A Grocery List [April 2006]   ©Mark Zen

As I looked down at the list in my hand, I was positive I had forgotten something.

  • One case Pringle’s BBQ Chips
  • One case Pringle’s Ranch Chips
  • Two cases of Coke
  • One case of 7-Up
  • One case of Ginger Ale
  • 6-10 dozen cookies

Surely, something was missing from this list. I had remembered 35mm film for my camera. About ten to fifteen rolls should do it. I needed to get by for three weeks, without being able to run to the store if I forgot something. All I would have access to was our ships store.

I had been getting ready for one of the longest training missions our ship had gone on until this point. We were heading to the coast of Cuba for our “final exam.” We had to pass all of our tests, to prove we were ready, before deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. The first phase was called “work ups,” as we were working our way up to our exams, which were called “Sea Trials.” We did our Sea Trials off the coast of Cuba. After months upon months of ceaseless, almost merciless training, we were ready for our Trials. We thought we were prepared for anything, but history says otherwise.

The first difficulty we had was severe, a problem with the boilers and cooling systems. The ship is made of steel and conducts heat. In northern waters, the cold seawater helps keep the ship a livable place, but the Caribbean Sea is much warmer. The temperatures in the boiler rooms became critical; engineers could only stay below for six minutes at a time, trading off relentlessly. Our propulsion room shut down, and we drifted at the seas’ mercy. After several hours of this, the rest of the crew helped bring water to the engineers and helped them in and out of the hatches. The hangar bay doors were thrown wide open, giving the overheated men a small respite. Eight hours later, we were back under our own power again, thanks to the tireless efforts of our beloved ‘snipes.’

The second problem happened to our shipmates on the USS Iowa. On 19 April 1989, an explosion ripped through their Number Two 16-inch gun turret, killing 47 crewmen. Our two battle groups were training together, preparing for deployment to the Mediterranean Sea in one month. This was to be both ships last mission before their decommissioning. Within minutes of the blast, we launched a helicopter with a bomb squad and rescue team. Their grisly job was to remove the bodies from the turret after the squad stabilized anything that might potentially kill the rescuers. Static electricity igniting loose powder was the most likely cause of this disaster. One of the medics told me later the scene was worse than anything he ever saw in Vietnam.

Brave men died from the same kind of spark you get after walking across carpet in your slippers. Every training mission is a potential disaster, yet every sailor and soldier proudly pushes on, to serve and protect our country and our families, even in the face of danger.

Forgetting the cheese puffs wasn't such a tragedy after all.

Photos of the Iowa Shooting the Guns on the Number Two Turret
Link to the Wikipedia entry for the USS Iowa

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