How well do you know your ship?
How well do you know your gear?
How well do you know yourself?
On 11 May 1945 USS BUNKER HILL (CV17), one of the new ESSEX class fast carriers around which the post-Pearl Harbor Navy was built, was sailing as the flagship of VADM Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58 during the Okinawa campaign.
The Marines and Army went ashore on Okinawa on 1 April 1945 in what became the most costly and bloodiest campaign in the Pacific War. It is the only battle in which more Navy Sailors died at sea than either the soldiers or Marines ashore. This very high number of casualties at sea was due primarily to the kamikazes, Japanese suicide planes, whose attacks on the fleet reached a crescendo during the Okinawa campaign.
Two kamikazes, each armed with a 500lb bomb, hit BUNKER HILL while she was preparing for flight operations on the morning of 11 May. The combination of bomb hits and crashes on the flight deck, filled with fully armed and fueled aircraft preparing for launch, was devastating. Structural damage to the ship was extensive and fires raged out of control on the flight deck, gallery deck, and in the hangar bay. Smoke and poisonous fumes spread rapidly through the ship. Damage control fittings were destroyed and fire fighting systems failed. The situation was truly desperate with the ship’s survival in doubt.
A critical design flaw in the ESSEX class – the ventilation intakes were located along the flight deck and fed the central air ducts to the engineering spaces – resulted in the BUNKER HILL’s fire rooms and engine rooms rapidly filling with smoke and deadly fumes. The normal 110F ambient temperature rapidly spiked to 145-150F. The air became poisonous and filled with soot; visibility in the fire rooms dropped to near zero.
FN George Thorne knew, as did all the Engineers, that if he abandoned his post in the forward fire room, the ship would lose power and any hope of saving her would be lost. The heat and foul air gradually overcame the rest of the watch in the forward fire room – they slowly asphyxiated. FN Thorne, unable to see his gauges and dials, placed his hands on his feed water and fuel oil pumps and sensed by the feel of the system – a combination of sound, vibration, and temperature – whether the pumps were operating properly. For over 10 hours, FN Thorne operated his fire room essentially alone and in the blind under steadily deteriorating conditions.
FN Thorne knew his ship’s survival depended upon him staying at this GQ station, even at the cost of his life. Because of his intimate knowledge of the ships boilers, feed water and fuel systems, he was able to maintain fires in BUNKER HILL’s forward boilers by himself and without lights. He knew his ship and he knew his gear.
How well do you know yours? Think about what it would take to do your job totally in the dark, under great stress and with your shipmates out of action. Think about the situation where your ship’s survival depends on you and your ability to maintain your watch in spite of the threat to your very survival.
On 11 May 1945, BUNKER HILL was filled with men like FN George Thorne. Despite grievous damage to the ship, the deaths of 393 shipmates and the wounding of almost 300 others, Thorn and his shipmates saved BUNKER HILL. They knew their ship, they knew their gear, and they were determined to fight, no matter what.
Cross posted from USFF Blog
I started this blog when I assumed command of US Fleet Forces Command because I wanted to get feedback from the deckplate on the current state of the fleet as well as different perspectives and ideas on particular topics. I have been very happy with the comments you have provided me and your feedback has really helped shape my thinking.
Now that I am approaching my six month mark in command, I would like to change the format of this blog in a manner which I hope will benefit us both – but particularly increase what you get out of the time you devote to reading and responding to my posts.
For the past six months, I have asked questions that can pretty much be mapped to one or more of my three primary concerns as Commander, USFF: to provide forces ready for tasking to our Combatant Commanders, to sustain those forces (including our people) so that we may fight today’s wars, tomorrow and get our ships, submarines, and aircraft to their expected service life, and to ensure our force deploys confident in their readiness to execute their missions through adhering to the tried and true standards that have benefited our Navy throughout our history.
Based on the picture of Fleet conditions I’ve developed over the past six months, I intend to transition away from predominately asking questions to letting you know my thoughts and informing you of the decisions I’ve made. The value of your comments will not diminish, quite the contrary, but hopefully this will give you a better opportunity to understand what is on my mind and the actions I am taking.
That said, one area I have significant concern with is the confusion between “taking risk” and lowering standards. As Navy made hard decisions over the past six years to meet growing Combatant Commander force demands, come off the manpower glideslope, and fund recapitalization after the “procurement holiday” of the 1990s; we began to use phrases such as “taking risk.” Taking risk was often used to describe the actions that must be taken to “do more, with less.” What really occurred in some instances was we did more, but we did it less well and we lowered our standards.
As we recapitalize the fleet, meet Combatant Commander demand, and properly invest in the sustainment of our ships, submarines, and aircraft, we cannot lower the tried and true standards which have served our Navy for over 230 years. Recent incidents – HARTFORD, JAMES E WILLIAMS, and flight discipline lapses – are just some examples that illuminate areas where we must re-educate, reinvigorate, and reinforce the bedrock importance of our tried and true standards that run the gamut from how we operate, to how we maintain, to our conduct, and the concept of accountability. As a Fleet Commander, fewer resources means that there are things we will do less, but that must not result in doing things less well. More to follow.
All the best, JCHjr.
Cross posted from U.S. Fleet Forces blog
Navy established Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) in January 2006 to lead and centrally manage our Expeditionary Forces. Just four years later, we have a large and diverse group of Sailors at the leading edge of the fight with the demand signal for these forces steadily increasing.
When we discuss Navy’s contributions to today’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, NECC’s forces are – and will continue to be – at the center of that discussion. Our Sailors (Active and Reserve) have developed an extraordinary amount of experience and capability that we must continue to bring to bear to execute the missions our nation requires, today and in the future.
It is easy to create and manage a “single-purpose” warfare career field – like sub, surface, and air. My question to you: how do we best ensure that we institutionalize and take advantage of the extraordinary experience that we have gained in NECC over the past four years and will continue to need well into the future?
Cross posted from US Fleet Forces Command Blog
From this blog and others I have monitored, I have seen many comments discussing a variety of issues related to manning of our ships, squadrons, submarines and expeditionary units. I am very aware of the shortages we have in certain communities as well as distribution issues currently being addressed by the Chief of Naval Personnel. I think I have a very good understanding of the history associated with many of these issues, but much of what I’ve read hasn’t dealt with the baseline requirements established in the various afloat billet bases.
I would like to hear from you regarding the fundamental manpower requirements for your ship, squadron, or unit. What changes would you make to your Officer Distribution Control and Enlisted Data Verification Reports that would better enable you to execute your current operational requirements? Please include in your response the type of ship, squadron, or unit you are referring to so I can put your remarks in their proper context. I would also like to know the rationale for the proposed change. For the purposes of this thread, I am directing this question primarily to those currently in uniform and part of the USFF team.
One note for your consideration – as I have remarked on elsewhere, the resources the nation will be able to devote to the services in the future will not continue the pattern of the past eight years where service budgets and contingency funding steadily increased. Our overall operations tempo, with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq entering new phases, is likely to remain high. The challenges associated with recapitalizing the Fleet are daunting. Very tough choices lie ahead for us at every level in the chain-of-command.
Accordingly, simply asking for more people won’t work – what we must do is ensure the people we do have are serving where we most need them and that they receive the necessary training en route and on the job once they report aboard. That’s why I’d like to hear from you about the billet base for your unit. All the best, JCHjr
Cross posted from Fleet Forces Command Blog
For the past 60 years, our Navy has been the most technologically advanced, well-trained, and most complete and capable naval force in the world. Since the end of the Cold War, other nations have not been able to compete with us militarily or economically. But as Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a-changing.”
We are now in a time where a terrorist group like Hezbollah can not only acquire a cruise missile, but also train, launch and hit an Israeli Sa’ar 5 corvette – a capability once possessed by only a handful of militaries. This type of capability (once the purview of the nation-state, now within the reach of many non-state extremist and criminal organizations) requires us to take a hard look at all of our warfighting capabilities and how we man, train, and equip. It is no longer just about ensuring that we do not allow our traditional warfighting capabilities to atrophy – we must be able to deter and when necessary, fight and win against ALL those who seek to do us harm, including those that do not fight under a nation’s flag like terrorists, cyber-hackers, and pirates.
What are some of your ideas concerning how we ensure our warfighting capabilities like ASW / BMD / Strike, etc. keep pace with the threat, while we also ensure we are prepared to combat “irregular” threats like terrorism, cyber-hackers, and piracy? And how do we best accomplish all this during a time when the great pressure on our budgets will not allow us to just “buy our way” out of the problem?
Cross posted from US Fleet Forces Command Blog
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