Disrespected Reply

Somewhere, Mrs. Stamps (my third grade teacher) is standing with her shoulders slightly slumped and shaking her head. She has just heard one of her students use a noun as a transitory verb for the hundredth time and feels like her mission of bringing proper English to the children of Mt. Vernon Elementary School has been a failure.

I am not sure where the word disrespected originally came from but I am quite certain it would not have been on any flash cards we would have been issued back in the day. The word “Respect” was of course. A powerful word which was meant to be used for elders, people in responsible positions, and leaders of almost any kind. Disrespect (a noun of course) was what you displayed to someone when you failed to show them the proper respect due to them. Disrespected has just crept into the lexicon and is used to express unfair treatment or actions towards someone.

I mean no disrespect when I say that it annoys me to see a perfectly good English word misused in that manner. Mrs. Stamps was just a very thorough teacher and I feel compelled to try and follow her example, if for no other reason out of my respect for her sacrifice.

I also mean no disrespect to the young former soldier who wrote an article about leadership in the Patriot News this weekend. Frankly, he has done much to serve this country with three tours in Iraq and I am grateful for his service. I just think he missed the mark about what good leadership should be in a functioning military unit.

The main subject was really about the high level of suicide for returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers. Statistics are very blunt about the number of soldiers who are coming home with problems. The number of unemployed veterans is higher than non-veterans statistically (just like it was after Viet Nam) and the medical problems are very much a real situation. These men and women do need our help and we as a nation must be ready to put our collective minds and resources together to help them.

The soldier’s main premise however is that one of the main reasons there are so many problems is the added stress caused by poor leadership. As he lists his examples of men being yelled at for not having their “cover” on quickly enough outside, you can almost feel the anger in his writing. He breaks it down in the final few sentences when he talks about being disrespected and having your rights stripped away. If only the Army would choose leaders who didn’t do any of this, the added stress would be gone and no one would be judged unfairly.

Anyone who has done three tours in a combat zone has my respect for his or her service. But even the most remarkable service does not make you a subject matter expert in any particular topic. While leadership has been discussed before in this series of writings, good leadership is not without its moments of demanding exacting standards.

I have never been in combat so it is unfair of me to say that I am more of an expert in that situation. I have been engaged with other units that could have been considered an enemy if not just an opponent. The tension during those engagements was very real and very stressful. When you are trailing a guy for a few weeks and every sound could betray your position or intent, stress never quite leaves the boat. Even out of the control room, there is a heightened sense of awareness.

As a Chief Petty Officer, there were probably a few times that I pulled a struggling young sailor through a small passageway he was resistant to travel through. Leaving them where they were was unacceptable and sometimes action needs to be taken to encourage and enlighten them. I once had an entire division that was struggling with respect for authority. Together we came back to a more traditional place but it was not by me giving up my leadership role.

I am not sure the military will ever be a place where we will completely eliminate stress. Frankly, when I am diving a 630 foot monster through a raging sea, I am not particularly focused on the feelings of one of my sailors. I want them to be laser focused on the mission at hand and be ready to react to any of the hundreds of things that could go wrong at any moment. The survival of that ship at that moment is paramount to completing our mission and we can worry about how we feel at a later date.

I have a confession to make. I probably raised my voice a time or two during my years as a Chief and even as a Chief Warrant. I am not necessarily proud of the moments, but at that time, I felt it was one of the tools in my pouch that was needed.

My belief is that the ultimate way of showing respect for the people who served under me was to teach them to demand better from themselves. Showing them that halfway measures were acceptable may have made them feel “respected” I suppose since I allowed them to give sub-par performance. But if it caused the loss of one life or the ship itself, it would have been the highest form of being disrespected (Sorry Mrs. Stamps, I truly am).

Mister Mac

Just a moment in time Reply

Like most of you, I am just trying to absorb the loss of our brothers in arms today in the fateful crash of the helicopter in Afghanistan. These man are part of today’s greatest generation and a reminder of how precious life itself is. They are not a number. They are not just a part of any team. Each and every one was a son, brother, friend, shipmate, a part of this honored place we call America.

They are a reminder of the awful terrible price of war.  They are a reminder of the cost of freedom.

God rest their souls.

The Surprise Reply

My family has had a tradition of volunteering for the service for about four generations (five counting my nephews on active duty now). Great Grandfather was underage but somehow convinced the Union Army recruiter to allow him to serve. Rumor has it that he had been sent home once before because of his age. He was a firm Presbyterian and could not lie so he was unable to fake his age. But he also knew the question he would be asked and found a unique way around it. He took a piece of paper and wrote the number 18 on it and put it in his shoe. When the recruiter asked him if he was over 18, he could truthfully say he was.

Great Grandpa and Grandma

Grandfather Mac was in the US Navy during WW1 and my Dad signed up for WW2 at the age of 17 in order to make sure he did not miss the war. He almost never talked about his service (which is typical of men from the greatest generation). He would put his uniform on once a year and march during the Memorial Day parades and participated in the Legion and VFW. But the stories were few and far between.

John Sr. Grandpa Mac Uncle Alec  Helen and Butch May 1945

Dad had his Mother’s heart and suffered heart attacks and strokes early in his life. I was at sea the day he passed away and I was in a fog for the four days it took to come home. Considering the fact that they made me stand EOOW (Engineering Officer of the Watch) for those four days, I really probably just operated the engine rooms on remote control.

Dad’s funeral was as memorable as any I can think of. He was involved with so many things in his life and all of those people came to say goodbye. We gave him a proper Navy send off and his friends even made sure he had a flyover.

JCM Obit

After the funeral, we stayed at Mom’s house for a few days and tried to help her start moving things around. I suppose that’s what people who are grieving must do. They pick up boxes and move things around in a search for what to do next. One of those boxes was a small box that had a packet of letters in it. I started going through the box and was surprised to find the story of his life that I never knew.

I asked Mom to let me have the box for a while (that was in 1993 which shows you I have no sense of the words “for a while”). Over the next ten years, I went through the box and started to get a sense of what he had gone through. There were pictures and maps, post cards and letters, Christmas Cards and some letters that had been returned unopened. The letters were all of the letters he had sent home to his Mother and Father during the time he was in the Navy.

I put the letters in order based on information I could determine on the faded envelopes and added enough content about the war in general to make a book which I gave to my family in his memory. We only made about fifty copies but each was passed out so the grandchildren could have some sense of who Grandpa Mac was during an earlier time in his life.

Liberty call                            John and John Sr. Boot Camp

The letters form August of 1945 were from the Philippines where he was part of the group preparing for the invasion of Japan. Large stocks of material were being prestaged for the planned invasion that would bring an end to the war. Each man knew that the earlier invasions had been bloody and brutal plus the ferocity of the kamikaze attacks had been drilled into them since the day they entered boot camp.


Then came August 6th and the use of the first nuclear device on Hiroshima. There are no letters from him on the days following but after the second bombing and the subsequent declaration of surrender he penned a letter which was to be the biggest surprise of all for me in the many things I learned.

Dear Mom – Pop

Well, by now you have heard the good news. Boy that’s pretty swell. Remember I used to say how I’d celebrate that great day when the war was over, (ha-ha) everybody kept on playing cards, everybody smiled but not much celebration of any went on here. I found a little booklet from Shoemaker so you would know something about that swell place. I’ll have some interesting things to talk about when I get home. We got a native talking last night and he told us the history of the island. I don’t know when I’ll get home or whether I’ll stay here or go someplace else. Nobody knows. I didn’t tell you but the salt water put a halt to my watch and the crystal came off. I was going to church this morning and thought I had lots of time but when I finally did find out it was too late. I wish you could send my radio. I’m gonna send half my stuff home when I get enough money to put stamps on the box. Well, be good. I’ll write later.

God be with you always and thank him very much for answering all of our prayers.

Love your Son


MacPherson, John C

End of the war

The simple words he used to describe the end of the worst war in the world’s history really stunned me. I expected that the men would have celebrated in a big way just like what you saw in Times Square in New York (minus the kissing thing since the nurses were at another base – another story for another time).

I guess despite all the romanticism about fighting the great war, the truth of the matter was, the people who made it all the way through just wanted to get home and get back to normal. Judging from the size of my generation, they seemed to do that pretty well too.

I thought about what the world would have been like had we ever been called upon to launch our weapons which dwarfed anything the world had ever seen. I am truly glad we never had to fulfill that part of our mission during the Cold War. I think about it every year at this time. The truth is, the bombs that were used probably saved my Dad and his fellow servicemen and women from facing the fury found on places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Of course without him surviving, I would not be writing this at all.

Thanks Butch

Love, Your Son Bob

You want me to do WHAT sir? 2

Most of us remember Newton’s First Law of Motion:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

A 688 class submarine operating submerged has a displacement of about 6900 tons. So it goes without saying that if it is motion, it will take some effort to stop it. If it is going really fast, it will take a bit longer. Even maneuvering on the surface at a slower speed dictates paying attention to Newton’s First Law. Underneath the surface, the consequences can become much more serious much quicker since you really can’t see anything in front of you (other than what sonar and your updated charts may have told you).

So it takes a great deal of faith and trust on the part of the planes men and the Dive Team when the Captain comes into the control room and orders the Officer of the Deck to take a twenty degree down angle and ring up all ahead full. It takes even more faith to respond when he says right full rudder. (Don’t try this at home by the way).

You can feel the boat starting to shake a bit as it responds to the increase in throttle. Your heart beats a little faster as you see the trim angle respond to the maneuver. You try to plant your feet on the rests in front of you as you push the yoke of the control planes  forward.  Faster and faster with each second and all around you are the small items that weren’t stowed for sea, rolling like marbles on a steep hill racing to reach the bottom. Time ticks by and the digital indicators are starting to whirl faster and faster. Without even thinking about it, you start to hope that something will be done to overcome Newton’s First Law. You know that the only something in this case is the man standing (or leaning in this case) over by the Officer of the Deck chomping on an unlit cigar.

He orders full rise on both planes and the boat shudders to respond. It’s right about then you realize that what seemed like a long time was less than a few minutes and you start to breath as the depth gage slowly turns positive.

Is it just because you were ordered to do it that you responded? Maybe to an extent. You would probably do it whether you fully trusted the guy or not, but if there is trust, all of the things that needed to be done before that dive were done in a way you had faith that they were done.

I was lucky to have some great Commanding Officers. Almost all were at the least very good, but a few stick out in my mind as great. Commander Bill Previty was one of those guys. He came on the San Francisco during the second part of my tour there and from the moment he got there the mood of the boat was lifted. It was obvious by his mannerisms and his presence that this was a skipper you wanted to go to sea with and probably to war as well. No offence to the previous captain who commissioned the ship, they were just different.

What makes a great leader? Why would you be so willing to do the things needed to shake out a submarine?

I am sure most people have their own answers but mine are pretty simple. First, I need to trust the guy. His training and background need to be such that I know when the unthinkable happens, he is not going to lose his cool. Next, he needs to be consistent in the routine. That means that in the day to day activities, he is not going to let things dangle or put to hard of a rope line around them.

We all have an expectation of what our leaders should be. Firm but fair. Criticize in private and praise in public. Remember that you are leading men not children. Give each man his due respect no matter what station he is in life. Remember that each man plays a role in the team and is valuable for his contribution. See the possibilities in people not their weakest points. And for heaven’s sakes if there are weak points, help the person with real encouragement not cynical badgering. In short, that person should be someone like Bill Previty.

Most of us have had leaders of the other sort as well. I always used to think that sundowners were abused as kids and it was the only way they knew to do what they called “leadership”. Everything is a crisis, every small affront is personal, only a few select people would be in their inner circle and everything was always the fault of some junior officer who had somehow failed to live up to their expectation. The crew were generally miserable and performed as best they could if only not to take a beating for failing to hit the marks the old guy set. The request for transfer box is always full and the Chaplain is kept busy on overtime.

Because the second type of leader often plays people against each other, trust is always in short supply. People are reluctant to stick their heads out of their holes for fear of getting them chopped off. Creativity is squelched and rewards are few and far between. Why in the world would anyone think this is the most effective way to lead? Experience has shown that if that person holds the reins of leadership so tightly, when the situation gets out of control, they do not have the tools or the support to survive the storm. In most cases when that happens, their response is to beat harder.

There is a third type of leader and I think they are the most dangerous of all. This type is the one who always has his eye on the escape hatch. They are already planning for their next promotion so they hate anything and anyone who would keep them from reaching their goal. The current assignment is really nothing more than a necessary stepping stone so they really don’t make much effort to get to know the men. Problems are for the other guy and delegation is not only an artful dodge, it is a mandatory skill.

With the third type of leader, most issues won’t surface until long after they are gone and the problems have festered into a huge blazing sore. Moral is completely shot, trusted leaders are betrayed by his ambition, and if something does go wrong, he is quick to offer up a human sacrifice. If there are conflicts on his own staff, it is easier to just “let them work it out” among themselves. The sad thing is that they seldom do. This type of leader also tries to surround themselves with people who will make him look better. But they quickly learn that there is no reciprocity for their contributions.

When the tough assignments come in, the third type of leader will often quickly volunteer if their name will be prominent. But when things get sticky, they have already groomed the senior staff to understand that they were innocent and someone on their staff had hidden the problems from them too.

If you are smart you will learn to survive both type two and type three. If you are even smarter than that, you will learn never to trust them and develop skills to work around them in order to get the job done. If you are lucky, you will get a chance to serve with one of the Previty’s of the world. I would have then and still would today fallow that man anywhere he wanted to go.

Mark Twain once said “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too can become great.”

Thanks Captain Previty.

Mister Mac

What a mess! Reply

Dolphins 1

Imagine yourself on the periscope of a submarine about to shoot a torpedo. You can feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins and there is an icy sheen of sweat on your forehead. You call out for the Quartermaster to take your mark and he rushes over to note the direction. The control room crew is quiet, only the sounds of the rushing water past the hull as you near your prey. You call out for fire control to take a final solution and say “On my mark, tubes 1 and 2 ….”

run silent run deep

“Mac, hey Mac… wake up buddy, its time for you to get up to the galley before the cook gets ticked at you.” And just like that you go from being a steely eyed killer of the deep to a steel wool killer of the grease.

I had a lot of ideas what submarine life was like by watching old WW2 films with John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart,  and Clark Gable. This was in the age before Tom Clancy so the WW 2 depictions were my frame of reference. Who can ever forget the tension between Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens as they each struggle to defeat the other in “The Enemy Below”? Or Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster wrestling for control of the sub as the captain obsesses on obtaining his revenge against the Japanese sub that sank his previous boat. And anyone who is qualified probably has their movie card punched for that cheesy classic by Ronald and Nancy Reagan – Hellcats of the Navy.

Or this exchange between Bogart and a young sea cadet on the Murmansk Run trying to dodge German subs:

Lt. Joe Rossi: These nights are killers, aren’t they?
Cadet Robert Parker: Yeah, I lie in my bunk with my clothes on and try to sleep, but every time that engine slows, my heart speeds up. In time, I think I can train myself to have an iron nerve, like you have.
Lt. Joe Rossi: Yeah, let me tell you something about my “iron nerve,” son. It’s made of rubber just like everybody else’s, so it’ll stretch when you need it. People got a funny idea that being brave is not being scared. I don’t know, I always figured, you weren’t scared, there’s nothing to be brave about. The trick is, how much scaring can you take? I got an idea you can take plenty.”

Meanwhile, back on the George-fish, there is a scullery full of dishes with my name on it. Mess cook duty normally went to the newest guys that weren’t Petty Officers (although they did make exceptions from time to time). I think the only ones that never cranked back in the day were the Nucs. (My nephew, Theo the Nuc informed me that that is not the case anymore. I just hope he knew the difference between cabbage and lettuce unlike his Dad but that’s another story). Obviously that caused a bit of tension between the forward and aft guys but it never bothered me since I figured out pretty quickly that I was in the lowest form of human life that could exist… a non-qual. Oh wait, I should clarify that: an air breathing food consuming non-essential lower than whale poop non-qual.

So off to the scullery I went. No poopy suits in there, only dungarees and white tee shirts. The scullery on the GW was a small place with barely enough room to move the dirty dishes and pans around.  You had to be quick during the main meals or the dishes would pile up at the window from the boys finishing their dinners. There was no garbage grinder so all that went into a round chute with a wet bag can underneath. The trick was to keep it as empty as possible to start the watch since many meals ended up producing a lot of waste.

You kind of developed a rhythm after the first couple of days. I actually think I learned some of my lean thinking from trying to figure out a better way to process the dishes. Batch processing always resulted in bottlenecks and those resulted in the right kind of dishes or silverware not being ready at the right time. So you learned to keep a balanced flow through the deep sink and the hot water rinse.

One other thing about the older boats, there was no dishwashing machine. You washed and rinsed everything by hand. The toughest part was retrieving the basket from the heated rinse sink. Man that thing was HOT. You had a pair of black rubber gloves (electricians gloves) and every once in a while at periscope depth you would get a real surprise when the water came in over the top of the gloves.

Probably the only worse thing than being the scullery maid was on garbage day. All garbage had to leave the ship one way or another and the TDU (Trash Disposal Unit) was the preferred method. Dry trash was compacted into metal cans and weighted to sink. Wet bags were also weighted and loaded during TDU ops. An A-Ganger would actually load and fire the TDU but the mess cooks assisted in getting things lined up so that the operation could be done swiftly and quietly.

From the Shipboard Pollution Control Regulations:

“Waste that is discharged overboard must either be pumped out against the ambient sea pressure or blown out using pressurized air. Waste materials are collected and periodically discharged. The potential impact on ship safety associated with opening valves to the sea and on ship detectability by running pumps or blowing tanks to the sea makes waste disposal operations a significant event. Mission considerations may force waste disposal operations to be suspended for some period of time.

Dry waste is consolidated using a trash compactor and then placed in special cans. These cans are fabricated on board from prepunched galvanized, perforated steel sheets, using a roller tool. The resulting cans are 28.5 inches long and 9 inches in diameter. They have metal tops and bottom caps. Metal weights are added to ensure that the cans will go to the bottom. The cans are ejected from the submarine using a trash disposal unit (TDU), which is a long cylindrical, vertical tube connected to the ocean through a ball valve. Several cans are placed atop one another in the TDU, the top of the TDU is sealed by closing a pressure cap, the ball valve is opened, and the cans ejected through a combination of gravity and air pressure.”

Sounds pretty simple right? As long as there weren’t any floaters, life was good.

The one day I learned to hate the most was the day we had to start getting rid of the fresh eggs that were stored in the torpedo room. The cool bilge areas in the torpedo room were ideal temporary storage places for the large gross of eggs that had been carefully loaded before patrol. But at some point, they would start reaching their “maturity” level and an evil popping sound led to a more evil sulphurous smell. Multiply that by a box with 144 of the devilish brew and you had a horrendous reason to get rid of the whole lot.


So the cranks would carry the reeking boxes up to that tiny little scullery room and start wet bagging them. For a while, you would try to show what a manly man you were and not use an EAB (emergency breathing device). But even the strongest among us finally weakened as the stench permeated the galley. The A-gangers also hated this task since it always seemed to take so long. But we finally managed to liberate all of them and face a few months of powdered substitute (which never in my memory actually stunk in the olfactory sense of the word.)

One side benefit of cranking was the mid watch tour. It was tough getting used to the change in sleep patters but considering the fact that we actually lived in 18 hour cycles most of the time, it wasn’t too bad. On the mid watch, the older guys who came off watch would watch movies and occasionally if you were really quiet you could sneak a peek or two as well. But about mid-way through patrol I noticed that a lot of the old timers couldn’t sleep so well so I always made sure I had some pie and coffee ready for them. You see, these were the guys who could teach me about the boat and after I learned it sign my qual card.

Sub Force Pac

I knew the only way out of this mess was to get qualified as quickly as possible. So I got up early and stayed up late and used every chance I could to learn all about the boat. To this day I can tell you where TD 598 was but for the life of me I have no idea why knowing where an isolation valve for a gauge was so danged important to anyone.

I qualified in less than 90 days but am proudest that my nephew Artie qualified in even less than that using my technique years later.

Some of the best days of my life were in that galley, I just took a while to figure it out. Like everywhere else on the boat, people were honest and could be counted on in a pinch. I learned that service to others is a pathway to higher goals. I thank all the Commissary men and Stewards who took the time to teach me those lessons.

Mister Mac

America’s Day Begins in “Guahan”… (that’s gonna take some getting used to) 8

Ah, Guam, garden spot of the Pacific. “America’s Day Begins in Guam” said the license plates of this little island paradise for many years. Guam (Guahan)  is an organized territory of the United States and has played a key role throughout its long history with the US. It was also a launching point for countless FBM patrols during the Cold War and still serves as a forward sentinel today.

Guam was discovered by Ferdinand Magellan and was a colony of Spain until the Spanish American War when it was surrendered to the United States. It was captured by the Japanese the day after Pearl Harbor and remained in their hands until 1944. There are many stories of the courage of the Guamanian people under the harsh hands of the Japanese invaders. July 21 is commemorated each year as Liberation Day. The last Japanese soldier actually surrendered in January 1972. One can only imagine the shock he must have felt at the sight of the hundreds of B52 jet missions taking off from Anderson.

Guam’s location made it an important part of America’s strategy during the Viet Nam and Cold Wars. Despite being in the path of Typhoon Alley, Guam was an ideal location for air and naval bases which is one of the reasons the US wanted it back from the Japanese.

As any tender or boat sailor who has ever been there can attest, there are only two seasons in Guam: Wet and wetter with an annual rainfall average that comes close to topping 100 inches. The coolest months are generally January and February and the humidity is probably the lowest then.

The military bases comprise nearly 30% of the island’s total land area. This makes it a key hub for all of the US military in the western Pacific. Despite the size of the armed forces and their dependents, there is actually no danger of the island tipping over.

How this Admiral kept a straight face during this questioning period is beyond me.

My first visit to Guam was on my way to meet the USS George Washington for my first patrol. We landed in a contracted jet plane at Anderson Air Force Base and busses took us to Polaris Point to wait on the USS Proteus for the ship to return. The stay on the “Old Pro” was rather interesting since I had never been on a naval ship before. The berthing area was cramped and it was kind of confusing figuring out where to go on the ship to eat.

Proteus early 70s

The USS Proteus (AS 19) was typical of all the early Polaris program support ships. She had been built for WW2, was decommissioned in 1947, and recommissioned in 1960 and modified to handle the Polaris missiles which would be part of the FBM program. For an old ship, she made the rounds. Holy Loch Scotland, Rota Spain, Charleston SC, and of course several long tours in Guam.


When I first saw her in Guam, she had just completed an overhaul in Mare Island and a short stop in Hawaii to repair a boiler explosion. She completed a shakedown cruise and relived the USS Hunley in January 1973. She stayed for her final FBM tour until 1978. It is rumored that she was kept afloat all those years by sitting on the standard issue navy ceramic coffee cups that the boomer boys would throw over the side, but I am sure that was just a rumor.

Galley on Proteus

It wasn’t long before we discovered Andy’s Hut. This was a small outpost of entertainment on the harbor with a few types of entertainment and of course some cold beer. If I remember right, the two choices we mostly had at that time were Olympia and Budweiser and both tasted like they were chock full of vitamin formaldehyde.  But we were young and it was Guam. Andy’s Chateau By The Sea was also home to a number of small USO shows that were brought in to keep the sailors and Marines from remembering that they were on Guam.

The boys on the tender worked hard to keep the boats in shape. I think an entire book could be written about the memories of Polaris Point, but that’s for another day. I sincerely thank each and every one who worked so hard to keep us in good shape.

Proteus 80s

My favorite memory of Guam actually came in 1982 when I was on the USS San Francisco. We were in the middle of a West Pac and the wives were permitted to come to Guam and visit us during a pier side overhaul. My wife of a few years made the long plane flight from Honolulu and we were both looking forward to a great reunion together. As the plane circled the island, the pilot told them to buckle in for their approach to Guam. The wives looked out their windows and all said the same thing: “Where is it?” As the plane went lower and lower with no landing field in sight, there was a moments pause for all of the passengers. At the last minute, the plane dropped down on the coral packed runway and finally came to a stop in front of the small terminal.

I was waiting with the other husbands when the wives emerged from the plane and came down the ramp. The most beautiful blue eyed blonde I can ever remember seeing came up to me and said “Hi sailor, waiting for me?”. I held her tight and after a really long kiss she looked at me and said “When I married you I told you I would follow you to the ends of the earth. Well, I am here”.

We had a great visit together and we will always have wonderful memories of that time together. The truth is that many people who have been there over the years have come to appreciate the natural beauty and splendor of this little Paradise in the Pacific.

From a practical standpoint, Guam has once again emerged as an important part of our countries future. She is a forward base for air and naval forces once again and will stand at the crossroads of history for years to come. Just as I once prayed that we would never have to perform the mission of the boomers who sailed from there, I pray that we will never have to use her in future conflicts. Unfortunately mankind does not have a very good track record.

Hafa Adai

Mister Mac

Bagpipes and Boomers and Beer, oh my! 7

Holy Loch Scotland

One of the saddest days of my life was the day we left Dunoon Scotland and the Holy Loch so many years ago. It was 1991, our tour was shortened by the end of the Cold War drawdown and I was headed to a tour as M Division officer on the Hunley. But we packed a lot into that short tour of fourteen months.

We arrived at the end of summer in 1990 to take over the duties on the USS Los Alamos AFDB 7 as the Docking and Repair Officer. The Los Alamos was one of the best investments ever made in Naval history. It was originally designed as a seven section floating dry-dock. Both seven and ten section dry-docks were built  to be big enough to be transported to a forward base in the Pacific and provide forward repair services for ships as large as the Iowa class battleship or a host of smaller ships. At that time, it was a huge savings of time and battle resources since it meant that damaged ships would no longer have to take the slow and perilous journey back to Pearl Harbor or the west coast ship repair facilities.

After the war, the AFDB 7 was broken down into sections and towed to its berth in Florida where it would sit waiting for another mission. That mission came when the Polaris program was born and the need for overseas bases became critical. The range of the missiles on the early boat was fairly limited so they would lose precious time transiting from US bases on their way to the patrol areas. The waters in Holy Loch Scotland were determined to be deep enough and easy enough to protect if need be so she was one of the sites chose to support the boomers.

I have a cruise book from the Los Alamos that one of my guys put together and it chronicles the way the LA was reassembled once she arrived in Holy Loch. The original design was devilishly simple. The walls of the dock were laid flat on the deck of the individual barges. You used giant jacking devices to put them upright and then connect all the piping and electrical connections. The berthing and machinery spaces (plus the galley) were housed in the individual barges and all of those were connected together as well.

When the LA was originally designed, she was a seven section drydock. The engineers determined that in order to dock a Polaris submarine, you only needed four sections. A couple of cranes, some upper level repairs and an overhaul every few years kept her running smoothly for over thirty years.

In between dockings, the crew spent a lot of time in the wee town of Dunoon Scotland. Over the years, Dunoon had adapted herself well to the visitors. The sailors from the submarine tenders, the boat ops gangs and the visiting bubbleheads kept an awful lot of people employed for many years. It was rumored that there were more taxi’s concentrated in Dunoon than in any other location in Scotland but you know who rumors are. One thing is for certain was the number of pubs. I had heard of the infamous Pub Crawls before but walking up and down the main streets of Dunoon, you could almost feel the souls of all the past crawlers making their way up and down the way.

One of my favorite memories however was the Annual Cowal Highland Games. Can you possibly imagine 150 bagpipe bands gathering in one field (often over 3000 pipers) and playing amazing grace? The whole day was exciting with athletics and dance competitions rounding out the group and solo pipes contests.

Like all good things, our tour came to an end much too soon. Dunoon still hosts the games each year (this one is coming up soon from the 25th to the 27th of August).  http://www.cowalgathering.co.uk/  My dream is to go back once more before I do my final checkout.  I would highly recommend the same for you!

Haste ye back

The Anchor’s Missing Sir 3

Anchors Aweigh is described as the response to the order to weigh anchor when the anchor has been tripped and is no longer attached to the bottom.

I am unaware of there is an official response if the anchor is no longer attached to the ship. A number of four letter expletives come to mind, but people of many ages and sensitivities read the blog so I will allow the reader to use their imagination and fill in those blanks.


A submarine is best employed when it is underway. Sitting next to a pier, it is relatively helpless except for the shutdown duty crew that can shut the hatches and button up in signs of trouble. A submarine at anchor is also an abnormal condition and one that is fraught with potential adventures.

Riding high 2

Thinking back, it was pretty rare for any of the boats I rode to sit at anchor and the one time that the San Francisco used hers off the coast of Maui, it didn’t turn out so well. We were stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time and had been on a special operation. Towards the end of the run, the Captain announced that we were going to do a port call in Maui before returning home and that the wives had been notified that they could join us there and return home on the boat.

Romantic Maui

That was a pretty exciting thing for the families that would be joining us. Not only would we get a few days together in romantic Maui, but they would get a ride on board the boat including a submerged run. So all the plans were made and the only detail that needed to be attended to was the place where we would anchor.

D _ 711 Homeward bound

As the old whaling ship masters could tell you, the sea around Maui is relatively calm but the wave swells are long and fairly strong.

I can imagine that they would want to securely fasten their anchor so that their ships would not drift into the shore or into a nearby ship. Anchoring is definitely an art and I suppose submarines don’t get a chance to practice it as much as other types of ships. The other disadvantage an old school 688 has is that its hull is mainly submerged even on the surface so underwater swells and currents will have a pretty strong effect on her.

The big day arrived and we anchored within sight of the island. The small boats took those of us lucky enough to have someone waiting for us to the nearby shore. Maui is a very nice vacation spot and the people are friendly and hospitable. The hotels are a fresh change from being stuck inside a berthing area with a lot of other guys and frankly that first real shower is one of the best feelings you can ever experience after those abbreviated submarine showers.


My wife and I had a great meal and then headed back to our hotel to get reacquainted after not seeing each other for too long. It was early in the evening and we were about to settle in when that one noise you never want to hear at a hotel in Maui with your bride occurred. A knock on the door. Then a more insistent knock on the door. I suppose we could have just ignored it but the sailor in me knew I had to answer it. Of course it was one of my shipmates in uniform who told me that I had to report back to the boat immediately. The anchor had broken free of its chain and the boat was slowly making big circles off the coast. The crew that was left on board was missing a few key people and one of those was Chief of the Watch.

Suddenly that decision to become the first second class petty officer to qualify as COW on board the 711 boat seemed like not such a great idea. The crew member that found me told me that all of the other people qualified to stand the watch were no where to be found. That left me and the one guy already on board to man the station until the next day when we were scheduled to depart. The fact that we had already paid for the room and my wife would have to stay on shore until the next day by herself became inconsequential.

So I headed back to the boat and shared the next twelve hours with my comrades while we gracefully sailed off the coast in very large circles.

711 Chief Of the Watch 1983

It ended well since we picked up the wives and headed to Pearl the next day. My wife even got to help me initiate an emergency blow which was quite a thrill (for both of us since she did the aft group first and then froze because of the noise it created!).


The thing I have thought about since then is how important it is to have the right anchor for the right situation. As a kid, I remember my Dad teaching me how to anchor the houseboat on the Monongahela so that it would stay in one place despite the currents. Its definitely a skill because doing it incorrectly would allow the boat to swing port or starboard with sometimes unexpected results.

With the situation in this country right now, I really thing we have either lost our anchor or are about to. All the change we were told was coming was nothing more than swinging wildly on the anchor chain and unfortunately the results are exactly what you would expect. At a time where we need some stability, you have people who have no clue about the proper way to use an anchor at the helm. Frankly I am not sure they know how to pilot the ship either but that’s for another day.

My hope is that we finally get some leadership back up on the bridge before its too late. In the meantime, let’s hope we don’t lose the anchor completely.

Mister Mac

2016 Update: When I wrote this, the country was in need of great leadership. I was thinking this morning, we need it now more than then.

The Common Thread Reply

I was about five years old when the work was started that created the Polaris Missile Submarine Program. If you think about the complexities of that time frame, there were six distinct challenges facing the Navy and their civilian counterparts. Despite the advent of nuclear power, the systems that needed to be created were all just unmet goals when the program was put into motion. The challenges of meeting so many technological advances at the same time must have been a true test of the engineers and technicians assigned to the work. The whole program had to be constructed and delivered so that a working solution could be in place in less than four years.

Rear Admiral Rayborn and Admiral Burke

First, the missile itself. Up until that point liquid-fueled missiles were the only option so a solid fuel rocket option needed to be developed. There was an effort to create such a rocket for the ICBM land based missiles, but it was not yet perfected. A combination of work from the Lockheed corporation and Aerojet General resulted in the successful creation of a solution. On the 20th of July 1960 the first missile was fired from the submerged USS George Washington SSBN 598.


Missile guidance guidance was also an unknown factor and new developments were needed to accurately deliver a missile downrange. SO General Electric and MIT worked together to develop miniaturized inertial components that could be used to put the missile on target.


The complexity of navigation and estimated range to a particular target required an accurate system of determining where the boat was at any given time. If you think about it, you have a moving submarine that is constantly changing its position. You have to be able to somehow tell the missile where it is and where it needs to go and have that message updated to a very fine point of accuracy. Granted, if you are delivering a nuclear weapon, it will probably have a rather large footprint, but the accuracy of delivery does give some options to limit civilian casualties.

The fire control system and the launcher both presented their own unique challenges. Again, a missile being fired from below the surface of the sea (without destroying the submarine in its path) had never been done before. Prior to this program, ships like the Halibut could fire early cruise missiles but they needed to be on the surface.


Finally the submarine itself needed to be able to adapt to the weapon’s firing capabilities. If you launch a missile, the submarine suddenly has a completely different displacement which could result in an unplanned depth excursion. Plus, in order not to show the enemy where the boat was with any certainty, the ability to rapidly fire the missiles needed to be compensated for.

Silouette of 598

All of the various forces, combined with the crews that pioneered the boat’s operations proved that with the right common thread, a project as immense and strategically important could be put together in a relatively compact time period. The common thread was a projected threat that the Soviets had initiated with their land based weapons systems and their displayed arrogance towards national sovereignty.


The question in today’s environment is this: will we still have the ability and the will to find that common thread for the next threat? If history is any judge, there will be a next threat. We will need to continue to maintain our technological edge in the world if we are to be ready to face it when it fully appears. The shear weight of that potential threat demands it.


Washington Patch

Follow the leader 2

All of us remember that children’s game called follow the leader. Someone played the role as leader and of course everyone else had to follow their lead. During the Cold War the Soviets played this game and played it fairly well. The submarines they developed always seemed to be strikingly familiar with the boats we were putting to sea. Based on the number of high visibility incidents they had, its debatable whether or not their quality was quite to our standards but that has always been a hallmark of American shipbuilding.


I remember the end of the Cold War and had a strange feeling about the desire of some of the nation’s leaders to disarm us. Frankly I think the “surplus” that keeps getting credited to Bill Clinton was significantly enhanced by the drawdown and slowdown on ship building and development (not to mention the other savings in defense spending).

In the past few years however, China is starting to emerge as the new dragon on the horizon.  While they may be far away from gaining parity in the traditional sense, they are well aware of our reliance on technology in both weapons systems as well as general sea command. The capability of our ships and submarines are the results of years of learning and continuous improvement. But the ability to respond and respond quickly will be limited as the numbers of subs and ships continues to shrink.

Victor III

When America has faced threats in the past, the enemy was always separated by oceans and technological limitations of that particular age. Those of us who were Cold Warriors saw firsthand though that a dedicated foe could threaten the homeland even with technologies that were not as capable as ours.


The oceans that used to protect us now offer a greater threat than ever before. A ballistic missile submarine within range of our major population centers brings with it a threat that there is little defense for. Is it any wonder that that capability is high on the list of the Chinese military?

Nimitz Flyover

Even our mighty carrier fleet would be subject to the new type of weaponry that the Chinese are creating. If they were able to flood the immediate combat area with ship killing missiles, how capable are our defenses? How long would a traditional battle group be able to survive in an atmosphere where EMP and other forces which we may not even know about become the dominating force?


No, the modern nuclear submarine will be the most sustainable weapon of defense in the foreseeable future. The ocean still makes up 75 % of the earth’s surface and our ability to protect shipping in all sea lanes still represents our status as a world power. Four generations of my family have served to preserve that status and hopefully many generations to come.

The economic situation we find ourselves in is a problem but being subservient to any world power will be much more problematic. Continued investment in submarines and the technology they represent is vital to our future. In the end, they may be the last line of defense that allows us to freely fly the American flag anywhere, anytime and any way we choose. Other wise, we will be doing nothing more someday than Following the Leader.