Tag Archives: Sea Stories

SCRUBEX

The photo was at the Commander, 7th Fleet site. Fond Memories………..possibly. It has been so long since I participated in such an evolution.

It ain’t all shoot em from the front and catch em on the back folks. There is the routine, the mundane, the dirty stuff that needs to be done. Those flight deck markings need to be visible and the crap that leaks out of airplanes builds up on the flight deck and makes things interesting. It also hurts like hell when one is blown down the deck a ways on one’s posterior.(Personal Experience at the tender age of 19!)

The link is to the post I put up at Old Retired Petty Officer, just for grins.

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by | August 4, 2012 · 8:08 pm

The Daily Lex – April 28th

Zero tolerance

By lex, on July 24th, 2006

As a squadron commanding officer, I had to discharge two otherwise fine Sailors who had “popped positive” on urinalysis screens for having THC in their systems. They were good kids, from bad backgrounds – the service had been a lifeline for them, a chance to remove themselves from bad situations.

And I had cut that lifeline – sent one back to the gang infested streets of El Paso. The other returned to East Los Angeles. Truly, my hands were tied.

The Navy has a zero tolerance for drug abuse – it is the surest ticket out of the service, with an “other than honorable” discharge. An OTH won’t debar you from federal employment like a bad conduct discharge, nor is it equivalent to a felony conviction, like a court martial sentence would be. But neither will it move you, by itself, to the “must hire” queue in any prospective employer’s candidate search.

It was not always thus.

When I was a third class midshipman, I cruised aboard a Spruance class destroyer, and drug abuse was fairly rampant – this was back in the late 70′s, and then, as now, many of our Sailors were products of their time. At night an officer could head aft to the helo deck, and watch two or three lounge-abouts flick the burning remnants of a marijuana cigarette over the fantail, and do nothing about it – nothing at all.

Morale in the 80 man supply berthing, where we youngster mids made our racks, was terrible – everyone seemed to hate the Navy, at least among the junior folks – everyone was counting the days until they could get out. It was a real eye-opener.

In 1981, an Marine reserve crew in an EA-6B had a landing mishap (a ramp strike) aboard the USS Nimitz. In the mishap itself, and the resulting conflagration, 19 Sailors died. Eleven were found to have THC in their blood during the post-mortem.

The Navy got serious.

Everything in the Navy depends on teamwork, much of it done around heavy equipment that moves inexorably at great speed – some pieces of gear and environments I have seen could not have been better designed had it been done on purpose to claw and rake at unwary flesh, governed by a diminished mental capacity.

CNO sent out his famous “Not in My Navy,” missive, and routine drug screening began for the first time. CO’s were given temporary authority under “Project Upgrade” to discharge malcontents, malingers and ne’er-do-wells immediately. Anyone who swore they hated the Navy and wanted out as soon as possible was offered the instant opportunity – some took it gratefully (although these were in fact few), some were given it without asking.

The results were dramatic.

The next time I deployed, this time aboard an LST, the USS Barbour County , the difference in morale was incredible. Everyone knew that we had an unshakeable standard, that there was no flexibility, no second chances and for those inclined to gripe about their lot in life, an easy way out – to the ones who wanted to be a part of something special, an organization that stood for something, this was part of the proof that they were.

I remember distinctly the time when a signalman had been found in the act of smoking marijuana – there was a Captain’s Mast, a non-judicial procedure in which the CO is invested as prosecutor, defense attorney and judge, simultaneously. The accused was brought before the CO, and forced to stand at attention. We mids had been asked to watch the process, it being thought good for our professional education. An LST, designed to work in close proximity to the shore (and in fact to run up upon it) is a flat-bottomed boat, and in the relatively high seas between San Diego and San Francisco, our next port stop, she rolled around at an alarming rate and angle. The poor Sailor, standing at attention, was challenged to maintain his balance. Some of the junior mids found his efforts to maintain his footing unbearably humorous, and could not stifle a snigger. The CO wheeled around on them, and tongue-lashed them with great violence in front of the entire assembly until they dropped their eyes to their reddening cheeks in shame.

We got the message – this was a man’s life, about to take a turn very much for the worse. It was nothing to laugh about.

When I was a young lieutenant, and division officer, I had a Sailor who was always in trouble, and worse, who tried to lie his way out of it, transparently, ultimately unsuccessfully. He came from a broken background, his wife had chronic medical issues and the CO was resolute – he would be discharged. I thought this unfair in the larger view, and presented my case to the CO in private. He told me: “Lex, we’ve got a job to do. That man is taking up a disproportionate share of the efforts of a Chief Petty Officer who could be getting that job done, and training his replacements for the job the Navy will have to do 10 years from now. While we are debating about him, your Sailors who have a chance to make something of themselves are wondering where their division officer is. You can’t save them all – some you have to scrape off, for the good of the service.”

After talking with the CO, I no longer thought it unfair. I thought it hard.

And I began to realize – it can be a hard service.

When my turn came to wear the command pin, I had very much hoped not to have any of my Sailors fail the drug test, or otherwise fail to demonstrate a pattern of acceptable performance – These were other peoples sons and daughters, given to me in trust. They had dreams and goals and aspirations that they thought the Navy could help them reach. No one joins to be a failure. I tried to love each of them as though they were my own family, I wanted them all to succeed. Their dreams I tried to make my own.

Oh, I knew that I could never save all of them – some come to us with a lifetime of emotional baggage that cannot be overcome in the short time a Sailor has to prove that he can perform, or not. We are not a charity, not a half-way house.

But I also considered anyone who had to leave the service other than on his own terms as much a failure of my leadership, my ability to reach him and make a citizen of him, as much as his own failure to measure up.

So when one particular Sailor, in whom I had invested a deal of personal time and effort, and who came from a very difficult background, and had been showing great promise, popped positive on the urinalysis test, I was not angry – I was sad.

He hadn’t gone out with the idea of getting high – he’d had a few too many drinks, fell into a bad company, was offered drugs and used them. On Monday morning, his number came up for a random sweep. In a week’s time, he stood before me.

I’ve done a number of Captain’s Masts – and I never really enjoyed them. The mask of austere gravity and dreadful authority that the role required me to wear ill-comported with my ever-present awareness of my own manifest shortcomings, especially those of my youth. Some CO’s that I have seen were “flamers,” those who seemed to enjoy the humiliation of their accused. They’d scream and rant and gesture.

I was never one of those.

For this young man, I had nothing but regret – he and I both knew what he had done, and the penalty it carried. He and I both knew what he would be returning to, having left the Navy as a failure. The Navy, a place where the path and means to success is as brightly illumined as any I can imagine – having failed at this, what could he expect?

But my hands were tied, and he knew it – it was for the good of the service.

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Filed under Leadership, Lex, Sea Stories

The Daily Lex – April 26th

Name Tags

By lex, on July 7th, 2010

Pinch * put me in mind of a story.

Was a time in the Old Navy where it was fashionable at certain points to wear hemi- semi- demi- quasi-humorous name patches on the flight suits of America’s Finest. There were any number of “Roger Ball” name tags at the O’Club on a Friday night. When things got late, there were even raunchier monikers attached by Velcro: “Hugh Jardon” was but the least offensive. There might even have been a “Heywood Jablome.”

I can’t say.

When I was a “selectively retained graduate”, AKA “SERGRAD” instructor at NAS Meridian, MS just weeks after I had gotten my wings, things were a little more tame. Our skipper’s name was Larry “Bulldog” Francisco, and he’d earned the call sign the old fashioned way. An F-8 Crusader jock back before you were “out of fighters,” Bulldog was built like a fire plug, with a barrel chest, a jutting jaw and a low growl when he got angry. Which was often enough.

But he also had a smile like the sun breaking out of a low overcast, and we loved him.

So much that we wanted to be just like him. Especially on cross country flights.

So we all had name tags made up for our weekend sorties. I was “LTJG Larry ‘Bulldog’ Francisco”, because you could plausibly borrow another man’s name, but taking on his rank was right out. The fleet experienced guys were “LT Francisco,” and we even had a “Larrice.” Who was kind of a hottie, and no sort of bulldog.

But anyway.

Usually it wasn’t a problem, because when the weekend came and the road warriors set out to get the Air Nav “X’s” in the box, we were flung to the four winds. Places close to our families, or to our student’s. Or places we hadn’t ever seen before. And wanted to. You’re 25 years old and the Navy gave you the keys to a jet aircraft, and a card to fuel it with, asking only the courtesy of bringing it back by Sunday night with no permanent harm done. The odds of running into another instructor wearing his “Larry Francisco” name tag were vanishingly small.

Excepting, of course, when the weather came in and parts west and north were socked in.

A weekend came where we all found ourselves dropping in at Shaw Air Force Base, in Sumter, South Carolina for the last leg home. Which, the syllabus having certain constraints laid against it, had to be a night flight.

Three of us arrived in short order, and taxied up to the transient line, where a sharp young airman refueled our machines.

“What time are you taking off,” he asked.

“Oh, shortly after sunset,” we replied.

“Oh, no,” he stammered. “We close down at 1800 on a Sunday night”

No way, we cried out tout ensemble. For we had checked the Airfield Directory, and Shaw Air Force Base shut down at 2200. We had loads of time.

“I mean us,” he insisted. “The transient line.”

And what is that to us, we inquired. For we already had our fuel and he was welcome to go home when the whistle blew.

The young man went inside the line shack, looking out of sorts. We were standing around shooting the breeze a few minutes later when an Air Force blue pickup truck screeched up alongside us, and a blue-suited major spilled out fuming and sputtering.

“You will by God take off by 1800,” he insisted.

We would not, we replied, for we were naval aviators and pilots in command, with a mission to accomplish and a good 4+ airfield operating hours remaining, at least.

“Who will pull your chocks, and stand fire watch,” he demanded.

We would do it ourselves. Which apparently didn’t satisfy him.

“I’m taking your names!” he said, muttering imprecations about the goram Navy.

And we scoffed, for we had all been in high school once when names were taken, and were anyway out of his chain of command. This being before Goldwater-Nichols.

Just about then a fourth T-2C Buckeye came thundering into the break, and for all that we were at an F-16 base, and the T-2 was anything but sprightly, yet was the pilot putting the spurs to it, in ways that weren’t – at that moment – countenanced by the blue suited set. A good 400 kts, and five degrees nose down to hold it, he was. It was, to us, a beautiful sight.

Major Impotent was already pulling his notebook out of his pocket and jotting down our names: “LTJG Francisco, USN” and “LT Francisco, USN.”

“LT Larrice Francisco, USN.”

Which was about when “Capt Larry Francisco, USMC” taxied up and shut down, with about ten minutes remaining before the poor, harried Transient Alert crewman was due to hang it up for the evening.

Having written down the Marine officer’s name, you could see the beginning seeds of doubt creeping across the duty officer’s beetled brow.

Shortly after sunset, we were briefed, filed and blasting out into the darkening sky, laughter in our hearts and a mere 1.5 flight hours between ourselves and our home ‘drome. The USAF duty officer duly forgotten.

Until Monday.

Which is when Commander Larry “Bulldog” Francisco got an earful from the base commander at Shaw. Having gotten through the CO’s secretary, the bird colonel was transferred to “Bulldog Actual,” who answered the phone in his most professional voice, “Commander Francisco.”

“What,” came the exasperated reply, “are all of you guys named Francisco?”

We had an all officer’s meeting shortly afterward. A permanent retirement of the “Bulldog” nametags was strenuously required and desired.

We reluctantly complied.

Bulldog was, after all, directly in our chain of command. And he held the keys to the weekend flight schedule.

We were young, and we were stupid. But we knew which side our bread was buttered on.

*01-31-19 – Link Gone – Ed.

 

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Humor, Naval Aviation