Chapter Five: The Med and the Suez Canal, part two

There was another incident leading to disciplinary action also with a long term effect.

As we transited the Atlantic, she had introduced herself as Petty Officer Schmidt. It was just before midnight.

I worked until past midnight almost every night underway, sometimes as late as 0200. As a break, I would call radio and ask for the latest radio messages to be delivered. Reading them would give me a jump on the next morning.

That’s when RM3 Schmidt introduced herself. She was a pleasant, smiling delivery person. I thought she should progress up the ranks quickly. Little did I suspect she would become one of my greatest headaches for almost my entire tour, at least equal to the problematic MMFN Schmidt’s headache quotient.

Petty Officer Schmidt was a single mom. She had left her child, a daughter if I remember correctly, with her mother when she deployed. What I didn’t know when we hit Rota and began the transit to Palma for our liberty ports, she fell in love with another radioman.

Apparently, she became infatuated with the second class petty officer, RM2 Bilbo (for innocents inadvertently involved with the guilty i have also made generic with the name of of one of my favorite literary characters — before the movies), who was already married. Again apparently, she made a run on him while the ship was in Rota and Bilbo spurned her advances. This upset Petty Officer Schmidt, and she decided to get revenge.

After thirty-five years, I still cannot fathom how Schmidt came to decision about how to exact her revenge.

It was before the morning mess after we had passed Gibraltar and before we reached Palma when LTJG Leahy called me. She informed me she had already reported to the captain that the daily “crypto cards” were missing. “Crypto cards were the encoding and decoding pieces changed daily, usually after midnight Greenwich time to match with the crypto systems on other military forces platforms. They were highly classified and intelligence sensitive. About the only thing guarded more closely was the system for safeguarding nuclear weapons.

Noreen has sent me redacted copies of her letters back to her new husband, Jim Leahy who was the Main Propulsion Assistant of a frigate in Mayport. Below is an extract of one of those letters describing the incident (CMS is the abbreviation for Classified Material System):

Made it to Palma and approach went smoothly.  My nav team is pretty sharp!…

Speaking of CMS-bad news. The other day one of the radiomen …got angry at her watch supervisor and maliciously destroyed day 24 of the weather broadcast key card. I didn’t find out at first. They first learned of the missing card during the watch to watch inventory at noon. They didn’t tell me until I navigated the straits (good move I thought). Anyway they told me the next morning. I had a heart attack. Well anyway, I gathered all of the radiomen together and asked (begged) for info concerning the lost card. I told them that I suspected foul play and the entire shack would stay on board and undergo lie detectors.  Well, 10 minutes later, this daffy chick admits she did it ‘accidentally’.  She was boohooing, etc.  I was relieved that I knew what happened. Of course I had to send a message immediately.  The CO/XO were pretty understanding considering.  There was nothing anyone could do. I pulled her TS clearance and pulled her from radio.

As Noreen wrote, she, then the communications officer, and Kathy Rondeau, the operations officer reported the missing cards to higher authority. The failure to find what happened to the cards could have jeopardized the entire crypto system. An even worse result would be for them to have been stolen by a foreign agent, not likely on a ship at sea.

The details began to emerge. The captain and I were flabbergasted. LTJG Leahy and LT Rondeau were distraught but handled everything properly in reporting the incident and dealing with the aftermath.

After her Top Secret clearance was pulled, Petty Officer Schmidt was taken out of radio and assigned a Special Court Martial, and with the help of our admin officer and legal officer, Mike Jackson, we began the process of an administrative discharge.

The administrative discharge was an executive officer’s best friend. If someone failed to meet up to standards – as mentioned at the time, two drug usage offenses allowed the command to administratively discharge an enlisted personnel with a “general” discharge. The administrative discharge could also be used to discharge someone who had been to Captain’s Mast, non-judicial punishment several times or a court martial and a good case could be made the individual had become a disciplinary or administrative burden.

The admin discharge was a quick and effective way of getting rid of a problem. During my tour on Yosemite, the process also gave me a clear picture between the roles of a commanding officer and executive officer. Captain Boyle and I would discuss the use of this tool in a number of situations throughout my tour.

*     *     *

After the incident, we set the sea detail to enter Palma de Mallorca, the beautiful European jewel of a city on the Spanish resort island less than 200 miles directly south of Barcelona. The uniform for entering port was “Service Dress Blue.”

I took my post at the navigator’s chart table in the after part of the pilot house on starboard side. Soon, the pilot came on board walked up to the bridge and proceeded to the open bridge with the captain. The navigator’s job became pretty much a backup safety measure after that, but I continued work diligently with the quartermaster’s to ensure we were not standing into dangerous shoal waters.

As mentioned, the sea detail uniform was service dress blue. The doctor, Lieutenant Frank Kerrigan, still new to the Navy had received instructions on what “service dress blue” entailed from at least two of our prankish prone women officers. Frank came on the bridge and over to me in the proper uniform except he had on the navy blue long sleeve shirt rather than the white dress shirt underneath his service dress blouse, not the white dress shirt. He looked like he might have hired out to Al Capone. I doubled over in laughter. Frank recognized his faux pas and started to leave the bridge. I stopped him and said he couldn’t leave without the captain seeing his outfit. Protesting slightly, Frank accompanied me to the open bridge. I tapped Captain Boyle on the shoulder as he stood by the pilot before we passed the breakers into the harbor.

“Sorry to interrupt, Captain, I said as he turned around, “but I wanted to be sure you got to see this” When he saw the doc, he laughed also, but it was more controlled compared to my original outburst. The captain quickly gained his composure and resumed his work with the pilot.

With the doc by my side, I walked to the ladder aft of the pilot house, and muttered something to him about I understood he was new to Navy uniforms. Frank went below.

With the navigation detail essentially having completed their duty, I turned to my executive officer duties, seeing the bridge watch was shipshape, and then doing a quick tour of the topside spaces to ensure everyone topside was in the appropriate uniform and no “looky-loos” were sticking their heads out of hatches, wearing dungarees or work coveralls rather than the proper uniform.

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