Chapter 10: Settling into Busy

i am back. It took a while. Liberty in Scotland and Sonoma was even better than expected. Home tasks became a priority. And, on top of that, i had “writer’s block.” It wasn’t really “writer’s block” but it was close. Now that what i post as part of the book is written on the fly while earlier posts were rough edits of already written chapters, it takes more time to go through my sources of ship’s logs, POD’s, my notes, and other ship documents and actually get things on paper.

Also, not having my mother’s incredible memory, i wrestle with what to include when others’ memories do not coincide with mine. i want to get it as correct as i possibly can so i wrestle with what really happened those thirty-six years ago. This post took exceptionally longer because i found it difficult to determine, as Bob Seger sang, “…what to leave in; what to leave out.

Please remember this is a rough draft of what i intend to be the final manuscript for the book. For those who were there, if you have input or recall things differently than i record here, please let me know. i do wish to get it right. But after i have considered all inputs and my sources and make my final draft entry as i stated in my prologue, that’s my story and i’m sticking to it.

Chapter 10: Settling Into Busy

Although he stuck to his guns about proper support for his commanding officer through the rest of the deployment and, for that matter, his entire tour on The Busy Lady, the XO was too busy himself and didn’t have time to dwell on his mistake.

It was a new world and the ship was setting up a routine that would work but with constant changes in an unknown environment. Even before the USS Fletcher came alongside for our first “TAV” (Tender Availability) off of Masirah, we began a routine for Tuesdays, which would last throughout all of our time in the North Arabian Sea: “UNREP” (Underway Replenishment), which for Yosemite meant “VERTREP” (Vertical Replenishment) was conducted every Tuesday.

Each early Tuesday morning, beginning the first of November, the ship would set Flight Quarters to receive helicopters hovering and lowering supplies to our “DASH” deck. This was also our method of transferring personnel who had completed their tours on Yosemite. The personnel would be hoisted from the deck to the hovering helicopter, taken to the Masirah air base and further transferred to Diego Garcia, then on flights out of the Footprint of Freedom to various airports before eventually arriving at their new duty stations.

Almost every Tuesday, the ship would set Flight Quarters around 0630. The captain and the XO would go to the bridge to observe the evolution and by sound-powered phones communicate with George Sitton, the first lieutenant, who ran the operation from the DASH deck, offloading the supplies and shuttling them to the working party which would further transfer the goods, usually to supply or repair personnel. The flight quarters crew also would hook up the transferring personnel to be hoisted into the service force ship’s helicopter or new personnel being lowered to our deck. Depending on the supplies to be received, this could be a three or four hour evolution or infrequently more than eight hours.

This first VERTREP lasted only an hour or so. The USS San Jose (AFS 7) and her sister ships would be vital to Yosemite for our stay off of Masirah.

Of three surface communities, destroyers, amphibious, and service, the service group had the most arduous sea duty during those days and previously. Now most service ships vare USNS ships under the administration the United States Marine Administration (MARAD) manned by the merchant marine.

Service ships: oilers, tankers, combat stores, and ammunition ships would conduct their transfers to the carriers, cruiser-destroyer groups, and amphibious groups, then steam back to a port to replenish their supplies and head back to the units at sea. There in-port time unlike the other deployed Navy ships was essentially working around the clock rather than liberty. It reminded me of the grueling routine of the merchant marine ships I rode as the XO of a transport unit in charge of managing embarked Korean troops to and from Vietnam (1970). They had my utmost respect.

Service force ships such as the San Jose, a combat stores ship, made Yosemite’s stay off Masirah bearable with not only supplies and material for our work at hand, but also for our supply of foodstuffs for our own meals. Since we had stocked up in Diego Garcia before our transit, this was a quick resupply.

After the VERTREP and the Fletcher’s mooring alongside, the Fletcher’s “arrival conference” for her maintenance availability began right after the noon mess. This was preceded by the Fletcher’s commanding officer meeting Captain Boyle in Yosemite’s captain’s cabin, a procedure, which would be de riguer for all of the availabilities during the deployment. i would attend the bulk of those meetings.

The “arrival conference” was a detailed, expanded version of the beginning “Restricted Availabilities” (RAV’s) Yosemite and other tenders conducted back in the states. Critical repairs and maintenance were discussed. Work priorities were set, the correlation of the tender’s and ship’s force was delineated, and a schedule was laid out to complete the work on time. During our time in Masirah, we also discussed the rules we had concerning relationships between our crewmembers, especially the female kind, and the all male crews of the tended ships.

The helo ops, the Fletcher coming alongside, and the arrival conference were just a few of the items on the XO’s list. My spiral notebook action list went from one or two pages to four to six. My tasks varied from working how the crew could record tapes to send home to family, working on tides and the scheduled garbage dumps, ship’s plaques, our divers cleaning our own hull, the condition of the auxiliary gyro compass, urinalysis procedures and scheduling, the commanding officer’s cabin air conditioner, radio messages responding to higher authority, enlisted evaluations, smoking and coke can rules, etc.

I was now in all-ahead-full running mode. Sometimes late at night after Eight O’Clock reports and my evening meeting with the captain, followed by the chaplain, the first lieutenant, and the doc dropping by my office, I continued my quest to streamline and update the ship’s regulations, which was usually interrupted by another letter to Maureen. I realized I really enjoyed this stuff. I was a great example of Mazlow’s highest stage of “self-actualization.

A Navy officer at sea is a busy man (or woman). There is little time to dwell on the loneliness of being away from home. Previously for me, the grind was interrupted by standing bridge watches or conducting amphibious or anti-submarine operations, but as XO, it was all management and administration except for the rare moments when I would participate in a evolution like navigation or bringing ships alongside.

The rigor probably kept me sane.

I also was playing my role and understood the XO was the bad guy, the enforcer. In Thursday’s Plan of the Day, November 3, my handwritten note showed me baring my fangs:

If the XO finds coke cans or cigarette butts and ashes as plentiful about the decks as he did today, the smoking lamp will be put out throughout the ship and the sale of cokes and cigarettes will be halted. No joke. No game. Get hot. No smoking in passageways nor topside. Violators will be put on report.

Cleanliness, good order, and discipline were the responsibility of the executive officer. I was getting used to the role.

On Friday, November 4, the Fletcher concluded her availability and got underway at 0800. An hour later, the USNS Passumpsic (AO 107), an oiler and former Navy ship, maneuvered alongside and refueled Yosemite. It was likely the first time these two ships tied up together in an open sea. Neither had the mobility of the cruisers and destroyers Yosemite received Passumpsic alongside to port. The maneuver went off with no difficulty. The refueling went off without a hitch and Passumpsic was underway early that afternoon.

The next day, flight ops again were set at 0630. At 0700, The USS Benjamin Stoddert (DDG 22) came alongside for our second maintenance availability. As soon as she was tied up to our starboard side, flight ops with the USS Camden (AOE 2) for transfer of our personnel to Masirah and then on Diego Garcia were conducted followed by helo ops and supplies and personnel transfers with the USS Ranger (CV  61), the flagship for Battle Group Alfa. The captain had the CO of the Stoddert over for lunch in his cabin and the second “arrival conference was held at 1300.  And to keep things hopping, another round of flight ops was conducted with the Camden, beginning at 1500, for another two hours.

It was a busy day.

The crew was getting into a routine, a busy routine, and this XO believed it was a good thing. We needed to keep them busy. And they certainly were busy in their first week off Masirah.

But they still were missing home. We attempted to assuage the loneliness, especially for the majority of the crew, which had never deployed before with means to communicate back home. A POD note let them know of another method to contact home:

11. Want to send a message home?? The Yosemite has a service onboard that not too many people are familiar with. It is called the Class “E” message service. The Class “E” message is a service provided by radio in which any crewmember stationed onboard the Yosemite can send a message to any person ashore they desire (i.e. wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, parents, and anyone you desire, provided they reside in the Continental United States. There is a charge for this service…The reason for the charge is these messages are transmitted thru the Western Union Telegraphy Co. This service can only be provided when the ship is away from its homeport…

This was news to the executive officer. I had spent eleven years at sea and did not know (or did not remember) Class “E” messages were available. For me, that was okay. One of the best things about going to sea was the ship becoming my primary focus. Connecting with folks back in the States was for late night letters and crazy all-night waits in foreign liberty port telephone stations for expensive and short calls back home.

The Class “E” messages also had to be reviewed. Who got that job? Why the executive officer, of course. I was the censor and the security screener for such messages. There were not a huge number. I was not supposed to divulge the content to anyone (of course, if there was a security matter contained, I would consult with the captain). Reviewing the content made me aware of how lonesome some of the crew actually were. There was some real drama in numerous ones I read, and admittedly, some made me laugh out loud.

*     *     *

Daily, we tossed our garbage (and there was a lot of garbage with a crew of 900) timed to the outgoing tide. We were making the effort to keep any of our trash from floating ashore. This was not easy, even if we stuck to the ebb tidal flow. We put one or two of our small boats in the water to watch for wandering garbage.

One handwritten POD note from this XO, on that busy Friday mentioned above, praises on busy sailor:

Busiest sailor of the day: SN Warren who worked help ops, handling cargo loads to helicopters, then was part of the boat crew to sink the wandering barrel (of trash).

The hard work and the loneliness was somewhat assuaged by the evaluation of the Fletcher to Yosemite and our chain of command arriving by radio message on Monday, November 7 (and passed along to the crew):

Overall Evaluation of TAV (with Yosemite) is outstanding. Yosemite’s efforts, spirit, and professionalism was impressive as the statistics above demonstrated. Yosemite is a can do ship that does…Ref A (TAV report from Fletcher) details the astounding amount of work completed by Yosemite during Fletcher’s four day TAV. The pride and professionalism exhibited by all concerned was obvious from the start of the availability and proven by the quality and quantity of the jobs completed. We are proud to have had the opportunity  with you and wish that you were San Diego based. All of us in America’s finest destroyer salute you.

Similar praises continued from every ship receiving Yosemite’s services for the rest of the deployment. For me, this kind of evaluation from ships and sailors made my decision to report to Yosemite a good decision.

I felt good about what we were doing. I felt good about how i was doing my job. There were numerous frustrations, but overall, we were doing well. It seemed the crew was handling women as part of the crew in the right way although I remained wary.

But our wrestling with the garbage was not over.

1 thought on “Chapter 10: Settling into Busy

  1. Excellent. An accurate and fun walk down memory lane in the village of Navy past. Well done. Keep writing, Jim.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *