The Appleseed of Command

Every young officer who is worth his salt looks forward eagerly to his first command, whether it be a destroyer, a minesweeper, a submarine, a PT, or an auxiliary. There is a tremendous thrill in taking over your first ship. She is your ship – all yours – but the way to success is dotted with pitfalls for the unwary, the careless, and the indifferent. From the moment you, as the new skipper, step aboard you are on trial before your officers and men. Responsibility for the ship as well as the crew is yours. – Capt. Harley F. Cope, USN

 

The Captain of a ship is a solitary man. He must have strong shoulders to carry the heavy load of responsibility and a keen eye to see who to delegate it to. His hearing must be sharp and able to hear the advice of those under his command. His footing must be sure to navigate the pitfalls and side step the land mines that lie in his path. Decisions must be wise, calculated and unwavering. For he alone stands accountable for his crew, ship and its mission.

 

To a sailor in the United States Navy the Captain of a ship is looked upon with the highest respect. When the Captain enters a room or walks by in a passageway, everyone comes to attention to render honor to the man who bears the title of Commanding Officer. There is an awe surrounding him that made me want to stand a little straighter and stick my chest out a little farther.

 

Commanding Officer (CO) is a title placed on the senior most officer, who is the final authority on a US Navy warship. With that authority all his lawful orders must be followed to the letter.

 

Every CO is different and each has their own style in the way they command. Some are lord and masters, while others are teachers. The lords rule with an iron fist, keeping everyone on edge. This management style hinders growth of juniors and squelches the fighting spirit of warriors.

 

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode: Chain of Command: Commander Will Riker has an exchange with a Captain Richard Jellico who has temporarily relieved Captain Picard of his command while he is away on a secret mission. Below is the exchange between the two officers.

 

Captain Jellico: Let’s drop the ranks for a moment. I don’t like you. You’re insubordinate, arrogant, and willful. And I don’t think you are a particularly good first officer. But you are also the best pilot on the ship.

 

Commander Riker: Well now that the ranks are dropped Captain. I don’t like you either. You are arrogant and closed minded. You need to control everything and everyone. You don’t provide an atmosphere of trust. And you don’t inspire these people to go out of their way for you. You have everybody wound up so tight there’s no joy in anything. I don’t think you are a particularly good captain.

 

Captain Jellico: I won’t order to you to fly this mission.

 

Commander Riker: Then ask me.

 

Captain Jellico: Will you pilot the shuttle Commander?

 

Commander Riker: Yes.

 

(The Captain leaves.)

 

Riker smiles and says: You’re welcome.

 

Granted this is fiction, but it makes you wonder what goes on behind closed doors between XO’s and CO’s. Iron fisted management does get results, but does it get the desired results is my question.

 

Teachers are not weak leaders, but use a style of leadership that sees the bigger picture and has a desire to see good men become good leaders. They know the Navy will be here long after they are gone and want to pass on their wisdom to the next generation of seagoing warriors.

 

This week I’ve been doing research for my new book and had the pleasure of conversing with a shipmate and he told me a great story of a teacher Captain.

 

One late night while standing Distilling Plant watch a GSM2 caught a glimpse of a pair of khakis descending the ladder into the Aux 1 space he was manning. Thinking it might be a chief or another officer, he swore under his breath, wondering what he had done to warrant a visit at this ungodly hour of the night. Startled to see it was his commanding officer he jumped out of his chair to stand at attention and strangled the words in his throat before he blurted out, “Attention on deck,” to the empty room.

 

Shifting his weight uncomfortably, his mind screamed at him, What did you do?

 

The CO disarmed him with a smile and said, “How are things going?”

 

He replied with a quip, “Good sir, I just finished my rounds,” and offered the reports for his inspection.

 

The skipper waved off the reports and motioned to him to sit down then tossed him an apple. He too took a seat opposite of him and took a bite from his apple.

 

The GSM looked at the apple and back at the skipper, “Chief doesn’t allow us to eat while on watch.”

 

“Tell the Chief I ate two apples,” the Captain replied.

 

Conversation continued for about a half an hour about his division, family, navy housing and things that were important to a second class petty officer stationed aboard a United States Navy ship.

 

When the conversation began to wane the skipper, stood to leave and thanked the young petty officer for the insight. As he was about to leave, he turned and asked with all sincerity, “What do you think about the job I’m doing?” He gave his suggestions and his commanding officer left, leaving him feeling like he was the most important person on that ship.

 

Upon his detachment from that command, in his departing interview he was asked by his Captain, “What could I do to improve the ship?”

 

The Petty Officer responded, “Every person on this ship will gladly fight and die for you. How much better can a ship get?” The Captain smiled and the petty officer left. That relationship struck in that engine room continues to this day. That Petty Officer continued his naval career and retired a Chief Warrant Officer inspired by an apple seed placed in him by his Commanding Officer.

 

Most Captains can’t be friends with everyone, but I believe they have a duty to instill and inspire their junior officers, warrant officers, chiefs and petty officers. In doing so their Commanding Officer will have men that will live, fight and die for them.

Double Salute – Chapter 2: Briefing

Double Salute - A Fictional Novel by Mark Totilo

Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.George S. Patton

 

 

A bird farm is the nick name fleet sailors attach to an air craft carrier and the USS Carl Vinson CVN-70 is a big bird farm. The floating fortress measures three football fields in length and its primary mission is to project United States air power worldwide. Nicknamed the Golden Eagle, it is the third of the Nimitz Class built by Newport News Shipbuilding. The super carrier is powered by two Westinghouse A4W nuclear powered reactors, which drive 4 steam plants turning the four shafts propelling it in excess of 30 knots.

 

Vinson sported four different types of radar: air search, target acquisition, air traffic control and air craft landing aid. Weapons system include: MK57 Mod 3 NATO Sea Sparrow, RIM 116 Rolling Air Frame Missiles and Phalanx.

 

The ships company is around 3200 souls and swelled to over 6000 when the air wing, Commander Carrier Group three, Cruiser Destroyer Group five and Destroyer Squadron 31 came aboard.

 

The 24 story sovereign American airfield sped through the waters at 35 knots maintaining 25mph winds across the deck for the non stop flight operations.

 

“Sir,” A lanky Lieutenant Junior Grade, approached the two-star Rear Admiral Starger, who watched the flight operations from the flag bridge wing.

 

“Just a second.” The Admiral held a bony finger in the air and smiled a child like grin. “Watch this bird coming in. I think he’s going to trap the number three.”

 

The junior officer turned and watched an F-14 Tomcat fighter, glide over the stern of the huge flight deck. The powerful Pratt and Whitney F401-400 engines whistled and whined. The fuselage wrenched in the cross winds over the pitching and rolling angled deck of the Vinson. The pilot slammed the plane on the deck and throttled up to full military power igniting the afterburners for a possible bolter. The tail hook snagged the number three wire, forward momentum stopped and the pilot cut the engines. The Tomcat turned toward a yellow shirted crewmen with glowing orange flashlights, the place where he would park his aircraft.

 

“Alright,” The Admiral shouted. “Way to go Tomcat. Give the guy an underlined OK.” He pumped his fist and slapped the junior officer on the back.

 

“Sir, what is an underline OK?”

 

The Admiral looked at the JG for a bewildered moment, “How long have you been an officer?”

 

“Two years, sir.”

 

The admiral cleared his throat. “Uh huh. And how did you get on my staff?”

 

“Well . . .”

 

“Never mind,” the admiral raised his hand in the air, went back inside the flag bridge to get out of the wind. He jumped up in the padded chair where all the flight deck operations could be observed. “I wish I had the time to get back in the cockpit,” he said.

 

The young officer raised an eyebrow at the elder Carrier Group Commander. “Sir, not to be disrespectful, but you haven’t flown in over 15 years.”

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Wishful thinking. Only thing I’ll be flying is my desk.” The admiral cleared his throat and dropped the smile. “What do you need Lieutenant?”

 

“Rear Admiral, Ingersoll is sending casualties over and we need your authorization to suspend flight operations to recover the helo.”

 

“Permission granted. What happened and how bad?”

 

“One dead and one severely burned. Accident during refueling.”

 

“That’s too bad.”

 

 

Muffled voices filled Alex’s pounding head as he slipped in and out of consciousness.  Restless and choked by the odor of jet fuel and burnt flesh a fog of horror, hideous faces and stabbing words crashed into his mind with an unholy vengeance. The searing pain jolted him back to reality, with screams of anguish and torment escaping his throat.

 

He could hear himself moaning and forced his eyes open. Alex awoke in time to see the corpsman kneel over him with a syringe. His eyes widened and cried out, “No.” Before the protest registered with the corpsman, he plunged the needle of morphine into Alex’s arm. The pain subsided and consciousness slipped away and he never felt the bump of the helicopter landing on the deck of the Vinson.

 

 

Two Months Later

 

San Diego has long been a partner with the United States Navy. The city donated the land which was Balboa Park in 1919 for what would be the 85 acre sprawling complex known at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. It is affectionately called, Balboa Hospital.

 

“Hello. Petty Officer Sievers,” a familiar female voice said entering the plain cinder blocked walls. The brilliant bouquet of flowers sitting atop an adjacent night stand provided the only color in the sterile white room.

 

The pursed lips relaxed into a soft smile on Alex’s stern face, “Hello to you to Petty Officer Sievers.”

 

A petite blond with a bright smile bent to kiss his toothy grin and hug his neck. “You seem to be better today.” She unbuttoned a blue coat with an eagle, a crossed manual with a quill and one chevron on her left arm. Personnelman Third Class Cathreen Sievers removed her combination cap, placing it over the top of her coat.

 

Alex watched her make herself more comfortable. “Have the advancement results come in yet. I’m curious to see if-”

 

“You made first class.”

 

“No,” He said. “To see if you made second class.”

 

“Look. I’ll let you know as soon as the results come in. They’ll be here in a few days,” she said. “Take it easy. Did you get some rest?”

 

“I slept better last night. Pain wasn’t as intense. But it still hurts a lot.”

 

Cathreen Sievers gently patted the bandaged arms of her husband and sat down next to him. “How long before the bandages come off?”

 

“Soon I hope, Doc says he’s got to be really sure about those skin grafts he did. He doesn’t want them falling off.”

 

“Oh I see.”

 

“There’s something else bothering me.”

 

With a concerned look, Cathreen, bolted upright, “What do you mean? Are there some complications they didn’t tell you about?”

 

“No. It’s not physical. I want to feel you in my arms again,” he said. “All during the deployment that was all I could think about. Now look at me, I’m a mess and I can’t even hug my wife.”

 

“Aw honey, that’s sweet and I appreciate it. It won’t be long and you can do all the hugging you want.”

 

“You don’t think I’m grotesque like this. You’re still going to love me and all. You know, there’s still are going to be scars.”

 

Cathreen took Alex’s face in her hands and said, “I didn’t marry your arms, I married you honey and that means nothing to me. I’m just glad you’re ok. You could’ve died and then I wouldn’t have you or your grotesque arms.”

 

“Don’t remind me, I think about it all the time. I should’ve been able to save that kid. That was my job and I didn’t do it.”

 

“Look Alex, you’re in this hospital bed because you tried to save him. You wouldn’t have been able to live with yourself if you hadn’t tried to save him. That should count for something, don’t beat yourself up with it. Ok?” Cathreen said. She flashed a smile, patted his leg, sighed and rubbed her tired eyes.

 

“What’s wrong Cat?” Alex asked.

 

“Tired. Haven’t been able to sleep.”

 

“That’s too bad. How’s thing’s going at the office?”

 

“A battle group is getting ready to deploy in two weeks and some of the ships have not completed their inspections. You know what that means?”

 

“Lot’s of paperwork,” they said in unison.

 

“Yup and guess who gets to make sure everything is in order?” She pointed to herself. “So that doesn’t leave much time for sleeping. If I make second class they’re going to load me up with even more work. I’ll probably take over as section leader.”

 

“I’m sorry, honey and you coming over here to visit me every night,” Alex said. He huffed. “You go home and get some rest and don’t come tomorrow.”

 

“Now Alex J. Sievers, don’t be trying to get rid of me like that. I’ll come when I want to and go home when I want to. You know, there are some times you burn me up with the way you treat me.”

 

“Cat, I’m sorry.”

 

“I wish you would . . . Oh, never mind.” She scrunched her lips and wheeled around to look out the window.

 

“Never mind.” Alex said with an attitude. “Never Mind! What is that suppose to mean? You got something to say, say it.” I wish I hadn’t said that. Words jumped out of his mouth like one of those coiled up snake tricks in a can with out giving any thought to how it would affect someone.

 

“Every night I come in here, you’ve got this major pity party going on. It’s wearing me out. You are so self absorbed. Let somebody else into that kidney bean heart of yours for a change,” she said.

 

“You weren’t there and you aren’t the one laying in this bed with the french-fried arms.”

 

She snapped an about face and shot her words like a missile at him. “Let it go, Alex. You’re not bringing that kid back, so stop trying to.”

 

“Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m just a little worried about the report. It’s coming in today and that stuff always bothers me. Even the word ‘inquiry’ bugs me. It sounds like ‘inquisition’ or something like that,” Alex said. “Sheesh!”

 

“What are you afraid of? They might put you on a rack and stretch you?” She paused and her face softened as she visualized her husband on a rack being stretched. “That’s not a bad idea. I wouldn’t mind it if you were a little taller. Do you think they could add three or four more inches?” She giggled.

 

“Cut it out Cat. I’m serious. I have no clue what’s in that report.”

 

A young sailor, in a crisp dress blue uniform knocked and entered the room. “Petty Officer Sievers?”

 

“Yes that’s me.”

 

The sailor put an envelope on the table in front of him and lifted up a clip board for a signature and awkwardly paused when he saw both of his hands and arms bandaged. Red faced, he looked at Cathreen for help. She took the clipboard and scrawled her name.

 

“Thank you,” She said to the sailor and he turned to leave. “You want me to open it for you or would you like to do it yourself?” She flashed a mischievous smile at him. “Hmh?”

 

“Cute Cat, please open it and help me with it.”

 

Cathreen unsealed the envelope and propped it up on Alex’s chest so he could read. She looked over his shoulder and read with him. “What!” He exclaimed and threw his head back. “That’s not true. I never said that. I can’t read any more.”

 

Cathreen took the report and read on. She gasped and put her hand to her mouth.

 

“What?” He said and stared at her face. When she didn’t answer, he chided her, “Cat. Tell me what does it say?”

 

“They are saying you are fully responsible for the incident.”

 

Alex stared at her in shock and disbelief.

 

“It goes on to say, after your recovery you will be transferred to another duty station.”

 

Alex shook his head, “Where?”

 

Two Years Later

 

Alex Sievers emerged from the ink black darkness of the tunnel connecting Recruit Training Command (RTC) with Camp Moffett. The tunnel ran under a main street outside the fences of the base. He walked oblivious to the sign above him that read, ‘All companies must sing Anchors Away when entering this tunnel.’ Off in the distance a company of recruits could be heard. The Recruit Chief Petty Officer (RCPO), better known as ‘Rpock’ to the recruits, barked, “Your left. Your left. Your left, right, left.”

 

He admired and watched as the achievement flags whipped and snapped in the brisk wind. When the company turned the corner to cross the street, he spotted the Color Company Flag. The gold fringed, white flag emblazoned with the words, ‘Color Company, Recruit Training,’ marked this company as the company who achieved the highest score in four areas of training for a graduating class. The flag depicted four blue boxes in a diamond formation, one with a star for compartment readiness, another of a crossed rifles for drill, an ‘A’ for physical fitness and an ‘S’ for scholastics.

 

Alex swept the tight formation for any breaks in their stride. He deduced by their synchronized step they were ready for graduation. The Rpock snapped a crisp salute; Alex returned the salute with a nod of approval. The company marched down the ramp and disappeared into the blackness of the tunnel. The melody of 75 male voices singing Anchor’s Away wafted back to him. He watched until the last row of the formation disappeared into the darkness and the voices faded.

 

A red aiguillette hung from the shoulder of his dark blue uniform which distinguished him as an RTC company commander. Aiguillette’s found their origin as the lace to fasten the plates of armor by French knights. Short loops on one side would act as a hinge, while longer braided; more ornate cords tied the armor. When the cumbersome armor passed into antiquity the cords continued as part of the uniform worn by soldiers and the complexity of the aiguillette signified which division or regiment one may belong to.

 

Petty Officer First Class Alex Sievers slipped on a pair of aviator sunglasses and flipped open his worn leather bound notebook. The notes in his folder fluttered in the cold spring wind. He slapped the notebook in time to keep them from being scattered in the gust.

 

“Alex, Alex. Wait up,” said Boatswains Mate Second Class John McCarthy. “Whew. I didn’t know if I was going to catch up to you.”

 

“I thought only the recruits had to double-time-it around here,” Alex said and laughed at his panting over weight assistant company commander.

 

“Don’t get smart their transceivers or I’ll twist you into a pretzel.”

 

Alex smiled and started toward the Division 12 barracks.

 

John tucked his shirt in around his oversized pot belly and in a futile effort tried to straighten his gig line. As he struggled to get the buttons on his shirt in line with his belt buckle he snorted. “You know Alex, I really hate this monkey suit.”

 

“Maybe if you cut back on the cheese burgers, it would fit you better.”

 

“I wouldn’t go there if I were you. They’ve already threatened me with the fat boy program if I don’t shed a few bricks.”

 

Alex smiled and bit his lip to keep from laughing.

 

“Go ahead and laugh. We’ll see how well you do without me.”

 

“I’m not laughing,” Alex said and tried not to laugh.

 

John pulled back his fist and punched Alex in the shoulder.

 

“Ow, that hurt.” He grabbed his shoulder and rubbed out the pain.

 

“Good I’m glad and if you keep laughing I’m going to knock you into next week. You skinny little twerps ought to try being fat. See how you like it.”

 

“I keep in shape and try to eat right. You want to go work out with me tonight. Maybe we can put the gloves on and spar a few rounds.”

 

John thought for a moment. “You’re on. Then I can really beat the tar out of you for laughing at me.”

 

“We’ll just see about that.”

 

John paused, grimaced and snapped his fingers. “I got to take Mary Lou to church tonight, but how does tomorrow sound?”

 

“Church?” Alex said. “Do you go to Sunday School too?” Alex laughed and slapped his husky 6′ 4″ assistant on the back.

 

“Yes, What’s it to you? By the way after what you went through I’m surprised you don’t go too.”

 

“I don’t talk about religion or politics. So let’s not go there. Ok?”

 

“Alright, but don’t blame me if you don’t get your fire insurance paid up.”

 

He stopped walking and fired back at him. “Look John, I’m not against God, but I am not for him either so don’t try to cram your religious garbage down my throat. And while we are on the subject I got one question, where was God when that kid was dying?” Alex said disgusted. “Aw, never mind.” He waved his hand at John and started walking again.

 

John backed off. “Did you get a look at the list of new recruits?”

 

“Yep,” Alex said flatly.

 

“Slim pickings again?”

 

“We got a couple that might help, but other than that not much else to speak of.” Alex said. The thought of not having a very good class silenced both of them. “Let’s stay positive. If we work them hard, who knows what can happen?”

 

“That last class was a mess. How did we even finish fifth I’ll never know?”

 

“Don’t worry John. I think I’ve figured this thing out. I compared all the classes we pushed and I’ve been talking to some other commanders. I don’t think it’s about high ASVAB scores and muscles. It’s about helping them catch the Navy vision and embrace it. I think I am starting to finally understand what we are trying to accomplish here. We light the fire and let it burn. We can do this John.”

 

“Wow, when did you turn motivational speaker?”

 

 

Company commander’s Lounge Division 12 teemed with activity as commanders waited for the division officer to arrive for the new graduation class briefing. Every week a new group of recruits arrived and is assigned to companies for an eight week training cycle. There are ten companies in each graduation class, with a company commander responsible to school the recruits in basic naval traditions, duties and prepare recruits to serve in the fleet. Each company commander is provided with an assistant to help conduct the training.

 

Voices buzzed from the lounge engaged in coking and joking; a fine naval tradition. It is reserved for times when engaged in another fine tradition of hurry up and wait. To participate in the ritual one must grab a Coke, shoot the breeze and try to catch up on the latest scuttle butt going around.  A familiar voice pierced the cacophony of voices, “Alex.” The voice was accompanied by a hand and a big toothy grin.

 

“Hatch,” Alex said, when he grasped the outstretched hand. “How the heck are ya? First company?”

 

“I’m fine. Yeah. Thought I would push boots to get my career out of the dog house.”

 

“Theresa and the kids?” Alex pumped his hand again and let go.

 

“They’re taking some time to get settled. The kids weren’t too happy moving from sunny San Diego to the Windy City. It’s quite a change from beaches and 75 degrees all the time to -35 degrees wind chill.”

 

“How hard was that?”

 

“They still haven’t talked to me since they found out we were coming here,” Hatch said.

 

“They’ll thaw out. Give it time. Look at you, you still look like the Notre Dame mascot.”

 

“Why do you think I moved here? The golden dome is only 100 miles from here. Maybe we can do a little; Cheer, Cheer for old Notre Dame.”

 

“Wake up the Echo’s cheering her name,” Alex sang the next line to the University of Notre Dame fight song.

 

Then the rest of the company commanders jumped in, “Send a volley cheer on high, shake down the thunder from the sky. What through the odds be great or small, Notre Dame will win after all. While her loyal sons are marching onward to victory.” When finished, they all let out a big cheer.

 

When the cheering died down, Alex said to Hatch, “I’d like that. Only if they’re playing Kansas, that’s my team. But I’d have to check with-“

 

The door to the lounge banged open, plunging the room into a startled silence. Rod Peach emerged from a cloud of blue cigar smoke. He swaggered around the room checking out the competition. “Don’t we sound like a bunch of canaries? I personally like the Miami Hurricanes,” Rod sneered, turned to Hatch and extended his hand, “Hatch Harris, how the heck are ya?”

 

Hatch took his hand out of courtesy and pumped it once then let go. “Rod.”

 

“Been a long time. Last time I saw you, you were going to Captain’s Mast for welding the old man’s escape hatch shut.”

 

Hatch smiled and said, “Don’t remind me, but it was one of my crowning achievements.”

 

Rod took the cigar from his gritted teeth and flicked ashes on Alex’s shoe.

 

“Do you mind?” Alex said and shook the ashes from his shoe.

 

“I’m sorry transceivers,” Rod said with a note of sarcasm. “I didn’t see you standing there.”

 

Alex glared back at Rod and started to respond when a company commander announced, “Attention on deck.” Each commander snapped to attention.

 

“As you were gentlemen,” Lieutenant Commander Chris Hendrick said. He stepped to the platform and put a leather folder on it and rubbed his eye. “Peach, put the cigar out.”

 

“Yes sir,” Rod said and shoved it into an ash tray next to Alex, but didn’t fully snuff it out.

 

His eyes started to water from the smoldering cigar, so he shoved it into the sand to snuff it out. He flashed Rod the evil eye. Rod put his hand up to his face and made like he was crying.

 

I’m going to get that guy. If it’s the last freaking thing, I do, Alex thought to himself.

 

LCDR Hendrick shuffled his papers and did a quick visual inspection. “Ok gents. The new captain has made some changes to the training schedule and it’s not good. Inspections will start one week earlier.”

 

The men murmured and chattered amongst themselves. A commander sitting by the door raised his voice above the din. “We barely have enough time with two weeks to get them ready. How are we going to do it with only one week, sir?”

 

All the other company commanders agreed and pelted LCDR Hendrick with questions.

 

“Hold it down! I know, I know. I said the same thing myself. But the new CO wants to spend less time on folding clothes and making a rack.”

 

“I got enough trouble just trying to teach these yahoos how to march in a week, let alone trying to get them to swing an M1 Carbide through the sixteen count manual,” another commander said.

 

LCDR Hendrick stood like a statue behind the podium and let his commanders vent their frustration.

 

“What are we going to do with the extra week? Or are they just going to 86 another week off the schedule and save some money,” Alex probed.

 

The question gave LCDR Hendrick the segue he needed to drop the real bomb on them. “Captain Calaghan, spent the last two years out in the fleet and found some serious discrepancies in the firefighting training.” No one made a sound. “The extra week will be dedicated to firefighting.”

 

Alex swallowed hard and grabbed his right arm when it twitched.

 

A crooked smile crossed Rod’s face as he took in Alex’s reaction.

 

“The . . . the school has been severely understaffed for months. How will they handle the extra load?” Alex blurted out.

 

“That’s a good question Petty Officer Sievers,” LCDR Hendrick said.

 

“The company commanders will conduct most of the training and the school staff will provide limited assistance.” Commander Hendrick trailed off and then gathered his notes. “You guys will have to brush up on your firefighting skills.”

 

The commanders whispered amongst themselves.

 

“Are there anymore questions?” LCDR Hendrick looked around the room. “If not, then you’re dismissed.”

 

The men started to leave. “Hold on a second. I almost forgot there is one more thing,” LCDR Hendrick said above the mounting ruckus. “Sit for one more minute. I do have some good news.”

 

“Whew, that’s a relief,” Hatch said.

 

“There will no longer be a ‘Color Company.’ Instead the captain will be reinstating the Double Salute at the graduation ceremony. Many of you are too young to remember it. It used to be a very prestigious award, until it was ended during the Vietnam War.” He paused for a moment and cleared his throat. “During Nam moral was so bad, some of the traditions got lost. Many became apathetic and did only enough to scoot by. Captain Callaghan, is a throw back to the days when high value was attached to Naval tradition. He wants to change that and this is part of that push.”

 

“What exactly is the Double Salute, commander?” Hatch said.

 

“The company that most displays military bearing, excellence throughout the training and rises above the other companies in the grad class will be eligible for the Double Salute. However here’s the twist. It carries a mystique about it, because no one ever knows for sure who will get it until the reviewing officer saluted one company on graduation day twice. It was the ultimate honor because it put you on your toes right until the passing in review.”

 

“What’s in it for us?” Rod said.

 

“You will receive a letter of commendation and it will be the highest honor here at Recruit Training Command.”

 

“Wow,” the commanders said. They started to talk again amongst themselves.

 

“There are other changes in the works. Your graduation class will be implementing many of these. With all the changes there’s going to be a lot more work to be done. I’ll be calling on each of you for input and a lot of overtime. Good luck gentlemen,” LCDR Hendrick said.

 

John leaned into Alex and said, “What do you think? Think we got a shot?”

 

“Well I-“ Alex said

 

“You might as well forget about it right now,” Rod sneered. He strutted over to where Alex sat, leaned into him and almost touched his nose with his own. “You haven’t even been close to finishing first in any other class. What makes you think you got any shot? The Double Salute will be the pen that will write my ticket.”

 

“What? A ticket on Mr. Toad’s wild ride?”

 

The other company commanders snickered. Rod stood up straight and took an unwrapped cigar out of his shirt pocket and then a silver Zippo lighter out of his pant pocket. They all stared at him until he lit the lighter and thrust it into Alex’s face.

 

Alex jerked to avoid the lunge.

 

“Afraid of a little fire scarecrow?”

 

Alex stood and glared. The two stood nose to nose. Rod looked down at Alex’s shoes then met his glare again. “Maybe that’s why you’re still a loser who can’t win anything. That crow on your shoulder is only from kissing a long line of butts.”

 

John slapped Alex on the back and pushed him toward the door, “Come on Alex, this chump is not worth it.”

 

Rod lit his cigar, “Don’t forget Ingersoll scarecrow,” he said and laughed.

 

To break up the tension LCDR Hendrick asked, “Alex, I just wanted to let you know your application has been completed and submitted for review for the Limited Duty Officer program.”

 

With a mock laugh Rod whirled around, “Ha. That’ll be the day. Your chances of being an officer are as good as you winning the Double Salute.”

 

Alex moved toward Rod, when John grabbed him from behind, spun him around and pushed him out the door. “Ooooo, that guy burns me up.”

 

Hatch came up from behind and gave Alex the thumbs up. “He’s a jerk. Always has been and always will be.”

 

“You’re right. I let him get under my skin.”

 

“I’ve got to run. I’ll catch up with you later,” Hatch said.

 

Alex nodded to Hatch. “This is our chance, John. I know how to beat him.”

 

“What about the firefighting?” John asked.

 

“We’ll find a way around it. I’ll figure something out.”

 

“I didn’t know you applied to the Limited Duty Officer program.” John slapped him on the back. “Congratulations. That’s great,” he said, then wagged his finger in Alex’s face. “But I’m not going to salute you even if you become an officer. No way, not going to do it.”

 

“If we win the Double Salute, that Letter of Commendation could be enough to get me in the door. It’s my dream John. I decided on LDO first and then after meeting the requirements I can convert to being a regular line officer,” Alex said excitedly. “Meet me at the NCO club for lunch and we’ll talk about it. I got some things I got to do.”

 

 

Alex stood in the foyer and allowed his eyes to adjust to the low light. The pungent smell of alcohol prickled his olfactory nerve conjuring up memories of a less stressful time in exotic ports of call with his beloved shipmates. The pleasant thought settled his reeling mind.

 

“Little early for a drink Petty Officer,” an unseen voice said in the inky blackness.

 

“No sir, looking for Rat.”

 

“Looking for a rat, did you say?”

 

“No sir, Robert Torcellini. We call him Rat because of his initials.”

 

The older gentlemen turned on his bar stool and chuckled. “Oh you mean Torch. He’s not here, said something about having to run over to Supply. He’ll be back in about 20 minutes.”

 

“Dang,” Alex said. “I guess I’ll come back then.”

 

“Why don’t you wait for him,” the older gentlemen said as he pulled out a bar stool.

 

“Alright,” Alex said as he welcomed the thought of resting his tired legs.

 

Alex’s eyes adjusted to the light and could see the officer uniform of the man bidding him to sit. “Good afternoon sir,” Alex said as he sat down in awe of the four gold bars on the old man’s shoulders.

 

The old man raised his glass to acknowledge the more formal greeting. “You know Petty Officer?”

 

“Sievers, Alex Sievers.”

 

“You know Petty Officer Sievers, Alex Sievers. I’ve met a lot of Petty Officers like you through out my career who have shown me the same kind of respect and only now at the end of my career do I understand the value of each and every one of them.”

 

“Sir, I don’t follow you.”

 

“That rope on your shoulder commands the respect with out question by the men in your company as do these bars on my shoulders your respect with out question. These bars didn’t come with out a price; they weren’t just given to me. I had to earn them.”

 

“When you say ‘earn,’ what exactly do you mean?”

 

“You’re a Petty Officer First Class, right?”

 

“Yes sir,” Alex responded.

 

“Then be the best First Class then become a Chief. Then be a great Chief and become a Senior Chief. Then be a great Senior Chief and so on, and so on up through the ranks.”

 

“Ok?”

 

“Be the best where you are at and the advancement will come.” He leaned over to Alex and lowered his voice. “But the key to advancement is not kissing the butt of the guy over you.” He leaned back and swirled his glass around in his left hand. “Well maybe, just a little. The key is to respect the guys under you.” He pointed with his right index finger to the floor. “That’s where us big cheeses lose it. We think we are prima donnas and forget about you boys down in the bilges covered in God knows what.” He took a long pull on his drink and then stared at Alex. “Then maybe some day you’ll be sitting on this bar stool telling some wide eyed Petty Officer the same thing.”

 

“Thank you sir, I appreciate that. Sir what’s your name?”
“Captain Orr. Retired.”

 

Alex stifled the smile.

 

The old man waved his hand at Alex. “Don’t bother trying to hold it in. I’ve gotten used to it I get it all the time.”

 

“Retired Sir?”

 

“Yep. Putting me out to pasture after 34 years. This is my retirement party. I’m just a little early. Doesn’t start for another four hours.”

 

“Wow. That is phenomenal. Congratulations.”

 

“Thank you,” Captain Orr said flatly. “What about you son, what are your plans? I see you’re pushing boots so that means you’re career minded.”

 

“Well sir, I’m being considered for Chief, but I really want to be an officer. I’ve applied to the LDO program.”

 

“Limited Duty Officer, why not a regular Line Officer and pursue command.”

 

“I’m working on my degree now, but I just feel I’ve got to make the jump as soon as possible and I love the job I’m in so I thought I could combine both worlds. Once I get my degree I’ll try to convert to a Line Officer.”

 

“Good for you. If you ever need any advice, let me know. I’ll be around. Just can’t up and leave the old girl after all these years.”

 

Mark Totilo is a US Navy Veteran, author and owner of Professional Communications. He has a passion for freedom, truth and to tell stories. For more information about him or his book, please visit his website: MarkTotilo.com. If you enjoy his work or would like to comment, please do so. You are also welcome to subscribe to this blog.

Double Salute – Chapter 1: High Seas

Double Salute - A Fictional Novel by Mark Totilo

Chapter 1: High Seas

Sweet it is, when on the high seas the winds are lashing the waters, to gaze from the land on another’s struggles. – Lucretius

 

A tear rolled off the cheek of a chambray clad seaman into the phosphorescent blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Mingled together with the saline sea, a tear now captured in the bottle of the cavernous deep, inscribed on the parchment of eternity. The gentle sea breeze answered his anguished mind with one word, Peace as a gust of wind softened his wary brow and tortured heart. With a deep breath, he inhaled the fresh air and watched the darkness envelope the calm lifeless sea.

 

Boatswains Mate Second Class Ben Mattingly took one final moment to ponder the course that lie ahead. Approaching voices coaxed him back to the task at hand as he worked the probe cable release back and forth one more time.

 

 

The warm calm winds of spring energized the gentle salt spray misting the port bridge wing of a US Navy ship on patrol in the Indian Ocean. A lookout scanned the horizon for contacts silhouetted on the backdrop of a blazing ball of fire melting into the horizon. The glorious pinks and oranges yielded to the purples and grays. He peered to the deck below as preparations continued for this evening’s underway replenishment, then to the glassy sea. He swept the sea and sky one more time for signs of other vessels or aircraft. The crewman lowered his binoculars and keyed the microphone of his sound powered phone set, “Port bridge wing lookout, reporting. All clear.”

 

 

The projected power of the United States’ as a blue-water Navy allows this country to maintain control over the shipping lanes across the globe. Over these deep waters, vigilant American men and women serve aboard armed flotillas to safeguard the torch of freedom. These guardians are poised to strike anywhere in the world at any time those who would attempt to snuff out the light of liberty.

 

One such guardian, the USS Ingersoll DD-990 patrolled the mouth of the Persian Gulf in the North Arabian Sea. Ingersoll named for Admiral Royal Ingersoll, commissioned on April 12 1980 is the 28th of its class, built by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, MS. The Spruance Class Destroyer, an innovative modular designed ship, devised to allow easier and quicker modernization was the blueprint all new Navy ships would follow.

 

Darkness fully enveloped the destroyer; blood red lights bathed the bridge of Ingersoll in an eerie crimson glow. Shadowy figures slid in and out of patches of ruby-colored light which illuminated the weathered face of Commander Tyler Austin, Commanding Officer.

 

The tall pocked faced officer rolled thoughts over in his mind like a rotisserie as he peered out the starboard bridge wing window. The scheduled 107 days underway were wearing on him, his men and the equipment.  His voice cracked when he spoke, “Conning Officer, distance to Kiska?”

 

This being the second Western Pacific deployment as Commanding Officer and a brand new ship didn’t make it any easier. He had not been able to enjoy himself as much as the previous cruise. Battle Group Charlie would be the first task force to test the new operational procedures from lessons learned during the USS Nimitz’s CVN-68 extended Mediterranean deployment during the Libyan Crisis in 1982. The CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) wanted to test the durability of a battle group on an extended stay in the Indian Ocean.

 

Ingersoll maintained a northern 300 mile Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) picket station from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson CVN-70 in the North Arabian Sea. High above the deck the SPS-40 search radar, the eyes in the sky, swept a 300 mile swath in the air space surrounding the ship for air traffic. This information would be data-linked back to the Carl Vinson along with southern picket station patrol ship USS Paul F. Foster DD-964. Three hundred miles past each picket ship, an E-2 Hawkeye aircraft transmitted back radar data to the carrier. All this information is collated and disseminated to the rest of the battle group. It gave commanders a vast picture and provided an early warning view of any type of hostile aircraft in the operational area.

 

The conning officer lowered his binoculars and turned toward the captain’s chair. “Four hundred and fifty yards astern, we are at six degrees to the left of Romeo Corpen. All engines are ahead standard, indicating revolutions for thirteen knots, steering course zero, zero, five, sir.”

 

Most of the ports of call were packed into the first part of the cruise. Two weeks from San Diego to Hawaii then thirty-five days at sea only to have one day in Japan. Four days at sea then into Hong Kong, Christmas week in the Republic of the Philippians (known to sailors as the PI) then the most grueling part of the cruise. There wasn’t much time for recreation in the PI, most of the time was spent in meetings and planning for the marathon at sea. There wouldn’t be another port of call for over three months.

 

“Excellent ship handling Mr. Steiner. Has Kiska closed up Romeo?”

 

The American Navy distinguished itself by being able to operate on the high seas and replenish themselves by commissioned replenishment ships which is a true and strong sign of a blue-water navy.

 

“No sir, she has not Romeo is still dipped. She’s not completed her preparations to receive us alongside.”

 

Ingersoll made ready to do just that and go along side the floating gas station USNS Kiska AE-35. A United States Navy Ship (USNS) is not a commissioned ship, but the property of the U.S. Navy operated by civilian personnel with a limited amount of Navy staff. The ammunition/oiler, is an auxiliary support ship, operated by the Military Sealift Command ship that plays an integral part of battle group operations.

 

 

 

Deep within the bowels of Ingersoll men pined the remaining hours of the day in berthing areas. These compartments were for enlisted men to sleep, shower and stow personal gear. There are three forward and another three aft, with about 50 men each. Beds or racks as they are better known are three high, with storage underneath each and a standup locker for hanging uniforms.

 

“C’mon Alex. I’m growing a beard over here,” said a young black sailor sitting around a circular table squirreled in the back of the compartment.

 

Alex Sievers, a sandy blonde, wore a crisp bleached white t-shirt with sleeves rolled up to his shoulders. He studied his playing cards and rubbed his square chin.

 

“We don’t have all night, Sievers,” said Rod Peach, a lanky second class who stretched his long arm over the table and flicked Alex’s forehead. “Hello. Is anyone home?”

 

Alex grabbed his hand and glared deep into Rod’s dark brown eyes.

 

“Am I bothering you, Alex?” Rod said and then looked at his hand. “If you’d really like to hold my hand, maybe we can find another place more private.” Rod batted his eyelashes at him.

 

The two other poker players chuckled.

 

Jerk. Alex released his hand in embarrassment and refocused on his cards. He picked up a chip and tossed it into the pot. “I’ll see you and,” Alex said and paused for a moment, picked up the rest of his chips and shoved them in the kitty. “Raise you, whatever I got here.”

 

Rod raised an eyebrow then thought for a moment as he rubbed his jet black hair and then pushed the rest of his chips into the pot. “Call.”

 

The sailor to Rod’s right whistled and laid his cards down. “Too rich for my blood, I’m out.”

 

“Me too,” the Seaman Apprentice to Rod’s left said.

 

Rod took a puff of his cigar and blew a grey-blue haze of smoke in Alex’s face. Alex coughed as he laid his cards down. “Full House.”

 

Rod’s half smile drooped as Alex wrapped his arms around the pile of chips. “Not so fast, transceivers,” Rod said through cigar clenched teeth. He snapped his cards on the table and grinned. “Royal Flush. Read ‘em and weep sucker.” He smiled, stood and pulled the chips away from Alex. “Nice playing with you loser.”

 

When he leaned over, two playing cards in his open pocket caught Alex’s eye. “Hold your  peaches.” Alex yanked the cards out so everyone around could see them. “You’re a blasted cheat.”

 

Rod shoved the table into Alex, pinning him into his seat. Adrenaline shot through his body, tightened his senses and with catlike quickness, he knocked the table over and pounced on Rod.

 

Poker chips skittered across the polished deck. Alex lunged like a linebacker; he caught Rod in the mid section, wrapped his arms around him and threw him to the deck. Rod rabbit punched the back of Alex’s head as Alex pummeled him with body blows to the midsection. Several crewmen yanked Alex off while others jerked Rod to his feet. Rod straightened his blue chambray shirt and said, “I’m ok.” When the men released him he grabbed for Alex’s throat, but could not breach the blockade.

 

“I’ll destroy you, Sievers,” Rod said puffing through gritted-teeth. The vein in his neck pulsated with each word. “Next time, you won’t have anybody to save your behind.”

 

Alex tried to wrench free from his captors and shouted back at him red faced, “Let’s go man. How about we go down to the weight room right now and finish this?”

 

The 1MC crackled. A boatswain’s pipe twittered a long blast. “All hands, man your underway replenishment stations. All hands, man your unrep station. Smoking Lamp is out through out the ship.”

 

Rod yanked free from the sailors, glared and snorted at Alex, then stormed out of the room banging up the ladder to the main deck.

 

 

The underway refueling is conducted in radio silence and is orchestrated via the use of signal flags hoisted to the yard arms in the lofty masts. The receiving ship takes station behind the oiler and orders the course to sail on.

 

“Are we ready to go alongside Lieutenant?” Commander Austin barked.

 

“All refueling stations indicate manned and ready. Kiska still has romeo dipped.”

 

The signal flag, red field with a yellow cross is used for the ‘R’ in phonetic language and is communicated as Romeo. The flag is hoisted on either the port are starboard yard arm by the oiler to indicate which side to approach and be refueled.

 

A signalman sang out, “Romeo closed up.”

 

“Belay that sir, Kiska has closed up Romeo and is ready to receive us,” Lieutenant Steiner said. “Request permission to go alongside?”

 

“Permission granted.”

 

“All engines ahead full,” barked Lieutenant Steiner. “Indicate revolutions for eighteen knots.”

 

The lee helmsman repeated the order back to the conning officer. The quartermaster taking bearings shouted out, “Four hundred yards to Kiska.”

 

Electronics Technician Second Class Alex Sievers, peered into the thick impenetrable darkness. He closed his eyes and let the salty, humid wind invigorate him and chase away the remnants of confrontation. Sea billows lapped the hull in a hypnotic tempo and relaxed his cavitating mind. He inhaled the warm night air, and allowed his thoughts to drift beyond the sea, back to his beloved Cathreen. A conundrum of passions juxtaposed his two loves and begged a paradoxical question in his mind that always went unanswered. Why when at sea I long for my wife, but when in port I long for my mistress the sea?

 

The sea was Alex’s first love; he adored the whole shipboard life, the thrill and energy that came with underway replenishment. It exhilarated him; the high speed approach, getting the lines across, the breakaway and the smell of the JP5 jet fuel. Other sailors hated these menial tasks. Not Alex, he volunteered for everything he could: underway replenishment, vertical replenishment, flight quarters and even painting the ship. He did it because that’s what fleet sailor do. They sail, fix and run ships.

 

His passion for the sea began as a small boy when his Daddy would tell him tales of journeys on the ocean blue. Embers were fanned into full blown holocausts of zeal as he read stories of dashing young officers, gallant battles and exotic ports of call.  When his fantasy became reality he wanted to enjoy every minute of it.

 

He loved his job and did it well. The Navy provided equal opportunity for all, but rewards those who pursue excellence. His superiors took notice of this and it reflected in great evaluations which allowed him to ascend the ranks quicker than others.

 

Ben Mattingly clomped his big hand down on Alex’s broad shoulder interrupting his daydream. “Petty Officer Sievers, what’s up?”

 

“Mattingly! What’s going on? Thought you were afraid of the dark.”

 

“The guy I usually have man the sound-powered phones has the flu and has a rack pass. Doc says he needs to rest for 24 hours.”

 

Alex leaned up against the lifeline. “Why don’t you get another one of your deck apes to do it?”

 

“Lots of new guys and nobody’s trained to do it yet and you know how the old man likes everything to be perfect. So I volunteered. Besides, I needed some fresh air. It was getting a little stale in the compartment. They had beans for chow tonight.”

 

“I know what you mean,” Alex said.

 

“I’ve been meaning to ask you if you believed in God?”

 

“I’m pretty busy and I’m sure running the universe keeps him pretty busy too. So I don’t give him much thought and he probably doesn’t give me much thought either. Why?”

 

“The way you’re leaning on that life line. I thought for sure you were a man of faith. I’m a Christian and I wouldn’t lean on a life line like that,” Mattingly said. “If that thing snaps, we might find you and-“ He paused and shrugged his shoulders. “Then again we might not. Oh well. What do you think is going to happen when you die?”

 

Alex jumped off the life line like he’d been bitten by a snake and nervously chuckled. “Never gave it much thought; besides I got my whole life ahead of me to think about it.”

 

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that. Anything could happen-“

 

“Is holy Joe preaching at you Petty Officer Sievers?” The Safety Officer interjected from about 10 feet away.

 

“Yeah I guess so,” Alex said.

 

“Well, tell him to leave you alone and come over here. We’re going alongside, get your men ready.”

 

Lieutenant Latham, Deck Division Officer, donned a white vest with the words SAFETY OFFICER, stenciled on the back. Regulations required either a commissioned officer or a Chief Petty Officer to be present to insure safety precautions are followed during any hazardous evolution.

 

The Lieutenant corralled Alex and lowered his voice. “Hey Alex, I heard about what happened in the berthing compartment. If you know what’s good for you, stay away from Peach. Him I don’t mind busting, but I’d rather not see you get in any trouble. You’re on the skipper’s short list for Command Advancement. Keep your nose clean.” He winked and walked away.

 

“Yes sir,” Alex said and smiled. “Thank you sir.” He paused for a moment and stared in disbelief at the officer’s back. Alex mouthed the word “yes” and pumped his fist in jubilation. He grinned and said out of the corner of his mouth, “Line up we they’ve closed up Romeo we’re going alongside.” Seaman stirred who’d been hiding in the shadows.

 

“Don’t forget what I said Alex,” Mattingly said, as he walked away.

 

Ooh, that Mattingly. He had to go and start talking about God, he thought to himself.

 

Gas turbine engines roared to life and belched clouds of gas and smoke into the air. Jet engines spun the massive variable pitch propellers and thrashed the water. The ship shook and lurched forward. The props boiled the sea water into a caldron of frothing foaming, while the entire perimeter hissed into a shroud of bubbles by the Prairie Masking System. This agitation created an acoustic impedance mismatch around the hull and disguised the low frequency noise emanating from within the vessel. This process rendered the ship’s noise signature anonymous.

 

The Spruance Class Destroyer knifed through the placid dark ocean water toward the tanker for what should be a routine refueling.

 

USS Kiska, awash with red lights buzzed with men scurrying about the deck making last minute preparations for the refueling. About eight seconds after Ingersoll’s bow crossed the stern of the ammunition ship it slowed to a matching speed and glided into parallel course. Alex watched the main deck pitching and rolling. The refueling towers flanked the port and starboard sides, one forward and one aft, which would shuttle the refueling apparatus and deliver the JP5 fuel to the thirsty destroyer.

 

 

Ingersoll pitched and rolled with each wave and glided alongside the seagoing gas station in to Romeo Corpen position. One hundred and forty seven feet separated the oiler/ammunition ship and the surface combatant. Before the two moving monoliths evened out, Alex, the line captain, turned to the bodies along the lifeline. “Take cover. Incoming monkey-fist.”

 

As the Romeo signal flag is hauled down men scrambled to the opposite side of the ship. Crack. Thud. A Gunners Mate fired a projectile called a monkey-fist from a modified M14 rifle, which hit the superstructure of Ingersoll.

 

A monkey-fist is a ball bearing wrapped in a thin piece of rope, which is tied to a light, but durable piece of line. This line is pulled over by the refueling teams on the Destroyer, then a smaller rope, then a heavier rope attached to a steel cable.

 

Alex reached for the steel cable and attached it to the fueling receiver station. He checked it and said, “Tension cable.”

 

Mattingly keyed the sound powered phones, “Tension Cable.”

 

A few seconds passed and the cable stiffened. Alex watched the cable tighten. “Ok.”

 

“She’s tight,” Mattingly said into the sound powered phones.

 

“Alright guys, lets get that bad boy seated. I want it on the first shot.” Alex stood in front of the line crew and watched the refueling hose coming down the cable. “Heave, heave,” Alex shouted.

 

When the hose was about 20 feet away, Alex yelled, “Run with it, Run with it.”  The team turned, ran aft with the rope, while the refueling hose barreled down the steel cable and slammed into the receiver on the port side of the ship. “Man I love that part.”

 

After the hose seated, the Safety Officer, inspected the hose for a proper seal. He gave the thumbs up to Mattingly and he passed on the information, “We’ve got a good seal, filler up.”

 

Alex watched with anticipation as the safety officer gave the thumbs up to Mattingly and threw his arms in the air in a victory sign. “Good job guys. I’m still perfect.” Men high-fived each other and applauded. “I’ll stay tonight. Who wants to stay with me?”

 

“I’ll stay,” a voice said from the back of the group.  Seaman Odom stepped from behind the crowd.  The rest of the group scattered like a bunch of ants to salvage what was left of the evening.

 

 

Commander Austin jumped down from his chair and swaggered over to the Conning Officer.  He turned so no one could hear the conversation. “Be ready to make an emergency breakaway.  The Intel report says Iraqi jets have been out sight-seeing. This is my last cruise before being promoted, so I don’t need one of those terrorists blowing a hole in my boat.”

 

“Aye, aye sir.  I’ll get us out of here, if one of those birds so much as spits in this direction.” The junior officer studied the line-etched face of the old salt standing before him. He eyed the captain’s granite jaw jutting out and his deep-set eyes glowing in the crimson light, it made him look like a demon. He swallowed and shook off the shiver up his spine.

 

The skipper rubbed his chin and furrowed his brow.  He wondered, when did the salt start to rust my steel will? Commanding the lead ship in the Destroyer Squadron 31 (DESRON) didn’t turn out to be the walk in the park he expected. Constantly under the DESRON Commander’s scrutiny, he wondered if he would be recommended for promotion to a full bird captain.

 

He convinced the Commodore to fly his flag on Ingersoll by passing the readiness examination with flying colors. For months, he’d worked his crew hard preparing the ship for this Western Pacific deployment. But, he earned their respect, when he got down on his hands and knees to help make the engine room sparkle for the annual Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (OPPE). Commander Austin learned long ago to motivate by example. He spent countless hours with each department head insuring success and proudly stood on the bridge wing when the Engineering ‘E’ was painted on the side of the ship.

 

A flawless performance is all he needed, to have the inside track to being promoted to captain and eventually flag rank.  For two years he’d worked and trained his crew and so far the cruise had gone off without a hitch. With five months behind him, the pressure mounted. He could see the finish line. Would he make it? He could feel a cold, twinge of the possibility of failure ebbing at his confidence. He kept telling himself stay vigilant; don’t let your guard down. “Conning Officer, how long until we run up the prep flag?”

 

The prep flag is a green and yellow trapizodial shaped flag ran up the yard arm by the receiving ship and dipped below the yard arm to indicate 15 minutes until completion of refueling and breakaway.

 

The startled junior officer groped in the darkness for words. “Uh . . . ah . . . I don’t know sir.”

 

“Well, find out or I will relieve you of your duties,” Commander Austin barked.

 

“Uh . . . Aye sir.” The Conning officer yanked the phone on the conning station and cranked the handle on the box.  The phone made a whir-whir sound, when he cranked it. “How long before we are 100 percent?” He nodded his head a few times. “Ok, thanks.” He jammed the phone back in the cradle and approached the captain.

 

The junior officer cleared his throat hoping to get the captain’s attention. “What is it Mr. Steiner?”

 

“Captain, they just dipped the prep flag.”

 

He reached his high water mark and fired back, “That’s not good enough. We need to get out of here now!”

 

The bustle on the bridge quieted. “Sir, they can’t go any faster. It’ll be just a few more…”

 

“Mr. Steiner, I don’t think you understand where we are,” Commander Austin said and took a step toward the frightened lieutenant. “This is a war zone. There are planes flying around up there.” The captain pointed to the overhead and twirled his index finger. “Planes with missiles that can sink this ship. Do you remember the HMS Sheffield, Mr. Steiner?”

 

“No sir,” the young officer said, cursing himself for not remembering.

 

“The British ship, Sheffield, took an Exocet missile at the waterline amidships and almost sank her.” He took another step closer and lowered his voice, “Do you want to be responsible for that happening to my boat?”

 

Unable to defend himself, he eked out the only two words Commander Austin would tolerate, “No sir.”

 

“Then get it done. Now!”

 

“Aye sir.” He backed away, he kept his head up and remembered, I am an officer and I must be an example to the sailors around me. He took a deep breath and composed himself.

 

“Tell the TAO to call me,” Commander Austin called to his back.

 

“Yes sir.”

 

 

The phone mounted on the bulkhead by the captain’s chair rang. “This is the Captain.”

 

“Captain, this is the TAO.”

 

“Notify me immediately if any targets come into our air space.”

 

“Aye sir.”

 

“Bring up the Phalanx and have it on stand by. Do not put it online without my permission. I’ve got a boat to protect, but I don’t want to start an international incident either.”

 

Phalanx or Close in Weapons System (CIWS) is a 20mm Gatling gun, the block one is able to shoot up to 3000 armor piercing tungsten penetrator rounds of depleted Uranium235 per minute with a magazine holding 1550 rounds. It houses two RADARS in a white case making it look like R2-D2, one to track the target and the other for fire control. The high speed machine gun renders the airframe of an approaching missile un-aerodynamic keeping the exploding shrapnel to a minimum.

 

“Yes sir, I’ll do it now.”

 

Commander Austin hung up the phone, jumped back up into his chair and blankly stared into the darkness.

 

 

In the Combat Information Center, the tactical nerve center of a combatant ship, Ingersoll would fight a war from this area. It looked like a Star Wars movie with the blinking lights and displays.

 

Men sat behind different consoles watching for any hint of hostility. Operation Specialists peered into a SPS-40 air search RADAR scope for planes and surface targets.  Sonar Technicians scoured the deep for submarines with SONAR. In another part of the room, Fire Control Technicians waited for orders to fire weapons like Antisubmarine Rockets (ASROC), NATO Sea Sparrow, Harpoon ship to ship missile, the 5″ gun and the last line of defense Phalanx.

 

The Tactical Action Officer (TAO) hung up the phone. “Ensign Hodge, what’s the status?”

 

He approached another officer crouching over the large Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) radar screen.  The display, a large cathode ray tube with pin pricks of light depicting positions of ships and air contacts. Along side each blip an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder code. The entire battle group’s RADAR data on display for all to observe. “Skies are clear, no bogies in the air.”

 

“Good. The old man will be glad to hear that.” The TAO wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. “He is wound way too tight. I’ll be glad when this cruise is over.”

 

“This has got to be the worst deployment I’ve ever been on,” Hodge said.

 

The TAO punched him in the arm and said, “This is only your first cruise you Bozo.”

 

“It’s still the worst cruise I’ve ever been on,” Hodge said and grinned.

 

“I’ll watch the screen for a minute. Go tell the EW’s to watch the RF spectrum for any Iraqi RADAR emissions and make sure the chaff launchers are on line.”

 

“Aye sir.”

 

 

Commander Austin rubbed his hands together as he wore a track into the non-skid deck coating of the port side bridge wing trying to calm him self. He leaned over and watched the refueling hoses swaying and dipping towards the water as the two ships rolled in and out.

 

“Mr. Steiner, is everything-“

 

“Bridge, CIC. We have inbound bogies,” an intercom box squawked from the dark ceiling over the conning station.

 

The captain yelled in the direction of the Boatswains Mate of the watch, “Sound General Quarters and breakaway, now.”

 

“Yes sir.” The Boatswains mate grabbed the 1MC intercom microphone. “Emergency breakaway, emergency breakaway. Cut all lines.” A brief pause then the bonging of the General Quarters alarm. “General Quarters, general quarters. All hands man your battle stations. On the double.” Bong, bong, bong.

 

 

Alex sprung into action, grabbed a sledge hammer, and swung it in a wide arc to dislodge the cable holding the refueling hose in the receiver. His bone jarring hit, only partially freed the fuel probe and JP5 fuel sprayed the deck. The fuel soaked Alex’s uniform when he took another whack at the cable.

 

Mattingly yelled at Alex, “What’s taking so long?”

 

“It won’t break loose,” He shouted back. “Get me a crow bar.”

 

Mattingly keyed the phones, “Cable won’t come loose.”

 

 

“Captain, they can’t break the aft hose free,” the seaman on the other end of the sound powered phones said.

 

Commander Austin stormed across the bridge and held his hand out to the seaman. “Give me those phones!” The harness would not release and the seaman couldn’t get them off. “Forget it. Boats give me the 1MC.” Boats handed the captain the microphone. “This is the Captain.”

 

 

“Cut that cable now,” Commander Austin’s voice boomed in Alex’s ears from the speaker close by as he wrestled to free the cable.

 

“I’m trying. Give me the crow bar.” Alex grabbed the crow bar and jammed it in the cable release, “Ahhhhh, Break you stupid thing,” he yelled at the cable. He strained with all his might and the cable broke. When it released, the ship rolled to the port side. The hose whip lashed Alex into the refueling pit. The writhing hose sprayed fuel on Mattingly and soaked him in the JP5 jet fuel. When the hose broke free and should’ve flipped over the side, it dragged along the deck, sparked and ignited the mist of fuel.

 

A blinding flash, then a fervent heat washed over the deck.  Alex raised his arms to his face, to shield himself against the heat. The pit he fell into protected him from the flames. Fire engulfed Mattingly. He let out a blood curdling yowl of pain when his clothes melted into his skin.

 

Alex ran through the flames and dragged Mattingly out of the fire. The sleeves of Alex’s uniform ignited, he ignored the nerves sending pain signals to his brain. He grabbed a nearby tarp, smothered the flames on himself and Mattingly, then dragged him inside the ship. He collapsed in exhaustion and pain. He struggled to maintain consciousness and checked to see if his injured comrade was breathing. He leaned over and heard labored breaths escaping from his lungs. “He’s still alive,” Alex said. He could hear voices coming toward them. “Hang in there buddy. Cavalries coming.” Turning toward the empty passageway, Alex weakly yelled to the approaching voices, “Over here. Please help.”

 

Mattingly grabbed Alex’s shirt. “Alex, no greater love,” Mattingly rasped then swallowed hard and bit his lip so hard from the anguish, blood spurted out. He shrieked and convulsed. When the pain subsided, he started to speak again. “No greater love, than a man has then to lay down his life for a friend,” Mattingly squeezed his eyes tight and gasped for his last breath. His face relaxed and his grip loosened on his shirt. He exhaled his last breath and his head rolled away.

 

Alex tried to touch him with his burned hands, but winced in agony. Shocked, he stared at the lifeless body. Look at how peaceful he is, Alex thought to himself.

 

“Come on man. Breathe.” He tried to bring his mouth down on Mattingly’s lips to breathe life into his lungs.

 

A Hospital Corpsman rushed around the corner and quickly accessed the situation. He put his ear to Mattingly’s chest. “He’s in cardiac arrest. Set up the defibrillator.” The corpsman started pushing on the chest of the lifeless body, while the assistant unpacked the machine. The assistant handed the paddles to the corpsman. “Clear” he said. He fired the paddles and Mattingly’s body convulsed from the shock.  He put his ear to his chest to listen for a heart beat. None. He reset the defibrillator to give him another blast. “Clear.” Wallop, another shot of electricity. Again he put his ear to his chest, but still no heart beat.

 

“Come on, man. Don’t give up.” He puts his mouth to his mouth and blew air into his lungs. He did it once and then pushed on his chest five times. Sweat dripped from his brow as he worked with ferocious passion to save Mattingly.

 

Others arrived and watched in horror. Finally, the corpsman leaned back against the wall in frustration. Tears and sweat streamed down his face and he shook his head, what more could I have done.

 

Alex watched through a haze of semi-consciousness, “It’s all my fault. If I had just gotten the cable free faster.” He fought for consciousness but a heavy fog rolled in to his mind and voices faded in to echoes then silence.

 

Rod Peach stood in the doorway. He watched and listened unmoved by the situation. If anyone had been paying attention, they would’ve seen the corner of his mouth raise a crooked smile and the glee in his eyes.

 

One of the men, who stood by, knelt in front of the corpsman and said, “Doc.”

 

The corpsman sat and looked right through the man in front of him.

 

“Doc,” he said again. This time he shook him.

 

“What?” The Doc said detached.

 

“Sievers is still alive and is badly burned. He’s passed out. You need to help him.”

 

“Yeah,” the Corpsman said. “Cover him,” as he pointed to Mattingly. “Get a stretcher from the repair locker and take him to sick bay. Notify the bridge, tell them we have to air lift Petty Officer Sievers to the carrier immediately.” He looked back as they covered the body, “Tell them about Petty Officer Mattingly.”

 

 

“Sir, Repair 3 is reporting fire is out and two casualties.”

 

The captain turned in somberness to the report. “How bad?”

 

“It’s not good, sir. One dead. The other badly burned. He’s going to have to be airlifted to the carrier.”

 

“Notify Vinson and have them send a chopper. Tell them to get two Tomcats here to get those fighters off my back.”

 

“Aye sir,” said the Conning Officer.

 

The captain grabbed the phone by his chair. “TAO, if they break 50 miles turn the Phalanx on them.”

 

“Aye sir.”

 

The captain slammed the phone down and cursed. “I didn’t need this.”

 

Mark Totilo is a US Navy Veteran, author and owner of Professional Communications. He has a passion for freedom, truth and to tell stories. For more information about him or his book, please visit his website: MarkTotilo.com. If you enjoy his work or would like to comment, please do so. You are also welcome to subscribe to this blog.

The Red White and Blue Message of Freedom

The US Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team is the pinnacle of American strength and military prowess. One October afternoon I stood in awe as those sleek blue jets rolled down the tarmac of the Pensacola Naval Air Station, reminding me of the greatness of the country we’ve been blessed to live in. That moment reignited a forgotten patriotic love for my country. As each pilot saluted the crowd as they past the reviewing stand I could see in each of their faces the greatness of this land we call home.

In a thunderous roar those fighters rocketed skyward to perform a breath-taking  aerobatic flight demonstration soon not forgotten. With each dive, roll and exciting maneuver history was being painted on the crystal blue skies. The steep vertical climb could be compared to our struggle for independence, hurtling toward the ground in a negative gravity dive is like  our civil war and each roll, twist or turn, the mine-fields we’ve walked through in global warfare, depressions and national tragedies.

An air show is a choreographed series of precision aerial maneuvers performed by high performance jet aircraft. The stunts are taken from actual air combat maneuvers used in rarely seen battles high above the earth. These aircraft when in formation fly as close as 18 inches from wingtip to canopy. For over two hundred years our country has accomplished this precision in helping other nations to become more advanced in technology, freedom and hope for a better life. We’ve also brought our beloved savior Jesus Christ to millions around the world.

Francis Scott Key penned the famous words of our national anthem after a battle that lasted all night. As the ink black night gave way to the approaching dawn he saw old glory wafting in the smoke filled air. He wrote, “whose broad stripes and bright stars.” Was he thinking about the broad shoulders of those that have born the burden for our freedom? Did the stars remind him of the pinpoint lights in the night sky like the individuals who make up the whole of this beautiful country? Or did he just stand in awe of the vibrant colors of  red, white and blue?

Our country’s ensign is symbolic of our land. Those colors are bright and brilliant as the people who populate this nation. To me the red represents the blood spilt in the struggle for  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The white symbolizes the pureness of God’s grace that he has shed on thee. And blue for the heavens above reminding us of the freedom we share.

My wife, Rebecca’s family in the 17th century were the wealthiest land owners in Virginia and were among those who pledged there lives and fortunes to the founding of this great nation. She often says to me, “I love this land and we should never abandon this nation and what it stands for.”

America is not lost. She’s just forgotten who she is and where she came from. Our country has lost her way and is teetering on the brink of destruction. We see day by day our lawmakers making bad decisions for us that can curtail or eliminate our freedom. We can not be deterred by that. We must continue to pray for this land we love. Do you love her? Then as we celebrate Memorial Day,  and remember those that gave their lives in payment for the freedom we enjoy, say a prayer for our leaders and that the God of the Universe would continue to have mercy on us.

Mark Totilo is a US Navy Veteran, author and owner of Professional Communications. He has a passion for freedom, truth and to tell stories. For more information about him or his book, please visit his website: MarkTotilo.com. If you enjoy his work or would like to comment, please do so. You are also welcome to subscribe to this blog.

Memorial Day, A Day to Remember

Memorial Day in the United States is the day we honor those men and women that have fallen in the line of duty serving our great country. General John Logan on May 5th 1868 unofficially proclaimed the 30th of May a day to honor the dead of the Civil War in his General Order Number 11. Originally called, “Decoration Day,” soldiers were ordered to honor their fallen comrades by strewing flowers and decorating their graves. This early summer tradition gained popularity in many of the states. It wasn’t until 1971 the United States Congress designated the last Monday in May as “Memorial Day” and made it an official Federal Holiday.

Founder of Memorial Day
Founder of Memorial Day

The word ‘Memorial’ finds it roots in the Late Latin word memoriale. Which means: related to memory. The root mor– means: think about, remember. We also derive the word mourn from this word, which the path of war and death leads us to.

The Hebrew word for Memorial is zakar, which means to mark (so as to be recognized), to be remembered. When we bury a loved one we set up a grave stone and we engrave it with their name and the dates of their birth and death. It is inscribed with an indelible mark that memorializes and says to the world this person shall never be forgotten though they no longer live amongst us.

At the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida there is a memorial. On this memorial are the names of the 37 sailors tragically killed by two Iraqi Exocet missiles on the USS Stark FFG-31 on May 17, 1987. At the bottom of the plaque it reads: YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.

120517-N-TC587-115 MAYPORT, Fla. (May 17, 2012) A plaque bears the names of the 37 Sailors killed during a missile strike on the guided-missile frigate USS Stark (FFG 31) is displayed at Mayport Memorial Park. More than 200 guests filled the park to pay their respects to the fallen crew after the frigate was struck by an Iraqi missile while deployed in the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Damian Berg/Released)
120517-N-TC587-115
MAYPORT, Fla. (May 17, 2012) A plaque bears the names of the 37 Sailors killed during a missile strike on the guided-missile frigate USS Stark (FFG 31) is displayed at Mayport Memorial Park. More than 200 guests filled the park to pay their respects to the fallen crew after the frigate was struck by an Iraqi missile while deployed in the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Damian Berg/Released)

We as a people have an innate desire to stay connected to our past, so we set up our monuments and scratch our history in to books to remember. To remember the victories and the defeats, so we can build upon the foundations that were laid on battlefields and the high seas. So we can press forward, guided by our past and the memories of those who went before us.

Honoring the dead is as part of living as going to work each day. The word honor means to give weight, stand in awe. Every life is a note dotted on the landscape of time and each life has something good and bad to teach us.

Master Arms 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, a US Navy Seal and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor died in the selfless act of falling on a grenade while in Ramadi, Iraq. We can’t know all of what MA2 Monsoor did in his life, but we can learn from his bravery and heroism that saved the lives of Platoon at the cost of his own.

Michael-Monsoor
MA2 Michael Monsoor, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

 

The day every member of the Armed Forces lifts his or her hand to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, they know they may have to give up their lives. They know that price of freedom is blood.

As we pause to remember the fallen Americans this Memorial Day, let us never forget the price they paid for the liberty to remember them with our backyard celebrations. Let us never forget. Our future freedom depends on remembering the past.

 

Mark Totilo is the author of the Fiction Novel – Double Salute and United States Navy Veteran. He is the owner of Professional Communications and lives in Florida by the beach with his wife and children. For more information about Mark, please visit his website: MarkTotilo.com.

 

My USS Stark FFG-31 Connection (Part 3)

It took me all of those two weeks to soothe the rawness of losing my dream, of being home-ported in Mayport, Florida and stationed on the Stark. My best friend was gone and oh joy, I was set back two weeks. I was not a happy sailor.

To quote the infamous John Babsone Lane Soule, “Go west young man and grow up with the country.” With the stinking attitude I had, I needed to grow up. I am very thankful for my seven years in the Navy because it helped me do just that. It was like a potter that heats, presses and shapes the clay to conform it to his will and to make it stronger and better.

Two weeks later the potter shoved the clay a little closer to the fire. I received the same handwritten sheet with the names of 30 more ships and home-ports scrawled across it. This time it brought me no joy. My heart deflated when I saw that every single home-port was California. “California?” I shrieked. “I hope it falls in the ocean before I get there.”

Resigned to the fact I was going to Calli, I set myself to deciphering the chicken scratch and where I was going to fit my square peg in a round hole. One name flashed like a neon sign in the night. The sheet of loose-leaf paper had names written on it, but all I could read was just one. It was screaming at me, “Pick me!”

My dad, a retired US Navy veteran served on the broken down World War Two, Gearing Class Destroyer, USS Charles P. Cecil DD-835. I spent a weekend or two on her scraping and painting that old rust bucket as a member of the Sea Cadets. I decided right then, I would never serve on an old ship. With that thought in mind I chose, a three year old, Spruance Class Destroyer, home-ported in San Diego.

Yes. Yes. I can hear all of you old salts screaming at your computer screen. “All navy ships need scraping and painting, even the new ones.” Hey I was young and naive.

After a brief stint at the Mare Island Naval Base to attend the Naval Tactical Data System ‘C’ school, I was haze grey and underway aboard my own personal yacht the USS Ingersoll DD-990.

Providence is a mystery few can explain. I can not answer why destiny steered me away from the Stark and my friend Chris head on into it. Maybe the connection between Chris, the Stark and I would be the catalyst to write this story in Chris’ memory and the 36 other sailors who’s lives were snuffed out on May 17, 1987.

The crew of the USS Stark are hero’s and their story needs to be properly told. They deserve to have those heroic actions of those 28 Hours in Hell brought into the light of day and inscribed properly in the annals of American history.

This is the story of those heroic men who lived and died on that warm Sunday night in 1987. We will explore the events of that tragic May evening that splashed the USS Stark across the front pages of newspapers worldwide. This is not about trying to find answers but we will have personally shared that harrowing night of survival, the tears of mourning and the journey back for the surviving crewmen and the families of the deceased.

The Stark story doesn’t just belong to the men who lived and died that day. It is a story that should be emblazoned on every American heart and raised to the level as that of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This story is a National Treasure.

My USS Stark FFG-31 Connection (Part 2)

After a long pause, he looked back down at my paper and said dead pan, “30.”

I croaked back at the instructor, “30? That can’t be right. Check it again please.”

He looked at it again and said, “Yep. 30.”

My dreams were torpedoed by a 30. In a matter of 30 minutes my life collapsed, as I fell through the stratosphere of satisfaction to the depths of despair. The whole rest of my life collided head-on with a 30.  My exuberance and excitement evaporated into a whirlwind of disappointment which twisted my gut into a 30 pound square knot as I shuffled back to my desk.

In shocked disbelief I turned to see Chris’ empathetic eyes staring at me. I sat back down deflated and lapsed into a state of depression. All I could think was, I just lost my dream, where do I go from here? The policy for failing an exam meant you were set back two weeks and repeated the module in a new class. I lost my orders.

My class mates spent the rest of the night in the fine naval tradition of cokeing and joking. I tried to make light of misfortune as my shipmates reveled in their passage from toughest modules to easiest. The next two weeks would be all down hill. They rambled on about getting home, seeing their girlfriends and enjoying time off before having to report to their next school.

For the uninitiated the next school in a sailor’s journey to the fleet is called a ‘C’ school. It is a specialized school that provides training on specific equipment the Electronics Technician will be responsible for when they report to their ship or duty station.  These schools could last any where from a couple of weeks to another year or more.

As the guys painted fantasy pictures of what their ship would be like and what exotic ports of call they would visit, I slipped deeper into the dungeon of despair wringing my hands as I picked up the pieces of a shattered dream.

While wallowing in my self pity, Chris cornered me in the cafeteria and with his patented cool manner showed me I could rebuild my dream. I can’t seem to remember his exact words but helped me to see that it would all work out for the best. As we talked, my heart grew lighter and hope began to shine in the darkness. After some time I finally left the pity party and joined the celebration. As I talked with Chris I noticed he was trying to ask me what ship I would have taken. I gladly shared it with him.

Our conversation was interrupted by our instructor asking me to report to admin to process out of the class and into the one two weeks behind us. I stood and thanked Chris for everything and went with the instructor. That was the last time I ever saw Chris Deangelis.

The next morning, Electronics Technician A School Class 8333-J assembled in the stuffy room from the prior day, one member short. The picking began and with the sixth pick, my friend Chris took the ship I coveted in Mayport, Florida. The USS Stark FFG-31.

My USS Stark FFG-31 Connection (Part 1)

In a stuffy classroom in 1984, at Naval Training Center, Great Lakes,  I received a hand written sheet with the name of 30 ships and their home-ports. Half of them were located in Mayport, Florida and the other half San Diego, California. Scanning the scrawled choices, one ship leapt off the paper. Closing my eyes I held my breath and said a silent prayer. I opened them and traced a line across the page to see if my desired home-port matched. Exhaling sharply and with overwhelming joy I whispered to myself, “Yes.”

My buddy Chris Deangelis, sitting next to me studied his list, like it was a final exam. His crystal blue eyes darted back and forth over the choices as if his whole life was wrapped up in that one sheet of paper and the seventh pick. I leaned over and said to him, “I’m going to Mayport.”

Getting a ship on the east coast was a dream come true. I wanted to see England, sail past the rock of Gibraltar, explore the coastal countries around the Mediterranean and maybe ride a camel in the Middle East. That’s why I joined the United States Navy, to see the world, to drink in the land of my ancestors. I breathed in the aroma of the Italian food and gazed at the breathtaking view from the mountains of Greece, I could hear the French music playing on the streets of Paris. My minds eye filled with the grandeur and adventure that awaited me.

“Congratulations. I knew you’d get it.” Chris said and smacked me on the back bringing me back to reality. The playful slap of a true friend, whose selflessness and encouragement helped me through some very difficult times at Electronics Technician ‘A’ school.

He was a one-in-a-million kind of person, the kind of guy you became instant best friends with. He had zeal and a love of life which radiated from his contagious smile. The world could be crashing down around you but he could always make you feel better. He also was very smart and inhaled knowledge like a jet engine. He was witty, kind and a loyal shipmate.

In 24 hours, with the sixth pick I would lock up the orders I had been dreaming of since signing my contract to wear Navy blue. It was full steam ahead, nothing could derail me now.  My dreams of sailing the ocean blue and exploring the distant shores of Europe were coming true. All I had to do was navigate the Synchros and Servos module exam and the orders would be mine.

Riding a wave of excitement a mile high I got to class early. I was like a sprinter ready to set the world record in the 100 yard dash. I knew this cold and was ready to slam through the test. Cock sure of myself I cut through that examination like a hot knife through butter. I surrendered it to my instructor and smiled as I waited for him to tell me I aced it.

He looked up at me and said nothing.