7th Fleet Is A Disaster

I’m a US Navy veteran. The latest news about the Navy is hard to stomach. Yes, the military has always been a clusterfuck at the best of times. But this goes beyond belief.

They’ve had two ships taken out of commission by collisions at sea. I had trouble understanding why. A merchant ship probably has one person on the bridge during normal cruising. That person may even be reading a book. I know people who have crewed merchant ships.

A Navy destroyer, at least while I was in, had something like the following, as I remember:

  • 3 lookouts: port, starboard, and aft
  • Bridge: Officer of the Deck (OOD), Conning Officer (JOOD), Helmsman, Throttleman (may be combined), Boatswains Mate Of the Watch (BMOW), Quartermaster, and probably somebody sitting at a RADAR console, but ours wasn’t manned all the time.
  • CIC: Tactical Action Officer (TAO), Ship’s Weapons Coordinator (SWC), and numerous Operations Specialists and Fire Controlmen manning consoles and the plot. Also, Sonar Technicians and Electronic Warfare Technicians.
  • And numerous supporting personnel on watch in other stations, engineering, electronics, communications, etc.

Then there are the people who can’t sleep and are out smoking.

And most ship’s captains have standing orders to be awakened if other ships are in proximity.

When I heard about both collisions, it blew my mind.

But the USS Shiloh might give us some insight.

Now, morale is kind of a tricky thing. There’s an ancient Naval proverb that goes “A bitching sailor is a happy sailor.” The military life is interesting. Most young men join up looking for adventure and war and glory and all that. I know when I was 18, I was excited about the prospect. Then after training for war, I prayed that it never happened. Rather than excitement, the military life is years of boredom, hopefully not ever punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

You get a lot of busywork and “Mickey Mouse Bullshit”. You actually have important operational issues that need to be attended to, but you have to do a working party or clean berthing. Or training. I read an interview with a former Navy Captain that insulated the McCain’s crew was well trained in gender and gay issues, but not so much in operational issues.

It can be frustrating. Usually, your Commanding Officer (CO) has his own career to look out for, and only 18 months to 2 years to prove himself, and the ship and crew are how he gets to do it. I’ve had COs push the crew way too hard. I’ve seen people almost burn out. It does kill morale. But eventually, that CO leaves and is replaced. You hang your hopes on the next guy being better.

But there’s another ancient Naval proverb in play here: “Better to keep the asshole you have because the next guy can be worse.” And usually, he is.

So, back to the Shiloh.

Morale aboard a US Navy ship reached such lows that one sailor compared the vessel to a ‘floating prison’ after they were fed just bread and water.

Our food was usually bad. This is a little extreme. But we did consider ourselves to be on a floating prison. In boot camp, we were taught to address each other as “Shipmate.” It didn’t take us very long to start using “inmate”. We also had another greeting we learned in boot camp: “And have a fine Navy day!” My usual response to that was “Yeah, go fuck yourself too!”

The Daily Mail article references a “Command Climate Survey”. These are standard in the military and government. I normally consider them useless. The survey itself is more concerned with “have you been harassed as a POC or woman or Muslim or some other shit?” There are blocks in which to provide comments, but those are rarely considered. The Shiloh’s command climate survey must have been beyond FUBAR to even make the news.

Responding to a survey, one sailor on USS Shiloh said anonymously: ‘It’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens.’

Another respondent wrote: ‘Our sailors do not trust the CO.’

This is standard. By this point in the article, I figured it was fluff. Marines may have better experiences, but in the Navy, lower enlisted rarely trust their CO. I’ve had some decent ones, but I also served under a pretty bad one. Apparently not as bad as the Shiloh’s.

Junior sailors were particularly concerned about receiving harsh punishments from Capt. Adam Aycock, including being placed in the brig and fed only ‘bread and water,’ a traditional form of punishment still available to commanding officers.

Some crew members even warned that the dip in morale could inhibit their ability to deal with North Korea.

This got my attention. Another article I read (which is on CNN, and I’m not linking the Cocksucker News Network) said brig and bread and water were for minor infractions. It did not say what those minor infractions are. Being 5 minutes late for watch? Shirt being untucked?

Heh, heh, Captain Aycock. I bet his poor morale having sailors used his name for a LOT of dick jokes.

Favoritism is heavily in play on ships. A friend of mine, who was hardly a motivated sailor, literally was 5 minutes late for watch. He was sent to Captain’s Mast (non-judicial punishment or Article 15 of the UCMJ for those not blessed to be in the Navy…) alongside another sailor who was caught embezzling $500 from the ship’s laundry. My friend got the maximum punishment for being 5 minutes late for watch. Our aspiring Federal Reserve head got a suspended bust. Total favoritism. Of course, my friend had already been busted for almost missing ship’s movement in Thailand, so maybe that was a consideration. But still…

Believe it or not, I was ALMOST involved in a North Korea action. Yeah, I know, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades… In 1994-1995, I was on a supply ship. We were out providing UNREP (underway replenishment) to other ships when the Norks started acting up. The Kitty Hawk battle group was dispatched. Our CO saw his chance for glory, realizing that a battlegroup would need UNREP. As we were homeported in Guam, we were in a good spot. We pulled into Guam, and within 10 hours, took on a 120 day onload for a battle group. My ship was designed to hold 90 days of supplies for a battle group, so we had every inch of the ship packed. We had palates of soda and other supplies stacked all over the decks with the cargo holds full. Then we set sail that night.

And we sailed right into a typhoon. Very rough seas. The palates of soda flexed and started to explode. I don’t think we ever got the smell out of the ship. It was a mess. Combine that with flour and other things, and it was a huge mess.

The story I heard is that around 2300 one night on our way toward North Korea, a red phone in CIC rang. It’s the kind of phone that only rings when there’s a war, or somebody royally fucked up. It was COMLOGWESTPAC (Commander, Logistics, Western Pacific). The trip was not authorized, and the CO’s glory would have to wait. Return to base at Guam. And if you REALLY want to be underway, I’ve got just the deal for you…

The class of ship I was on at the time was a Mars Class Fast Combat Stores Ship. (Fast in name only…) The designation was AFS, or as we called it, Always Fucking Steaming. And until we pulled into port for decommissioning in 1995, we truly were AFS. Typically, we’d get a day or two in port to refuel and reload, then back out.

But like everything else in the military, it was misery, but also mixed with some fun. I went to Japan several times on that ship. We also got a visit to Hong Kong, Hawaii, and our decommissioning cruise was to Bali. I “crossed the line”(equator), went through the ceremony, and earned the title “Honorable Shellback”.

Back to the Shiloh. I’ve seen sailors fuck up, but I’ve never seen brig time or bread and water. Although it’s still in the regulations, it’s very extreme. I have no idea why the Shiloh’s former CO would ever use that as a form of punishment.

McCain The Insane (and senile) had some tweet about this being related to defense cuts:

US senator John McCain waded into the controversy today by tweeting: ‘This is a direct result of cuts to defense spending.’

WTF? I have no idea how this is related unless the Navy is buying their Captains from China because they’re cheaper… But then again, when was the last time McInsane said ANYTHING that made sense? Definitely not his “President Comey” remark.

I served during the Clinton years. They decommissioned a LOT of ships well before their time, which is causing the Ticonderago cruisers and Burke destroyers and other ships to pull hard duty. The force has been cut drastically. Sailors are doubling and tripling up on duties. This probably has a lot to do with 7th Fleet’s problems. You can only push your people so far. You can only push your equipment so far. It has a maintenance cycle for a reason.

For instance: my experience with time travel. Yes, I have time traveled. My second ship was a Spruance Class destroyer. Our SONAR dome was supposed to be replaced every 5 years. We left on deployment with the dome at the 7 year mark. We crossed the International Date Line at about 0000 Sunday night, which made it Tuesday. Soon after, a leak was discovered on the SONAR dome. The ship came to a stop while they investigated. I was on the mid watch in CIC at the time. They tried cutting chem lights and pouring the dye into the dome. Then, the ship turned around and headed back to Hawaii to get the dome fixed. We couldn’t exceed 11 knots with a punctured dome. So I have time traveled. We went from Sunday to Tuesday to Monday, non-sequentially, in a period of about 4 hours.

I hope 7th Fleet can get straightened out. They’ll probably have to relieve a lot more people of duty. But this problem may be systemic. I hope the Navy fixes it before they get anybody else killed outside of actual war.