Inking up the blogosphere. And no, I don't glow in the dark. But thanks for asking.

December 21, 2009

Now You Too Can Talk Like A Sailor (part 2)

....continued from Part 1:

  • Davy Jones' Locker:  The bottom of the ocean; euphemism for sailor's hell.  Davy Jones is commonly seen as the devil of the sea, an eater of souls.
  • Deck:  Floor.
  • Deep Six:  Originally, the call that the water was more than 6 fathoms (36 feet) deep, but less than 7.  Now, a term for throwing something overboard.  Also called a 'float test'.
  • Deuce:  .50 caliber machine gun.
  • (between the) Devil and the Deep Blue Sea:  On wooden-hull ships, the 'devil' seams joined the external hull with the deck planking.  If the devil came loose, the sea would leak in--a no-win situation.
  • Dicking the Dog:  Not getting any work done or messing up the work process.  ex.: "If you guys are done dicking the dog, why don't you read the tech manual and figure out how that's supposed to come apart."
  • Ditty Bag:  Small mesh bag that can hold a variety of items, usually toiletries or socks/skivvies for laundering.
  • DIW:  Dead in the water.  Caused primarily by loss of propulsion.
  • Dixie Cup:  White hat ("cover") worn by male enlisted personnel with the dress white, dress blue, working white, and working blue uniform.  Sporting it at a jaunty angle or with the brim sides pulled out (known as a "bullwinkle") is against regulations, but you'd be surprised how many like to do this.
  • Dolphins:  Insignia pin signifying Submarine Warfare Specialist qualification--two stylized dolphins flanking a submarine.  Pin is gold for officers, silver for enlisted; worn on the left chest. In writing, designated (SS) after a person's rank  e.g.: EM2 (SS) Schmoe.
  • Donkey Dick:  The inline proportioning nozzle for shipboard firefighting with AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam), the extension for a radiac that measures neutron levels of a reactor compartment prior to entry, or pretty much any other long, tubular peice of equipment.
  • Drunkex:  Drunken Excercise.  Hopefully, no explanation necessary.
  • EB GreenNuclear grade duct tape.  Originally provided by the Electric Boat (EB) corporation.
  • EMI:  Extra Military Instruction.  Intended as a punishment whereby the recipient must spend portions of his/her (coveted) free time engaged in a mundane task designed to increase military knowlege, i.e.: copying out the entire UCMJ in longhand.
  • ESWS: (pronounced ees-wass) Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist.  Surface version of a submariner's dolphins, it depicts two cutlasses crossed over a ship.  Insignia designating Surface Warfare qualification, worn on the left chest.  In writing, (SW) after rank  e.g.: MM1 (SW) Schmoe.
  • Fantail:  Aft-most portion of a ship.  Sometimes used for ceremonial purposes, or for embarking/disembarking the ship via small boat, always off-limits on a carrier during flight ops.
  • Fast Attack:  (SSN) Non-ballistic missile submarines.
  • Fiddler's Green:  Sailor's heaven; a place of eternal music, laughter, and drinking/dancing.
  • Field Day:  Universally hated organized periods of cleaning, usually consisting of people polishing the same spot for two hours.  Often ordered when morale is low.
  • Flag Officer:  Reference to an admiral, as there is a flag flown when they are aboard.
  • Flotsam:  Floating debris released from a sinking ship.
  • FNG:  Fucking New Guy.
  • Foc'sle:  (pronounced foke-sul) phonetic spelling of "forecastle", the forward-most part of a ship.  Often the mustering place for ceremonies.
  • FOD:  Foreign Object Damage.  Anything that could be sucked into the intake of a jet engine and damage it.  You can pick up a piece of FOD off the deck, such as a screw; you can become FOD, if you are standing in the wrong place when the engine starts; and an engine can be FODded by any number of reasons, including the above two.  Before flight ops, there are FOD walkdowns in which people are kidnapped and forcibly pressed into a long unbroken line, where they walk looking down at the ground the entire length of the flight deck to look for and recover any FOD.
  • Foul Deck:  A flight deck condition where it is unsafe for the aircraft to land.  Cause for a waveoff and go-around.
  • Foxtail:  A long-handled, narrow cleaning brush with long flowing bristles.  A foxtail and dustpan are standard field-day equipment.
  • FTN:  Fuck The Navy.  Common usage amongst nukes with bad attitudes, sometimes inscribed inconspicuously on belt buckles, coffee mugs, desks, or bulkheads.
  • FUBAR: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. Sometimes follows after a goat rope or someone has been dicking the dog, causing a SNAFU.
  • Fun Boss:  Person in charge of organizing liberty or port call activities.
  • Gangway:  More properly called the "brow", the walkway connecting the ship to the pier.  Can also be shouted to request people get out of your way.
  • Gator Freighter:  Amphibious cargo ship.
  • Geedunk:  Sweets, candy, nice benefits, or easy duty.
  • Gig:  Small boat, such as the Captain's Gig--his own personal craft.  Also, a demerit.
  • Gig Line:  The imaginary line on your uniform if drawn straight down the front of the shirt button edge, the crease on the belt buckle, and the edge of the zipper fly.  Must line up, or your gig line is askew.
  • Goat Locker:  CPO's (chief petty officer) mess.  In the days of sail, Chiefs were in charge of the goats that made milk for the ship.  Now, just a fun visual.
  • Golden Shellback:  Award given for crossing the equator at the International Date Line.
  • Gouge:  Inside information, or to cheat on a test using a "gouge sheet".
  • GQ:  General Quarters.  All hands man battle stations.
  • Greenie:  Green scrubbing pad used for cleaning.  Also, "greenie weenie".  A greenie and a bucket are also standard equipment during field day.
  • Green Water:  Solid wave or water, as opposed to the white foam top.  ex.: When we sailed through the hurricane, the swells were so high we were taking green water over the flight deck."  Generally, not a good thing.
  • Gundeck:  To falsify a report, log, or maintentance record.  Origins are from the days when the wooden decking underneath guns/cannons had to be reinforced and made thicker to support their weight.

Proofreading Is For Weenies

In addition to recombinant bovine growth hormone, apparently those evil dairy farmers were adding dollops of destiny to your milk....who knew?!

December 16, 2009

I Am Become Death: The Story of Two Davids

Today, I am quite maudlin.  Red, white, and sad all over.

Yesterday at work, a long time employee named David had a heart attack and died.  Right there, lying on the asphalt in the pouring rain.  He had been down about 5 minutes when someone ran to my office and told me to bring the AED--I have the only one on site, centrally located I suppose.  I made sure 911 had been called and ran over.  We worked on him for another 7 minutes or so, then the ambulance arrived.  15 minutes in the ambulance and 4 rounds of ACLS and meds, then one of the paramedics finally got out and let us know that in all honesty it didn't look good.  They still couldn't get a pulse and the blood was starting to pool in his back.  They transported him, and the hospital worked on him for around an hour, but to no avail.

When I close my eyes, I see flashes of images: his arms splayed out and his wristwatch had droplets of water on the face.  One of his pants legs had ruched up and I could see he was wearing two pair of white socks.  The broad expanse of his belly, his skin stark and white, expanding with the force of the chest compressions.  His leather boots had green laces, and the boots were wet.  Everything was wet.

This morning I was out fairly early, just after it got light.  I live a few blocks from the large VA complex here in town, and I pass by the Memorial Cemetary daily.  Today, something in the cemetary caught my eye--a large yellow backhoe and several pickup trucks, out on the grass amidst the white headstones.  And then I remembered today is the funeral of another David--Petty Officer David Mudge, who died in the UAE two weeks ago.  Of course, he would be laid to rest there in that cemetary.  So they were preparing his gravesite.  It is very near a large flagpole where wreaths were being set up and I saw that the flag was at half mast.

I called my Mom this morning, mostly to talk about how crappy I was feeling.  I wanted her words of comfort.  I needed her to tell me something, some maternal bon mot that would soothe me.  Instead, what she said was this: "Honey, from the moment we are born we are dying.  We can only do with the time we are alotted.".  I hung up feeling worse than before.

Around noon, I was out again, and this time I passed by a funeral home.  Out in front, I saw more than a half dozen Patriot Guard Riders waiting to escort Petty Officer Mudge and his family to the cemetary.  I quickly pulled in and went over to them.  I introduced myself, told them I was a vet and sailor, and said, "Thank you for doing this".  And promptly started crying. 

I hadn't realized until that moment just how angry I was.  I was angry at my mother for not saying something that made me feel better.  I was angry at the paramedics for being honest, angry with them for not pulling off a miracle.  I was angry with the backhoe operator for digging a hole in the ground that was to be the final resting place of PO Mudge, angry that it was still out there as a visible reminder of the harsh reality that the dirt must be replaced.  Angry that a sailor died 7000 miles from home after having only 22 years with the people who love him.

The Patriot Guard looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder.  He said simply, "I understand".  He looked around at all the others, and said to me, "You know why we do this.  We do it for the family as much as the fallen.  They deserve as much honor and respect as we can give them during this last, hardest trip.  It's sad, but there is pride in this job".  And you know what, he was so right.  To be out in front of the procession, with their engines making loud pronouncement, and those flags sad, but how proud.  How better to honor this young man and support his family.

And somewhere in the moment between putting the key in the ignition and turning it, I had an epiphany of sorts.  I finally understood what my Mom was trying to say.  She was saying that we don't know how long we have, be it minutes, hours, or decades.  We have a limited time, and what really matters is not the end, but what has come before.  And suddenly, I'm not angry anymore.

So we here in Douglas County, Oregon, remember a young man named David who volunteered to serve his country.  We remember that he had a paper route and delivered with a smile.  We also remember an older David, a man who cheerfully worked hard.  We remember how he liked to work on his boat on the weekends with friends.  We remember them so that we honor them.

We remember them, so we don't forget them.

December 14, 2009

In Memoriam: EM3 David Mudge

It is with a heavy heart that I make this post.  I just read in the local news that Petty Officer Third Class David Mudge was killed aboard ship while performing electrical repairs.

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- A Douglas County sailor was brought home Sunday.

David Mudge, 22, of Sutherlin, died two weeks ago on board the naval ship U.S.S. Rentz in the United Arab Emirates.

He was escorted back to the Chapel of the Firs Funeral Home in Roseburg by the Patriot Guard motorcycle group Sunday evening.

The Department of Defense says Mudge was working on electrical repairs while the ship was in port in the Persian Gulf, when he suffered fatal wounds from an electrical shock.

Mudge joined the Navy in January of 2007.

The body will remain at Chapel of the Firs until Wednesday, when a full military funeral is planned at the Douglas County Fairgrounds at 1:00 p.m.

First, I would like to offer my most sincere condolences to David's family.  It is unimaginably hard to lose a loved one, so young and so far away.  Secondly, I want to express my thanks to the Patriot Guard Riders who escorted this young man to the funeral home.  The Guard's presence surely let the family know that every servicemember deserves honor and respect, most especially at this sad time.

May you rest in peace, David.  Thank you for your honor, your courage, and your commitment.

"Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidst the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea."

Link to the story

December 11, 2009

Now You Too Can Talk Like A Sailor! (part 1)

In honor of one of the most historic and rivalled matchups (see previous post), I am posting a list of Navy and nautical slang and their meanings:
  • Adrift:  not properly stowed or tied down. 'Gear adrift' is a collective term for anything that will come loose and fly through the air with ship's movement; also, a common reason for failing a berthing inspection--gear adrift on your rack.
  • Airdale:  refers to any member of the aviation community, officer or enlisted. Often derrogitorily modified by non-aviation types with the adjective "fucking".  Root word for 'chowdale'.
  • AJ Squared Away:  The mythical sailor who always has his stuff together.
  • Angles and Dangles:  Operating a submarine at steep angles of ascent and descent, and to perform rapid turns (a submarine in a tight turn will bank in the same fashion as an aircraft).  Guaranteed way to discover 'gear adrift'.
  • Bag:  not doing your share of the work.  Lit.: leaving someone holding "the bag".  Bagging the watch, i.e.: relieving the offgoing watchstander late is a grievous error, and could earn you a label of "shitbag".
  • Balls (or four balls):  midnight, which in the 24-hr time system is 0000.
  • Balls Out:  Refers to an early design of engine governor, in which a pair of masses (balls) spun at an increasing rate as engine speed increased. Centrifugal acceleration threw the masses outward, so "balls out" refers to maximum possible engine speed.
  • Batten Down:  Make fast, secure, or shut. Originally, deck hatches did not have hinged, attached covers. Hatch covers were separate pieces which were laid over the hatch opening, then made fast with battens (pieces of timber).
  • Belay:  stop or disregard.  Commonly heard as "Belay my last".
  • Big Chicken Dinner:  A Bad Conduct Discharge.  ex.: "Punching the XO will probably get you a Court Martial and a Big Chicken Dinner."
  • Bilge Diving:  Working in the bilges of a ship, or cleaning same.
  • Binnacle:   A pedestal which supports a compass. Typically found next to or in front of the ship’s wheel.
  • Bitchbox:  Intercom or amplified circuit used to communicate between spaces of the ship.
  • Bitter End:  Properly, the free or loose end of a line. Originally, the bitter end of a mooring line was taken to the bitts (a mooring fixture) to secure it.  BTW, you never want to see the bitter end of your ship's anchor chain.
  • Blivet:  Traditionally, "Ten pounds of shit in a five-pound sack."  Also, a rubber fuel bladder.
  • Blue Shirt:  Anyone E-6 or below wearing the dungaree uniform, similar to the traditional term "Bluejacket," due to the Navy blue jacket issued with the dungaree uniform.
  • BOHICA:  Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.  ex.: "Aw, they cancelled the port visit. BOHICA!"
  • Boomer:  Ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).
  • BOSNIA:  Big Old Standard Navy Issue Ass. Refers to the size of the sterns of some (usually female) navy personnel.
  • Bosun:  The phonetic spelling of ‘boatswain.’
  • Bravo Zulu:  'well done'.  Can be spoken, or written as BZ.  ex.: "That's fastest pipe patch I've ever seen. BZ, shipmate!"  In nuke usage, the term is used sarcastically or with high levels of irony.
  • Bubblehead:  Member of the submarine community. Frequently modified by members of the surface fleet with the adjective "fucking".
  • Buddy Fucker:  Someone who will not stand up for, or defend, a friend or shipmate, or someone who screws over a shipmate.
  • Bulkhead:  Wall.
  • Bull Nuke:  Senior nuclear-trained CPO aboard a sub. Junior in authority to the COB.
  • Bumfuck Egypt:  A (fictitious) bad place to be stationed, or the figurative ends of the earth. Sometimes seen as BFE.
  • Cat:  Catapult.  Planes can be launched on a carrier from the 'bow cats' or the 'waist cats'.
  • CBR:  Chemical, Biological, and Radiological (nuclear) warfare. 
  • Channel Fever:  Anxious to get home, or reach port.
  • Check Valve:  Used to describe a person, it refers to one who does for himself, but not others. None of the goodies get past him.
  • CHENG:  Chief Engineer.
  • Chit:  A small piece of paper, often a request for or granting of permission to do something.  ex.: "You can't go on leave until you show me your chit."
  • Chop:  Change of Operational command, spoken as "inchop" (entering a command region or zone) or "outchop" (leaving a command region).
  • Cinderella Liberty:  Liberty where one must be back aboard by midnight.
  • Clear Datum:  (Submarine) To leave the area where you have been detected, or to leave the scene of the crime, especially when liquor and members of the opposite sex are involved.
  • Charlie Foxtrot:  Cluster Fuck – An evolution remarkable for its significant lack of excellence.  Mass confusion and chaos.  Also known as a 'Goat Rope'.
  • COB:  Chief Of the Boat. Senior enlisted onboard a submarine; acts as liaison between the crew and the XO.
  • CONUS:  Continental U.S.
  • Crescent Hammer:  Crescent wrench.
  • Crow:  The rate insignia of a USN Petty Officer (E-4 through E-6), so-called because of the eagle above the rate chevrons.
  • Cut of His Jib:  From the days of sail, when individual sails were made aboard the ship and a certain amount of individuality was expressed in the design of the sails. Ships were identified by the "cut of their jib."  ex.: "Hey--you there! What the hell are you doing?! I don't think I like the cut of your jib."

Fear The Goat

Go Navy!  Beat Army!!

That is all.

December 9, 2009

I Need Some Cheese To Go With This Whine

It's effing cold here, and I'm crabby.  It's not supposed to get this cold in southern Oregon, especially not three days in a row.  Low of 10F, high a balmy 31F.  Bah humbug.

Ok, it's time for me to come clean: I am a closet grammar nazi.  Well, more of a spelling nazi I guess.  I don't claim to be perfect in my writing/spelling skills, but I do at least try to be correct.  I know some people find it to be an annoying quality, but I accept this about myself and make no apologies for it.  Which sets up the lead-in for today's story.....

This morning when I left for work, my mood was instantly soured when I went outside.  My breath was sucked away and it felt like my eyeballs were dessicated.  I don't like feeling like a turtle, hunching down in my coat collar and dragging my watch cap (yes, I still have the one issued to me) down as far as it will go.  I decided to make myself feel better by stopping for a latte on my way in.  The little drive-through coffee place near my house was offering a few holiday specials, so I perused the board......and saw the following:
  • 20 oz. Eggnog Latte: triple shot of expresso, steamed eggnog, topped with whip cream. ($3.75)
Gah! Argh!! Squid Thoughts' pet peeve numero uno--pronouncing the word 'nuclear' as 'nuke-yoo-ler'. But coming in for place and show is the above two gaffes. And it was a two-fer! I transmogrified into a BRS (that's Bitch, Ready to Shout), proceeded to climb my grammatical soap box and lecture the poor girl behind the counter who probably doesn't get paid enough to deal with people like me that early in the morning. I told her it was espresso, with an ESS; and that whipped describes what has been done to the cream to make it a proper topping, whip is what someone will do to future batches of cream. I suggested the following example: "Good morning ma'am! I will brew shots of espresso so quickly you could call it express, and then whip this cream in order to top your 20 oz. Eggnog latte with a nice dollop of whipped cream."

Poor thing.  I really made a donkey of myself this morning.  But she handled it with remarkable grace.

I left her a nice tip.

Grouchy but moderately caffeinated squid--out.

December 8, 2009

The Marcus Luttrell Warrior Legacy Ranch

*** UPDATE 03/2010:  The ranch project is no longer associated with the Warrior Legacy Foundation.  It is now being administered by the Lone Survivor Foundation.  Please view this post for more information. ***

Greetings! I promised earlier to post any updates regarding the status of the Sergeant Shelton's Wounded Warrior Ranch Retreat. Well, this morning I was pleased to discover that things at the Ranch are progressing. It now has a new name: the Marcus Luttrell Warrior Legacy Ranch, and operations will be administered by the great and wonderful Warrior Legacy Foundation. Information about the ranch and how you can support its development can be found here.

The design and purpose of the Ranch encompasses Billy Shelton's original concept: to provide mental, physical, and emotional rehabilitation for returning warriors and their families. This is a project that I feel goes a long way to filling a particular void that exists regarding caring for and thanking our veterans for their sacrifices for our country. Located in Leakey, Texas apx. 75 miles west of San Antonio along the Frio River, the Ranch will provide numerous outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, and wandering acreage; as well as a camp for children of veterans who have lost limbs, and specialized professional and peer-to-peer counseling. This Ranch will be a healing place; a place to mentally, physically, and spiritually decompress; a place where a warrior can get a warm and sincere "welcome home".

Please visit the Warrior Legacy Foundation to see how you can lend your support to this honorable organization--they do incredible work for our American warriors and their families.  Visit WLF's site for The Marcus Luttrell Warrior Legacy Ranch at to read about it and make a secure, tax-deductable donation.

December 4, 2009

12/7: A Day That Will Live In Infamy For The NAVSPECWAR Community

I haven't been posting here regularly, but I've come across a story that's brought me back....and I'm pissed.  Three Navy SeALs are being accused of mistreating a prisoner they tracked and captured, one Ahmed Hashim Abed. 

Abed has been wanted by the United States since 2004 for masterminding the ambush and murder of four Blackwater security guards in Fallujah.  The guards were shot, their bodies burned and publicly drug through the city, and finally hung from a bridge. 

Abed was just recently captured and placed in custody.  All good, right?  Well, here's the rub:  Abed was allegedly punched in the stomach or the mouth by one of his captors.  The Master-At-Arms guarding Abed was then obliged to report his complaint and now two US Navy SeALs are charged with dereliction of duty, making a false statement, and interfering with an investigation.  The third SeAL is being charged with the same as the other two, plus assault.  The charges were originally brought through Captain's Mast, the Navy's non-judicial punishment system.  All three SeALs have excercised their right to decline Captain's Mast and have instead requested a court martial to hear their cases.  The three men's arraignments are set for December 7th.

So to sum up: we spent millions of dollars training men who volunteered for a dangerous and difficult job, a job that a mere few are capable or desirous of doing.  We give these men our best--our best training, information and equipment.  These few iron men give us their best--their honor, integrity, courage, commitment, and if needed their life itself.  We ask them to put themselves in harm's way and find a murderer to keep him from hurting anyone else....and they do.  Apparently we were also supposed to issue instructions that all terrorists are to be given lots of love, understanding, and affirmation.  Go out, dodge bullets and IED's, try to bring yourself back alive and unhurt, grab that Tango while you're at it---but whatever you do DON'T BAD TOUCH HIM!  If he spits or pisses on you, pass him a glass of water.  If he struggles and tries to strike you, give him a sympathetic hug.  If he promises his friends will kill any and all Americans in horrible ways and never stop, gently but firmly place him in time-out to show him you care.

Dear Politicians and Head Sheds:  if you want a job done, call a SeAL team.  They will get it done, put it to bed, and say "what's next?".  They can still get a job done despite having one hand tied behind their backs--maybe even two.  But don't send a team out only to castrate them when they return because they were too rough.  Why are Abed's rights even a factor?  He didn't consider the human rights of the four Blackwater employees that he murdered, mutilated, and put on display for the world to see.  I'm sorry, but who the fuck cares if this dirtbag got the wind knocked out of him or has a fat lip? 

I understand that all the facts of this case are not out here for public consumption.  But the mere fact that I know three SeAL team members were involved in Abdel's capture is a huge problem--that should not be public knowledge.  Secondly, I also understand that Special Warfare operators are internally held to an even higher standard than their shipmates.  There must be an unquestionable level of integrity and trust.  However, I guess I'm left wondering why this ever went to Mast in the first place leaving the option open for a public court martial.  If someone strayed off course it seems to me that it is the duty of the unit to bring him back in line.  I am in no way advocating open season on captured terrorists, as pleasant as that actually sounds to me.  We really do have to walk a higher road and not sink to their levels of barbarism.  But it's not like this guy was beaten to within an inch of his life or had all the bones in his wrist broken or anything.  There didn't seem to be any attempt to torture or humiliate him. 

We are hostages to public opinion, and every terrorist knows it.  They can and do use it against us.  We are sending out our guard dogs, but they have no teeth and an electric shock collar. Not very effective.

Ok, maybe I exaggerated a bit that December 7th will be a day of infamy for the SPECWAR community.  But it should be a day of shame for the United States, that's for sure.  While we remember the events that happened at Pearl Harbor and celebrate the heroes of that day, we are quietly condemning a new generation of heroes, ones who are simply trying to make the country and the world a little safer.

October 26, 2009

Team Navy is Underway on Angel Power

Today marks the launch of Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT fundraiser!  This is a thoughtful and heartfelt project that aims to raise money to purchase technology items to aid wounded warriors in their recovery.  These include: laptops with voice-control software; Wii video game systems, which have been shown to aid in physical rehabilitation programs; and handheld GPS systems to help with short term memory loss and other issues related to Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD.

While support of any kind to this noble operation is welcome, there is a fun competition among teams formed around military service branches to see who can raise the most fundage.  I am encouraging the squids out there or any among you who has a soft spot for the sea to support TEAM NAVY.  There is nothing this here now Navy can't do, including posting up #1 in support of Project Valour-IT.  I must confess, I was initially mildly concerned about Team Navy's pursuit of victory when I discovered the who's who on Team Army--Blackfive on point, This Ain't Hell, Laughing Wolf, A Soldier's truth, normally some of my favorite peeps.  But let me be perfectly clear: Team Navy's not over here shaking in our boondockers.  The tip of our spear is U.S. Naval Institute; we've also got Navy Cyberspace (who's son is a fellow nuke), CDR Salamander, Gazing At The Flag, and our superultradoublesecret weapon--the bodacious beantown babe--Boston Maggie....muuahahaha!  Oh, it's ON now!!

So do the right thing and support Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT.  While you should *cough* *cough* DONATE VIA TEAM NAVY, if you have another military affiliation and want to donate through them I might just understand.  The most important thing is that there are no real losers here--our wounded warriors are the winners, and I would have it no other way. 

October 8, 2009

Let's See If You ACTUALLY Lol: Today's Dose Of Funny




October 6, 2009

The Quotable Navy

I thought I'd list a collection of my favorite naval quotations:

  • "I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way." -- Captain John Paul Jones

  • "A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace." -- President Theodore Roosevelt

  • "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!" -- Lieutenant Howell Forgy (Chaplain)

  • "Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: 'I served in the United States Navy.'" -- President John F. Kennedy

  • "This ship is built to fight. You had better know how." -- Admiral Arleigh Burke

  • "It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy, so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil." -- Admiral Chester B. Nimitz

  • "There are only two absolute rules of thumb at sea: Don’t let the people in the water tank, and don’t let the water in the people tank." -- Unknown, but excellent advice

  • "The difference between a good and great officer is about ten seconds." -- Admiral Arleigh Burke

  • "Investigate and shoot down all snoopers — not vindictively, but in a friendly sort of way." -- Admiral William "Bull" Halsey

  • "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." -- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

  • "Any healthy organization can survive individual divergencies, and may even profit from them. Compulsory unification of opinion can only achieve the unanimity of the graveyard." -- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

Not US Navy but good quotes nonetheless:

  • "A ship-of-war is the best ambassador." -- Oliver Cromwell

  • "A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him." -- Sir Winston Churchill

  • "Put your trust in God, but keep your powder dry." -- Oliver Cromwell

  • "It's extremely difficult to second guess the American Navy, because the Americans rarely read their doctrine, and don’t feel compelled to follow it when they do." -- Admiral Sergei Gorshkov

  • "The reason that the American Navy does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the Americans practice chaos on a daily basis." -- Admiral Karl Doenitz

  • "When you men get home and face an anti-war protester, look him in the eyes and shake his hand. Then, wink at his girlfriend, because she knows she's dating a pussy." -- Attributed to General Tommy Franks

    October 5, 2009

    I Am Standing Here Beside Myself

    So.  The last couple weeks of my life have been a hot mess, to say the least.  Of the top 5 Bad Things that can happen to a steam power plant, the plant I manage developed #4.  Concurrent with that, I experienced the worst bout of insomnia I've had in years; the latter probably brought on by the former, but crippling nonetheless.  It's an extraordinary thing to try and direct an unplanned critical maintenance outage while running on guts and caffeine alone.

    The first couple days with little or no sleep wasn't too bad.  The third night I managed to fall asleep OK, only first to be awakened with the cat standing on my head for reasons only known to the feline species, then waking up every hour or so thereafter because of fitful dreams.  The fourth day is when I started seeing The Shadow People:  fleeting grey movement out of the corner of my eye that disappeared when I turned to look.  At first they made me nervous, but after a while I think we developed quite a repoire.  It got to the point that I seemed to be watching myself from the outside, like a bad reality tv show.  Whatever will Rebecca do next--crack her head getting something out of the fridge? Check.  Drive 5 miles past her freeway exit? Yeppers.  Forget to put out the garbage can on trash day? Well of course.  And just look how twitchy she is!

    The problem at work was eventually repaired, and after a number of days the insomnia more or less abated.  I spent this last weekend sleeping my brains out, 12 or more hours a day that left me feeling drugged and wrung out.  Needless to say, I haven't really been keeping up with my usual round of blogs and news, nor thinking about anything to post here.  I vaguely remember some topic from my college Psych 101 class about the levels the human brain functions at:  the first level is basic life functions like finding food, shelter, sleep, comfort.  The next is the higher thought levels of curiosity, critical thinking, social interaction.  The highest level is abstract thought, art, ideals, innovation.  If a person is lacking in something at the more basic level, the mind can't function at the higher levels.  Pretty sure I just experienced a real-world proof of that theorem.

    So anyhoo, I am trying to heave myself back in the saddle.  I'd like to express my appreciation for everyone who stops in to read my blog and I hope to have something more interesting for you to read soon.  If there's a particular topic anyone would like me to write about, please feel free to leave a comment.  Also, take note of the item to the right of your screen--the countdown to Soldier's Angels Project Valour-IT.  I am a proud Team Navy member, and you should check out the link to the project.  Soldier's Angels is a fantastic group that does wonderful things for our Warriors, and Project Valour-IT is no exception. 

    Wishing you all the best.  Take care.

    September 16, 2009

    Memoria Diem

    I had wanted to write some kind of grand and eloquent post about today, the 8th anniversary of 9/11. However, the more I tried to flesh something out, the less the words wanted to come. I was beginning to get really worried: where were my feelings? Had I completely forgotten the memory of what this day means to me and my country? I guess I just experienced what actual writers already know--you can't force the words out, they only flow when they are done brewing.

    For me, today is and always will be a day of rememberance. Eight years ago to the minute, I was at sea off the coast of the Carolinas and we were making max turns due north. Everyone around me including myself was in a mixture of states: shock, anger, fear, excitement. Everything that had come before had ceased to exist and what lay in the future was now blank. It was a crystalline moment, the focus of space and time narrowed to a single point. 24 hours later I was watching the gaping hole in the skyline billow black smoke into the morning air, my heart breaking.

    First and foremost, I want to always remember the feeling of vulnerability. Some might disagree with me on this, but I think it's incredibly important to know how it feels to be blindsided. If you don't know where your weaknesses are you can't shore them up. If you forget that feeling you will cease to be vigilant and it will happen again.

    I remember the unity of that day. Everyone came together and there was a bond that transcended race, creed, and partisanship. It was the bond that makes us Americans. No matter our differences before or since, we are bound in that moment forever and no one can take that away from us.

    I remember the heroes. When something terrible happens, there are two types of people: those who run away from the danger and those that run towards it. Never forget that there were and are people who willingly place themselves in harm's way, even if they know they will not survive, to ensure the safety of others. That kind of sacrifice and strength of character can never be forgotten or taken advantage of.

    When I think about what it means to be an American, I remember seeing all of those things that day: pride, fraternity, charity, heroism, selflessness, adaptation, strength, and most of all intolerance of tyrrany or terrorism. I remember that in the worst of moments we became our best.

    A Quick Note

    The past couple weeks have been very busy for me, so I haven't found time to post anything new. But I wanted to take a few moments and throw a couple things out here.

    First, for those of you reading this blog that are interested in or are following Sergeant Shelton's Wounded Warrior Ranch Retreat, it appears that their website is undergoing construction right now, so any links to the site aren't working for the time being. I will update them as soon as they become available again. This is a wonderful and extremely important cause, and I encourage everyone to follow and support it. For those that live in Texas, Billy "Soupbone" Shelton and Marcus Luttrell have filmed a PSA for the Ranch that I hear will be aired within about a month or so. Also, there is a fundraiser for the Ranch being held in May 2010 at the Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, Texas--if you like to swing the crooked stick and can make it, please show your support. When the SSWWRR site gets back up, information on booking for the event can be found there.

    Secondly, the anniversary of 9/11 is fast approaching. I am working on a post reflecting my thoughts about what that day means to me. I challenge everyone to do the same; on Thanksgiving we think about what we are thankful for in our lives, on 9/11 we should remember why we are thankful to be Americans and what that means to us and apply that to how we live.
    Thank you all for your support and continued visits to this blog. Take care.

    Mixed Bits

    I’ve managed to reconnect on Facebook with a lot of the people I served with aboard the George Washington. This weekend we had a hysterical discussion thread that winged back and forth, all started innocently by a guy who happened to have a random memory of a certain dish served on the mess decks—the notorious Pork Adobo. The conversation quickly devolved, as it will do with squids, and it got me thinking about a whole bag of stuff: the things we loved to hate.

    While deployed, there is precious little to entertain yourself with. Squids are nothing if not creative however, and opportunities present themselves in the form of bitching and joking, both of which we refined to an art form. Mind you, bitching is different than complaining. Bitching builds camaraderie, it became a language of its own. The biggest target for ridicule was the food. I know carriers have better food than other venues in the Navy, but some of it was still astoundingly bad. Everyone made new names for the most infamous dishes. The aforementioned Pork Adobo became Pork A-No-No, Pork A-Doo-Doo, or my personal favorite Red Death. It was served approximately 4 times a week. There was “Noodles Jefferson”—plain boiled egg noodles sprinkled with dried parsley. Was Thomas Jefferson a famous cultivator of parsley? Because if not, I’m sorry but it’s just noodles. There were these pre-packaged Chicken Cordon Bleus that were fried and served—known affectionately as Butter Bombs, Deep-Fried Hamsters, or Whale Turds. The milk, after about a week underway, needed no refrigeration and was a disturbing blue color. The juice (aka Bug Juice) was so high in citric acid that we used it down in the plant for shining up brass and other metals. And then there was the Chili Mac. I have no words for it, aside from the fact that I can’t eat anything resembling it to this day. On the plus side, the cooks could bake the shit out of some dinner rolls. They were yeasty and delicious. And potatoes, no matter the form, were usually pretty good. In the grand tradition of the military, anytime we got a steak dinner followed by ice cream, we knew bad news was on the way.

    Nukes, being a smart bunch, got bored easily. One game developed down in the propulsion plant was Danger Nut: slide a ¾” or larger nut onto the end of a long flathead screwdriver, and aim a jet of high pressure compressed air at the nut. After it achieved the desired speed, you flung the screwdriver releasing the nut. It had so much internal energy it would ping all over the damn place, ricocheting, people diving for cover. A variant on this game was Xtreme Danger Nut: take the same nut and cut notches on the flats. When you spun it, it sounded like a jet engine winding up. The speed and energy of the nut were like 10 times greater than the original Danger Nut. Xtreme Danger Nut got the kibosh after someone got a hole punched through his coveralls and a nasty bruise. He needed to work on his reflexes. But hey, horseplay leads to sick bay, right? The other game that somebody came up with was Nutz: we painted a small 3-sided goal against the backsplash of a workbench. Each player got five 9/16” nuts, and you shot them at the goal using one finger to slide them. The next player would use his nuts to try and knock yours out of the goal. Points were awarded for nuts remaining in the goal, nuts on the line, and for knocking the opponent’s nuts out. Over successive deployments, the game of Nutz was refined with a whole series of rules, regulations, and a referee.

    I can personally attest to the fact that duct tape is surely a miracle of the modern world. It truly is like the Force: it has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. I’ve seen a grown men suspended from the overheads, unwary victims of an MMFTT (mobile midnight flopping and taping team). I can’t confirm or deny that I’ve found myself stuck three feet up a bulkhead held fast by the superior strength of duct tape. It was also useful for creating a pretty fancy 9-hole golf course: balls, tees, and cups; the clubs were long extendable inspection mirrors. If Corporal-Captain Radar were a Nuke, he’d trade for duct tape—we had a whole underground black market for the stuff.

    All of these things now are pretty amusing to look back on, but there’s other less tangible things that will stay with me forever. What do I do if while wearing a gas mask after a CBR attack I start feeling a tightening in my chest? One atropine and one 2-PAM chloride, straight in the thigh. Start to drool? Another atropine and 2-Pam chloride. The sound of a QAWTD being dogged: ka-CHUNK! The unique and pervasive smell of a ship underway—we called it Ship Funk; it’s a combination of JP-5, sweat, ass, oil, and feet. After a while at sea, everyone plain stinks and no amount of deodorant or soap can cover it. You could put me blindfolded in a city dump and hold a shirt from a deployed person under my nose and I’d know that smell. The belt buckle of the webbed belts we wore made a particular unique tinkling noise, and it was always a good laugh when in the bathroom stall next to you you heard ‘tink-tink-splash..(pause)..Goddammit!!’ Pretty sure that happened to everyone at least once. And more than once I’ve woken up from a dream, still hearing the sound of the General alarm: bong…bong…bong “Dual reactor scram, all reactor plant personnel lay to the propulsion plants”.

    So this is my mental chop suey for today. It was great to relive some memories with my shipmates, and has left me smiling. BZ buddies.

    Swede Momsen: A Man Worth Noting

    For my birthday yesterday, I got three books that I am pretty excited about: “The Terrible Hours” by Peter Maas, “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young” by Harold G. Moore & Joseph Galloway, and “An American Daughter Gone to War” by Winnie Smith. I’m already halfway through “The Terrible Hours”, and it’s an incredible story.

    On May 23, 1939 the newly commissioned USS Squalus (SS-192) was off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire conducting her 19th test dive. After reaching a depth of about 60 ft. they experienced a critical failure of the 31” main induction valve, which fed air to the diesel engines, and had been closed at the start of the dive. Massive flooding ensued, and the Captain ordered the main and bow ballasts blown to try and surface. The Squalus gained an up angle, but the flooding was too severe and it sank by the stern, coming to rest at nearly 250 ft. off the Isle of Shoals. All electric power and propulsion was lost; the aft battery/crew’s quarters, the forward and aft engine rooms, and the aft torpedo rooms were completely flooded. Because of the skill of the highly trained crew who responded immediately to the flooding, the watertight doors were closed very quickly and 33 of the 59 crew aboard found safety in the forward torpedo room and control room.

    A massive search effort was launched after the Squalus failed to report in as expected after the dive, though because of a mistranslation of the coordinates the boat sent in Morse code indicating their dive location, the searching ships were nearly 5 miles from where the Squalus actually lay. The sub launched a marker buoy and multiple flares, one of which was seen and the ships were able to close on their position. This was before the days of sonar however, and their exact location could not be pinpointed with accuracy since the line connecting the marker buoy to the sub had parted when hauled aboard one of the ships. Efforts were made to communicate with the Squalus using submerged oscilloscopes, the sub’s crew valiantly trying to respond by hammering on the hull in Morse code. After surviving dozens of hours in near-freezing temperatures and increasingly toxic atmospheric conditions, 33 men were rescued.

    Beyond the skill and heroism of the Squalus’ crew, what makes this story so remarkable was that they were actually able to be rescued. A few short years previously, a rescue at that depth would have been impossible. During those days, submarine duty was called the “Coffin Service”—if anything went wrong while submerged, unless the sub happened to be in warm and very shallow water, there was no hope of escape. The 33 men of the Squalus owe their successful escape to one man: Charles ‘Swede’ Momsen.

    Momsen was a Naval Academy graduate, a line officer, and a technical and scientific whiz. In 1925, while commanding the S-1 (SS-105) submarine, his sister ship the S-51 collided with a cargo ship and went down. Momsen was involved in trying to locate the S-51, and eventually found its oil slick. The downed sub was at 130 ft, and there was no way to rescue them. On board the S-51 was a good friend of Swede’s, and he later discovered that most of the crew didn’t die immediately as had been assumed. He was tortured with the knowledge that his friend had torn the skin away from his fingers trying to pry open a hatch, and that most of the dead had lived for hours before succumbing. 33 men aboard perished. Momsen dedicated himself to finding out methods to rescue trapped submariners. He designed a diving bell which could be lowered down to the submarine and thus the men could escape. He sent the plans up the chain of command, and they were ignored for more than a year before finally being rejected as impractical. By that time, Momsen was assigned to the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair, and decided to proceed with other rescue ideas on his own. Shortly after his diving bell plans were rejected, another sub, the S-4, went down off Cape Cod—another 40 souls lost, with 6 of the dead surviving for 3 days. Swede became a man possessed.

    Simultaneously while developing a working prototype of his diving bell, Momsen invented what would later become the Momsen lung: a rubber bag that hung around the neck that could be filled with oxygen, containing soda lime to scrub CO2 from exhaled air. It would allow the person to be able to breathe until he got to the surface, as well as providing a controlled amount of buoyancy to allow slow ascent thereby avoiding the bends. Swede personally tested all phases of the Momsen lung, eventually using it to ascend successfully from a depth of 200 ft. In addition to the diving bell and escape lung, He also developed the Heliox gas mixture—replacing nitrogen in compressed air with varying amounts of helium—thus making it possible for a diver to descend below 200 ft., the point at which nitrogen narcosis becomes a serious danger.

    Swede Momsen was flown in to personally direct the rescue of the Squalus’ crew. Because of his ingenuity, passion for his service, and dedication to ensuring that trapped submariners had a means of escape, 33 men were able to return home to their families. Because of his achievements, development of deep diving became possible, and naval services around the world have been able to build on his rescue and escape inventions. The Momsen lung led to the Steinke hood, Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment, and free-ascent techniques. His diving bell design led to others, and most likely to the ideas that became Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles. Because of this one man, a man who wouldn’t accept defeat, submariners who survive casualties at sea have hope of rescue, no longer members of the “Coffin Service”.

    Red Sky In The Morning

    It’s been one of the hottest weeks on record here in the Pacific Northwest. The kind of heat that wrings you out and makes it hard to think. 85F by 6am, 108, 110 by midday…it affects the brain. The morning sun has been blood-red for the past few days, and I’ve had several moments where reality has seemed to fold over on itself—it’s the same sun I saw in the summer months in the Persian Gulf. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed between then and now, I’m momentarily back there again in flashes, blinking in and out, the hot wind not helping things. All week I’ve had this feeling of something ominous following me around. Sleep has been elusive, and my dreams have been filled with shipboard disasters and shadowy intruders. I’ve woken up at least once, swinging, absolutely sure there was someone standing over my bed. No bueno.

    I think I’m over-receptive to dark news lately. So when I read this story about Sgt. George Nickel (thanks to Blackfive for putting the word out), it really tore me up. Here’s a guy that gave as much as he could be asked to give for his country, and experienced things that most of us should be eternally grateful we will never have to. Back home, he seems to be coping the best he can but unfortunately something in the night got the best of him. Losing track of his dog, Nickel’s reality folded over on itself. This is just my assumption of course, but his dog became a lost guy in his unit, the apartments turned into an unsecured complex. He did what he was trained to do—clear and secure the area, door by door. Because he had a weapon and was using it to shoot out the locks, necessarily the police became involved. And necessarily, they also have a responsibility to neutralize what they perceive as a threatening situation. Thankfully, no one was injured or this would have turned out to be a lot worse than it already is. Nickel is charged with felony counts of aggravated assault and discharge of a gun into an inhabited building, but most stunning and disgusting is Chief of Police Mike Masterson’s comment about the situation: “This is bizarre behavior….I don’t know what would push people to that (level of) of desperation.”

    This makes me want to shriek and my head spin around. There’s no logic to what will trigger stress and survival mechanisms in someone who has experienced front-line combat, nor should those reactions ever be judged so publically by someone who has no idea what kind of hell warriors have gone through. It just further illustrates the lack of understanding of what our veterans are going through when they return home. In every war or conflict America has been involved in, returning soldiers are expected to just hang up their guns and go back to ‘normal’ life. Flip the switch. Forget their training. Transitioning from a warrior to a civilian is certainly a process that has to happen, but it can’t be dictated on other people’s terms. And as a nation, we are ignoring opportunities to help people transition, and showing great ignorance about what a huge issue it is. I suppose we’re just quietly hoping someone will invent some kind of pill. Issue solved, right?

    My grandfather was in the Army in WWII, but his coping mechanism was to just bury it I suppose. Not once in the 25 years I was alive before he passed away did I hear him speak of his experiences, other than just the fact that he served. I only have a few physical remnants of it: shortly before he died, he was ill and he made a request that I come home on leave from Florida because he wanted to see me in my dress uniform. One of my grandmother’s prized possessions was an intricate lace bedspread that she crocheted during the time he was away—she claimed she nearly went blind making it. And at his funeral, there was a flag draped over his casket. It just makes me incredibly sad.

    Sgt. Nickel’s story is just the latest of innumerable cases of vets returning home who need help and support. The trauma will never go away, but can be made manageable I think if every effort is made by family, friends, neighbors, communities and government to both understand what warriors are going through and get them the help they need. Heaping insult upon injury is not the answer.

    God bless our warriors at home and abroad, and may He give them peaceful sleep and solace in the night.

    Rock 'n Roll in Dalmatia

    I thought I’d stray again today away from serious issues and share another story of one of my travels. If I had to list a favorite city among all I got to visit, Dubrovnik, Croatia is probably tied for first place.

    If you don’t know of it or haven’t been there, Dubrovnik is an extraordinarily beautiful old city situated on the Adriatic and has been a popular vacation destination for European travelers for years, with good reason. The city itself is in sort of two parts: the old city and the new. Old Dubrovnik sits right on the water and is surrounded by a 2km wall. In the Middle Ages, it was one of five Maritime Republics and was said to rival Venice. Aside from historical preservation and rebuilding due to combat damage, the structures in the old city all date to about the 17th century or before. It has existed under the Greeks, the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, the Venetians (who called it Ragusa), Napoleon, the Hapsburgs, Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia, and finally the Kingdom of Croatia. In 1991, Slobodan Milosevic declared that Dubrovnik could not remain part of Croatia and his Serbian forces (remains of the Yugoslav People’s Army) attacked the city. When I visited in 2000, most of the old city had been repaired and restored, but outside the walls in the new city there was still a lot of visible damage from shelling and bullet holes in concrete walls.

    The Croatian people in Dubrovnik couldn’t have been more friendly—some of the most polite and hospitable people I’ve ever met. They are also physically lovely; the average male height seemed to be around 6’2”, females about 5’8”, and they all were strikingly attractive. The exchange rate for the Croatian kuna was quite favorable to the dollar, but wasn’t so overinflated as to be ridiculous (like it was in say, Turkey). Speaking of Turkey, which was one of my least favorite places to visit, I don’t think we engendered a whole lot of local enthusiasm when my friends and I doubled over in a fit of hysterical laughter after I asked to borrow a million lira from one of my buddies (which was like $1). I seriously almost peed my pants. But anyhoo, I digress. I was travelling as usual with my two good friends. In sketchier ports, they pulled double-duty as big brothers/bodyguards for which I’m eternally grateful, but was unnecessary in friendly Dubrovnik. They were fantastic people to travel with.

    We walked the entire circumference of the old city wall, and saw most of the famous tourist sights. There were some indescribably beautiful cathedrals and medieval buildings, as well as a multitude of local art shops. The city rises from the sea up the hill, and all the streets are too narrow for any cars, so it’s foot traffic only, mainly. We spent the day walking until our legs felt like lead, ducking into pubs along the way to quench our thirst. When we stopped for dinner the wait staff treated us like celebrities at a 5-star restaurant, delivering plate after plate of complimentary hors d’oeuvres and shots of firewater. I ate the best steak I’ve ever tasted outside the US.

    At that point, after dinner, we were way off the beaten path. We’d managed to get ourselves deep in the old city away from the main streets. It was getting dark and we were trying to make our way back to the center plaza, but kept running into dead-end alleys. There weren’t any signs, and those that were there weren’t anything we could read. So we just kept going over, down, dead-end, turn around again, up, over, down. Needless to say, it got to the point where I always seem to find myself when I travel: I’m never lost, I just don’t know exactly where I am. We were tired, thirsty, and getting cranky. I knew if we could just keep headed down towards the sea we’d run into either a main road or people. We started down yet another narrow cobblestone street when we heard something remarkable, something so out of place it stopped all three of us dead in our tracks: the ringing strains of Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama”—you know, that opening guitar riff? I thought I was hallucinating. Our three brains coalesced into a single unit and we immediately started chasing the sound. We wound around in circles, the music coming from first above us, then behind us, then to our right. Eventually I looked up and saw a shining beacon in the dark, a pink neon sign up in the air that said, “BAR”. We dashed up three flights of rickety wooden stairs attached to this impossibly narrow stone building and stopped at a thick door, where there was a hand-lettered sign attached that said, “American Classic Rock Bar”. My grin was so big I’m pretty sure you could have seen it from space.

    Inside it was just a large room bordered by tables, decorated in medieval kitsch, with the bar in the center. When we went up to order our drinks, the bartender started hopping up and down, shouting and laughing. Apparently, the only thing the American Classic Rock Bar was missing was Americans. He ushered us to a round table and shooed out the occupants. He came back with t-shirts for us all that he insisted we put on right then with the bar’s logo on it, and in short order there were so many bottles of Heineken on the table there wasn’t room for our elbows. This is no shit: we didn’t buy a single drink the remainder of the evening.

    Within a few minutes, we were joined by the 4 people sitting at a table next to ours. There were three men and a woman, all serving with the UN, down on furlough from Sarajevo. Two of the men were retired Dutch military, one man was active duty Brit, and the woman (for some reason I still remember her name—Marie) was a French Canadian. She adopted me so fast I’m still not sure how it happened, but it was something like, “Hallo, Je suis Marie. Oh, you are American? Le Marin? Mon Dieu! You are now my sister. We will not be separated this evening!” She was fabulous as only French Canadian women can be. The seven of us shared a truly enjoyable evening, trading stories, getting soused, and laughing like fools.

    In hindsight, that bar likely could have been a clever setup, designed specifically because the owner knew there was a US carrier coming into port, figuring that no sailor could resist the double bait of rock and roll and booze. And once we left it maybe transformed back into whatever pub it was before we got there. Well, no matter. I am an American Sailor. I took a formal oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic. But I also took an informal oath: I am an American Sailor: I will work hard and play harder. Where there is beer and bullshit there is esprit de corps. I recharge my fighting spirit with sauce and sea stories.

    I absolutely loved Dubrovnik. I would return again in a heartbeat. Good sights, good food, good drink, good people, good times.

    Boxes Of Cats and Falling Trees

    I’m going deep today. I’m posing the ol’ theoretical question: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

    From a scientific standpoint, sound production requires a source, a means of transference, and a receiver. In that view, the tree makes sound waves but no sound itself because there's nothing to receive them. From a philosophical standpoint, there is the theory of subjective idealism which states that things cease to exist if they are not observed—i.e.: 'to be is to be perceived'. So if there is nothing to witness it, the tree doesn’t exist in our minds and thus won’t make a sound.

    Closely related to this argument is the principle known as the Observer Effect, that the act of observing something can change the event being observed. People are known to change their behavior if they are being watched, and in order to observe or measure something an instrument has to be used, which will impart a change on the object being observed, thus affecting it in some way.

    When I went through Navy nuke school, things were fine and dandy until we started delving into the quantum physics portions. At that point, it was a real challenge for me to suspend disbelief—a lot of the ideas were real brain-benders. I had to tape an “I Believe” button to my desk. In quantum mechanics, an object exists in a state called ‘superposition’—being in all states at once—until it is observed. Essentially, the act of observing something will force it into its quantum state at the instant of measurement. There is the notorious thought experiment called Schrödinger’s Cat: place a cat into a sealed box containing a tiny bit of a radioactive substance, a Geiger counter, a hammer, and a vial of a toxic substance. Using mathematical probability, the substance will either radioactively decay (emitting radiation) or it won’t. If it does, the Geiger counter will register, triggering the hammer to strike the vial of toxin and the cat will die. If it doesn’t, nothing will happen and the cat will live. While the box remains sealed and you can’t observe the cat, it is both alive and dead in equal probability. It is not until you open the box and see the cat does its quantum state become observed.

    Now, if you’re still with me at this point, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with the price of tea in China. The thing is, I can’t help but think about these things and apply them to the news media. By and large, most of us get our information about what’s happening in the world around us from some media outlet. It has become such that, if something is reported in the news it becomes fact—and therefore ‘exists’. If something isn’t reported, it ceases to be in our minds. If we report Taliban and al Qaeda actions as merely insurgent or militant, they cease to be terrorists. If we cover a celebrity’s death for a week, a soldier who died for his country will not be known. An unobserved event is one which imparts no information on any other thing; it therefore can have no legacy in the present (or ongoing) wider physical universe. It may then be recognized that the unobserved event was absolutely identical to an event which did not occur at all.

    Just some food for thought.

    Edit: I just realized that there might be a third probable outcome in the Schrödinger's Cat experiment--If the cat in question was Cat Norris, then he would disable the Geiger counter with a stunning roundhouse kick, drink the poison and laugh at death, use the hammer to pry his way out of the box, and proceed to turn the scientist into a whimpering pile of Jell-O.

    A Healing Place, A Hero, and A Prisoner

    As per my normal Monday routine, I have to spend some time clearing out the weekend fluffernutter in my head. After roundfiling most of it, what remains this morning are thoughts of three people.

    First thought is of Billy Shelton. For those that don’t know of him, Soupbone is a remarkable man—a venerable US Army Special Operations and Vietnam veteran who has spent years dedicating himself to training young men in his community, preparing them mentally and physically for success. The most public of his prodigies are Marcus Luttrell and his brother Morgan, though I have no doubt that there are scores more young men whose life Mr. Shelton has impacted in great ways. Billy’s story has resonated with me since I heard about it, and he has two new projects that I think are important to mention. He has written a book, “Sergeant Shelton’s Black Book: Hard Won Lessons and Down Home Truths on Young Men and War”, to be launched in January of 2010. I’ll be waiting in line to buy it when it comes out. Billy’s second project is the founding of the 501 (c) non-profit Sergeant Shelton’s Wounded Warrior Ranch Retreat , the culmination of the principles by which he has lived his life. SSWWRR is a place where wounded warriors and their families can stay and heal. The amenities the Retreat will offer are too many to list here, save to say it sounds like a truly amazing place that will allow those recovering from their wounds ‘a little bit of heaven’ at no cost to them. SSWWRR is located 75 miles west of San Antonio, Texas, along the Frio River. Please join me in supporting this wonderful cause by donating and/or getting the word out about it, as well as purchasing “Sergeant Shelton’s Black Book”.

    My second thought today turns to former SSgt. Darrell “Shifty” Powers, E Company, 2d Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Shifty was a surviving member of the famed Easy Company, portrayed in the book “Band of Brothers”. I recently found out that Mr. Powers passed away on June 17th, with little or no media coverage, which is to me deplorable. Today, I join everyone at the Warrior Legacy Foundation in virtually honoring Shifty Powers for his service and heroism. Men like Shifty and their stories should never be overlooked and forgotten. We lost another hero last month, and I hope that wherever Shifty is right now, he is getting the rest he earned…and hopefully hoisting a drink or two with his comrades in arms. Thank you, Mr. Powers.

    The third person I am thinking about today is Pfc Bowe Bergdahl, whose name has been released as the US soldier being held captive by the Taliban. I can’t possibly imagine what this young man has gone through since his capture, nor the pain and worry of his family. My thoughts and prayers are with him, and I hope he knows that no one is giving up on him. I sincerely hope that Pfc Bergdahl takes comfort in the knowledge that we won’t stop looking for him; we don’t leave our men behind. I’ll end this thought with lines from the Code of Conduct:

    1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.  
    2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender those under my command while they still have the means to resist.  
    3. If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.  
    4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.  
    5. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.  
    6. I will never forget that I am an American, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

    An Unlikely Sailor

    There’s no feeling quite like having your voice heard when you’ve got something to say. A couple weeks ago, I had sent an email to my state Representative about a matter affecting the company I work for. When I saw a reply from his office, I expected it to be the standard form letter—you know, “Thank you for your email, we appreciate your concern….” etc. I was surprised then when I opened it and read it. The man himself had replied to me, saying thank you and that he would like to speak to me about my concerns personally and requesting my phone number. Later that evening he indeed called me, straight out of a legislative session, and he spoke to me at length. I have to say I was really impressed that he took the time to hear me. It was the first time since I was old enough to vote that I really felt a connection to the civic process.

    Recently, I also was browsing the US Coast Guard’s website, looking through their history section. My maternal grandmother was a SPAR (the Coast Guard’s version of a WAVE) during WWII, serving as a Corpsman. I have a copy of a newspaper article about her receiving the Congressional Silver Lifesaving Medal, presented to her by Capt. Dorothea Stratton. It states in the article that my grandmother was the first SPAR to ever receive this medal. So as I was reading through the list of Coast Guard firsts, I noticed she wasn’t listed there. I sent an email to the site webmaster, telling them about her and the newspaper article I have. Well today, I went back to the site and she was on the list. What a great feeling! Our family (and me in particular) are really proud of her service and achievement, and I am tickled to see her honored in this way.

    So my thoughts today are reflective of my grandmother, my family in general, and the origins of my own service. If looked at superficially, the fact that I ended up in the Navy is actually a little odd. I spent much of my formative years in what was essentially a very hippie existence. My Mom hit her prime in the 1960’s, and she never really lost that culture. My childhood was set to the soundtracks of Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. We lived way out in the middle of nowhere in northern California, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We shopped mostly at the local natural foods store, and I remember eating a lot of vegetables, grainy bread, and brown rice. Where most kids spent their allowance on toys or something, I bought sugary cereal (to my mother’s everlasting chagrin). We attended fringe gatherings and festivals, where it seemed to me like there were a lot of people wearing not a lot of clothes; though there was usually some really good live music. My brother and I were little wild animals in the summer—swimming like fish in the river, adept at picking blackberries and climbing trees for crabapples. We ran around barefoot and turned brown as nuts. I guess that explains the freckles I have now (curses!).

    We took a gazillion road trips and camped all year round, snow, rain or shine. We skied, snowshoed, hiked, climbed, paddled, spelunked, foraged, explored. Each activity was accompanied by some kind of lesson from my mother. We were taught how to be safe, how to make a fire, how to find clean drinking water. We learned what we could and couldn’t eat, what to do if we thought we were lost, how to make a splint from our surroundings, how to treat rattlesnake bites, how to rappel, to traverse. We learned the necessity of caloric intake and the value of carrying GORP, how to MacGuyver a fishing rig and catch hellgrammites or minnows for bait. When I expressed interest in buying a gun when I was 14, she made sure I was taught proper gun safety and marksmanship by the local cops at their indoor range. The culmination of all this knowledge was that, by the time I was a teenager, it wasn’t unusual for me to head out for the weekend by myself armed with a pack, tent, groundpad, mummy bag, compass, topo map, and a fishing pole; all the makings of a great weekend. As an adult, I can see what great value there was in the lessons my Mom imparted: how to respect but not fear your environment, and how personal limitations can always be pushed and exceeded, and the importance of strength and self reliance.

    Though my mother’s political and social leanings were decidedly and sometimes radically liberal (when I was 5, I remember her shouting that if Regan was elected, we were going to camp out on the White House lawn in protest—the thought of which still mortifies me), she was always very pro-military. We have strong service threads running through our family that we take great pride in: my mother was an Air Force brat, one grandfather Army, the other Air Force, grandmother Coast Guard, brother Army. She used to tell us over and over again that Americans focus too much on their rights and not enough on their responsibilities as citizens. You have to give yourself in service of some sort before you can partake of the rights bestowed upon you by the Constitution. That may not necessarily mean military service (though she still believes to this day that we should have a minimum 2 year mandatory military service for all citizens), there are any number of ways that you could serve your country to ensure its betterment. The idea was the same though, your responsibility to others starts at home, and expands with a ripple effect to your neighbors and on and on to all Americans. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—my mother’s prime cardinal rule.

    So when I found myself at age 21, directionally and financially challenged in college, it was her that suggested I look to the military. Though at the time it felt like a spur of the moment decision and an abrupt right turn, I am and always will be grateful to her for pointing out the obvious open door to me. She is loud and proud of my time in the Navy, as is all my family. If I have any one regret in my life, it is not fully appreciating the meaning and impact of what I was doing in the Navy at the time I was doing it. If I did, perhaps I would be writing this while still wearing a uniform. However, hindsight being what it is, I can still carry pride in knowing I participated in something very special. The people I served with will be my brothers and sisters forever. And I am forever thankful to my mother for shaping me into who I am today, though she’d probably faint dead away to hear me admit that although I can eat my way through a bowl of rice and veggies, I still prefer a fat greasy cheeseburger or chili dog any day. Love you Mom!

    Swedish Pop And A Slow Bus

    By far my favorite experiences from my time in the Navy were the places I got to see overseas. In the end, I think I visited 11 different countries; most of which I never would have chosen as a destination had I been planning the trip on my own, but ended up having a great time. I truly enjoy travelling—I dig right in and typically try to find the stuff off the beaten path. I seem to be a magnet for the oddball occurrence however. Every place I went overseas I ended up having some kind of screwy or strange experience, most of which translate now into some pretty entertaining stories for my family and friends.

    One of the places we made a port visit to was Koper, Slovenia. I remember not being real chuffed at the announcement before we pulled in, because I had never thought of Slovenia as a popular destination. However, I always try to keep an open mind and so I set about planning the itinerary. My two good buddies and I decided that Ljubljana would be the best place to go, being’s as it’s the capital and seemed like it had a lot of really wonderful things to see. So off we set, day packs full of snacks and minds full of tomfoolery.

    We managed to get ourselves on a bus despite the obstacle of not a lot of English signage nor us speaking any Slovenian. We were about 75% sure we were on the right bus, mostly based on the utilization of the tried-and-true foreign travel technique of repeating our destination to the driver (“Ljubljana? Is this the bus to Ljubljana? Ljubljana??”) and receiving a head nod in response. Alrighty then, good to go.

    We had deduced that Ljubljana was about 75 miles from Koper, and figured we’d be there in 2 hours tops. We only had about 12 hours of liberty time before we had to be back, we all had duty the next day. I calculated 4 hours for travel, 6 hours for fun, and 2 for a margin of error. Well. It became quickly apparent that we had made a critical tactical error in not learning the Slovenian words for ‘Slowest Bus In The Country’, because clearly that was what we had boarded. After more than 3 hours, not only had we not arrived in Ljubljana, but we were starting to worry that perhaps we had unwittingly crossed over into Austria or Yugoslavia or something. I started mentally reviewing the Geneva Convention articles and wondered about extradition treaties.

    All three of us were paranoid enough at that point to agree that we needed to get off the bus soon, and so at the next stop we bailed out. It turned out we ended up in the town of Postojna—a truly lovely place. We managed to grab some food, and with the aid of some clever sign language we found the post office, which had a bank of public telephones. I’ll tell you, that was a fun conversation back home: “Hi Mom! Hi honey, where are you? Postonja. It’s in Slovenia. What? Where is that? I have no idea, but it’s beautiful here! Hang on, let me get the atlas.” So after that, we were in a quandary about what to do next.

    We found the Postonja Tourism Bureau and went in to see what this burg had to offer. There was a wonderful woman who spoke perfect English, who recommended we go see the local Predjama Castle. Sweet! Anything involving castles, I’m in. It turned out that there wasn’t a real taxi service in town, but she promised that she would arrange for transportation to get us up to the castle and back. We waited outside, and before long an unmarked black Mercedes pulled up and a surly looking man dressed in all black got out. The lady from the Bureau came out and told us that for $20 US, he would drive us. I don’t know what the guys were thinking, but it looked pretty shaky to me—a little too reminiscent of East Germany or something. But we three liked to live on the edge, so we piled in and our driver took off like the Stasi was hot on our tail.

    We wound up this narrow mountain road out of town at an insane speed, my buddies and I throwing glances at one another, nobody saying a word. We’d tried to talk to the driver, but just got an impassive look in response. Super. So to take my mind off how nervous I was, I started looking out the window. In just about 2 seconds, I forgot about the creepy ride from hell I was on: the mountains rose up like saw teeth, perfectly purple and snowcapped. We started seeing these little cottages with actual thatched roofs, and it looked like we had been dropped out of the sky into a Hans-Christian Anderson story. Phenomenal!

    You know in the movies when a beautiful reverie is interrupted by the sound of the record scratch? Well, halfway up that mountain, our driver popped in a cassette tape, and at high volume out came… ABBA. Actually, it was an ABBA medley mix. For the final 15 minutes of our drive, our scene was set to ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Fernando’, ‘Waterloo’, and ‘Take A Chance On Me’. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. To this day, I can’t hear an ABBA song without thinking of that trip!

    At any rate, we arrived at the Predjama Castle, which is an architectural marvel, built right up against a 400 ft. sheer cliff face so that it looks like it is carved right out of the rock. It has a built in tunnel connecting the castle with a massive natural cave in the mountain, where it was used historically for a smuggling cache, storage of goods, and defensive hideout for when the residents were being besieged. They have done a good job at restoring the castle, and it now operates as a museum of sorts, displaying artifacts of medieval life.

    The Slovenia trip is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Despite the fact we never got to Ljubljana, we were blessed with seeing some remarkable things and still managed to make it back to the ship safely and in one piece—always a plus. Zdravo Slovenija, mi had a velik cas!

    Did the world stop turning this last week?

    I have doubts that this post will profound in any form, and yet I’ll persevere. I have a serious bee in my bonnet regarding all the coverage of Michael Jackson’s death and memorial. Now, I’ll just say that for those who were in his life that cared for him, my condolences. In fact, the one thing about this whole crazy mess that really made me feel sad was the speech given by his daughter. No matter what, he was her father and no one can or should detract from that. That being said, by all that’s holy---could there perchance have been any actual relevant events worth reporting on during this last week? Amidst sensational coverage of MJ’s golden coffin arriving at the Staples Center, might there possibly be families of more than 13 soldiers grieving over their deaths in combat and wanting our country and media to honor them publically for their ultimate sacrifice? Call me crazy.

    And what about the soldier in Afghanistan who is currently being held captive by some fairly nasty individuals? Have we forgotten about him? Somewhere, right now, I am willing to bet his family is holding a vigil; waiting, praying, hoping that he is returned to them. That should deserve something, at the very least continued public awareness so that he and his family might have the knowledge that their nation cares.

    I freely admit that I am as susceptible to celebrity gossip as the next person. I see it as a sort of executive perk—being an American who has served and is concerned with earning my rights—the right to be curious and entertained. However. By continuing to saturate the airwaves, newspapers, radio, and internet with nonstop attention of a man who’s biggest contribution was merely to pop culture, we are showing to the world that we care more about a person’s ability to entertain than someone’s service and sacrifice to help ensure a safer, stronger union. Why are we placing a higher value on celebrity and sensation that we are on sacrifice and duty? Most of those I know who are serving or have served in our military are quite content to just go about their business and do their jobs quietly, from what I’ve seen. No huge fanfare necessary. But the occasional thank you and show of appreciation by our media would be nice.

    Post note: A big thanks to the guys at Blackfive for keeping everyone posted on what's been happening in the real world during this circus.