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  • Rod Van Wart and I served about the USS Enterprise for about two and a half years. We were a couple of First Class Petty Officers who had been assigned to the aircraft carrier with the hopes of actually working as Electricians for a while (Rod and I were both Electrician's Mates, but he was coming from a two year tour as a supervisor of prisoners at a brig, and I was coming from a two year tour as a Navy Recruiter). Our detailers (the guys in Washington DC at the Bureau of Personnel who assign people based on billets and needs) had informed us both there were no less than nine billets for Electricians on the Enterprise.

    When he and I arrived, we were told by the engineer there were currently sixteen First Class Electrician's Mates on board, and he frankly didn't understand why we were given orders to become the 17th and 18th in line. He did mention that the Damage Control Officer, Lt. Commander Bruce Wayne Hawkins (affectionately known as the Batman), had a shortage of senior petty officers and could use a couple of men to help him set up the new Damage Control Maintenance and Supply system. Well, it was either become supernumeraries in the Engineering Department or learn to administrate a brand new system.

    The U.S. Navy was changing at the time. For a large ship like the Enterprise, the goal of the Damage Control Maintenance and Supply system was to make sure the ship was ready for sea at all times. This meant constant inspection and maintenance of more than 9,000 fittings, doors, hatches, and other equipment. In order to do that, you needed a large crew of men. Fortunately, we had more than 6,000 sailors aboard.

    The job wasn't that difficult for us, as the administrators. We assigned the work, made random inspections, and wrote the Preventative Maintenance standards which later became PMS cards each worker had to take with him to do a specific job. Within six months, the system was up and running, and the ship actually passed three readiness inspections. (Aircraft carriers are notorious for not passing these inspections. It isn't the fault of the crew, the ship is huge and the sheer number of fittings that have to be checked is overwhelming.) But Rod and I worked diligently with the people we had assigned to us (a total of 125 sailors from different departments) and managed to gain their cooperation.

    Lt. Commander Hawkins was impressed, and was also impressed by the fact that Rod and I used much of our spare time to satisfy the new Personal Qualifications Standards and the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist requirements. In short, Rod and I were qualified in professional standards to man any station aboard the ship. I took it one step further. Since we were assigned to the Damage Control Department, I decided to qualify as Fire Marshal.

    Two months later, our Fire Marshal, CWO2 Cullen, developed acute appendicitis and had to be flown off the ship. Lt. Commander Hawkins looked through the records, and to his chagrin the only other person qualified to fill the billet was a First Class Electrician's Mate named Frederick Smith.

    To say he was apprehensive is to understate the situation. After all, I was an Electrician's Mate, not a Hull Technician, and had never run a fire department on board a naval vessel in my life. He wasn't sure how the Hull Tech's would respond to me, let alone if they would work with me. But he had little choice in the matter, since the Captain already knew I was the only qualified person on board. (Who do you think signed and presented my certificate of qualification?)

    Rod and I already had a pretty good relationship with the Hull Tech's in the Department. So the problem of cooperation wasn't as bad as everyone thought it might be. But there was the question of what would happen in an actual fire. We were both members of the firefighting team already, since we were assigned to Damage Control, and had both been to several advanced schools in shipboard firefighting. The only tension between myself and the firefighting team came when I announced the new fire drill schedule. CWO2 Cullen had scheduled drills about twice a week. I scheduled drills six days a week. Some of them on Sundays.

    I got the usual flak from the junior enlisted men, but nothing that amounted to insubordination. If we were at sea, the objections usually came when a drill was scheduled late at night or very early in the morning. If we were in port, objections usually came from the junior officers who had to be present on the scene. Every drill was conducted with high expectations, and my drills usually lasted from one to one and one half hours, including the critique and comments from the team. After the first few drills, the comments were more than just the usual grousing, and we improved together.

    At 4:35 a.m. on July 12th, 1977, we were deployed in the Indian Ocean preparing for flight ops when the fire alarm was sounded. There was a fire in one of the voids containing the piping that led to one of the steam catapults on the flight deck. Coming from all over the ship, my fire team and I made our way to the scene. At 4:45 a.m., I called the bridge to report the fire was out. At 5 a.m., the scene was totally secured and the lagging which had caused the alarm was being repaired. The flight ops, scheduled for 6 a.m., went off as scheduled. From that day on, I was never questioned about my methods or my drills. Not by the Hull Techs, not by the officers, and not by Lt. Commander Hawkins.


    [In the picture above, myself and Rod Van Wart at the landing in Freemantle, Australia. I'm the one with the guitar.]
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