Ramfanatic Joins The Navy

It's been a rather exciting summer, but it may have peaked last Wednesday when I joined the U.S. Navy, for one day that is. I was fortunate enough to have a friend, Dave, who is a member of the Richmond Navy League, and he invited me to go on a cruise with that group on the USS Normandie, a guided missile cruiser out of Norfolk. I was probably the only person among the 103 who went that had not served in the Navy, other than wives, but I didn't advertise that fact and got through the experience unscathed.

I knew before I went that I would show my ignorance of nautical terminology, but I didn't think it would happen so soon in the day. In a conversation with Dave, without thinking, I referred to the rear gun as a cannon and was quickly told it was not a cannon. Quite frankly, I don't know the technical definition of a cannon, and I thought I had heard naval guns referred to as cannons but maybe not. I asked Dave, who was grinning after correcting me, what to call the "thing" on the rear of the ship, and he hesitated briefly before he said, "Just call it a gun." I really believe he was remembering what terms and words you were not supposed to use in the Navy more than what was correct. I made a mental note to retaliate as the opportunity presented itself later in the day.

The Normandie is a guided missile cruiser which fired the first missile in the first Gulf War. It was built in Mississippi in 1988 and it is conventionally, not nuclear powered.

In addition to using the incorrect nomenclature for the "explosive device", I had another close call shortly after we set sail around 8:30 a.m. I was standing at the rail generally taking in all the activities that were going on when I started to feel dizzy. I couldn't believe that I was possibly getting seasick when we were only 15 minutes into the cruise ( not sure that is the correct word ). I then noticed that I was beginning to sweat profusely and that's when I became alarmed because I have never been a heavy sweater. I told Dave that I had better go inside the ship and sit for a while so we went into the area where the ship's helicopter normally resides and took a seat. Several kids were playing basketball at the one goal they had in the area and with the cool air from the ship's air conditioning, in a few minutes, I was all right. I really don't know what caused this little episode, but I later remembered that I ate a doughnut on the bus trip down and that was all I had eaten. Our blood sugar levels are constantly changing and I couldn't help but wonder if eating a sugar laden doughnut with nothing else to counteract it would have caused my dizziness. If not, I guess I will have to admit that maybe it was sea sickness which is rather embarrassing. Just think. What if I had lost the doughnut I had eaten and the crew would have surrounded me trying to help and they were very attentive to their guests. Bet that would have embarrassed old Dave to no end not to say what embarrassment it would have caused me.

We went out on the Atlantic Ocean for about 60 miles and were entertained with several activities by the ship's crew and others. One exciting segment had four F-18s fly over and break the sound barrier. They had issued us ear plugs early in the trip, and I noticed the crew all had inserted them into their ears. I didn't want to try and be macho by not using them. Good thing because the four planes came right beside the ship in formation and the boom created by them was considerable. There were a few things on the cruise that I didn't understand, but I have time to research them now that I am back "states side." See, I am doing better with nautical terminology. I am referring here to the fact that there were four planes but only one boom. Maybe the fact that they were so close together explains it. I don't know.

Then came a man over board drill. They threw a dummy over board and then lowered a power boat into the water and showed how they would go about rescuing someone who might go overboard. They also had a fire fighting exhibition and they also fired three different guns. First was a 50 caliber machine gun, then a larger gun (don't know the size) and finally a 5 inch deck gun. Notice I didn't call it a cannon. The noise from the 5 inch gun was horrendous and the shell could be seen landing in the ocean some 5 and one half miles away.

The other thrill came when I was fortunate enough to eat lunch at the officer's table. I guess on an cruise ship, it would be called the Captain's table, but that would be impractical on a Navy ship. The Captain did sit at the head of the table so I refer to it as the Captain's table. The crew of the Normandie has approximately 300 crewmen and 50 officers so they are somewhat limited in what they can do. The ship had three chow halls, all served from the same galley. They had cooked hamburgers on three large grills on one of the "aft" decks ( see, I'm getting the terminology ) and had all the trimmings. I was told they do this occasionally when they are out at sea for morale purposes.

I almost forgot to mention that I saw maybe 25 female crew members and this is a good time to say that the crew, without exception, treated us with courtesy and respect. I'm sure some of the "old salts" had some difficulty accepting females on the crew, but, if they did, they kept it to themselves. Most of the NL members served in WW 2 and we even had two persons aboard who participated in the Normandie invasion.

On the way back, most of the crew assembled on the deck and they had what I would call a Service Awards program. It was a good move by the Captain as we tried to show our respect and admiration for the job they were doing. A couple of crew people got Captain's promotions at the ceremony. Captains are allowed a small number of promotions for outstanding service outside the Navy's normal promotion system.

One last thing. Most of the NL members wore baseball caps with something on the cap to identify their connection with the Navy. There were, however, several school caps and I will now report the results of that unstated competition. It appeared there was a four way tie between Virginia Tech, UVA, James Madison and UNC until we got back to Richmond and I noticed one of the passengers on the other bus had on a Carolina jacket. So, I am declaring UNC the winner. And besides, I had my UNC watch on in case I needed it to break a tie.

It was a good day and nice to get away from the news. First thing I saw Thursday morning when I went out get the newspaper was a headline that said 68 people had been killed by a suicide bomber. So it was back to normal.

I have a new appreciation for the Navy now, but I couldn't help but wonder how some of the old salts were adjusting to the changes they saw. As we left the ship, the officer who attended the gang plank was wearing dress whites and that neat little white cap with a small bill. It was a she and as I passed her I almost missed seeing a large 45 caliber pistol (terminology) strapped low around her leg. She really looked good and I, for one, would not want to challenge her in any way. I think that's the way it's supposed to be.

Anchors Aweigh.