Posted by: guinness222 | July 22, 2017

Naval Traditions and Customs!!!

This morning, as I was having my English Breakfast Tea and a frozen Jimmy Dean Sausage, Egg and Cheese Croissant, I turned on TV to watch the commissioning of the brand new United States Navy Aircraft Carrier, CVA 78, the USS Gerald R. Ford. Commentators were ranting on the $13 billion dollars it cost, with a few scattered generalizations about it being the most,  “Expensive, most technologically advanced and largest military ship of any naval power country in the world.” The Pride that I , as a veteran Aircraft Carrier Crewman, on the USS Essex felt  is that of watching a new baby being born.  The traditions and customs of the United States Navy date back centuries, and to add the first living, breathing,  breath of “Naval” life into an otherwise “big metal box of guns and fighter jets”, ….it’s an AWESOME event!

From it’s Commissioning today, like every ship in the Navy it have a history, a list of accomplishments, and is a prime indication of the mind of man, and the talent of the thousands of sailors that will man her over the next 50 years of her expected useful life.

Right now, without any active air wing on board or attached it still takes a minimum of 2600 sailors and officers to just make it all work, every day, with air squadrons and the attached specialists during the normal seafaring patrols to carry out it’s prime directives the ship will be a barracks, chow hall, rec room and entire 24/7 work station for as many as 4600 men, for periods of up to six months of deployment, anywhere in the world, with few and far between “Liberty calls” ashore, ….and sometimes in this crazy world perhaps the biggest deterrent, and greatest weapon YOUR country has to “hold the line”. . Some of the crew’s and Officer’s children many be over six or seven months old the next time  they see them. (And the navy wives are TOTALLY expected to pick up the slack and make it work, while a “sailor” is at sea, doing “HIS PART!). Navy wives all bond and watch out for each other during all deployments and are there to help each other, it’s always been a special Sorority, prepared at the drop of a word to go to the aid and help of any other wife and family,…..that takes a strong woman! And I for one salute you!

But back to traditions and customs. When a ship is commissioned EVERY man aboard becomes a “Plank holder” and it is recorded in his records forever, by the same token, it is an equal honor to have ridden a ship “out of Commission” and special notifications are also made in each man’s records. Through that entire period of the Ship’s life everyone assigned to that ship in ANY level, at any time, at any point, is directly responsible in upholding the honor, dignity, and supporting the Ships mission. As a sailor you know that even in peacetime there will be fellow sailors, pilots, and support folks aboard who will die in that fifty years of the ships service as well. More in War, less in peace, but the Ship has become an entity unto itself for it’s entire life. And there are always “accidents”, I’ve witnessed several during my service.

MY Ship , when I was in the Navy was the USS Essex CVS 9, “the fightingest ship in the Navy”. Her keel was laid in 1942 at the height of WWII, She was the first carrier of a “class”, much like the Carrier commissioned this morning. Others copies pretty much the same will follow from the same “mold” with improvements and changes for the better as the “First in Class” becomes the guide for betterment.

Yes,  it is a “War Ship”, but it has hundreds of other tasks it can perform, like humanitarian aid in natural catastrophes, like earthquakes, floods, etc. It can also perform medical services wherever needed, when ever needed, as well. Not just from war injuries, but special surgical efforts like cleft palates, deformities, and vaccinations, anytime, anywhere! A ship is an “AMBASSADOR”, It also serves as a primary show of strength to those who would dare to go outside the guidelines af human decency. Like the recent “rain of missles” we unleashed on Syria for the use of chemical weapons on non-combatants and civilians, or the base of operations for the raid that netted Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. It was a launching platform for the helicopters and Seal Team Six, but it was also their protection net, their medical base for injuries and evidence confirmation.

So now you have an idea why sailors are so bonded to their ships, no matter when, where, or how long ago they served on her! (All ships are referred to as “her”, but Submarines are all “Boats”, regardless of size.)

At a commissioning the ceremonies are really and truly chilling. Here’s a brief rundown. The CNO (Chief of Naval Operations), introduces the Captain of the Ship during the official commissioning , (President Donald Trump was the official who commissioned her this morning) , The Captain then reads his “Orders” to proceed to join the ship as she is in her last six or eight months of construction/preparation. He officially takes command at the Ships Commissioning.

He then calls on his Executive Officer, (#2 in Command of the new ship) to “Set the Watch”. The Executive Officer then calls a Junior officer to be the ” Watch Officer”, or “the go to guy” until relieved, there is always a watch officer aboard a commissioned ship of the US NAVY,  at all times. The Executive Officer then calls three enlisted men for the “Watch ” , one is the Watch Officers “Messenger”, who delivers any messages that need be delivered to the Captain or upper level crew members or Officers.

The second is his “Communications” mate, he transmits any messages to the watch officer received from the fleet Command or other authorities regarded as important, including some levels of “security levels”.

The third is a “Bo’suns  Mate” who is the “security man” to cover any intrusion , discipline, or other problems and emergency discipline or restraint needed during the watch.

Once they are posted and acknowledge posting (which occurs for the life of the ship including it’s eventual decommissioning, until they are officially relieved of Duty, which is a commissioning ceremony in reverse order)

The Executive Officer gathers their report and,  “Sounds Off” and tells the Captain, “The Watch is set, Captain.”

The Captain will then tell the Executive Officer, to “Have the Crew Man the Ship!” Then all of the enlisted men, who have just been formed in ranks and waiting, break rank and head to their “Duty Stations” with all due haste.

The final command inclusion (sometimes not even spoken, particularly during a Commissioning of a vessel),  the “Have the Crew Man the Ship” at a commissioning also includes the expression,  “Man the Rails” an old term whereby the off duty crew members, line the edges of the ships deck and “stand at the ready”, indicating they have assumed responsibility for the Ship.

I’ve personally done that, as it’s a standard act on the entrance, and sometimes the exit to and from a port of call, much like wearing your “Sunday Clothes” to church, no work uniforms, etc. Just full dress uniform stand at the ready,  and remember “YOU ARE THE UNITED STATES NAVY, and BE PROUD, of your ship and your country!”

At that point the Captain will end the commissioning ceremonies and set the protocol for departure of everyone, the  most respected and honorable guests to crews wives, families and visitors, upon which usually they will proceed to an area ashore for refreshments.

During this time the ship willl come to life and TOTAL control and readiness and responsibility is transferred directly to the Captain and the crew and all future Captains and Crew until she is eventually de-commissioned, or lost.

May sound a little “corny”, but after you’ve “been there, done that” as they say,….you can REALLY appreciate your role in it, and the great responsibility and ASSET  you have been entrusted with to protect and defend YOUR COUNTRY!!

-30-

July 22, 2017


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