Chapter 3: Getting Ready to Go

In Chapter Two, i erroneously gave Steve Strzemienski, the weapons officer, the rank of lieutenant when, in fact, he was a lieutenant commander. Captain Boyle caught the error. Thanks, Captain.

i should note the book as it is presented here in installments is my first draft and likely to have a number of errors. As i noted up front, i am not anywhere near as good an editor as i would like to be. i anticipate more errors to follow and even deletions and additions. As i wrote, this is a first draft for what i hope will eventually be a book.

From here on, the length of most chapters will be quite longer than the introduction and chapter one. i am trying to determine how much of each chapter i should include in each installment. The length is likely to vary until i find the number of words i feel is appropriate for installments. Please bear with me on this one. i am planning to publish an installment twice a week, on Sunday and on Thursday, give or take a day or two. This is to hold my feet to the fire, motivation more than what i think might be best for the reader.

Here’s the first segment of Chapter Three:

Now in the saddle, I began to get a better picture of what was facing me.

Captain Boyle and I talked at length to come to an understanding as to how I was going to support him.

i still have a yellow sheet of lined paper where i listed my goals and concerns for being the ship’s XO, which i used as my talking paper for my discussions with Captain Boyle:

Clear with the CO:

Schedule meetings for AOM (All Officers Meeting), Chiefs, First Class Petty Officers, Junior Officers, Divisions

Meeting content: my dislike of meetings, will hold to absolute minimum, expect maximum attendance.

Other important points/goals:

    1. Critical exception for meetings: PB4T (Planning Board for Training) – make it meaningful
    2. Briefings, a necessary evil, each major evolution, especially seamanship; some of the best are informal.
    3. Quarters, 8 O’Clock Reports: keep them brief, inspections (ensure all hands know they are responsible)
    4. Personal meetings: open door policy
      1. Accusations: accuser must accompany accused.
    5. Closed door or sign on door with  locator notice of where i am.
    6. Messing and Berthing Inspections: do not fail to hold them daily
    7. Zone Material Inspections

My important points and MO:

    1. Cleanliness
    2. Safety
    3. Paint
    4. Liberty
    5. At sea hours
    6. Females
    7. Source documents
    8. Leave
    9. Notes
    10. Memos

The opening discussions between the CO  and me were pretty easy. I made sure to see the captain at least three if not four times a day, not counting his afternoon departure. Except for unusual circumstances, I did not leave the ship before the commanding officer left: bad form for an exec to do otherwise. We shared our ideas on the approach to running a ship. It was old Navy, correct and by the book. We both believed in good order and discipline as paramount for a ship to run well. Early on, we agreed the women on board should, as much as possible, be treated just like the male sailors.

Problems began to arise, not because the women were there. Yosemite normally had 760 enlisted, 65 chief petty officers, and 44 officers. The ship was deploying with over 900 on board. Instead of 65 CPO’s, there were 90. In addition, two of these chiefs were female. A separate and private compartment adjacent to the chief quarters had to be constructed. The 106 female enlisted were berthed in one separate compartment off of the main deck, port side. There appeared to be no problems with the berthing except the new executive officer was not pleased with the sanitation of the heads and the overall cleanliness and neatness of the compartment. That also was true of most of the ship’s berthing areas and heads.

I called the Bureau of Personnel to voice my complaint of too many personnel aboard compared to the documented “ship’s complement” figures, I was informed the Navy was very strict about adhering to the ship’s complement for combatants, a congressional requirement, but frequently “hid” extra personnel, especially in critical ratings aboard tenders to have a ready supply of those personnel in an emergency manning requirement for a combatant. I did not like varying from the rules but recognized this executive officer was stuck with the problem of too many sailors and would have to live with it.

*     *     *

It became apparent there was another problem as serious as having women on board. The problem was having a large percentage of the crew with no deployment experience.

Of the 90 chiefs, only thirteen previously had been on a deployment. Before the new approach of sending the tenders to forward areas of operation like the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans, the tenders sat at their homeport piers, getting underway for one day each year and then coming back to their pier but swapping which side (port or starboard) faced pier side for the next year. Therefore, repair personnel usually shuffled tours of duty from Ship Intermediate Maintenance Activity (SIMA) to the tender in that particular port. Tenders were considered “Class B” sea duty, which meant repair personnel would get credit for sea duty without ever actually going to sea. It was not much more than shore duty forever.

But not now. Now, these seventy-seven repair chiefs were really going to sea. For nearly eight months. (Yosemite and other tenders were still designated as “Class B” sea duty and did not draw “Sea Pay” for when the ship was actually at sea; for example, i would have received $260/month for those eight months deployed, but because my ship was “Class B” sea duty, i received nothing extra). Many of the chiefs (and their wives) panicked. The chiefs did not know what they were going to do being away from their families. The wives (none of the female chief petty officers on the ship were married) were even more alarmed. They had no clue as to how to deal with the Navy, how to set up the family finances, or take on the family tasks that had been the bailiwick of the husband. Many of the wives were raising hell about their husbands being away on a ship with women in the crew.

One chief had organized a group to establish a short-wave radio station so the chiefs’ mess could communicate frequently with their wives. This, of course, was a major threat to classified information, especially the location of the tender. Shortly after we got underway, we cut that off as soon as we discovered the chief’s operation.

There were financial arrangements to consider as well, especially for the majority of the crew, the ones who had never deployed before. Dina Weaver, the ship’s ombudsman informed me one Melody, the wife of Chief Adams, had told her the chief had not set up any allotments to go to her. That meant all of the chief’s pay would come to him on the ship. None would go to pay any bills, and Melody and the family would have no income except for what the chief mailed her. And mail from a Navy ship deployed to the Indian Ocean can take weeks. So this exec called Chaplain Poe who contacted Navy Relief and the Disbursing Officer. Through the effort of everyone involved, an allotment would be coming out of the chief’s pay to cover Melody’s financial needs through the deployment.

Of course, all such problems were channeled to the executive officer. The old seaman in me kept relying on common sense to handle most of these problems. There were no textbook answers. Confronting these problems coincided with running a ship of 900 personnel and getting the ship ready to leave home port for eight months. I was sailing into unknown territory.

For many years, I had said getting underway for deployment was great because when the command to “let go all lines” was executed, it meant that all phone lines, along with shore power, steam lines, and of course, mooring lines, would no longer be available for telephone calls (something with the advent of satellites and mobile phones is no longer true). For Yosemites deployment, I could have added wives couldn’t come aboard nor could the chiefs go home every night.

The new Navy had many ways to try and help out dependent spouses When I became a part of the Navy in the sixties, there was a tried and true refrain “If the Navy had wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one with your seabag.” This no longer rang true. Navy Relief was a source for aid and financial assistance for wives (or husbands) left behind on deployment. The ombudsman program was created to improve communication between ship crew members and dependents with the command. Both worked well, especially with Dina Webster, our unflappable and outspoken ombudsman. And Yosemite had extra manpower for the job. He was Chaplain Ernest Poe.

As expected, there were problems with men and women on board the same ship. It was even more of a problem for earlier CO and XO regimes. The duo before Captain Boyle and myself had a doozy. While underway before CAPT Boyle relieved CAPT Roberts, a female lieutenant was attacked in her stateroom. During the attack she was hit on the head and injured. When Yosemite returned to Mayport, the lieutenant was transferred off the ship. CAPT Roberts and CDR Sheffield, with no real guidance and concerned about the safety of the women officers, set up a security watch in officers’ country from taps to reveille. Several of the women officers were embarrassed about the watch. One said, “I personally was embarrassed that some poor enlisted sailor had to sit out there in the passageway all night and babysit us.” When Captain Boyle and I learned of the watch, we discontinued it.

Other problems arose. A female LTJG came to me in private and told me she believed someone was watching her and other women officers when they took showers in the women officers’ head. She was concerned there was a crack in the overhead, male crew members could use as peeping toms. We had our ship fitters thoroughly check the bulkheads. Although the shipfitters didn’t find any crack possibly manufactured by a possible peeping Tom, the work crew sealed up any holes where light might come through or a peeping Tom might expand and use to insure privacy in the women officer’s head.

The ombudsman program mentioned above had been initiated in 1970 in the Zumwalt CNO era. The Navy family ombudsman provides support and guidance to command families and to act as an official liaison between the command and its families. Dina Weaver, the wife of the command master chief, as mentioned before was the Yosemite’s ombudsman. She came aboard to meet the new XO and have lunch in the Captain’s mess with the CO and XO. I was particularly pleased when Dina saw the framed large photo portrait of Maureen I had hung on the office wall so I could look at her from my desk. Dina saw the photo and told me, “She looks just like Susan Lucci,” the soap drama star from “All My Children.” I thanked Dina for the complement but was thinking “Maureen’s prettier.”

A chaplain was part of the wardroom in only one previous command where I served. When I was XO of the MSC transport unit for the year of 1970, a chaplain was one of five officers in the unit. The commanding officer was a lieutenant commander billet, the XO billet was for a lieutenant, but I, a LTJG at the time, went through the whole year carrying Republic of Korea troops to and from Vietnam and Pusan, Korea unaware I could have applied for a spot promotion.  Therefore, I remained a lieutenant, junior grade, rather than becoming a lieutenant, something that could have helped my future career.

The MSC (nee Military Sealift Transport Service, or MSTS) units were formed for being the Navy liaison on ships run by the United States Merchant Marine carrying U.S. military personnel and dependents to various ports around the world. By 1970, the “troop” ships were down to three: the USNS Barrett (T-AP 196), the USNS Upshur (T-AP 197), and the USNS Geiger (T-AP 198). The three rotated with two serving to carry the ROK’s to Vietnam and back while the other went through upkeep. There was no real need for a Navy chaplain for Korean troops. The chaplain billet was dispensed with about three-quarters into my 1970 tour and the unit’s chaplain was reassigned.

The Yosemite’s chaplain was a different matter. This billet was to provide religious services and support to, not only the ship’s crew, but also to other ships in Yosemite’s area of operation. CAPT Boyle and I viewed LT Poe as a vital resource in handling morale and personal problems, especially for the women in the crew.

Just prior to my taking the XO position, LT Poe was counseling a second class petty officer and his wife in the chaplain’s office. The wife became very distraught and pulled a handgun out of her purse. The petty officer grabbed at the firearm and the wife shot herself in the leg. LT Poe proved his mettle in that incident. The CO and this XO had great confidence in our chaplain.

With the deployment looming, preparation in all aspects accelerated. “I” Division was called that for indoctrinating new crew coming on board. They went through an indoctrination period on every aspect of shipboard life aboard Yosemite. The week-long training concluded with a brief by the executive officer and then the commanding officer. This indoctrination seemed to be more frequent in the days leading up to the deployment.

An evolution quite more significant than my becoming Yosemite’s XO was occurring on Naval Station Mayport. RADM Donnell would relieve the standing admiral as Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group Twelve. As part of his relieving process, the admiral was scheduled to come aboard Wednesday after I took over on Tuesday, for a 1000-1200 briefing and ship tour followed by a noon mess in the Captain’s cabin. The XO was included in the lunch. The Yosemite was the repair facility for the ships in the group and therefore was considered part of Group 12. Admiral Donnell was a tall, large man and as he was touring the ship, they passed the ship’s motor whale boat in its davits. The admiral peered down into the boat, said nothing and the tour continued. As is the custom of good commanding officers (and executive officers), the tour route had been carefully combed over several times before the admiral came on board, but the captain had not thought of checking the interior of the boats. Captain Boyle, a bit concerned what the admiral might have seen and being unable to look with him because of the height difference returned to the davits after the admiral departed. He climbed up to where he could look into the inside of the motor whale boat. He was most pleased and relieved the whale boat’s interior was shipshape.

Admiral Donnell’s visit created a conflict for me. The XO’s Messing and Berthing Inspection normally began at 1000. But on Wednesday, the Planning Board for Training was always scheduled at 1000. In a normal work week, I planned to move the inspection to the afternoon and hold the weekly board meeting in the morning. Admiral Donnell’s arrival was scheduled to occur at 1000 also.

I had learned from my experience the value of the XO’s messing and berthing occurring daily during the work week without fail. Three years earlier I had become the emergency XO of the USS Cayuga (LST 1186) after the sitting XO had to be taken off the ship in a straitjacket. On my first workday, I discovered messing and berthing inspections had not been conducted for six months. The living quarters for the crew were revolting, unkempt and dirty. The heads were even worse, and the mess decks and galleys were completely unsanitary. I held messing and berthing inspections at 1000 without fail even when underway and on the weekends for the next two months. The spaces did a complete turnaround and the crew’s morale significantly improved.

I also knew the importance of the PBFT meeting. So we moved the board meeting up to 0800 and I held the messing and berthing inspection at 1400.

While my first messing and berthing inspection was not as bad as it had been on Cayuga, it still did not meet up to my standards. I particularly was displeased with the cleanliness, or lack thereof, in the heads, both men and women’s, and the poor sanitary conditions in the messes and galleys. I vowed to stick to my plan to not miss any such inspections for the rest of my tour.

With the admiral showing up soon, my first PBFT was very short. We went over the scheduled topics quickly and made sure the next week had no major surprises, then closed the meeting.

From my exposure to Admiral Donnell during the brief, tour, and lunch, I assessed him to be a realistic and effective leader. After the admiral had departed, Captain Boyle concurred and praised the flag officer for his leadership.

My second PBFT, occurring a week later proved unsatisfactory.

As mentioned above, Navy ships conducted a “Planning Board for Training” or “PBFT” every Wednesday at 1000. Yosemite was no exception. This is when all department heads and everyone responsible for special programs like drug abuse and welfare and recreation attend. Not only training, but the ship’s schedule, any inspections or other evolutions involving the ship would be discussed and an action plan established for the following week including specifics for each of those events. Like most ships, the Yosemite’s meeting was held in the wardroom.

In this PBFT, my first real one, I was appalled when the meeting extended into the time for the midday mess in the wardroom.  Several PBFT members were late and pre-meeting discussions kept the meeting from beginning before 20 minutes after the start time. Everybody had something to say, even if it was unimportant. No one was prepared for the meeting. Topics were brought up off the cuff, and numerous side discussions ensued throughout the meeting. This new XO asked the group if this was typical. The engineer acknowledged it was and affirmed it often delayed the noon mess in the wardroom like this one.

The next day at officer’s call, I put out the word about future PBFT’s. I said no ship’s meeting should last longer than 45 minutes. To accomplish this, I would put out an agenda with responsibility for the topic assigned to a member of the PBFT. That person would be responsible for bringing all pertinent information on the topic. I announced there would be no side discussions and no subjects other than those on the agenda would be discussed. If a need arose to discuss a non-agenda item, we would document it to be discussed at another time. Then I delivered the crushing blow. I declared if any members were more than five minutes late or all of the agenda topics had not been covered, the meeting would be re-scheduled after liberty call. From then until the end of my tour, all meetings in which I was part never went beyond forty-five minutes. A number of the PBFT thanked me. The supply officer was profuse in his thanks because the previous overruns had played havoc with the wardroom cooks and mess cooks’ schedule.

*     *     *

I had begun using a spiral notebook for my memos and to-do list on board the Okinawa, my previous ship. During the Okinawa’s overhaul when I managed subcontractors and eventually became the ship’s overhaul coordinator, my small 4×6 inch “wheel book” in my back pockets where I previously kept my schedule; notes, and business and personal reminders; my to-do list; and my calendar proved totally inadequate in size. The little green wheel book had been my brains for every command since I was commissioned. But the overhaul coordinator of a helicopter carrier could not put all of his data in a wheel book. And for this XO of a ship deploying in less than a month, with women on board, and a ship’s company of 900, a wheel book just wouldn’t hack it there either. I continued using the spiral notebook as I had used on the Okinawa, the sportswriter’s arm extension. Instead of one page or slightly more for each day, I was now filling up three, even four pages daily. In other words, I was busy.

As I settled into my XO role, I tried to put things in order as well as take care of my own needs. My office was on the starboard side of “Times Square.” There was a small private head immediately forward which led forward into my stateroom, about twelve by eight feet and including a single rack and closet space.

*     *     *

One personal goal was to not let the deployment interfere with my running. I had started running daily as early as 1975 and normally ran about five to ten miles at least five days a week. I was never a fast runner, but running had become an outlet and my major means of staying in shape. This had not been a problem on my previous ships. The big amphibious ships had places to run. Even the USS Anchorage had a flight deck and if vehicles were not loaded, one could run the flight deck down the ramps to the well deck and back up. The USS Tripoli, USS Okinawa, and USS Belleau Wood, all helicopter carriers, allowed running on the flight deck when flight operations were not being conducted. When Marines and their aircraft and vehicles were not loaded aboard the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3), one could run the flight deck, down the ramp to the helicopter deck, down the ramp to the vehicle deck, down the ramp to the well deck, and back up and run a mile without lapping oneself.

The Yosemite had no large decks for such frivolous activities as running. After all, she was commissioned in 1945 when the Navy was focused on winning a war, not physical fitness. The “DASH” flight deck aft on the 02 level had been added for testing the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter. The DASH program after earning the derisive nicknames of “CRASH” and “SPLASH” was discontinued in 1969 after only six years in the fleet. The DASH deck on Yosemite was way too small for running but would prove invaluable later on this deployment.

After looking over the topside spaces, I decided the ceremonial deck, which wrapped around the 02 level (the second level above the main deck) and immediately below the bridge would work. If one ran 10 laps from the motor whaleboat docks on the 02 level through the ceremonial deck and back, it would be a mile. I had found it. I would run 55 laps every day possible, which worked out to about four or so days a week except when I ran in Diego Garcia or rarely in liberty ports throughout the deployment. The second day underway from Mayport, the daily Plan of the Day (POD) included this item:

ATTENTION JOGGERS/RUNNERS. The 02 level forward of the motor whale boats, around the ceremonial deck, will be open from 1115-1245, and 1630 to 15 minutes after sunset for running. Future early morning running hours will be announced as we get into areas where sunrise is at an earlier time. Ten trips around from port to starboard and back constitutes approximately 1 mile. You are encouraged to use caution if you intend to run. Take 15 to 20 minutes to warm up. Stretching is critical. Loosen up by holding a slight constant pressure on the muscles you are stretching. NEVER bounce the muscles loose, as some people do when bending to touch their toes. Bouncing may cause a severe pulled muscle.

We didn’t get a large number of runners, but we did get some.

*     *     *

Another problem I saw was managing traffic into and out of my office. The executive officer is constantly being sought for all sorts of reasons with a large amount of the crew and officers. In addition, I would be in and out of the office during the workday and didn’t want people waiting for me behind a closed office door when I wasn’t there. So I decided to let people know where I was when away. I taped two paperclips bent to hold lined paper pad cardboard backs on my office door.

Then I took those cardboard backs to the paper pads and made my own crude signs. “On Messing and Berthing Inspection,” “Out and About,” “With the Captain,” and with a running stickman “Out Running.” I also tried to convey the situation with folks who wished to see me in my office: “Knock and Enter,” “Conference in Session; Do not enter,” “XO Mast in Progress,” “Quiet Time, Please Do Not Knock or Enter.”

Then after just under two weeks on the job, I realized there were a large number of officers and crew coming to me to solve their problems rather than working on solving those problems themselves. I had read The Peter Principle by Lawrence J. Peter about people being promoted to their level of incompetence. I had also read William Onken’s Managing Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? with the anecdote about subordinates passing their monkeys to the manager’s shoulder. So I had the repair department make a Bakelite sign to hang next to the door where my crude cardboard signs hung. It read: “This is not a magic box. Solutions aren’t inside. If you have a problem, bring your solution with you.” From the feedback I received then and recently, the sign had some positive impact.

Chapter Three to be continued on Thursday (if i stick to my guns).

1 thought on “Chapter 3: Getting Ready to Go

  1. Thank you for writing this book. I was on the yo yo from August of 82 to july of 85. I was an electricians mate in R3 divison, capt Boyle was our captain but you were our boss. I must admit that at the time I was a troubled kid from intercity Detroit and had no idea of the positive effect of serving on the Yosemite and going on the cruise, I believe that I could have never had the successful happy life without the experience I had on that ship. You probably have no idea how many lives your leadership has changed for the better. I wasn’t your model sailor by no means but I managed to build a family, send a daughter to collage (she’s a first grade teacher) and I’m about to be a grandpa! I learned, respect, discipline and honor serving on the uss Yosemite
    I didn’t know it at the time but I became a man on that ship. I would like to thank you for helping me , I am very grateful and remember, “worry is interest paid on a debt not yet borrowed “

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