Why The U.S. Navy Drills…And Why We Should Too

The one routine to be counted on in the Navy was drilling over our ultimate purposes.  We drilled to ‘fight-the-ship’, to do those things that were meant as our purpose.  I worked in the engineering spaces as my part in the crew.  Drilling on propulsion casualties, loss of electric generators, flooding from seawater cooling, and failures in reactor plant monitoring were conducted two-or-three times each week.  All sailors drill in fire-fighting and the duty sections drilled nearly every duty day, that is two or three times a week.  General Quarters is the ultimate mission and these we drilled once a week to every ten days.  The Captain needed to know whether the entire symphony of divisions on his ship could operate in unison, practicing for full-up capabilities and whether those divisions could manage casualties together; after all, the loss of a generator means somewhere a fire pump won’t pump water and a missile launcher won’t target or shoot.

We drill.  We learn what it is to be under stress by putting ourselves into situations, making mistakes, and practicing how to recover from those errors when we can tak take time afterwards to break down actions and review what might have been done better.  There is no time to ‘guess’ or ‘wing-it’ when lives are at stake.  That is a fantasy.  A crew must be prepared to take calculated action when the real battle takes place.

The purpose of studying moral principles, philosophy or theology, is the same as those Navy drills.  The time to prepare for moral testing is when there is no moral dilemma to work through.  Asking the questions about what marriage is, about legalizing or restricting the broader uses of narcotics or other drugs, wondering about who we are and who controls our lives are topics that need careful consideration routinely.

“Why do we ‘have’ to go to Church on (Friday/Saturday) Sunday?”  We don’t, of course, unless we wish to continue our discussions and our training in moral philosophy.  Within the boundaries of “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice” lies the opportunity for our desire to seek our own ultimate ends, our own purposes.  Beyond our parents’ upbringing (whatever that may have been) lies the community of those seeking an end beyond the material lives we live.  This is the ‘drill’ of moral philosophy and theology.  It is not to be left to the instances when we are challenged, but to be prepared for, planned for, and studied, that we may make sound decisions toward our own ultimate ends, within communities which support the same moral boundaries we share.

Choose to go to ‘church’, to go to that place where people gather together to remember, to learn, and to practice as community those moral principles by which to guide and live life.

 

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Thanksgiving takes on another reason to be grateful this year.  Like the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, we too have a new home this year.  It’s in a new town, one we’ve only ever passed through, in a part of Florida we’ve never explored.  That means new people to meet, new avenues to travel and explore, and a new Church community to contribute to.

Even so, for myself, I am bound to recall those past holidays that were spent away from the homeland, deployed across the oceans near other lands not so fortunate as ours.  A fire aboard ship is the worst of catastrophes as it leads to other, worse conditions.  USS Enterprise suffered a fire from paper fibers and dust in a shredding room.  The aluminum ventilation ducting in the space melted and the smoke went through out the entire aft end of the ship.  This same ducting ran through an ammunition locker.

5000 men and women are grateful today that the damage control teams lead by the ship’s Chief Petty Officers extinguished the fire before the ductwork failed in that locker.

The disparities of the days create a stark comparison in my memories.  I remain grateful to God for his mercy on us, both at sea and at home.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Merry Christmas as we begin the Advent season this 2017.

We kneel and we Stand

We stand to honor the Star-Spangled Banner. We stand to honor it because it represents us,…all of us. The Stars-and-Bars represent the best of what we are, what we hope for, what we dream for.
 
We also kneel to pay tribute to some things, to recognize those things that are greater than ourselves. We kneel in the face of the Divine, holding to a faith that the Divine is so powerful, so perfect, that we have such great fearful respect so as to have it force us by the weight of the encounter we humans are forced to our knees. We kneel in churches and temples, in prayer and in awe.
 
When the music starts, when the proclamation of the ideal, the greatness, the power of unity calls to us, … then we stand. So kneel if you wish to protest your perceptions of anger and frustration, the reality of life that says, though we are created equal in stature, our own abilities and capabilities determine so much of who and what we become. Be angry and frustrated.
 
But stand when the time comes, when the music begins, to honor the effort to work toward the ideal, to chose to be interdependent and accomplish together what we cannot accomplish individually. It is in this action, with this principle, that we stand and honor the flag of the United States of America.  We stand to honor ideals and dreams.Bergen County Register
photo credit Bergen County Register
Firefighters find the flagstaff of the World Trade Center after 9-11, raising a flag in the middle of the rubble.

Key West – The Caymen Wreck

June 1st, 1996 found us diving in Key West on an old cable laying ship.  The dive notes gave me only 20 minutes of dive time at eighty-feet.  Visibility was good and the temp was 80 degrees on the surface.  It was a cool day as June summers go, though maybe it’s because it was only  ten in the morning.  The last notation in the log said we saw two large jew fish.  Now, ‘large’ can mean a couple hundred pounds of fish, but then everything underwater looks twenty-five-per-cent bigger.  Photos are current from the web and representative.  Drawing is from my dive-log notes.

We dove with Southpoint Divers in Key West.  Very good, well controlled operation.  I would use them again and recommend them (at the time) to anyone asking.

The 1st dive was on a 230 ft cable & buoy tender called Caymen.  We saw three jew fish, largest one was (as big as me).  This fish must have gone 200lbs.  The smaller ones were half that.  All (this was) atop the deck.

Dive the World Jew Fish

(photo credit Dive-the-World weblog)

There were plenty of queen angels and others.  (We) didn’t see (any) eels.  (The) best part (of the dive) was that Mindy and I were comfortable diving together.  We were able to drift about and look at things, communicate our interest, even comfortable enough to hold hands for much of the time.  This made getting the other’s attention even easier.

The current made for some work in ensuring enough air was left.  I use five-hundred on my ascent from eighty-feet, working against it and keeping Mindy with me so she could get the float line.  The shop used a down line and tank at fifteen feet.  They are the first operation I’ve seen do this (it’s dive number 58 for me).  I was glad to see it.  One minor problem with the way the set it up.  The line sags and gets taut as the boat (rises and falls) with the waves.  Divers hanging on the line make it sag.  Still it makes a good reference for depth.

Down line

(Divers going below 60 feet need to spend time at 15 feet for a ‘safety stop’, where breathing air at less pressure allows the diver’s body to breathe off excess nitrogen.  The ‘down line’ allows the diver to hold at that depth for the five minutes, instead of drifting up or down, above or below an imaginary line in the water.  The ‘down line’ makes a good visual reference in a reference-less environment)

The second dive (this day) was a very nice reef dive.  Again, comfort with communications made it even better.  (Some of our dive partners) found lobsters right off.  I spent several minutes examining the one found under a rock on the bottom.  I looked for eggs.  I couldn’t get the lobster to move enough to see under the tail.

Next item of interest was a sea turtle.  I kicked over to (within a few feet of it) and drifted along with it for three to five minutes.  I felt ‘futility’ in watching the creature.  The front left fin was gone, but the bone and muscle under healed over with skin still moved as if the stroke in time with the right one.  I wondered if the animal even knows it lost a fin?

green sea turtle

The next event was following the sand between reef fingers.  I noticed some ‘tracks on the bottom and wondered what made them.  The appeared to be a single train going in a circle.  I chastised myself; “Dummy! Follow the tracks!” I quickly found the rock that the train came from.  It was a small conch.  It fit into the palm of my hand, and I turned it over to see the animal, but it, of course, drew into its shell, leaving me only the claw to look at.  Carrie (our daughter) was above us, and Mindy took the crustacean up for her to see before we returned it to the place where we found it.

The final ‘event’ is Mindy giving me excited hand signals.  (There was something) she really wanted me to see!  She put her hands into the sand…and stood on her head!!  Silly girl.  We sure had fun on this dive!

Diving in Freeport

This entry reviews a set of dives Mindy and I made in Freeport, Bahamas.  I was due to deploy in June after three years on shore duty.  A friend gave us ferry tickets and time in a TimeShare they had on the island.  It so happens, this coincided with the coldest winter Florida and the Bahamas experienced in more than a decade.  We went prepared for fun in the sun, and the air temp dropped to 52 degrees F; and one of the dives was at night.  Here goes…

2-4-96

Diving was cancelled yesterday.  Made me all the more anxious for today.  Cold from for the Continent made for lots of wind here and heavy seas.  Both calmed this morning so the dive went off.

Xanadu Divers – Dale is the shop manager.  Very arrogant.  I had trouble dealing with him.  He seemed annoyed with having to deal with us.  (Our dive buddies were) Dave with Xavior and Beatrice from Philly.  John (was) from Connecticut; Mike and Carol, from Chicago, and one other diver.

Theo’s Wreck is a 238′ ocean freighter sunk in 1982.  I have to question the date because there just isn’t that much coral on her.  The Bud barge (FL’s east coast) hasn’t been down as long and has much more (coral) on her.  (What I did not understand at the time was the difference in water temperatures and chemistry between the deep water around the Bahamas and the warmth and minerals of the Gulf Stream off Florida.)

Anyway, she lies port side down, bow faces NW.  Penetration through the forward port area of the cargo deck is available, though on sinking most of the cargo bay is open as the hatches fell off when she hit the bottom.

Penetration is also possible from the aft deck, entering the upper levels on the engine room and proceeding through all three levels in a row, then turning aft to exit (through) a cut near the screw and rudder on the starboard side.

Ship looked formidable and foreboding as the hull disappeared into the (ever darkening) water. (light travels slower in the water and the deeper one dives the less light and fewer colors there are.  Add to that the changing cloud cover of the weather front and visibility was under a hundred feet; less than half the length of the wreck.)

(Wreck diving is an additional certification with most of the Dive training organizations.  We were only on and inside this one because the hatch covers were so open and passages mostly cleared.  Wiring wasn’t drifting about, far less metal to snag ourselves on, and there were so many of us that if an issue arose we would have the capabilities to deal with it.  This would come into play on the night dive at a later hour.)

There was a lot of frustration on this dive, and lots to be excited about.  Some concerns about the dive operator…No one left on the boat on this trip (calm seas, good anchor set), but still two things concerned me.  1) They took three novice divers to greater than 60 ft (which is the Open Water dive limit), down to 100′ without any brief about possible affects of narcosis.  (Pressure increases by on atmosphere [14 lbs] for every 30 feet.  Breathing works the diver harder, more nitrogen is absorbed, air depletes faster, and a safety stop is required to ‘off gas’ the nitrogen.  Otherwise is is likely to come out in the blood on the surface.  The pain of ‘the bends’ isn’t trivial.) 2) The took all the divers into the enclosed are of the engine room without regard to experience levels.  On of the divers did catch his wife’s trailing gear before it could hang her up on any equipment in the hull.  The cargo bay is much more open so penetrating there was not really trouble.  No extra equipment to catch dive gear on and very easy to leave though the 30′ high and 25′ wide cargo bay hatches.

 

fish notes 020496

Coming back from the first dive, we tried to get onto the 10am trip but we were rebuffed. They said the dive was full and wouldn’t discuss it with us further.  We signed up for an evening dive at 5:30pm, which in February means a night dive since the sun is down by then.  They said they needed at least four divers to make the trip worth their while.  We had six, so the dive was set.

Xanadu had been written up in Advance SCUBA and Skin Diver magazine for their shark feeding dives.  They wanted to get me on this one, but I wasn’t interested this time.  Check(ing) old copies of the magazines, I remember a cover photo of this.  (Never would I do a shark feeding dive.  Seeing them naturally in the water is enough excitement for me.  No need to build them into a frenzy, chain mail gloves or not.)

The night dive proved to be very interesting as a dive, and as a professional. This was only dives 42 and 43 for me and it was the first time we were diving outside of the reach of the Florida shore.  So when we came up and found the boat gone, the seven of us were more than a little surprised!

First, though, it was very cold…beyond comfortable.  I was warm only because I layered my clothes and stayed out of the wind as we motored out to the reef.  The seas got heavier (since the morning dive) and the wind picked up, driving the cold down from the continent.  Mindy and I were fresh (skipping the shark dive and relaxing around the pool), but Xavier and Beatrice, Mike and Carol had all done two more dives (including the shark dive).  All kept their wet suits on, (which normally would have made them all very warm, but for this driving wind on the water the suits held had the opposite effect).

The crew had trouble setting the anchor, probably took 30 minutes to try, then 30 more to try again.  Dale was boat captain and refused our help several times.  (I wrote that he was arrogant yet again, but in rhetrospect, the skipper and his crew are responsible for the safety of the boat.  I should not have interfered).

The dive was ‘ok’.  The reef was relatively new.  Brain coral was only baseball size and there were only three fan corals growing.  Still, there were lots of puffer fish and a good sized hog fish.  Some color was seen in others, but again, it’s night, low light, so the colors were in the green and blue spectrums.

 

(Clockwise, hog fish, puffer normal, puffer defense.  photo credits http://wlrn.org/post/feds-consider-new-limits-hogfish; Miami FL, animals.mom.me, and wikipedia.  representative of the dive, not our dive photos)

Mindy saw a yellow ray with Ki, the dive master for this splash.  She was following him as close to his fins as she could stay after losing me.  I caught up but lost Beatrice and Xavier.  Mike lost us all from the beginning.  Carol was too cold and stayed on the boat.

(I posted some lessons learned in my notes, but not the reason for the lessons.  The story that when we came up finally, and gathered everyone together, there was no boat!  We looked, whistled, shouted, shined our flashlights around, but did not find the boat.  Ki and I rounded up the group and talked calmly about a surface swim toward the nearby shore.  There were lights, a red one in particular, and so we began a slow paddle in that direction.)

(Mindy was the first to notice that Ki was on one heading and I was on another.  Turns out there were more than one red light on the shore and we each picked a different one.  About that time we heard the boat crew shouting at us and we swam that direction.  The anchor was dragging on them and when they pulled it up the line got caught in the screw. )

(Cold, tired (exhausted really), and now in the water for more than an hour, we hoisted Mindy and the other divers onto the boat.  Ki and I went to work on the anchor line, mostly untangling it, but doing some cutting.  It was wrapped tightly around the shaft and the propeller and wasn’t going anywhere until we got it off.)

It’s been 21 years since we made this dive.  Yet I can see the details of this story as if it were only last weekend.  The most unsafe part of the dive was the exposure.  Several members of the group were shaking uncontrollably.  The other issues are not necessarily common, but also not uncommon.  Ki was an experienced Dive Master, staying calm and keeping his group calm throughout the night dive and the issues.  I’ll commend him here, and expect that Xanadu Divers has either closed as a business, or has learned much more in the passing decades to be more customer oriented and safety conscience.

Memorial Day 2017 – A link to the past, a link to the future

I’ve been away awhile.  Academic pursuits demanded my writing time.  Today, though, it seems appropriate to remember.  It will be enough, to just remember.

He was a grizzled fellow, as if he’d been at sea his entire life.  He walked like Popeye, but lacked the character’s bulky forearms.  Still, this ancient mariner strode confidently off the bus in crisp cracker-jacks with his first-class machinist’s rating badge and across the parking lot toward the cemetery grounds.  He was one of many thousands returning to Normandy for the 40th Anniversary of D-Day, or rather, as the French say, the Liberation of France.

I was there as part of a joint military honor-guard.  We were the ‘visible’ sign of a modern military presence and ‘security force’, meant to respond to the needs of the veterans visiting.  Off shore lay a joint fleet of NATO allies, thirty-some ships centered around the USS Eisenhower.  President Reagan was coming, along with a dozen other world leaders.

There was a familiarization session at the Omaha Beach Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc the day before.  We spread out to look over the several acres of memorials and the walkways down to the beach.  We were looking for obvious points of concern that would cause physical difficulties for the returning veterans.  This 40th anniversary was likely to be the largest crowd ever for the event; most old enough to want to come back before they were too frail to do so.

visiting Omaha Cemetery   This day, I happened upon two men traveling together.  I walked with them down toward the stone stairs that went to the beach.  They began recounting the routine; who they were, what their ratings were, what the tasks were for that infamous day so long ago.  That five minutes was a gift to me and only a warm-up for them.  When they began recounting who they were with, the larger of the two men broke into tears.  It wasn’t long before he was in full on remorse and remembrance.  His friend could not console him.  They were back at D-Day.  I said a simple thank you and stopped walking.

I was late getting back to the bus and the Army sergeant in charge and the Embassy officer in charge were none too happy with me.  My ‘punishment’ was to be assigned to the Pointe du Hoc location the next day.  Well, sometimes ‘punishment’ is a gift.  That evening, in the nearby French village in Saint Pierre du Mont, my Air Force roommates and I had the pleasure of the company of Rangers who assaulted the Pointe on D-Day.  Sixty-seven of the two-hundred men that came ashore that day returned to honor their brothers.  They wore uniforms close to what their class ‘A’s were in 1944; khaki trousers and ‘blouses’, with the unit insignia on the shoulders.  They wore long, narrow caps with ‘Ranger’ on the side and their VFW/American Legion insignias on the other.  They were survivors, and they were there to meet with their French civilian count parts who also survived.  What an honor to be there with them! It wasn’t the only one I’d be part of that weekend.

Rangers-pointe-du-hoc

 

W-Rangers-4C-LW12

Walter Cronkite was a war correspondent during WWII and he was imbedded with the troops on D-Day.  He was flying in the nose of a B-17 observing the landings. On this 40th Anniversary, he was broadcasting for CBS from the bluff above the English Channel at Pointe du Hoc.  After the festivities and a mock rush of an old blown out bunker, I was able to make my way over to the tables where he and others were wrapping up their equipment.  Shaking Mr. Cronkite’s hand was an unexpected honor.

 

I have one more person from WWII to remember each Memorial Day. My Uncle George was an aviation flight crew chief.  After the war ended, shuffling the fleet of planes became routine work for the air corps and the Navy was no different.  George was crew chief on a cross-country route from Norfolk to San Diego, ferrying a patrol observation plane from one coast to another.  Corpus Cristi TX provided a refueling stop for the crew and the bird.  The pilot took on an extra two passengers the morning of launch for the second part of their trip.  He, his passengers, and my great Uncle died that morning when a malfunction occurred and the plane crashes after lifting off.  Uncle George was our family’s military hero.

USS-Enterprise-Launch

Before my own service, I learned of Korea in history books and I watched Vietnam on the television news from Mr. Cronkite.  My own service saw shipmates and associate crewmen die on active duty.  Just after I retired from the Navy, the United States suffered the 9-11 tragedies and entered the Second Gulf War.  My son, nieces, and nephews have accomplished their service.  They’ve lost their comrades.  We each are links to the past and the future, with our chain of memories of family, friends, and shipmates to remember and to honor.

300px-USS_Mississippi_(CGN-40)

Will you join us, this Memorial Day?  Before the picnics, before splashing the boats or starting out on the project for the camping trip, before striking the BBQ grill, will you pause with your own family and friends, perhaps visit the military memorial in your local cemetery, or join the parade, or go to church, will you stop for a moment and pray the souls who have gone before us, having given themselves to service for our country, will enjoy the blessings of heaven and support us as we continue defending our nation’s people.  Please.

May the Grace and Blessings of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be carried to each of them, and to all of you, by the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

End of Life Options – A Profession of Faith

(photo collage subjects drawn from Internet searches using Google Images)

It’s so different, writing for a research paper for university work and writing a story about the same topic.  As I sit here at my desk, surrounded by books about Conscience, about morals, about conflicting topics of the duality and the intimacy of body and soul, as I find myself buried in trying to understand the competing philosophies of a Saint and Pope and the denial of the existence of God, the One or the many, or any at all, I’m made to realize by a simple story of a man and a church how much differently stories about lives tell about Truth.  This short essay is written to illustrate a Truth about end-of-life faith.

Randy Pausch was an outstanding computer scientist and professor.  He lead the team that created a computer programming called Alice, helping to teach computer programming to students.  He used an interdisciplinary approach to his work, including skilled members from across the academic and business spectrum in his work.

August 2007 was a pivotal month for Randy.  He learned his pancreatic cancer had reemerged and his time remaining in our material world was very short.  What did Randy do?  Randy wrote and delivered an inspiring lecture, and collaborate with a partner to write a book following the same theme.  “Really Achieve Your Childhood Dreams” was delivered to a packed auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University.  It was recorded and delivered in video format on YouTube.  Randy’s work became known as “The Last Lecture” and received world-wide acclaim, inspiring millions.  Read more about Randy and his work at www.cmu.edu/randyslecture.

Brittany Maynard was a wife and desired to be a mother.  Professionally, she took her psychology and education degrees and taught overseas in orphanages in Nepal and southeast Asian countries.  Brittany was diagnosed with brain cancer in April of 2014, and despite treatment, the cancer was not suppressed.  Concerned with her prognosis and expectations of a painful death, Brittany chose to move from California to Oregon, where physician assisted suicide is legal.  On November 1st, 2014, Brittany committed suicide.  Read and watch more about Brittany’s story at http://thebrittanyfund.org/.  The Brittany Fund is her legacy, established by her husband to support the cause of ‘death-with-dignity’.  Brittany herself is recorded providing her reasoning.

These days, ‘fake news’ makes the rounds on the Internet rather easily, highly promoted through social media.  Who knows what we might and should believe verse what is simply rubbish.  However, in this case, the story seems well vetted.  The video comes to us via WAVY-TV 10, my favorite local news station when I was stationed in Norfolk VA during my Navy career.

Consider the story of Greg Thomas, who happens to be my age as well, so this one hits close to home with me.  Greg was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer.  He was given only three months to live.  Greg took long walks with his dog through Minnesota farmland, and found in his treks a small country church that was abandoned.  Greg cried numerous times on the front stairs of that locked church sanctuary.  One day, Greg decided (or was he ‘inspired’?) to begin restoring that church.  Greg’s story finds him completing the refurbishment of the church while restoring a local community.  And, yes, Greg finds his cancer in remission.  Read and see more of Greg’s story at http://www.littlethings.com/greg-thomas-church-miracle/?utm_source=kaz&utm_medium=Facebook&utm_campaign=miracle.

Finally, let’s take a tandem case of Jewish men from Austria in the 1930’s, as Germany expanded its empire and conspired to destroy the Jewish race.  Most of us are familiar with Sigmund Freud.  His impact on our society is remarkable, no doubt.  Fewer of us are probably aware of Viktor Frankl, once a student of Freud’s.  For all Dr. Freud’s accomplishments, he decided to commit suicide when he contracted cancer on his tongue.  Viktor Frankl chose to stay in Austria to care for his parents, and all were taken to concentration camps.  Facing death, Dr. Frankl fought a daily battle to stay alive in Auschwitz.  He witnessed the martyrdom of Father Maximillian Kolby.  He lost his parents in those camps.  Yet, his daily struggle helped to save many lives.  Following the war and his release from the camps, Dr. Frankl continued his works, writing and lecturing on “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  One may read about Dr. Freud’s death with a simple Internet search.  Dr. Frankl’s work can be found at www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com.

Randy Pausch, Greg Thomas, and Viktor Frankl showed us one way of facing certain death.  Randy received no reprieve.  Greg and Viktor did.  Yet, all three continued along a path of giving of themselves and inspiring others while they continued to walk the path of their lives.

Who knows what Dr. Freud and Brittny may have accomplished had they chosen differently?  I’ve read some of Dr. Freud’s philosophy outside of his professional work.  I felt I was sitting on the floor listening to a grandfather’s wisdom.  What more could he have shared with us, how else could he have inspired generations had he chosen to live?  Brittny’s efforts and success at committing suicide inspired a law for California, one which was passes and now allows others to terminate their lives at will.

We do not know what our lives will bring nor whom we may affect and in what way.  What is certain is no one will know when we chose to cut them short of our own choice, rather than to live through whatever pain and struggle we may face to a natural end.  It is evident in these examples of those who have lived to each of their ends, there are differences to be noted, differences that illustrate a faith in God and in the gift of an embodied Spirit given to each of us to serve Him and our brothers and sisters.