Saturday, June 07, 2003

Dean Esmay is one heck of a nice guy. He's so nice that he's trying to save the world from Blogger. I've taken him up on this very kind offer.

That means that I'm no longer going to be posting from this site. Instead I'm moving over here.

For those of you who want to type in the URL, it's HTTP://WWW.HELLINAHANDBASKET.NET.

I'll see everybody over at the new digs.

Friday, June 06, 2003


There are a couple of things I'd like to add concerning the post below.

First off is this travelogue by an American living in South Korea. He managed to get permission to take a trip to North Korea, and it's a pretty good read. (Link courtesy of blog goddess Natalie Solent, who got it from The Sound and Fury).

The second thing is an op-ed on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Thursday 6-5-03 edition. Seems some guy who claims to have been part of North Korea's WMD program escaped to South Korea by way of China. He claims that SK's "Sunshine Policy" is actually a plan to prop up the failing NK regime. Why? Because of the staggering burden that would be visited on the SK economy when they finally reunite with their sick, starving, bass-ackwards cousin from the north.

Hmm. Never thought of that. SK's refusal to abandon or even modify the obviously failed "Sunshine Policy" now makes sense.

This should be a lesson to me. I should always look at the money.

Thursday, June 05, 2003


I just saw this article on the Yahoo news server. It relates how the United States will move it's troops currently stationed in South Korea. They'll be moved far south, away from the DMZ. Now if the North should invade, it will be South Korean troops that will be at risk.

The problem lately has been one of PR campaigns that went wrong. In the past few years the South Korean government and media has engaged in a Sunshine Policy. This is where they've tried to be extra nice to North Korea with an eye towards eventual re-unification. Most voters in SK weren't alive during the Korean War, and they bought into the idea that the North Korean government was just a misunderstood regime that would respond to reason and friendly overtures.

Maybe this idea was worth a shot at one time, but it's very obviously a failure. North Korea has repeatedly violated agreements that they entered into concerning their WMD programs. Even faced with this evidence, most South Koreans aren't willing to give up on the idea that NK will come around some day, somehow, in some way.

The current President of South Korea, President Roh, was elected by promising the voters that SK would "forge it's own course" instead of simply following the American's lead. The Bush administration said fine, you can do it with a lower military commitment from the US. Less than 6 months after he was elected Pres. Roh made a trip to Washington with hat in hand. SAYING that SK was going to go it without the US is obviously easier said than done.

Except that Washington isn't buying what he's selling. Our troops will move south out of immediate danger and South Korean soldiers will do the heavy lifting from now on. They're certainly capable of it, but there's obvious reluctance on the Korean's part to stand in our place. If you read the article I linked to at the beginning you'll notice that we're going to pay $11 Billion for "base improvements". I take this as an obvious bribe to make the medicine go down easier.

In my opinion this is part of the Bush administration's policy to shake up the status quo if it needs to be shaken. South Korea wants to have more of a say with policy decisions about North Korea? Fine, they can put their own soldiers on the wall to take the brunt of an attack. Then they can go ahead and make all the decisions they want. We'll give supprt, we won't turn our back on them. But we won't let those who don't contribute their fair share to try and unduly influence our foreign policy decisions.

Notice, if you will, that this isn't a punishment. We're simply pulling back and letting SK do what they want. Not that I expect that to make a difference to the anti-Americans who are sure to claim that we're not discahrging our responsibilities.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003


The title of this post is Latin for "My horrible fault!" It's used most often in the Catholic faith to indicate that someone is taking blame for a terrible sin, and they're humbly asking forgiveness.

Don't worry, this isn't a post about Catholicism specifically or even religion in general. Instead I'd like to discuss something really broad: cultural differences.

I'm over at when I notice three posts that rang a bell. All of the posts were about journalistic inaccuracies and outright lies. Jeff Soyer at Alphecca has something similar every week where he discusses the media bias against guns on Yahoo.

Okay, so the guys who work for Big Journalism twist, spin and lie. What's new?

Nothing, really. But I notice that all of the posts mentioned above want some sort of negative impact to be visited upon those that have tried to push their own agendas at the expense of the truth. This got me to thinking.

One of the main pillars that our culture rests on is the concept of responsibility. You're responsible for your actions. If you screw up you pay the penalty, if it works out you reap the rewards. This is so ingrained in our society that those of you reading this are probably scratching your heads and saying "Well, DUH!" But it's important to realize that this is something that's almost unique in all of history, and it's an idea that really hasn't caught on in the rest of the world.

Case in point is the Arabic news agency, al-Jazeera. Before, during and after the invasion of Iraq al-Jaz would pump out the most idiotic drivel as if it was the unshakable truth. Our troops were getting slaughtered, the Iraqis were really tough, America was near collapse due to the dissent in our society, Saddam was a nice guy who'd never hurt anyone, blah blah blah. After the dust settled the anti-war people who were using al-Jaz reports to justify their own position were understandably embarrassed, but that was just here in the States and over in the UK. Most of the rest of the world still acts as if al-Jaz is a reputable source, and the agency is still going strong even though it's mostly disappeared from Western news sources.

Okay, so that's the Arabic world. What about something closer to home?

This post by Stephen den Beste puts it better than I ever could. France is upset that the American government is going to adopt policies that are unfavorable to their interests due to their efforts to thwart us at the UN. They even claim that the US is using the media to spread lies about them in an effort to enrage the US voters. (Think they might have a point because of the scandals in Big Journalism I mentioned at the beginning of the post? I think that proves that it's really hard to get away with such shenanigans here in the land of the 1st Amendment, and I don't think such efforts to lie would remain hidden for long).

The French have also insisted from the beginning that there would be no drawbacks to opposing what the US people see as being absolutely necessary to gain a measure of physical security. Most Americans who read those reports just couldn't figure that out at all. What the heck are those idiots thinking??? Of course there's going to be consequences!

Consider European society (or Canada for that matter). They sure pay lip service to some of our core values, but they have a much different take on the situation. Democracy? That means that the voters can go to the polls, but they'll keep going back and voting again and again until they vote in the way the government wants them to. (Example: the way the Treaty of Nice was put up for a vote in Ireland for the second time after the public turned it down). Personal responsibility? That means that you're expected to lay down and refuse to resist even if you're attacked by criminals. Don't worry about it. The government will handle it for you! No reason for you to even bother your silly little head about it.

One of the things that was endlessly discussed amongst the crew on the McFaul was this very subject, except they weren't concerned with the idea of personal responsibility in other countries. Instead they wanted to see more responsibility to be handed down from the Powers That Be. Just about everyone thought that a better, more efficient military force would be gained if people were held accountable. The more responsibility, the better and smoother things would run. Of course they were talking more about punishing the people who blew off work and dodged that responsibility, but I think you get the idea.

The main result of all of this is that people are more likely to take the initiative. If there's rewards for getting the job done in the best way then people will take chances, especially if they realize that the people who they depend on to hold up their end have an interest in avoiding failure. It's just my opinion, but I think that this is the major reason why the US is racing ahead of the rest of the world in just about every area. Technology, theoretical science, culturally, military might and influence in all spheres. There's a reason why American TV shows are shown all over the world, and why I can't find a single French or Italian comedy on any of my 129 cable channels. It's because these guys aren't trying hard enough to get ahead.

This leads to another specious conclusion. The rhetoric and posturing we've seen from France and most of the rest of the world since 9/11 shows which path they've chosen. They're not even trying to improve their own situation, instead they're trying to put the brakes on our own ever growing influence. It's like they've given up and admitted that they're never going to catch up, let alone get ahead.

Makes me glad to be an American.


The blogroll over on the right of the page is there for my convenience. I like to sit here on my blog like some sort of troll under a bridge and click on the links so I can read what other, more articulate and smarter bloggers are writing with the least amount of effort on my part.

But I noticed that I was clicking on the links at these other blogs, using them to direct me to even more crunchy blogosphere goodness. This kind of screws up the whole "least effort" philosophy.

So to continue to blog in the laziest way possible I've expanded the roll to the right. At this rate I'll fill up the page with links in a few years. Then I'll have to have two blogs, one for my posts and the other for clicking on the links.


I'm over at Lead and Gold and I read this post. Seems that Alphecca is asking for the biggest, most terrible gunfights ever seen at the movie theater. If you've seen a film where someone does something during a gunfight that makes you wince then drop on by and leave your opinion.

Okay, so we've all seen something that was so stupid we wondered why the other audience members didn't demand their money back. But how often have we seen movies where they get most of it right?

I think the best gunfight ever filmed (so far as accuracy goes) is the showdown at the end of The Way of the Gun. The director had a brother that was also a Navy SEAL, and he allowed him to choreograph the fights. Pretty good stuff.

James says check it out.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


Two friends of mine are Charles and Muriel Parrish. They, for some reason, think that I need to be taken care of in some way. Case in point is that thye're paying my tuition while I go back to college and earn my degree. In case you're wondering, they aren't related to me. They just decided that I could acheive better things if I got a little help.

Muriel is also one of the nicest people I've ever met. She decided that I don't get out enough and that it was a shame that I never met my significant Other. She's decided to change this.

So she met this nice librarian while walking her dog and they got to talking. Muriel thought we'd be perfect together and she asked the librarian if she would want to meet me. This young lady agreed.

But all this took place while I was away on the Tiger Cruise. To find out a little bit more about me, she did a Google search on my name and eventually found this very blog. Next thing you know she's telling Muriel that she doesn't want to have anything to do with me because I "said some incredibly disturbing things about guns!!!"

Well, heck. This was news to me. I haven't posted anything about guns in months. What was she talking about?

She was referring to this post, where I give some advice to those who have just gotten their concealed carry licenses and are wondering what type of holster to use. And this is what's so disturbing, so frightening?

What a weenie. I'm glad that I didn't waste any money on a first date.

Monday, June 02, 2003

On Monday the McFaul returned to her moorings at Norfolk, VA. Some of the Tigers got their gear together and piled it on the deck a few hours before we made port, anxious to feel solid ground beneath their feet again. I decided to take a turn through the ship for one last time. After making a pest of myself I drew my last glass of Blue Hawaiian and sat down in the Enlisted Mess.

There were many people who I never got a chance to speak to even though I wanted to. One of them was a compact fellow with the name "PHAM" on his coveralls. The few times I overheard him speaking in the P-ways I could tell that English was not his native language. Kathryn told me that he had been getting frustrated while trying to improve his English reading skills until he discovered the Harry Potter books. Now he's hooked and eagerly awaiting the next one (like most of us). But where is he from originally? Thailand? Laos? I don't know.

While I was in the Mess there were three crewmen sitting next to me, eating pancakes and watching a movie on the DVD player. They were joking amongst one another in Spanish, three other people whose native language wasn't my own. Out on deck women put on body armor and took up arms next to their male shipmates, ready to defend the McFaul against any threat. All of these different creeds, different cultures, different languages. An incredibly diverse group of people thrown together on a small steel needle that braves the world's oceans. But no matter what the differences, everyone is an American.

Just like me.

Our enemies look at all of these religions and the women who serve and feel themselves filled with an incredible rage. They think that this proves that we are decadent and immoral, and that it dooms us to failure. I think it's perfectly normal and don't think much about it one way or another, but I do think that it means that we can't lose.

In a few months the McFaul will be deployed. She and her crew will be far from home and the people who care for them. They'll be doing this, dealing with the stress and the bureacratic bullshit, because they know that they're protecting those they left at home. There's no higher calling.

I walked the McFaul's decks and I met her people, and I have to admit that I'll be worried about them a bit while they're gone. I'll probably check the news every day, looking to see if she was involved in an incident. So far as those would be stupid enough to actually attack her, I can't say that I'm too concerned for their welfare. The officers and enlisted serving on the McFaul are professionals so I doubt they'll ever feel a thing.

The McFaul has been assigned as part of the battle group around the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). There's more than 5,000 people on board the Enterprise, and their task is to protect America and our vital interests the world over. It's the McFaul's job to protect them while they do this extremely important job.

Inimici cavete.

So the crew of the McFaul trains all of the time. Nothing but training, maintenance and cleaning all day long. This is so they'll be ready if they're ever thrust into combat. Efforts are made to make this training as realistic as possible.

Yeah, it looks pretty fake. But this is a US warship and not a Hollywood back lot.

So the crew trains all of the time. What do they do to relax?

Just about every Sunday they haul out some charcoal grills and have a cookout on the deck (weather permitting, of course). They call this "The Steel Beach". But before everybody eats they have games on the Flight Deck. What kinds of games? They square off and see who can perform emergency procedures the best.

Since fire is one of the things that will definitely happen if the ship is ever damaged, fire control is of supreme importance. Seconds will count, so one of the competitions are to see who can get in the firefighting gear the quickest. One of the kid Tigers even got into the act.

Another interesting excercise they go through is to see if the crew can perform emergency repairs using materials they happen to have on hand. They test this by having members of the crew slap together a soft patch on a split pipe.

The idea is that someone will use one of the fire-resistant gloves they're always carrying to plug the hole, and then the twines is wrapped around it to form a seal. Then water is pumped through the pipe at 90 PSI to test the patch. As you can see by the next pic, this is easier in theory than practice.

So what do they get if they win? Bragging rights for the week. That's it.

Like most people reading this, I didn't think much about this. Friendly competition is a great and harmless way to try and motivate people. But it would appear that most non-Western cultures don't think of it in the same way.

Case in point is this article on In the essay, James Dunnigan writes about what is needed to form an Arab army that can actually kick ass. One of the biggest hurdles is to get people from Arab cultures to accept the concept that competition can be freindly.

Which brings us to some serious cultural differences. Arab armies rarely get the kind of constructive competition you see in Western armies. That is because, for Arab soldiers, it is seen as safer to not compete, so no one is "disgraced" by losing, than it is to compete and improve everyone's skills. Of course there is competition in Arab society, in business as well as sports. But the concept of "losing gracefully" is not as readily accepted as it is in the West.

Hmmm. I'm glad that my culture and our military don't have the same problem.

The USS McFaul (DDG-74) can really move! They really kicked it during the Tiger Cruise, and it certainly seemed that we were going faster than most speedboats. The actual max speed is classified, so I can't tell you the exact MPH that we were moving. This isn't because I was sworn to secrecy but because no one would tell me, either.

So they can get moving pretty fast. And the wind can whip up pretty well out there in the middle of the ocean. How do they see through the windows on the Bridge when the rain starts coming down and the seagulls start to poop? They do it the same way it's done on your car. They have wipers and little tubes for squirting detergent on the glass.

Sure beats ordering some enlisted guy to stand out there in a hurrican to keep the windows clean.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

I've talked about firing the M60 and the .50 machine guns. As you can probably tell by the picture below, the .50 is about 12 times more powerful than the M60.

On the left is one of the spent shells from the M60, and the big guy to the right is one from the M2HB. But they both look positively sickly next to a spent shell from the 5"/54.

That's not all the gunpowder weapons that the McFaul has to defend herself with. There's also the Mk 15 Phalanx System. This is designed to shoot down missiles before they have a chance to hit the ship, and I once heard that they were even tested against ballistic 5" shells. Think about that for a minute, the gun can shoot down bullets before they hit.

The crew call the little pods "R2D2". Can't figure out why.

Looks more like one of those Daleks from the old Dr. Who TV show, except that the Mk 15 wouldn't be as handy to have around if the toilets on the McFaul should happen to clog.

I was present when they test fired the system but the angle was wrong for pictures. That gatling gun attached to the bottom of the dome is fed from an inner drum, and I did manage to get a picture of that when they started to disassemble the system for cleaning and maintenance.

Eventually they remove all of the moving parts, leaving the radar dome and the mounting frame.

Most of the people who visit here regularly are painfully aware that you have to clean your guns each and every time that they are fired. The Mk 15 is no different, but it takes 17 hours of maintenance to get it up and running again. That's due to all of the eletrical connections and aiming motors that have to be just right. If they're off by even the tiniest amount then the system can't do it's job. And I thought I had it tough cleaning everything in the gun safe every two months.

So why don't I have any spent 20mm shells for my collection? Because they fire depleted uranium rounds, and the public has the mistaken impression that DU is toxic. Even though it's just the shell that's left behind and not the sabot-jacketed round, the Navy disposes of the cases properly after every firing. This means that there's going to be a gap in my collection of spent shells for some time to come.

It used to be that the Captain of a ship would have a lockbox or a safe in his quarters. When the ship would dock into port he'd dole out a few coins to the crew so they could get gloriously drunk. On the McFaul it's done with an ATM.

It's not a bank ATM. Instead it draws on accounts through the ship's Bursar's Office. The crew can set it up so a portion of their pay is sent to an account on the ship. A special card is issued that will work in the ATM so they can get some cash when they're in port and (ahem) see the sights.

So what do they use their money for when they're at sea? To buy stuff in the Ship's Store.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

The shaft wasn't that high. It couldn't have been more than twenty feet to the bottom, maybe twenty-five. To get on the ladder all I would have to do was hold on to the edge of the door, stand on the bottom edge and step off to the ladder. Piece of cake.

"Don't touch the edge!" Kathryn said, carefully pointing without touching. "And don't step on the bottom edge. We have to make sure to maintain as perfect a seal in here as possible."

Suddenly all that empty space looked more daunting than it should have. Kathryn leaned out of the hatch, grabbed one of the rungs of the ladder with one hand, and swung herself out. She paused for a minute and looked at me, concerned that I might be afraid of the drop. "Are you okay with this?"

Even if I was I'd never admit to it in front of her. "You betcha! Good to go!" I waited until she had gone down the ladder far enough so I wouldn't step on her hands, already planning on how I would fall when I missed the ladder so my plunging body wouldn't hit her. Then I leaned out and grabbed a rung with one hand, made a biiiigggg step to get my foot on the ladder, and pulled myself out into the shaft.

Like I said, piece of cake.

The above description would make one think that we were up on one of the McFaul's masts, what with all this talk of heights. Instead we were deep inside the ship. The spaces that hold the sonar equipment are piled one on top of the other, and this is how access is provided. The lower part of the shaft is below the water line, which means that climbing around in there was as close as I got to being on a submarine that trip.

Here's a pic of the shaft. I was looking straight up while straddling the watertight hatch that led to the submerged sonar dome, careful not to stand on anything that I wasn't supposed to.

Way up at the top you can barely make out Kathryn, peering down as she wondered what was taking me so long to get my big behind up the damn ladder. Notice the netting strung across the shaft at each deck, placed to catch someone if they should be thrown off the ladder in high seas. I suppose that I wouldn't have fallen far if I had missed that first rung.

All of this space is needed to fit the sonar system on board the ship. Submarines are, as you proably already realize, the weapon that invented stealth. And they're still the best at it. If the McFaul is to carry out her core mission of protecting against aggression then she needs to find these silent killers before they get close enough to launch their torpedoes. The result is that she's equipped with what is probably the most sophisticated ASW system in the world. And the reason that it's so effective is that it has a towed array to dramatically increase the effectiveness of her already affective sonar.

So what's a towed array? It's a long line of high-tech microphones towed behind the ship. Below is a pic of me leaning on the array's spool, sucking in my gut and trying to look manly.

Doesn't look too impressive, does it? The towed array doesn't look like much, either. In fact it resembles one of those PVC pipes that you buried in the back yard to help drain the garden. But don't let appearances lead you astray, this thing is sensitive enough to hear an idling engine a thousand miles away (the towed array, that is. Not me. I can barely hear an idling engine a hundred miles away).

I couldn't get anyone to tell me how long the array is (classified, I suspect). Just judging by eye I'd have to say it's probably about a mile, maybe. It's heavier than water, so it can sink down below thermal layers and listen for subs that are trying to be sneaky by diving deep. If the sea is calm and the McFaul isn't moving then the tip of the array could dip down below 5,000 feet, down where it's always dark and below freezing.

So far they haven't found Atlantis, though. Seems to me that someone isn't listening hard enough.

Allow me to introduce you to Master Chief Kastler.

She's the top ranking NCO on board the USS McFaul. This means that she answers directly to the Captain, and one of her main jobs is to act as the enlisted crew member's advocate to the officers. She also tries to look out for the crew, and to help them achieve the most out of the time that they serve.

This would lead one to describe MDCM Kastler's job as being a den mother. This is a false analogy because she doesn't coddle anyone. Instead she tries to motivate them to get on out and take responsibility for their own actions.

Kastler and I talked for awhile. She's concerned about how the Navy's ships are aging.

"So how many new ships do we need to replace the ones that are due to retire? About three or four new ships need to be launched per year, and instead we're seeing only one or two. This means that many ships that reach the projected end of their service life are being kept around for longer than they should. The maintenance load is increasing, like the time they have to spend in port being repaired instead of being out in the ocean doing what they were built for. This should go on for awhile. What we should see is, in about twenty years things will get too much and there'll be about ten years of massive construction to replace most of the fleet."

We discussed her duties concerning motivating the crew. She stressed that support from the family is essential.

"The ones who have a lot of contact with their family are usually the ones that you want to have in the Navy. They're usually pretty motivated and want to get ahead, but they also have a lot of pressure to get out and come home. The ones who don't have that sort of support usually turn out to be the kind of people who you need to motivate more, and sometimes they really don't ever get it together."

Kastler has chosen the Navy as her career, and it's no surprise that her husband is also a lifer (I didn't meet the gentleman, so no pics). Both of them have worked out ways to use the skills they learned in the Navy in new and unique ways. One time it came in handy when it was atking some extra time to get the McFaul tied up to the dock, and Kathryn Woods was going to be late for a pistol competition.

"Until the phone and Internet lines are hooked up there's no real way to communicate with the shore. He (her husband.-Ed.) was sitting out in the parking lot, parked where I could see him from the Bridge. He started to blink his headlights in Morse, just saying Hello. I got on the signal lamp and told him what was going on. By the time the plank was in place and Woods went down it, he was waiting at the end of the pier right past the security checkpoint with his door open and a route already planned. He managed to get her there on time."

Talk about showing support for the crew!

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Back in the days of the wooden hulls, water was carried around in wooden barrels. Unless someone wanted to go over the side and splash around in the ocean, bathing just didn't happen. (If someone DID bath in sea water they'd itch like crazy with all of the salt on their skin.)

When engines replaced sail power some of the heat from the ship's power plant could be used to boil water. The steam was collected and allowed to recondense, which resulted in fresh water for bathing or cooking.

Except that there wasn't enough. The old WWII ships had Water Hours, where people would be assigned a short period of time during the day when they could wash up. They didn't have showers like we do at home, either. They'd have really short shower times, and they'd have to turn the shower off while soaping up. From a civilian's standpoint it sucked but it was a great improvement over those wooden barrels.

The McFaul doesn't have to worry about that. There's certainly enough water to take a real shower, but the crew is encouraged to make it a short one. (Hey, there were over 60 people in my berthing and only 3 shower stalls!) The way they make all of this lovely water is through a reverse osmosis system. In the simplest possible terms it's a filter system that allows them to get fresh water from sea water.

It's not perfect. The water had an odd smell and taste to it. I was told it was due to the bromide that's present in sea water and that the RO system doesn't get rid of. Still, it was good enough. It was at least as good as some of that funky-tasting water you can get out of the water fountains at Rest Areas along America's highways, and it was better than most of them.

I suppose that's why the flavored fruit drinks were so popular in the Mess. Covered up the odd taste.

Getting on board the McFaul is easy if it's in port. But what about the times that there isn't a dock to tie up to, or when it would be more convenient to simple get on a boat and go somewhere? For that, there's the ship's launch.

The boat consists of a small rigid hull with a flexible kevlar skirt attached to the top. This provides better seaworthiness in high seas, as well as acting as a ready-made cushion for when the launch is next to another ship. The deisel engine is set low, at the bottom of the rigid hull. This increases stability but it means that the engine is always in sea water that sloshes over the side. As anyone who's been to sea can tell you, sea water is absolutely deadly to bare metal. It will rust in just a few days if you're not careful.

An officer I was talking to said it best. "Like anything else the Navy does, it works great just as long as you throw a lot of maintenance at it. Just as soon as you can't pay attention it all falls apart."

You wouldn't think that the pic below is anything out of the ordinary. Just two guys with a strong family resemblance standing on the deck of a ship.

What you're looking at is two generations of a family that went to war on the sea. The gentleman to the left is Ray Regenerus, who served during the Viet Nam War on the USS Hanson (DD-32). Standing next to him is Lt. Scott Regenerus, who is currently serving on board the USS McFaul (DDG-74). Scott also happens to be Ray's son.

I talked with Ray about his experiences while on board the Hanson. He noticed differences between his ship and modern destroyers.

"We had more room to live in, which makes sense considering that there were more engineers on board. The McFaul makes do with surprisingly few people to keep the engines running. But, then again, the Hanson had a steam power plant, so I suppose that they needed the extra hands."

"We had torpedoes, sure. We even had ASROC torpedos that they'd equip us with every so often. They were brand new at the time, real cutting edge stuff. They'd line armed Marine guards up on the dock and bring them in a covered truck. We had to keep real tight security, mark down everybody we saw with a camera or making notes. Whenever we came in to port we'd have people on the deck looking for people who were looking at us. Then we'd radio the Shore Patrol and they'd pick them up."

"Our main weapon at the time was the twin 5" guns. We'd go up and down the coast all day, shooting off our magazine inland to support ground operations, then we'd go back and pick up more ammo and stores at night. Then it was back out to sea and we'd do it again. It got sort of boring after awhile. But the one thing that never got boring was the night sky out at sea. I loved it! You could see forever, and you could see everything. When I gained some rank they told me that I didn't have to stand deck watches at night anymore. That was the one thing I wanted to do! I even volunteered to do it, but they wouldn't let me."

Ray's time on board the Hanson made a great impression on him, so much that he knows what happened to his old ship. It was sold to Taiwan and rechristened the Liao Yang (DD-921). The veterans who served on her are trying to raise money so they can buy her back and turn her into a floating museum. I wish them luck.

Ray's son Scott and I had a chance to talk for a few minutes. The conversation quickly turned to politics. Scott had a few things to say about the current situation.

"If you take a look at out capabilities, they're really not all that much greater than they were ten years ago. The reason the Europeans are getting so vocal is that they let their own militaries slip so that they're now absolutely pitiful. It would take years for them to build up enough so they could compete with us, decades even, and I don't think they're even going to start to try any time soon. The only option they really have is to try and convince us to do what they want through diplomacy, or public opinion, or something."

"Hey, that's their problem!" I said.

"Not really. Or at least not wholly. Our State Department's job is to get us the resources we need to get the job done. That's gotten harder in the last few years as other countries realize just what they can bring to the table. Which is not much. So it's natural that they're going to hold on to what they have and try to gain the greatest leverage they can. This doesn't mean that we can't do what we have to without their help, and the Europeans aren't being realistic if they think they can stop us from doing something that we consider vital, but it does mean that it will be harder or more expensive."

It seems to me that Scott has a pretty firm grasp on the situation. He's going to get a chance to put it to good use, since he'll soon be transferred to US Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC. I'm glad that the Navy isn't wasting any of the resources they have at hand, just like I'm glad that Scott is on our side.

So what is it about destroyers? Those tiny fighting ships, where young people are thrown together in extremely crowded conditions and asked to do things that the rest of us consider impossible? It seems to either burn away childishness or to reinforce it. At any rate, the people who serve on destroyers become the persons that they'll be for the rest of their lives while they're there, good or bad. It's a milestone that makes a really big impression.

Case in point is this web page that has links to many sites that were set up by veterans to honor the ships on which they served.
Every one of the Tigers was excited when they told us we could be there when they test-fired the 5"/54 gun.

When I saw this thing, sitting on the deck, I thought that it looked a little bit like one of those small Imperial Walkers that were in the Star Wars movies before they started to suck so bad, but without the legs, of course. The numbers that make up the 5"/54's name refers to the caliber of the shell (5"), and how many times that number the barrel length is (54 times the 5" diameter. I'll let you guys do the math).

The shell itself is fired electrically. The "primer" is a contact where the electrical connection is made.

The charge is carried along the entire length of the shell by a tube inside the case. This is to make sure that the maximum amount of powder is exposed to the charge, just in case some of it has gotten wet and doesn't want to explode like it should. Seems very practical to me, worrying about water getting inside of a shell that's stored on a ship that travels around all of the world's oceans.

The gun is an actual, real, honest-to-God artillery piece and it's automatically fed from a 20 round drum located under the deck. Realizing that the 5" will do different things if loaded with different ammunition the drum is usually only kept loaded with ten rounds. This way they can have instant ready firepower yet still be able to empty the magazine and be ready to reload with what's needed in about five seconds.

I was on the Bridge when the gun fired. Radar checks, sonar pings and visually scanning the ocean were all done to make sure that there was nothing out there. Then the gun was fired once to check range. It made a really loud noise that I felt deep in my chest and a cloud of white smoke blew over me. Smelled just like going to the shooting range, except a bit more concentrated. The PA came on. "Five seconds to impact. Five, four, three, two, one...Impact!" Waaay out on the horizon a gout of water lifted from the surface of the ocean. It took almost fifteen seconds before it finally settled back.

"Check fire! Check fire! There's something in the water, halfway between us and the impact point! Get some eyes on it!"

This put my heart in my throat. Someone was out here? But it turned out to be some balloons from a children's birthday party, rolling across the sea. Some bit of trash that the wind carried all the way out there. As soon as they figured out what it was the serious business of blowing up the ocean could continue.

They fired four rounds at a time, with one half second intervals between each round. Artillery crews in the land-based armed forces call this short burst of quick-fire a "stonk". I have no idea what the guys in the Navy call it. Something nautical, probably.

After each sequence of rounds the PA would come on and the same guy would count down the seconds before impact. Then we'd watch a few pillars of water grow from the surface and, slowly, fall back again.

It was very impressive, what with the noise and all. But, impressive or not, the deck guns are some of the least effective ship-to-ship weapons that the McFaul has in her on-board arsenal. Her most effective weapon against surface ships is probably her Harpoon missiles, and there's no doubt that the best thing for an enemy submarine are the Mk46 torpedos that she carries. So why do they still have a gun at all?

The Navy is just trying to save the taxpayers some money. Sure, the robot kamikaze missiles that she's equipped with could destroy any ship that attacked the McFaul, but the gun is certainly good enough to take care of smaller craft without wasting a million dollars a shot. The gun also has the bonus of being able to provide support to infantry units ashore, as long as they're within range.

After the shoot, spent shell casings were being offered to the Tigers as souvenirs.

And Now for the Rest of the Story
My sponsor, Kathryn, is assigned to Sonar. She was on duty while the 5" was being fired, and she was rather bored. When she heard the PA announce "Impact!", she'd start to count to herself. When the sound of the shell hitting the water reached the ship she marked bearing, and the seconds she had counted off allowed her to calculate range. All of this means that she knew where the shell hit to within a few yards, and she can also calculate the distance and bearing to another ship by the sound of the engines. If everything was going wrong, the radar was out and it was too dark to see, she could feed info to the Bridge that would allow them to aim and fire the gun.

Kathryn didn't think that this was all that interesting but I was certainly impressed. I asked her if she could tell where a golf ball splashed if someone hit it off of the Flight Deck. She hesitated, and then admitted that she could if the sea was calm and the engines weren't running. After all, ahe said, a golf ball doesn't make as much noise as an exploding artillery shell.

Considering that I've heard both when they hit something, I have to admit that she has a point.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Every member of the armed forces and veterans who have served in the past deserve our thanks. I'd like to present mine.

Thanks, guys. We owe you.

I've mentioned that living on board ship is rough. No privacy, your personal life put on hold, and nothing to do but perform maintenance and practice practice practice. This is an essential job, and we owe every one of the people who protect us by going to sea our thanks, but it's getting harder to find people willing to do it.

Seems that the Navy has noticed that keeping the ships on station for months results in lower new enlistments and a lower number of renewals. So they they're going to try something new.

According to, they're going to keep the carriers and all of their escort craft in port for longer periods of time. When trouble flares up they'll deploy more than one of the carriers at once. This strategy of keeping several carriers and their escorts ready to go is referred to as a "surge system". What the heck, it might just work.

The crews will approve, I think.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

An acquaintance at work asked me what the crew of the USS McFaul felt about the ruckus raised by some congressmen when Pres. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) for a speech. This puzzled me. I had heard that President Bush had given a speech on the flattop, mainly because most of the crew on the McFaul were somewhat envious, but I hadn't heard about any controversy.

The US Navy has a keen interest in the morale of their crews, and one of the ways that they try and keep it high is by allowing the guys on the ships access to the outside world. They do this through increased Email service and by trying to get their mail to the crews as fast as possible. But it's an imperfect world, and each ship out at sea doesn't have a T1 line connecting it to shore. InterNet access is spotty at best. Besides, there's more to worry about than some Congressmen trying to get their names in the paper.

So what was going on around the McFaul while Pres. Bush was on the Abraham Lincoln?

On the day that Bush delivered his speech, I was standing on the deck of the McFaul, watching something burning in the sea. The Ticonderoga class cruiser, the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) was racing around it at high speed. Two Coast Guard cutters passed us as they headed towards the Gettysburg as fast as they could, and we could see a helo orbiting the scene.

What the heck was going on?

Well, it seems that a boat out of Miami capsized in the night. 6 people clung to the hull for 12 hours until the Gettysburg's radar noticed the wreckage on the horizon. The Captain decided to turn the situation into a training excercise.

The survivors were picked up by helo, and the wreck was destroyed by naval gunfire so it would no longer be a menace to navigation. The McFaul asked more than once if assistance was required, but the Gettysburg kept insisting that they had everything well in hand.

So, six souls pulled from the hungry sea. No wonder I didn't hear about Waxman and Byrd's little appeal for attention. And no wonder that I couldn't care less.

Sorry for the lack of posts on Friday and Saturday. I had to study for a MidTerm in Ancient Mediterranian Warfare (aced the test, BTW). Then I had to recover from a mere 5 hours of sleep spread out over three days.

But I've rested up some, and I'll start blogging up a storm for the next few days.

Want to see the one thing on the ship that I just couldn't get used to while I was there?

That little manhole is over one of the ladders that lead from one deck to another. Notice that it's part of a larger hatch cover, one that can be opened to provide more room if large peices of equipment need to be moved from one deck to another. Sure, they could have opened all of the larger hatch covers to provide a little more room for my (shall we say) ample frame, but that would have comprimised the McFaul's ability to create watertight compartments by simply slamming a hatch cover and dogging it down. There might have been very little danger of any damage while she was on a Tiger Cruise, but we're still at war and the McFaul is a warship. She has to be ready, just in case.

The problem I had with these hatches is that there's nothing but sharp angles and armor plate around one of them. I kept seeing myself slipping and breaking something in a fall. ("Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" Probably a sign of my advancing age.) It didn't help that I wasn't used to the motion of the waves.

The crew don't have this problem. They just go up and down the stairs without any hesitation at all.

I'm sure that I would have developed this skill with practice, I just didn't spend enough time on the ship to become comfortable. Instead I would lower myself gingerly through the hole, careful not to scrape my shoulders, and then go down the stairs like I was climbing a ladder. Lucky for my ego that none of the crew laughed at me while I was doing this.

Let me introduce you to GM3 Mallory.

When I heard that she was a Gunner's Mate like Peugh and Dadisman, I made the mistake of assuming that she was also involved in maintaining the small arms on board.

"I don't do any of that small fry stuff. Tomahawks! The really BIG guns!"

What Mallory was referring to were the Tomahawk cruise missiles that the USS McFaul are equipped with. They allow the ship to have an over-the-horizon strike capability that's far greater than any of it's other weapons, about the same as a WWII escort carrier with all of it's aircraft. It's amazing that they can pack all that firepower in such a tiny ship.

Mallory's jobs can be rather hazardous. The Tomahawks have to be loaded with some pretty volatile fuel to pack the greatest range into their limited gas tanks. One of the crew told me that the unofficial name of the fuel used is "Alien's Blood", becuase it's so toxic that it will cause some real problems if it ever leaks out of the Tomahawks special tanks. Apparently it will eat through several decks of the steel hull until it reaches the ocean.

I could use some of that stuff. There's some dandelions growing in my yard that I just can't get rid of. I didn't ask Mallory to help because she seemed rather enthusiastic about her job. I was afraid that she would simply target a Tomahawk to my front yard. This would probably take care of the dandelions, but it seemed a bit drastic to me at the time.

Take a look at the picture below.

The young woman on the right is GMSN Carrie Dadisman and the fellow on the left is GM2 Jason Peugh. (I wanted to get seperate pics, but Dadisman insisted on having her pic taken with her boss. This certainly seems to have made Dadisman more cheerful about getting her pic taken, but Peugh seems to be rather self-concious.)

These are two of the individuals that are resonsible for the small arms on board ship, the stuff that I was talking about here. I saw Peugh bolting down the mounts for the M60 and the .50's when we were approaching Norfolk on the last day of the Tiger Cruise. He and I talked for a bit, and it seems that another of his duties is to familiarize the members of the crew with the weapons that they're required to carry while on picket duty. He and I both agree that helping the new student overcome their fear of the weapons is the first (and hardest) part.

"It's a big problem, with men and women both. They've been watching too much TV, been taught that the guns will hurt them as soon as they fire them. I've had people drop, I mean actually drop, a gun when they shoot it for the first time. Some of them are so scared that they're closing their eyes and flinching with every shot.

"It takes some time to overcome it. You just have to let them know that they're not going to get hurt and let them get used to it. Then they can get really enthusiastic."

Like most shooters, Peugh constantly works to improve his own skills. He also finds that working with a handgun is one of the most rewarding and challenging types of arms to work with. I'm sure that most of my readers will be gratified to hear that he's also a fan of 1911-style handgun chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge.

"I've got a Springfield match-grade 1911, and let me tell you, it makes a big difference. When you see the way the pattern shrinks due to the gun, confidence really soars. I think that's one thing that can really make someone enthused."

I'm sure that most of my readers would agree with that, particularly with Peugh's comments about the 1911 and the .45 ACP.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Onen of the procedures that the US Navy is most proud of is the Underway Replenishment, or UnRep. An emergency measure that was started in WWII to deal with a lack of bases in the Pacific Theater, UnRep is nothing more than having a tanker/supply ship rendezvous with a warship in the open ocean and pass over some fuel and supplies. Sounds boring, right? What if I told you that it's indescribably dangerous?

What I mean by that is that, should something go wrong, someone is almost certainly going to be killed or maimed for life. One of the two ships involved might even be lost. It's that serious.

The way this works is that a tanker ship pulls up next to the warship.

Notice the cranes on the tanker. They are for passing over the hoses needed to pump thousands of gallons of fuel over to the McFaul's tanks. Here's a better look at the hollow rubber octopus arms.

This is one of the dangers that come with this maneuver. Two ships, on the hight seas, bobbing and rolling around on the waves, both of them moving forward so the helmsman can steer. If they drift together then they're going to run into each other. If they drift apart the hoses connecting the two ships, the pipeline that's pumping hundreds of gallons of fuel, will pull loose. If that happens then there's going to be hundreds of gallons of fuel splashing across the deck, and if there's a spark....

Okay, so a constant distance has to be maintained no matter what the waves and the wind and the helmsman on the other ship does. Has to! So how do they gauge that sort of thing? By eye?

Kinda. They attach two lines to the tanker and toss them across the warship's deck. Little flags tied to the lines every few feet allow the guys on the Bridge to intsantly see how far apart the ships are. How do they keep tension on the line so it's always taught and the flags are easy to see? They put crew members out on the deck to hold on to the rope.

This is the really dangerous part. A sudden yank on the line and someone could be flying into a bulkhead, or even pulled overboard in a heartbeat. So notice how they're dressed. Hard hats. Non-slip boots. Life vests. They even have an enormous activated glo-stick attached to the vest, just in case.

Also notice what they're doing. The guy in back is checking the slack, making sure that feet don't get tangled in the free end. See the guy in the yellow hard hat and the blue life vest? He's a medic, waiting in the cold wind, just in case. Standing next to him is MCDM Kastler, who's the highest ranking enlisted person on the ship. Notice the white cord leading off her headphones. She's in direct communication with the Bridge, just in case.

The UnRep takes hours, so they have extra crews for the line detail. Some of them work, some of them were dozing on the deck away from the action (No pics of that. Didn't want the flash to wake anyone).

I've mentioned that this procedure is indescribably dangerous, and it is. But it's also not very risky. The safety checks that are followed make it routine. When deployed US warships go through an UnRep once or twice a week, and they're very proud of their safety record. No other navy in the world does this as often, as safely or as efficiently as the US Navy. This allows our warships to be deployed anywhere, and for longer periods of time.

There's a reason why they performed an UnRep on the last day I was on board, and it didn't have anything to do with showing off for the Tigers. Ever since 9/11 all US warships have to have a minimum of 80% capacity of fuel in their tanks when they put into port. If an attack is launched on the base they'll simply slip their moorings and steam for the open sea, ready to defend against other attacks or conduct rescue operations.

It's easy to think that we're at peace if you're a civilian. These guys can't ever forget that we're really at war.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Most people have heard about MRE's, those pre-packaged wonders that the military uses to feed the soldiers in the field. And why not? They're technological wonders that will keep for years under practically any conditions, as well as being so ergonomoically designed that they include toilet paper. But MRE's aren't served every meal, or even most meals. On board ship they're pretty much never served at all. Instead the crew eats what's called "A Rations". This is pretty much your standard bulk food service meals. But what about quality?

The Navy realizes that a major factor in morale is the quality of the food offered but they're also concerned with waste, cost and the time it takes to prepare the meals. I found an old PDF file that details an experiment with pre-packaged entrees (which the Navy referred to as "Advanced Foods". Go figure). The conclusions of the study was that the "Advanced Foods" reduced waste and prep time, but it added salt and fat to the diet while cutting back on variety. If the Navy has followed up on this then about 1/2 of the meals on board American warships are bulk pre-packaged food service entrees.

I've discussed the food served on board the McFaul here before. My sponsor for the Tiger Cruise, Kathryn Woods, was kind enough to send me an Email along with a picture of what happens to cornbread when the seas are rough.

Okay, enough backstory. How was the chow?

It wasn't bad at all! In fact I'd have to say that it was some of the best cafeteria food I've ever had. It was at least as good as the stuff you can get at one of those buffet restaurants, and it was better than most of them. I talked to one of my fellow Tigers who had been invited to spend some time on a US nuclear submarine, and he said that the entrees were better on the boomer mainly because the ingredients were better. Prime rib instead of meat loaf, lobster tails instead of frozen fish patties smothered in butter. But he also mentioned that the side dishes and desserts were identical.

So the food wasn't bad but the crew would endlessly complain. Listen to them and you'd think that we were still back in the days of Napoleonic wooden hulls, with hard tack and salt pork every single meal. I have to admit that it would become tedious after a while if they only served the same two entrees all the time (which happens every so often on deployment). Otherwise I'd have to say that there was room for improvement but I've certainly had to live on much worse.

Just as an aside, I noticed that the crew would be very concerned with their meals. They'd complain, sure, but they'd also arrange their whole day around when they'd get to eat. This is due to the fact that meal times are one of the few times they're actually allowed to take a break from the job, and food is a great stress reliever. As soon as they get off the ship food loses most of it's importance. Having the choice to eat what you want when you want, which is a freedom that they don't have while on board, might have something to do with it.

The mess crew are the great unsung heroes of the Navy. Everything including morale revolves arounf their efforts. And they do have what can be a daunting job. Look at the picture below, where the food for a single day has been moved out of the large storage freezers and is about to be taken into the kitchen.

That's over 900 pounds of food for more than 300 people. And they do it every single day, four meals with sides and fresh fruit and a stocked salad bar, for months at a time while on deployment.

I'm glad I don't have to scrub all of those pots and pans.

Monday, May 19, 2003

There's two places where people take thier meals on the McFaul. One is the Enlisted Mess (or maybe they call it the "Enlisted Galley". Never could get that right.). This is what it looks like.

Notice that the ship was rocking around a little when I took the pic, hence the tilt.

It's a clean, pleasant place to eat a meal. Right behind that wooden screen visible to the extreme left is a closed circuit television where the crew can view their favorite DVD's or videos. There's usually something playing on the TV.

I counted the seats, and about 60 people can sit down at any one time. They handle the great number of people who pass through every single meal by staggering the times that they can take a break from their job and grab some chow. It works pretty well.

The place where the officers eat is called the Wardroom.

The first thing I noticed was how the place resembled a conference room at a mid-sized business. That's pretty much it's secondary function. Planning sessions and meetings are conducted there all the time, sometimes in the middle of the night.

Whereas the enlisted members of the crew can eat what they want with no charge, the officers have to actually pay for their meals. It's a reflection of their better pay. At every meal they're offered a menu card where they circle what they want, and the cards are kept so they can settle up later. One compensation is that the officers are actually waited on at meals.

To take this picture I simply wandered up to the Wardroom and, after asking the kid Tiger playing video games if he'd mind if I included him in the picture, I let fly. I probably broke some protocol by walking into the Wardroom without an escort, but that's the advantage of being an ignorant civilian.

Most people grow up watching war movies that are about the naval battles fought during World War II. And why not? It was the last time there were large-scale sea battles, with naval gunfire actually doing some good. Exciting stuff.

So people can be forgiven if they should happen to see some barrel shaped objects on a modern destroyer and think "Oh, those must be the depth charges. For attacking submarines, dontchya know?"

I know I did. But that just shows how much of a lubber I am.

Modern attack subs dive way too deep and they move way too fast for big cans of explosive to be of any use. By the time the depth charge had fallen all the way down to where the sub is lurking it would literally be miles away.

Instead those are giant inflatable life rafts. Should the unthinkable happen and the McFaul sinks, those barrels would be automatically released from the rack when it was ten feet down or so. Then the barrels pop open, the orange life raft inflates, and a nifty life-saving device heads back up to the surface.

I was told that they're stocked with enough food and water per raft to sustain thirty people for a week. The rafts in those six barrels alone could save more than half the crew, and there's more placed at strategic places around the superstructure. Another part of the design is that the rafts themselves are plenty large, easy to see from a search aircraft.

I just hope no one ever has to use them.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

SH2 Gorrell mentioned that one of his most important jobs is keeping the snacks well stocked in the Ship's Store. That's pretty apparent if one should glance inside the store itself.

Notice the items visible on the shelves. Snacks snacks snacks. Down towards the bottom they even have big boxes of Saltines and cans of Cheeze Whiz for sale so the budget-conscious Navy snacker can assemble their own crunchy refreshment. To the right is a smaller shelf that holds personal toiletries (soap, shampoo, towels, deoderant, shaving materials, feminine hygiene products). Nestled into the corner by the door is a refrigerator containing candy bars.

All in all, I'd have to say that about 2/3 of the shelf space is devoted to snacks, the rest to less tasty fare. What's really remarkable about this is that there's a cluster of vending machines bolted to the deck just a few steps away. Two Pepsi machines and a snack machine laden with the same items available in the Store, just packaged in smaller and more costly amounts.

I've also mentioned that there's always stuff to eat in the Enlisted Mess. Fresh fruit is just left there for anyone to grab, if nothing else. But the snacks that the crew have to pay for are very popular, much more so than they are in the civilian world. Added to that is the way that everyone would insist that morale would suffer if the snack supply would run out.

It took a few days for me to puzzle out, but I think that it's a way to cope with stress.

Most of us have a job so we can pay for our real life. We go home every day, devote some time to the family and our hobbies to relax and recharge, and then we sleep so we can get up and go do it again.

This isn't the way things happen on board ship. The stress is not insignificant, mainly because the job never ends and you can't get away from it. Personality conflicts will arise whenever more than two people get together, but there isn't any way to get away from someone who rubs you the wrong way. Sometimes they sleep just a few feet away from you, so even going to bed isn't a relief. And the crew is denied the most important of relationships, the support that family and loved ones provide, for months at a time. Considering all this, I'm not surprised that the crunchy snacks are brisk sellers.

I wonder if I have any Cheeze Whiz in my pantry?