Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Navy Ground Pounder - My Longest Day of Work

The following are excerpts from my Journal during the Month of June 1977 while deployed aboard the USS Independence (CV-62). We were in the Mediterranean Sea conducting National Week Exercises against the USS Saratoga (CV-60) and her battle group and select NATO participants. These were Blue versus Orange Forces and we along with several Spanish and Turkish ships were the Orange Force. The Blue Force was our opposition and in general our two Battle Groups were going to fight each other. War at Sea.

These next 10 days we would work non-stop putting aircraft in the sky. This long event would become the longest single work day of my life.

Day 1

40*41'N x 11*16'E Steaming South - Somewhere between Sardinia and Naples

The war starts; we had 24 hours to get away from the anchorage at Taranto and we hauled ass all day and night. We started our first flying day under the "War rules" at 0430 with the launch of 2 of our Vikings. We had 9 events in 20 hours sending out 14 aircrafts total for the day. Not sure what they were doing out there because we were busy getting aircraft cleared off the Hanger bay. They have promised to let us join in on a couple of Alpha Strikes but we have to continue our normal work load of 2x1 sorties. So everything in our inventory has to fly.

This was the start; I was assigned to the Flight Deck from the AT Shop along with two other technicians. We would work together on any aircraft that went to the Flight Deck with the shop responsible for the aircraft staged in the Hanger. This meant that the 10 guys per shift in the shop would take care of maybe only 3 or 4 jets a day while the 3 of us on the flight deck would tackle the rest; we owned 11 aircraft on this deployment. It was an uneven playing field but no one worked the Flight Deck for free, since it was a hazardous place you only went up there if you were going to be paid extra. Flight Deck Hazardous Pay was all of $55.00 before taxes (yeah, they taxed that too) and our shop was only allowed three "skins". The ground rules were the three of us on the Roof would work our own schedule as needed, covering all the launches and recoveries. We would work any gripes on a jet that stayed on the Roof; if it was moved to the Hanger it fell to the shop to fix.

Day 2

38*39'N x 6*45'E At Sea - North of Constantine, Algeria

Another busy day, 11 events and 17 aircraft sorties. We are down to a single Hanger Queen (705 of course) but we are told it should be out for a check flight in the morning. Went to my rack for a change of clothes, did not sleep there, I have been getting short naps in the Gun Tubs.

Our sortie rate and aircraft per event is a big deal within the Air Wing. We generally have a launch event every two hours or so depending on how many total aircraft are in the "event". We do a 2x1 in that the first event of the day is a two aircraft launch, the next is a 1 aircraft event and we cycle like that all day. We send aircraft out on every event because we are used to scout ahead of the Battle Group and to search for the enemy. As soon as a launch cycle is complete we do a recovery. Once on deck we start fixing what is broke and we prep the aircraft for the next event. If it's a two aircraft event we have to scramble to get two aircraft configured for the mission set assigned. ASW aircraft are configured differently than a SSSC mission (Surface Search Surveillance and Classification) versus a Mine-EX aircraft, versus a purely bomber mission.

Day 2

40*41'N x 2*30'E At Sea - South of Barcelona, Spain

Full flight schedule today we maxed out on flights. 11 events and 21 aircraft sorties, every one of our jets flew. We will be mining tomorrow so we are busy helping with the ARMCOS systems. I guess AO's are not issued brains, they do everything by repetition. "Repeat after Me – Hand and Feet CLEAR" - don't have to tell me to get my hands and feet clear of the big heavy exploding thing! No rack time today. Note to self: powdered eggs don't go with fresh hash browns, you really need a good egg yolk to eat with fresh hash browns. Still on water hours.

I have a long and checkered history with the BB stackers. Normally not heavily tasked in our squadron but for exercise such as this one they were quite busy. The chow is always a big deal on the ship, we would only have fresh food for a few days after leaving port (week to 10 days at most) so we all got used to powder eggs. Let me tell you, with a lot of tobacco you can eat a heaping large quantity of them!

Day 3

42*55'N x 6*39'E East Bound Off Toulon, France

We did a huge Mine-EX today, twice we sent a 4-ship out to mine some harbor, I think it was over near Barcelona but where ever it was, it left a ghost town on the ship for S-3's. We had the 4 on the Mine-EX, and 4 others on missions and left us with only three jets twice today. What fun. Still no rack time, we have been sleeping in the wheel wells because of the rain. They can't seem to keep the ship out of the storms; well until it's time to land then they steam out into the sunny skies. But as soon as recovery is done we go back into the storm. Sick bastards! Cut my left hand open on a copper bonding strap, took 5 stitches to close. Shots and an order for pain med but I declined the med. They gave me extra gauze pads to use in my gloves in case of bleeding.

You can still see that nasty little that scar on my left palm and as usual, I would not take myself off the flight deck even though the Corpsman were more than happy to give me a light duty chit.

Day 4

41*09'N x 6*32'E Steaming South - West of Sardinia

We are back to a regular flight schedule. 11 events and 17 aircraft sorties. All in the open ocean we were heading east back across the Med. I heard we are winning the war games, have not yet seen "enemy" aircraft. Was back at the rack to put away mail and get fresh socks. Still wearing the same outfit for two days. Since I was in the rain so much yesterday the shirt does not stink so much so I kept it on. We are still on water hours so we won't be getting laundry. Have to stretch out what I have in the way of green shirts and pants. Sea Rats or PB+J on toast for dinner, I did the PB+J.

Fresh water was a major problem on the Indy during this cruise. She had trouble brewing fresh water so whatever she made went to operations first, what little was left allowed for showers only two hours a day. Once at 1800 hours and again at 0600 and if you were not lined up you were SOL for getting a shower. We actually had "Shower Police" whose job it was to time and make sure everyone took genuine "Navy Showers". The lack of water also meant that we had rather bad chow since it took a lot of water to make meals especially since most of the menu included a lot of dehydrated foods. Laundry was done by division and you could expect fresh cloths only once a month unless we pulled into port. Then you simply took your laundry to the nearest NATO base and washed it yourself.

Day 5

39*09'N x 11*46'E At Sea - South East of Sardinia

11 events 18 aircraft sorties. One of our jets was caught out by the Blue forces and "shot down". They were scouting around the area where we were yesterday when they were caught. The ship pointed south and took off. We got our jet back after it did penalty time in Naples. Still no rack time, I only came to the rack to journal this. My left hand is throbbing. Back to work.

The rule in this exercise was that aircraft that were "shot down" were required to go to some neutral airfield and land before they returned to their home ship. As I recall this aircraft was actually sacrificed to fool the Blue force into looking for our Battle Group in the wrong area. It worked as we were able to get below them and then reset the space we were fighting since the Blue was supposed to cover south of Sardinia and Italy while the Orange force was supposed to cover the western Med. Getting south of the Blue force allowed us to make attacks directly on their fleet, from a direction they were not expecting.

Day 6

34*45'N x 13*30'E At Sea - North of Tripoli, Libya

We are having problems now keeping enough aircraft out, the proximity to Libyan airspace means we have to keep our eyes on what is going on with their air force. They don't come out to international waters but both fighter squadrons, the E-2's and at least one Viking have to stand off and watch all the while we are still fighting the Blue force. More rain, it is very warm out so the rain feels good. I actually washed and dried a couple of tee shirts in all the rain. Almost beats laundry service. 11 events, 26 aircraft sorties.

Yeah our friend Muammar Gaddafi was throwing stuff at us while we steamed just north of the "Line of Death" as he called it. The two fighter squadrons made several air-to-air intercepts of MIG aircraft thrown at us but they never went hot or came over the ship.

Day 7

34*50'N x 17*30'E Standing off - North East of Tripoli and North West of Benghazi, Libya

We have been living in a stalled front of two day, all rain. My fingers have wrinkles they have been wet so long, gloves are soaked. I have changed socks 8 times today, before almost every launch cycle I was changing socks. We/I lost an ESM POD over the side, wind got it from me and it went OB. Sponson 8 looks like a laundry with all the cloths hanging out there drying. Still no rack time, had to change my pants though, I had that pair on for 4 straight days and I may have to toss them they are so worn. No COD service today, we are trying not to show our hand to the Blue forces by giving them the chance to follow that old slow plane back to Indy. 11 events, 22 aircraft sorties.

The easiest way to hide an aircraft carrier is to steam it into a rain storm. As I remember we hung out in this storm with our screening ships pulled close, they wanted to get as much of the Battle Group inside the storm. It must have worked because we stayed in there two nights and three full days. Losing the ESM receiver was a big deal; they were still classified back then so there was a lot of paper work. It was lost partially because we were replacing it in the wind and rain at Oh-Dark-Thirty, it was a case of dropping it or both me and the POD falling off the wing. I can remember watching it cartwheel down the flight deck and right off the fantail, antenna's flopping around on their little coax cables. We were sure it sank but they had a tin can look for it just in case. The Sponson referred to was one of those little work platforms scattered around the boat and are open to the fresh air, some of them like #8 are under cover of the flight deck. This one was used for trash disposal.

Day 8

33*55'N x 19*11'E Standing off - North of Benghazi, Libya

I was asked to go to a briefing in the Ready Room, they want to do a lot of Data Link but I fell asleep in the chair. I was asked to stand for the rest of the Brief. I apologized to the Div-O and told him I had not been to my rack for sleep since the start of the EX because of the lack of flight deck skins. That was too much for him because I guess after I left he started to draw up "Manning" charts so that we could get us some sleep, but you can't put an AE up there to work RADAR or give them Data Link to fix. They should have stripped all the spare skins before we stared the EX. Phil 'treated' us to dinner; he made a point of getting me, Lipps and Wall together for dinner. Told me about the fiasco with the Div-O and the charts he had made and that we would be doing a corrosion stand down when the EX was done. We would be exempt. He thinks only another day or two and we will win the war and stand down.

The three of us were now taking turns sleeping, usually in an aircraft that was on the schedule or down in one of the Gun Tubs. The Gun Tubs were old Anti-Aircraft batteries that were mounted around the flight deck but the guns had been removed leaving a huge space for us to hang out in. Since it was on the catwalk level you were right there on the flight deck but out of the action. Each gun tub could sleep a dozen sailors! The issue with the Flight Deck skins was a big deal. There were shops that had more than they needed and simply cycled them from person to person whether they went up to the deck or not to simply use the money. This always burned us because we had so much work but only three skins. If we had even one more skin we could have worked 12 on 12 off. But the shops sat on their skins and when ever questions were asked you would see someone who you knew did not belong up on the roof in a bright clean jersey and float coat because they were used so infrequently. They would only make an appearance up there to keep the skin. $55 bucks was a big deal back in 1977!

Day 9

35*46'E x 21*45'E Steaming South of Greece Mainland

Huge day today, large Alpha Strike they took 6 of our jets. At the same time we had three out on missions which left us with only two on the whole boat. COD came back and had almost 800 pounds of mail most of that was parts or other supply stuff, why bother. More BP+J but for dinner I had a couple of cans of the mystery meat hash in the sea rats. The biscuits in the can are pretty good especially since the boat still has real butter. Got yelled at for sleeping in a copilot seat, some Bos'n pounded on the canopy and wanted me to come out, there were 4-others in there with me so he gave up when we all piled out, like clown car only in an airplane.

Alpha strikes were great fun for the AO's, not so much for the rest of us. The S-3 has the two wing station but the two bomb bay's gave us more capacity than one realized, we could carry up to 18 MK-82 500 pounders. We were slower than the other attack aircraft but no one could hear us coming! The Sea Rations was kind of a funny thing; they would break them out if they could not cook. You would get your tray and then go down the serving line getting little cans of this or packets of that plus those little can openers. I remember fruit cocktail being a favorite and this corn beef hash that was pretty good too.

Day 10

36*14'E x 22*59'E At Anchor - Kithira, Greece

In the dead of night she came to me, to us all actually. A voice, a sweet voice of a woman, the voice of an American woman. At first I thought it was only me, but everyone around me was reacting to that voice. We were all left to fill in the image that went with that voice as she talked us through the pre-start check list. Oh what a voice. It perked us all up for the final events of this EX. We quit flying at 1200 and put into an anchorage. There will be a steel beach and swim call. I will shower and sleep. I'll eat tomorrow too tired for food.

Oh Yes the voice. We do this verbal pre-start check list prior to every launch cycle; the Air Boss reads it off a card. It's the flight deck mantra, I can recite it even today and I have not been an active member of a launch crew since 1979! But this one time, after we had all been working for so long and so hard someone played a tape of this woman reading off that check list. I am sure it was some one's wife or girl friend but it did not matter, it was wonderful to hear that check list read off in a sultry way.

Day 11

36*14'E x 22*59'E At Anchor - Kithira, Greece

I got out of bed only once in the last 18 hours to hit the head. I even slept through laundry delivery, the cloths were piled on top of me, I never heard them. Phil came by to check muster, make sure I was alive. I got up then and decided to find some chow. There were burnt sliders and tube steaks on the port side forward but fresh eggs to starboard. I had them, many actually with fresh goat milk. They must feed these goats clover or something because the milk was quite good, much better than what we got in Italy. It was very quiet on the mess decks, Lips and Wall were in a card game (naturally) but they both confirmed they had plenty of sleep. My hand is infected and the leaking puss smells bad, so I'll have to go down to medical and let them clean it out, more stitches. Rumor is we are going to do another exercise before we pull into Naples, ASW Week they are calling it. Great more crap for us.

The ship would buy fresh food where ever we went; local cuisine was always a crap shoot. We would get fresh veggies with little bugs in it or milk that was rather "unusual" so to say. Eggs were another bingo item, sometime great sometimes, yuk! A bunch of times we had rabbit and a few times it was goat. The soda (Coke mainly) was very different than what we were used to having, it was very sweet. We did leave Kithira and go right into another week long exercise that was dubbed ASW week. It would only be 6 days at work but it re-shaped my thinking on the S-3 and all its wondrous equipments for finding submarines. Up till then I had misgivings about packing all that state of the art gear into such a small plane and it working, but ASW Week 1977 would change all that. But that is a different story.

For the Record:

"Lips" is AT3 Mike Lickens from Dallas, Texas

"Wall" is AX3 George Stanley Wall from Republic, Ohio

"Phil" is AX1 Phillp Turner from some where in Idaho. One of the best supervisors you could ever want covering you and someone I learned so much from especially the people watching, his speciality.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Buck said...

Yet another great read, Jimmy. You make me wish I had kept a journal in the way-back... coz memory fades. O! How it fades...

re: $55 bucks was a big deal back in 1977!

You got THAT right! During '75 - '77 I pretty much lived off per diem checks (I was in an Engineering & Installations [E&I] outfit at the time and we did a LOT of TDYs); I was going through my first divorce and paying off my ex-'s bills... 55 bucks was a King's Ransom at that point in time...

JimmyT said...

Buck, thanks. Yeah that $55 caused lots of problems, spreading it around. The killer was that after taxes it was only $44, that was the take home.

BT: Jimmy T sends.