30 April 2008

A Moment to Pause and Remember

The ship paused on its trek a couple of days ago to take care of some solemn business. When we departed Pearl, we were entrusted with the cremated remains of thirteen brothers-in-arms to be committed to the deep. Small ships have no facilities to store casketed remains, but the larger ships frequently accept them for burial.

Most Americans - and even many veterans - don’t realize that any honorably discharged veteran of any of the armed forces is entitled to a burial at sea if they or their loved ones choose. Indeed, the majority of services I’ve been involved with haven’t been veterans of the Navy. Perhaps they had some connection with or love of the sea, or perhaps it was the best option for the serviceman’s survivors.

Just over a score of volunteers perform the ceremonies aboard RUSSELL, and they’re well practiced. It all starts with the ship lying to and passing the word, “All hands prepare to bury the dead.” The remains and the ceremonial flag are marched through an honor guard to the front and center. One of the ship’s lay leaders, or a chaplain when one’s available, reads a psalm, Scriptures and a prayer.

The remains are marched to the deck edge and presented to the officer who will scatter them as the honor guard fires three volleys and the Boatswain Mate of the Watch plays taps over the ship’s announcing system. The flag is then received by the Command Master Chief as the leader of the burial at sea detail, who then presents it to the Commanding Officer as the representative of the family.

All of this gets recorded on a DVD and returned to the family with the flag, 21 spent casings and a chartlet that marks the location of the service.

I recall performing burials at sea long ago when I was an Ensign, but it seems like there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers in the last few years. Perhaps that’s because the veterans of the Second World War are beginning to leave us. And with them go much of our history.

29 April 2008

How a US Naval Ship Stays Afloat

From DC1 Bowden:

Many a person has asked me in my 10 years “How does all that steel float?”. Typically my answer would be short and sweet. Compartmentation! However this time I want to expand and give credit where credit is due.

There is a team of special individuals that we call Damage Control Petty Officers or DCPO for short. These DCPOs are the reason we stay afloat when all hell breaks loose. An example is the USS COLE.

Had it not been for the DCPOs the USS COLE would be sitting at the bottom of the sea. Yes, it is true, that many a crew member ran from compartment to compartment closing hatches and scuttles here and there and dogging doors down to prevent the sea from flooding the ship. But who was it that allowed those hatches, scuttles and doors to work in this ships time of need? It was then men and women that maintain them, and they are the DCPOs.

So, who are the DCPOs? They are people who normally work for all the different divisions on the ship. They are the Gunners Mates, Enginemen, Culinary Specialist, Electronics Technicians, Personnel Specialist just to name a few.

What do they do?

They perform maintenance on doors, hatches, scuttles, and deck drains to ensure the ship stays watertight. They ensure that the portable fire fighting equipment is on station and that it will work correctly when needed. They clean ventilation to ensure fire will not spread through it and that the crew breathes clean air. They work on air conditioning units (see eye candy for sailors part 10) to verify that they are working at optimal capacity for when the ship gets hot. They inspect compartments for signs of rust, (a ships worst enemy if ever there was) wear, and any abnormality that could threaten the ships survival. They verify every morning and every night that the prescribed material condition of readiness is set and any discrepancy is noted. They ensure that emergency lighting works and will show the way should the ship every go dark. They ensure that emergency breathing devices are in place, accessible, and will function properly if ever needed. After that they go back to their own division and carry out any additional work they might be assigned.

DCPOs work long and tirelessly, on countless pieces of equipment, to ensure the ship and its crew are given the best chance at survival, should she ever be put in the situation the USS COLE found herself in.

It’s not until we find ourselves in an emergency that we realize the importance of the work the DCPO does. So, when we sail back into homeport, with a broom high upon the mast, know that it is because the DCPOs kept the ship water tight and the emergency equipment was on station and in working order.

26 April 2008

War Beckons

This post has been pulled, and an explanation will follow. Don't worry, we haven't been shut down. We're just working out the details of a new editorial process that I think will help with the consistency of the product. It's all part of that "Rules Which Must Be Followed" thing.

25 April 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 16

Sailors raise the ensign staff while preparing to enter port.

A Sailor records a video of himself reading Green Eggs and Ham to send home.

"Oscar" patiently waits for an opportunity to jump overboard.

What Time Is It, Again?

There are many challenges a crew faces when they deploy. Today’s challenge is changing time zones. As we travel west, we'll have to set our clocks back nine or ten times, depending upon where we finally end up. Then of course, the opposite will be true as we return. Even operating in the same fleet area can require time changes every few days or weeks.

One tricky bit is planning when to execute a time change. Since the ship operates around the clock, no matter when you schedule a time change, it's going to be a source of consternation to someone. If you move clocks back during the day, some will complain about the extra hour of work. If you move them back at night, others will complain about the extra hour of watch during what can be a long, slow night.

Another tricky bit is communicating to the crew when the change will happen. Every path of communication must be used. The Plan of the Day must include a schedule item. Word must be passed and reiterated through the chain of command at morning quarters and the evening operations brief, and announcements must be made over the 1MC. Still it seems there’s always somebody who doesn’t “get the word”.

Finally, events scheduled near the time change demand extra planning. For instance, if we decide, or the staff tells us to turn back the clocks at 2000 and we have a regular meeting scheduled at 1930, when is the meeting - on the first 1930 or the second? Decisions, decisions.

23 April 2008

Malacca News Shows Potential of Maritime Strategy

There was a good news story out of Malaysia a couple of weeks ago that illustrates the potential of America's new Maritime Strategy. According to the deputy chief of the Malaysian Air Force, the Strait of Malacca was piracy free last year.

While the ink on our strategy is still wet, the document formalizes a number initiatives that have been ongoing in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard for years, like fostering regional security partnerships and cooperation, direct humanitarian aid and disaster relief, and training of regional militaries for joint and combined operations to remedy local problems.

Though I know of no American role in the “Eye in the Sky” operation or patrols in the strait, the sea services have been providing training on how to carry out these type of operations for over a decade through exercises like CARAT, MALABAR and others. So, as strike groups transit through Southeast Asia and Oceania on their way to the Indian Ocean, they frequently disperse to train and assist local countries with maritime interests.

In a typical exercise, one or more American ships will join up with ships from a partner nation and embark liaison officers to observe, learn about or even oversee operations. Then the combined group will spend a few hours or days using aircraft, ships and submarines to search above, on and below the water in the exercise area and practice deterrence or conduct boardings.

The goal is not only to develop an awareness of who’s out there, but also to practice the planning, logistics, communication and prioritization skills necessary to execute a given mission. It's also hoped that after interacting with the militaries of other nations, all the participants will develop a better understanding of regional interests, concerns and goals.

And apparently, it’s working.

22 April 2008

Safety Stand Down

Not long after departing on a deployment, every ship must stop work for a day to focus on safety. Living on a ship is like living in an industrial envrionment. Aside from the obvious things like explosives and fuel, there are dozens of other hazards that Sailors deal with every day and about which can become complacent. Rotating machinery, hazardous noise and heat, trip hazards, slip hazards, toxic and flammable chemicals and gases, and doors and hatches that will bite a finger or two off if you're not careful.

So, a day after the tranist of the Pacific began the whole strike group stopped all routine business to remind everyone about hazards and safe practices. After an all hands talk by the Captain on the flight deck, the crew was divided into five groups and topics grouped at five stations.

A Chief explains the use and wear of a safety harness.

After spending 30-40 minutes on one area, the groups rotated from one station to the next to ensure everyone got all the topics. Four of the stations were general topics every Sailor needs to know about: hazardous materials, hearing conservation and heat stress, electrical safety and personal protective equipment. The final station covered some general shipboard safety information and work-specific topics.

Another Chief gets passionate about electrical safety.

And, once the morning was concluded and after a brief break for lunch, the whole presentation was repeated on the messdecks with the Sailors who were on watch in the morning. After all, "all hands" means all hands.

21 April 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 15

With our visit to Singapore in our wake, I must say it's an amazing place. Despite being a big city, it's immaculately clean and shows off a surprising amount of greenery. Here are some of the highlights of our visit.

A view of the city.

The Hindu temple.

Good eats.

A big cat naps at the "Night Zoo".

Somebody's made a new friend.

19 April 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 14

As I discussed in a comment on a previous post, all the work on the site has to be voluntary and on a Sailor's personal time. When I first started and considered the needs for operational security, I wondered whether there would be enough I could post about to keep things going. Now, nearly one month into it, I have a long list of things that could keep me posting for three weeks tied to the pier in Hawaii. In fact, I just added three more during a pause in writing this post.

So, flashing back to a day at sea in March, we got to clear out some old business the ship was unable to complete during the pre-deployment period: the February & March Birthday Meals. Every month, schedule permitting, we hold a sit-down dinner of surf & turf for the crew members whose birthdays fall in a given month. Following are some highlights from last month.

The participants feast on steak and crab legs.

A view of the cake.

“The George” cuts the cake.

17 April 2008

Sailing Through History

Sailors in the "Pineapple Fleet" in Pearl Harbor have a keen sense of history, for many reasons. Besides being homported at the site of the raid that drew America into the Second World War, we're berthed in the shadows of two historic warships, USS ARIZONA and USS MISSOURI, vessels that define the endpoints for America's involvement in that conflict.

In addition, just about every deployment brings a tour of the legendary sites of the largest naval war in history. And for RUSSELL, the trip takes on greater significance as the previous USS RUSSELL, DD-414, participated in many of those engagements, earning sixteen battle stars in just three years of war service.

On the first leg of our transit to Singapore we passed south of Midway, where, six months to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy lost four aircraft carriers and over 200 experienced aviators to a numerically inferior American force. Midway marked the last major push to the east by the IJN and changed the face of naval warfare forever, with the aircraft carrier taking center stage.

The next major milestone was Guam, where RUSSELL rounded the northern end of the island and passed within sight of Tinian, the final stop for the Enola Gay and her historic payload on her way to Hiroshima.

From Guam the strike force reconstituted and turned to the Southwest, headed fair for the Philippines. On the way was Leyte Gulf, the location of what is called the largest sea battle in history. On the waters surrounding Leyte over the course of four days 38 aircraft carriers, 21 battleships, 44 cruisers and over 175 destroyers struggled to support or prevent the Allies return to the Philippines.

From Leyte Gulf to enter the South China Sea required a transit of the Surigao Strait, the location of one of the major engagements that made up the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and is the site of the last great struggle between battleships.

Finally, before entering the Singapore Strait, we passed near the final resting place of HMS PRINCE OF WALES and HMS REPULSE, a site marked to this day by a buoy bearing a Royal Navy ensign. The sinking of PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE by a force of nothing but aircraft is argued by some to represent not only the deathknell for the battleship, but also the beginning of the sunset of the British Empire in the Far East. The surrender of the last major British garrison in the Far East at Singapore was not far off.

Beneath these waters lie the ghosts of our forefathers, and if you listen carefully to the wind on a moonlit night, I swear you can almost hear them calling out, "carry on, Sailor".

And that's what we'll do....

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 13

ABRAHAM LINCOLN and escorts form a loose column while transiting the Balabec Strait.

The Master-at-Arms mans a gun mount for the strait transit.

A petty officer polishes a "knee knocker" during Cleaning Quarters.

16 April 2008

Port of Call: Singapore

After three and a half weeks at sea we stationed the sea and anchor detail and entered port in Singapore yesterday. Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world, and the sea lanes that pass by her shores are arguably the most busy in the world. As a result, it provided an opportunity to season some of the most junior officers that man the bridge.

A typical officer arrives on board just out of college and knowing little about ships and their operation. They will spend most of their first year aboard standing a watch on the bridge to qualify as an Officer of the Deck. They must of course learn the technical details – the way the ship handles, the lighting schemes on other ships, rules of the road and basic navigation – but most important they must develop the judgment necessary to make decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of Sailors and the well-being of a $1+ billion warship.

At sea, passages with other ships are typically done thousands of yards away, but in a heavily traveled port, an officer must develop the skills to make a passage with as little as forty or fifty yards in a narrow channel, and the judgment to decide whether such a passage is wise.

All through the night the OODs made calls to the Captain to inform him of passing situations and check their decisions, and the tension in their voices betrayed the lessons they were learning. However, once we finally had the harbor pilot aboard, they all succeded in making sound decisions, if not the best decisions in all cases. And they'll all be better mariners from the experience.

The Picture Problem

Many of you stopping by from .mil domains cannot see the pictures when I have to resort to Photobucket. I think I have a work around identified that will allow me to post on Blogger even when bandwidth gets narrow, so I think help is on the way.

I'll be going back through some posts to move images already posted to Blogger, too.

15 April 2008

Eye Candy For Sailors, Part 12

It was a busy day, so this is all you get for now. I should be able to get a real post up tomorrow, though.

MOBILE BAY makes an approach alongside RAINIER

The messmen cook up some fried rice.

The Operations Officer checks out a contact in the Combat Information Center.

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 11

An old salt takes a break on the flight deck.

An Operations Specialist comes out of his cave to get some sun and air.

A Boatswain's Mate sets up a towing rig.

14 April 2008

RUSSELL's First Test "At War"

Prior to leaving the Hawaii area, all of our strike group participated in a three-day anti-submarine warfare exercise. The exercise posed a particular challenge for RUSSELL, as we had only been at sea for eleven hours at the start of the exercise, and the exercise began with no-holds-barred war at sea without any workup to hostilities. So, after leaving our families behind in the afternoon and rushing off to get gas on the way to the exercise area, the crew needed to be ready for a fight at midnight.

Anti-submarine warfare is probably the most challenging mission a ship or strike group can perform, especially when done well. It involves nearly every asset and tactic you can imagine, as ships and aircraft perform a thorough and sustained search by listening with passive sensors and probing with active sensors, both electromagnetic and acoustic. From a ship's perspective, it also involves frequent aggressive maneuvering to prevent an adversary from developing a firing solution, and the maneuvering must be done without jeopardizing the towed array sonar and torpedo countermeasures trailing thousands of feet behind the ship.

Compounding the technical difficulties is a generation of young people that are accustomed to video-game speed and immediate gratification. The process of detecting, localizing and tracking a submarine, often when one only gets a moment's whiff of the enemy, can take days and test the endurance and dedication of the best crews. In fact, the pace of anti-submarine operations has led to ASW being nicknamed "awfully slow warfare" by some.

But all of that can change in a moment. With skilled crews on both sides of the fight, more often than not ship-submarine engagements are like knife fights in the dark. They take place in very close quarters, the competitors often only have a notional idea of where the adversary is, there's a lot of ducking and weaving involved, and one or both of the fighters ends up very bad off.

Such was the case for us. Day one was spent chasing phantoms in the deep blue. As day two of three dawned, though, the ticking clock forced the submarines to come out from under their rocks, for they no longer had the luxury of waiting for an unsuspecting ship to make a mistake. And, once the game was on, the pace was tasking, but the team held up and made a pretty good showing.

[4/16 Update - After a question was raised internal to the ship about some details originally offered in this post, I've removed any report of the specific results of the exercise.]

13 April 2008

Another First for Deployment

Congratulations to CS3 Stayskal for being the first RUSSELL Sailor of the deployment to successfully increase his family size by one.

With a displacement of 0.003515625 tons (that's 7lbs., 14oz. for you landlubbers) and a length overall of 20 inches, Jesse James Stayskal reported for duty at 0911 Hawaii Standard Time on 9 April.

Sunday Dinner

Other events precluded any special activities out in the weather this Sunday, so the highlight of our most recent Holiday Routine was a crew favorite: Mongolian barbeque. The wardroom having hosted the Steel Beach Picnic two weeks ago, it was the Chiefs' turn to play the host. After toiling late into the night on Saturday doing most of the prep work, the second deck of the ship smelled like peppers and onions, but it was not for nothing and served to get everyone's appetite in gear. Oh, and if you ever want to know how to make a Chief cry, you'd better have at least 50 pounds of onions handy.

For those of you that have never experienced one of these before, here's how it works.

Step one: choose your fixings.

Step two: pile them high.

Step three: the messmen cook it up.

And, of course, step four is: eat 'till it hurts.

Blue and White

Blue and white.

Most of the time, our world is blue and white.

During the day, the piercing sun brightens the sea to sapphire, and the sky gleams a brilliant topaz. Frothy caps of cresting waves mottle the seascape, and puffy cotton pillars of mounting thunderheads punctuate the gentle curve of the horizon.

After twilight the universe darkens in every direction to varying shades of midnight, and as the air dries and the sky clears, it sparkles with a blanket of stars most civilized men see but in dreams.

Only in the middles, in this shifting spectrum of the sea, as the sun sweeps the darkness from the sky or settles down for his daily rest, do the edges of the earth and the clouds conspire to produce a bold palette of colors, and oppose the tyranny of blues.

12 April 2008

"Enduring Presence" vs. "Rapidly Deployable"

If I may make a brief Public Service Announcement for the Navy, a story from Aviation Week on 1 April provides a good opportunity to illustrate the utility of a Navy. Looks like the Air Force is trying to buy a little of the capability the Navy already has:

The F-22 could be carrying an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile, costing less than $1 million, in a few years if the military and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) decide to hone the capabilities of a new missile defense weapon from Raytheon.

A derivative of the Aim-120 AMRAAM, the Pentagon’s established long-range air-to-air missile, is once again being tailored for a new mission – this time the interception of Scud-type short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

But a senior U.S. Air Force official confides that the capability is inherently that of a cheap, rapidly-deployed, air-launched weapon for shooting down satellites in low-Earth orbit if the service or Missile Defense Agency were to order its further refinement and development.

I'm not sure whether this is just a case of the "me too's" or if the Air Force is hunting for arguments to buy more F-22s. I do know one thing, though. When the Army and Air Force start talking about being "rapidly-deployed", the Navy and Marine Corps not only are already there, we probably have been there long enough to know where the best fishing spots are. And we don't need the permission of another country to do what we do.

The Army and Air Force worked through some severe growing pains when the War on Terror began. They had little experience with extended forward deployments and the wear and tear on people and equipment deployments produce. Meanwhile, the Naval Services had spent nearly a century with Sailors and Marines deployed around the globe every day of the year.

Try as they might, the garrison services will never be able to buy the kind of enduring presence a suitable Navy maintains.

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 10

RUSSELL makes her approach alongside an oiler.


A Sailor cleans an air conditioning coil in preparation for hot weather.


Fire Controlmen upload "war shots" into a CIWS mount.


A New Mission: Whale Watching

By ENS Liz Scheimer and ET3 Tyler Kirkland

During our first three days underway in March, RUSSELL’s Sailors successfully completed an Under-Sea Warfare Exercise while a legal battle raged ashore over sonar usage and its impact on marine mammals.

Legal proceedings in California and Hawaii have been ongoing to decide to what extent we may use our sonar capabilities. In November a United States appeals court banned the use of training sonar off the coast of Southern California until better safeguards for marine mammals were in place. A federal judge upheld the decision in February, despite a White House attempt to exempt the Navy.

Everybody understands that we can’t be prepared for war if we can’t train during peace, so the Navy has been granted certain exemptions from requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. High-powered sonar like that used by RUSSELL may harm marine animals, but how and to what extent is still debatable.

Most recently, a court ordered mitigation measures that still allowed us to use sonar during the exercise, but with limitations. The court created “Safety zones” and ordered ships to power down active sonar by 75% when we spot a marine mammal within 1500 meters, which makes detecting the “enemy” a challenge. In addition, as the mammal gets closer, the power is scaled back progressively, until it’s completely turned off at 500 meters.

The ruling also set forth guidelines that require the use of “at least three dedicated NMFS-trained [National Marine Fisheries Service] lookouts”, which initially led to some confusion as we all figured out how to implement the court’s order.

In the end, all of RUSSELL’s Sailors that stand watches where they might observe a marine mammal – approximately 20% of the crew – got special training to identify marine life and report sightings to the ship’s controlling stations. In addition, we stepped up marine lookouts at different areas about decks around the clock, because active sonar operations commence and cease at short notice depending upon the tactical situation.

Despite the extra watches the crew seemed to adapt to the additional workload. After all, nobody really wants to harm any whales. It does lead one to wonder just how many times the “enemy” slipped away, though.

11 April 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 9

The ship's boarding team practices their close-quarters combat skills while the ship's Master-at-Arms offers "encouragement".


A Food Service Attendant "enjoys" his duty in the scullery.


CG Division stands tall for a personnel inspection at morning quarters.


10 April 2008

Late Nights on a Ship at Sea

By ET3 Tyler Kirkland

One may think that things slow down after evening chow, which is somewhat true, but in the aspect of trying to attain further qualifications and get some more work done, that’s when life starts to pick up, for me at least.

Nearly every sailor on board stands a watch. A watch differs based on what the Sailor’s specialty is, for example, I am an ET3 (see He’s a GSE what?), which stands for Electronics Technician Third Class, so I stand “Electronic Systems Supervisor” for five hours a day. My watch means that I am on standby to be a first responder to a casualty to a communications, radar, or navigation system. It’s a pretty wide scope when you get down to the nitty gritty of it all. My watch is 5 hours a day, but a different 5 hours every day, as all of the Electronics Technicians rotate through.

When I’m not working and not on watch, I’m busy working on my Personnel Qualification Standards, or PQS, to toss in another acronym. The biggest one, which I’m about half way done with, is called ESWS. ESWS is another acronym, (pronounced EE-SWAS), that stands for Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist. It earns me an ESWS pin to wear above my ribbons and a nifty (SW) after my ET3 in my name. Other qualifications aren’t as time consuming as the all-inclusive ESWS, but just as important.

Also, as an Electronics Technician, I’ve been to specific schools for specific equipment, known as “C” Schools. I have officially been to three C Schools, but effectively work on about 8 different systems, mostly navigation and some satellite communications. It is my duty and responsibility to troubleshoot and repair one of my systems if it were to go “offline” for any period of time. I’ve had some systems take 36 hours of troubleshooting and repair to get back online…that’s 36 STRAIGHT hours of no sleep, nothing but that specific system on my mind.

I’m not going to say it’s not worth it, though. If anything, the experiences the Navy has given me in everything from troubleshooting to leadership makes it all worth it, (and traveling the world is a huge plus, as well!).

At the end of the day, I’m proud to say that I feel that I’ve earned my paycheck, and I’ll be ready the next morning to continue that trend.

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 8

Some shots from a recent flight quarters.

The flight deck crew lines up for a FOD (Foreign Object Damage) Walkdown prior to flight ops.

An HH-60 hovers over the flight deck prior to landing.

Chock & chainmen secure the aircraft to the flight deck after landing.

A chock & chainman waits for the signal to run under the aircraft and remove the chocks and chains.

The Captain oversees it all from his chair on the bridge wing.

09 April 2008

Trash Duty

By ET3 Tyler Kirkland

With the suggestion of a comment made, I am going to give you first hand info on how RUSSELL processes her garbage.

With marine life and ocean beauty conservation an integral part of the ship’s concerns, the way we process our garbage has evolved greatly since the days of the old DD’s.

About once a month, I get tagged with going down to the “PWP”, another one of our famous abbreviations, and it means “Plastic Waste Processing”, but the room isn’t only for plastic waste, but also pulpable and metals.

During certain scheduled, (and enforced), times of the day, Sailors can bring down their garbage.

Morning: Plastics
Afternoon: Metal and glass.
Night: Pulpables (paper, food, etc…)

So I go down this ladderwell into a space about 15’ long by 10’ wide. This room contains a plastic shredder, 2 plastic compressors, a metal shredder, and a huge pulper.

I’ll take the garbage for the time I’m down there, so for this example, lets say I’m working with plastics. I’ll empy the plastics into the shredder, and let it run for about 2 minutes, then take the shreds out of the bottom, and pour them into the compressor. The compressor takes about 30 minutes to run, but it basically takes all of the shreds, compresses them and melts them into a disk about 2’ across and 1” thick. Those disks are placed in holders in PWP until we pull into port or can transfer them to another ship for recycling.

The metal and glass are shredded and placed into burlap sacks for disposal over the side.

All aerosol cans, compressed air cans and anything contaminated with hazardous materials are set aside to be disposed of properly with other hazardous materials to a replenishment ship or once we are pierside.

The pulpables are poured into the “pulper”, which adds water, grinds and spins at a high rate of speed until it just becomes a diluted mush, and it’s processed over the side into the ocean.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it takes someone with their gag reflex in check to go down there and process waste. It can get pretty dirty and smelly, but it usually only lasts 2 hours a shift.

Everynight, PWP is cleaned from top to bottom with hoses, scrubbers, and swabs to control the smell and mold build up.

As a matter of fact, I’m just glancing at the schedule, and I’ll be down there tonight processing all of the food left over from dinnertime. Yum!

A "Swiss Army Knife" Warship

While RUSSELL is classified as a guided-missile destroyer, that characterization can be misleading, because it very narrowly describes what we do. As one observer has pointed out, the Arleigh Burke class is the "Swiss Army Knife" of warships. Really, RUSSELL and her sister ships are multi-mission destroyers. Following are some examples of what the ship is designed to do, but first, a disclaimer: for those of you prone to bite your fingernails when you see ranges in a place like this, you can relax in knowing that I'm using the open-source figures from Wikipedia. I neither confirm nor deny whether they're right, but they are useful to paint the picture. So, here goes....

Air Warfare (AW) - Outfitted with SM-2s, or "Standard" Missiles, a 5in naval gun and two Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) 20mm gatling guns, RUSSELL can protect not just herself with a layered defense against aircraft and anti-ship missiles, but can defend the airspace over an area covering roughly 15,000 square miles. In addition, the ship’s manning includes one or more Air-Intercept Controllers who can defend the ship or strike group using fighter aircraft from the carrier or a shore base.

Surface Warfare (SUW) – With her Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 5in gun and 25mm guns, the ship can once again defend against, or conduct an offensive strike against surface ships anywhere in the adjacent 11,000 square miles of ocean.

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) – Armed with anti-submarine rockets (ASROC) in the ship’s vertical launchers and Mk46 torpedoes in twin over-the-side launchers, RUSSELL can engage hostile submarines up to 15 miles away. In addition, the ship is outfitted to service and control a variety of anti-submarine aircraft that extend her ASW reach out to hundreds of miles from the ship.

Strike Warfare (STW) – With a variety of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles loaded in the vertical launchers, RUSSELL can attack land targets up to 1500 miles away.

Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) – With SM-3 missiles loaded, RUSSELL can defend against a range of ballistic missiles.

Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) – Using her 5in gun, RUSSELL can provide sustained, rapid-fire gunnery support to ground forces up to 13 miles inland.

Tying this all together is one exceptionally skilled crew and the Aegis Combat System - a no-kidding, “gee whiz” piece of technology that allows the ship to do just about all this, simultaneously.

Come to think of it, RUSSELL might be more useful than a Swiss Army Knife. Try opening a bottle of wine and cutting some cheese simultaneously and you'll see what I mean.

08 April 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 7

Video from a recent Pre-Action Calibration firing with the 5in gun:

It starts out with slow fire and finishes up with a few rounds of rapid fire.

"Saint Tim", Patron of RUSSELL

I got a box in the mail today, and my mood lit up when I saw the name on the return address: Tim Guard.

Robert T. “Tim” Guard is in his public life the president of one of Hawaii’s oldest and most respected corporations, McCabe, Hamilton & Renny Co., Ltd. In his spare time, he’s a key member of the Navy League in Hawaii, a director for the Pacific Marine Life Foundation, and he's adopted our ship and her crew. But, while impressive in their own right, these are among what we aboard RUSSELL think are his least accomplishments. You see, Tim once served as a naval officer and won a Bronze Star for his service to our Navy and Nation in Vietnam.

Every so often, I get a box of books from Tim for the ship’s library, and when we’re in port he’s often found about the middle decks talking to Sailors, shaking their hands, thanking them for their service and asking what he can do for them. There’s a quote attributed to John Paul Jones about the character of naval officers that goes like this:

It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor. He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, kindness, and charity.
Tim Guard pretty much exemplifies that and provides a goal for which we should all strive. So, this post’s for you, Tim. On behalf of the officers and crew of RUSSELL, mahalo.

07 April 2008

Sunday Happenings

No steel beach this weekend. Timing activities on the ship can be tricky. If you schedule something like a steel beach picnic every weekend, Sailors lose their enthusiasm and can even start to look at it as an entitlement. On the other hand, if MWR activities get spaced too far apart, the deckplates will start to grumble. So, this weekend we chose to schedule some fishing and golfing from the flight deck.

They dilligently trailed their lures for three hours, but not a single strike.

It's also best to schedule as many of these activities now, while we're transiting, because when we get to our final destination the pace of operations may not allow it.

06 April 2008

He's a GSE What?

You've probably noticed me throwing around combinations of letters and numbers before Sailors' names and wondered what it all meant. As with many other things, we designate our ranks differently than the other services. In fact, we complicate things further than you probably think, because in the Navy only officers have rank. A non-commissioned officer in the Navy has a "rate" that shows his seniority and the most junior members merely have a grade. So, for instance, if a Sailor has a “BM2” before his name, you can tell by the “2” that his rate is a second class petty officer. The “BM” part describes his “rating”, or what he does for the Navy. In this case he’s a Boatswain’s Mate.

And, of course, it gets even more complicated. The lowest three levels of enlisted may not have any rating at all, but only a grade based on the field they work in. Those in the deck and operations field get characterized as Seamen, those in engineering are Firemen and those in aviation are Airmen. As for seniority, the lowest level in the deck and operations field are Seamen Recruit (SR), the next grade up are Seamen Apprentice (SA) and the highest grade of non-rated Sailors are Seamen (SN). If one of these non-rated junior enlisted happens to have qualified for a rating, that would get added, too. So, for instance, a gas turbine systems technician (electrical) fireman recruit is a GSEFR. Say that ten times fast.

Once a seaman “makes rate” he will advanced to third class petty officer in whatever rating into which he “struck”, like BM3. After that, he can advance to second class petty officer and then first class petty officer.

The next step for a first class petty officer is to get selected for chief petty officer, which would earn him a “C” in place of the number in his rate. Following this rule, our lowly seaman recruit has now become a Chief Boatswain’s Mate, or BMC. One more advancement would make him a senior chief, or BMCS, and when he’s at the top of his rating, he’ll be a Master Chief, or BMCM.

So, there you have it in a nutshell, enlisted rates made clear as mud. It does have one thing going for it, though; it makes our brethren in the Army, Marines and Air Force have fits.

[Update] Wikipedia has a useful list of current navy ratings, and for ratings prior to 1970, see the Naval Historical Center's website.

05 April 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 6

RUSSELL lowers a small boat (as viewed from USS MOMSEN).


An engineering Chief Petty Officer emerges from under the foundation of one of the ship's main engines after performing a cleanliness inspection.


A Military Sealift Command Puma lowers a pallet of fresh fruits and vegetables onto RUSSELL's flight deck.


04 April 2008

Division in the Spotlight - MP Division

In the spotlight this week is Main Propulsion (MP) Division. Manned by Gas Turbine System Technicians (Mechanical and Electrical), or GSMs and GSEs, MP division provides the essential services that make everything else possible aboard RUSSELL. Working in arguably the most arduous conditions on the ship, the temperature in their work spaces can reach or exceed 100 degrees, and the noise levels can be over 1000 louder than an average conversation.

MP maintains and operates RUSSELL's four marine gas turbine engines - jet engines adapted to provide torque instead of thrust - that provide over 100,000 shaft horsepower to two controllable pitch screws. With all four running, they can propel the ship to speeds in excess of 35 mph. I know, you're saying, "My ride can go faster than that." But, your ride isn't made of over 18 million pounds of fighting steel. That's like making a 135,000 square foot office building go 35 mph. In addition, with another three gas turbines powering the ship's generators, MP can make enough electrical power to supply a town of 4,500.

So, here's a little pop quiz:

Q: What's the difference between these two pictures?



A: The second has a little more "MP" added. And yes, that rooster tail is about 24 feet tall.

The Long, Slow Transit

The Pacific is a Big Ocean. Crossing it takes quite a while, even when you don't have things to do on the way and and have to be economical with the taxpayers' resources. As we enter our twelfth day at sea, the ship is settling into a routine nicely. We've distilled our daily and weekly schedule of meetings down to a minimum, and still find time for the unplanned requirements that seem to pop up every few days.

One such unplanned requirement was the discovery of a stowaway on Tuesday. Deep in the dark recesses of one of the cleaning gear lockers off the messdecks, Doc discovered a cockroach. Just one, this time, but they are rarely solitary creatures. This was a Big Deal. On my first ship, cockroaches were left to their own devices and soon got into the insulation on the pipes around the mess, and the ship had to shut down its main galley and mess for a week to tear out the insulation, clean and fumigate. That's bad.

No, that's bad.

So the food service division had to labor late into the night emptying out all their cabinets and lockers on the messdecks and tearing down all the mess gear for cleaning. They even had to clean out the dreaded pulper and plastic waste processor room. They did a fine job of it, though, and none of the little bugger's pals have been spotted about the decks.

03 April 2008

Eye Candy for Sailors, Part 5

The Captain coaches the Conning Officer as we sail out the channel from Pearl Harbor.


Sailors keep a watchful eye on a refueling station during underway replenishment.

A petty officer waxes a Mk46 Light Weight Torpedo prior to loading it in the tube.