Monday, June 20, 2005

Did you ever just have a bad day?

Some sea stories aren't all "fun"...

It was early 1998, and Mighty TUCSON was on her maiden deployment. We had been switched from doing a 7th Fleet 'Pac (lots of ISR and possibly Australia) to a 5th Fleet 'Pac (possible strike into Iraq, and the boat that was supposed to be going there was broke all to pieces).

We made a mad dash across, well, half the world or so, arriving in the Persian Gulf a little over three weeks after leaving Pearl Harbor. We had a port call scheduled for Bahrain (oh, JOY) about a week after arriving in the Gulf...we would discover there that Middle East liberty was, well, Middle East Liberty (those who've been there know exactly what I mean). But on this day, only a couple of days past the Straits of Hormuz, we were just tooling around at PD doing not much of anything.

It was early on the morning watch when we got the word "prepare to surface". Now no one really batted an eye, as we'd done a lot of "ups and downs" for quals/training, but this time the "Old Man" got on the horn with some news. We had a shipmate in trouble...his daughter was gravely ill (we found out later she had been given only months to live), and we had to get him into Bahrain and back home.

We surfaced (necessary to go anywere fast in the Gulf, as PD speeds are limited for reasons of SOE), and the nukes brought the crock pot up to full boil as we made the mad dash to Bahrain. The maneuvering watch came and went, and our shipmate (an RM, apparently that caused some interesting moments in radio...the message came as a "Personal For" to the Skipper, since back home they couldn't know if the RM would be on watch or not...and the initial message directed that the "meat" of the missive be received personally by the Captain) was set ashore with our best wishes. We would learn later that his daughter not only pulled through but made a full recovery (and last I saw him, just this month, she was doing well and in high school).

What a day...and we'd done it all before lunch. But back to routine...maneuvering watch secured, chow line set for the oncoming guys (that would be me), dive preps made...I was standing in line when the familiar "aooogah, aooogah" went off in my ear, and we started down. For about a second.

Actually, we made it down only to come right back up. There were a lot of "that ain't right" looks, and then we got the CO back on the horn. Turns out we were heading back to Bahrain for another emergent shipmate evacuation, this time an STS (and a bit of a rush, as they wanted to get him on the same flight as the RM).

Our STS passed by the chow line (the decision having been made to serve lunch, then go back to the maneuvering watch), and told us what was up...his house in Barber's Point Navy Housing had burned to the ground, taking everything his family had except, thankfully, their lives. His wife and kids were safe, but the rest was a total write-off. Including the car in the garage.

The next dive actually happened (in fact, the one before letting off the STS was originally axed, then done just for a quick qual sig as we were already set and were still waiting for final word on coming in anyway). Granted, we were all wondering if a third trip to Bahrain was in the works, but the rest of the WestPac went off with no more emergent evacuations (much to the relief of all aboard), and our two shipmates met up with us a couple of months later in a port call in Singapore, having handled their respective difficulties back home and looking quite relieved that things had turned out as well as they did.

Both of them are, by the way, still in the Navy, still in Pearl, and both still mention that day to me when we run into each other around the waterfront. And I'm glad, personally, that things turned out OK for them. And that, in a pinch, they could count on the support of their shipmates in their time of need.

Oh, incidentally, STS1's family and RM1's wife found out just what it meant to be in a "submarine family" that year. I heard the pile of furniture, clothes, and helping hands made the recovery from the fire much easier, and the family at the hospital never lacked for a babysitter for their younger child or a hand around the house when the chores needed doing.


At 9:54 PM, Blogger bothenook said...

i remember one of the boats i was working on at mare island had a sailor whose whole family except his little brother die in a horrible accident. it happened during the middle of power range testing. the section volunteered to go port and starboard, 12 hour shifts to let him go home.
he was granted a humanitarian discharge, and i don't know if he ever made it back to the boat before he left the navy, but i do know that the entire waterfront pitched in, with welfare and rec funds from the boats, and passing the hat to the yard birds all donating money to help him get his life in line. i think the check they finally ended up sending him was over $35k. no way to replace a family, but i'm sure it didn't hurt his getting things back on line.
sailors are not the only ones. i've heard similar stories about our troops over in afghanistan. face it. as a group as a whole, our american armed forces are a damned fine bunch of people, even if they do get paid to kill people and break things.

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Chap said...

We made sure that when the AMCROSSes went out they took into account that the guy affected by them couldn't easily wind up accidentally being the first one to read the message. Glad it worked in that case.


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