Thursday, May 14, 2015

Photo of the Day 14 May 2015

Allow me to introduce my first ship.  The vessel on the left in this scanned photo is USS Moinester, a Knox-class frigate based out of Norfolk, Virginia, and she was my home from April of 1981 to November 1985.  I took this photo in Guantanamo Bay on 4 July 1982, which explains why both ships are "dressed"; sunset is only a few minutes away. This is the earliest ship image I can recall ever taking; I've shot a few more since then.


The Knox frigates were the last steam-powered destroyer-type ships to be built for the U.S. Navy, and suffered many an embarrassing engineering fault during their careers.  Stubby in profile, propelled by a single screw, mounting a single 5-inch gun and (initially) no anti-air or –missile capability, these frigates were widely derided by the crews of fast, sleek destroyers bristling with twin-armed SAM launchers and multiple guns.  Moinester and her forty-five sisters were the "red-headed stepchildren" of destroyer squadrons around the world.


Ah, but while FF-1097 and siblings would never win a beauty contest, never shoot down a supersonic drone on the Wallops or Vieques ranges, never best a DDG's speed, there was one thing they could do, and do superlatively well.


Hunt submarines. 


Specifically, Soviet submarines.  Streaming towed sonar arrays from their transoms on long cables, cloaking themselves in clouds of tiny bubbles blown from masker belts beneath their waterlines to absorb and redirect their own mechanical noises, "running silent", the Knox frigates were anti-submarine warfare (ASW) terrors.  Add an SH-2F "Seasprite" helicopter and you had a winning team.


When a Soviet sub was patrolling off the shores of Bermuda, or Guam, or Greenland, it was the chunky, clunky frigate that was deployed to detect, localize, and collect acoustic data on that dangerous steel (or titanium) shark far below.  And we did.  Many times.


I learned my job in those years aboard FF-1097.  Standing watch in Combat Information Center underway and on the Quarterdeck inport.  Plotting lines-of-bearing on the PT-512 plotting table and time-bearing plots, running maneuvering boards and standing behind the plexiglas vertical plot boards--writing backwards so that the Captain and his team could read the tactical data I was presenting.  Sometimes standing lookout on the signal bridge and always, always cleaning, cleaning


I've come to love Moinester, though it is said that a Sailor always loves his first ship and remembers her fondly.  At the time of my service in her I cannot say there was much feeling for the ship, herself.  I enjoyed being part of a small, close-knit crew, enjoyed the camaraderie and the travel.  But real affection came later, when Moinester was my past and I was sailing other seas in other hulls.


Life in the early Reagan-era Navy wasn't always pleasant.  Drug-and alcohol abuse were rampant in the Fleet, and I can remember racial divisions as well causing troubles aboard.  Adding these difficulties to the constant pressures of a time when nuclear war was not only possible but probable, when Cold-War tensions seemed to ratchet higher with each "incident" around the world, each sword-rattling demonstration of national resolve.  Into this milieu introduce a young man still trying to finish the job of growing up and dealing with his own demons.


I think that if you had walked up to that 19-year-old--perhaps in a "banana suit" for a radiological contamination drill, or standing the mid-watch on deck in a blizzard—and told him of the long, amazing, fascinating, and occasionally terrifying career ahead of him, of all the places he would go, the ships and oceans he would sail, and the long parade of people we would meet along the way, he would have looked at you as if you had lost your mind, used some very uncouth language, and explained that he would never, NEVER consider re-enlisting.  Ever.


Looking back at nearly three decades at sea, and forward to quite a number of years more, I'm glad, very glad that he would've been wrong.


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