This page was last updated on 10 February 2010.

USS Boswell

Prologue: Return to Port

The navigator, a full lieutenant, looked up from the chart table and announced in a loud, clear voice, "Next leg is 2000 yards, nearest hazard to navigation is shoal water 1000 yards on the port bow, nearest aid to navigation is buoy Charlie Bravo on the starboard bow at 600 yards. The Restricted Maneuvering Doctrine is in effect."

I was standing on the bridge of the USS BOSWELL, a Flight II Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer. We were navigating the channel off Naval Station Norfolk, the big US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia and home port to much of the US Atlantic Fleet. The ship had already been at sea for close to a month when I heloed aboard a week earlier, and the officers and crew were looking forward to some time ashore before they began a long overseas deployment.

It was a beautiful morning to be at sea, the late August air just a bit on the side of hot and muggy, with visibility stretching to the horizon. The DISBO -- Disbursing Officer, an ensign -- was the Officer of the Deck and as such, he was responsible for giving the orders which maneuvered the ship. The DISBO, being in the Supply Corps, is a Staff officer and not a Line officer; as such, it's somewhat unusual for the DISBO to be OOD. It's so unusual, in fact, that when he was told that he would be guiding the approach the afternoon before, it took some effort to convince him it wasn't a joke.

The commanding officer was on the bridge as well, sitting in his chair, keeping an eye on things but generally letting his people do the work. The executive officer and one of the senior lieutenants alternated between the bridge wings and the bridge itself. Occasionally the lieutenant would use his cell phone to call to shore, to confirm some detail of our approach. The lieutenant later commented to me that, as the tugs maneuvered us into our berth, that he "didn't get to do any of the fun stuff anymore," like being OOD -- those tasks were relegated to the more junior officers.

I alternated between my two usual vantage points, the starboard rear of the bridge and the bridgewings, an open-air extension that wrapped around the rear of the bridge. The starboard rear had the advantage of being out of the way (I once stood there almost an hour before the Junior OOD even noticed I was there) yet near the ladderwell, water cooler, head, and starboard bridgewing hatch.

The trip inbound was interesting, if uneventful. I was surprised at exactly how narrow the channel is -- Chesapeake Bay may be wide, but the dredged area for deep draft vessels is not. This can make transit entertaining. The XO and first lieutenant, for instance, were very interested in a dredging vessel which looked like it may be preparing to cut across our course at a fairly short distance. It didn't though, through some surprisingly nimble maneuvering. Other than that, we saw a couple of LCACs (landing craft air cushion) on maneuvers, as well as the expected pleasure craft.

Overall, the transit took about two hours. The ship's navigator, aided by an enlisted quartermaster (in the Army a quartermaster is in charge of supply; in the Navy a quartermaster performs navigation), tracked our position in the channel and would announce course changes that needed to be made, along with aids to navigation and possible hazards. The Officer of the Deck would then issue orders. If those orders involved maneuvering, the Conning Officer (a chief petty officer) would then issue a manuvering order to the sailor at the helm. (I think there may have been a sailor at the lee helm -- the throttle controls -- as well. I know that usually the sailor at the helm handled the throttles as well, but for complex evolutions like underway replenishment, both positions were manned.) The helmsman would repeat the order, and then execute it.

The piers at Norfolk are a very impressive place. There were four aircraft carriers in port, three Nimitz class and the venerable USS VENTURE, still claimed to be the fastest ship in the fleet. One of those carriers, the USS MILLARD FILLMORE, had been in port for only a few hours, as she had been part of our exercise. (Indeed, I staged through her on my way to the BOSWELL.) We were, in fact, the last ship of our battle group to head in, which is what happens when you have a junior CO. We were assigned a berth outboard of FELIX UNGER, the first of the Flight IIA Arleigh Burkes, which gave me a good vantage point to see all of the modifications that were made to the design to enable the addition of a helicopter hangar. Soon the tugs had pushed us into place, and my trip to sea aboard the USS BOSWELL was over.

Going to Sea

This trip started in the lobby of a hotel in Puerto Rico early in the morning on 24 August, 2000. If that date sounds vaguely familiar, it's probably because on the previous day Puerto Rico just missed getting hit by a hurricane. We -- myself and a bunch of other people headed out to the various ships of the USS MILLARD FILLMORE battle group -- left at 0630 for the Naval Station Roosevelt Roads. We arrived, per standard operating procedure, two hours before our scheduled 9 am flight to the FILLMORE. Most of that two hours was dead time, but there was a safety briefing, and we were issued life preservers. Each life preserver consists of a belt with a pouch that you wear in front. The pouch contains an inflatable plastic/rubber lifevest, which then gets pulled over your head. These things look stupid on even regular-sized people, but I'm 6'4" and overweight, so the damn belt was as close to my armpits as my waist.

The COD (carrier on-board deliver) aircraft is a venerable C-2, a twin-engined turboprop that seats about twenty people in five rows of four with an aisle down the middle. It has two VERY tiny windows near the back of the aircraft. Like a regular airliner, you have the a little nozzle designed to blow an insufficient amount of air vaguely near your face, and a little tiny light that theoretically allows you to read. I say "theoretically," because at this point all similarities to an airliner end.

First, you face backwards, the preferred arrangement from a safety perspective, but one that most people find disconcerting. Personally, I like it, because when you taxi to and from the runway the drop-down door in the tail is open and you can see out. Enjoy it while you can, though, because once it shuts, it's like being locked in a box. Second, the interior of the craft is purely functional -- the seat backs are covered in aluminum, not cloth, there is no internal skin, just hanging wires bundles, and the ceiling is low (about 5.5 feet). Actually, it would be more acurate to say that the ceiling struts are low, as the space above them to the actual skin of the aircraft contains a bunch of equipment, including a liferaft. The seatbelts are four-point harnesses, not two-point like an airline seatbelt. They aren't not for show.

The flight itself is loud and bumpy and hot. ("Hot" is a common theme in military aircraft, from what little I have experienced. It's good to assume that whatever you wear while flying will be unwearable in polite company again without laundering.) Earplugs are the norm, although I was surprised they didn't ask if people needed any. I didn't, but the guy next to me did, so I gave him my spare set. I was also surprised they didn't hand out the cranials until after takeoff. A "cranial" is a cloth helmet to which is attached two metal plates, one covering the back of your skull, the other the top. In between the two is an open space, in which is placed the crosspiece of the mickey-mouse-type hearing protectors, the earpieces of which are also sewn into the cloth of the helmet. The end result isn't particularly comfortable -- especially if you wear glasses -- but it gets the job done. Incidentally, the regular Navy types flying out with us were also surprised that they didn't hand out the cranials until we were airborne. I was actually sort of thankful, because I was in what would be a window seat (if there were windows), and the overhang from the longitudinal housing from which sprouts the inadequate light and useless air nozzle already prevented me from sitting up straight.

Most of the flight was typical (if loud), even if the airplane was not. The standard landing pattern for a carrier is to approach on a course parallel to, but 180 degrees from, the direction of the carrier's motion, with the carrier off to your right (and you off to the carrier's right). The airplane passes the stern of the ship, and shortly thereafter executes a 180 degree turn (with a 45 degree bank -- remember those four-point seatbelts?) that lines it up for its final approach. Twenty seconds later it is on the deck.

I don't know if it was the turn that cause the bottom to fall out from under us, but at some point we dropped what seemed to be a LONG distance. About ten seconds later the flight crewman, who sits in the rear of the aircraft (so we can all see him) and who has an intercom link with the pilot, raises his fist in the air, which is the sign that we are about five seconds from landing. It's also the sign for me to stop chewing my gum, lest I bite my tongue. Sure enough, five seconds later we slam into the deck, and are pushed into our seats for about three seconds as the tailhook snatches the cable on the deck and decelerates us from 150 knots (rough guess) to stationary in the space of a couple of hundred feet.

This is the second time I have flown the COD, the other time being a catapult shot off one of the West Coast carriers. I have to agree with what I had been told -- the landing is a lot smoother than the takeoff. The landing -- including the pre-landing maneuvering -- really was about what you would experience in a good roller coaster, with that drop I mentioned being going over the top, and the landing being reaching the bottom of that first big hill. The cat shot was a little rougher, and did a much better job fouling my sense of direction.

Once the airplane taxis out of the landing area, it comes to a stop and we debark. The deck is windy, not just from the forward motion of the ship -- the ship is steaming into the wind, in such a way that there is a 20-30 mph wind over the flight deck -- but also from the occasional jet wash of an airplane on deck. In particular, there was an idling F-14 (IIRC) that gave us a good blast as we walked by.

We didn't have much time to enjoy the sights and sounds of the flight deck. (Not that there was much to hear anyway; because of the ear plugs and cranials -- both mandatory on the flight deck -- the dominant sound was that of my own breathing. It lent a surreal quality to the experience.) We are quickly led single-file in front of the island (as the superstructure on an aircraft carrier is called) around to the far (seaward) side, and down a ladder (i.e., stairs, although some are pretty steep) on the edge of the flight deck to a hatchway one level below.

US Navy ships have adopted the convention that the "main" deck is the first deck or 1 deck, and decks above it are numbered 01, 02, 03, etc., and below it are numbered 2, 3, 4, etc.. Carriers are a little different, in that the hangar deck is the 01 deck. The hangar deck is two decks high (and does not cover the entire 01-02 level), and then there is a deck in between the hangar and flight decks (containing mostly staff spaces, staterooms for the flight officers, and deck support machinery like catapults and arrester gear), so the flight deck itself is 04. This numbering extends up the island; I don't remember what is located on the 05 and 06 decks, but 07 is the flag bridge, 08 is the capain's bridge (which is where they steer the ship), and 09 deck is where Pri-Fly, where the Air Boos and his deputy hang out. I didn't get to see anything like this on that trip, because we went down to the 03 level, not up.

We spent about an hour waiting in the passageway outside of the flight lounge. Now, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is a big ship, but it's still crowded. When we arrived, the lounge was full of people waiting to get onto the COD plane we had just left and fly back to Roosie Roads. But, because of the turnaround time for the aircraft and it's place in the launch cycle, that flight didn't board for an hour, so we waited in the p-way for an hour, with our luggage, trying to stay out of the way as much as possible. Luckily, it's simply understood that there isn't enough space and people are going to bump into you and such. No one thinks a second thing of it.

Eventually the departing flight loaded and we got to take over the lounge. A bunch of us went down a level to one of the messrooms and grabbed lunch. About an hour later the helo taking most of my fellow COD passengers loaded, and an hour after that my helo loaded.

"My" helo was a CH-46. If I said to you "think of the ugliest helicopter you ever saw," chances are the bird you would think of is the 46. (You can go to for a picture.) It's big for a helo intended to land on a ship, with two rotors, one in front, the other in back. It's so big it has to land diagonally on a small boy (as cruisers, destroyers and frigates are colloquially known). It can carry a crew of five and 14 armed troops, but on this flight it was carrying four crew, three passengers (two of us for the BOSWELL), and some mail.

I was sitting on the starboard bench, facing towards the center. The seat is a simple canvas and tubing affair. The inside, like the COD, has its wiring exposed. It's also hot, like the COD. Unlike the COD, this bird actually *flies* with the back down open. Overall, it was sort of like riding a city bus. The total flight time was about 45 minutes. At one point we overflew the ship that was my final destination; my guess is that they weren't quite ready to receive us.

Landings aboard a small boy involving approaching the ship from astern and port, and landing diagonally on the rear flight deck so that the stern of the helo is at the port aft corner of the ship. This gives the pilot (who sits in the left seat) the best view as he or she crabs the helo sideways over the flight deck. The flight deck has a big white circle on it, and a diagonal stripe to aid the pilot. So, if you think about where I said I was sitting, you'll realize that even though I was sitting next to a window, as we made our approach to our first stop I couldn't actually see the ship we were landing on, only its wake. As we lifted off and pulled away, though, I could see that this was the USS HALSEY, an earlier Arleigh Burke class DDG and a truly beautiful ship (

Next stop, the BOSWELL. Once again I didn't see the approach, but we were shortly on the deck, and I was clambering out a rear door that was about ten feet or so from a twenty foot drop into the waves. Like all naval vessels, the deck surface is covered in "non-skid", a mix of what appears to be rubber and sand, applied in such a way as to maximize traction.

A crewman led us through an airlock and into a wide passageway at the rear of the superstructure. The crewman departed, and we waited. And waited. And waited. We later found out that the ship wasn't actually expecting us at that point, and hence no one ever came to meet us. This wasn't surprising, as the exercise we were to be a part of wasn't scheduled to start for a couple of days yet; we were early because the people scheduling COD flights were trying to avoid a last-minute rush. It did mean that I never really ask for permission to come aboard (I try to take Navy traditions and etiquette seriously), but no one seemd to mind.

Eventually, a sailor made the mistake of coming close enough to us that we could ask for his assistance, and he cheerfully led us to the supply officer, or SUPPO, who assigned us bunks (AKA "racks") down in "Berthing 7," my home away from home for the next week.

Life Aboard the BOSWELL

Berthing 7 was an 18-person bunkroom on the port side of the 3rd deck about as far aft as you could go. My bunkies (aside from the civilian contractor who came aboard with me) were CPO selectees. These were sailors who have been in the Navy for 12-15 years, are generally around 30-35 years old, and who have just passed the tests to become chief petty officers. They weren't kids, and bunking with them was a pleasure. Their were four or five of them, so we had a lot of empty bunks.

(I've been very lucky with rack assignments. I once spent 11 days aboard an aircraft carrier watching an exercise. Aboard that ship, I bunked in the enlisted reactor department quarters, in a bunkroom holding about 150 racks. These sailors also were a little older and much more mature than some of the other sailors aboard. Until you see it, you forget that the majority of the personnel aboard a ship are probably under 20, and the overwhelming majority are under 25.)

The rack itself is coffinlike. It measure about 78" x 36" x 18", and comes complete with two vertical straps which you can use to close off the opening so that you won't roll out in rough weather. I general kept one of them closed when I was in the rack, even though the seas were calm for most of the trip. The mattress sits in a pan which hinges up in the back, and forms the lid for a storage area about six inches deep. That, and a narrow locker about 3 feet high, are all the storage you get. (I'm glad we had empty bunks, as my backpack did NOT fit in the locker.) The rack has a small drawer which is accessible when the rack is open or closed. It had a combination lock, but I never learned the combination. The lid itself could be padlocked shut, and there was a separate padlock-ready compartment inside the rack where you could put additional valuable items. This was so you could lock up your money while not locking your whole rack.

Our 18-person bunkroom shared a head, with two sinks and a single shower stall, urinal, and vacuum-flush freshwater toilet. (These toilets make a very unique noise when flushed.) Unlike carriers, where there seemed to be heads sprinkled liberally about the ship off of main p-ways, all of the heads I saw were accessible only through other areas, e.g., berthing areas, the commodore's cabin (more 'bout that momentarily), or in sickbay. The showers did NOT have water cutoff switches (so that you could shut the water off to lather up) like you find in the carriers. I was told that the reverse osmosis devices aboard are so effective at producing potable water that an adequate fresh water simply wasn't an issue. Whatever the reason, I was pleasantly surprised.

This is how the crew lives. Officers have it a bit better. Everybody except the Captain and XO live two per stateroom. I presume that they share a head (well, two heads, as there were three or four female officers out of approximately 30 officers). Their doors have standard pushbutton combination locks. The nameplate on each door had the occupants' job titles, not their names. (This turns out to be a common theme, which I will come back to below.) I never saw inside of one of these staterooms, so I can't comment on the accomodations.

I did see into the CO and XOs cabins, as well as the VIP cabin, reserved for the squadron commander when he was aboard. (The squadron CO is a Captain, and Captains who command squadrons are usually called "commodore.") The CO had a separate sleeping room (which I did not see) and an outer office, with a desk, couch, and chair. Meetings were often conducted in this study, including a daily department head meeting. The XO and the commodore's cabins did not have a separate sleeping area, but did have a couch which folded down into a bed. The commodore's cabin has a second bed which folds into the wall above the the couch. Both the XO and commodore had a desk, with bridge repeaters and other communication devices. The commodore, CO, and XO all have their own heads.

Officers country had carpeted rooms, although the p-ways were the same grey with black and white mottling found everywhere else on the ship. Work areas and enlisted quarters floors of blue with white and grey mottling. All of the floors were no-wax floors, a recent change for the Navy.

Overall, the ship was very clean. Berthing 7 was generally spotless; the sailors bunking there took a great deal of pride in their living space, and it wasn't unusual to find one of them cleaning when they had some spare time.

Berthing 7 had its own phone, as did every room aboard. These phones consisted of one or more boxes, say, 6" by 8", with the handset mounted on one side or the other. The system was modular; if you had two boxes, the second usually had a speaker, and the handset could be mounted on either side. The handset snaps into the cradle, and a little level flips down to hold it in place. (Note that this is unlike the carriers, where all I saw were ugly AT&T phones.)

Lighting aboard ship is always very interesting. There are basically three types of lighting (not including OFF). They are:
-- white: used for normal operations in most areas, including bunkrooms;
-- red: used in areas where people might be trying to sleep, or to preserve night vision (e.g., on the bridge);
-- blue: used in areas where you are trying to cut down on glare, but where you don't need night vision (e.g., the Combat Information Center).

Blue lit areas usually have blue area lighting and white spot lighting. Red lit areas had red area lighting and red spot lighting. The bridge in particular had NO area lighting (actually, I'm sure it existed, it was just never used) and red spot lighting.

Light switches usually had three positions: "white - off - [color]". Some lights were controlled from a wall switch, others from a switch on the light itself. (The lights in Berthing 7 all had a separate switch on the light itself which, if I remember correctly, could be used to take the light out of the wall circuit.)

There are other little touches that served to constantly remind you that you are aboard ship and not simply in a bunkroom ashore. All of the drawers, for instance, latch shut, and all of the shelves have a lip. All heavy items, as you might imagine, are bolted in place. The walls each have a patch, about a foot high and two feet wide, where the paint appears a stark white rather than the standard off-white. These patches are glow-in-the-dark paint, and have the compartment location stenciled on in black letters, so even with the power out, you know where you are. Of course, you don't go anywhere without your pocket flashlight (or earplugs, for that matter).

As long as I'm on the topic, it's probably worth mentioning some of the other emergency equipment I remember seeing. In Berthing 7 were both some fire extinguishers, and some regular firehoses. These were mounted in brackets on the bulkhead, as were the tools (e.g., wrenches and the like) necessary to use them. Each item on the wall was labelled with exactly what belonged there. Likewise, each doorway, passageway, compartment, and pipe was labelled as well. Pipes had arrows indicating the direction of flow. Other items I saw included shoring up stakes (with nifty ball-jointed heads); wooden beams and planks, some of which were for damage control, some of which were platforms for painting the ship; power outlets for use with the big thick power cables coiled nearby; axes, wrenches, and other tools; a water intake, designed to be thrown overboard to provide water for fire-fighting; lockers with fire-resistant suits and breathing apparatus; drums of fire-supressant foam; and at least two different kinds of stretchers. This was in addition to a panopoly of electrical breakers, nozzles, control panels, piping, and bulletin boards and the like. Basically, if there was a bit of free wall space, there was something stored there. Oftentimes that thing had pointed edges and extended surprisingly far into the passageway; putting your hand on an object as you walk by helps ensure that a sudden movement of the ship doesn't necessitate a trip to sickbay.

Much of this equipment was stored in the two main passageways that run along the port and starboard sides of first deck of the ship. This isn't quite what it's like on the carrier, where the longitudinal passageways have a tendency to be a little clearer. The p-ways are wider on the carrier, too. I'm told that on amphibs, the p-ways are wide and the bulkheads are relatively clean, to beter enable marines to traipse about in full kit, but I can't confirm that myself.

You would think that finding your way around on such a ship would be difficult; actually, it's relatively easy, thanks to the numbering system the Navy uses. Onboard ship, each room has an address of sorts above the door and street signs to tell you which neighborhood you are in. The address looks like:

oh-one tac sixty-five tac five tac lima

The first set of numbers tells you which deck you are on. The second set is the frame number and tells you where you are in relation to the bow or stern of the ship. Essentially the bow of the ship is 0 and the numbers increase as you move toward the stern. On a carrier the last frame is in the high two hundreds, so at frame 140 or so you are approximately in the middle of the ship. (Interestingly, aboard the BOSWELL the last frame was in the 300s.) The third number tells you the location to the left (port) or right (starboard) of the centerline the room is located. The centerline is 0, odd numbers are to the right, and even numbers are to the left. 5 would be the third compartment on the right. The letter tells you the use for the space. L is for living compartment so your bunkroom would end in an L. The bathrooms are WR. Passageways are also numbered, e.g., "2-30".


Let's take a quick walking tour of the USS BOSWELL. We'll start in Berthing 7.

Note that I am leaving out a LOT of details, some because I don't remember, some on purpose [grin].

The only way in or out of Berthing 7 is a single ladder along the starboard side of the compartment. When you go up the ladder, you are facing forward. Up takes you through a large square hatch, about four feet on a side, which is normally kept open. This hatch has smaller round hatch inside it, called a "scuttle hatch," which is used when the main hatch is closed. Thankfully, I never had to go through a scuttle hatch.

As is the case with every Navy ladder I have seen, the ladders are stacked, "head" above "head." For this stack, if you are going up, you are facing forward. Many ladders onboard, including the ladder going into Berthing 7, have dirt shields underneath them. The dirt shield is basically a sheet of aluminum with the sides bent at 90 degrees. It fastens on to the back of the ladder, so that dirt slides down the sheet instead of falling directly down. Unless you move very slowly, these shields vibrate when you use the ladder; going up or down the ladder quickly sounds like a thunderstorm.

So, we go up the ladder out of Berthing 7. We're at one end of a short passageway. We retrace our steps along this floor, walking to the foot of the next ladder. In this short span we pass the doors to the ship's library (a small room with a couple of bookshelves and computers) and the classroom/chapel. We go up the next ladder, again passing through a watertight hatch. (Indeed, *every* ladder -- with one exception -- I saw on BOSWELL had a watertight hatch at the top.)

At the top of the ladder, we are at the end of a passageway. Firefighting suits hang along one wall. We walk forward, passing a passageway to our right -- it is one of the three transverse p-ways on this deck. If we turn right, we'll end up at the spot where the other civilian and I waited after coming aboard. Instead, we go forward, passing through an airlock on the way.

About twenty feet farther there's a little jog to the left, and then we are in the port longitudinal passageway, one of two p-ways that run the length of the ship. On this side of the ship we find the supply office and the crew's messroom. Eventually we come to another transverse p-way. This one is unique in that the foreward wall isn't a standard bulkhead, it's the serving line for the crew -- it has metal doors which roll up, and behind it is the galley. (On a sad note, we are now standing approximately over where the bomb exploded on USS COLE.) We're at the end of the serving counter, where the condiments are located.

As we go forward we pass the CPO mess (senior noncommissioned officers get their own place to eat) and pass through a hatch. Immediately to our right is a ladder going up into the superstructure and officers' country. We go forward, and note that the passageway starts to curve inward. Eventually, we pass the third transverse passageway; if we were to go down it, we would pass some bulletin boards detailing who has various watch duties, and eventually reach the T-intersection with the starboard transverse passageway. To our right (i.e., towards the bow) would be a snack machine and the two most important pieces of equipment aboard, the soda machines. (I am please to report that every Navy ship I have been aboard stocks The Elixir of the Gods, AKA Mountain Dew.) Directly in front of us are some boards held in large clamps against the wall; the stencil on the bulkhead seems to imply they are used when painting the ship.

We didn't go down the passageway, though, so now we are in the bow of the ship and have reached a dead end. Directly in front of us is the ship's office, with a dutch door and a sign giving its hours, and to the right is the ship's store, with a glass door like any other convenience store. In it you can buy ballcaps, Cheetos, sodas, socks, batteries, etc.. Think of it as a 7-Eleven in a room the size of a small bedroom.

At this point we can't go forward anymore, so we turn around and go back to the ladder to officers' country. We go up one deck, and as we look down the passageway while going to the base of the next stacked ladder, we can see a USS BOSWELL floormat in a little alcove. That's the door to the XO's cabin, which is always open if he is there, and often when he isn't. Up another ladder, and we are in the middle of a passageway. To our left (i.e., forward) we pass a small galley, and as we reach the 90 degree turn at the end of the p-way, we have reached the wardroom. Let's talk about it briefly.

The wardroom has a table that seats around 25 or so, with a buffet area along one narrow wall and a small tete-a-tete of chairs and couches near the TV/stereo at the other end. When used for meals, the CO sits in the middle of the room facing the door, and the XO sits across from him. (Do NOT sit in either of these seats.) The CO has his own phone under the table; it will ring at least once during dinner, with routine business. In several locations throughout the table are set lazy susan's with condiments; ketchup and mustard, salt and peper, and several types of tobasco-type sauces are present. The CO has his own set of salt and pepper shakers -- even if they are closest and the CO is not present, ask someone to pass you another set. I was also advised ashore not to start a course before the CO did, but I noticed that I was the only one at the table who was following that tradition. (I continued to follow it. [grin])

Note that "the wardroom" isn't only a place, it's an entity, like a club. All officers are members of "the wardroom," and contribute dues to it. Riders usually pay a daily fee (handled by the Supply Officer) for short stays, or "buy" into the wardroom for longer voyages. Some ships charge significantly more for riders than the dues they charge for those staioned aboard. The only time I saw transient Navy officers angry with their hosts involved what were perceived to be excessive mess charges aboard a carrier.

Meals in the BOSWELL's wardroom were semi-formal occasions. I say semi-formal because there are certain realities to life at sea. For instance, all of the Navy personnel are in uniform most days, and they are waited upon by enlisted ratings who have a specific uniform for that work. (I remember encountering one of them, a young woman, twice in one day -- once in oil-stained dungarees on deck, after a fuel transfer, and again in the wardroom about two hours later, all pressed and clean.) I saw many officers in the wardroom in "poopy suits", Navy blue working coveralls. This is something that Is Not Done aboard an aircraft carrier, except in the forward wardroom known as the "dirty shirt" because you are allowed to wear flight suits and other work attire.

The only time I attended a meal where my hosts wore civilian clothes (not including the Steel Beach picnic described below) was on Saturday night. The CO had expressed a desire (so I was told) to break up the monotony of the voyage by doing something special for the Saturday evening meal, and this week's suggestion (made by one of the ensigns) was "Backwards Night." Most of the wardroom came wearing civilian clothes on backwards. The exceptions were a couple of the mid-rank officers who took it one step further, and came dressed in a weird parody combining the CO and the XO with the Skipper and Gilligan.

Life aboard ship is such that, while you generally try to arrive at a set time for a meal (not so much for breakfast, and especially supper), some people will show up late or leave early. When they do, they ask the senior officer present to join or leave: "May I join you Captain?" or "May I be excused Captain?" I don't recall if the USNR LCDR who was along for the exercise asked for permission when he outranked the senior officer present. I believe he did. In any event, he then becomes the senior officer present, and future requests are directed to him. Note that all of this isn't as stilted or formal as it sounds -- think of it as asking your grandmother to be excused, and you will generally have the right idea. (Now's probably a good time to point out, though, that all ships are different, so be VERY observant until you figure the ship out.) For "backwards day," they modified traditions by asking the *junior* officer present for permission to join and leave the table. I particularly remember a startled ensign saying "Uh, sure, Captain."

The wardroom was where I saw most of the interactions between the officers of the ship. One thing I noticed right away is that abbreviated job titles were used as names, e.g., "CHENG (Chief Engineer), would you please pass the potatoes?" or "Has anybody seen ASWO? ("az-woh", the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer). Not "the ASWO," but "ASWO." Hence, we had SUPPO (Supply Officer), DISBO (Disbursing Officer), Ops (Operations Officer), TACO (tack-oh, the Tactical Officer), COMMO (Communications Officer), Nav (chief navigator), etc.. The Combat Systems Officer, or CSO, was "see-es-oh", but not "the CSO." The only exceptions to the rule were the XO (ex-oh) and the CO (see-oh), although I did hear the latter referred to in the third person as "Charlie Oscar." I also heard the term "shipmate" used, as in "And how are we doing today, shipmate?"

There were about 30 officers onboard as ship's company (i.e., not including the USNR LCDR). The CO was a full Commander, an O-5 (note that his job title allows him to be addressed as Captain), the XO a Lieutenant Commander (O-4). The rest were about evenly split between full Lieutenants (O-3), Lieutenants (Junior Grade) (O-2), and Ensigns (O-1). About four or five officers were LDOs, or Limited Duty Officers; they were all involved in supply or administrative functions. Note that "O-1", etc., (pronounced "oh one") are paygrades. For commissioned officers these translate to specific ranks, but enlisted and NCO paygrades sometimes don't -- there can be more than one rate per grade. (Note also that "rank" is a term that applies to officers; the terms used for enlisted and NCOs is "rate", not to be consued with "rating," which refers to your area of specialization.) To the best of my knowledge, there were no warrant officers aboard. (Warrant officers are former NCOs with technical expertise, who hold a commission from the Navy instead of from Congress.)

"The ensigns" were the only group that were often referred to as a group, generally in the context of their role as students. There was a great deal of affection for the youngsters, tinged with a sense that you had to watch them or they would, like puppies, get into trouble. I recall some senior officers watching with amusement as a couple of them prepared to play a practical joke on the CO. A LT(jg) talked them out of it, on the grounds that they couldn't do it right in the time they had.

One ensign (who was involved in the abortive practical joke) in particular seemed to always have his foot in his mouth. During the daily briefing, he was assigned to brief the details of the next days UNREP. He began with the traditional "good afternoon captain, ladies and gentlemen," at which point the CO said "well, so far so good." After the chuckles died down, the ensign went to the next slide -- which had the wrong operating area for next day's UNREP. Seems he had missed the message which changed the plan...

Okay, enough about the wardroom -- let's go to the bridge.

There is only one door in or out of the wardroom, and it is at the point where the port fore-and-aft passageway takes a 90 degree turn to starboard (towards the center of the ship). So, we go out the door, and go down this transverse p-way. After about ten feet there is a short, dead-end p-way to our left (i.e., towards the bow) that has nothing but officers' staterooms. Another ten feet, and the corridor turns right again, so it is now heading aft. (In another words, this corridor is shaped like a big U, with the opening pointed aft.) At this intersection is the CO's cabin; he has a floormat labeled "Commanding Officer," and his door is probably open, even if he is not there. The next stateroom aft has a floormat as well -- it's the squadron commander's cabin, for use when he is aboard. During this trip, it housed the USNR LCDR, who told me it was easily the best digs he ever had aboard ship.

Directly aft of that was a watertight hatch set in the bulkhead to the right. (We're now facing aft, so that hatch is to the port side.) That hatch is the entrance to an airlock. Unlike most airlocks on board, the other hatch was on an adjacent wall, not an opposite one. On the far side of that hatch is ladderwell; it's a tight enough fit that to close the hatch, you need to stand on the ladder. At the top of the ladder is a little landing. To the left is the chart room, and to the right is a small anteroom and then the bridge proper. Note that this is the only ladder in the ship that I recall not having a watertight hatch at the top. (I guess if you need a watertight hatch at the top of the ladderwell to the bridge, you've got other problems. [grin])

The BOSWELL's bridge is large, surprisingly large when compared to, say, the bridge of one of the old Forrest Sherman class destroyers. It's about three or four times the size of the the bridge on the USS BARRY, the old Forrest Sherman on display at the Washington Navy Yard. The bridge itself is a roughly square room with windows on three sides, giving a pretty good view of the surrounding ocean. There are thick steel cables overhead, for use as handholds. On each side of the bridge at the rear (although ahead of the little anteroom the ladderwell opens onto) is a hatch leading out onto the bridgewings. There is always a lookout on each bridgewing; they rotate based on some schedule that I never learned. There are only two sources of lighting on the bridge: the instruments and spotlighting over certain areas. (Actually, the only spotlighting I recall is the chart table, but the captain and the XO probably have spots as well.) At night the spots are red; I'm not sure if they had white spots for day. In any event, at night the bridge is DARK, and the bridgewings even more so.

The bridge is organized as follows. Along the back bulkhead are an acrylic status board (for use with grease pens) and various radios and intercoms. This includes the panel into which you can plug a tape deck to play something over the PA system. (More about this below.) In the center, just forward of the rear bulkhead, is a console containing the helm and throttle controls. The BOSWELL is a modern gas turbine ship, and the throttles directly control the modified DC-10 engines which turn her props. The helm console is manned by either one or two enlisted ratings. To the left of the helm console is a radar console, also manned by an enlisted rating. This rating is the ONLY person on the bridge who "stands" a watch sitting down. (The CO and XO have chairs, but they don't stand watch.) The helm and radar consoles are arranged just ahead of virtual corridor defined by the bridgewing hatches.

To the right and forward of the helm console (i.e., just forward of the starboard bridgewing hatch) is another radar console, and just forward of it is a chart table. The chart table fits into the intersection between the side and front of the bridge, and has its own cluster of CRTs hanging from the ceiling above it. To the left of the chart table is the CO's chair, a high chair with a circular foot rest. To the left of this chair, crossing the center of the bridge are several other CRTs (radar and navigational repeaters), and at the intersection of the front and port sides of the bridge is the XO's chair. Behind that chair, IIRC, is a small table which I don't recall seeing used. Along the front of the bridge, hanging from the ceiling, are several repeater screens showing the ship's speed, course, and rudder angle in red illumination. Similar screens are present on the bridgewings and in the cabins of the CO, XO, and commodore.

Ship Operations

A standard bridge watch aboard a USN warship consists of the following:
  • Officer of the Deck (OOD)
  • Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD)
  • Conning Officer (who may be one of the two above)
  • Junior Officer of the Watch
  • Helm
  • Quartermaster of the Watch
  • Bosun Mate of the Watch
  • two or three bridge lookouts
  • Signalman (who sits at a radar repeater)
  • assorted others (e.g., signalman, phone talker, messenger, replacement lookouts)
The first three "officers" may be relative senior CPOs, Warrant Officers, or commissioned officers. Usually -- but not always -- the OOD is senior in rank, but not always. Also, the Captain or the XO may be on the bridge doing paperwork or just hanging out.

So what do all of these people do? The Officer of the Deck is the CO's designated representative -- he is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the ship. The Junior Officer of the Deck is the OOD's assistant, and is usually "under instruction." As such, the OOD is usually senior in rank to the JOOD -- but not always. The JOOD might be senior in a number of circumstances, for instance, if the JOOD is newly aboard and has not been to see in a long time, or has not been to sea in this class of ship before, if he or she is, for some reason, not yet qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer, etc..

The Conning Officer actually issues the orders to the Helm (an enlisted rating) that steer the ship. Often, the Conning Officer is the JOOD or even the OOD. During a complicated evolution (the Navy uses the term "evolution" as per the first definition in Webster's: "one of a set of prescribed movements") like an underway replenishment (UNREP), the CO or XO may "have the Conn," while the OOD "has the Deck." (More about UNREPs below.)

The Quartermaster of the Watch is a sailor who aids in navigation and who (IIRC) keeps the ship's log. The Bosun Mate (officially "Boatswain", in the same way that "fo'c'sle" -- pronounced "fock-sil" -- is a corruption of "forecastle") passes orders from the OOD to the ship's crew.

I mentioned underway replenishment above; now's a good time to discuss this evolution in more depth. During an UNREP, the number of people on the bridge increases substantially. First, there is a second sailor manning the throttles called the Lee Helm, allowing the Helm to devote himself fully to the task of steering. Second, there is a dedicated talker on both the bridgewing and on the bridge itself. Third, aboard the BOSWELL it was standard operating procedure to have one officer take the Conn for the approach, one or more take turns during the UNREP, and one make the breakaway, all under the watchful eyes of the senior officers. Finally, the captain is ALWAYS on the bridge for an UNREP, and while he doesn't always take the Conn, he is ready to take over if need be. This is because an UNREP is a very tricky maneuver.

Basically, underway replenishment involves the following. An oiler steams a straight course. The ship to be replenished steams behind it and to oneside, and then slowly pulls up next to the oiler. Fuel lines are strung between the ships and fuel is pumped from the oiler to the recipient. At the same time, supplies may be transferred via other cables amidships. All while steaming at 5-15 knots a 70-100 feet or so apart. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

It's not. Ships do NOT handle like automobiles, they have more mass and take longer to respond to rudder or throttle orders. During WW2, the USS WASHINGTON sounded her collision alarm a full minute before colliding with the USS INDIANA, but was unable to avoid the collision. Comparatively, an UNREP is like driving down the interstate in side-by-side (but slightly staggered) convertibles at 70 mph. You pull up on the right side of the other convertible, with your car slightly in the lead. In the other car, a guy in the back seat of the other car uses a gas can to pour gas in your tank while a guy in the front passenger seat hands boxes to the guy in your rear driver's side seat. Now, add another car on the other side of the supply car doing exactly the same thing. It's a tough trick, and one that differentiates real navies from the also-rans.

While onboard BOSWELL I got to watch three UNREPs. All involved fuel only, no cargo, although I do think a helo VERTREPed (VERTical REPlinishment) a load or two to us on one occasion. (Technically, what I described above is a CONREP, for CONnected REPlenishment. CONREP and VERTREP are types of UNREP, which in turn is a type of RAS, or Replenishment at Sea. RAS is the term the Navy usually uses these days.) The first UNREP I watched with the IDC (Independent Duty Corpsman; DDGs are too small to rate full doctors) and his assistant from the main deck, about halfway between the fore and aft fueling stations. (This location is directly over the spot where the suicide boat damaged USS COLE.) It was a beautiful day, and we were refueling off to the starboard of the oiler, as we always did. The ship on the other side of the oiler with us was a Spruance class destroyer (AKA "Spru-Can").

An UNREP starts with the ship to be fueled in two columns, line astern. One at a time the ships in a slowly column approach the oiler. When the positions ofthe two ships is stable, sailors on the oiler use an attachment on a rifle to shoot lines across to the ship to be supplied. The crew of the receiving ship use these light lines to haul heavier lines across, which are attached to cranes aboard the receiving ship. Fuel hoses are then sent across, suspended from these lines. There are two fueling stations, fore and aft, plus an amidships cargo handling station for the transfer of cargo pallets.

UNREP can take anywhere from a half hour to multiple hours, depending on the amount of fuel and cargo to be transferred. None of the three UNREPs I saw lasted more than about 90 minutes, but we were going into port soon and not much cargo was transferred.

While fueling, you can often see the mast of the ship taking fuel on the other side of the oiler bob up and down. Depending on the oiler (some have their superstructure up front, some aft), you might even be able to see the other ship's bridge. In our case, an ensign and a friend aboard another Burke were able to talk via signal flags.

While doing an UNREP, something known as the Restricted Maneuvering Doctrine is in effect. I don't know all of the details, but it involves a hierarchy of who maneuvers in what situation. The ship's place in that hierarchy is announced by the flags she is flying. For instance, during an UNREP, the oiler pretty much steers a straight course, and the destroyers or cruisers taking on fuel have the responsibility to maneuver to avoid collision.

The oiler was playing Janis Joplin over her loudspeakers as we approached, and during the next hour we heard some CCR and other oldies. At one point the COs of the BOSWELL and the oiler negotiated the next album over their loudspeakers. The captain sat through the unrep in his bridgewing chair wearing a straw hat and with the unlit stub of a cigar in his mouth (the smoking lamp is out throughout the ship when there is a fuel transfer taking place), which the crew seemed to like. (The CO had only been aboard for six weeks, and the crew was still getting to know him.) They seemed pretty happy, though; I heard several favorable comments, and no negative ones, during my time aboard.

The next two UNREPs I watched from the bridge, where I had a better idea of exactly what sort of commands were being issued. The OOD is constantly tweaking the ships course and speed by small increments, and the current course and speed are constantly being repeated over the PA system (known as the 1MC) every 30-60 seconds. One of the primary stationkeeping instruments used was a simple rope with numbered flags attached every twenty feet. The rope was strung between the bows of the two ships, and a group of sailors on each ship kept the rope taut, so the distance between the ships could be read off the flags. I watched one UNREP at dawn, and the rope had glowsticks attached every twenty feet as well. The sailors on deck also wore glowsticks.

I also learned of the critical importance of the breakaway song. "Breakaway" is the moment when, after refueling is complete and the lines are stowed, that the fueled ships pulls away from the oiler. It's traditional to play a song over the speakers. I don't remember the song played for the first and last UNREPS, but the middle UNREP breakaway song I do remember -- Jimmy Buffet's _Son of a Son of a Sailor_. I do recall the CO or XO commenting that with the fast acceleration of the Burkes, your lucky to get one verse in before you're too far away for the oiler to hear the song any longer.

After breakaway, your ship makes an outside turn, travels parallel to the formation until it reaches the end, and then makes an inside turn to rejoin the column. During one of the UNREPs, both BOSWELL and and another Burke class destroyer finished refueling together, and made simultaneously breakaways. I wish I had a picture.

It's possible to do an "emergency breakaway," which is basically a sped-up version of a regular breakaway. The oiler has several large signs which detail the procedure for doing an emergency breakaway step-by-step, e.g. "1) WE stop pumping. 2) WE signal you to disconnect hoses. 3) YOU disconnect hoses." Etc..

During the time I was aboard, the ship went to General Quarters a couple of times, for drills. "Battle Stations" involved sealing up the ship and doing damage control drills. The first step was to transition from "material condition YOKE" to "material condition ZEBRA." Under YOKE, most watertight doors are open. Exceptions are at air conditioning boundaries, and some of the internal airlocks. This is the standard material condition while underway. When condition ZEBRA is set, all watertight doors and hatches are sealed. Note that closing one of those ladder hatches involves more than simply lowering it into place. There are chain-and-tubing guardrails around it that prevent people from accidentally steping into the open space, and these guardrails must be stowed.

"Modified ZEBRA" is a variant of ZEBRA in which all main watertight ladder hatches sealed but the scuttle hatches are open. This might be used when you are expecting to go to GQ, or when you expect to be at General Quarters a long time. Thankfully, the ship never went to this while I was aboard. (I hate scuttle hatches -- see the section on COD lifebelts for the reason why.)

There is also a material condition X-RAY, whih is used only for maintenance and escape hatches. These are (usually) only opened while in port.

EVERY door and hatch in the ship is labelled so you know whether it is supposed to be open under a given material condition. The same is true for ventiliation shafts and such as well.

Ship's crew obviously had some place they were expected to be during a battle stations drill, but the riders basically could pick where they wanted to ride it out. During the 11 days I spent aboard a carrier, I spent one battle stations drill in my rack, reading, and another in the Combat Direction Center watching the fun. Aboard BOSWELL I hung out in Berthing 7, preparing my trip report and woeking on some other research I had brought with me. At one point, as I listened to the Damage Control Officer work the situation over the 1MC ("Black smoke in compartment one tac one-fifty tac three tac lima. Set primary smoke boundary at frame one-forty. Set secondary smoke boundary at ..."), I looked up to find real white smoke from a simulated fire drifiting therough the compartment. Since this was a drill I was not part of, I sat back and waited for someone to find it. Sure enough, in a couple of minutes the scuttle hatch opened and a sailor wearing firefighting gear squeezed through it (no mean feat while wearing an oxygen bottle on your back). She then radioed her findings, deployed a fire hose, and left. Later, when the drill was over, she came back and stowed the hose.

That's it for most of the procedures I recall, except for the following odds and ends:
  • I remember it being announced during lunch that they were expecting a helo in soon, and that the flight deck crew had "head of the line" privileges;
  • When conducting anti-submarine warfare operations, white lights are extinguished and red lights used in their place, even in non-berthing-area p-ways. This is to remind everyone to be quiet;
  • We refueled right before going into port. This is SOP during hurricane season, so that if necessary the ship can put to sea to avoid a storm.
We also did a "man overboard" drill while I was aboard BOSWELL. That simply involves everyone going to a pre-designated area, where you are accounted for. Aboard the BOSWELL, they simply told me to call the wardroom and report where I was. In general, it's good for riders to ask up front where they want you to report for Man Overboard and General Quarters drill.

Social Events

I've already mentioned "backwards day," but that was a wardroom-only event. During my stay aboard the BOSWELL, I also witnessed several other social occasions. For instance, on two separate occasions a shipwide bingo game took place, with the numbers being pulled by the XO and an enlisted sailor and being broadcast over close-circuit TV. I didn't participate in the first bingo night (although I was asked to buy a ticket within a half hour of arriving onboard), but I did play during the second night.

Another big event -- with obvious professional overtones -- was the "Damage Control Olympics." This involved several teams of five competing in various categories, including properly repairing pipes, setting up and using pumps, etc.. Teams were fielded by various departments, plus the ensigns. The ensigns led in the preliminaries but choked in the finals.

The most elaborate social event during my stay, though, was the Steel Beach Picnic. It included a cookout on the rear missile deck, and volleyball and basketball on the flight deck. The volleyball was contained in a small net bag attached to a long rope, lest it end up overboard.

The final social event, after the remainder of the exercise had been cancelled, was an ocean swim. This involved relatively elaborate safety precautions: a boat in the water with divers standing by, more divers and other lookouts on deck, swimmers allowed in only in pairs, nor more than five pairs in the water at a time, and last but not least, the master-at-arms on the deck, wih a loaded handgun, ready to deal with any sharks that might show up. The CO jumped in with his cigar stub firmly clenched between his teeth, which the crew thought was pretty funny.


Well, that's it. The trip was a lot of fun and, in case you are wondering, it was very productive. (I really did go out there to work, even though I've specifically avoided telling you exactly what that work was.) This was the second time I had been to sea, and I look forward to doing it again.

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