Friday, April 29, 2016

We Have Returned!

Just emerged from two weeks in China for a couple days in Hong Kong.  It's been an amazing journey.  Much, much more to come but here's a view from this amazing little "Special Administrative Region" of China...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ship's Company

Ask anyone, or maybe almost anyone, right after they get their wings what they aspire to as a Naval Aviator and you are likely to hear max flying, great squadron tours, minimal staff time, maybe some time at school getting a Masters, and ultimately Command.  Most don't think much beyond that, nor should they.  And most don't think about the possibility of a "disassociated tour as ship's company".  For most doing something like that isn't even in the conversation.  But for many it's something that will happen.

After we were lucky enough to spend eighteen months in Monterey, CA at the Naval Postgraduate School, it was time to do what all good sailors do...go back to sea.  Of course, I was a Navy Pilot and was hoping to go to back to a squadron.  But by that time in my career I had both heard of these things called disassociated sea tours, the need to provide some "rounding" to my career, and that there were only so many slots in the Navy's helicopter squadrons.  I found myself at a seniority level where I was not yet ready for a Department Head job and had already done everything I could do as a Junior Officer in a squadron.  So although I was hoping to be an exception and be told that there would be a place for me in a squadron back in San Diego, I was realistic enough to know that there might be something else in our future.  So when I called the detailer, the guy who would determine my fate, it was with some amount of trepidation.  

The detailer is what the Navy calls an assignment officer.  He is the guys who holds fate in his hands.  It's said that all detailers have forked tongues, that they are as likely to send you to the opposite place you want to go as not.  In truth, the detailer has three things to think about when making assignments.  Those are Navy needs, career needs, and individual that order.  I had the privilege to be a detailer later on in my career and can testify that it is a difficult, exciting, rewarding, and enlightening job.  But more about that in a subsequent post.  What I expected to happen, happened.  He told me the good news, bad news story.  The good news was that we were going back to San Diego.  That was great.  We could return to our home, our extended family and friends were there, and we would all be happy about that.  The bad news?  There would be no squadron assignment for me.  I was being assigned as the Assistant Air Officer and Safety Officer aboard USS Triploli (LPH-10).  And so started a two year odyssey that was punctuated by misery, joy, frustration, pride, working with some amazing people, working with some knuckleheads, and in the end satisfaction with a tough job well done but made much more difficult than it needed to be.

So soon we were packed up and headed south.  Our renters had treated the house relatively well, the family was back in familiar surroundings, and we settled in rather quickly.  I say quickly but the reality was that moving is never easy.  The kids were in a good school and my wife, the teacher, got a job, albeit not as close as we would have liked, but there were all the requisite things that go with disruptive moves.  And the biggest burden, as usual, fell on my wife to get everyone settled.  And, as usual, she was a rock.  Refer to this post if you have questions.

In addition to the good news that we were returning to San Diego, my orders to the ship would be flying orders.  LPH's in those days had a UH-1N Huey assigned to ships company for the approximately six or so pilots to fly to conduct utility, SAR and planeguard missions.  Flying the Huey would prove to be a load of fun and was a small compensation to not returning to a squadron.  There was only one minor complication.  Or really, a pretty major complication.  It seems that the ship's schedule was such that they didn't have time to send me to flight training to learn to fly the Huey.  See, whenever you go back to flying orders from non-flying orders (which post-graduate school clearly was) the Navy is supposed to send you through flight training to learn to the fly the aircraft you're going to be flying.  Seems pretty logical right?  But the powers that be on the ship decided I didn't need it.  After all, the Huey was the aircraft I flew in advanced helo training and I had a lot of time in it.  And I had a pretty good flight record.  And they made the case that there were a couple of former flight instructors in ship's company, so they could teach me.  The flight training I'm talking about would have taken place in a squadron in Pensacola for about 3 months, so I admit that I didn't protest too loudly, but I should have had a little inkling that maybe these guys had a bit of a tendency to do things their own way.  And that way wasn't always, should we say, kosher.   So when I got to the ship, they proceeded to construct a schedule for me that would get me up on the step.  It was okay...but not what should have happened.  And as a result I always felt a tad bit inadequate regarding some of the more technical aspects of flying that aircraft.  But I won't whine.  I didn't have to go to Pensacola for 3 months.

The USS Tripoli was an LPH.  LPH-10 to be exact.  She was the fifth in the series of ships to be constructed (I have no idea why it was designated 10).  LPH stands for Landing Platform Helicopter.  To the layman, a small version of a traditional aircraft carrier, except that it only carries helicopters.  And maybe some AV-8B Harriers because they are Vertical Take-off and Landing aircraft.  But mainly helicopters.  LPH ships were a relic of the McNamara days.  Built by the lowest bidder and on the cheap.  She was commissioned in 1966 and decommissioned in 1995.  She had a round bottom and one screw, displaced about 20K tons (versus a Nimitz class aircraft carrier at 90K tons), and carried a crew of about 635 enlisted and 80 officers.  She could accomodate an entire Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU consisting of around 1,750 Marines and around 35 helos).  When I reported aboard I learned that her motto was "Semper Princeps" which means Always First.  We would all come to know her variously as the USS Cripoli (because she was always broken) or USS Tripoli--The Prison Ship (because she sometimes felt like a prison).  You'll see why as we go along.

As Assistant Air Officer I would be the number two guy in the Air Department, the "Mini-boss".  I would help run air ops in the tower and help lead and administer one of the largest departments on the ship.  The department consisted almost entirely of a different breed of cat called Aviation Boatswains Mates, or AB's for short.  More on them later.  A secondary and collateral duty was to be the Safety Officer.  I ran in to another minor training issue in this area.  Only really, once again, it was pretty major.  In Naval Aviation, the Safety Officer is a major department head.  It is a big deal.  And it is a hard and fast rule that the Safety Officer cannot assume the job until he attends Safety Officer school at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.  As I recall this is about a 3 week school and is pretty intense.  But in the Surface Navy...the Safety Officer isn't as, shall we say, required.  Safety Officers are definitely an afterthought.  And on Tripoli, it wasn't that good.  When I asked about attending Safety Officer school, I was told that the ship's schedule wouldn't accomodate that.  End of story.

Also, most Aviators going to a ship's company tour, go through a training track that includes some shipboard orientation so that he can get up on the step towards qualifying as Officer of the Deck.  For me, not so much.  Remember that ships schedule excuse?  Yep, no time.  So really the only thing I remotely had time for was a 2 day Firefighting school, which is a hard and fast requirement for anyone going to a ship and was located on the same base where the ship was stationed.  No problem.  So I went, ate a lot of smoke, learned how to handle a hose, and reported to the ship.  And that is when the fun really began.

A really great thing that happened when I reported aboard was that I found that the Flight Deck Officer was one of my roommates in AOCS.  The same guy I mentioned in my post about Pensacola. He and his wife had a baby girl about the time our son was born and we had been great friends all through flight school.  We had lost track of each other as they went off to Canada on exchange duty but wound up together on Tripoli.  Through two crazy years on the ship, we had some good times.  Crazy, hilarious, tragic, maddening times.  It was good to see a familiar face!

Before going much further, I really must recommend you go rent the movie "Mister Roberts".  It wasn't the same, but the analogy to the cast of characters would be relevant.  Another good movie to view to gain some insight would the "The Caine Mutiny".  Strawberries.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When I reported aboard the learning curve was pretty steep.  I was immediately struck by the cast of characters.  The Surface Warfare Officers, also known as black shoes, were an interesting group.  I'd been told that the Amphib Navy didn't really get the cream of the crop and found some validity in that assessment.  Good guys but...not the cream of the crop.  Lots of guys walking around in wash khakis or dirty coveralls, with keys on their belt, ear plugs in a little canister on their belt, classic "birth control" glasses, and a shuffle in their step and a dazed look in their eye.  In the Surface Navy, the custom in the wardroom was to eat their young.  It was a harsh environment.  I guess that the black shoes didn't know any better but they were brutal to young officers reporting aboard.  Long hours, endless repetition, not much respect, not much trust, and learning by making mistakes seemed to the rule of the day.  The Aviators were pretty much what you'd see in a squadron, because they'd all been there.  The Department Heads, including my boss, were all post-command types.  The junior guys were all like me...most of them didn't want to be there, but accepted it as part of the deal.  Plus, we got to fly.  So we were a little band of 6 or so Aviators amongst a sea of black shoes and, I will admit, played it for all it was worth.   By their very nature, all Naval Aviators think they are hot shits and we were no different.  We had a definite air of superiority.  Not saying it was just was a fact.  So bottom-line...the black shoes didn't screw with us too much.  But the CO and XO were also Aviators.  During my time on board, I had two XOs and two COs.  And all of them were, I'm convinced, certifiably insane.  Or at least they were supreme jackasses.  Those are the only two explanations that make sense!

I found that I really liked working the tower and controlling the aircraft in the pattern.  It was pretty intense and you had to pay pretty close attention

Did I mention that I was also the Safety Officer?  Problem was, there was absolutely no job definition, no recognition of the need for it, not even a nod toward paying attention to safety, or support from above.  I'm talking about ship's safety here.  The aviation side of it was pretty important like you'd expect in a squadron.  But the problem with that was I'd not been to Safety School so if we had a mishap with our helo, I'd be in the thick of the investigation without any training or qualification.  The Operations Officer was a graduate however, so we were covered.  Sort of.  It'd been years and years since he'd gone and didn't want anything to do with it.  Everyone told me not to worry about it, but worry I did.  As for ship's safety, it was a joke.  There are so many stories.  For example, I used to put on my white Safety jersey and walk around promoting safe practices.  Guys looked at me like I was from Mars.   When we were at sea I tried to get down to the engine room at least once a day.  The engine room was usually about a million degrees.  Seriously.  And there was no relief.  Fans were going full strength but it made no difference.  At first I asked about figuring out a way to get air conditioning down there.  The Engineers looked at me like I was from Mars.  And not only was it Africa hot, it was incredibly noisy.  So my mission down there was to try and get the guys to wear ear plugs or muffs and to dring a lot of water.  The ship was one big hazardous environment.  One of my jobs was to ensure that everyone used the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including breathing devices, for the job at hand.  But that was an impossible task.  Everyone ignored getting the right PPE.  I had a Petty Officer working for me who was supposed to run that program.  But not only was he overwhelmed, he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed.  He was supposed to keep records.  Of course, he wasn't capable of that.  So the program was continually in shambles.  And with me working the tower, flying, and pretending to be a Safety Officer, there was very little time to supervise this program.  So it languished.  And that was to the hazard of the sailors.

One day while we were in port I got the bright idea to try and get rid of as much hazardous material as I possibly could.  So I put a little announcement in the Plan of the Day.  Amnesty!  We were having an amnesty day.  Just bring your paint, spray cans of bad stuff, cleaners, anything really that was hazardous and bring it to a pallet that would sitting on the hangar deck, leave it there, and we'd get rid of it, no questions asked.  I had an annoucement go out over the ship's PA system several times throughout the course of the day.  I had put an extra pallet down just in case there was more than I thought.  By the end of the day there were almost 20 pallets full of some of the nastiest crap you've ever seen.  And we hauled it off, no questions asked.

I had been at sea a lot during my first tour but this was different.  Different in many ways.  The ship was old.  Very old.  And since it was an Amphib, it was last in line for priorities to get new equipment and updates to old, worn out material.  Everything was a struggle.  Parts for critical machinery, stateroom amenities, galley equipment, updates to electronics, etc. all were old and needed refurbishment.  But there was no money to do it.  When I moved into my stateroom, the sewer smell was so bad that after a few days I had to move out.  It took a few weeks to get the parts to fix the leak just outside the door so that I had to camp out somewhere else.  We continually couldn't get underway because this or that part was broken and there were no replacements in the system.  So it had to be made somewhere.   The engine had a component called forced draft blowers that broke all the time.  When they broke, there were no parts so the replacement part had to be made.  Shortly after I reported aboard we were going to sea for a short stint to do some training.  So we cast off lines and started to make our way out through San Diego bay.  Right after we cleared the San Diego-Coronado bridge, we lost all steering.  So the Bridge team went through their emergency procedures, transferred steering to secondary aft steering and let go the anchor.  So there we were...sitting in the middle of the channel, swinging on the anchor, for all the world to see.  So here come the tugs.  I'm still not sure how they did it but they got some amount of steering authority back, got the tugs secured to the ship, and limped back to the pier.  Nice.  Can't remember how long we stayed, but I'm sure they had to make whatever part was required.

When I first reported aboard, the CO was a fighter Naval Flight Officer who was in the Nuclear pipeline.  That means he had been through all the schools, had been the XO of an aircraft carrier, was now in his "deep draft" command, and if all went well, could expect to be selected to command and nuclear powered aircraft carrier.  He had high expectations.  He also had a high opinion of himself.  After his command tour of Tripoli, he never made it to that aircraft carrier.  The XO at the time was a grizzled old helo pilot who had been quite a hero in Vietnam.  He was definitely old Navy with a chest full of medals.  The problem was that they didn't come with logic, empathy, or reason.  He was also forgetful and conniving.  They were quite a pair.  And they didn't like each other at all.  That sets the scene for all the shenanigans that were to come.

For the first several months after my arrival we embarked Marines and did a lot of exercises off the SoCal coast.  We attacked Camp Pendleton several times.  It was all good fun operating the Marine helos.  They were some wild pilots and more than once an H-46 came screaming into spot 4 right next to the tower and the Boss and I dove for the deck expecting the helo to come straight through the superstructure and destroy everything in sight.  But invariably at the last minute the pilot flared and gently set the thing down like it was a feather landing on a pillow.  It was some scary, but damn fine flying.  Hosting the Marine grunts was a different story.  See, the thing is Marines need to move.  They need to PT.  They need to march.  They need to be given jobs.  They just need to move.  When they don't move, as in being embarked in a relatively cramped ship, they turn cranky.  And crazy.  And get in trouble.  They look for things to do.  And sometimes those things can get in the way of ship routine, be downright disruptive, and sometimes are dangerous.  We had to constantly monitor the Marines aboard to ensure that they weren't doing anything to kill themselves or us.  We had to give them time on the flight deck to PT because there had to be somewher to burn all that energy.

During my initial months aboard, I thought about getting qualified as an underway Officer of the Deck (OOD).  When Aviators go to their disassociated sea tour, that is supposed to be a qualification that will help in future selection.  And it's professionally a smart thing to do.  The trouble was that the Captain and the ship's Senior Watch Officer didn't much care about Aviators coming to the bridge to drive the ship.  Oh, you could try and do it but they weren't making any accomodation for you.  So most of us were working incredibly long hours in jobs with little flexibility to leave and go stand a bridge watch, we were on flight orders so we were obligated to fly our turn on the flight schedule, and every once in a while we had to sleep a little bit.  But the black shoes basically didn't care about all that.  The watch bill was the watch bill and you had to be there.  We were in 3 section duty which meant 4 hours on bridge watch, 8 hours off, 4 hours on, 8 hours off, etc.  You get the idea.  Most ships are in 4 section duty to try and give the crew a reasonable schedule.  Of course, on Tripoli the lack of trust in the crew was so pervasive that they couldn't possibly find enough competent people to fill out 4 sections.  Hence, we were in 3 section duty and drove people into the ground.  For a while we tried to figure out how to fit it in when my roommate, the Assistant Operations Officer and an Aviator, decided to jump into the rotation and still continue his duties to try and get the qualification.  He lasted 4 days.  By then he was officially a zombie.  He cried uncle, slept for about 10 hours, and went back to his normal routine.  And the rest of us gave up any thought to getting qualified as OOD. It was really too bad because it could have been done.  And it would have been a great qual to get.  But it was not to be.

I mentioned the CO and his outsized view of himself.  One of the things he was really fascinated with was the coming information age.  He decided that USS Tripoli should be on the cutting edge of computer technology.  He decided that we should have a wide area network to conduct email, administrative tasks, word processing, records tracking, and all the many other things that we take for granted today and know to be a great help in everyday life.  But this was 1983-84.  We barely knew what a computer was.  And we had way, way more problems than what a computer was going to fix.  But he plowed ahead anyway.  There was a Data Processing Chief Petty Officer in the Supply Dept who was a bit of a geek and understood the state of the art in computing pretty well.  So the CO enlisted his help and together they designed a network.  At that time computers were pretty large and cumbersome so it took some time to get it all designed and an implementation plan completed.  So one day they went out and bought a Wang computer system.  It wasn't a large, mainframe computer, but it was pretty big.  It would take up your living room.  But where to put it?  Space was at a premium.  So they did a little space analysis and decided that the perfect place that had the space and could be cooled so that it wouldn't overheat was the space that housed...the chapel and the crew library.  Yep.  But not too worry.  The troops were too busy to read and too discouraged to pray.  The computer system came with about 12 or 15 terminals.  The Chief and a couple of his slaves, er...workers, spent a good amount of time running wire (unauthorized wire) all over the ship so that each department would have a terminal.  We got one in the Air Department.  The Boss was NOT a computer guy.  So it fell to me to work it, use it, and show how much we liked it.  I gave it my best shot.   But really, it was just a box on a desk.  We didn't have the time, the training, or the interest in using it.  Of course, today I can't even conceive on not having a computer to assist in so many routine tasks.  But at the was just a box.  And a curious thing happened after the CO left the ship.  The new CO ordered an inventory of all the Damage Control lockers.  There were 8 of them as I recall.  These are the places where all the equipment is housed to save the ship in case of a damage control situation, which could be dire.  Turns out they were all equipped at less than 50%.  The money that was supposed to go to resupplying those Damage Control lockers was rerouted to pay for one Wang computer and all the ship modifications.  An unbelievable but true story!

When you are part of ship's company, you get a lot of insight into ship's routine.  You also come to know the roles of the various characters.  The XO was the biggest character.  He had a perpetual scowl on his face.  He was of the opinion that if something bad hadn't happened, just wait, it was about to.  He drove the crew relentlessly.  He was a maniac when it came to cleanliness.  We had a lot of material, morale, and supply problems, but by God we had clean, polished passageways.  He was really good at performances.  Every day at 5:00 pm (1700 in Navy time) the Department Heads would gather in the XO's office for Eight O'Clock Reports.  Why Eight O'Clock reports are held at 5:00 pm is beyond me and I never did find out why, but that is sort of a good summation of the illogic of black shoes.  Anyway, Eight O'Clock Reports provided a venue for the Department Heads to stab each other in the back.  As we went around the room, the object was to keep the target off your back and, if need be, ruthlessly push the knife into someone else in the room and twist.  This meeting is for Department Heads but since I was looked at as a semi-Department Head as Safety Officer, if I didn't go I wasn't missed.  Think about that.  Safety...not missed.  However, the Air Boss hated to go to Eight O'Clock Reports with a passion.  So many was the day when we would be up in the tower, he would look over at me, and I knew what was coming.  "Could you cover Eight O'Clock Reports for me?"  Damn!  So I found myself down in the XO's office many more times than I cared to count, doing battle.  Every once in a while the XO would try to be a good guy.  He would come across as a good ol boy who was just an "aw shucks" kind of guy.  But no.  That was not him.  He would tell you one thing and do another.  More about that later.  He turned out for me to be a really good lesson in leadership.  Of what NOT to do.

The Navy's amphibious forces are very flexible.  Fundamentally, they exist largely to embark Marines, move them expeditiously forward, and get them moved ashore to conduct operations.  But they can do other things well also.  So it wasn't a huge surprise when a few months before our impending deployment we were thrown a curve ball. We were told that we wouldn't be embarking Marines for our 6 month deployment.  Instead, we would deploy with one of the Navy's two Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons.  This particular one was designated HM-14.  They fly the CH-53E Sea Stallion, one of the biggest helos in the world.  It is a monster.  There are 6 helos in the squadron and an enormous, gigantic, unbelievable amount of crap.  The have huge sleds that they pull through the water, giant pipes that they tow, boats, cars, conex boxes with control stations, electronics, support equipment, and on and on and on.  It was unbelivable.  We could fit six aircraft on the flight deck and once we got all their crap stored on the hangar deck, there was a little open space in the middle to walk through.  I can't really do justice to how much crap they brought with them but trust me, it was mindboggling.

The other thing about HM-14 was that they had absolutely no sense of urgency.  None.  Zilch.  Nada. They rarely had deployed aboard ship and when they got called to a scene, they packed everything, and that is a load of stuff, into several C-5s or C-141s and the USAF got them to the scene.  Once there they would spend a lot of time setting up their control stations, sleds, trucks, antennas, boats, and all the other crap that allowed them to do their mission.  But here's the thing.  Now I'm admittedly not an expert in mine warfare.  And I will concede there is a bit of artform to it.  And that it takes precision, patience and a fair amount of luck.  But the timeframe I'm talking about is 1983-84.  Their one and only major success was that they found and blew up a mine in Haiphong Harbor in the early '70s.  That's it.  They spent an entire deployment (6 months) and practiced pulling that sled all over the place and did all kinds of exercises.  But I'm not really sure if they ever really did anything productive.

And here's another thing.  These guys were horrible around the ship.  I mean horrible as in really bad.  They were late for practically every launch, usually had some problem that delayed them when they were ready to go, and hardly ever made their land time.  For some reason, they had a hell of a time coming aboard.  Now I admit that the flight deck wasn't huge, and that we were a round bottomed ship that tended to roll a bit, but these guys perpetually had difficulty.  So when they offered to let me go flying with them I jumped at the chance.  I didn't know the ins and outs of the aircraft but they put me with one of their savvy pilots and off we went.  Now, I will admit to having an outsized opinion of my ability of a helo pilot during my formative years in the business, but this thing was a dream to fly.  Way overpowered.  Flight controls smooth as silk.  Great cockpit.  It was a joy to fly.  So when we came back from whatever mission we had been doing the Boss asked us if we'd like to do several touch and go's for practice.  I could practically hear the guys in the ready room.  Heh, heh, heh...let's see how he does.  Well, If I do say so myself, I killed it.  I think we did like 10 approaches and every one was better than the previous one.  I was turning final and smoothly wrestling that monster down the glide slope right to the spot every time.  They never asked me to fly with them again...

The squadron was identified and the schedule was starting to take shape.  Deployment loomed.  But before we departed we had to get the ship in good material shape, get spares and supplies stocked, and get through a series of inspections to validate our ability to deploy.  So various inspection teams came aboard to ensure we were ready.  And it was largely an unmitigated disaster.  We did pretty well in the Air Department simply because the ABs had their act together and weren't going to stand for the humiliation of not passing an inspection.  So we got glowing remarks.  Of course, the inspectors all knew our guys and looking back it might have been a bit incestuous, but at the time we strutted around pretty well.  Everyone else got whacked.  It was bad, real bad.  The Engineering inspection team came aboard one morning at about 0730 and walked off about 0900 shaking their heads.  The Damage Control inspectors tried hard for a whole day to overlook how bad it was, but finally gave up the ghost and left.  Supply, Medical, Deck, etc, etc, etc all failed.  So we got rescheduled and doubled down on preps.  And failed again.  And tripled down on preps.  And failed again.  The CO and XO were apoplectic!  But, I mean, there's only so much you can do.  But finally as we were getting perilously close to deployment, we had one final chance.  The Commodore sent a tiger team over to help.  We got advice and manpower and parts from a sister ship.  It was a full on effort.  And we passed.  Er...we passed everything but Engineering.  That was still a disaster.  But hey, you can't have everything.  So we never passed an Engineering inspection, but do you think we still went on deployment.  Yep.  You would be right.  When the day came, we brought in all lines, backed away from the pier and headed West.

First stop Hawaii.  I've pulled into Pearl Harbor on many Navy ships and it never fails to give me the chills.  It is an awesome sight to sail past the USS Arizona memorial and ease into one of the piers at the Naval Station.  We were there for a 3 day stay.  But something broke (yep...forced draft blowers) down in the Engine spaces and we were there for 17 days!  And with each passing the CO and XO got crankier and crankier.  They were turning up the pressure for the Engineers to fix what was wrong, but you can't fix something without parts.  And parts had to be made.  Somewhere.  By someone.  And shipped to Hawaii.  Meanwhile, we Aviators had flown our helo over to NAS Barbers Point.  There we conducted a routine flight schedule flying every day.  We had to get our training in don't you know.  So we all flew almost every day.  We flew all around the islands and had a great time.  It was great getting a birds eye view of some of the most beautiful places on earth.   And when we weren't flying, well...there were a lot of beaches to hang out on.  That didn't go over very well with some of the black shoes.  But...there wasn't much we could do to fix the ship so we thought we might as well take advantage of the islands.  So after what seemed like a very long time we were on our way.  The aviators had a great time.  Lots of flying, lots of beach time, and a fair amount of night life.  The rest of the ship...not so much.

Next stop Okinawa.  Garden spot.  U.S. Aircraft Carriers never go there so it was new to me.  But the Amphibs regularly stop there because it's a hub in the Pacific for the US Marine Corps.  So after an uneventful crossing, we found ourselves anchored in Buckner Bay, Okinawa.  Our friends in HM-14 were going to participate in something called Valiant Blitz, a bit multi-service, multi-nation exercise. While they were off doing that we worked on the ship, conducted some interesting liberty reconnoitering ashore and, of course, we flew our little Huey around the island.  As islands go, it wasn't very scenic or special.  And the same goes for liberty.  Not much to recommend it.  Meanwhile, the ship discovered a major malfunction down in the Engineering spaces.  It seemed that something called the Main Circ Pump was seriously broken.  What that meant, we were told in layman's terms, was that we could get underway, but we couldn't slow down.  Once we were going, we were going.  What that also meant was that there would be no stopping at Hong Kong on our way to Subic, which was in the original plan.  There would be some personal ramifications that occurred from this rerouting that I'll explain later.

So when HM-14 returned and got tucked safely away, we headed South.  The plan was to head for Naval Station Subic Bay, Republic of the Phillipines, turn the engines off a few thousand yards from the pier after tugs had hooked up to us, and limp into the pier for repair.  Once again, it took way longer than expected.  What we thought was going to be about a 5 day stop turned into 5 weeks.  5 weeks in Subic!  If you're old Navy, you'll resonate with that.  It was a wonderful place for liberty, but could get real old, real fast.  As the days slowly unfolded, the black shoes got crankier and crankier.  They were working their butts off to get the ship repaired, but it just wasn't cooperating.  I suspect that was probably because they didn't have the parts, the parts didn't exist, and we had to have them made somewhere.  By someone.  And then have them shipped.  Nice.  Meanwhile, your erstwhile Aviators flew their Huey across the bay to the legendary Cubi Point Naval Air Station and established a beachhead in the "helo hole" at the Air Station.  We got office and maintenance spaces assigned and all checked in to the Cubi Point BOQ.  We returned to the ship regularly, but spent most of our time at Cubi.  That didn't really endear ourselves to our black shoe brethren.  We established a routine in which we would fly the helo from Cubi to the Embassy pad in Manila, then from there to Clark Air Force Base, and then from there to Baguio City up in the Northern mountains, and finally back to Cubi.  It was some great flying.  We carried a lot of people, packages, mail and parts all over the Phillipines.  And along the way got to do some amazing flying.  At one point one of our Philipino Chiefs asked if we could take him to his home village, which was not far from Baguio.  Being the intrepid Aviators that we were, we said sure.  Of course, saying that and finding the village was another thing.  We spent a good amount of time flying around looking for the place until we saw a large crowd gathered in an open field.  Seems he had alerted them he was coming home.  So down we went, performed a nice landing, and he emerged like a King coming home.  We didn't shut down and told him he had to find his own way back, but getting him there was pretty cool.

My buddy from Pensacola and I and our wives had previously determined that the wives would fly to Hong Kong and meet up with us when we made a stop as we sailed from our initial stop in Okinawa. The plan was that we would spend 5 days with our wives in Hong Kong, take some leave to exend our stay, and then fly to Manila and rendevous with the ship.  Our wives would then spend a few days in the Phillipines with us before heading home.  But...that plan was shot all to hell.  So we went to the Boss and explained our problem.  We asked if we could take leave in Okinawa, fly to Hong Kong to meet the girls, spend a few days there and then fly to the PI to meet the ship.  He said he didn't see anything wrong with that as all we'd be doing during the trip South was transiting.  We couldn't even fly because the black shoes didn't want to deviate from course to turn into the wind.  He said go talk to the XO.  So we trooped down to his office and explained.  He said he'd check with the CO and let us know.  Now one thing you've got to understand is that the Navy is a hierarchy.   You go through the chain of command for anything.  So we waited to hear from the XO about the CO's decision.  The next day and before we left Okinawa he told us he was sorry but the CO wouldn't buy it.  He didn't want us gone from the ship while overseas.  Okay.  That was pretty dumb but we were team players and acknowledged the decision.  So we got on the phone, broke the bad news to the girls, and told them to change their tickets to come directly to Manila.  Now remember, we were Lieutenants.  With families.  We didn't have a lot of discretionary money lying around.  So this was going to cost some funds that we didn't really have.  But it was a once in a lifetime experience so we went for it.

Once we were in Subic and it became clear that the ship wasn't going anywhere, we were granted leave.  So we jumped on the helo over to the Embassy, took a taxi to the airport, and met our sweethearts.  It was a wonderful, romantic, straight out of a novel reunion.  We had about as good a time as you can imagine.  It was two weeks of great times, huge laughs, romance, great adventures, scrumptious food, and a sublime reconnection.  I wouldn't trade those memories for anything!  We went river rafting, toured all over Manila, went to Corriegidor, ate in great restaurants, and stayed in the Manila Hotel, at that time one of the best in the world.  It couldn't have been better.  At about the one week point we took a bus up to Baguio.  Baguio is up in the mountains and there used to be a small military base there.  We stayed in a very nice Hyatt and relaxed in the mountains for a few days.  We had great times and all too soon is was time to go.

We had arranged to have a Navy Exchange van from Subic come pick us up and take us all back to the base.  Once there we figured we could stay in the Cubi BOQ for a couple of nights and then take the girls back to Manila for their flight home.  No problem.  Only thing was once we got to Cubi the inn was full.  One of the notorious things about the Cubi BOQ was that at certain times it filled up with wives from the P-3 community.  This was one of those times.  So...what to do?  Someone suggested that we go out to the White Rock Beach resort in Subic City and get a room there.  Sounded like an okay idea.  So the van gave us a lift out, we checked with the desk, and were in luck.  There was a suite available that had a living room and two bedrooms.  Great!  Now, to be clear, this was a resort in name only.  It was a relatively okay hotel out near the bay and not too terribly bad.  In the Phillipines it was a 4 star resort.  In the U.S. it would have maybe been 2 stars...on it's best day.  But the girls were sports and put on a good face.  So my buddy and I said let's go into the base, go to dinner at the world famous Cubi O'Club, stay late dancing and drinking, and we'll come back and crash.  Great idea.  So we took a Jeepney to the gate and a taxi to the O'Club and had a wonderful dinner and great times.

Sometime during the course of the evening the girls allowed as how they wanted to see Olongopo City in all it's glory.  We guffawed.  But after a bit of coaxing and a bit of drink, we acquiesced.  So off we went to the gate in a taxi.  Once through the gate our mission was to walk down Magsaysay Street to get to the Jeepney stand.  Now, if you're reading this and you have any Navy background, you probably have knowledge that Magsaysay Street is not a place to take loved ones of the fairer sex.  But walk we did.  The girls had sobered a bit and kept on a straight course and didn't necessarily check out the offerings from some of the, ahem...nightclubs, which was a good thing.  Anyway, it was an experience.  So we got to the Jeepney stand and headed back to the resort.  Once there we thought we were home free.  We stopped at the lobby for some more beer, and headed to the suite.  Once there we had a few yucks about the evening and headed off to bed.  We no sooner started to get ready for bed when we heard screaming coming from the other bedroom.  Racing in we found our friends in their bathroom pointing at the toilet.  And inside was a nice big rat!  Yuch!  So we called the desk and they sent a guy up to the room.  He brought a club and a towel.  He went into the bathroom, we heard some commotion, and he came out with something in the towel and he assured us there would be no further problem.  So after another beer or two, we decided we needed to get some sleep.  By this time it was about 2:00 am.  So we retired to our rooms once again.  And once again we heard screaming from the other room.  We raced in and sure enough...another rat.  Soooooo...this room wasn't happening.  In fact, this resort wasn't happening.  The girls were done.  So we gathered up our stuff and went down to the lobby.  By this time it was about 3:00 am.  So once it was determined that we weren't paying for the room, we had to decide what to do.  At that time of night the Jeepneys had stopped, as had any other form of transportation.  Of course, there wasn't anywhere else to go as we were in the best and only place we'd take our wives.  So we were sitting there in a funk when the door opened and a US Navy Lieutenant Commander walked through.  Turned out he was on an inspection team sent out to take a look at Tripoli and had spent the day aboard and the night...well, he had spent the night checking out the local sights.  After a bit of commiserating, he advised us to go back to the Cubi BOQ and demand a room come hell or high water.  After all, we were the fleets finest.  But alas, we had no transportation.  But our new found friend did.  As part of the inspection team, he had a car.  And he would give us a ride.  The only thing we had to do was buy him a six-pack of San Miguel beer and make the girls sit in front.  A small price to pay.  So off we went.  And when we finally (it was a bit of a blurry trip) made it to the BOQ, sure enough after demanding a room, we were given a key.  We decided to let the girls sleep in the room and we'd head back to the ship and sleep the rest of the night aboard.  So off we went to our room.  Only problem was it was occupied.  By a fellow aviator.  And a new-found friend.  Not good.  So back to the desk we went.  Once again we demanded a room.  But the only room was being held for an Admiral that was due in.  It was now about 4:00 am.  We convinced the desk clerk that the Admiral wasn't coming and he gave us a key.  Halleujah!  So we got the girls bedded down and headed back to the ship.  It was a bit hard to find a taxi, but one finally came by.  After a few hours of shuteye, we headed back to the BOQ and there were the girls looking bright eyed and bushy tailed after some good sleep.  While we were there we found out that the Lieutenant Commander selection list had come out and we both had made it.  So that was a great thing to be able to tell the girls after the harrowing night.  Later that day we hired a van to take us to the Manila airport and the girls headed home.  It was a memorable trip.  It was legendary.  It was the stuff of side splitting laughter for years.  And it was an experience that will stay with us always.

And here's a little postscript.  Shortly after we returned to the ship, I was walking down the passageway and saw the CO.  We exchanged pleasantries.  He asked me how the visit with our wives went.  And he asked me why we didn't go meet them in Hong Kong from Okinawa.  After all, we were just transiting South and it would have been a reasonable thing to do.  Grrrrrrr...I didn't rat out the XO, but I sure wanted to.

So after an extended time in Subic, we finally were fixed.  The plan was to get underway, transit to Hong Kong for a visit, and then proceed on to Okinawa for some more ops for HM-14.  If you've been aboard a Navy ship you know that it takes some time to get it operating proficiently.  That's especially true after an extended in-port period.  As we transited to Hong Kong we did the standard underway overboard, general quarters, etc.  And we sucked.  We couldn't get the muster done in time, we couldn't get the hatches secured, the damage control drills were unsat, we couldn't get our gas masks on, we couldn't do anything right.  But hey, it was to be expected.  After all, we had just spent 5 weeks in Subic.  Of course, the CO didn't see it that way.  He said we'd keep doing all that crap until we got it right.  So a few mornings later we steamed into Hong Kong harbor.  We had a place to drop anchor right down in the middle of things.  We could see Kowloon on one side and Hong Kong island on the other.  It was spectacular.  So after the anchor was set and things settled down around 10:00 am, we went to General Quarters!!  I swear to you, I was sitting in the tower all day long, with my gas mask on, gazing at Hong Kong.  About 4:00 pm he decided we'd practiced enough and declared that the crew could go ashore.  But we had to be back the next morning to go to General Quarters.  I kid you not!  So if I remember right we had a fairly quiet and somber night in Hong Kong (not really....we ripped it) and reported back aboard the next morning.  And found out that there was a major Typhoon bearing down on the port so we had to get underway to evacuate.  So no General Quarters.  But also no Hong Kong.  And we not only got underway, but because we were going to encounter some rough weather, it was decided to move all the helos to the hangar deck and all their crap to the flight deck.  Well, it was a major clusterf**k!!!  It's a wonder we didn't lose a lot of gear or a few helos and kill someone.  But we got it done.  Oh...the misery.

So we proceeded to the Okinawa area for a few days, did some flying and returned to Hong Kong.  It was a nice port visit but none of us could forget going to General Quarters while anchored in port.  After that it was back to Subic for a week or so.  While there the ABs in the Air Department decided to have a party.  They had been saving for the whole cruise and this was their big shindig.  And a big shindig it was.  They rented out an entire hotel/restaurant/bar in Subic City and proceeded to whoop it up for 3 days.  It was a great time...I think.  The other thing that happened was that there were several First Class Petty Officers who made Chief Petty Officer and it was time for their initiation.  Now, we had some old, grizzled, experienced, mainiac Chiefs aboard.   So they decided that they'd do the Chief's initiation out in town at a bar.  And since this was an official function, they'd have to wear uniforms.   I was lucky enough to be asked to be a Defense Counsel for one of the Air Department newly minted Chiefs.  So off I went.  It was pretty ugly.  I was made to eat and drink some stuff I won't repeat, but I made it through and in turn think I rose a little in the eyes of the Chiefs.  Not much...but a little.  And I'd take anything I could get.

It was then back to Okinawa.  We off-loaded part of the squadron and then went up to Pusan, Korea for a big multi-national operation called Valiant Usher.  If you've not been to Pusan, you're not missing much.  Korea is an interesting place.  It's a harsh environment, populated by a harsh people who are ready for war.  The weather is terrible and the food isn't much better.  I've been to Seoul many times since and it's okay, but once outside the city, there's not much there.  Anyway, we stayed there for a while and then headed back to Okinawa to pick up the rest of the squadron and then back to Subic.  While in Subic, three of us who had made Lieutenant Commander pooled our money and had a "wetting down" party at a bar out in down.  It was a doozy!!  Lots of people, lots of beer, lots of fun.  If you've been there, you know.

Finally it was time to say a final goodbye.  We headed for Korea one more time and made two port calls into Pusan and a place called Pohang.  It could have been called armpit.  The only thing there was a huge steel mill and we were there for the HM squadron to do a simulated mine clearing of the port.  So they got that done and once again, no mines.  Oh well.

And it was then time to head home.  Finally.  The crossing was pretty benign and we pulled into Pearl Harbor heading East a very happy crew.  My son, who was about 9 years old, flew to Honolulu and joined me for the ride to San Diego.  This is called a Tiger Cruise and there were a lot of sons, brothers, and dads aboard.  My roommate had flown home from Hawaii so I was lucky enough to have him stay with me in my stateroom.  Most of the other Tigers were berthed in a big enlisted berthing space below decks.  One prety memorable thing happened on the journey.   We ran into very rough weather and they all got sick.  I mean real sick.  Like I said, my son was with me and did okay but was a bit green around the gills.  I went down into the berthing space after the weather started and the smell of puke was palpable.  Really pretty bad.  So we went to the XO and asked him to move them to a more stable part of the ship.  But...nope.  He didn't want them to make any other spaces dirty.  Unbelievable.

And then we were home.  As is always the case, reunion was so sweet.  There was a big crowd to meet us and it was glorious.  And I was on the downhill side of my tour on the ship.  In fact I was coming into the detailing window and after we were back awhile I called him up to see what the options were.  Well, lo and behold he wanted me to come take his job.  In Washington DC.  The only time I had been East of the Mississippi was when we went to Pensacola.  So the idea of moving to Washington was daunting.  But both my wife and I knew that getting this job would be a huge feather in my hat.  It would go a long way toward achieving our ultimate goal...Command of an operational squadron.  So we were all in.  Bureau of Naval Personnel and Washington, DC, here we come.

But first I had to complete this assignment.  In truth it was all downhill after deployment.  We did some operations off the coast with the Marines and continued to limp along.  The ship's condition got worse and worse.  And about this time we got a new CO and XO.  The new CO was a hot runner and eventually achieved 3 stars.  He was an okay guy but there was only one guy he cared about...him.  He wasn't leaving anything to chance or doing anything to jeopardize his future.  A good example.  Shortly after he assumed command, I went to him with a fire report.  We had had a small fire somewhere on the ship and it was handled.  It wasn't a big deal, it happened all the time on a ship, but regs said we had to report it.  He looked at it, crumpled it up, threw it in the trash can, and asked me if I had anything else.  Nope...nothing else.

The new XO turned out to be more of a mainiac than the last guy.  Especially about cleanliness.  Shortly after he reported aboard he got a divorce and decided that to save money he would move aboard full time.  So for those of you with a Naval background, imagine that.  The XO on the ship 24/7.  Every day.  Looking for things to do and things to find that were wrong.  The thing that this XO had a penchant for was shaming in public.  And he was good at it.  If he would get mad about something, almost anything, he would get on the ship's PA system (called the 1MC) and demand that all Department Heads muster on the Hangar Deck.  Now mind you, these weren't Seamen or newly minted Petty Officers.  They were all Commanders or Lieutenant Commanders with a lot of years service.  But we would trudge down to the Hangar Deck, line up like prisoners, and the XO would commence to rip us up one side and down the other, in front of anyone who happened to be walking by.  After a while, I noticed that some sailors would hide in various places around the Hangar Deck listening to the tirade.  It was a lot of fun!

I'm not sure if it was scheduled or just desparately needed, but when I had about a month left the ship went into drydock in a shipyard in San Diego.  I had never been in a dry dock but it was sort of fascinating.  They pulled the ship in and commenced to pump out the water.  And she wound up just sitting there.  It was sort of spooky.  I remember looking at the ship sitting on her keel and wondering why she just didn't crash over on her side.  But she didn't.  The other thing was that we were in a shipyard.  Every day we parked outside and trooped in.  And if you've ever been in a shipyard, you know it's the ultimate industrial area.  It's best described as a sh!thole.  Really nasty.

So when the day came for me to depart it was with mixed emotions...happiness and joy.  We were going on to the Detailer job in Washington DC and a grand new adventure, which I'm sure I'll write about at some point.  And this nightmare was in the rearview mirror.  But I have to say I learned a lot of lessons.  Unfortunately, most of them were what not to do.  I met some great guys, especially the ABs and my fellow aviators.  But I met an incredible number of knuckleheads.  And the big unfortunate takeaway was that I never, ever wanted anything to do with ship's company again.  Unfortunate because later in my career I would realize that the route to Flag rank was through ship command after you completed squadron command.  But...I just couldn't bring myself to go for it.  I was very happy with the route I chose, but there's a small part of me that always asked...what if?

Wednesdays Are For Music

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Motivation Monday

Middle East Analysis

If you've read at all you might have seen a few posts about the lack of U.S. strategy to deal with the Middle East.  It's really bigger than that.  It's really how we engage in the world.  How we are seen by others and how we adapt to a changing world.  I simply don't see or hear anyone in the current crop of candidates who are able to articulate a vision.  And they all seem to employ the usual suspects who have not updated their thinking in a generation.  That simply has to change or we're going dig ourselves in deeper and deeper.

Andrew Bacevich is a bit controversial.  He is a West Point graduate, a retired Army Colonel, and an accomplished and well respected historian.  Oh yeah, his only son was killed in Iraq.  So his bonafides are really not in question.  I personally like his writing.  I really, really like this analysis.  Read it all.  If you care about this stuff (and you should) it's important.
Let’s end America’s hopeless war for the Middle EastThe country’s longest war is unwinnable, and the US has more important things to do.By  ANDREW J. BACEVICH  4/4/16 

A hundred years ago, the armies of World War I fought to a bloody stalemate on the Western Front and desperately searched for ways to break it and gain an edge. They field-tested tanks and poison gas, rolling barrages and storm-trooper tactics. Today, the United States is stuck in an analogous stalemate in the Middle East and Islamic world in general. And we are field-testing all manner of novelties, much like the great armies of Europe mired in the trenches: the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs and counterinsurgency, precision-guided munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles, not to mention such passing fancies as “overwhelming force,” “shock and awe,” and “air occupation.” 
Yet as was the case a century ago, the introduction of some new battlefield technique does not necessarily signify progress. On the contrary, it only deepens the stalemate. To reflect on this longest of American wars—why it goes on and on, and at such a cost of blood and treasure—is to confront two questions. First, why has the world’s mightiest military achieved so little even while absorbing very considerable losses and inflicting even greater damage on the subjects of America’s supposed beneficence? Second, why in the face of such unsatisfactory outcomes has the United States refused to chart a different course? In short, why can’t we win? And since we haven’t won, why can’t we get out? The answer to these questions starts with questioning the premise. The tendency to see the region and Islamic world primarily as a problem that will yield to an American military solution is, in fact, precisely the problem. To an unseemly and ultimately self-destructive degree, we have endorsed the misguided militarization of U.S. foreign policy. As a consequence, we have allowed our country to be pulled into the impossible task of trying to “shape” the region through martial means.
It’s long past time to stop trying (a conclusion that even President Obama appears to be edging his way toward, judging from his recent comments to The Atlantic).

The United States plunged militarily into the Middle East out of the mistaken belief that the privileged status that Americans take as their birthright was at risk. Way back in 1948, George Kennan, State Department director of policy planning, noted that the United States then possessed “about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population.” The challenge facing U.S. policymakers, he believed, was “to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” The overarching aim of American statecraft, in other words, was to sustain the uniquely favorable situation to which the United States had ascended by the end of World War II. A half century later, that strategy succeeded and the Soviet Union collapsed. But the passing of the Cold War period left our massive national security apparatus underemployed while rendering obsolete the policy underlying postwar U.S. military policy—energetically preparing for global war in order to prevent it. The armed services and their various clients came face to face with a crisis of the first order. With the likelihood of World War III subsiding to somewhere between remote and infinitesimal—with the overarching purpose for which the postwar U.S. military establishment had been created thereby fulfilled—what exactly did that establishment and all of its ancillary agencies, institutes, collaborators, and profit-making auxiliaries exist to do? In stark contrast to the Cold War, American purposes and U.S. military policy in the Islamic world have never aligned.The Pentagon wasted no time in providing an answer to that question. Rather than keeping the peace, it declared, the new key to perpetuating Kennan’s position of disparity was to “shape” the global order. Shaping now became the military’s primary job. In 1992, the Defense Planning Guidance drafted under the aegis of Paul Wolfowitz spelled out this argument in detail. Pointing proudly to the “new international environment” that had already “been shaped by the victory” over Saddam Hussein the year before, that document provided a blueprint explaining how American power could “shape the future.” 
The Greater Middle East was to serve—indeed, was even then already serving—as the chosen arena for honing military power into a utensil that would maintain America’s privileged position and, not so incidentally, provide a continuing rationale for the entire apparatus of national security. That region’s predominantly Muslim population thereby became the subjects of experiments ranging from the nominally benign—peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian intervention—to the nakedly coercive. Beginning in 1980, U.S. forces ventured into the Greater Middle East to reassure, warn, intimidate, suppress, pacify, rescue, liberate, eliminate, transform and overawe. They bombed, raided, invaded, occupied and worked through proxies of various stripes. In 1992, Wolfowitz had expressed the earnest hope of American might addressing the “sources of regional instability in ways that promote international law, limit international violence, and encourage the spread of democratic government and open economic systems.” The results actually produced over the course of several decades of trying have never come even remotely close to satisfying such expectations.
The events that first drew the United States military into the Greater Middle East and that seemed so extraordinary at the time—the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—turned out to be mere harbingers. Subsequent upheavals have swept through the region in waves: revolutions and counterrevolutions, episodes of terror and counterterror, grotesque barbarism and vast suffering. Through it all, a succession of American leaders—Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal, calculating and naive—persisted in the belief that the determined exercise of U.S. military power will somehow put things right. None have seen their hopes fulfilled.
Why? One explanation stands out above all others. In stark contrast to the Cold War, American purposes and U.S. military policy in the Islamic world have never aligned. Rather than keeping threats to U.S. interests at bay, a penchant for military activism, initially circumspect but becoming increasingly uninhibited over time, has helped to foster new threats. Time and again, from the 1980s to the present, U.S. military power, unleashed rather than held in abeyance (as it was for most of the Cold War), has met outright failure, produced results other than those intended, or proved to be largely irrelevant. 
The Greater Middle East remains defiantly resistant to shaping.
Not for want of American effort, of course. In World War I, the supreme importance assigned to the Western Front made the stalemate there visible to all. The geography of America’s War for the Greater Middle East has been more variable. Always there is the Persian Gulf, of course, but at intervals Central Asia, the Levant, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and even the Balkans have vied for attention. More recently still, West Africa has emerged as an active theater. These periodic changes of venue do not mean that the United States is closing in on its goal, however. Opening up some new front (or reopening an old one) testifies to the reality that U.S. forces in 2016 find themselves caught in a predicament no less perplexing than the one that ensnared the armies of Germany, France, and Great Britain a century ago. Mission accomplishment is nowhere in sight. Put simply, we’re stuck. 
Why in this instance doesn’t the ostensibly superior power of the United States confer choice? How can it be that even today, large segments of the policy elite entertain fantasies of salvaging victory if only a smart president will make the requisite smart moves? 
To understand the persistence of such illusions requires appreciating several assumptions that promote in Washington a deeply pernicious collective naiveté. Seldom explicitly articulated, these assumptions pervade the U.S. national security establishment. 
The first assumption is that those responsible for formulating U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East—not only elected and appointed officials but also the military officers assigned to senior posts—are able to discern the historical forces at work in the region. But they can’t. The worldview to which individuals rotating through the upper reaches of the national security apparatus subscribe derives from a shared historical narrative, recounting the story of the 20th century as Americans have chosen to remember it. It centers on an epic competition between rival versions of modernity—liberalism vs. fascism vs. communism—and ends in vindication for “our” side. Ultimately, the right side of history prevailed. Presidents and Cabinet secretaries, generals and admirals see no reason why that narrative should not apply to a different locale and extend into the distant future.  In other words, they are blind to the possibility that in the Greater Middle East substantially different historical forces just might be at work.
A second assumption takes it for granted that as the sole global superpower the United States possesses not only the wisdom but also the wherewithal to control or direct such forces. In the 20th century, “our” side won because American industry and ingenuity produced not only superior military might but also a superior way of life based on consumption and choice—so at least Americans have been thoroughly conditioned to believe. A third assumption asserts that U.S. military power offers the most expeditious means of ensuring that universal freedom prevails—that the armed might of the United States, made manifest in the presence of airplanes, warships and fighting troops, serves as an irreplaceable facilitator or catalyst in moving history toward its foreordained destination. That the commitment of American armed might could actually backfire and make matters worse is a proposition that few authorities in Washington are willing to entertain. 
A final assumption counts on the inevitability of America’s purposes ultimately winning acceptance, even in the Islamic world. The subjects of U.S. benefactions will then obligingly submit to Washington’s requirements and warmly embrace American norms. If not today, then surely tomorrow, the United States will receive the plaudits and be granted the honors that liberators rightly deserve. Near-term disappointments can be discounted given the certainty that better outcomes lie just ahead. 
None of these assumptions has any empirical basis. Each drips with hubris. Taken together, they sustain the absence of self-awareness that has become an American signature. Worse, they constitute a nearly insurmountable barrier to serious critical analysis. Yet the prevalence of these assumptions goes far toward explaining this key failing in the U.S. military effort: the absence of a consistent understanding of what the United States is fighting for and whom it is fighting against.
But there is no arguing that U.S. efforts to alleviate the dysfunction so much in evidence have failed abysmally. 
To mask this loss of definition (and perhaps their own confusion), successive presidents framed the overarching problem in generic terms, referring to adversaries as militants, terrorists, warlords, rogue states, or, most recently, “violent extremist organizations.” Alternatively, they followed Ronald Reagan’s example in focusing their ire on specific bad actors. By implication, removing the likes of Qadhafi, Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Slobodan Milošević, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi held the key to putting things right. 
Today, all but one of these unsavory figures have passed from the scene, their departure bringing the United States not one whit closer to a definitive outcome. And although American airstrikes or commandos may one day bag the sole remaining survivor—ISIS leader al-Baghdadi—no reason exists to expect his elimination to have a decisive effect.

Indeed, today the problems besetting the Greater Middle East are substantially greater than they were when large numbers of U.S. forces first began venturing into the region. We may argue over the underlying sources of those problems and about how to allocate culpability. Multiple factors are involved, among them pervasive underdevelopment, a dearth of enlightened local leadership, the poisonous legacy of European imperialism, complications stemming from the founding of Israel, deep historical divisions within Islam itself, and the challenge of reconciling faith with modernity in a region where religion pervades every aspect of daily life. But there is no arguing that U.S. efforts to alleviate the dysfunction so much in evidence have failed abysmally. 
In circumstances such as this, there are two broad ways of employing military power. The first is to wait things out—insulating yourself from the problem’s worst effects while promoting a nonviolent solution from within. This requires patience and comes with no guarantee of ultimate success. With all the usual caveats attached, this is the approach the United States took during the Cold War. The second approach is more direct. It aims to eliminate the problem through sustained, relentless military action. This entails less patience but incurs greater near-term costs. After a certain amount of shilly-shallying, it was this head-on approach that the Union adopted during the Civil War. 
In the War for the Greater Middle East, the United States chose neither to contain nor to crush, instead charting a course midway in between. In effect, it chose aggravation. With politicians and generals too quick to declare victory and with the American public too quick to throw their hands up when faced with adversity, U.S. forces rarely stayed long enough to finish the job. Instead of intimidating, U.S. military efforts have annoyed, incited and generally communicated a lack of both competence and determination. 
In what ranks as the ultimate irony, the circumstances that had made the Persian Gulf worth fighting for in the first place have ceased to pertain. If today the American way of life still depends, for better or for worse, on having access to plentiful reserves of oil and natural gas, then the Western Hemisphere, not the Persian Gulf, deserves top billing in the Pentagon’s hierarchy of strategic priorities. Defending Canada and Venezuela should take precedence over defending Saudi Arabia and Iraq. To put it another way, the United States would be better served to secure its own neighborhood rather than vainly attempting to police the Greater Middle East—and it would likely enjoy greater success, to boot. 
Even so, shorn of its initial rationale, the War for the Greater Middle East continues. That the ongoing enterprise may someday end—that U.S. troops will finally depart—appears so unlikely as to make the prospect unworthy of discussion. Like the war on drugs or the war on poverty, the War for the Greater Middle East has become a permanent fixture in American life and is accepted as such.
Partly this is because the ongoing war has long since acquired a perfidious seal of bipartisan approval, with both Republicans and Democrats alike implicated. Politicians aspiring to high office, especially those contemplating a bid for the presidency, find it more expedient to “support the troops” (and therefore the war) than to question the war’s efficacy or to propose alternative approaches to satisfying U.S. objectives in the Islamic world. A particular campaign that goes awry like Somalia or Iraq or Libya may attract passing attention, but never the context in which that campaign was undertaken. We can be certain that the election of 2016 will be no different. The War for the Greater Middle East awaits its Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern. 
Amid such challenges, the afflictions besetting large portions of the Islamic world will undoubtedly persist. 
Perhaps most important, there is this: Thus far, at least, Americans themselves appear oblivious to what is occurring. Policymakers have successfully insulated the public from the war’s negative effects. Reliance on a professional military places the burden of service and sacrifice onto a very small percentage of citizens and lets everyone else off the hook. The resort to deficit spending to underwrite the war’s costs sloughs off onto future generations the onus of paying the bills.
It’s not that Americans today actively support the war in the same sense that their grandparents supported World War II. It’s that they see no particular reason to attend one way or another to the war’s progress or likely outcome. In a fundamental sense, the war is not their concern. 
In the 21st century, the prerequisites of freedom, abundance and security are changing. Geopolitically, Asia is eclipsing in importance all other regions apart perhaps from North America itself. The emerging problem set—coping with the effects of climate change, for example—is global and will require a global response. Whether Americans are able to preserve the privileged position to which they are accustomed will depend on how well and how quickly the United States adapts the existing “pattern of relationships” to fit these fresh circumstances. 
Amid such challenges, the afflictions besetting large portions of the Islamic world will undoubtedly persist. But their relative importance to the United States as determinants of American well-being will diminish, a process even today already well advanced even if U.S. national security priorities have yet to reflect this fact.
In this context, the War for the Greater Middle East becomes a diversion that Americans can ill afford. 
Andrew J. Bacevich is author of the forthcoming America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, from which this article is adapted.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Navy Wife

We've all heard the term.  We've used it over and over.  In a town like San Diego, it's become almost axiomatic that your next door neighbor, or your child's friends Mom, someone you meet at the gym or the grocery store or anywhere in everyday life is likely to be a Navy Wife.  It's a special term with special connotations.  Special because the people who can proudly claim that title are special, amazing, strong, independent, loving women.

Now...let me stop and insert the required politically correct disclaimer.  I'm really talking about the Navy spouse.  Women and men.  Today's Navy is populated by men and women.  All jobs are done by those most qualified.  I was struck while attending a Change of Command last month at how gender integrated those in uniform, both in the command and in the audience, were.  In fact, I'm pretty confident that today's Navy couldn't do its mission without everybody, both men, and women, doing their jobs.  The fact is that gender has finally started to become irrelevant when it comes to getting the job done.  Having said that, it wasn't always that way.  Back in my day, as in the 70's, 80's, and 90's, that wasn't remotely the case.  The work of incorporating women fully into the force was slow in coming and really didn't accelerate until the late 90's.  So the tail end of my career coincided with the real integration of women in the force.  And with that integration came the inevitable change in the spousal culture.  What was the Navy Wife, became the Navy Spouse.  Now, I'm not taking one single thing away from all those great men who support their wives in their Navy career.  They've got their own burdens to bear and I'm sure some are similar and some are different.  But this post isn't about the Navy spouse.  It's about the Navy Wife.  As in the Navy Wife of my day.  No offense to anyone's just not about you.

And it's not about the military wife.  Because here's the deal.  All military wives bear a certain burden.  All military wives are heroic.  They live with separation, anxiety, uncertainty, the stress of low pay, children growing up as nomads and long times of Dads not being around.

But, in my humble opinion, and because I'm so close to it, there is a uniqueness to the burden that Navy Wives bear.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like standing on the pier as the ship pulls in all lines, backs slowly away and disappears over the horizon.  One of my favorite movies is, probably not surprisingly, "Master and Commander" with Russell Crowe.  It's the story of a Royal Navy Frigate plying the waters on the other side of the world from England back in the day when ships were made of wood and winds in the sails were their power source.  It has many lessons in leadership.  But my favorite is the independence of a ship at sea and the authority of the Captain.  At one point the Captain gives a speech to his men and declares that the ship they are in is England.  "This is England", he says.  The analogy continues to this day.  As a ship sails away, she is on her own.  Although she will have communication and connectivity ashore, she is really on her own.  And the people of the ship make life and death decisions every single day.  The unknowns are huge.  The risks are always present.   Decisions have to be made in an instant.  Decisions that can be life or death.  And the Navy wife knows this.

From the minute her husband leaves until he returns 6, 7, 8 or however many months later, she is on her own.  Oh, she has a support system.  There are a lot of systems to help like Family Services, Navy Relief, Organizational support systems, ombudsmen, friends, relatives, etc.  But the reality is that she is on her own.  She has the kids 24/7.  She manages the money.  She gets the cars fixed, the leaks fixed, the dog fed, the kids to sports, goes to teacher conferences, entertains other wives, helps other wives, makes major decisions, and a myriad of other things all the while wondering where her husband is, what he is doing, and if he's okay.  She is missing her best friend, her confidant, her lover, and, in many cases, the person who has been making decisions for her.

Age, experience, background, and so many other things can determine how she's going to manage, but really there is no predicting.  I've seen many who I thought were rocks fall apart.  And I've seen many who I thought incredibly fragile rise to the occasion.  So each Navy Wife handles things in their own manner.  There is no stereotyping or pigeonholing.  Some work and some don't.  Some have kids and some don't.  Some are involved in a myriad of things and some aren't.  Some are athletic and some aren't.  And on and on and on.  The point is that each is an individual.  But they are bound by a common lifestyle.  Common difficulties and common joys.  How they handle it is all over the map.  But generally, they are heroic.  The things that they have done and continue to do is awesome.

And there is another interesting phenomenon that drives me and many Navy Wives I know crazy.  It's the well-meaning friend, relative or neighbor who asks her, "how do you do it?".  How do you do it?  You just do it.  What is the alternative?  If you've made a commitment, if you are in love, if you have a foundation...then you just do it. There is no choice.  Of course, some decide they don't want to do it and exit either by leaving the Navy or leaving the relationship, which is okay.   But while you're doing it, you just do it.

My admiration for anyone who is a Navy Wife knows no bounds.  I can't even really describe in words how difficult it is, how courageous they are, and what a wonderful role model they are for anyone facing difficulty.

Friday Funnies

I can always count on Far Side.  Given today's political climate, I'm thinking most of the knuckleheads running for President will be in this line...


This is a good look for her.  If there was ever someone who should be held accountable for her crimes, it's Hillary.  But...probably won't happen.  Ah, we can dream.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wednesdays Are for Music

Here's a new feature.  Every Wednesday (when I remember) I'll post one of my favorite music videos.  They'll mostly be from my era.  You might like it.  Or not.  Either way...that's okay.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Pensacola.  Where it all began.  Every Naval Aviator started there.  Not some.  Not most.  All. Whether you were a product of USNA or ROTC and came down to start flight school or were a product of AOCS, as in my case, and it was your first exposure, you started there.  This small, bucolic city in the Florida panhandle is home to NAS Pensacola and its many, many outlying fields where all initial  Naval Aviation training occurs.  In fact, if NAS North Island in San Diego is known as the "birthplace of Naval Aviation", then NAS Pensacola is known as the "cradle of Naval Aviation".  Make no mistake.  This is the center of the universe as far as Naval Aviation is concerned.  And all eventually return.  Whether it's to visit, attend a meeting, for some other purpose like the event that drew us back some 24 years later (which I'll write about at some point), or even to retire there, if you're a Naval Aviator, Pensacola was and always will occupy a place in your heart and your life.

It's really the place of legend.  And the place where everyone who has worn Naval Aviation wings of gold most likely remembers with a mixture of fondness, joy, and terror.  Some want to forget it.  Some want to bask in its memory.  But all have stories.  Both good and bad.  And they've even made a movie about the place.  Remember "An Officer and a Gentleman"?  I'm not saying that they took a huge amount of literary license, but they may have left out a thing or two.

In my case, Pensacola was present in at least a couple important chapters in my life.  I married early.  I was 21.  My wife was 20.  What were we thinking?  I mean...seriously!  More importantly, what were our parents thinking in not talking us out of it?  It was crazy.  And reckless.  And fraught with risk of ending up in disaster.  Looking back, it's hard to fathom that we thought we could sustain our relationship.  Of course, 45 wonderful years later it seems like maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea!  Anyway, we went off to college in Utah and really did a lot of growing up together.  We had great support from both families and were blissfully and ignorantly oblivious to the ways of the world.  But as I was approaching graduation and she became pregnant, reality smacked us in the face.  What in the heck were we going to do now?  My wife had graduated a year earlier with her Masters and was working (I was on the 6-year program!).  But she was having a baby.  No working for her for a while.  While I was scratching my head trying to figure out what to do, I happened to be walking through the Student Union one day and lo and behold there was a Navy recruiter. Dad spent 20 years and retired from the Navy. My wife's Dad spent 30 years and retired from the Navy.  But me...why I never really thought about it.  But ever since I was a kid and took my first helicopter ride I wanted to do it again.  And this Navy recruiter had a big, shiny poster of a beautiful big helicopter.  And he said I could be a Navy pilot.  No problem.  Take the test.  Go to Pensacola.  Pin on your wings.  Get your helicopter.  No problem.  So I took the test.  And passed.  Next thing I know I'm graduating and have these things called orders directing me to report to NAS Pensacola on 16 July 1974.

Now we didn't have much, but we did have some stuff.  But back in those days, the Navy wasn't paying to move any of your stuff to Pensacola.  I think they would have preferred single guys with nothing but a suitcase!  So we bought 8 big boxes, loaded all our stuff in them, and shipped them to an Aunt who lived down the road from Pensacola in Mobile, Alabama.  And hoped for the best.  Meanwhile, we had to get there also.  At the time, our vehicle was a Capri.  A little brown Capri.  Pretty basic.  No air conditioning.  Remember that.  So we set off for San Diego to touch base with our families and then head off to Florida.  In June.  With my wife 8 months pregnant.  In an unairconditioned car.  She had a doctors appointment when we were in San Diego, and he told us that we had to stop every 100 miles so she could walk around.  She was very healthy and we were young and confident, but looking back I just can't believe we did that.  Again...what were we thinking?  What were our parents thinking?   But it was a different time.  And we were pretty determined.  So off we went.  And stopped every 100 miles for a walk around the car.  It was a long, long journey.  I remember that my wife was particularly nervous as we drove down through the backwoods of Louisana.  She really didn't want her baby being born there!  But we made it.  After a short stint in a motel, we found a nice little furnished apartment right on Pensacola Bay.  And we called my Aunt and all our stuff had made it.  My Uncle helped me get it all moved to our apartment and we were set.  She found a doctor and everything was on track.  The only problem was that I was about to head to Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) and would be sequestered for several weeks.  No problem.  Her Mom agreed to come to Pensacola when the baby was born, so our mind was somewhat put at ease.  Let me just say that I still can't believe we did this.  There were so many obstacles, so much risk, so many unknowns.  But we were together and just plowed ahead.  I still look back in amazement!

So the day came.  She drove me to the base, we gave each other a last fond look, hug, and kiss, and I walked up and through the doors of Indoc Battalion.

And my world, as they say, was turned upside down!

During your first week or so of AOCS, life is a blur.  And scary, intimidating, lonely, crazy, hectic, and every other description you can imagine.  It is run by Marine Drill Instructors (DIs) who were generally Staff Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants and, from our perspective, were about 10 feet tall, pure muscle, ate nails for breakfast, never slept, and could chew us up and spit us out without thinking twice about it.  The day started at 5:00 am (or 0500 as we were starting to understand) and ended at 10:00 pm (2200).  It is a whirlwind of getting gear assigned, getting your head shaved, getting acclimated to a military environment, meeting a whole new group of fellow candidates, adjusting to living in a barracks, learning how to march, endless physical fitness training, and in our case, getting prodded, poked, tested, and measured endlessly at the Naval Aviation Medical Institute (NAMI) to ensure we were suited to be Navy pilots or flight officers.  During this time, several of our number either quit or were washed out medically.  Several were colorblind and gone.  I always wondered why their recruiter didn't test them for that.  We were now Poopies.  We wore a silver helmet everywhere we went.  It was a crazy, exhausting, intimidating time and I'm pretty confident that every one of us wondered what the hell we had gotten ourselves into and thought more than once about quitting.  It was called Dropping on Request (DOR) and the DIs were constantly holding that option right in front of our face.  But a funny thing happened after we got into our routine and started to in some way become used to it, it didn't seem so bad.  We had a Gunnery Sergeant in charge of us who was a tough cookie, but didn't drive us into the dirt like we had heard.

And then one day when all the NAMI tests were done we were informed we'd be transferring to our permanent Battalion, BATT III, and would be getting a new DI.  So we were ushered into a room with an accordion door at one end, told to sit at attention, wait.  Suddenly, the accordion door flew open and the most fierce, intimidating, and frightening DI imaginable stood gazing at us under the brim of his Smokey hat.  His name was Staff Sergeant Penn.  And I will never forget that look until my dying day.  He uttered one word...FINALLY!!  And things went down hill from there.  Check out this little video.  This is Staff Sergeant Penn.  Still gives me the willys!

The movie is pretty accurate.  Endless PT, mind-boggling attention to detail, learning to do the most basic things like walking all over again in the proper manner, classroom sessions on engines, aerodynamics, etc, swim quals, dunkers, etc, etc, etc.  One of the key evolutions was called a room, locker, and personnel (RLP) inspection.  This was a fun little event in which you would prepare endlessly to make sure everything is perfect.  The cleanliness of your room, the measurments of everything in your locker, that everything is in it's place, that your uniform including shoes and brass is get the idea.  And then several DI's would descend on your room and tear it apart.  One little thing and the destruction commenced.

There were a lot of interesting guys in the class.  They came from all walks of life, the whole economic spectrum, every corner of the country, and all levels of experience.  One particularly interesting guy was a giant of a man.  I mean he was huge.  And he was a prior service Marine with a chest full of medals as an enlisted grunt in Vietnam.  And he was a big old target for the DIs.  Whenever they were on the prowl, you wanted to be near him, because you knew they were going to focus all their wrath on him.

We also were issued rifles.  Well..sort of rifles.  They were the real thing but I'm not sure they'd ever been fired.  But we had to keep them spotless.  And learn to march with them.  And protect them.  One day we came back from chow and one of our number had left his locker open.  And the DI was waiting for him.  Oh, he got it back.  But he had to go around to several DIs to get parts of it back.  And there was a price to pay.  Most probably in pushups.  We did unending pushups.  I mean unending.  For the most minor infraction, we did pushups.  For a major infraction, we did pushups.  For making eye contact, we did pushups.  For almost anything, we did pushups.  PT was a big part of our routine.  And we had committed some especially heinous infraction, we'd get to do PT in the passageway in the Battalion.  With no air conditioning.  Remember, it was July.  In Florida.  And hot.  Seriously hot.  With humidity off the scale.  And when we did PT inside the walls started to sweat.  Lovely.

We also spent a lot of time in the pool.  We had to learn (relearn) all the strokes and pass a test.  We had to swim a mile in our khakis.  We had to pass drown proofing and treading water tests.  We did the dunker and the parachute drag and on and on and on.  At some point I felt pretty water logged.

As I said...a whirlwind.  12 weeks.  12 weeks of exhaustion.  But also 12 weeks toward jelling as a class, understanding the importance of the training, paying attention to detail, and starting to see a dim view of the future.  At some point during the process, we got our tapes!  A little piece of tape to put on your nametag which meant that you had progressed sufficiently to be allowed a small amount of liberty.  As I recall we could gather on Wednesday evenings with loved ones at the Student Club (sort of a precursor to the many Officers Clubs we'd visit in our careers) and be allowed to go off base on Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon.  Writing it now it seems like not a big thing....but trust me, it was a huge deal to get your tapes!

But before we got our tapes, I BECAME A FATHER!!!  I of course had been inwardly focused about my trials and trevails, but also trying to monitor how my wife was doing.  I knew my Mother-in-law had arrived and that he (although we didn't know it was a he) was late.  But she had good care and the support of her Mom, so I just hoped all would go well.  I remember falling in on a Wednesday afternoon to march off to some other event when the DI called my name.  I thought, "oh shit, what have I done now?".  But it turned out he announced that I'd become a father, mother and child were doing fine, and now lets get on with training.  Nice, huh?  At some point later in the day, he told me to put in a request for getting special liberty that next weekend and perhaps, if they were in a good mood, I'd get to go home and see my son.  Remember that routine in the movie about entering an office.  That was me.  I was scared to death but went to their office to get a liberty chit.  After they pointed out all the problems with my uniform, they grudgingly gave me a pass to go home Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.  24 whole hours.  So my Mother-in-Law came to pick me up and off we went to our little apartment.  Seeing my wife and son was just perfect.  Short, but perfect.  They were both fine, she looked angelic, and of course, my son was beautiful.  The reconnection was sublime.  And to realize that now there was another person in the world that I was responsible for was an awesome feeling.  I will admit that it was difficult to go back, but go back I did.  And with a new spring in my step.

And then I was back.  Back to the craziness.  Now that I had a wife and son I became a choir singer.  One of the things that the Chaplain had told us in one of his many sessions to motivate us to stay was that if you joined the church choir, then you went to Sunday services and if your family came, there was usually some time afterwards, maybe an hour or so, when you could sit around on picnic tables and enjoy each other's company.  So the choir was fully staffed.  It didn't sound great.  But it was big!

The other thing I did was become a blood donor.  It was called Vampire Liberty.  If you donated blood you would get off the rest of the day until Midnight.  Any excuse to see my wife and son.

About this time Nixon resigned.  Needless to say, not the biggest event in life to us.  We knew about it, but no one cared.  You generally were pretty myopic.  What's happening now and in the immediate future and how did you survive it were all that mattered.

I'm not sure what the percentage was, but several guys has wives and a few had kids.  More than you would think.  One guy and his wife who became a life long friends had a baby girl right about the time our son was born.  Within weeks.  We all became great friends and spent many happy times together. As friendships go we have drifted apart but did have the opportunity to come back together in subsequent assignments.   They have since divorced and it's decades later but we remain connected.  It really is a place to form relationships for life.  I can't say that I've remain connected to a ton of guys, but I'm confident that if I saw them today, it wouldn't take long to relive our good times and bad.

And as the days stretched into weeks, things came into focus.  Tasks that were impossible just a few short weeks before were now accomplished with a wizened and experienced countenance.  Soon we were marching on the parade field for graduation and commissioning.  Becoming an Ensign and moving on to flight school (finally) was a great day!  And receiving that salute from my DI?  Proudest salute I've ever received.

Next stop....Saufley Field, just outside Pensacola, for primary flight training.  We'd be starting off in the venerable T-34B Mentor and this would be the place where our destiny would be forged.  Here's where the rubber would meet the road.  We'd either prove to be able to become pilots or we wouldn't.  No middle ground.  And while at Saufley we'd be selected for a pipeline.  Jets, props, or helos.  What would it be?  The next year would prove to be a whole other adventure that is worthy of a story in itself.