Monday, September 27, 2010

Shore Patrol – Charlotte Ameale, U.S. VI

I settle into one of the long benches on the outside of the boat, at the risk of being sprayed with sea water but I like the fresh air and the view into port. I am wearing my whites, the Ice Cream-man outfit that all of us sailors hate but since we are in the Caribbean wearing Blues is out of the question. The boat I’m riding is one of the ships 60 foot U-Boat (the U is for Utility) and is used to haul sailors from the ship anchored out in the harbor to Fleet Landing. This is something all the big ships have to do since we can’t tie up to a pier, we draw too much draft as they say or in plain English, there is too much ship below the water line to get in close to land.
The Modern CV is just too big to pull in and tie off to a civilian pier, well for the East Coast Navy that is. The West Coast Navy can drive right up to the pier in the deep water ports of the Western Pacific. Not so for us serving on the Atlantic. So, to get ashore for Liberty we carry are own ships to haul us into to town. The 60 foot U-boat can carry as many as 120 sailors although you really don’t want to ride one when there are that many onboard. We also carry smaller 45-foot boats that carry upwards of 60 men. But I digress.

I am in the First contingent to go ashore but not so much for leisure but for duty. You see, I am going ashore as part of the required Shore Patrol cadre that is put ashore first to secure Fleet Landing and then to fan out into the nearby community and enforce the strict behavior guidelines expected of all the ship’s crew. This first Shore Patrol party is some 25 strong and our watch will commence when we first step off the boat and last for the next 12 hours. By then, sometime in the night we will be replaced with a smaller crew who will patrol through the rest of the night. Another party of 20 or more will come ashore at mid-day to repeat the cycle. Only on the last day will there be a staffing change, it will double on that last day to ensure everyone is collected and of course to control any recalcitrant members of the crew.

This is my favorite Shore Patrol assignment, First day in port, first shift. That first day is always long but you get off the big Boat ahead of the horde and there really are not that many drunks on that first night, most of those will be hunkered down in hotel rooms and not out on the street where we in uniform have to handle them. It is the last night in port when you seen dozens of drunks. So, I volunteer for that first day/night this way I don’t have to take the chance of being assigned on the last night.

We anchored off the Island of St. Thomas; the U.S.S. Eisenhower has come to the tiny town of Charlotte Ameale. The waters here are beautiful blue (not that greenish color off shore of the US) and the Island itself is small. There are more Islanders than sailors on Ike but not by much. We have been at sea for almost a month having left Norfolk for one of the many Training periods that we do prior to deployment to the Med. We will get 3-days here for R&R (or I&I depending on your take and monetary capacity) before we head back to the NOB.

The U-Boat ties up at what will become Fleet Landing; it’s just a spot on a pier that the Navy will use to load and unload the visiting sailors. We form up into two loose ranks, all 25 young sailors in white uniforms, the only distinguishing items that make us different than the many boat loads that will follow are the Black and Yellow ‘SP’ arm bands and the duty belts with our night sticks attached. It is 11:00 am and our watch starts, for the next 13 hours we will patrol the streets of Charlotte Amalie keeping the Ike’s crew in line, or at least giving the pretense that we are doing so. Four men are assigned “Beach Guard”, they stay behind to “guard” Fleet Landing. This small force will double when Liberty for the majority of the crew ends at 2300 hours (11:00 pm). Fleet Landing becomes a wild and woolly place when hundreds of drunk and near drunken sailors show up at the last minute for the ride back to their floating home. Very few are granted overnight Liberty and as a result they all have to be back on the ship by Midnight (Cinderella Liberty).

I am always happy to be assigned street duty instead of Beach Guard. The rest of us are given instruction by the OIC – Officer-in-Charge. Today the OIC is a Bull Ensign who is attached to one of the Light Attack Squadrons (A-7’s). Our instructions are to pair off and patrol the streets we are assigned. We are to be a presence at every place Sailors congregate. This means the Bar’s and night clubs. And there are plenty of both here.

My partner and I head off to the 4-Block area we have been assigned. There are 6 drinking establishments in this area and we stroll into each. At first there are only locals or visiting tourists in each place we go into. We are greeted warmly be each proprietor, they are happy the big ship is in port, lots of money to be made. The Ike and her Air Wing (CVW-7) comprise nearly 6000, all men (this was back before women were assigned sea duty on Ships) and all with money in their pockets from more than a month at sea.

We are offered drinks and told if we need anything simply ask. They are quick to endear us to them, they know that later when one or more of the many Sailors that visit their establishment will eventually wear out their welcome, it will be those of us on Shore Patrol that will remove the belligerent and especially the ones who get violent. And there will be those I am ashamed to report, a lot of Ugly Drunks in the Navy. So right now in the heat of the day each establishment is our best friend and we accept the offer of a coke on ice or lemonade. Later tonight we will be the ones they turn to keep the peace and restore order when things get out of hand, that when not if.

Slowly the composition at each place we visit changes. From the 2 or 3 locals at the start, each place gets a small contingent of sailors. They are easy to pick out in their uniforms (required on the First day of Liberty). By late afternoon it is mostly sailors in each place. After the sun goes down each place will be overflowing with sailors, all drinking. At first we are ignored as we go into each place but as the night wears on and more beer is consumed I pick up the occasional derogatory comment towards us, the SP. We are not liked by those who would embarrass the uniform. And each who will knows this and their comments are warning shots prior to their losing all civility. Yet they continue and later more than one will be forcefully removed and escorted out into the hands of a patrol van used to return them back to Fleet Landing.

For the first 5-hours we patrol, up and down our streets. Occasionally swapping beats with the pair of SP’s from another area, just to break up the monotony. Around 4 or 5 pm we stop to eat a dinner, it feel good to get off our feet even if for a short time. By 6:00pm we are back on the beat. It’s crowded in every place we go into, we move around circling the inside of each place. The noise loud and smoke from all the cigarettes is thick, we make a pass and depart, moving on to the next, and then the next.

Around 9:00 pm the OIC rounds us up along with the pair working the next area over from us. He asks us for a SITREP (Situation Report) and we report that all is calm now. Things could turn ugly or not, we tell him which bar is the most popular, the one with the most sailors which bear watching.

He accepts our reports and then gives us new orders and instructions. A certain “area” has been declared OFF-LIMITS up near the top of the hill on the fringe of the village. We are to join two others on the way there and cordon off this “area”. We are to patrol the two roads which front this “area” as the back is an undeveloped area and not illuminated. All sailors are to be turned away.

We leave immediately on foot walking up the streets and crossing through the entire village. Once on station we see that this “area” is a single house, it is the village Whore House.

We meet up with the two that are there and we deploy along the two roads, one has a side walk, the other is simply a road that continues up into the darkness and the top of the hill. We have a commanding view of not just the Village below but the harbor as well. We can seen boats tied up in the marina and our very own Ship, sitting at anchor maybe a mile out. The lights on her Island structure clearly illuminate the 69 that is her hull number, visible even this far away.

The First Class in charge assigns my partner and I to the harbor side of the house, we will patrol the side edge on the road. This side is dark; there are no street lights on this side. The house itself is huge and one of the few multi-story buildings we have seen, it’s 3-stories. The front has a large porch at the main entrances with a walkway down to the sidewalk. We walk from the very dark area at the back to the front and back again. We watch carefully for the approaching Sailors, they stand out in their whites so it is easy to pick them out at a distance.

We turn many away, sending them back the way they have come. Almost all question the need to quarantine this one house but we have not been availed of the reasons why it is now off limits.

After an hour or so on station the uniforms thin out, fewer and fewer as word gets out that this place of out of bounds. But on the edge of the darkness we see a lone white suited man approaching. By his silhouette we can tell he is a Sailor, the Dixie Cup hat is a dead giveaway. He plods on towards us; I watch closely, there is something familiar in his gait. It is the slow, methodical plodding rhythm in his walk that I recognize. Long before this man gets to the light I know who it is and I maneuver to intercept. Better to be turned away by someone you know.

As he gets closer and steps out the darks side of the road and crosses into the area directly in the light we can see him plain as day. It is who I think.

“Hey Phill!” I call out. Phill turns to me ignoring the approach of two other SP’s patrolling from the front. I wave them off.

Although he is a First Class and in uniform I refer to him by his first name, we are not strangers.

“Jimmy Tee” he says back. The emphasis on the Tee tells me Phill has had many adult beverages before making the long trek up the hill.

Phill is one of the First Class Petty Officers assigned to the same Shop or Work Center that I am assigned. We had several in fact (4 of them) in a 22 man work center. He was one I had first met while in A-School, before we had been assigned to VS-31. He was what we called a “re-tred” having been in the Navy and then gotten out. Upon re-enlistment he changed his professional designation into the Electronics field and that was where I met him, undergoing Electronics training. He was the only Petty Officer in the barracks; I was a lowly airman at the time. In the years I had known him I had learned a lot. His specialty was understanding people. His management of our shop and our tremendous work load was done with little bickering or argument which accompanies the management by the other First Class’s in the shop. Phill understood how to work the People side and from that he got more out of his crew than anyone else. It was his study of each of us as individuals that made him so effective as a First Class.

“Good evening, beautiful out don’t ya think?” I say. Phill smiles and turns to face the same way I am, we are looking out at the harbor. Ike is in the distance. We stand as two shipmates admiring the view, our home of the last 14 months or so. My SP partner stands back a bit, standing back out of the way.

“Yes Jimmy T, it is nice out and she is a lovely site.” Phill says. We stand there admiring the view. Phill then turns slightly towards me, leaning into me searching for privacy.

“I guess you are here turning all of us horny bustards away?” He asks. That is classic Phill, straight to the heart of the matter.

“Afraid so Phill.” I reply. He pursues his lips and shakes his head.

Phill is legendary for his ability to stay on the ship. On our last Mediterranean cruise he went ashore once in the entire 6-months we were deployed. His one chance for that most intimates of human contacts and we are there to turn him away.

“Ah, Just like my Navy ya know, deprive me of one of the few pleasures I seek.”

“Sorry Phill.” I say. “That’s Ok Jimmy. Not your fault. I guess I’ll head on back down there.” He says as he steps off. “Yeah, see you in the ship.” I say as he departs. Phill starts down the hill, his slow plodding walk, no hurry, no worry as he has said to me many times. He slips back into the darkness. I return to my partner and we resume our short walks in the dark.

We continue in this manner, stopping those that are obviously Navy and you can tell them easy enough, sending them back down the hill. For the next 90 minutes we work the side walk and street. All the while I think of Phill, his impact on me over the years. His simple charm and keen insight into men and their physiology, he is only one of two people I have known from the state of Idaho.

Around 2300 hours the inbound traffic is almost non-existent. There is not enough time left to come up here and still make it back to Fleet Landing by midnight. We stay on station waiting for relief or termination of the assignment.

Then, the front door to the house opens. We hear the laughter of women spill out with the opening of the door. A man steps out, he is dressed all in white and once out on the porch he turns back to the open door, he bows and waves, the door closes. He then turns to head down the long walkway out to the road, he places the ubiquitous Dixie cup hat on his head, he is one of us, an Ike crewman.

As he walks towards the road I notice the step, the sway and the methodical plodding gait. It could only be one person. I smile to myself in recognition of who this is. I maneuver to intercept him before any of the other SP’s get to him. I am not sure if there are standing orders to report anyone who had broken through the cordon, it would be better to handle this myself just in case.

“Phill, Phill, Phill.” I say when he is close. “Ah, Mr. Taylor. We meet again.” He says. “Yes we do.” I reply.

“I last saw you as you were working your way down the hill, how is it you are now exiting this out of bounds establishment.” I ask.

He smiles back at me, mischievousness in his eyes, or maybe it was bliss.

“Well you see, Jimmy T, knowing my Navy the way I do, I got to thinking just how serious this cordon of these fine facilities was. I thought I’d have a look and see for myself. So I took a stroll around the back and well, none of you guys are back there. So I figure “what the Hell”, I don’t get out much. I deserve this and you know all of these places have back doors.”

We both chuckle.

“In my Navy’s infinite wisdom no one thought to cover the rear. And now I fear it is too late to do anything about it, especially in my case.”

I laugh and say “You are right Phill, it is late. You better get going before you miss the last boat back to the ship.”

Phill smiles at me, give me a mock salute and proceeds on down the hill.

That was vintage Phill I thought as I watched him amble down that road into the darkness. The most striking part was not his being a whore-monger or even embarrassed by it, no lots of us in the Navy did that and you can’t besmirch a man for wanting to satisfy his more prurient needs. No, it was the way he always referred to the Navy as “His Navy” or “My Navy”. Phill had always taken ownership of the great big thing. The Navy. For him it was never that the Navy was right or wrong, it was his Navy and he was either right or wrong right along with it.

All these many years I had worked for and with Phill, I had mentored under him. His stubborn way of following each Maintenance Instruction no matter how trivial or mundane was legend in our shop. How he never took the short cut we had all practiced and documented in our Shop Gouge package. We laughed when he would fill out the document discrepancy reports or the “Anymouse” Form to report a hazardous condition, there were so many we always thought how could you document each and every one, but not Phill. He was steadfast in doing it right or as he would say, “the Navy way”. And as I stood there and watched him descend back down to our mutual home on the sea, it occurred to me what he had been teaching me all these years. Teaching all of us who would learn. It was ownership. I t was my Navy too, it was why so many called me a “lifer” despite any proof to the contrary, it was why I choose to go ashore on the first day of Liberty in uniform. To walk the streets as an example for the civilians to note as much as to take care of the Sailor who would need us, good or bad.

Yeah, I might walk with a purposeful and fast gait but some of Phill had rubbed off onto me. A little bit of his Navy.

The other 4 SP’s approached me; we all stood there in the street in a loose circle. “Was that guy a First Class?” someone asked, pointing down the hill with his thumb.

“Yeah” I say, “and one of the best in this man’s Navy!”

BT: Jimmy T sends.


ASM826 said...

That, Jimmy, was a fine story. I read it twice just appreciate the picture you created.

JimmyT said...

ASM, well thank you. I like a lot of sailors had many turns in the Shore Patrol barrel, most were good like this one. I learned a lot from Phill and to this day listen more than I talk to most people I know. That was something I learned from him.

Thanks again,

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Buck said...

A good story indeed, late as I am to this party.