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How the George Washington Burned

I remember hearing about a fire on the USS George Washington - for those unaware, my old ship - and going "OK, no big, we've had fires before", some of which I've been involved in putting out.

It seems the fire was big enough, however, to get the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer (CO and XO) fired.

That kills me because I can tell you immediately, just from looking at this article, exactly what happened. Where it happened. How long it's happened. And why these guys took the fall for something that's been common knowledge for almost a decade, at the VERY LEAST.

It happened in the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration shop, which is on the 7th deck - way near the bottom of the hull - of the ship, close to aft. That's an exceptionally hard place to fight a fire, especially considering the fact that there's a large AC unit - loaded with freon, which is a toxin in gas form - and I can see where the incident happened. Essentially, someone was smoking a cigarette, and it hit some turbine lubricant because the person smoking said fag was an idiot. Next thing you know, bang, $70m in damage, and two officers are gone, careers over.

But I can assure everyone reading this that this isn't new. When I was in, people used to go into the backs of the aircraft elevator machinery rooms (ACEs) all the time to smoke. ACE3 and 4 - located farthest aft of the ship, and with the best ventilation - were the best places to smoke. Either they'd go into 3 hold (a storage space on the 4th deck) or behind the forward cable drum in ACE4. We knew they were doing it; hell, I've had supervisors go back there and smoke! We all turned our heads, so long as they cleaned up their butts and ashes; shit, I used to socialize with them, and it would have been my ass if someone caught us.

I'm willing to bet that someone was smoking in that shop late at night, away from a supervisor, when that shit hit the fan. "But Chris! Why would they do that? Are there not places to smoke?" There are, and that's WHY they go into machinery spaces to smoke. There are two places to smoke on the GW: on the 2nd deck farthest aft, and on the O-2 level, midships. They're horribly inconvenient to get to, oftentimes get closed for safety or operational reasons, and tiny, which means there is an EXCEPTIONAL amount of second hand smoke, and there's also usually a large queue to get out there; with full ship's force (ship's company + squadrons), an average smoke break could be almost 45 minutes. Combine that with an hour to an hour and a half just to eat, and you have time issues when sometimes, you get an hour and a half in a day when you're NOT working. And by that, I mean the whole 24 hour day; you get 90 minutes to do everything you need to do that doesn't involve work.

So if I - someone that hasn't touched a ship since 2003 - knows exactly what, when, where and how this happened, then why did the CO and XO take the fall? That's the tough shit rule of the Navy; they need scapegoats, and the enlisted people don't make good PR pieces (everyone in that A-gang chain of command is FUCKED, trust me), so they make public stooges of the biggest officers on the ship. This was a PR move by the Navy, pure and simple; believe me, somewhere, RADM William McCarthy and CAPT Martin Erdossy (my two Captains), are breathing sighs of relief. Now, the new command is going to go in, and things all over the ship are going to be tighter than a virgin's legs on her prom night. Old sailors used to complain about the "New Navy" vs. the "Old Navy", and the more liberal, politicized rules that came about over time; some of them were stupid (like not being able to smoke except in two designated areas), but some of them were actually good (like "you cannot discipline your sailors by beating the everliving shit out of them", though trust me, that still happens too, as I can attest to on both sides), but that ship - which caused the Japanese government to get nervous (remember, the GW is nuclear) - is going to get a LOT more "New" over the next couple years. Expect some dead weight sailors to get weeded out.

As for me? I almost feel partly responsible; after all, we let the sailors smoke, and even I was guilty of my own transgressions (while I didn't smoke, I would often utilize the quieter storage and machinery spaces to get laid, a MAJOR no-no on a coed ship). On the one hand, I was a supervisor, and though the precedent was set long before I touched the deck, I did keep the old standards going. On the other hand, fighting those standards - when supervisors are guilty of some of them as well - would have been a weak fight that would have only involved in me getting ostracized, beaten up, and eventually removed. It'd have been a fruitless fight, though to be honest, it wasn't one I was particularly interested in fighting; my subordinates weren't just my subordinates, they were my friends, and we looked out for each other.

Then again... we also handled our retards. Someone needed to beat the one that caused that fire long before he made the mistake he did. Now, we're out $70 of defence money, two good officers are out of jobs, and we have an international incident, likely caused by an E-1 with the common sense of a gnat.

Military intelligence, motherfuckers.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Aug. 1st, 2008 01:39 am (UTC)

Sometimes I wonder why the defense budget is so damn high.

Sometimes I don't need to.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )