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.


Marv said...

In 1970 I told the Navy to whistle up a rope when the downtown recruiter tried to trick me into a 6 year enlistment instead of the 4 that I signed up for.

Never did go in, always regretted it, something tells me I'd have been a lifer.

I love this blog....it's educational, it's interesting, and I can day dream .....
thanks for doing it, .

cat said...

Awesome post. I think it's cool how the Navy is still basically the same Navy from two centuries ago. That's just one small reason of the tons upon thousands of reasons why my goal is the USNA, and not the USAFA or something. Can't wait for more! ;)

Anonymous said...

And if you don't believe the Navy hasn't changed much in 200 years, I strongly suggest reading a book called "Six Frigates", the REAL story of the birth of the US Navy.

LCDR Chris van Avery, USN, Executive Officer said...

Oh, I've read it and concur wholeheartedly. That book's also got some startlingly familiar things to say about the American political process, defense policy, and shipbuilders.

xformed said...


I'd suggest you check in the Goat Locker for a blog author volunteer to compliment the three of you.

Another whole perspective to post.

This is off to a great start.

Anonymous said...

Roger that, XO. I thought the most important thing I read, was that against the protests of Congress, George Washington himself chose the first officers of the US Navy. He did a right fine job in my opinion. And the ships that Joshua Humpreys built? Amazing...truly blew the Brits away.

This book should be required reading for all officers.

Byron Audler

Edward said...

I look forward to learning about the daily life of modern navy personnel on patrol.

It would be wonderful if you could post profiles of the various ratings in the chain of command, something like Dadmanly did. See the URL
for a link to all of them. They were quite informative as to the duties and responsibilities and often humerous. I believe that you will likely have to leave off names, but a description of the modern ratings roles would be educational to those of us who have never served aboard ship.

Wishing you well!

LCDR Chris van Avery, USN, Executive Officer said...


I'm looking for a chief, and we've put out two calls to all hands for contributions so far, only two (and possibly a third) takers.

maxxdog said...

I'll bet you'll get more takers after people settle into the cruise. Let's face it, while the start of a deployment is exciting as I recall, it also had some suck to it. Leaving the familiar homeport and loved ones takes a little time to get over.
You appear to be getting over 350 hits/day on the site. That's pretty good.

Edward said...

Apropos your call for contributions...

Why not have a periodic contest (say, every two weeks) for invited essays. They could be individual or group efforts. Award a prize to the winning essay. Injecting competition into the mix might result in discovery of unrecognized writing talent.

Anonymous said...

XO, tell the young men and women of the ship, as well as the inhabitants of the Goat Locker, that we'd love to hear what they have to say. I personally think this is one hell of an idea, to have a ship at sea, and at war, participate in a blog.