This page was last updated on 10 February January 2010.

At Sea with the US Navy


I had an interesting job. (Well, my current job is interesting too, but that's for another page.) I worked as a game designer and naval analyst for the Center for Naval Analyses, an organization that does analytical support for the United States Navy. Unlike many such organizations, CNA has a cultural disposition to going into the field, to watching operators work on the job and collecting data at the source. We think it better enables us to do good analysis.

As a result, I occasionally got to go to sea for a week or two at a time. As of the date above, I have been to sea nine times on 8 ships (nine, if you include the three minutes it took my helo to unload supplies on USS Arleigh Burke), five times aboard Nimitz class aircraft carriers (if you count stopping for lunch and a helo as one time), once aboard the now-decommissioned USS Constellation, twice aboard Arleigh Burke-class DDGs (not including the mail run), and twice aboard Ticonderoga-class cruisers. My total at-sea time is about 12 weeks. The essays below are based on my notes from those trips.

In general, these essays are aimed at anyone who wants to know what it is like to go to sea. This includes my co-workers who haven't yet been able to have this experience, family and friends who are curious, and last but not least, those friends of mine who write fiction, and who are striving to make their naval characters more believable. ("If I could only listen to them talk for an hour!", Sherwood Smith once lamented to me.) Since this page is attempting to be all things to all people, I hope my audience will please forgive me if occasionally I discuss "boring" stuff.

A couple of quick caveats. First, there are some things that I do not mention, including the names of the ships, or the details of what happened while I was aboard, other than I was there to watch training exercises. These things aren't classified, but it makes things easier if I don't discuss the details in public. The less I say about those aspects of my trips, the happier everyone will be. (Note that this also allows my co-workers to forward this essay to anyone who might be interested.) If a name is used, you can rest assured that it is a pseudonym, including the name of the ship I was on. There are a few exceptions to this rule, e.g., class ships and the USS Cole. If I said I was on it, though, it's a fake name.

Second, I plead guilty in advance -- with no apologies -- to being a supporter of the US Navy. I seriously considered joining the Navy at one point in my life, and I often question my decision not to. ("What hard science is your degree in?" the recruiter asked. "Political science," I responded. At the time I thought I had to take "no" for an answer.) That having been said, I'm a lifelong civilian, and while I have some understanding of the Navy culture, I won't pretend that understanding is comprehensive. If any of you with Navy experience think I have missed a nuance or something, please let me know. (Special thanks to Barry Messina [LCDR, USN (Ret.)], whose insights have been invaluable.)

Parts of the section(s) on ship numbering are shamelessly plagiarized from a colleague's "Your First Exercise" essay.

Finally, any opinions expressed in these essays are my own and not those of any agency of the US Government.

The Essays

USS Boswell (DDG-xx)

USS Claude Pepper (CVN-xx) [coming soon]


Got a question? Something you think I left out? I expect to revise this document a lot, so let me know, and I will see if I can dredge up an answer. My email address is