31 March 2008

Guest Blogger

Just prior to getting underway we welcomed aboard Peter Brown, Ph.D., a college professor for the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE). He hails from Jackson State University, and as it turns out, is here to teach English. My scheming XO mind immediately went to work to enlist him, given his unique point of view, and it took all of 4.5 nanoseconds to get him to jump aboard. Here’s his first offering:

If you were to ask me my thoughts and feelings about life aboard the RUSSELL, I’d say that I don’t have much to compare it to. This is my first time aboard a Navy ship, or any other ocean-going vessel, so life here is still charming and new to me.

I also have the added benefit of only being with RUSSELL for a couple months, so the end, while not in sight, isn’t that far off. Even if I didn’t like it, I won’t be here long.

Our English classes have settled in fine. Speaking in terms of academic preparation and personal history, Navy students are a lot like the students at the university where I teach, although the students here have a more get-down-to-business attitude that comes from being adults.

My students and I fight, on a daily basis, our campaign against dangling modifiers and other such manifestations of slack-mindedness (many of you military types fear Al Qaeda; I fear the dangling modifier and its awful cousin the lazy modifier, the two suicide bombers of effective communication).

I witnessed and participated in my first Steel Beach yesterday. I found it disconcerting to no longer be the only one in mismatched beachwear.

There was of course one casualty.

The football will be missed.

As I watched the ball floating in our wake, I thought of the volleyball, Wilson, that Tom Hanks had for a companion in Castaway and how he lost Wilson out at sea. I can’t help but wonder where the RUSSELL’s ball will turn up. I don’t have any charts with prevailing currents, so I can’t speculate, but I’m rooting for it to show up on a future episode of Lost.

Hull Numbers 101

Many of you are probably wondering what the combination of letters and numbers attached to the names of naval vessels are all about. Called “hull numbers”, they are a quick reference for identifying a ship’s primary mission and when they were constructed with respect to other ships in a type. For RUSSELL, the ship’s type is “DDG”, and we’re the 59th ship in the type (Not really, though. I’ll give you more about why later.)

In most cases, the first letter in the hull number describes the “big picture” of what a ship does. The following letter or letters refine the role further. Here are some examples of first letters and associated types:

B - Battleship
C - Cruiser or aircraft carrier
D - Destroyer
F - Frigate
S - Submarine
P - Patrol
M - Mine warfare
L - Amphibious warfare (as in, “Landing”)
A - Auxiliary
T - Auxiliaries operated by civilian mariners

And here are some common letters you’ll find after the type letter:

G - Guided missile or meteorological support
V - Aviation
H - Helicopter
P - Transport (as in, “Personnel”)
D - Dock or destroyer support
K - Cargo
O - Oiler or oceanographic support
S - Submarine support or anti-submarine warfare
E - Escort or ammunition (as in, “Explosives”)
C - Coastal

Therefore, USS JUNEAU (LPD 10) is an “amphibious transport dock” and USS RUSSELL (DDG 59) is a “guided-missile destroyer”. Now, a ship’s type is not to be confused with “class”. Ship types are created to describe a ship’s function, while the class of a ship gets its name from the lead ship that was built upon a particular design. For RUSSELL, though our ship’s type is a “DDG”, our class is Arleigh Burke, so named after the lead ship, USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG 51).

Usually, the numbers are merely sequential in a type, with each new class beginning where the last one left off. Sometimes, however, the expectation that senior leaders be innovative mixes with the previously noted adherence to tradition and produces a volatile brew of institutional schizophrenia.

One symptom of this potentially toxic mix might be that the Navy just starts over. For instance, USS GYATT (DDG-1) began life as USS GYATT (DDG-712). In the case of the GYATT, Big Navy just decided that the modifications were so advanced that she was the starting point of a new type. Another symptom is the case of the soon-to-be commissioned USS FREEDOM (LCS 1), which was given its type designation without regard to any system. What does LCS stand for, you ask? “Littoral Combat Ship”, which is exactly what it does.

Wow. Common sense.


30 March 2008

Fires Lit!

It's the first Sunday from home, and the crew was quite ready for the first Steel Beach Picnic of the deployment. So, with the wardroom as the hosts, we rolled out the grills and turned on the music.

Fires lit

The Captain plays with fire

The XO plays with fire

Chow down. On the menu: Hawaiian short ribs (of course), hot dogs, hamburgers, fried rice, pancit, macaroni salad and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Playing ball

CMC tries hacky sack

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 3

Breaking out the ammo

Loading the gun

Big boom

Photo by FC1 Valenzuela

Little boom with big grin

All done

Also, I updated the last Eye Candy post with some better pictures. Click on any photo to get it full size. ET3 Kirkland has some much better equipment than I do, and I'll be posting more of their pictures in the future.

29 March 2008

Division in the Spotlight - CG Division

Were you able to stroll the passageways of the RUSSELL this morning, you would find the members of the division that’s the focus of this inaugural division in the spotlight with springs in their steps and big grins on their faces. If you asked an ordinary Sailor what the cheer was for, they would likely answer, “Oh, he’s getting to play with things that go boom today.” You guessed it, the “G” in CG Division stands for “gunnery”.

CG Division is manned by our Gunner’s Mates, a few select Fire Controlmen and the ship’s sole Master-at-Arms. Collectively they maintain and operate the ship’s small arms, guns and launchers, and they store and handle the ship’s ammunition. For RUSSELL, that job begins with the ship’s two launchers that can carry up to eight Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles.

In addition, they maintain and operate our two Close-In Weapons Systems (CIWS), each sporting a six-barreled 20mm electric gatling gun for point defense against missiles and boats. And of course, CG Division also maintains the ship’s 5in naval gun on the forecastle, the two Mk38 25mm cannons on the port and starboard side amidships, and a variety of machine guns, grenade launchers and other small arms.

So, all of CG Division is gleeful because they get to shoot the 5in, 25mm’s and main gun today for operational tests and regular pre-action calibration (a test that ensures the rounds hit their intended target). And yes, faithful readers, there will be pictures.

Now, where are my earplugs?

28 March 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 2

Airdales lounging in the sun while everyone else works.

Multitasking - USS CURTS (FFG 38) fuels alongside USNS RAINIER (T-AOE 7) while taking stores by helicopter from USNS BRIDGE (T-AOE 10)

27 March 2008

A Captain, But No Company

Many people are relatively familiar with the organization of smaller Army and Marine units, with companies being comprised of platoons and squads. Fewer have any familiarity with how we organize the crew on a warship, however. And of course, being the Navy, we have a stubborn adherence to tradition that can confuse things.

For instance, we don’t have an organizational unit officially designated as a “company”, though we often refer to the crew as the “ship’s company”. This practice originated in the very early days of Britain’s Royal Navy, when a warship was often nothing more than a merchant with company of soldiers embarked. The ship was run by a Master, and the soldiers were commanded by a captain with a commission from the sovereign.

Eventually, when the Crown formalized the navy as a service, and the crew officially became “the King’s Men”, the service merged the positions of Captain and Master into one commissioned office. Many of you may have wondered about the title of the novel and movie, Master and Commander, which was a rank in the Royal Navy that was a direct relic of the merger. This is also why the commanding officer of a warship is still called "captain" regardless of his or her actual rank.

To take us back to today and the U.S. Navy, the largest organizational unit on a ship is the department, lead by a department head. Old salts probably remember the old acronym, SNOWE, which was a tool to remember the departments that were common to all ships – Supply, Navigation, Operations, Weapons and Engineering. Due to the complexity of RUSSELL, we have an additional department, Combat Systems. “CS” typically is responsible for the electronics, while “Weps” is responsible for the launchers, guns and ordnance.

Within most departments are several divisions, each lead by a division officer. The naming of the divisions can be even more messy, again because those pesky traditions. As an example, we have 1st and OI Divisions in Operations, an E Division in Engineering, and an S-2 Division in Supply. Fear not, there’ll be more on all the divisions as time goes by.

[Update] Below are the divisions of the ship. New divisions are added as they get highlighted in the Division in the Spotlight series.

Eye Candy for Sailors

Just some pictures from the first few days at sea until I can post something more substantive.

You can't start a road trip without "filling up" first.

USNS BRIDGE (T-AOE 10) fuels USS MOBILE BAY (CG 53) as we prepare to make our approach.


1st Division prepares to seat BRIDGE's fueling probe on our starboard aft station.


26 March 2008

Milestones, Major and Minor

Sailors, particularly ones who decide to make a life in the Navy, tend to measure their lives and careers in milestones. Some are long-range milestones, like promotions, changes of station or warfare qualifications. Others are short-range milestones, like starting or ending a deployment or major maintenance period, "chopping" from one fleet area to another, visiting the next liberty port or the mid-point of a deployment, "Hump Day". A few Sailors have even begun counting the days until our scheduled return. “A hundred and ninety something”, I heard a Sailor say just yesterday.

Why do I bring this up, you ask? Well, we reached the first obvious milestone in our mission to the West and back: Burger Day. On most Navy ships, Wednesdays are Burger Days. I'm sure this may seem like a small thing to most of you. However, in a world where the lines between days, weeks and months blur under the busy pace of operations, little things like serving hamburgers on the same day every week are the only landmarks by which a Sailor can shoot a bearing and mark the passage of time. And you can be sure, if we missed a Burger Day, our Supply Officer, the Command Master Chief and I would hear about it from the crew.

On this, the First Burger Day, our Food Service Division ensured the mess line was well-stocked, not only with regular and veggie burgers, but with an impressive array of fresh lettuce and tomato, sliced cheese, grilled onions and, yes, bacon. After all, everything’s better with bacon. The mustard-dill fish looked like it knew it was outclassed.

Maybe it needed some bacon.

Only 20-something more Burger Days to go 'till homecoming....

25 March 2008

Farewell to Paradise

For the last two weeks, the ship buzzed with activity. But now, the storerooms and magazines are full, and the last items, the fresh fruits and vegetables, were loaded on Friday. Finally, after a deceptive calm overtook the ship for the weekend as RUSSELL’s crew finished their personal business and packing - and savored their last hours at home - RUSSELL took in all lines yesterday at 1:29 PM and headed fair for sea.

U.S. Navy Photo

My weekend overflowed with many of the routine activities of a holiday weekend – an Easter Egg hunt on Saturday and services and dinner on Sunday. I squeezed in the critical items on my “Honey Do” list, and even managed to pack most of my last-minute items without detracting from the family time. Still, Monday morning came all too quickly, and after making my spouse’s favorite comfort foods for breakfast, Eggs Benedict with tomato and asparagus and Mexican chocolate mocha, we piled into the car for an unusually quiet drive to the ship. Finally, after the last of the goodbyes and prayers of Godspeed, the business of the day surged to the forefront.

Now go to your stations all the Special Sea and Anchor Detail

The hard work and planning that went into a fast cruise and one-day underway after our leave periods expired manifested itself immediately when the Officer of the Deck ordered the sea detail to their stations. Long periods in port tend to dull our mariner skills, and when we pretended to go to sea on the 15th and went to sea on the 18th for the day, the ship struggled here and there to execute the plan. Not so on “Game Day”. All hands were on station and on time, and with the exception of one bridgewing pelorus, all our equipment worked as designed. In what felt like no time at all, heat billowed from the stacks and all lines were hauled on deck, and the Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch’s whistle screeched over the ship’s announcing system as he called out, “Underway. Shift colors.”

Soon, we were bidding farewell to Mighty Mo’ and turning out of the basin for the channel. As we pulled away from the pier, though, the crowd struck me as unusually thin. I soon discovered why. All along the channel, the shores were dotted with small groups and individuals gathered to say their goodbyes and wave as the ship passed. A man and three children perched on rock at the water's edge, and stood at attention and saluted. The ship’s whistle howled one prolonged blast in farewell as we passed the final group, left our home behind, and hurried off to undertake the potentially deadly business at hand.

24 March 2008

The Destroyermen's Mission Statement

Here it is:

To deliver an authentic, unvarnished, informative and entertaining account of life aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer, report on USS RUSSELL's contribution to the Global War on Terror and execution of America's Maritime Strategy, and provide insight into the character of the American Sailor. 

Our first objective is to offer a true-to-life picture of what American Sailors do day in and day out aboard a warship, in port and at sea. There are, after all, more blogs out there detailing life of the ground-pounding variety than you can shake a cat-o-nine-tails at, but precious few that tell about American Sailors at sea.

Second, most Americans know few if any members of the military and little more about the military than its general role in society. So, one way to think of this blog is an unofficial civil-military relations project keeping the West Virginia miners, Montana ranchers, Iowa farmers and Boston software developers up to speed on what their Navy's all about.

Third, we hope to provide insight into the U.S. Navy's participation in the Global War on Terror and execution of America's Maritime Strategy. To date, the Army and Marines have been grabbing all the headlines (both good and bad), and there's been scant reporting about what the Navy's been up to for the last six years. From the Philippine Sea to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Gulf, we're in it up to our main trucks and somebody's got to tell the story.


The Destroyermen's "Standing Orders"

The Destroyermen offers a genuine representation of life on a ship and records the day-to-day events aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer. The following are the rules under which the site will be operated:

  1. This site is an official Navy web site. The Destroyermen will be relocating to a .mil domain in July or August 2008.

  2. Contributions to the content are voluntary and are not part of any Sailor's official duties. Posts and photographs are reviewed by the Executive Officer and released by the Commanding Officer prior to posting.

  3. No information is posted that is not deemed acceptable to release through normal public affairs channels.

  4. This web site will comply with all policies and laws regarding the privacy of service members and their dependents.

  5. This site, including the comment areas, will not be used to air dirty laundry or circumvent any chain of command.

  6. While a general disclaimer is included at the bottom of every page, every effort will be made to identify when a writer is expressing his or her own opinions and when he or she is reiterating an official policy.

  7. We will not offer personal opinions on, or enter into debates about, our superiors, the government officials or bodies listed in Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or partisan political issues. Commenters will be similarly moderated.

  8. Comments are moderated, and when possible commenters who appear to violate any of these standing orders will be given the opportunity to amend their comments. In the event differences of opinion cannot be resolved, we reserve the right to delete comments.

  9. No advertising or merchandising for a commercial purpose is permitted on The Destroyermen. Links or comments for a commercial purpose will be deleted.