At Sea Indoctrination

Last Friday, after FMG (Friday Morning Golf, a weekly event in my life since 1991 with longtime pals), the six of us sat down with our beers (except for one of us) and began our usual palaver nearly always involving sea stories and war stories (one of us, Marty Linville, was an army artillery officer), both of which could also be called military history, personal accounts, or bullshit.

The group consisted of Marty who retired as a major, his son Michael, his grandson Carson, Rod Stark who was a commander surface warfare officer, Pete Toennies who retired as a SEAL captain, and moi, also a surface commander type.

Michael, who did not serve in the military, began by citing “Platoon” and how his father noted what occurred in the movie was pretty accurate in the events. Marty clarified they were but  that all of the events did not happen to just one unit. Then Michael asked Pete if “G. I. Jane,” aside from having a woman (Demi Moore) going through BUDS training at the time, was realistic. Pete replied that the training depicted in the movie was pretty accurate,

Carson, who is matriculating to Linfield College in Oregon with a golf scholarship this fall and the one with no beer, listened intently.

We wandered off to quite a few politically incorrect topics, and i told a story indicating a man should not get in the middle of women arguing about what they should be called.

But afterward driving home, i began to think about what Pete, Marty, Rod, and i went through long ago.  All of us did it several times: in college, at OCS, our first military tour, crossing the line, and any special group we joined. Some folks call it informal indoctrination, today it is called hazing and frowned upon, primarily because some people have let get out of hand, do stupid things because they think they are being tougher resulting in people getting hurt or killed.

To us, it was all about breaking us down to remake us into a unit, a team. As  Gregory Peck’s character in “Twelve O’Clock High” drummed into his Eighth Air Force unit, it’s all about “unit integrity.”

I have written of how i was indoctrinated to the ways of the sea aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) in 1963 as a Midshipman third class. But there were many other tricks or embarrassments ahead. Those earlier stories involved sailors trying to get a landlubber, a green newcomer, even worse an officer to be, seasick. The other tricks were to embarrass the landlubber.

When a new crew member reported to his division or his work station, he was often sent on a fool’s mission. Common were the assignment to go find “relative bearing grease,” or a “sky hook.”

My favorite was on my first ship as an officer, the USS Hawkins (DD 873). During one afternoon watch with turbulent seas looming and a severe turn about to be executed, the boatswainmate of the watch piped (blew) “Attention, All Hands” on his boatswain’s pipe through the 1MC speaker system and warned the crew to “Standby for Heavy Rolls.” The watch section in CIC (Combat Information Center, or Combat) sent a new radarman striker to the galley to wait for the cooks to give him some “heavy rolls” and bring them back to the watch.

Of course, there was no such thing, and the poor striker waited outside the galley for over an hour in an honest attempt to carry out his order.

Back to the Lloyd Thomas after my time in weapons and operations, i was sent to engineering, first to the machinist mate division standing watches in main control. On my first work day, the LPO (Leading Petty Officer) directed me to go the Auxiliary Shop and ask “A-gang” for some “relative bearing grease.” i did as directed. A-gang told me they were all out of relative bearing grease and i should go to Damage Control Central and ask them for the relative bearing grease. As i walked forward through the mid-ship passageway, it dawned on me there was no such thing as relative bearing grease.

So instead of returning to Main Control empty handed, i went to my rack in midshipmen berthing on the first deck aft, let it down, climbed in, and went to sleep. After about an hour, Main Control’s LPO became worried and sent third class petty officer looking for me. He lost my trail at DC Central and reported back to the LPO. Finally, the LPO himself started his search and found me asleep in my rack. It had been about two hours since he had sent me on on the search.

He woke me and demanded to know what i thought i was doing, that i could be put on report for sleeping on duty.

i responded by telling him after being unable to find the relative bearing grease, i was too embarrassed at my inability to find it and was afraid to come back to Main Control. Not having anywhere else to go, i came back to my rack and laid down.

He bought it.

And i got the best nap i had since getting underway six weeks before.

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