Monday, October 3, 2011

Alright, who messed with my settings????

During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I had the pleasure of standing Tactical Action Officer on the Mighty Battle Frigate FORD (FFG 54).  The only non-Aegis or non-NTU Cruiser to "shotgun" a carrier. 
For those not in the Navy, the "shotgun" for a carrier is the missile shooting escort assigned to remain in close proximity to your carrier and shoot down any incoming threats.  This duty is normally assigned to the most advanced missile shooters.  During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the most capable were the Cruisers.  It was a great honor to be the lone FFG to be assigned this duty. 

On with the story......

We were performing our duties when our carrier began a high speed run to the southern portion of the Gulf in order to gain sea room to launch aircraft.  We were chasing our carrier at 30+ knots.  Very fast for an FFG.

During this lengthy run to the south, I turned my view from my radar screen for a few moments to go over the paperwork for the next event.  When I turned around all the blips on my radar screen had gathered in the middle. 

Note: The radar screen shows your ship in the center.  So, blips gathering in the middle means ships were gathering in close proximity to us.

My first reaction to this situation was to think someone was playing a trick on me and had changed the scale of the display causing more distant object to appear closer than they actually were.

"Alright!  Who messed with my settings???"

I quickly realized no settings had been changed on my screen.  Objects were as close as they appeared and getting closer very quickly.   One of these "blips" was another carrier. 

Our carrier (going very fast) had just "crossed the T" with the second carrier.  We were following behind our carrier and about the attempt the same maneuver. 

Note to the non-Navy -- Crossing the T is never advisable!  BAD things tend to happen to all involved.  Think racing the train to cross the tracks.  Same principle.

I reached up and quickly asked the Officer of the Deck (the officer in charge of driving the ship.)  He could see the outside world.  I was locked away in a room with no windows.  All I could see where the blips on my screen.   I knew I had to quickly assertain two things.

1.  Would we be able to perform this dangerous maneuver safely? AND more importantly.
2.  Was the Captain of the ship on the bridge overseeing the maneuver?

"OOD, what aspect do you hold on the carrier?  Do you see the left side, right side or are we directly  in front of it?"

Note:   If you were standing on the carrier in question, we were heading from left to right in front of them.  So, the only good answer to this question was he could see the right side.  We would have been over the "train tracks"..  Directly in front would have meant, we hadn't completed the maneuver but it was most like going to be successful and I had no choice but to continue it.  LEFT on the other hand was DANGER WILL ROBINSON!  DANGER!

The OOD answered, "Left"

With this piece of information I knew two things:
1.  We needed to maneuver away from the oncoming carrier.  AND
2.  The Captain was not on the bridge.


As the ship leaned over in the midst of the turn, I heard the Captain race to the bridge. 

Long story shortened......We successfully manuevered, we came very, very close the second carrier but passed behind her.

Morale of the story..... when traveling very fast, keep your eyes on the road and drive defensively so you can live to have another adventure the next day...... But that's another story..

Monday, May 9, 2011

Be careful what you tell your people......

I was returning from my first 6-month deployment as a junior officer.  We stopped in Subic Bay, Philippines.  During our short stay, several new junior officers (JO) reported to the ship to get the experience of being underway with the ship prior to our return to homeport.

When we got underway I was given one of the newly reported JO's are my conning officer.  We took the watch as we transited through the archipelgo waters.  Soon after taking the watch, we were approaching a turn in our transit.  I took the conning officer aside and made sure he was good with what needed to be done.

As we approached the turn, our faithful quartermaster (enlisted who helps the Officer of the Deck navigate the ship) kept popping out of his chart room just on the aft part of the bridge like a cuckoo clock bird announcing the distance to the upcoming turn.  The Captain is in his chair quietly observing, taking in the sights.  His leg in a casts (another story) he isn't moving from his perch.

"500 yards to turn"

"400 yards to turn"

The conning officer is super glued into his position on the bridge.  He isn't budging.  I suggest he go out on the bridge wing and make sure we are good for the turn.

"100 yards to turn."

"Mark the turn!"

The conning officer begins the turn but he doesn't look to see if the turn if clear..........

I go out to the bridge wing and realize we are going to hit several small fishing boats if we continue......

I take the conn (for my non-navy readers, I tell the young Sailor actually turning the steering wheel to stop listening to the JO and listen to me).  And steer the ship around the fishing boats.

When the manuever is complete, I take my JO out to the bridge wing and explain what he did wrong.  I tell him never, never, never turn the ship without first confirming we are going to hit something but looking down the entire side of the ship.  I admit the communication of this information was not in a pleasant Mr. Roger's neighborhood voice.  We continued without incident.  He did as instructed from that point onward.

Fast forward several days.  We are not out in the middle of the vast Pacific ocean on the great circle route to Hawaii.  We are lucky enough to be on of the watch teams who will be able to make a course correction (1 degree course change to be exact).  AND I must add, we haven't seen another ship in at least three days.  There are no ships on the radar.

The turn approaches.  Our quartermaster is marking the turn in his usual fashion.  The Captain has come up to the bridge to observe the watch and is sitting in his chair.

"500 yards to turn."

"400 yards to turn."

My conning officer is once again glued to the bridge and hasn't moved.

"100 yards to turn."

"Mark the turn"

No order is issued from the conning officer.   I look to figure out what he is doing and why he has delayed the manuever. 

He is out on the bridge wing looking up and down our entire side.  Only then does he give the order to change the course of the ship by 1 degree. (not a very significant maneuver).

I hang my head.  Where did I go wrong?

The Commanding Officer chuckles and says, "Dave, what have we learned?"

"I should be more careful how I teach my junior officers on how to drive the ship."

"Exactly.  How long are you going to make him clear the side of the ship like that before you temper the lesson?"

"Once we pull out of Hawaii."

We chuckle.  But lessons are learned even when we are not the person in action.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Sir, you have to talk to your dad!"

When I was Executive Officer (XO), my father, ICC (ret) James A. Schiffman, agreed to come on a "Tiger" cruise and accompany his oldest granddaughter to Hawaii.  For the non-navy types, a tiger cruise usually occurs towards the end of a deployment.  A portion of the crew is sent home early from  your last port prior to reaching homeport.  AND some family and friends are allowed to take their place onboard the ship for the final leg. 

So, my father and daughter flew to Hawaii to meet me on the final leg of deployment from Hawaii to San Diego.  There are so many memories from this week at sea.  But there is one in particular that makes me laugh when I remember it. 

My Master Chief of the Command (CMC) found out my father, a retired Chief, was going to be on the Tiger cruise.  CMC immediately asked if he could email my father personally.  I agreed.  It was a "Chief" thing and CMC wanted to offer my father the honor deserved of a Chief. 

When we made final arrangements for where everyone would be sleeping, I was curious why my father was scheduled to have his bunk in Chief's quarters and not Officer's quarters -- (Officer's quarters being just a bit more comfortable).

"Your father requested to be in Chief's berthing."

"OK", I said with a puzzled look.

"It is a Chief thing, sir."

"Got it, Master Chief."

I would allow my father to be in his element.  We always share a good joke about my being an officer and my father being a chief.  This was just an extension of this ongoing joke. 

Well, we were about three days into our cruise when the CMC approached me with one of his Chiefs in tow. 

"Go on Chief, you tell the XO."

This didn't sound good.  CMC usually handled all Chief's Mess issues himself and didn't involve me in such matters.

"XO.  Sir, you have to talk to your dad!"

"Ok, what would be the subject of that conversation, Chief?"

"Well, XO.  I was in the Chief's berthing taking a shower and when I came out of the shower your dad yelled at me!"

"Ok.  Why would he yell at you?"

"Your dad said, I was taking a hollywood shower."  A Hollywood shower is a lengthy shower without turning off the water while you lathered up.  On a naval vessel which makes its own water, taking "Navy" showers is essential.  It is up to every person onboard the ship to hold each other accountable so we have enough water to go around.

"Were you?"


"Ok.  So, Chief..... you want me to bring my dad, a retired Chief, up here and talk to him about yelling at my Chiefs????  I want to be clear what you are asking me to do."

"Yes, sir!  He was way out of line!"

"So, you are saying you need me the XO to handle a Chief?"

"He is your dad!"

"Yes, but for this cruise, he has chosen to be what he is a Chief. Are you saying you need me to handle this Chief issue?  CMC, is this what I am hearing?"

CMC:  "Sir, I told Chief I would handle it but he insisted you be told."

Me:  "Ok.  I will speak to my dad.  But I am sure he might come discuss the situation with each of you, Chief to Chief.  Sound fair?"

CMC:  "Yes, sir."
Chief: "Yes, sir."

Well, I had that conversation with my father.  I took him down to see the Reverse Osmosis equipment which made enough water to allow for such behavior.  My dad just looked at me and said it still wasn't right.  I agreed, but asked politely if he would try not to yell at my Chiefs. 

My dad laughed and said he would try, but he and CMC and the Chief were going to have a talk.  I am sure they did.   I wasn't privy to the discussion.  It was a Chief thing AND I left it at that.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Sir, do you think you're right?"

To continue the saga of my missing Leave and Earning Statements (LES's), before leaving California and heading to my next duty station, I had the personnelmen show me the regulations which would govern my travel and travel pay while attending a Pressure-Fired Boiler operator school in Great Lakes, IL.

I arrive in what was the coldest February on record! (just a side note to the story)

School was fine -- weather could have been much better -- but all in all, things were good.

The first payday occurs and we receive our checks.  Mine is decidedly a little short by my calculations so I go to see my friendly (I use that term SOOOOOOO loosely) pay masters.   I explained my situation and was promptly told there wasn't a mistake and that was that.  DISMISSED, ENSIGN!

Well, I wasn't sure what to do.  From my understanding of the pay rules (and I will admit at this point I had been commissioned all of 9 months), I was being shorted by a great deal of money.  So, as I was leaving the building, I got the bright idea to visit the people who held my personnel record.  Maybe they could help me battle the evil -- PAY MASTER! (I must admit here as well, I really didn't think they were evil, just not being helpful)

Ok, I walked into their office AND they listened to my explanation and actually began attempting to help me find the answer to my dilemma.  But they were not PAY MASTERS so our search was not going well.

Just then, the Master Chief of the Command walked through the office.  The people helping me search asked him to join.  Master Chief looked at me (a brand new ensign -- 9 months out of the the Naval Academy) and said, "Sir, do you think you are right?"

I looked at Master Chief and with all the confidence I could muster stated, "Master Chief, I know I am right."

"Good enough for me!"  Master Chief picked up the phone and dialed the pay masters.  He told them he was just talking to Ensign Schiffman.  "Oh, so you know his situation.  Well, you need to bring me the book and prove it to me!"  CLICK!  Master Chief hung up.

He hadn't even told the pay masters where he was in the building.  How were they going to find us?  Master Chief calmly said, "They will have to search for us, but they will find us, sir."

We chatted about how school was going and the weather and such for 15 minutes until we were found by the pay masters.

Master Chief looked at them and said, "Show me and Ensign Schiffman why you think you are right."

The pay master proudly pointed at a chart in the massive book they had brought with them.  Master Chief and I looked at the page.  Master Chief said, "Are we good here, sir?"

"No, Master Chief.  If I understand the chart, this is an if/then chart.  AND I am not that if."

"Yes, you are!", shouted the pay master.

"No, I am not.   I am not sure what category I am.  But that if doesn't apply to me."

The record keepers bring my record and show the pay masters my orders.  I am NOT what is described in the "if" being used.

I looked at all of them and said, "If you find the 'if' which applies to my situation, I will accept whatever 'then' we find."

The Pay Masters search frantically.  They find the appropriate "if"..........

Master Chief looked at them and said, "When should Ensign Schiffman return to get the rest of the pay owed him?"

This is Friday at 5pm of a three day weekend. 

"Tuesday would be good.  Perhaps after he is done with school."


The story doesn't end there.  So, forgive me if I continue.

On Tuesday I return to the Pay Masters.  Master Chief asked me to get him when I arrived so he could make sure all was well with my pay.  I did as instructed and we went to get my check.

As I received it, I must have had a look of disbelief or confusion on my face.

"What is wrong, sir?  Is it still not correct?"

"Master Chief, I don't mean to be a pain, but this figure is MUCH more than I expected.  I don't want to be overpaid either."

Master Chief called the head pay master over to explain.  It seems the pay masters didn't take kindly to being shown up by a brand new ensign so they AUDITED my pay record from day one to the present.  AND discovered after only 9 months of commissioned service, I was underpaid!  So, they reluctantly disbursed what I was owed.

Smiling.  I thanked them for their efforts.

I will never forget Master Chief's question.  It was simple and to the point.  Sir, do you think you are right?  He just wanted to know if I believed what I thought to be true.  When I was, it was good enough for him to find the correct answer.  To right the wrong I felt was being done. 

And I will never forget what Master Chief said when we found out I was underpaid and that all was right with the world and I was thanking him for his belief in me.

"Sir, no need to thank me.  It is our job to make sure these things are right so you can concentrate on bigger thoughts of leading Sailors."

Thanks Master Chief for the lesson.  Thanks for believing in me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

You were commissioned from no where and stationed in Florida.

After I graduated from the US Naval Academy, I returned to San Diego for my first assignment.  I was stationed in Coronado, CA for the Surface Warfare Officer, Basic school.  Once a month, we would get an LES (Leave and Earning Statement).  Ok, everyone else would get a statement.  Each month I would get none.  Each month I was told, "Don't worry.  They will catch up with you."

After 7 months of waiting, I was getting ready to transfer and I asked the personnelmen (PN) to call the office where the LES's orginated.  The conversation went like this:

PN:  "Yes,  I am calling for Ensign Schiffman.  He has not received an LES in 7 months."

The person on the other side of the phone asked for my social security number.

PN: "We are in Coronado, CA"

PN: "Yes, he is right here with me."
PN: "No, we are in California."
PN: "Ma'am, he is right here in front of me AND we are in California AND NO, he hasn't received any LES's.  I'll put him on the phone."

I wasn't sure what I would be able to add to the conversation the PN hasn't already done.

Me: "Hello, this is Ensign Schiffman."
Lady: "Where are you located?"
Me: "Coronado, California"
Lady: "And you haven't been getting your LES's, because they are being sent to you."
Me: "Where are they being sent?"
Lady:  "Well, this is unusual?  Where did you get your commission?"
Me: "Naval Academy.  Why?"
Lady: "Your record says you were commissioned from no where."
Me:  "Ok, are you able to fix it?"
Lady: "Done.  Ok, and you are stationed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida."
Me: "I assure you, I am stationed in Calfornia."
Lady: "No, you are stationed in Florida."

Ok, this wasn't going to work.  Another line of reason was necessary.

Me: "Ok.  Can you see where I get my checks every two weeks?"
Lady: "Yes.  You pick them up in Coronado, Calfornia."

Ok.  We are getting somewhere.

Me: "So, does it make sense that every two weeks, I leave Florida and fly to California to get my check and return. OR perhaps, the record is wrong and I am really stationed in California."

Lady:  "Maybe. Haha!  Ok, I'll fix it.  DONE"

Whew!  I thought it was going to be a fight.  SO, from that auspicious beginning, my career was launched. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Corn dogs are fair food.....

When I was Executive Officer, my Commanding Officer (CO) set down several requirements which needed to be followed in the Wardroom (the place on the ship where the officers gather for meals).

One such requirement was, Corn dog were not allowed to be served in the wardroom.  This was a tough requirement for me since corn dogs are one of my favorites.  The CO's reasoning was simple.  Corn dogs were county fair food and not acceptable or appropriate food for the wardroom. 

But, he didn't banish corn dogs from the ship as he had brussel sprouts (Another story all together).

So, I stepped through the open door of opportunity to point out the non-banishment and ask if there would any time or circumstance inwhich the CO would allow corn dogs to be served.

His response, "If MSCS (Senior Chief Mess Specialist -- our head chef) would sit right there (pointing at a spot in the wardroom) and be making cotton candy AND the wardroom was decorated like a carnival with everyone dresses in carnival clothes, THEN and ONLY THEN, are corn dogs allowed to be served in the wardroom!"

Ok, so you say there is a chance.......  Haha!

Well, a few weeks before deployment, I saw and bought a cotton candy maker at a local department store.  I gave the cotton candy maker to the head chef for use during deployment.  I thought it might be a good moral booster for the crew AND I hoped Senior Chief would find the appropriate time to allow corn dogs to be served.  But there were two other requirements......

Well, one day during deployment, the CO and I arrived for lunch to find Senior Chief sitting right where the CO had pointed, making cottom candy, the wardroom decorated like a carnival and the officers all dressed accordingly.


The CO was gracious and allowed the corn dogs that day and fun was had by all.

If you have to be on deployment for your birthday, there is no better present.  PRICELESS!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Time for a cup of coffee

When I was a division officer on my first ship, I started out in engineering.  I was leader of a rough and tough bunch of engineers.  They were the salt of the earth.  Many came from the middle of the country and the first time they saw the ocean was when they got underway with the ship for the first time.  One of my senior enlisted was a rough and hard man.  He did mince words and told it like he saw it.  I am not certain I saw Senior Chief smile many times.  There were a few occasions.  Let's just say, it was good to be on his good side and BAD to be on his bad side. 

I had been on the ship for about 4 months and qualified to Engineering Officer of the Watch.  As a very junior officer, this was quite a feat -- I owe it all to the engineering enlisted who made sure I knew what I needed to know to pass the oral exam.  They made me visit every little hole, in every space in the engineering plant.  They made me stand every watch station from the messenger to the top watch.  All the while, making sure I learned what I would need to know.  AND I qualified thanks to their efforts. 

One day after I had qualified, I was standing Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW).  The whole 1200 lbs, pressure fired boiler engineering plant at my command.  I was on top of the world.  Not in the Titanic, on the bow of the ship, arms spread, wind in your face, KING OF THE WORLD..... No, this was different.  The engine room was over 100 degrees in temperature.  We were in the bowel of the ship.  Night and day had no meaning.  We didn't get to see the sun.  Think of the scene from Titanic when they run through the boiler room with men shoveling coal or the engine room with the grand turbines without the fancy dress...

It was on one such day, I would learn a new lesson.  Down into the space came, Senior Chief.  He made a tour of the space.  This was not uncommon for Senior Chief.  Even when someone else had the watch, he wanted to make sure his engine room was performing at tip-top shape.

He went down one side to the lower level and returned up the other.  In his hands, he held shoe laces from someone's boot.  He showed them to me and the top watch and then placed them in his pocket.  He then took a seat in the top watch chair and grabbed the microphone for the in-space communications (this was an amplified circuit so the watchstanders could hear over the roar of the engine room noise).  It was quite loud in the engineroom.  Single hearing protection was always worn.

Senior Chief looked at me with a knowing smile and said, "Now, we have some fun, SIR!"

With that, he started yelling into the phone.  His amplified voice BOOMED in the space.  From the lower level of the engineroom, we heard the watchstander yelling (without the aid of the in-space amplified circuit) about something.  Then still yelling, he comes up to the upper level.  He stomped over to Senior Chief still yelling.  His tirade focused on Senior Chief (never a good idea) that someone has stolen his laces.

Senior Chief calmly looked at him and said, "How can someone have stolen your laces while you were on watch IF you never sleep in the lower level?"

"I DON'T KNOW!  BUT someone has stolen them!  SEE!"  Showing Senior Chief his laceless boots.

Senior Chief calmly (this is a bit wierd because Senior Chief is not the calm personality if you know what I mean) took the laces from his pocket.  Holds them up for the Lower Levelman to see.  "NOW!  TELL ME AGAIN HOW YOU DON'T SLEEP IN THE LOWER LEVEL ON WATCH!" (edited from its actual wording)

The young man grabbed the laces and retreated to the lower level.

At this point, my lesson begins.  Senior Chief looks at me and calmly says, "Sir, I think there is a cup of coffee in the Chief's mess with your name on it.  I got the watch!"

I nod.  "How long is my cup gonna last me, Senior Chief."

"I'll call you when your cup runs out."

I depart the space in search of my cup of coffee.  When I arrived in the Chief Mess, my Master Chief Bolier Tech looked surprised and said, "Sir, you can't leave the engineroom when your on watch!"

"Senior Chief said he had the watch and there was a cup of coffee up here for me."

Master Chief smiled and poured me a cup.  I am not sure what happened in the engine room while I was having my cup of coffee, but it lasted about 45 minutes.  When I returned, every one was happy to see me relieve Senior Chief and have him leave again.  There was never a repeat of the sleeping incident. 

So, if you ask me if I ordered the code red, my answer is no.  But I am sure the answer from engineroom watchstanders that day might be a little different.

My lesson that day was the boss sometimes needs to go have a cup of coffee when his workers need to work something out.  A lesson I would apply later in my career.  Another story to follow.........