Log from the Sea of Persia

I teach political science and engage in a plethora of extra campus activities. I was given a wonderful opportunity to teach freshman American Government to the sailors aboard a United States Navy warship, on deployment in the Persian Gulf.

Welcome to the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG-94). She is about 500 feet long, carries a whole bunch of cruise missiles, two helicopters, two small patrol boats, and a five inch deck gun. Her most formidable weapon is information, as she is an AEGIS ship.

"The Aegis Combat System (ACS) is an advanced command and control (Command and Decision, or C&D, in Aegis parlance), and Weapon Control System (WCS) that uses powerful computers and radars to track and destroy enemy targets. It is the world's most advanced naval surface ship combat system and the first fully integrated combat system built to defend against air, surface, and subsurface threats."

And so I was on board this weapon of war, patrolling and protecting the supply chain exporting petroleum from this region to the world.

"...in the Persian Gulf to assist in maritime security operations and enforce a 2,000 meter exclusion zone around the Al Basrah (ABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya (KAAOT) oil terminals." (Wikipedia)

I found a great many staunch Republicans amongst the crew getting angry about the influence of wealth and power preventing the production of electric cars and getting excited about a new-found understanding of what the Constitution actually says. What a thoroughly rewarding (if often difficult) experience!

This information was written mostly in chronological order, during my time (a little shy of two months) aboard. Mostly it is accounts of life that occur continuously or at least frequently on the ship, and so the order I wrote it in only really reflects my learning curve about the ship.

My videos of the trip can be viewed on YouTube
and my photos of the adventure can be seen on flickr.

My personal photos in general, which contain some of the Nitze photos, may be viewed at a different flickr account.

I can be reached for questions and comments by email.

"I went out on the sea for adventure
Expanding the view of the captain and crew
Like a man just released from indenture.
As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin' man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I've learned much from both of their styles"
- Jimmy Buffet, Son of a Son of a Sailor

14 DEC 08 Left PDX for Atlanta, then Norfolk. Spent a night in the BOQ at Norfolk Naval Base. Got my military ID and a briefing from Central Texas College.

Flew out to Chicago and connected just in time to the "flight that would never end." We waited a long time to be de-iced. Then we taxied out for so long that I thought we would drive to England. By time we were ready to take off, we had ice again, and had to turn around and head back in.

There was no gate for us, so we sat on a taxiway in the middle of the field for hours, until there was an open gate. Then at the gate, we had to wait to be de-iced again. We took off eight and a half hours after we were supposed to. When we came into Heathrow airspace, we were told to orbit. Then once we landed, we had to wait for an open gate. Once off the plane, we spent hours in line, while they arranged new connecting flights, since we had all missed our original connections.

While waiting for my new connection, I met Jessica. She let me use her outlet to charge my computer for a little while. We hung out together until our flight to Dubai. We had to sit in different parts of the cabin, but we both slept most of the way, anyway. Then we shopped together in Dubai until I had to catch my flight to Manama, in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and she hers to Mumbai.

In Bahrain, my luggage was MIA, along with the Navy driver who was supposed to pick me up. Took a taxi to the Navy base and checked in. There was no room at the BOQ, so I stayed in a really swanky hotel in town. It gave me a couple of days to recuperate before leaving for Nitze.

They had me up at the butt-crack of dawn, for what reason, I do not know. My flight did not leave until 11:30. Rode an SH-60 helicopter, what they call a "desert hawk" flight (although damned if I know why, since it flies out to sea), out to an Aussie ship. It had lots of girls on board, and they fed me. Very nice folks. And then they threw me overboard!

Okay, not exactly, but I discovered that we were not going to fly over to the Nitze. This little boat called a RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat), came along side, and they started lowering our luggage on a rope down to it. Then I had to climb over the side and down a plastic rope ladder into the boat! I was a little scared, but just had to go ahead and do it.

We drove out to a couple of oil rigs (the aforementioned ABOT and KAAOT, which the crew pronouce A-bott and kay-ott). One seemed abandoned except for the military presence. Nobody would say what they do out there. Then we went to one that seemed to be filling a couple of giant oil tankers. Finally we went to Nitze, and then came the most interesting part. The side of the Australian ship was vertical, which was pretty nice by comparison to the outwardly sloping hull of Nitze.

As soon as I got on the ladder the bottom rung swung inwards, toward the hull, so I was kind of hanging there, tipping over backwards. About half way up, my pants started to fall off! I would give anything to have video of this part. It must have been just plain hilarious. I let go with one hand, and swinging there in mid air, I pulled up one side of my pants. Then I switched hands, and swinging in mid air over the ocean I did the other. I am in NO condition for these kinds of shenanigans! By time I got to the top, my arms and legs were trembling from the exertion. But since my bags were safe, I decided I would rather go in the water than suffer the indignity of coming aboard bare-assed! :)

I am glad I got to experience the adventure of getting to the ship this way, but by time you read this (since I cannot send it from the ship), we are in port. I could have just stayed in my lovely hotel for a couple of more days and then walked aboard! Sheesh! Of course, then I would have missed out on part of the adventure. And that is why I came on this trip in the first place.

The food is pretty good. Everyone is being nice to me. I am giving a briefing to the sailors who are taking the class, or thinking about taking it, and then when we leave port, classes begin. Turns out I am teaching three sections of the same class, simultaneously. That way, if someone has to miss a class, they can attend one of the other two sections. I will teach for an hour each, at three different times of day, six days a week. Looks like I will be aboard for six weeks, once we go back out, unless we make another port call before then. I wonder what adventure I will have leaving the ship?

My boss in Norfolk is really flexible about giving me layovers of several days on my way home, so I will do a little tourism. I will not be able to fly "space available" as I had hoped, so I will still have to go the usual commercial route. Perhaps this time they will not lose my bags? Actually, I may ship some stuff home, in the last couple of weeks, so I will have less baggage for my tourism adventure." (from my mass email called, Already in Port)

So, this is my grand adventure to date. While crammed into the helicopter, and having a blast anyway, I was looking at a couple of hoses coming out of the engine compartment, into the passenger compartment. I was reminded of the last episode of Firefly, when Jubil Early comments that the engine is "such a slender thread". Definitely. We are literally at sea, a couple of thousand feet in the air, hanging beneath a giant fan, driven by a couple of small jet engines.

The ship is not as strange a place as I thought it would be, but it is definitely a little strange. I am amazed how well I already know my way around. Of course, it is not really a very big ship, and there are only a couple of places that I go, off of the main deck.

The staterooms and ward room where I live and eat are a couple of decks up, in a small forward section. My classroom is aft, one deck up. And all of the offices and things that I need, like the store and post office, are all on the main deck. The way I go out onto the weather deck when I want some sun and air, is one deck up from the main deck. So, it is all already pretty familiar. I had a good tour and made sure that I always paid attention to where I was, so now I am set.

The officers are mostly polite, but a lot less friendly than I had expected. I am really not accepted yet, and not sure that I ever will be. I think I am going to be very lonely on this trip. It is not very long, so I will be fine, but I have never needed my full access to Internet resources more than now, and now I have the least access I have had since starting seriously using it, fifteen years or so ago.

I am alone, but I do not mind. The sea is beautiful. The ship is interesting. And I read and listen to music, prepare my lesson plans and watch the activities around me. As I write this, in the ward room, at the big table, two young officers, and two enlisted men... boys really, have nautical charts spread out over the whole big table and are plotting something or other. They are cool-looking, and I would like one for my wall. The charts, not the sailors. I have learned to identify an Arleigh Burke class destroyer from a distance, which is what Nitze is. I am definitely having the grand adventure that I was looking for. I sleep on a book shelf, high off the deck, and am loving it... for now.

I got my ship's computer today. The reason I have not been able to email from the ship, is that I am not allowed to connect a civilian computer (the one I brought with me) to the ship's network. They had to set up a computer for me to borrow while I am aboard, and my ship's email address. Now I am waiting for us to get to port, for one of my roommates to leave, so that I can have his desk, and his ethernet port to connect my ship's computer too. Then I will be able to email from the ship address I mentioned earlier. Of course, once we are in port, I will go ashore and be able to use my own computer to send regular email until we leave, so you may not get email from the other address until the 28th or 29th. But after that I should finally be able to resume email at least once a day. It has been so hard, being out of touch these past few days.

I just found out that tomorrow I may get to fire a fifty caliber machine gun. :)

Well, I did it. I got video of me firing the "ma deuce" gun. It was cool. We were shooting cans, but the cans are bigger and farther away than I am used to at home. They threw a couple of 55 gallon drums over the side, then drove the ship around until they were an appropriate distance off the beam for us to shoot at. Great good fun! I wish I could have done it more, but I guess they just had a small amount of ammo for each person to use.... and I may have used a little more than I was supposed to. ;-)

I got video of it, that I will upload to flickr, along with all my other photos and the helicopter video. Also, last night we had a Christmas party, and I wish I had recorded some of that. It was pretty heart-warming. Everybody seemed to be having a pretty good time.

They had a ton of neat presents to raffle off to the sailors, and three of the ensigns got up and played guitar and sang Christmas songs, and some of the sailors did karaoke, and there was bingo. After a couple of hours, I had to leave though. It was really hot in the mess deck, where they held it. I am sure glad it is not so hot up here. I can only take a little of that.

I had to give my pre-class briefing in there yesterday, and I just about melted. Tonight we make port, and I should be able to get off the ship and finally send this tomorrow sometime. Also, I should have my ship email very soon. Might even get to do that tonight, depending on when the roommate that is leaving does so.

From: Cascaddan, Daniel NCPACE Instructor(DDG94)
Sent: Sunday, December 28, 2008 6:05 PM
Subject: Out Again

Hi All,

I was up on the foc'sle (I am picking up all the lingo) a little while ago, and watched us leave. There was another destroyer like ours, between us and the pier. We untied from her, and a tug pulled us away. It would have made for some great photos, but they do not allow photography anywhere near the military dock, or maybe it is the whole port. I am not sure.

I was not allowed to take pictures, and it is a real shame. At one point there was a great view of the tug, and the setting sun was such a dim ball through the haze that I could look right at it, and other ships across the harbor, and some seamen leaning against the super-structure. It was a real National Geographic kind of shot! What a shame to not be allowed to have my camera on deck.

As we are leaving the harbor, the ship is rolling around pretty good. I am back in my stateroom. One of my roomies tells me that this is probably just while we are leaving the harbor and ship will settle down once we are back out in open water. I hope so. This could really get old after a few hours.... and it is almost dinner time.

Now that it has happened, I am allowed to say in email: we have left port and are headed back out, finally. I can finally begin classes tomorrow, and I am sure happy about that. Can't say where we are going, specifically, but it is about where you would expect.

Also, Internet bandwidth seems to be slowly improving, and I am hoping that in a few days I will be able to clean up my flickr uploads and finishing posting the rest of the photos. Maybe even the video of me firing the big machine gun! If not, then I will do it when I am off the ship.

They tell me that we will likely have another port call while I am aboard, and if it is somewhere different, maybe I will be able to do it then. I will keep you all posted. I have some really great photos that I am just dying to share, but just can't get the stuff to move over these connections.

So, that is the news from the Nitze, on the high seas!

-Walter Mitty, aboard Nostromo ;-)

From: Cascaddan, Daniel NCPACE Instructor(DDG94)
Sent: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 7:07 PM
Subject: The Motion of the Ocean

Today in class I made reference to the Constitution, and I could not remember which amendments began and ended prohibition. I figured I could just look it up, when I got back to my cabin. Then I realized that I did not bring my Constitution nor my Declaration of Independence along on the trip! Two of the primary tools of my trade! How could I have forgotten them? I guess I was so engrossed with worrying about shower shoes, mesh laundry bags, and sufficient digital media to keep me entertained, that I completely forgot about what really matters.

Later, Marc gave me a great mnemonic device for remembering. At eighteen, you can't drink; at twenty-one, you can.

Also, I had my first brush with seasickness. As we left port, the ship started moving around pretty good. I was okay for a couple of hours, but then I began to feel not so well. I went down to the sickbay and got a pill. The climb down and back is what really got me feeling pretty awful. I took the pill, and it did not help right away, so I lay down in my rack and put on my iPod to listen to some music. That gave me something to focus on so that I felt better.

After a while I got up to use the head, and found that the pill had kicked in, and I felt fine. I slept a lot, and was tired all the next day from it, but the price was small to pay for not feeling seasick any more. I went down and got four more of the pills, so I will not have to climb down there if I need them again, and so I have them in my room, should the need arise (pun not intended) again.

Classes have begun in earnest, and I am glad for something to keep me busy. I was starting to get pretty bored. I hope that as I get into the rhythm of the quarter, time will just fly by. I am still having fun, but I can see where I am going to be good and ready to get off the ship, by time classes finish up. I am now hoping that we stay where we are, as it is a guarantee of mostly calm seas, and apparently much easier to leave the ship, when the time comes, than it would be if we were in another part of this side of the world. When it is time to go, I want to be able to hop on a chopper and get out of here!

I am slowly making some friends, but the ship is still a really lonely place. It is the thing that still surprises me the most, especially considering how crowded it is. How there can be absolutely no privacy, and at the same time be lonely, is quite a conundrum.

Well, I am off to my evening class. More later.


From: Cascaddan, Daniel NCPACE Instructor(DDG94)
Sent: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 11:56 AM
To: 'Marc Matteo'
Subject: RE: The Motion of the Ocean

> It's hard, I imagine, to give a shit
> about the greater scope of the
> constitution when your small part is to
> make sure the missile fires or boat doesn't rust

True. I was a bit worried about that, but they largely seem pretty interested and engaged. My biggest concern was the senior chief. He is a grizzled old salt. I was worried what to expect from him, but he is one of my best students. It is kind of cool. I have definitely landed on the right career for me. I so love teaching! Much as I wanted to fly, I always knew that the military would be something to suffer through, to get to fly, and living on the ship, I can really see just how true that would have been for me.

I just got done eating lunch. Actually left before I was done because an admiral came to lunch, and it was so quiet and tense in the ward room. I just had to get out. It is an alien land, here, even with my experiences that make it so much less so than it would be for most civilians.... academics especially.

> no dig there, I just don't know what goes into running a boat

I mostly still don't. One of my roomies is a pilot, and there are a shitload of them onboard, considering that we only own two aircraft. The other is a ship's navigator, and it seems like a lot of the ensigns and LTJGs do that kind of thing, real nautical stuff. And of course there are a few shops that I have dealt with, which have one permanent officer and one permanent enlisted person. Other than that, most of them are just mysterious drones.

> Worrying about the greater scope is, I
> imagine, above 98% of the crew's pay grade.

Actually, I get the feeling that the captain and XO are more focused on the here and now than anyone else on the ship. They are good guys, and seem to be really good at what they do. Very focused, but also friendlier than most of the officers, which is nice. I think the XO finds me pretty strange, but that only stands to reason... since I AM pretty strange.

Of course, I am a bit of an odd person, even among the weird world of "academics" and such. On board this rigidly structured military environment, I am like a Martian! They should call me Marvin. I am definitely a stranger in a strange land, on this ship.

Have not had many conversations with the captain, so I do not think he finds me at all. Just knows who I am. That is fine. I figure the only way the captain takes any real interest in me is if I really piss somebody off, so let's hope I stay out of his line of site.

"Flight quarters, flight quarters. Hands to flight quarters to receive a Proud Warrior. Remove all covers, topside. The smoking lamp is out on all weather decks. Hold all trash and garbage on station. Stand clear aft of frame 300. Do not blow tubes without the permission of the OOD. Now flight quarters."


"Man the boat deck. Man the boat deck for RHIB launch. VSBB blue team, report to the boat deck."

VSBB stands for Visit Board Search and Seizure. You can bet there is no warrant, and probable cause is whatever the boat commander decides it is. A "proud warrior" is one of our helicopters. The ship's squadron has the nickname Jive Turkeys, which I can only assume was made up in the 1970s. These turkeys CAN fly.

These announcements come night and day. Sometimes they are on the daily schedule called the POD or plan of the day. Sometimes they come unexpectedly. Sometimes they come in the middle of my lecture and one or two of my students will hop up and leave class. Sometimes they return in a few minutes, and sometimes I do not see them again until the next day.

Life on the ship is like that. There is always a lot of planning and structure, but it is constantly being changed and modified to the point that it is of questionable value to even try and have a schedule. And then there is the sound.

I recently looked up the origin of the term "bells and whistles" and while it mentioned that it was possibly of maritime origin, there was not a specific agreed upon source. Well, having lived on a ship for a couple of weeks, I cannot even begin to imagine a different etymology for it. The bells and whistles are going on all the time, and they are utterly piercing.

Living in a warship at sea is definitely life inside a big machine, that is always running. The sounds never stop, not for an instant. Of course, some parts of the ship are louder than others, but there is always the sound of the ventilation system running, pumping fresh air throughout.

Often I can hear the ship's engines, which are basically four big jet engines that drive the two shafts for the ship's screws. I can especially hear these through the frame of my rack, when my head is pressed into my pillow. There are all kinds of pieces of equipment running all the time.

There are generators for all our electricity, which I assume never stop. There are tons of electronics and navigational equipment that I am both ignorant of, and often not privileged to know about. And I am told that if they ever fire the five inch deck gun, I will know it has happened without a doubt, no matter where I am in the ship.

So, that is another piece of the puzzle, of what life is like aboard the ship. It is also as clear visually as it is audibly that I am living inside a giant machine. Everywhere I go, there are heavy steel hatches and all kinds of machinery lining the walls. The ceilings are covered in wires and ducts and pipes, with all kinds of labels and warnings and instructions. Even in my room, it is like this.

When I do laundry, I go down a short hall, around two corners, past the ward room and make a U-turn. Then down two ladders to the main deck of the ship. I am port side, forward. So I have to head aft, almost the full length of the ship, then cross over to the starboard side. I go a little farther aft before going down another ladder, another deck deeper into the ship, nearer the waterline. Then I continue aft through an airlock until I am under the flight deck. There is a little room against the outer hull with some heavily used and fairly abused washers and dryers, four each. The outside wall curves inward toward the floor, as it is the hull of the ship. I am very near the stern, at this point. I may even be directly on the other side of the hull from where I had my adventure climbing the rope ladder to get aboard. It is a pretty long trip/climb from my stateroom to this self-serve laundry compartment.

Sunday is when officers are allowed to use it. It is broken down by rank groups for each day of the week, unless we are in port, when it is free-for-all. So, I trek all that way, carrying a heavy laundry bag under my arm while going up and down the ladders, only to find there are no open machines. Back and forth several times today, before finally getting a couple of open washers to begin the process. Then a few more times to check on it, swap it out to the dryers, and finally find it done. Then back into the bag, and down the length of the ship, through the airlock, up three ladders, and into my stateroom to fold and put away.

My classroom is not as far aft, on the port side, and up one from the main deck. So I do not have to go through the airlock or cross to the other side of the ship. Same number of ladders though. I cannot just go down one and back, because it is in the aft superstructure, and my cabin is in the forward one. So, down two and up one. Still three decks change.

Unless I go outside. Then I can go down one deck, out the airlock into the port break, which is a kind of outside hallway that runs from the foc'sle to the midships weather deck. I then go aft, out onto the weather deck, where I cross between the two superstructures to the starboard side. There is no access to the inside of it from the port side. So I go across and aft some more, through another outside hallway that contains some exercise machines and other equipment and through an airlock into the junior officers' stateroom area, in the back of the ship. I cross there, back to the port side where my classroom is. That is the other route to it.

It must be a real pain for the officers who live back there, as the ward room is by the forward officers' cabins, where I live. They have to make that trip for every meal. It is handy for me though, as it means there is also an officers' head near my classroom. Two decks below that is the ship's library. I have only been there once. To go down there, one must pass through a scuttle. This is a hole about 28 inches in diameter. I do not really like going through these. I mostly only go through them if I have to.

And so, that is some more of what it is like to be here.

My Day

"Reville, reville. All hands heave out. Now reville. Breakfast for the crew." This is the announcement that comes over the 1MC (that is the public address system for the entire ship, including all berthing areas) at 06:00. Some mornings I will be awakened by this, and not be able to go back to sleep. So I "heave out" of my rack and get dressed for breakfast.

Some days, I wish I could just eat in my sweats, but mess with the gentlemen in the ward room requires tailored pants and shirts with collars. Of course, they are all in uniform, but I basically wear what I would to a nice golf course. I mostly only dress comfy while I am in my room and in the ward room after dinner and the switch to nighttime lighting. That is when all the ship goes to dim red lights, so the crew's eyes will adjust for night vision.

I usually get up around 08:30. They use the twenty-four hour clock on the ship, in which fortunately I am proficient. Breakfast is from 06:00 to 07:15, most mornings, so I miss it. I would rather sleep than eat, usually. I get my shower, check my email and get dressed for work.

My first section of class is from 10:00 to 11:00. Then I come back forward to the ward room for lunch. It is served from 11:00 to 12:30, and I usually drop off my stuff in my room and head straight in, eat for about half an hour, and come back to my room to read or relax until my next class.

The second section is from 13:00 to 14:00, and then I head back again. I may check my email, although since I am on the other side of the planet, I mostly only get email in the morning and evening, which is the previous evening and morning, respectively at home.

I then take my copy of the textbook and my computer into the ward room and spend a couple of hours preparing my lesson plan for the next day. Then I will read, watch a show on my computer, or take a nap, until dinner. Dinner is served from 16:00 to 17:30.

My final class section for the day is from 18:00 to 19:00. If you are confused by the twenty-four hour clock, just remember that any number over 12 is PM and subtract 12 to know which PM hour it is.

After the last class, I come back to my room to relax. Sometimes I get a couple of the guys together and we watch Firefly in the ward room. There is a really nice, giant Sony flat screen in there, so it is pretty great for that. There is usually cereal and milk, sometimes cookies and fruit, so we will have a snack while we watch.

Largely there is not a lot to do, when I am not working, eating or sleeping. I read. I watch shows on my computer. I write this, and respond to email. A lot of the things I would do at home, but I cannot leave the ship. I cannot go shopping or cook my own meals. I am dying for pancakes. The ones they make here are absolutely inedible. I would kill for a single comfortable chair.

Still, the physical discomfort is no worse than I expected, and really not what is difficult at all. Not even the boredom is that big a deal. After all, I do like to read a lot and watch too much television, even when I am at home. And I brought plenty of stuff with me to watch.

The thing that is most hard, and totally unexpected is what a lonely place the ship is. It is such a strange thing to be in a place so crowded that I can almost never be alone, and yet be so lonely. Fortunately I have made two friends, and that helps a lot. Still, they are, like all the officers on the ship, very busy and work a lot of hours. I get to see more of one than the other, as he is one of my roommates.

There are also a few officers who are friendly to me, and quite a few who will not have anything to do with me. I try not to take it personally, as a great many of them seem to have little if anything to do with anyone, other than professionally. The ship's culture is so alien to me.

I could definitely do my PhD research on organizational culture on one of these trips. Of course, I have no intention of going through the hell of a PhD program, nor of repeating this very interesting experience. I think once is quite enough. I have no doubt that by the time my two months aboard are up, I will be quite ready to leave. I feel for the crew, most of whom are stuck on this ship for six months, from the time they left Norfolk, until she sails home again.

What Navies Do

I am a big believer in the use of instructional media. During one film that I show in class, there is a comment that the US Military is used to protect petroleum interests. I asked my class if they thought this was true. They all just laugh. Some of my civilian students take issue with this statement, but there is not a sailor nor officer on this ship who would argue with the validity of the statement, because that is what we are doing here.

We patrol the Northern Arabian Gulf region (they do not like to call it the Persian gulf, presumably so that they Iranians don't take it as recognition on their part that it belongs to them) and enforce an exclusion zone around KAAOT and ABOT. The crew refer to them by pronouncing them as words: kay-ott and A-bot. They are the Khawr Al Amaya oil terminal and the Al Basrah oil terminal, respectively.

These are the two places that my rigid hull inflatable boat (the RHIB) stopped to drop off people, on the way from the Aussie ship, Cardigan Bay, where my helicopter out landed, to my final destination of the Nitze. At the time, I did not really know about all of this. I have since learned that we protect these two stations in the ocean and have occasional confrontations with the Iranian Guard Navy. They are not to be confused with the regular Iranian Navy, which I am told by the XO is professional and predictable.

According to the Wikipedia: "Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution

English-speaking media usually use the term Iranian Revolutionary Guards ("IRG"). In the US media, the force is usually referred to as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps ("IRGC")[4], although this force is rarely described as a "corps" by non-US media...

The Navy of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution or Revolutionary Guards' Navy consists of 20,000 men and 1,500 crude boats and fast attack boats separate and in parallel to the regular Navy of Iran...

On 7 January 2008, US officials claimed 5 Iranian speedboats 'harassed' US navy vessels in the Persian Gulf. IRGC speedboats made threatening moves and in one case even came within 180 meters of US warships. The U.S. Navy claims to have also received a radio transmission from Iranian boats saying: "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes". After this US ships were said to have taken up their gun positions and were ready to open fire at one of the boats when the Iranians turned away and one of the Iranian speedboats (allegedly) dropped white boxes into the water in front of the U.S. ships, it was not clear what was in the boxes. Iranian officials and military commanders later downplayed the incidents as normal and denied to have sent those radio transmissions. After the US released a video showing Iranian speedboats swarming US ships in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran released their own video of the incident after suggesting the US video was staged.

A Boghammar is a High Speed Patrol Boat (HSPB) manufactured by the Swedish company Boghammar Marin AB for use in coastal patrol... The term boghammar, sometimes spelled boghammer, has also come to mean an improvised naval fighting vessel, typically used by a local irregular military force and usually being a modified civilian boat or other similar machine. It is usually a speedboat or fast patrol boat (as used by police for harbor/river patrol) on which is mounted recoilless rifles, heavy machine guns, mortars, or other relatively small weapons systems. A boghammar is usually unarmoured. Boghammars, in this sense, have been used by paramilitary forces to attack offshore oil platforms and civilian shipping, or even larger military vessels, most notably by Iran in the Tanker War. Other users of such vessels include Nigerian militants, LTTE Sea Tigers, and Somali pirates."

I think a couple of days ago, there was some kind of an incident with them. They are apparently little more than pirates and separate from the true Iranian navy, which the XO describes as very professional and not belligerent, like these guys. Anyway, a couple of days ago something happened. I will not state what I heard because I have learned to take this sort of information on the ship with a huge grain of sand. The ship's "grapevine" is not what I would call a credible source for information about anything. Any factual information is so infused with pure speculation and no distinction between the two, that I have given up on assigning it any meaning at all.

Whatever happened, it was announced that the RHIBs will be more heavily armed, and are under no circumstances to allow themselves to be captured and made prisoners/hostages. I joke about it, and how they are going to put tactical nukes on the RHIBs, just in case. But the reality is, there are some really nice guys who brought me aboard this ship, and did not laugh at me for being a bit freaked out by going over the side, nor even when I almost lost my pants climbing the ladder to come aboard. The idea of these guys being killed or taken hostage makes me too angry to even want to think about it. So I joke.

Of course, I imagine the reality is that there is little likelihood of this, and the powers that be are just being cautious. They are taking precautions and trying to anticipate an irrational enemy. That has always been the greatest difficulty with game theory. How can you plan for the actions of an opponent who cannot be counted on to behave rationally, or even in their own self-interest?

So, anyway, that is what we are doing, in this part of the world. We are protecting the flow of petroleum. "The spice must flow." And really, a few spectacular naval battles throughout history aside, that is mostly what navies have done for the last six or seven hundred years. They protect trade. That is why colonial economic powers have had navies. And there may be delusions about this among the "chicken hawk" population, but no such delusions exist out here, among the dedicated crew of the US Navy guided missile destroyer Nitze (DDG-94).

From: Cascaddan, Daniel NCPACE Instructor(DDG94)
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 6:50 PM
Subject: "... not a drop to drink."

"Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink." That is a misquote, but the real quote is horkey-sounding, so I went with this instead.

Several days ago our water desalination plant died. For a while it was no big deal. We have tanks of fresh water on board. The part to fix it is supposed to be on the way. A few days ago, the captain put out word that men are not to shave and women are allowed to wear their hair down. I am not sure why the second part is supposed to save water, but apparently that is the idea.

That part of things has been kind of fun. I like seeing the girls with their hair down and am having a ball watching the guys turn all wolf-man. At least, that is the case for the ones that can. Some are more like me, and you still can't really tell.

Today we started using paper plates and cups for meals. I hate that. The crummy plastic forks make a sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, on the paper plates. And they leave grease spots on the table, under them, for some foods. And of course, they represent a huge waste in energy and materials both for their manufacture and their transport to the ship. I wonder if any of them are, or are made from products, from the wood pulp plant in Camas, WA, near where I live. Ah, the smell of Vancouver!

A few minutes ago, the captain announced that the water saving measures are not having as much effect as he had hoped. They have closed the self-service laundry. They are contemplating closing the ship's laundry next, and shutting off the showers. Things will really start to get lovely, if we reach that point. Hopefully we will get the part before the showers get turned off. I cannot go without my shower in the morning!

I was hoping if it got bad enough, maybe we would just pop into port for a couple of days. Apparently they do not really do that. They just go without water for anything but drinking. And if we stop all the other activities, we can last a long time on what is left, just for drinking. Joy.

The good news is, I think that I may be over my seasickness. We were getting blown around pretty good, last night, and I did not need to take a pill. Hopefully that will continue to be the case. The pills work great, so they are a real lifesaver, but they also make me a little loopy and want to sleep about fourteen hours a day. So I am glad to not need them as much, now.

Classes are going well. I am already starting my planning for the trip home. I have found one possibility for a hotel where I may stay in London. I am also trying to arrange a room in the BOQ, at the naval base, so I do not have to pay for a hotel there. I will be reimbursed for that, but I want to keep my money for my London adventure.

Also, I would kill for some Philly and a tube of saltines! I have such an urge for cream cheese and crackers. Two things they do not seem to have on the ship. I guess the ship's store had saltines, until they ran out. And I have seen one or two of those restaurant packs, the kind that contain two crackers, since I have been on board. Not a whole tube though, and not a sign of cream cheese anywhere.

The food is still good, but it is all the same. I am really dying for some variety. If I go back through the Kingdom of Bahrain, when I leave, I am definitely getting hummus at that restaurant off base, just as soon as I get there!

Hope you are all well.


To Mess with Gentlemen

Whenever sitting down to eat at the mess room table, we ask for permission from the senior-most officer at the table, "May I join you, Sir?" Of course, even the ship's officers do not always know who this is. And I often cannot tell. If there are only a couple of the lieutenants present, I usually know which it is. But when they are all there....

Of course, when the captain or XO is at the table, then it is a snap to know who to address. Often I find myself vaguely addressing the room, nobody in particular. Some of the less pleasant guys seem to get in a bit of a snit, over not being recognized as senior guy at the table. Like I am supposed to know the exact pecking order? It is kind of funny.

Then there is the air boss. He is the only lieutenant commander aboard, after the XO. Everybody addresses him as air boss or just boss. For some reason I am not comfortable with this. So I am the only one who calls him Ed. Of course, I call almost everybody except the captain and XO by their first names, when I know them.

Then at the end of the meal, there is the same process for asking to be excused. It is at the same time a nice bit of civility and rather silly. Some occasions it seems the perfect polite thing to do. Other times it just seems absurd. Despite my status as a GS-12 civilian contractor, nobody ever asks me, even if I am the only one at the table. I guess since I am not an officer of the ship, I do not exist within the context of this particular piece of etiquette. I do not mind that, but the ones who get in a snit because I ask the wrong person should certainly remember that. When in doubt, I will always ask someone I consider a friend over someone that I do not care for. "... that damned civilian!"

There are usually little strips of paper on the table, with the menu on it. I learned early on to always bring a pen to eat. We write our names at the top. Officers have to pay for their meals. Central Texas College pays for mine. Then we circle what we want, and one of the FSAs (food service assistants... the Navy LOVES their acronyms!) comes and picks it up. A few minutes later, he will serve our meal to us.

Pitchers of water and juice are out on the table. There is a side table with salad bar and soup for us to help ourselves. Also, there will be little plates with desserts on it, and sometimes a tray of cookies (my favorite) for us to have. Often the main table will also contain big bowls of stuff. Usually there is one with fruit cocktail in it. Recently we had avocados and there was one with guacamole. There will sometimes be pudding, and so forth. Today one held macaroni salad.

Also there are condiments on the table. If we want a condiment that is not out, or more of the main foods, we ask an FSA and he gets it for us. These guys are great. They clean our head (that is the bathroom, on a ship) and our staterooms. They pick up our laundry and bring us fresh sheets, when we ask for them.

There is usually good heavy china with blue trim and an anchor. Right now we are on water rationing, so they are using paper plates, but normally we have the china. Also heavy actual silverware. The big bowls are made of silver as well. Another thing that sometimes seems so nice, because it is pretty posh, but other times seems kind of absurd. I really like the good china at all times, though. I hate paper plate day. The crew normally eat off compression molded trays, similar to Bakelite© material from the fifties. So, we are spoiled with the heavy china.

The food is good, but it is pretty bland and always kind of the same. The FSA who is our cook is pretty skilled, and generally things come out properly. Still, the similarity of all the food gets pretty old, and I start craving some variety. Last week, I spent two solid days thinking, fantasizing, obsessing about potstickers from PF Chang's. Currently it is just good old Philly cream cheese on Saltines that I am dying for. Neither of them is in evidence, on the ship.

I also dearly wish that I had known to bring (in addition to crackers) two or three loaves of my favorite sandwich bread on board. For a while, whenever I got a chicken breast, I was breaking it up and making a sandwich. But the bread is baked aboard and it is hard and bone dry. There is not enough mayonnaise in the universe to make a moist sandwich on that. Sometimes I also tear up the breast and put it on a salad, since I find breast meat too bland and dry to eat by itself.

I am also craving the super-thin pancakes that I make at home. The ones on the ship are completely inedible. Those and the hamburgers are the only thing that I completely steer clear of. Zero moisture. Zero flavor. Even drenched in ketchup, they are just awful.

I am listening to a lot of old Jimmy Buffet music, on board. And naturally Cheeseburger in Paradise comes up a lot. That will be one of my first things when I get home. I am hoping that the food in London is a LOT better outside of Heathrow than it is inside. It was expensive and totally pathetic, on the way here. I paid about $13us (after conversion from pounds sterling) for a sandwich that had thick, dry bread and literally one thin piece of meat on it. I was not tickled!

So, there are three meals a day in the ward room. Apparently there is a late evening meal on the mess decks. I have not gone down for it yet. I try not to eat before bed, but also I just hate it down there. It is SO hot on the mess deck. I have been down there for a couple of parties and two briefings that I gave about the classes, before they started. And I could hardly stand to stay in that space for half an hour, and was utterly drenched after each time. I feel for the crew, having to just put up with it.

And that is what dining is like for me, aboard the good ship Nitze. No hard-tack and salted pork for us, thankfully.

From: C.F.Cascaddan, USN ret.
To: Daniel Cascaddan
Subject: the blog - Wardroom / Officer's Mess
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2009 05:37:39 -0500

The reason you were never asked for permission to join or depart was because you were never a MEMBER OF THE MESS! You were a GUEST and, as such, had unique status. I'm very disappointed that your briefing didn't lay this status out for you as it would have been completly unthinkable for any mess member to tell you your status once you were their guest... Basically, you were tolerated by the good nature of the mess members and had no right to be there. That is why you dealt with the "chill" - mostly from the older officers who had been members of multiple messes. The only real acceptance came from the puppies who were enjoying their first mess afloat. Your status was basically lower than whale shit in the mess. You were lower than the George. Nobody would even think of asking permission from you.

The pecking order is what the mess was designed to enforce and that chain of command structure is the very first thing any new member must research and never ever betray. Again, you were treated the way you were becuse you were a guest. One quick guess - the XO asked you a question or made a leading comment to you at the evening meal most every evening while you were both present, correct? He was, as vice-president of the mess, doing his duty of addressing each guest at every meal and engaging you in conversation. The CO spoke to you much more while out of the Wardroom than while in since, as President of the mess, he must not be bothered by guests unless the vice-president is absent. Did you ever begin conversation with any Department-head or the Air Boss without being invited? Major Major breach of mess etiquette and probably the reason you had tight-assed expressions thrown your way by the senior folks and got grins from the J.O.'s

Subject: RE: the blog - Wardroom / Officer's Mess
I sure am glad that I did not know this at the time. I feel like such and idiot. I thought the XO genuinely liked me. Now I can see that I must have just been a pain in the ass, that he had to deal with.

The other day, I saw the ship take a dump in the ocean. Admittedly, the water here is horribly polluted already, but it still made me kind of sad to see. The water was such a pretty turquoise color, and then there was this awful brown outflow from the starboard side. Yuch! It did not fill me with the urge to take a swim!

I do not go outside as often as I should, and rarely take my camera, which is just plain stupid. I have seen some pretty cool things. Saw one of the helicopters land. Saw one being prepped by the crew, for launch. I have seen some minor waves. I have seen two other destroyers nearby, lots of oil tankers, and the Lewis and Clark, which is the ship that does our underway replenishments. I almost always see KAAOT and ABOT. I have not really seen any sea life, unless you count gulls. No submarines, but I do not suppose I would see them, even if they were near, anyway.

Email to Dad (20 JAN 09)


I wanted to tell you about two things I saw today. The first was an illusion. Sometimes at sea, there is this haziness, and the sea is the color of the sky, such that it becomes impossible to discern where the line of the horizon is. The sky just blends smoothly into the sea. There is also a situation where the ship is turning very smoothly, and you cannot really feel it turning. You can only tell by visual reference.

These two things came together in an interesting way. I stepped outside and between the two effects, another ship in the distance looked like it was flying along, through the sky. It held sway for me, for just for a moment, and then the illusion was broken. But still, it was awfully neat.

The lack of horizon made it seem to be in the sky, and the lack of sensation while we were turning, and lack of any other points of reference made it seem as though the other ship was moving rapidly from one side of my field of vision to the other. :)

The other thing was not an illusion. I have found a new route to and from class. The old way I had to climb three ladders and move through the cramped interior of the ship. The new way only has one ladder, and I go outside, on the midships weather deck. That is what led to my getting to see that interesting illusion. The non-illusion thing was just a few minutes ago, on the way home from my evening class.

I stepped outside, and right now the moon does not come up until much later, so it is pitch black outside. I use my little red light on my key chain to see. Tonight I stopped and looked up for a little while at the stars. They were so clear and beautiful, and it made me think of a verse of a song:

Often at night
When the heavens are bright
With the light of the glittering stars
I've stood there amazed
And I've asked as I gazed
If their glory exceed that of ours

So those were my two neat things I saw at sea today. I like being at sea more than I like living on a ship. But of course the one is the cost of the other. :)

I love you, Poppa.

From: Cascaddan, Daniel NCPACE Instructor(DDG94)
Sent: Sunday, January 25, 2009 2:53 PM
Subject: Torpedo los!

In high school German class, there was a picture from a WW2 comic book in our text. It was of a German U-boat captain, giving the order to fire a torpedo, "Torpedo los!" Well, I got to see one launched today. Got video of it too. I need to edit it and post it, but I will send out the links, once I do.

It has been kind of an exciting Sunday. I did not feel like eating lunch in the ward room, so I went down to the mess deck today, so I could listen to my iPod and read while I ate. While I was down there, a whole bunch of people came in, and one of my students starting calling a roll. I figured they were going to have a meeting or something, so I just sat put, and kept reading and listening to my music.

After a while, I heard an announcement that, "Man in the water, five minutes." I guess they had a man overboard drill. I did not even realize. They are always announcing drills, and to date almost nothing has in any way pertained to me.

I think I was supposed to go to or call the admin office and tell them I am aboard and alive. I did not. I am not sure if I would just not have been missed, or if one of the officers saw me sitting there, utterly oblivious, and called the right person to let them know I was accounted for. :)

Either way, at the end of the thing the XO announced that everyone was accounted for, except for the man who was overboard. Then when I got back to my stateroom, and prepared to settle in for the day, there was an announcement of something I did not understand. They speak entirely in acronyms, so anything new is Greek.

I asked one of my roommates and found out it was a test firing of a dummy torpedo. So I went to the aft missile deck and watched and videotaped that. Then the process of bringing it back aboard, and some of it being washed off. As well as the RHIB guys screwing around and jumping into the water to practice rescues for the "swimmers" they carry.

Then I videotaped a trip from there to the foc'sle and back down the port break to the air lock, through the lock, up a ladder and to my room, by way of the ward room and the door to the captain's in-port cabin. Hope it all came out well for posting.

This morning I even went through a scuttle, for the first time. These are tiny holes that I swore I would only go through if we were sinking or something, but actually I had enough room without having to squeeze through, as I had thought I would. The thing that made me decide to do it was that I had nothing good to read. I was down to a book that turned out to be terrible, and I just could not stand. But the library is through one of those holes. So I decided to just give it a try while nobody was looking, in case I decided it was not worth it and wanted to just come back out.

Turned out it was not that big of a deal, and so now I need to explore parts of the ship that I have not seen because they were down through those holes, the scuttles. So, I have had a very interesting day off, so far. I also found out some interesting things about where we are that will have to wait until I get home to tell about. I can say that it looks like I am exempt from federal income tax, not from being outside the US, but for being inside a certain area. Apparently I just write COMBAT ZONE in big red letters at the top of my 1040EZ, along with the dates.

Don't be worried though. It is perfectly safe here. Bear in mind that there have only been a bare handful of times since the end of WW2 that USN ships at sea have been attacked in any significant way. It is more dangerous to swim than anything.

The reason it is so rare that anyone gets to swim, besides all the pollution is that there are yellow sea snakes that, while not poisonous, will bite you. And so you can see where the level of actual concern for our safety is. I feel certain that I am safer than I would be at home, driving in traffic after the first rain of the season. Just don't tell the IRS that I said that! :)

Check out what the IRS have to say about it.

I have now been in three of the countries and one of the bodies of water listed, and at no time have I felt threatened, other than when I returned a quiz on which my students all did pretty poorly. ;-)

I do notice that they do not list Korea or the DMZ, which I find surprising. I would like to go to Djibouti. Actually, I do not care at all about Djibouti... except that I really like to say Djibouti. It sounds funny, to me. Djibouti, Djibouti, Djibouti!

Okay, enough silliness from the other side of the world. I should be leaving the ship in a couple of weeks, and home about a week after that, after visiting London. Hope you are all well at home.


From: Cascaddan, Daniel NCPACE Instructor(DDG94)
Sent: Sunday, January 25, 2009 3:33 PM
Subject: ...more

I spoke too soon. After I sent that email, there was another man overboard drill. This time I picked up the phone and immediately called admin, like I am supposed to, and told them I am aboard and well. Then the captain announced that we had a good training day and are about to do a high speed engine test as we haul ass back to our regular patrol area. So I went up again on the aft missile deck with my video camera and got some cool footage. The screws churn up the water so high that it is a seething triangle shaped mass, following the ship. The top of the churning area is higher than the flight deck. Pretty impressive to see. I hope my video does it justice. What a great day at sea! I just keep seeing and experiencing new things.

I write this when I am two weeks from my expected departure, but will not be able to release it to anyone until after I have left the ship, for security reasons.

We are at ABOT, about 20 miles south of the mouth of the Shatt al Arab, which means "stream of the Arabs." This river is the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flows into "the NAG," which is what the crew calls the Northern Arabian Gulf.

The US Navy does not like to use the correct name, Persian Gulf presumably as this implies some sort of ownership in part of the Persians, what we would refer to as Iranians. While flying on the United Arab Emirates national airline and in the airports in Dubai, UAE and Manama, in the Kingdom of Bahrain they referred to it only as "The Gulf" presumably for politically correct reasons.

The Shatt al Arab defines the border between Iran and Iraq. Technically we are in Iraqi national waters, and so I have been in Iraq most of the time on the ship, although I have not set foot on their soil. If I get to tour ABOT before I leave, I will have set foot on what is considered Iraqi sovereign soil, although still not on the main land body of the nation of Iraq.

I am told that ABOT is at roughly 29ˇ 41' north latitude, 48ˇ 48' east longitude. I want to find more specific detail than this, so I can see if I can find us on Google Earth, assuming the photo is of recent enough months and has a date stamp so I can know it is not some other destroyer.

I was looking at the ceiling and all the wires and exposed pipes and ducting. I was thinking about being on deck today, and looking at the ocean, and the tankers, and the oil platforms. I went the head a few minutes ago, and I think about the certain way that it is. The whole thing seems so surreal, and somehow all the more so for the fact that I have become so settled in here. It is more home to me than the dorms at UO were; less so than the dorms at UCSC. It is definitely a place that I will remember and dream about, as I do about those places.

I am really looking forward to going home, now that I have only two weeks left, but I know that I will miss this place, too. Probably for the rest of my life, a little. Of course, now the thumpa thumpa of here will always be a part of me, as is the other special places I have been.

Night on the Bridge

The other night, I went up on the bridge. It was my first time to go up at night. I feel stupid for not realizing it would be this way in advance, but as soon as I stepped through the airlock I was struck by the utter pitch darkness. For a few minutes I could not see anything, until my eyes adjusted. Of course it must be this way in order that the bridge crew can see the ocean and other ships and such.

I looked through the infrared telescope for a while, at the ships surrounding us, and the lights on the sunken crane, which is the nearest object on the Iranian side of the line. It is where they stage their "hot sauce" missions. This is not a Navy term. This is an idea I came up with.

We have a thing called the LRAD, which is a terrible noisemaker that is supposed to drive off people without really harming them (unless they get too close). I am told that they sort of play chicken with it sometimes, although those words were also not used to describe their behavior to me. That is just how I put it. When I was up on the bridge, I came up with the idea that they treat it like some of our guys treat the hot sauce in the ward room, to see who is the manliest and can take the worst.

We have one called After Death that is definitely the nastiest of our extensive collection of hot sauces. I tried a little bit. It was not as bad as the time I accidentally chewed up (really well) a pepper in kung pao chicken, not realizing what I had gotten until far too late. I was reading, while eating, so I did not see it. "What is this papery thing?" I could see through time! So, that is the equivalent of what they do when they mess around with us, and we drive them off with the noisemaker, rather than using them for target practice with a fifty-caliber machine gun, or worse.

After I got back to my cabin, I found that I had been on the bridge for nearly two hours! I had no idea I was up there for so long. I was just having such a good time talking to everybody and enjoying the distinctly different atmosphere of people working together in pitch black darkness. I especially enjoyed talking with one of the helmsmen. She is a fun, humorous person and we chatted quite a bit.

At one point, I thought of my friend Marc, who suggested that I should create this blog of my experience in the first place. Those of us who know and love Marc, know what a terrific sense of humor he has. So this made me think of him in high school physics class, being cracked up by something Oz (our teacher) said, and absolutely shaking, trying to keep from laughing out loud.

The thing that I thought was so funny and could picture him finding hilarious was a sound I started to notice in the background. It was very soft, and at first I was not sure what I was hearing. Apparently there are radios on the bridge that monitor all of the local maritime bands, and so hear the conversations between all the ships in the area. It was very soft humming of a strange and foreign melody. After a while it turned to singing, in what I can only assume was likely Arabic or Farsi. Apparently the local fishermen sometimes sing to each other on the radio.

So, I asked Phil if I could sing back to him. He punched in some numbers on the radio and handed me the mic. I sang softly, but clearly, in my deepest tones: "Often at night, when the heavens are bright With the light of the glittering stars I've stood there amazed, and I've asked as I gazed If their glory exceeds that of ours." And then everyone on the bridge chimed in, loud and crisp: "Home! Home on the range Where the deer and the antelope play Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word And the skies are not cloudy all day"

Okay, so that did not really happen. But how cool would it have been if it had? Walking home from class tonight, I quietly sang that to myself while outside under the stars, as I often do. And thinking about the fisherman singing on the radio, I thought of that little fantasy of us on the bridge doing that. And when they make a movie of this, I am going to insist that be one of the scenes!

CIC, cheerleaders, seasick football players, and the Ice Cream Socialist

Another fascinating day at sea. We are having the roughest seas and swingenest ship I have experienced to date. Yet, I have not taken nor needed a motion sickness pill. So, you can imagine that I am just insufferably pleased with myself.

I got to take a tour of the ship's combat information center (CIC), or what the officers simply refer to as "combat" amongst themselves. "Where are you headed?" "Combat." It was pretty cool. Somewhat what I had expected, and somewhat not. It was bigger than I had thought it would be, with more people running different sections of it than I had expected. On the other hand, it was a lot of screens of cool-looking displays, like a giant integrated, really advanced video game. Which I suppose is exactly what it is, except that it is all representative of real world stuff. They push buttons, and there are real world consequences. There is one section where I was not allowed to go. It was behind a heavy black curtain. "Just ignore the man behind the curtain."

Then there were the cheerleaders. They are on a USO tour, from some NFL team or other, along with several of the players. I was looking forward to seeing girls aboard, in girls' clothes. All the girls already aboard wear the same coveralls and flight suits as the guys. They also wear no makeup, which I love. The cheerleaders had the stuff caked on, which I hate. Also they were all petite, but not any prettier than the ship's girls. And they had on bulky sweatshirts, so I guess that was kind of a wash.

I kept hunting for them all afternoon, after my midday class. I heard rumors that they were aboard, and of where they were, but I was never able to find them. I came out of my stateroom and prowled around several times, and could not find them. Finally I gave up.

I went to dinner in the ward room, which was especially good tonight. T-bone steaks! I was almost done when they came in and joined us. One sat next to me, and one across from me. One was a couple of places down. I felt awkward around them, and was not remotely charming and gallant, despite all of my plans to be just devastating with them. At least if they had been just stunningly gorgeous, I would have an excuse for being at my most tongue-tied.

The one great moment was when I noticed one of the football players with his head in his folded arms, on the table. He was positively green with seasickness. Those of you who have known me since high school, know how I feel about football players. So you can imagine the glee I felt at that. If the XO had not been there, I would have been sorely tempted to have fucked with him! Start asking him how he feels and talking about the movement of the ship, describing the motions that are bothering him until he blew chunks.

Instead I just kept my glee to myself. I told the cheerleader next to me that we have really good motions sickness pills, and if she thinks she might be feeling badly, she should just go ahead and take one as a preventive measure. And the XO told her that if she felt bad before it kicked in, that the best thing is just to lie down. That is exactly what helped me, when I got it, the first time.

Late in the evening, we had an ice cream social. One of the ensigns mentioned being an ice cream socialist. I really thought that was funny, so I came up with the idea that the federal government should buy Baskin-Robbins and give away free ice cream once a week, at churches and schools, cub scout meetings and book clubs, etc. Sure, that makes me an ice cream socialist! What of it?

The helicopter pilots wear a variety of patches on one shoulder and often trade for them. Some of our pilots have managed to trade for one that the "desert hawk" flight pilots wear, that just cracks me up. It says, "Piss me off - no mail!" Apparently they also sometimes get hold of US Postal Service patches, and wear them. I think they should get a bunch of USPS patches and have them embroidered to say, "Piss me off - no mail!" The perfect marriage of service and attitude.

The Hairy RHIB

Today I went for a tour on one of the oil platforms. The thing was, today we are having a little storm. Five foot swells are when the height between the peaks and valleys on the surface of the ocean are five feet. It does not sound like much, but when you are in the middle of the ocean, on a small boat with no land, ship, nor oil platform in sight, they look like mountains. Our little boat would climb up one face, and come crashing down the other.

The ride out was not so bad. We had a "following sea" and I was not really getting wet at all, until it started to rain. Even then I did not get really soaked. It was not raining all that hard, and mostly just stung a bit, on my face.

The ride back was much tougher because we were traveling "against the seas," which means into the wind and opposing the motion of the waves. We would blast up one face and get airborne for an instant, then come slamming down hard. The water came splashing and spraying up over the bow. I was drenched. I managed to only get that nasty, salty water in my mouth three or four times, when caught off guard by a wave while screaming. The rest of the time, the water covered me, but stayed mostly outside my body.

I am feeling dehydrated from the salt I took in, and wondering if I should get a penicillin shot. After all, just a couple of days ago I saw a dead horse floating in that water, and I am always being told how horribly polluted this ocean is. Although through it all, the cleanliness of the water was the last thing on my mind.

The trip out, I held onto the railing behind me with one hand at a time, and would switch, when I got tired. The trip back, I was not about to let go, not for an instant, with either hand. My arms are still sore and tired from it. At one point, Rhett, a really nice ensign that has befriended me, suggested that I pick up a spare life jacket from the floor of the RHIB to sit on, to cushion against the impacts of our repeated crash landings. I told him that there was no way I was letting go of the railing until it was time to climb back onto Nitze. And I was true to my word. He also suggested, and justifiably so, that we should be receiving flight pay, for that trip.

That brings me to the scary part. The boat ride out was a little uncomfortable, but not really that big a deal. The boat ride back was physically exhausting and painful. The thing that was scary was the two times climbing into, and the two times climbing out of the boat. With the five foot swells, the boat was moving up and down that much, while we clambered into and out of it.

Or in my case, fell into it. I am not sure which was worse, the oil rig or Nitze. Nitze has her "acom ladder" deployed. This is basically a flexible stairway hanging from the side of the ship. The oil platform has a vertical ladder, which is much worse for me, by itself. The thing that makes it a question of which is worse is that the oil rig is stationary, while the RHIB floats up and down five feet every ten seconds. The ship is rolling back and forth, combined with the waves, has the platform at the bottom dipping in and out of the water.

Jumping into the boat from Nitze, I fell and strained a muscle in my right leg, that weakened my ability to climb and jump for the rest of the excursion, which of course, called for much climbing and jumping until the very end. Once we got to the platform, they told us that they would put the nose of the boat into it, and we should all get off as fast as we possibly could. That sounds fine, but the ladder is a couple of stories up, and I do not exactly climb it like a monkey in heat.

All these nineteen year old sailors, at the peak of their physical fitness are climbing up behind me. Someone in the boat is yelling to, "Get a move on!" Yeah right! I am scared and old, and climbing as fast as I safely can. If I were not scared and weak, I would be flipping this guy off and telling him where to shove the bow, next time!

After the ride back, the seas seem to be a little worse, and they tell me when they say go, to get off as fast as I can. Fortunately, I am not big on following orders blindly by people who mean well, but... Just as they tell me to go, the boat is pushed away from the platform. Were I not thinking for myself (one of my great faults, according to many), I would have been in the water. This is exactly the same thing that happened that first day, climbing over the side of the Cardigan Bay, to take the RHIB to Nitze. They shout at me to go and then shout at me to wait. The Navy is big on shouting.

I took the shouted orders to basically mean, "You can go now, Sir, any time you are comfortable." And when the boat and platform were against one another, I grabbed the railing of the accommodation ladder with both hands and hopped out of the boat. I climbed quickly and with my eyes on my feet. Got hung up briefly on a chain, since I was not looking at my hands, and then got on up the stairs and back aboard the ship.

I have never loved the US Navy guided missile destroyer Nitze as deeply and fully as at that moment. I was SO glad to be back aboard. I shakily ran upstairs to my room, got my good camera (which I an now VERY glad I did not take on the trip) and had my friend Brad, one of the pilots in the ward room, take a photo of me, which will be added to this when I post the blog of my trip.

I can only imagine what I looked like, soaked and trembling. I guess video would have been better, but that did not occur to me. Everybody was looking at me like I had lost my mind. I am pretty sure that I was shouting, myself, by that point, although in my case it was from being frightened and wet and full to the ears with adrenaline.

The oil platform was interesting, but nowhere near as much as the trip there and back. The thing is a twisted, rusting, giant steel wreck, in the middle of the ocean. I did not see anything that specifically looked like battle damage, from the wars in which it has been contested, but I had no difficulty believing it has been hit by bombs and missiles and heavy machine gun fire. The place is "ample evidence of a once proud civilization." (WKRP, bomb episode)

I definitely got some cool photos of the wreck and ruin and literally tons of rust, but I would sacrifice them all if I had to, for the short video clip I took in the boat to be okay. I have not uploaded any of it to my computer yet, so I do not know if it is any good. The clip is from the ride out. Even if I had been willing to let go of the railing with one hand on the trip back, I might well have lost the camera or had it drenched with sea water. So, the clip, if it gives some idea of what it was like, is pale compared to the one I was not able to make.

What a day! Now I have to write a lesson plan for tomorrow and grade the quizzes from yesterday. How am I supposed to settle down and do such tedious work after that!?

Strange Secret Happenings

I can't believe that I almost forgot to write this down. It happened in pieces, so that I did not immediately put it all together, and none of the pieces was all that strange, by itself, for the ship. Also, the excitement of my RHIB to KAAOT ordeal kind of made me forget about it.

Fortunately my top bunkmate's blanket was falling over the side and blocking my ventilation, making it too hot for me to sleep, and lying there awake and uncomfortable, I put it all together. Here is what I remember.

It was either the night of the 29th or 30th of January, 2009, here in the NAG. I was excited about having some NFL cheerleaders come aboard the boat. There were also football players, but I did not really care for them at all. The cheerleaders were not as pretty as our girls, but wore girl clothes, unlike ours, which goes a long way.

They were only supposed to be aboard for a couple of hours in the afternoon, but something happened that they could not leave the ship, and had to spend the night aboard. They were supposed to be shuffled around to visit other ships and the oil platforms, but stayed here the whole time.

I went down to the classroom for my evening class about an hour early, as I sometimes do, to watch a movie on the big television in the room, until time for class. After a while, a bunch of cocky little assholes showed up. These are the boarding team guys. I can't remember the meaning of the acronym now, but I think it is VBSS and the last three stand for Boarding Search and Seizure.

They said they were having a meeting at quarter to the hour. I was getting fairly bent out of shape about this, since my class begins on the hour. They kept saying it would be short. I was skeptical. What kind of meeting can you have in ten minutes? I was going to sit there and kick them out at five minutes to the hour. But when the little ensign running the show arrived, he kicked ME out! Apparently the meeting was also a secret, and I could not hang out in the room while it took place.

Later in the evening, I am thinking it was about 10:30pm, local time, I was working on a lesson plan in the ward room. The sailors who serve our meals in the ward room showed up, out of the blue, and told me that they had to kick me out so they could set up a midnight meal for the commodore (not a Vic-20) and his staff. I have never seen this happen before, either. Strange things do occur, just not usually several of them in a row.

That night, my other roommate, the one who is one of the helicopter pilots, had to fly unexpectedly, in the middle of the night. We had both helicopters make at least two trips each, and there may have been more. This is also pretty unusual. More so for the fact that they were not doing their usual patrol routine.

They were being sent to pick up and deliver "packs." Now this is how it was said. I did not see it written and could just as easily have been PAKS or PAKs or PACS or PACs, given the military love of acronyms. And if they were, I have no idea what the initials all stand for. I do not know if these were boxes, or piles of equipment, or even people. For all I know, they were SEAL teams, and naturally, now that I am fantasizing about the nature of the event, I am almost hoping that is exactly what "packs" are, or were that night.

So this brings me to why I am making note of all this. I made comment about it to one of the officers, and asked if we might hear something in the news about what was going on. I wish I had written this down at the time, when I could remember what his reply was. I just remember that it was kind of cryptic and sly. Now of course there is the tendency of some military people to encourage any belief on the part of someone else that they have been involved in some big covert operation. And that might be all this was. Still, I wonder.

I do know that things have been heating up with Iran and Israel. We have had several minor changes involving it. Also, even though I am often not that aware of the news when I am home, I do not really have much access to it here. So, for all I know, if I could watch the world news every evening, I might have seen some story and connected it to what we were up to, the other night.

I want to email friends and family and ask, but I cannot really share any of these details until well after the fact. In fact, I cannot share these details until after I have left the ship, by the nondisclosure agreement I signed. Control of this kind of information is specifically why we are not allowed access to any email except through the ship address that I use while aboard.

Perhaps I will just email and ask in general if there have been any interesting news stories, from this part of the world, in the last couple of days.

The mysteries continue, although they are admittedly lesser, and as such, less interesting. Still...

There is a new piece to the flight quarters announcement, that I have noticed in the last couple of weeks. They have begun to specify that no flash photography is allowed. Naturally, this is to prevent blinding the pilots, while they land the helicopters on the ship. What I want to know, is what prompted it?

No, I have not done this, and caused them to make the rule. I wonder if someone thinks that perhaps I am stupid enough to do this, and thought they had better make the rule. The only thing that I have done that could possibly have led to this was during the UnRep, when I was taking pictures. I did not use my flash, but the autofocus on my camera sometimes uses a white light to determine distance to close up subjects. The first time it did this after dark, I stopped pointing my camera at anyone on the bridge.

My other thought is in regards to a discussion I had with one of the pilots about the infrared night mode on my video camera. They were talking about the visors they use to see at night, when landing on the ship in darkness. I mentioned that this mode on my camera has a pretty bright infrared light it emits, which of course cannot be seen at all with the naked eye. I said that I would definitely not use that mode to record a night landing. I was the one who pointed out the hazard in it, so surely that was not the reason.

Of course, as usual, I am assuming that I am the center of the universe, and the new rule could not possibly have nothing to do with me at all.

The other thing is "river city" announcements. I heard this announced over the intercom today, and thought it pretty strange. My roommates commented that there would be no email now. I asked about it, wondering why they would feel the need to use some secret code to say they were cutting off email and web access. As it is, the only email we are allowed to use is the ship addresses lastnamefirstinitial@ddg94.navy.mil. Presumably this is so that email can be monitored, although I cannot imagine that much of it possibly could be, since everybody works so much, obviously half the ship are not monitoring the email of the other half.

So I was told that "river city" is a broad condition. The announcement results in several of the officers doing mysterious things as a result of it. The loss of email access and web access are only a part of it. I was not told what prompted it, or what else goes on as a result, but another thing about the ship learned. Or in this case, partially learned. They could tell me, but then they'd have to kill me.

Some of the secretivity (yes, I just now made up that word) makes sense, but some of it seems kind of silly. Of course, my business is in telling people things, which is much more appropriate to my personality than keeping secrets ever was.

Thump, Splash, and Whirrrrr Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sometimes the tedium and repetition of life at sea gets me down, just like the others (who have much more reason than I, by far), but then there is a day like today. It makes me stop and take stock of the wonderful opportunity of this amazing experience. I find myself pausing in between sealing a hatch I just stepped through and opening the one on the other side of the airlock. I pause and ponder how even something as ordinary as stepping through a doorway on the ship is something wonderful and unique in my experience.

Two main things have gotten me in this mode today. The first one I was told I would not get to see. However, since we were far south of our regular patrol area, for UnRep, we got to do it. We fired the five inch deck gun. And I got video of it!

I was up on the starboard bridge wing, watching and waiting. As they got the gun ready to fire, there was a pod of dolphins playing in the bow wake! I was so exited to see them! I had been told that farther south there are a lot of marine mammals, but I had not seen any. Sure would like to see a whale, before I leave. I got some decent video, I think. I will have a better idea once I upload it to my computer and check it out.

Then when we were ready, the dolphins had swum away. It is as though they knew something was about to happen and decided to split. It was not as loud as I had expected. In my experience with small arms, I have noticed that standing in front of the plane of the muzzle makes things much more intense, especially with "high powered" rifles. Of course this rifle is a couple of magnitudes more serious than those.

When they turned it to starboard and I saw that we were in front of the muzzle plane, I began to wish that I had "micky mouse ears" to put on over top of my squishy foam ear plugs. But they were sufficient. Everyone else had orange and green ones. Mine are yellow. I brought my own from home.

So, they fired once. I thought they were only going to fire one shot. I was relieved that the percussion was not too bad. Then they got ready and fired again. Apparently these are the "ranging" shots, to make sure they are on target. Then they rapid fired eight more times. I managed to catch this entire sequence pointed right at the gun, so it shows the giant shell casings being ejected onto the deck.

I am not sure if I caught any of the splashes on video or not. When I turned that direction, the sun was blinding me to the viewfinder on my camera, so I just had to guess. It is impressive to see how long the shell takes to get from the gun to hit. It is also impressive to see how far away they hit. Apparently what I saw was only about a third of their range. We would not have been able to see the splashes, had they gone to full range.

Then this afternoon I managed to complete the last item on my video wish list. I filmed the "desert hawk" flight landing on the ship. I got the deck hands "chaining and chocking" it down. Then they refueled the aircraft while two silver suited firemen stood ready. They looked to be straight out of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

I also got shots of some nearby oil tankers and a dhow. By this time, the ship was back in our patrol area (which I cannot specify) and no longer all alone at sea, where we were to fire the big gun. Then some outgoing passengers loaded up. In four days, that will be me, down there, climbing aboard to leave this amazing warship.

The hands came out again and removed the chocks and the deck chains and I got good footage of the helicopter taking off and turning away. I will probably not get to upload this video until I get back, or at least until I get to London. It is probably the best I have shot so far.

Then walking back from the flight control tower to my room is when I stopped in an airlock and contemplated the utter coolness of all this. Sometimes it just seems so surreal. Can this stuff actually be happening? I think if I had only been here for a day or two, it would all seem like a dream. I kind of think that might be the case anyway, in a month or two, when I am back to teaching classes in Vancouver and my usual life.

Will it seem real then? Will I stop and remember standing between the two superstructures at night, on my way home from class, looking up at the stars, and watching the sea flowing past? Will I think of sitting at my desk, in the tiny room I shared with two other guys, for two months?

Will I think of the weird sound the vacuum toilets make when they flush? In fact, I am going to go videotape that, right now. I know: "You are going to tape WHAT?" They make the weirdest sound though. And they are so powerful. I feel certain that if you made a good seal around the edges, the thing would take a whole fresh apple, like nothing. Boom! And it would be gone.

That was my day, today.

It is February 9, 2009. Tomorrow I turn 43. I am sitting alone in the back of the "desert hawk" SH-60 helicopter, flying south across the Persian Gulf, away from Nitze. I watched my home of nearly two months fall away behind us, just a few minutes ago. I am looking out the window at our shadow, on the water. We could not be more than a few hundred feet up. Maybe only a couple.

It all seems so strange, so surreal. Can it really be over? Can it even really have happened? I was not entirely comfortable, but certainly settled into my little room, with Phil and Nick. Settled into my little desk and the daily routine of ship life.

Life on the ship had a disconnect that I cannot quite reconcile. As I said, I was settled in. It is Ground Hog Day on the ship. Not much changes. It is the same day over and over. And so I felt to some extent as if I had been there forever, and would be there forever. And that is what is so odd. It was such a strange and surreal experience, and yet it often felt as ordinary as every day life at home. I would periodically struck with how unbelievable the whole thing is. How can I really be here, doing this, and at the same time have it often not seem in the least unusual?

And now I am especially experiencing that surreal discontinuity of it all, as I fly away from that stalwart and beautiful warship. Can this really have happened, or will I just wake up to find it all a strange and wondrous dream? Will I really be in London tomorrow, possibly in the snow? It is warm and green here. Green water, no plants or land in sight.

I have my iPod earbuds up under the "mickey mouse ears" that are built into my folding helmet. I forget what they call it. The Kinks, Rock and Fantasy is playing as I feel the vibration of the aircraft, and watch our shadow scoot along, over the green ocean. I am so thankful to have this soundtrack wherever I go, whenever I want it. What would I have done without my music and this computer, for two months at sea?

We just flew right in front of an oil tanker. It was so close and huge, right out my window. I wish that I could store this memory to share the actual experience. Even if I had my camera out, it just would not do this justice. I guess I will have to settle for describing it all, as I have all along.

While waiting in the control tower, I noticed the microphone for the 1MC, the intercom that makes announcements throughout the ship. So I picked it up, and I sang farewell to the crew: "Well we're big rock singers We have golden fingers And we're loved everywhere that we go .... We keep getting' richer, but we can't get our picture On the cover of the Rolling Stone..." Okay, once again, I did not really do that, but I will definitely have that included in the movie! Of course that means that whoever plays me must have a terrible singing voice, but not be shy about singing out loud and clear.

We just flew over a shallow area, where I could see the bottom and the water was a much brighter green. On that note, I had better conserve my battery until I have something more to say. I see land!

To: the guys
From: me
Subject: Fear
7:57 PM 2/20/09 (four days after my return home)

The Littany Against Fear, from Dune, just popped up in my desktop rotation. It made me remember something that I will not put in the blog. I joked about it, but the day I had to get on and off of that RHIB in five foot seas, I was more scared than I can ever remember being. All day long, all I could think about was the next time I had to make that leap again. And I remember walking along the long bridges between the different platforms of KAAOT and reciting that over and over to myself. I think it even helped a little bit. I definitely believe in the idea of it. Of course, it is much harder in actual practice. I sure am glad that is behind me.


To: Daniel Cascaddan
From: Eric
Subject: Re: Fear

Thats a great passage. I am holding on to that.

So why would you not put it in your blog? I think that story was a great one and talks about real day to day life. In my mind you're exposing folks to the realities of sea duty and heaving seas is one of them. I dont thing anyone, the first time they were exposed to that scenario, wouldnt have a good deal of fear. Combining fear of heights and the fear of being tossed into the ocean would scare anyone.

The fact that the sailors get almost cavalier about it is part of the story too. I would include that passage.


Maybe I will go ahead and include it after all. The thing that is so important about it to me is that it makes me think about the fact that I have lived so much of my life in fear. I am just plain tired of it. I have been trying to be a more positive person, and I think that is a big part of it. Also, after a thing like that, for a time, other stuff does not seem so scary by comparison.

The other sailors on the tour were scared as well. We should not have been out there. Only the boat guys appeared cavalier about the whole thing. They were used to it.


"Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me, I will turn to see fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
- Frank Herbert, Dune

My videos of the trip can be viewed on YouTube
and my photos of the adventure can be seen on flickr.

My personal photos in general, which contain some of the Nitze photos, may be viewed at a different flickr account.

I can be reached for questions and comments by email.