Archive for April, 2009

I highly recommend a tour of the USS Hornet if you are in the neighborhood. AS a firm believer of the maxim “one cannot tour enough aircraft carriers,” I enjoyed my visit on the Hornet and think you will too. 

The USS Hornet CV-12, CVA-12, CVS-12 is one of the 24 legendary Essex-class aircraft carriers built during and after World War II. Decommissioned in 1970, the Hornet is a floating museum and available for tours. See

To view the rest of my photos, click here.

Photos (me)

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Travel | 1 Comment


Earlier this week, the hospital ship Comfort wrapped up its visit to Haiti, the first stop of the seven-nation Continuing Promise 2009 deployment. Continuing Promise 2009 is a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Here are some Haiti CP09 medical numbers:

Patients treated: 6,731

Patient encounters: 30,586

Surgeries conducted: 161

Animals treated: 2,354

Prescriptions filled: 15,504

Job well done to the men and women of the Comfort. You can follow the Comfort’s Mission Commander’s Blog here and Southcom’s Continuing Promise 09 page here.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Navy, Travel | 2 Comments

Exercise Balikatan ’09 is a joint bilateral exercise between the United States and Philippines which officially started 16 April 2009 and runs through 30 April 2009. Exercise Balikatan 2009 is the 25th in the Balikatan series. ‘Balikatan’ is a Tagalog term which means “shoulder to shoulder.”

USNI Blog recently joined Andrew Lubin in a DOD Bloggers Roundtable with  Brig. Gen. Ronald Bailey, USMC, Deputy Commanding General, III Marine Expeditionary Force; Commanding General of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and U.S. Director of Balikatan ’09.

There are three events that U.S. and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel will be participating in during the exercise. According to BG Bailey, “Our first one is the humanitarian and civic assistance projects. The second is a scenario-based staff exercise that we’ll run from Manila with the joint force management headquarters, Philippines. And the final one involves field training activities in the Central Luzon and the Cavite province.”

Full transcript here.

Balikatan ’09 Website here.

My thanks to BG Bailey for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us bloggers. It was great to learn about how the U.S. is winning lots of hearts and minds in the Philippines.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | No Comments

The other day, as I was waiting for my turn to be called at the local VA hospital, an older gentleman noticed me watching the Sox game, and asked me the score. I looked up and saw his ball cap. USS Houston CL-81. He was tall and straight, with a demeanor that belied eight decades of life.

I asked him about his ship, and he was quick to tell me that this was not the “famous” Houston, CA-30, the “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”. It was the OTHER one, he pointed out. I asked him his rating and he proudly said “Gunner’s Mate, Second!”. Had qualified as a gunner and trainer on the 20mm and 40mm, and had worked his way up to loader on the 5″-38. He made an aside remark about CL-81 “catching some hell” off Formosa in ’44. Now, being somewhat of a history geek, I was familiar with the incidents he mentioned. Houston caught more than “some” hell. She caught all the hell the Japanese could send her way.

Over the past few days, I have thought a great deal about that Sailor and our conversation. And I believe the story of CL-81 bears a re-telling here. Thanks to Naval Historical center for the below images and the summary of action:


On 12-14 October 1944 USS Houston participated in Task Force 38’s carrier air raids on Japanese air bases on Formosa. The enemy responded with night torpedo plane counterattacks that stopped the heavy cruiser Canberra (CA-70) on the evening of the 13th. The next evening, as Canberra was being slowly towed away, Houston was also hit. A Type 91 aerial torpedo caught her amidships, below the turn of the starboard bilge, causing very severe damage that flooded all four of her machinery spaces and brought her to a halt. Her captain initially believed his ship was doomed, and requested that her crew be taken off. However, damage control parties managed to contain the inrushing water, and abandonment ceased. Instead, in the darkness and not without difficulties, the ship was taken under tow by USS Boston (CA-69).

The two crippled cruisers were slowly towed towards safety, but remained within striking distance of Japanese airfields for several days. To protect them, a task force of two light carriers, with several cruisers and destroyers, maneuvered nearby. Fleet tug Pawnee (ATF-74) took over Houston‘s tow on the 16th, while her sister tug Munsee (ATF-107) picked up the Canberra. That afternoon a large enemy air raid came in from Formosa. Fighters from the escorting light carriers and shipboard anti-aircraft guns shot down many Japanese planes, but a few got near enough to launch torpedos. One of these hit Houston‘s starboard quarter, blowing her aircraft hangar hatch into the air and making another large hole in her hull.

Tug Pawnee kept towing and, despite having more than 6000 tons of water in her ruptured and weakened hull, Houston‘s damage control parties kept her afloat during the eleven additional days required for the tugs and their reliefs to bring her and Canberra to the advanced base at Ulithi, more than 1300 nautical miles from where they were torpedoed. There, and subsequently at Manus in the Admiralty Islands, Houston‘s holes were patched, her hull reinforced and enough machinery repaired to allow her to proceed under her own power to the U.S. for permanent repairs. Few, if any, U.S. Navy ships operating in the open sea had survived such massive underwater damage and flooding.


An incredible tale of bravery, determination, stamina, and knowhow to keep CL-81 above the waves. Seems that GM2 earned every gray hair and wrinkle, and then some. Come to find out there was a hell of a lot of courage under that hat. Mine comes off to him.


Every so often, we as seagoers are reminded that the mundane may rapidly transform into the perilous, even without a human enemy. Such moments can bring out the best and worst in our nature. Twenty-one years ago today routine operations onboard the USS Bonefish (SS-582) and USS Carr (FFG 52) uderwent such a change. A naval blogger of longstanding, xformed over at chaoticsynapticactivity was onboard the Carr and has previously written about that experience. Today, he brings new details to light gained through the venue of new media and contacts enabled through his blog. It is a selfless story of sacrifice and goes straight to the heart of the discussion elsewhere in these pages about tradition, service and, dare I say it, ethos. 

Posted by SteelJaw in Navy | 51 Comments

Near the coastal city that served as a major port, they gathered in the pre-dawn twilight, forming a single line in preparation for the day’s welcoming ceremony. Emblematic of their nation’s journey from a force in being to a major player on the world stage – economically, industrially and militarily; the grayish white fleet assembling today resembled little of its forebears of a handful of decades past. No longer just a regional power, this was the bid to become a major player on the world’s stage – the signal of arrival.

The Great White Fleet getting completing it’s epic journey around the world? Yes — and the People’s Liberation Army Navy celebrating its 60th Anniversary…

So what is the sense on the ground, if you will, as to the review’s true purpose? From the Deputy Commander of the PLAN via Xinhua (source), the expectations are more ‘understadning’:

“Suspicions about China being a ‘threat’ to world security are mostly because of misunderstandings and lack of understandings about China,” Ding said. “The suspicions would disappear if foreign counterparts could visit the Chinese navy and know about the true situations.”

CNO’s focused on current ops and navy-to-navy cooperation:

“I believe that opportunities like this for our navies to come together to talk about things that navies talk about, to be able to advance our military-to-military relationship and the context of a broader and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship is very important. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a pleasure to be back in China,” Roughead said. “I think that our day-to-day operations in the vicinity of Somalia are a tremendous confidence building measure, and I would say they go beyond a confidence building measure. Today our two forces are operating there,” Roughead said. “I’m a great proponent of cooperative endeavors in humanitarian assistance and how we might be able to work together in some combined and even multilateral humanitarian assistance operations such as the ones that my Navy leads.”

Others, like this from current Political Science professor at University of Miami and former Asia advisor to the CNO, June Tuefel Dryer, in an interview with ABC’s Radio Australia, note the regional concerns beyond merely protecting trade routes:

“JOANNA McCARTHY: Well, there is of course a lot of speculation on the question but what are the intentions behind China’s naval build-up, beyond protecting its trade routes, in your view?

JUNE TUEFEL DRYER: I do think that they want to create a situation where they are not challenged by any other power because the other power would realise it’s simply too dangerous to do so and that would include Vietnam, it would include Japan, it would include Taiwan and the United States. They have been testing, apparently it’s not yet operational, a very menacing weapon with the capability to destroy US aircraft carriers, for example.

JOANNA McCARTHY: And for all of Beijing’s intentions, are they still a long way off building a naval force that’s comparable to that of the United States?

JUNE TUEFEL DRYER: Yes, indeed. It’s a significant way off but on the other hand we shouldn’t downplay the significance of their having come as far as they have very quickly.”(emphasis added)

Time notes the, well, propitious timing with the release of the Obama Administration’s new budget direction and areas of emphasis with attendant opportunities for de-escalating the risk of conflict:

“The anniversary celebrations come at a pivotal moment for the United States and China. On April 6 Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced his intention — and a budget to back it up — to build future defense spending around the “wars we are in,” rather than those that military planners can imagine. The decision is hugely consequential. Even as the U.S. was engaged in two fronts in the so called War on Terror over the last eight years, it simultaneously spent defense dollars on weapons systems grounded in the assumption that someday the U.S. might well find itself in conflict with a big, technologically sophisticated nation with global ambitions, one with a well-funded, well-equipped army, navy and air force. America needed, in other words, to be ready to go to war with China”

and perhaps, wrapping back to the PLAN’s Deputy Commander’s somments above, observes:

For years, the Pentagon has been frustrated by China’s secrecy over its military budgeting and its intentions. The U.S. brass simply doesn’t believe Beijing when it says its defense spending in 2008 was only $60 billion. It’s double or three times that, Pentagon planners believe. Even Barnett concedes that China “goes out of its way to hide what it procures and then slyly trots out its big ticket items every so often so our satellites can get a few shots of them. That, in the past, has fueled the suspicion that has driven the Pentagon’s budget — which in turn convinces China’s hawks that Washington does indeed see Beijing as an enemy. The Gates budget can change that dynamic — if China now responds, and levels a bit more with the outside world about its military. Big anniversaries come and go, but moments like this arise only rarely. Is the Chinese leadership smart enough to seize it?”

Perhaps, but one must always keep the long game in view and it doesn’t hurt to keep your powder dry

MSNBC video on PLAN 60th Anniversary

Posted by SteelJaw in Foreign Policy, Navy | 8 Comments
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This is submarine week on Meet the Author so it is only appropriate that I interview Gannon McHale about life as an enlisted sailor on a fast attack submarine during the 1960s.

What inspired you to write Stealth Boat: Fighting the Cold War in a Fast-Attack Submarine?

The inspiration for the book actually came from a shipmate, who suggested that I “write down all those old sea stories.” As an actor I have been in the storytelling business for thirty years, and storytelling was a big part of my childhood. I thought that perhaps the time had come for someone to recall life aboard a submarine as seen through the eyes of an enlisted man. Submarine sailors love sea stories and I believed that my approach might inspire other men who served aboard boats to recall their own experiences.

What was it like being an enlisted man onboard the USS Sturgeon (SSN-637) in the late 1960’s?

Much has been written about the late 1960’s as one of the most divisive periods in our nation’s history. The country was nearly torn apart by the Vietnam War and it caused a great deal of heartache in families nationwide. The almost universal “support the troops” sentiment of today was definitely not the norm. The Selective Service Act was in place and all young men who reached the age of 19 were required to serve two years active duty in the military. Many young men fled the country to avoid being drafted. Others faked medical and psychological ailments to avoid service in what they deemed an unnecessary and immoral war. I and many of my colleagues enlisted in the Navy specifically to avoid being drafted for service in Southeast Asia. However, we were not going to shirk from our responsibilities, burn our draft cards or go to Canada. We decided to be proactive about our military experience and we ended up in the submarine service where the “Cold War” required us to do things that were just as dangerous as being sent into combat.

Who should read Stealth Boat?

Everyone who has ever served aboard a submarine and anyone who is curious about the experience should read this book. I tried to recreate the day-today camaraderie that is unique to the submarine service, and I hope that it will inspire those men who served on boats to recall their own experiences. I also hoped that it would “open a door” and shed some light on what has been, until recently, a highly classified part of our nation’s history. The Submarine Service contribution to winning the Cold War cannot be overestimated.

How did your time in the Navy prepare you for Broadway and regional theatres across the world?

I had no idea when I was in the Navy that I would end up in Show Business. However, the friendships that I developed aboard the USS STURGEON have been a part of my life ever since, and the training and experience I gained as a submariner helped give me the strength and determination necessary to survive in a highly competitive and often capricious business environment.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

From the book……”My four years in the Unites States Navy coincided with one of the most interesting periods in the history of the Submarine Force, the ascendance of nuclear submarines and the decline of the diesel-electric boats. In the beginning of my service I reported aboard the newest commissioned nuclear powered attack submarine in the fleet and subsequently made her first three patrols. At the end I made a patrol aboard one of the oldest diesel-electric boats in the fleet before she was decommissioned and stricken from the list. I am very happy that I served aboard both vessels. The first was the future in the present tense, and the other was the past. As the “future” Sturgeon was the major, defining experience of my life and, as the “past,” Dogfish gave me perspective, a tangible sense of submarine history, and completed my immersion into a mystique that only those men who have served on submarines can ever truly comprehend.”

I was very fortunate to serve on a great boat with great men, some of the finest I have ever met. I truly believe that the Submarine Service provided me with not only the first and, perhaps, finest adventure of my life, but the experience and the friendships of a lifetime. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

Nix Annapolis?

April 2009


I was just going to comment on Ryan’s bit – but things went long and I wanted to throw some other ideas at it.

To give the lazy a summary, it was Sunday that Ricks threw this red meat in the pit.

Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships.

After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the service academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I’ve been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

Of course we could spend another post or two on why a long-time observer of military officers would find academy graduates more cynical … but let’s move forward.

I have voiced it before, and I will do it again. I think the way we do our military academies is wrong. In many ways, I agree with Ricks, but with this change. We should keep them, but turn them, post ROTC and undergrad, into something in line with the way the Brits do things – i.e. Britannia Royal Naval College – but stretch it to a year. None of this “we’ll give you a Masters too…” BS either.

No. Full frontal, full time, fullbore soaking on what a Naval Officer needs to know and what he must have in his head to lead Sailors. Let the Army and the USAF do the same.

That is a recipe for quality Junior Officers. Oh, and build a metric butt-ton of YPs and another Tall Ship to go with it.

I do think he is a bit off here though,

We should also consider closing the services’ war colleges, where colonels supposedly learn strategic thinking. These institutions strike me as second-rate. If we want to open the minds of rising officers and prepare them for top command, we should send them to civilian schools where their assumptions will be challenged, and where they will interact with diplomats and executives, not to a service institution where they can reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games. Just ask David Petraeus, a Princeton PhD.

No, we need them but there is one change that needs to be made as soon as possible. No one should go to the Naval War College or her sisters until post CDR Command. Too many great O3-O4 and pre-Command O5s are at War College where they are best placed either working on their PhD at a civilian institution like Ricks likes, or better yet – honing and executing their tactical level warfighting skills in their prime like the taxpayer expects them to.

I know Major Staffs better than I wish I did – and there is no reason someone needs to be at a War College prior to CDR Command in order to function at a Major Joint Staff or higher in the positions a LT or LCDR or non-CAPT(sel) CDR will fill. Full stop.

That is a change that no one, no one in 10 years, has convinced me would be a bad idea.

Crossposted at CDR Salamander.

Navy Times ran a story on officer manning in the submarine and surface communies that piqued my interest. Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson made this statement to Congress on 19 March:

Though officer retention rates have generally increased, there remain select shortfalls in the control grades,” he wrote, referring to aggregate numbers across all the officer communities. “Commander and lieutenant commander inventories are below requirements; though, for the first time in many years, unrestricted line captain inventory exceeds officer programmed authorizations.

While that may be true across all communities, the outlook for the Surface Navy is still pretty poor. And, according to the most recent community brief to Commanding and Executive Officers, the problem looks like it will take at least a decade to correct. Slides 2 and 20 show the numbers.

Posted by Chris van Avery in Navy | No Comments

I discuss the Coast Guard’s ongoing role in contributing to the broader efforts to halt piracy over on iCommandant:

Piracy has been rightfully called an insult to civilization. The recent pirate attacks on the motor vessels MAERSK ALABAMA and LIBERTY SUN focused the attention of the American public on what has been an increasingly significant international issue. It is important that the American public and the international community know that the U.S. Government is working hard to find an enduring international solution to this international problem. Read More

Additional information on combating piracy:

Coast Guard’s history combating piracy — Fighting pirates since 1793
The Coast Guard’s role in international piracy incidents

The DOG’s perspective. — Interview with RDML Tom Atkin by PA1 Adam Eggers

We will keep you posted…


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