Friday, August 13, 2010

My First Watch

I endured blood curdling tirades before. My father employed his booming voice when disciplining me as a child. Plebe Year at the Naval Academy was fraught with loud public humiliation, often deserved, at the hands of my upperclass. Somehow, the first watch onboard Harlan County was worse than anything I experienced before.

It seemed that I could do nothing right. The captain made sure that everyone on watch knew that my orders to the helm were too hesitant, that I did not employ the correct format when reporting CPA’s, and that my calculations were grossly off. He shot questions at me about the wind, navigational rules of the road, and capabilities of the equipment on the bridge.

I do not recall that a single foul word emanated from the captain, but I felt cut to the bone. I looked to the OOD for assistance, even a glance of solidarity, and got none. Master Chief Operations Specialist Hejnal, the CIC watch officer, was on and off the bridge. One moment he emerged from combat, apparently to compare notes with me on some aspect of the watch. But once I came under fire, he seemed to disappear. I think I caught the boatswain’s mate of the watch actually smirking; he seemed to enjoy my discomfort and embarrassment.

To exacerbate the whole situation, I was seasick. The seas off VACAPES are often rough in winter months. It was not enough that the swells bobbed the unladen, flat-bottomed ship in a manner contrary to my ears and stomach. The derrick arms on the forecastle rose and fell with the waves, magnifying to my eyes their movement against the horizon.

My projections were loud and violent. Apparently kicking the junior officer while he’s down is acceptable in the ancient annals of naval leadership because as I puked, the captain needed my immediate attention. The captain would then bellow more derision at my weakness across the bridge. After each episode, my shipmate’s faces displayed scorn, not sympathy.

As the watch finished, I’m sure my shoulders slumped. I was certain after four hours of dressing down and emptying my stomach that I was a complete failure as a naval officer. The months ahead onboard the ‘Darlin Harlan suddenly seemed infinite. Before I was able to shrink away to some hidden corner to lament my fate in private, Master Chief Hejnal called to me.

"Mr. Phillips,” he said from the port bridge wing.

“Yes, Master Chief.”

“Come here, sir.”

I stepped out to the bridge wing and followed the Master Chief a few feet aft, out of earshot of the lookout and the relieving bridge team. I anticipated the Master Chief was now to get his pound of flesh. For a second I mustered my last ounce of dignity and steeled myself for some reminder of how I fouled up the previous watch or perhaps drew unwanted attention toward the Master Chief.

It turns out I completely misread his purpose. Placing a hand on my shoulder and smiling slightly, Hejnal said, “Sir, I want you to remember something and carry it with you the rest of your naval career.”

“What’s that, Master Chief?”

“You’ve got more ass, than he’s got teeth.”


Sam Levin said...

Outstanding sea tale. You have honed your yarn spinning into a sleek double edged weapon. Top notched.....

Anonymous said...

感謝大大的無私分享 讓小弟獲益良多 終於知道網上還有這麼多的好東西≧▽≦"

Anonymous said...

First time I ever heard that, I guess I don't know everything about you Steve...great read