FUSTERCLUCK

Hello again my lost friend, what brings you to my little scgnorpflet of the wondernet? Fear not, we welcome all strangers as brothers we have yet to meet.

By the time I arrived onboard USS AMERICA (CVA 666 ) had gained a reputation as a ‘slightly odd character who talked to gear sets and turbines’. In my defense, I was right over 90% of the time – so they put up with me. Apparently there was a migration of Tin Can Snipes to the Big Deck platforms at the time. Hell, I just thought the planes were cool and me eldest brudder served onboard AMERICA for a few years as air crew for the E2C Hawkeye.

However, as per the norm, I digress…

When I reported onboard I was a newly frocked Machinists Mate 2nd Class. This little tidbit is important as I am introduced to the Engineering Department Master Chief. Apparently, said Mustard Chef had spent his entire sea career on USS AMERICA and was even a Plank Owner. As a newly reported lap-dog, I was a ‘posed to be impressed or sumfin. Hell, to me he was just another power hungry raging ass-hole. Any-why, since ‘ole Minister of Cheetos was the All-Mighty God of Engineering, he – and only HE, would qualify us on the the higher shipboard system watchstations as well as all of the Damage Control systems. Most people thought it was a kind of ‘professional hazing’ thing where he was just making sure we all knew that this was HIS SHIP.

Me, I saw his insistence on attention to detail at his intent – in an emergency, if I am in a random forward pump room that becomes flooded with jet fuel on a Sunday morning at Zero-Dark Thirty. While everybody suits up, you gotta pump out that fuel – where are the valves?

I took this same thought process to all of the systems in the main and auxiliary machinery spaces. This allowed me to find long lost, forgotten, most likely required to have been fixed years ago, piping configurations and cross-connects. Out of boredom, I would cycle a valve here and there to “see what happens”. Each time I’d make notes about what bad thing happened and about how long said bad thing took to happen. This gave me a better insight on the plant operations and resulted in my adoption into the Engineering Casualty Control Training Team or ECCTT. My days as a ship’s trainer had begun.

The sole function of ECCTT was to ensure that the ship’s crew in charge of maintaining control of the propulsion, electrical generation, and auxiliary systems were constantly trained and ready to combat and control any emergency or unusual conditions. To do this, a team of experienced watch standers is mustered up. The team consists of one training team member for each individual watch station/ watch stander, one to three initiators (gremlins), a scene leader, and a team leader. The tactics are fairly simple, the training team stands fast just outside the hatches leading into the machinery space they are playing with. They are waiting for the watch supervisor or watch stander (depending on scenario) to announce the problem before swarming in to observe how the problem is solved. I was the primary gremlin, that meant that I initiated all of the problems, even the damage control and weapons nerd certification engineering damage problems.

So, I’ll paint a quick picture for ya. The team is in communication via radio with the hand held mic on the swirly-cord that you hang on your shoulder. FYI — not as effective as the headsets that I “procured” to help drown out the background noise.

I would like to take a moment to thank the Air Intermediate Maintenance Department onboard USS AMERICA in the early ’90s for their generous contributions to my work center tool crib inventory as well as kept my young sailors feet dry and protected in flight deck boots. A special shout out to Senior Chief Cranky Pants whose epic levels of achievements in the fields of ‘I have an anchor on my shoulder, why are you still here’ attitude when a junior, non-aviation slug has the audacity to ask to take possession of the tools he was throwing over the side of the ship. Apparently, he read in a bulletin somewhere, sometime, about something at sea aviation related urgent tasking to dispose of a tool set under a certain Navy Stock Number. He interpreted ‘dispose of’ as remove from service and destroy or render ineffective. Thus, he could not transfer custody, especially not to a lowly Engineer – a Second Class Petty Officer to boot! No worries, I had an unknown access into his supply store room and had been doing a one to one boot swap in his organizational clothing section for some of the younger sailors of mine who couldn’t afford boots and my organizational clothing requests were always denied at the lowest levels. At this point, I had been way under the radar and his numbers would only be off once every few months and well within the acceptable tolerances. After the tool incident, we formed up a team of sneaky squirrels and planned a raid that would confuse the living hell out of ‘ole Cranky Pants. We gathered up every boot we could find, it didn’t really matter if it was a complete pair. We had an upcoming weekend which was scheduled as an extended Holiday Routine which meant that the entire Airedale world was either in the chow line or their rack. So, we proceeded to exchange every pair of the newly received pallet of flight deck boots (we had just received stores via underway replenishment) with the boots that we had gathered below decks. The best part is that this particular locker has only one access hatch which is a watertight door that is locked with a medium duty lock. The supply locker is inside the AIMD Maintenance Office which is locked with a weird-assed key-pin tumbler lock. Oh, and the area of the hangar bay in the vicinity is a high traffic area. So, when Monday rolls around, nobody checks the supply onload – it is in a secure room – and time moves on until the day our cranky-assed little Senior Chief needs to issue a pair of boots. He goes through all of the paperwork to ensure that everything is correct and that the young sailor actually NEEDS this pair of boots. Apparently, so I was told, said Fussy Boots had what you mightcould call a nuclear level conniption fit when he discovered the ‘minor discrepancy’ that he found with his supply of boots. This was about two months after receipt of the boots, all paperwork pointed to a properly received, inspected, and accepted pallet that the Senior Chief himself signed. Nothing ever came of the incident since it never could have happened (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) – I’ll bet it kept him up for a few nights trying to figure it out though.

Now, who was I? Oh, we were talking about ECCTT…

So, I get the word over the headset to initiate the problem and away I go. Now, in those days, we did very few simulations – this meant that I actually got to cause a problem like a loss of fuel oil pressure (nothing dangerous). Here is the challenge that I mastered – the training team was wearing bright, as in international orange bright, orange coveralls to distinguish themselves from the crew. I was supposed to walk through an operating, fully manned, fully alert machinery space and shut down a boiler or cause a problem with an engine or generator – without being seen… As it turned out I was eerily good at it. I never got caught & nobody knows “just how-the-holy-hell did you… …!”

A typical drill start shortly after midnight and end just before regular morning breakfast, roughly 6 hours – after my 12 hour shift as plant supervisor in my machinery space. Since I would be at my watch station as Top Watch in Machinery Room 1 or 2, the team would normally brief the planned set of problems and skill sets to be tested that evening. I would be provided a hard copy of the plan to allow me to formulate any pre-planning based on the flow of the problem set. I would also recommend changes in order to allow for timing of pre-planning. Thanks to our good old fiend Meester Cheef Mertz, I had ‘intimate knowledge’ of pretty much every valve and switch in all four main machinery and both auxiliary spaces. This allowed me to prepare the space where I was on watch, either number 1 or 2 Main, for the upcoming training time. I had several valve configurations that would result in time-delayed faults in various systems. I could throttle a specific valve and predict a loss of main engine condenser vacuum within 5-10 minutes. I was able to run ahead of the team during the majority of the training window and keep the pace going to maximize the use of the time – as a bonus, it rushed the inspection team and hid some things we didn’t want them to see.

So, as it turns out, being an ” on’ry little bastard” worked in my favor while roaming the decks of the mighty Bird Farm AMERICA.

Fair Winds & Following Seas …

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