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.........