03 August 2006


Everybody who's ever sailed in a boat with nuclear weapons on board knows that extra security watches are required. And everyone who sailed in a boat during the '80s - with or without said weapons - is familiar with this statement: "I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on board this ship."

Then one day our skipper decided that if we didn't have nuclear weapon security guards posted, we were in effect officially denying, to anyone who came on board and noticed their lack, the presence of nuclear weapons. Can't have that. No, sir. So we posted nuclear weapon security guards. And for about a year, everyone in the forward duty sections was guaranteed at least two watches every duty day, so we could support the extra watches. Bleah.

There've been good deals, too. When I was on the skimmer, Repair Department wrote its own watchbill. We were in five-section duty, and had enough extra people in each duty section that we could have gone six-section. The skipper said he couldn't let us do that, because Engineering was only doing four-section and the snipes felt they were getting screwed as it was. So the repair boss put out the word that he expected every person (every E6 or below, that is) in the department to submit, every month, a chit for special liberty on a duty day. That was one order I was happy to comply with, and every month I submitted mine: "Respectfully request special liberty on duty day DD MMM YY in accordance with department head's policy."

The best deal I ever had, though, was around the turn of the century*, after they decided that the boat really didn't have to have a radioman, a QM, &c, in every duty section; all that was required was enough people to fill the watchbill and necessary reaction forces. After a lot of talk, we went to what we called "super three-section" duty. This gave us around twenty people in each forward duty section. Each duty day, the watches were divided up as follows:

1. Four people stood the first two watches (two POODs, two BDWs). At 1830, following the after-dinner cleanup, these four went home. They were still in a duty status, so they had to stay home near the phone, refrain from drinking alcohol, and otherwise be ready to be called in if necessary.
2. Eight other people stayed on board overnight and stood the remaining watches (four POODs, four BDWs). The aft duty section supplied sufficient bodies to fill in the reaction forces.
3. The rest of the duty section assisted with duty-section evolutions during the day. Other than that, though, they treated it as a normal work day, and went home - not in a duty status - when their chiefs put down liberty.

The drawback to this scheme was that the COB wanted to make sure nobody was getting screwed by being in group two too often, or was being blessed by being in group three too often. So each duty section had to present its watchbill for an entire quarter at a time, so he could count how many times each man was assigned to each group. This in turn meant that leave chits for the quarter had to be approved before the watchbill was written; anyone who put in for leave after the watchbill was approved had to provide a standby for each duty day he would miss.

Remind me some day and I'll tell you about the sleaziest duty I ever pulled....

* Couldn't resist a chance to use that phrase.

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