Over Your Head [February 2006]

My first set of orders in the Navy was to the USS San Diego. The San Diego was an Air Combat Avionics, Fuel and Stores ship. Our mission was to hook our ship to an Aircraft Carrier, give them ”AvFuel,” avionics, and general stores, ranging from ice cream to flight deck gear to toilet paper. This ship had a deep draught1, twenty-five feet deep, fully loaded. The San Diego had six holds, front to back, and each hold was three to five decks deep.

Although the ship was in the shipyards when I reported for duty, they were just finishing and preparing for sea trials. These were called work ups, as in ‘working up to a full head of steam.’ At the same time, the newest crewmembers went to a five-day Fire and Damage Control School. They had a mock ships hold, with pipes and girders everywhere. One wall was a foot thick sheet of acrylic, for observation. They could simulate everything from flooding by broken pipes or breaches in the hull, to fire and smoke hazards. To make every lesson sink in, they made sure you never won. If you get something shored up, they would have something else break or burn.

After months of work ups, we headed to the Caribbean for our final testing. We did not even get to dock or go ashore there; the inspectors flew out to us, not even giving us a small glimpse of dry ground.

As the alarm sounded, “General Quarters, General Quarters, All Hands Man Your Battle Stations,” I ran with my team to one of the aft holds. Five of us flew down the first ladder, the last man stopping to batten down the hatch, creating a watertight seal. Each time we went down a ladder the last man secured the hatch, until it was just Randy and I. He started down the last ladder, making sure I knew: where to plug in my sound powered phone; where the hammers, wedges and beams were; and that I had checked in with Damage Control Central.

After he had secured the last ladder-well hatch, Randy opened the small manhole in the hatch, smiled a huge grin, and asked me if I knew what was going to happen. I told him that I thought the inspector would check to make sure I had properly secured my hatch, then he would open it and come down to my deck. After, or even during that, he would shout out what ruptured where, and I had better go through the steps of saving us. After Randy stopped laughing, he welcomed me to Davy Jones’ locker. He asked me if I knew what would happen if the hull ruptured in my space. When I shook my head, he replied that the water would rush in so fast and hard that I would never get near the hole. The entire Atlantic Ocean is trying to fill the ship, because “sea level” was fifteen feet over my head.


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