Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans, part three

i am now at the point where the installments will be written as we go. The previous installments were edited and amplified version of my rough drafts. So there are likely going to be more incorrect passages. As i have noted, i am not a great editor, especially of my own writing.

As i wrote this installment, this is a bit bigger task than i thought it would be. i will attempt to continue to post installments on Thursdays and Sundays, but the installments may become weekly. i still intend to play a bit of golf.

Thank you for your patience.

With the news of our schedule change, our stay in Diego Garcia took on a different tone with the focus shifting to getting underway for an extended at-sea period.

The ship’s in-port business continued as usual. Liberty ran as usual. We ran “I-Division” indoctrination for new crew members reporting aboard. The ship’s basketball team played games against different base organizations’ squads including the “All Island” team at the base gym. The ship’s softball team played several games including one against the “Near Term Predeployment Force.” Small arms qualifications were being conducted. Preparations and study for advancement exams were underway. And the civilian PACE instructors were conducting a number of courses for crew and officers.

Chaplain Poe held church services: Roman Catholic Mass on Saturday and two on Sunday, Protestant Services on Sunday and Protestant Bible Study on Wednesday, and “Free Worship on Sunday evenings, two Church of Christ lay services on Sunday, and Latter Day Saints lay services on Sunday. He was a busy man.

Military Justice also had to be served. This was not a crew of angels. Sailors were sailors and always will be. The results of a Captain’s Mast on Friday, 21 October, were listed in the next day’s POD and make this point for me:

  1. Captain’s Mast: The following are the results of Captain’s Mast helod on 21 OCT 83:
Rate Viol. UCMJ NJP Awarded
FN Art  92: Derelict in duty 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 30 days extra duty, RIR {reduction in rank} to E2
SN Art. 86: UA {Unauthorized Absence} from unit (2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
Art. 134: Breaking restriction
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 89: Disrespect to a commissioned officer
Art. 128: Assault
(3 specifications)
Art. 134: Communicating a threat
(3 specifications)
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 86: UA from unit
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
45 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 45 days extra duty, Forf {forfeiture of ½ month’s pay ($286.00) per month for 2 months, RIR to E1
SA Art. 92: Failure to obey a lawful general regulation 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, RIR to E1, Forf of $100 pay per month for 1 month
SR Art. 86: UA from unit
(2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement 
Awarded Summary Court Martial

Diego Garcia provided its own challenges. The following POD note demonstrates beach liberty could be dangerous:

Safety Note – Cone Shells

Venomous Cone shells can be found in the Diego Garcia area. They have a highly potent venom apparatus and their stings have caused paralysis, coma, and death. Avoid these shells. 

There was another more menacing threat in the waters around Diego Garcia. A 35-foot hammerhead shark had been occupying the lagoon for years. He was considered a pet and nicknamed “Hector” by the folks assigned to the island. Needless to say, swimming in the lagoon was not wise recreation.

It was easy to forget Diego Garcia was not a paradise. It was a beautiful tropical atoll, if humid, far away from where we came. I personally experienced such an awakening on my first stop there for about four days in 1981 while stationed on the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) as the current operations officer of the Amphibious Squadron Five staff. I had escaped from other officers and had stopped my vehicle on the side of the road past the Naval Air Facility. At that point, the atoll was less than a half mile across. I walked over a dune to the beach on the ocean side.

I first stumbled upon the carcass of a long dead fish about six feet long. I surmised it was a tuna of some sort but it had disintegrated into being undistinguishable even though there was still some skin attached to the bone. The thought of wading in the ocean quickly vanished with my discovery.

I decided to just walk the beach. I was at peace, almost meditating as I walked slowly along what I thought was a pebbly surface. Then I felt as if I was having a stroke or something. The long stretch of beach began to seem like it was pulsating, undulating, moving. I became dizzy. I wondered if it was a slow earthquake or if the volcano from which the atoll was formed was awakening. I wasn’t afraid yet, but I was concerned.

I kept observing. I looked down at my feet and realized the source of the strange movement. The entire beach was covered by tiny hermit crabs. They were all moving, producing the undulating movements for as far as I could see. I watched fascinated, trying to get my bearings before I finally left. I never went to the ocean side beaches again.

The ship also conducted the PFT (Physical Fitness Tests) over a period of three days. The Navy’s PFT program was created in 1976 over concern many of our sailors were not physically capable of being able to perform in combat or other dangerous situations on ships. This PFT effort was a follow-on to the “JFK” physical tests introduced in the 1960’s by the sitting president, John Kennedy. Ships made a gesture of complying to those tests but there was no concrete corrective action required in the program, and it was mostly ignored and gradually disappeared.

I was all for the new standards of physical fitness. I remembered a few enlisted shipmates from previous ships who were too obese to get through hatches. The new requirements not only required passing the minimum standards of pull-ups or push-ups, sit-ups, and a 1½ mile run, they established a “body fat” minimum.” At the time, failure to meet the body fat standards or to pass the PFT noted the service member could be administratively discharged – later, there was more teeth put into the program with on-board remedial programs for failures, and if that was not productive, the service member could be sent to a Navy program for failure at body fat reduction much like the earlier established drug and alcohol rehab programs. The program was quickly labeled the “fat farm” by sailors (In my final Navy tour, I had a most rewarding experience when I required a senior chief to go to the “fat farm”). If all of these failed to produced results, the service member could be administratively discharged.

Emily Baker (now Black), our DCA recalled the Yosemite included push-ups in our PFT, not pull-ups. Linda Schlesinger, one of our stars in the supply department remembers the command master chief, BMCM Weaver crossing the finish line of the run with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

It was late October. We had been away from our families for a month and a half. For many of the crew who had not deployed before, it felt like we had been gone for an eternity. Christmas was still two months away. But we were reminded we were not going to be like Elvis and be home for Christmas. We had set up a studio for videotaping Christmas messages back home. Those crew and officers who wished to send a message back home could be taped and the videos would arrive back home for the holidays. The tapings brought the realization of not being home for Christmas into clarity.

Although I did not make a video tape for Maureen or Blythe in Texas, I was lonely also. I had made three deployments from 1979 through 1981, but I had been a bachelor then and viewed them as long, hard work interspersed with lots of fun. Now I was married, had been with my wife for a whopping two weeks before the ship left Mayport, and I was lonely as I expressed in a (amended) letter her I wrote 20 October:

Lady,

i have decided, quite on my own, there is no way possible, no way, you can be the woman i think you are.

i mean, i mean, really mean i look at your pictures. By the hundreds, i look at your pictures and know, no matter how gawdawful (Southern term)good looking i think you are, how much more i think you are good looking in the first person.

There ain’t no possible way a woman could be as wonderful as i know you are. So what must i do?

Spend as much time for the rest of my life trying to be with you, at least enough to figure out how you can be this wonderful and how (god bless office panels) i could have found you.

Love, scooby dooby doesn’t hold a candle to our love, scooby dooby.

*     *      *

The possibility of sexual liaisons among crew members continued to concern the command, i.e. the captain, me, and senior officers and enlisted. Although we knew men and women forming romantic relationships would never be stopped, we felt we needed to keep them at a minimum. I was not sure such liaisons would have a disastrous effect on the crew and the command, but I knew such going-on’s could lead to some very difficult problems and possibly create friction in the crew. One of the main functions of my job as XO was to promote good morale. I also was the figurehead for good order and discipline. Both could be threatened if amorous relationships went south. Another important aspect was our charge, specifically the captain’s and therefore mine as well was to make the Women at Sea program successful. Pregnancies while deployed, any negative impact on the ship created by relationships between men and women crewmembers (as well as in the wardroom), fraternization between male and female sailors of different ranks, especially officers and crew would have disastrous effect and possibly destroy the program. I should add such problems would leave an incredible bad mark on the captain’s and my Navy careers.

We didn’t want to throw threats at the crew or continually remind them of keeping their distance. After all, that would be going against the mantra of not having women or men on the ship because they were all sailors first. Still, I felt reminders of acting like sailors would help. The ship held “Military Rights and Responsibility,” “Culture Expression,” and “Women at Sea workshops on a regular basis. I also would frequently add POD notes reminding all hands the weather decks were off limits after taps even during in port periods.

*     *     *

Yosemite was now engaged knee deep in preparing to go to sea. Departments were ensuring they would have the needed supplies for the voyage north and our stay off Masirah (with no definite end date set yet). It was a busy time, but considering all, it was pretty much that way the entire deployment.

On Monday, 24 October, the Lynde McCormick moors alongside to refuel in the morning. That afternoon, Yosemite returns to the POL piers to refuel and then return to her anchorage.

0800, Tuesday, 25 October 1983, USS Yosemite gets underway for the North Arabian Sea and the island of Masirah, Oman. A new chapter of Navy history is begun.

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