the Main Spaces and did not care where they put the scenario, what scenario they chose, or which team they chose to challenge the scenario. We had all bases covered.

Ultimately Main Machinery Room #1 was chosen for the scenario. This space was chosen primarily for tactical purposes; isolating Main Machinery Room #1 for a fire only results in a loss of fuel oil to Nr Gas Turbine Generator.

So, it’s game time, we’re on the deck plates pretending not to be there and the watch team is pretending to not see us as we set up our stage for the drill. We kick it all off by some sort of ruse to get someone to come to where we are set up, in this instance it would be a loss of pressure alarm. When the first person shows up we show them yellow rags advancing on the deck plates and observe the reaction of the watch team. The basic steps are flush oil to bilge isolate leak, activate foam to bilges, man foam hose in event of fire, wait for relief from repair locker, secure plant.

During the inspection and certification phase, ATG will signal the ship’s training team when to advance/retreat a leak, and when to flash a leak into a fire. During the brief, we discuss the ‘Real-Life’ training plan in regards to watch team evacuation of the Main Spaces in the event of fire. Here is where I almost single-handedly failed the MSFD certification for NITZE. During my entire tour at ATG and while onboard NITZE, my teams trained the ‘drop and run’ philosophy for on-deck first responders to situations like this. I have researched the Navy’s studies on firefighting approaches over the years and there a watch stander has ZERO CHANCE OF SURVIVAL if they attempt to fight a Class Bravo fire without proper personal protective equipment. I mention this because during the brief, the cranky ol’ full bird brought up his expectations of how he expected the initial responders to ‘knock down the flames” before being forced back. This was, of course, rejected by an even crankier ol’ CHIEF who shall remain clueless. After a pointless discussion, the matter was closed and it was agreed that as per ATG Doctrine, the MSFD be conducted in accordance with approved shipboard procedures (not the whim of an inspector).

So, we are back on the deck plates, the leak is discovered. ATG signals me to go to fire & signal for smoke. Exactly 30 seconds after the smoke machine is turned on, we push the watch team out of the space, per our doctrine. This sent the cranky ol’ full bird off the rails demanding my head on a platter. For an hour or two there, I thought he was gunna fail us. Never a worry about me, my papers were in, what was the worst he could do?

Hell, we passed with one of the highest grades in the Fleet in Engineering and MSFD!! NITZE went on to ACE pretty much every certification on first attempt.

After the Engineering and MSFD achievements, I’m sure somebody held celebrations – not my scene. I most likely grabbed some grubbage from the galley, took a hollywood, and commenced rack-ops, I think there were port visits but only one mattered to me.

NORFOLK.

Home at last, taking my last shutdown watch to allow the guys with families to reunite. For me, homecoming was always bittersweet. You see, if you add up all of the family from all ten of my major deployments and the dozens in between who have been waiting for me on the pier or tarmac in all of my 22 years of service, throw in all that attended my graduations, advancement or achievement ceremonies, and you will get a nice round goose egg.

Yup, prubbly why nobody will ever read this

Hey, future self, you’re outta sugar and you forgot to fill the damn teapot again!!

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