Serving In The Navy Onboard USS Fletcher DD-992

November 23, 2009 by  

President Bill Clinton @ Pearl Harbor Hawaii 1993

President Bill Clinton In 1993, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

        This post contains photos I took in 1993 & 1994 with a variety of different point & shoot cameras. I was serving in the Navy at the time, so these pics are of the “look where I am” variety as opposed to trying to create art. The military is not conducive to independent or free thinking. Looking back, it really didn’t permit thinking of any sort. The photos I present to you in this post are presented in the order I took them, to the best of my recollection. The photo above was taken in July of 1993. President Clinton is in between the two white uniformed people in the center of the photo. I think one of those people is Admiral Charles R. Larson, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command at the time. All of the sailors you see on the forecastle of the ship on the right of the photo were in the Persian Gulf less than a year later. As a 19 year old teenager serving aboard the destroyer USS Fletcher DD-992 at the time, it didn’t seem weird to me that men (no women) that would be dead in less than a year were kept at such a great distance from the president, while the men ( again, no women) that sent them to die ate breakfast and shook the hand of President Bill Clinton.

19 Year Old Sailor, USS Fletcher DD-992

Self Portrait Taken Moments After President Clinton Was Out Of Sight

        In the photo above, I was bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to go to war for President Clinton and my country. At the time, I had no concept of war other than WWII Navy movies. I hadn’t seen Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, or Apocalypse Now, just the romanticized navy & war flicks that came out during the two decades after WWII. Mr. Roberts, Operation Petticoat, Victory At Sea and The Sands Of Iwo Jima were all made when America was still swelling with pride and patriotism, and so was I when I saw them. There was no such thing as an anti-war movie back then, so I bought it hook, line and sinker.

Making Ready For War

Before We Made War, We Painted The Ship

        With or without war, the Navy has a weird compilation of priorities. Appearance to outsiders is the biggest one. The Dog & Pony Show is what happens when a non-military person in a position of authority is expected on board a naval vessel. Those of you that had to clean their rooms when grandma was going to visit may understand what I mean. The bed you sleep in was always fine, until that one day when your parents beat the shit out of you for not making it because Grandma is due for a visit. Since your superiors ASSUME you know what they know, they ALSO assume you know WHY you are having the shit kicked out of you for not having a clean room.

Navigation Detail

The More Enlisted Men You Have, The More People You Can Blame

        There is one very important thing you must understand about the military… SHIT ROLLS DOWNHILL. For those of you that don’t understand what that means, I will simplify it for you: If you are the new guy in the room, you will feel something being shoved up your ass when something goes wrong.

USS Fletcher DD-992 Fantail Watch, 1994

Standing Watch Provides A Scapegoat

        If we imagined ourselves as amnesiacs instead of patrons of American evening news, our involvement with Iraq began in 1989 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Without elaborating on that point, we have been at war with Iraq for 20 years. Iraq has the third largest OIL RESERVES on the planet, while America is the first largest CONSUMER of oil on the planet. With consumption like that, you need to have young men, standing a visual, naked eye watch on the horizons of war zones. That way, you never have to blame failures of any sort on equipment, or those friends of government officials we call contractors that manufacture that equipment.

Kwajalein, Marshall Islands 1994 - USS Fletcher DD-992

USS Fletcher DD-992, February 1994 Ported At Kwajalein, Marshall Islands

        Kwajalein was a great place to visit. USS Fletcher-DD992 was there as part of a WWII anniversary celebration, but I was there as a teenage sailor, looking to make trouble. I had to limp back to my ship by 10 or 12 pm (I forget what time curfew actually was) and even though I was late, my division officer was the Officer Of The Deck at the time, so he let me slide.

Phuket, Thailand 1994, USS Fletcher DD-992

Anchor Detail Onboard USS Fletcher DD-992 Phuket, Thailand

        When you are 19 years old, like I was when I snapped the pic above, logic and reason are not your strongest points. Even if you have the temperance of age, and the logic & reason that age and experience bring, The Navy has a way of reducing it to alcohol and whores. For example, my ship’s last port, before heading to do battle in The Arabian Gulf was Phuket, Thailand. Phuket has no piers, facilities or reason to accommodate a Spruance class destroyer, yet in early 1994, USS Fletcher-DD-992 was parked 1000 yards or so off the coast, and for three days our “Liberty Launch” shuttled American sailors to the beach and turned them loose on the bars and women of the city. At the time, I didn’t care why we were allowed free reign in a tropical pseudo-paradise infested with drugs, whores and alcohol, I just knew that in a week I would be in a warzone, so I better live it up.

Standing Watch, USS Fletcher DD-992

Asher, Mata, Workman & I

        Here is the ironic thing about my time in the Navy… I was at the pinnacle of my vanity. While I was serving, I felt the urge to do my own thing more than I ever had, before or since. My hair was way longer than regulations allowed, and I was already beginning to understand just how easy it was to manipulate the military to get my way.

Steel Beach Picnic, USS Fletcher DD-992

Steel Beach Picnic, USS Fletcher DD-992

        The fantail is the ass end of a ship. On my ship, USS Fletcher DD-992 it was a good 3600 square feet, so it was a natural place to have a picnic. The ship is made of steel, so if we imagined the ocean around us as the ocean and our ship as a beach, you wound up having a STEEL BEACH PICNIC.

50 Caliber (I think) USS Fletcher DD-992

After We Ate, We Spread Democracy

        Being in the Persian Gulf was a little bit different than other places than Navy had taken me. For starters, there is nothing there but oil, so we were there for no other reason than oil. Reason? The 90 days my ship spent there as part of the Carl Vinson Battle Group was for the sole purpose of defending America’s oil interests. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself except that we were told at the time that ensuring the liberation of Kuwait was our reason for being there. Do you hear that world? If you have oil, America will send it’s citizens to die defending your sovereignty. If you don’t have oil, we will report your troubles for 16 seconds on the evening news.

USS Fletcher DD-992 In Arabian Gulf Port

Now Muster A 30 Man Working Party On The Pier

        The Persian Gulf, The USS Fletcher DD-992 and sand comprised the 3 months I spent in the Persian Gulf. Just to give you an idea of how stupid the military is, I offer the following. When visiting dignitaries of ANY creed, culture or race came to my ship, while in port, American sailors were made to sweep the sand off of the gang plank AND the pier! As the winds of the Arabian desert blows sand ALL THE WAY to North America, American teenagers had to ensure that Arab Sheiks and American Congressmen had a sand-free path from their chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz cars across the pier to my ship.

Personnelman 1994 USS Fletcher DD-992

A Haircut And A New Naval Job

        Strange things happened to me just as we reached the Arabian Gulf in March 1994. The first was my new naval rate, personnelman. No more chipping and painting for me, at least on the OUTSIDE of the ship. I got a haircut and dove in to learning my new rate. The strange artifact of working the new job in the ship’s office was some regularity in my schedule, and day to day routine. Sailors with no rate (job) in the navy spend their days working in 1st division. This division is controlled by boatswain mates and you never know what you will be doing from one day to the next BESIDES chipping and painting. 1st division does all the lookout watches, anchor details, line handlers and anything else that requires late hours and heavy lifting. All that changed when I started working in the ship’s office because it was a regular 9-5 type gig. The actual hours were longer than that of course, but I didn’t have to stand watch anymore and quitting time was at the same time everyday.

USS Fletcher DD-992 Screws In Drydock 1995

USS Fletcher DD-992 In Dry-Dock 1995

        My new rate, along with the mighty warship being mired in dry-dock following our return from the Persian Gulf is what ultimately turned me into a person that didn’t like the navy. It was really sad because I thought the USN was going to be different in the way it handled employees compared to the civilian sector. A ship in dry-dock is absolute murder on the crew. We stood fire watch for 12 hours a day, lived on a barge on duty days, lived on an island on non-duty days, and that didn’t change for 18 months. The navy just doesn’t care about wasted potential. I begged my command to allow me to go on a deployment with another battle group that was leaving about the same time my ship entered dry-dock, but was told no because my replacement would not know the ship’s routine as well as me. Firewatch was the ship’s routine. My replacement would not be able to watch a civilian contractor weld for 12 hours as well as I could. It was at that moment that I realized how stupid the navy is, and just how naive I had been.


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One Response to “Serving In The Navy Onboard USS Fletcher DD-992”

  1. Mike Kennedy on November 28th, 2009 2:26 pm

    Awesome story about a junior sailor's view of the Navy!

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