presented without comment, updated

On account of me potentially fumble-fingering the last version, and new yearly data being available, here is an updated version of the last one

USEnglandMurderRates

If anyone has any data from England and Wales that goes farther back than 1967, I would appreciate it – I have data on the US going back to 1960, but I want to compare equivalent time spans.  The intersection point of those two trendlines is now about 40 years out, for those curious. 

(United States murder rate from Disaster Center / FBI UCR.  England/Wales murder rate from Office for National Statistics, Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2012/2013, Appendix Table 2.01.  Readers are reminded that the murder rate in the United Kingdom as a whole is much higher than published, potentially up to two times higher, due to their … questionable … categorization methods.) 

my get-home bag

Unless you have the pleasure of working from home (which, generally I do, so “win” on that), a get-home bag is probably a good addition to your back seat / trunk. 

But what, exactly, is a “get-home bag”?  Simply put, it is a collection of supplies that will help you get from where you are (probably your office or equivalent) back to your house, should that prove difficult for some reason. 

What constitutes “difficult”?  The usual things: earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, ice storms, hurricanes, EMPs, zombies, alien invasion, ragnarok, etc.  Just last winter, Better Half had to abandon her front-wheel-drive sedan halfway home from her work on account of nine inches of ice that decided to drop between 0900 and 1500; thankfully, she was able to hitch a ride with some friendly folks, but it would have been a long, uncomfortable slog for her otherwise, and I was in no condition to go get her with a rear-wheel-drive Mustang. 

Well, as folks know, the Mustang has been replaced with an FJ Cruiser, but as the saying goes, four-wheel-drive (and all-wheel-drive) will get you stuck where two-wheel-drive would never have let you go.  So, it helps to plan for contingencies. 

First off, you have to establish your base assumptions; obviously yours will be different from mine, but hopefully this will give you some material to work with. 

– I will have a go-anywhere piece of Japanese engineering, but the wife does not, so I may have to go pick her up. 

– My car has a blowout kit already in the trunk that would be added to this bag should a situation arise (though I do need to upgrade it at some point). 

– My workplace is posted as “no firearms allowed”. 

– Thanks to my plantar fasciitis, I will always be wearing shoes that I can probably walk for quite a while in. 

– It will take me about six hours to walk home directly, and about 10 if I pick up Better Half, assuming ideal circumstances. 

– If I am out of the house, I generally have a small multi-tool, a load-bearing carabiner, a load-bearing belt, a pocket knife, a flashlight, a watch, and dog tags. 

– Obviously not every form of natural disaster affects North Carolina, but the area is known for flooding, hurricanes, and icing over. 

– I have no known allergies and no ailment that requires constant medication/attention (diabetes, etc.), but I do wear glasses. 

So, where do we go from there?  Well, what are you going to carry your stuff in? 


THE BAG:

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Nope, that is not some high-speed, low-drag tactical bag; in fact, I do not think you can really buy one any more.  But that is intentional. 

The point is to get home, and to do that, you generally need to maintain as low a profile as possible.  This looks like any other daypack/backpack out there, and would not be terribly out of place on a school campus or on a hiking trail – in fact, it has been to the top of Mount LeConte (as well as over to the Middle East and Australia).  MOLLE straps and webbing gear may advertise something you may not necessarily want advertised, but that is your call. 

For all its mundaneness, though, it does have a chest strap and waist strap, as well as side and bottom compression straps, and I know it can carry a full load just fine. 


CLOTHING:

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I can pretty much guarantee that I will have decent footwear, but I cannot guarantee that my attire will be any better than “business casual”.  Plus, as anyone who has spent time in the military or doing serious hikes can tell you, a change of underwear and socks is pretty much mandatory.  The shirt is a quick-dry variety that will fit underneath anything else I have on, and the pants are an old pair of 5.11 cargos that are getting retired; those might stand out if anyone knows the brand, but given how prevalent cargo pants are these days, I am willing to chance that small risk.  And while I have waterproofed the backpack, making sure things you want to stay dry do stay dry is a good idea. 

As for the spare belt, I said I was wearing one in my assumptions above, right?  Well, it makes a great gun belt but it would be a lousy tourniquet.  Likewise, spare belts can be used as impromptu slings if the need arises. 

The hat is for avoiding sunburns on my increasingly bald head, and for inclement weather if I do not have a hood; again, it is perfectly ordinary, not advertising any “tactical” whatnot. 


ILLUMINATION: 

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And not just so I can see, but also so I can be seen.  First off, we have my grandfather’s old signaling mirror, with its handy instructions on the back – it may be old school, but it is supposedly basically shatter-proof and there are no batteries or moving parts to break.  The Nite-Ize Clip-On Marker both has a reflective pattern on it and can flash or steadily illuminate itself, and when combined with the highly-reflective (I literally could not take this picture with a flash) safety vest came from Ikea, it would be pretty hard to not see me.  And the Novatac Storm flashlight can tail-stand, adjust its output, and run for a good long time, especially with the spare batteries brought along for the ride. 

Sure, in some situations and the excrement is hitting the vectored rotary air impeller, you want to keep a low profile.  But when you are having to walk home, on the side of the road, in a snow storm, you want to make bloody sure everyone and their brother can see you. 


HEAT:

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Honestly, my biggest concern when it comes to “natural disasters” here is something along the lines of the ~9” of ice Raleigh received last winter, and exposure is a real danger in that kind of environment.  So we have the basics – thinsulate-lined leather gloves, a mylar emergency blanket, a wool scarf, a lighter, a capsule filled with petroleum-jelly soaked cotton balls, and air-activated hand warmers.  If you cannot start a fire with a Zippo and fire starters, you are pretty much hosed regardless, though I will be on my own for foraging for actual fuel (which is not a huge problem in the Raleigh area, given the forests).  And anything a shemagh can do, a scarf can do as well, and it will not attract… undue attention.  Plus, if your mother knits it in nice, subdued colors (as mine did), it will even double as quasi-camouflage. 

Ideally the hand warmers will be the only thing in this kit I will need to use, both because I hope to be home before sun-down and because I am not stupid enough to go out without season-appropriate attire, but it does not hurt to be prepared. 


TOOLS: 

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A rain poncho, 50 feet of 750lb paracord, an N95 respirator (in its own plastic baggy), printed out directions home from everywhere I am likely to be along with a notepad (also in their own plastic baggy), a CRKT Eat’n Tool, an apparently (and understandably) discontinued CRKT Neckolas, and a decent Eddie Bauer lensatic compass round out the tools I am already carrying on my person. 

After going through the San Diego fires of 2007 and trying to find filter masks when everyone else was too, we keep a healthy supply of those on-hand at all times, but they do you no good at home when you are at work.  Plus they may not be made for medical purposes, but they beat the hell out of a rag across your face.  Everything else up there should be fairly self-explanatory. 


HYGIENE:

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Everything in there should be pretty self-explanatory, with the exception of that little roll of green stuff.  Allow me to introduce you to Coban, though that is technically Dynarex simply because it is a lot cheaper.  I may be slightly exaggerating, but if there is one thing that should be in your first aid kit, it is this stuff.  Think of it as kind of a self-adhesive tape, complete with water resistance, easy removal, and natural tension by means of its own corrugation.  I used it extensively to keep the swelling down in my gimped-up pinky finger for a number of months, but it will work dandily for keeping bandages on wounds, splints in place, and so forth. 


FOOD AND WATER: 

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So this is actually an interesting point of departure for a lot of get-home bags.  Some people do not carry food or water at all, some people confine themselves to an empty water bottle of some type, and some people – like me, as you can see – go whole hog.  I figure, if nothing else, I can easily remove this stuff if it comes down to it, and the car does not care about the few extra pounds. 

The “emergency food rations” and foil packets of water are leftover from an old Life+Gear kit, and are not something I would eat or drink if I had any choice in the matter, but the point is you may not always.  The rations pack supposedly contains 3600 calories of something, and each of the water packs are 125ml / 4.225 fluid ounces of water.  The bottle at the top is a Seychelles Water Filtration bottle, which can supposedly make 100 gallons of water drinkable all on its own, and is presently packed with a crank flashlight, whistle, energy bar, pocket knife, poncho, and hand warmers. 

Personally, I am not sure I could make a six-hour hike, much less a ten-hour one, without water.  Your situation, as with everything else, may be different. 


SELF DEFENSE: 

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This is, of course, an area where your own personal preferences, local legalities, and so forth play a not-insignificant factor.  Personally, I am of the opinion that if you are having to make your way home in an emergency situation without your vehicle, you are going to need tools to aid in keeping your person safe and secure.  Amongst those tools are the knife I invariably have on my person, and the one I mentioned back in the “tools” section, but there is no sense in allowing an aggressor to close to arms’ length. 

I like the Ruger Pepper Spray because it has a multiple-locking system on its little holster, it incorporates a siren and strobe light, and it easily clips on belts or straps.  There are, of course, other options, so shop around. 

As for firearms… well, I am not one to advertise that I am keeping firearms in my car, but if I were to do so, it would probably be something along the lines of a Kel-Tec PF9 with a few spare magazines, secured in an appropriate locked box, with that appropriately attached to something solid in the vehicle.  Obviously, if you are able to carry in your workplace, that is an infinitely superior option, but it is sadly one not available to everyone; if, however, you go with leaving the firearm in the car, please ensure it is sufficiently secured. 


So, what would you have done differently?  What obvious items am I missing?  I need to eventually get a set of FRS/GMRS two-way radios – one for my car and one for the wife’s – to simplify communication during emergencies (cell tower capacities get jammed very, very quickly), but feel free to point out anything else. 

Everything I have shown you weighs in at about 12 pounds, even including the water and rations, and I can hump that pretty much any distance necessary.  Obviously the ideal is to never need anything I have mentioned above, but if wishes were horses we would all be eating steak. 

(Why did I mention dog tags way back at the beginning?  Obviously I plan on surviving whatever disaster is plaguing my area that required me to implement my get-home bag, but should that not happen, I would like to make my identification a little easier.  Plus they have my blood type on them, which could be useful even if I am not dead.  People with medical conditions or rare blood types would do well to consider something similar – MedicAlert is the more “subdued” version of dog tags, if you want to go that route.) 

the joys of sleep deprivation

Since my last “SWO Life” post was such an educational hit, I thought I might expound upon a somewhat related point that, even to this day, throws Better Half for loops. 

Hopefully all of my readers are aware of this, but sleep is hard to come by in the military, and the Navy is certainly no different. 

When ships are in port, life is fairly easy; Officers’ Call is at 0700 or 0730 every morning, depending on the ship’s Executive Officer, and work proceeds from there until… well, until the day’s work was done or your Department Head says you can go home, which, for me, ranged from noon to 2300, depending on what was going on and who my Department Head was. 

hatchUnderway… well, life gets a little more complicated.  As you can probably imagine, certain tasks on the ship have to be done on pretty much a 24/7 schedule – navigating the ship, keeping an eye on the tactical situation, and running the ship’s propulsion and power plants, to boil it down to the three biggies.  To keep the first two areas manned*, ship’s watch rotations generally look something like this (though there are always deviations for a number of reasons): 

Watch 1: 0700-1200
Watch 2: 1200-1800
Watch 3: 1800-2200
Watch 4: 2200-0200 (Generally called the Mid Watch)
Watch 5: 0200-0700 (Generally called the Rev Watch)

In all cases, you were generally expected to arrive on watch 15-30 minutes ahead of time to get a grasp of the situation before taking over your post yourself, and you were definitely supposed to arrive shaved, showered, and otherwise presentable, which could require 5-50 minutes preparation, depending on the person. 

On larger ships, or if you were lucky, you were part of a four-watch rotation, meaning three other people did your job on a rotating schedule with you.  On smaller ships, there were three watches. 

So, best case scenario, starting from the top, you would stand the following watches:  1, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 again. 

What does that actually mean?  Well, let me lay some ground rules first.  In addition to whatever watch you stood, you were still expected to accomplish whatever “work” you did on the ship, whether that was turning a wrench or pushing papers.  Work days on the ship ran from around 0730 or 0800 to 1700ish, but if it was a particularly busy day, or if you stood watch in that window, you were expected to finish whatever you needed to in whatever time it took.  While it did depend on my CO, both ships I served on frowned on sleeping during the day, regardless of what watch you stood and regardless of whether your work was done, and two COs outright forbade it.  Also, of interesting note, bridge watches consist of standing the entire time, while CIC watches are almost entirely sitting, and Engineering watches depended on whether you were in the engineering spaces or in the Central Control Station, as well as depending on what went wrong that day. 

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(Yes, that middle rack was my bed, once upon a time.  Imagine a 6’2” person trying to get into that thing, much less get a good night’s sleep once he was in it.  If I was on my side, my shoulders just about maxed out the vertical clearance.  ) 

So, starting from the top…  get up at about 0530 to get yourself presentable and feed yourself, stand Watch 1, go to bed at maybe 2000 (Taps is technically at 2200, but we will fudge a little here… as long as you can sleep through the 1MC announcement that is.), get up at 0100, stand Watch 5, stay up through the whole day, maybe catch a catnap at 2000 again, stand Watch 4 until 0200, then go to bed until Reveille at 0600 to work, stand Watch 3, get a decent night’s sleep (assuming nothing goes wrong), stand Watch 2, catch up on the work you missed during the day so get a touch less sleep, and start all over again. 

For two nights, you scored a grand total of 10 hours of sleep… total.  Awesome.  Then for two nights, you might have gotten 8 each… if the XO did not need a report, or if the oil-water separator didn’t throw a bearing, or if you did not need to work on your Surface Warfare Qualification… or… or… or…  Rinse, lather, repeat. 

What about the worst case?  1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 1. 

Get up at 0530 again, stand Watch 1, maybe catch a catnap, stand Watch 4, go to sleep until Reveille, stand Watch 2, hit the rack at 2000, stand Watch 5, stay up through the day doing your work, stand watch 3 until 2200, get up again at 0530 for Watch 1. 

~5 hours of sleep, ~5 hours of sleep, and then ~7 hours of sleep.  Again, assuming all is well in the world. 

And Navy crews do one of those two scenarios 7 days a week that the ship is underway, no days off, all while still somehow managing to do their “normal” jobs on the ship as well. 

Is the need to have positions on the ships manned 24 hours a day completely understandable and reasonable?  Of course.  Is it also reasonable to conclude that this sleep cycle tends to wear on a person over time, and may contribute to situations where US Navy warships get t-boned by tankers weighing orders of magnitude more? 

Of course. 

I am certainly not trying to excuse what transpired on the Porter, but I am trying to explain an aspect of the situation a lot of people might not be aware of.  Sleep deprivation behaves much like intoxication, and we do not allow intoxicated people to operate heavy machinery, though we seem to have no problems putting people with limited amounts of sleep in charge of multi-thousand-ton warships.  Again, the 24/7 watch requirements of warships is completely reasonable, but allowing people to get the sleep they need to maintain that over time is also completely reasonable. 

(* – Engineering spaces often have their own watch rotations on their own schedules, often due to requirements about how long you can stay in a given space at X temperature.) 

how not to drive a ship

A few days ago, Sean Sorrentino asked me if I had anything to say about the recently released bridge conversation from the USS Porter right before and during its collision with a tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. Of course I do have a lot to say, but I had to figure out how to say it.

Before I embark, let me first say that I was not on either ship and am not intimately familiar with the circumstances revolving around the collision – I only know what is public. Further, I mean no disrespect to anyone on either ship… unless I make it abundantly clear that I do.

For those of you who only care about my take on the tape, skip down to the first horizontal line; otherwise, read on.  Alright, the first stop is to ensure everyone is speaking the same vocabulary. On the bridge of a US Navy warship, there are (generally) four people who really matter in terms of where that multi-thousand-ton object is going:

Picture 250 Small– The Helmsman: This is the guy with his hands literally on the wheel of the ship, and he controls the rudder(s) back behind the screw(s).  There are a couple of different ways he can do his job, both in terms of the hardware and what he is actually doing (maintaining a course vs. maintaining a rudder angle, etc.), but this guy is the one who physically directs the ship.  He is always enlisted (unless an officer is doing some training), and is generally a Boatswain’s Mate

– The Lee Helmsman:  If the Helmsman controls the steering wheel, this guy controls the gas pedal.  Different ships have different ways of setting their speeds, but this guy operates the lever(s) which tell the engines how hard to push.  Once again, this position is manned by a BM. 

– The Conning Officer:  This is the only person the Helmsman and Lee Helmsman listen to when it comes to the direction of the ship.  It does not matter if God Himself were to appear on the bridge and say that the ship must go thataway or risk eternal damnation – if the Conning Officer does not give the order, the ship should not move.  On a similar note, the Commanding Officer must take the ‘conn’ – which he can do whenever he likes – before the Helmsmen will listen to any direction-related order he gives.  This distinction is rather important, because the bridge of a ship can become a nightmare of noise sometimes, but the two guys actually driving the ship only have to listen for one voice.  This role is generally filled by a Junior Officer, and sometimes by a Non-Commissioned Officer. 

– The Officer of the Deck:  Also known as the OOD.  This person is the direct representative of the Commanding Officer on the bridge, and he is not only responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, but also for the safety and security of the ship as a whole.  He has to keep up with the tactical situation, the orders of the day, the day’s schedule, any major evolutions going on in the ship, the bridge crew, the engineering plant, and pretty much everything else going on onboard the ship.  To be an OOD, you have to train (generally as a Conning Officer), complete a qualification checklist, and pass a board of the ship’s senior officers and CO, which makes sense – you are being entrusted with his boat.  Interestingly, OODs technically have the conn by dint of their position, but invariably delegate it to the Conning Officer; in fact, on both ships I served on, it was a standing order that the OOD could not keep the conn.  OODs are again generally JOs or NCOs. 

There are, of course, a lot of other people on the bridge of a ship, especially when she is doing something unusual, dangerous, or significant, but those are the big four. 

StraitsofHormuzMoving on, the Straits of Hormuz suck.  Go ahead and blow up the chart to the left (borrowed from here) or use this slick interactive version.  At its narrowest point, the Straits are about 30 statute miles across, but thanks to the topology of the area, there are three instances where ships are restricted to two-mile wide channels – you can see them just off Ra’s al Kuh, the northern tip of Oman, and around a small cluster of islands, from right to left.  In those cases, all ships are supposed to keep to their respective lanes, as prescribed by the arrows on the map; in all other cases, you are given pretty much free reign, with the understanding that you are invariably in national waters when transiting the Straits and are under an obligation to get clear of territorial claims as quickly as you can. 

Aside from the geography, the Straits of Hormuz are one of the busier narrow sections of water in the world on account of all the oil trade flowing through it.  Worse, you are in range of no shortage of Iranian missile batteries on the shore, and the Iranian Navy has a wonderful tendency of trying to harass US warships as they are trying to transit. 

In other words, this was probably the most stressful transit I ever had the privilege of executing, and that includes the Panama Canal and the Straits of Malacca

Speaking of things I have done, I have only served onboard an FFG and an LPD – a Miata and a minivan, respectively.  DDGs are rather the Corvettes of the US Navy (not to be confused with actual corvettes), and their captains tend to be somewhat akin to Top Gun aviators.  I am, of course, stereotyping, but these ships are the pointy end of the spear, are brimming with power (both in terms of weapons and propulsion), and will be the first to fight.  It takes a certain mentality to command a vessel like that, and the Navy and its captains know that. 

One final thing; the United States Coast Guard defined and maintains the International and Inland Navigational Rules, otherwise known as the “Rules of the Road”.  Unsurprisingly, these are not significantly different from some of the road-based “navigational” rules, but, let me tell you, it is bloody dry reading – there are light configurations, signaling methods, transiting instructions, special rules for the Mississippi River, hierarchy of “right of way”, and on, and on, and on, and I had to memorize most of it. 

Arguably the most important Rule, though, is also the simplest, and can be summed up as such:  unless you absolutely, positively have no other choice whatsoever, do not turn left when other ships are around.  Why?  Because the default direction to turn is “right”; if two ships are headed straight for one another, the correct answer is for both to turn right.  If one does that and the other turns left… well, things get bad. 

Which brings us to the USS Porter and its collision. 

The general gist of the situation appears to be that the USS Porter was inbound to the Persian Gulf at about midnight, and had passed through the second restricted channel and was headed on into the Gulf proper.  Reports indicate that this was the Porter’s 13th Straits transit on their deployment, and the CO was initially not on the bridge during the transiting.  Personally, I only did four transits of the Straits, and I cannot say as though my crew ever got comfortable with it, especially what with the Iranians dropping packages in the water in front of some of the ships in our deployment group.  Did the Porter’s bridge crew, or CO, get complacent?  Who knows. 

While steaming along, the Porter came across a freighter showing “the international signal warning other ships to stay clear”; I kind of fault the Navy Times for not being specific about how the vessel was indicating this, because there are a variety of ways indicating a variety of problems on the ship, but I guess the finer points of it are immaterial.  Ships showing warning lights have the right of way, regardless of any other applicable Rules. 

So, for some reason, the Porter turned left to get clear of the disabled vessel.  Remember that “most important Rule” up above?  So much for that.  We will likely never know why that first decision was made, since the bridge recording starts immediately afterwards, but that already put us in a bad situation.  Is it possible there was a good reason for turning left?  Absolutely.  But I have had COs have me come to a dead crawl to avoid having to turn left. 

How do we know the Porter turned left?  Two reasons.  First, all US warships have AIS technology onboard now, and while the data broadcast is understandably neutered, it does track the ship’s location.  Second, all navigational orders are entered into the Ship’s Log, which is a legal, binding document and a track of all the orders given on the bridge.  OODs actually have to sign off on the Log before turning over the watch; I have actually stood watches where the only things separating my signature from that of my predecessor and relief are the lines on the page.  Those are good watches, or horrible ones, depending on how you handle boredom. 

Which brings us to that fateful tape. 


00:00 – 00:06:  Warship bridges can be noisy places.  They are not supposed to be, precisely because of the situation you can hear right now – conflicting orders and people talking over one another – but it is almost unavoidable that as the stress levels increase, people get louder and more people start chiming in.  Some of the noise is unavoidable – for example, watch standers must always repeat an order back to ensure that they heard it properly, and then audibly confirm that the order has been executed – but that bridge is pretty darned loud. 

00:15 – 00:22:  The OOD is explaining a concept that it sometimes takes people a while to understand.  Ships steer from the stern, unlike bicycles, automobiles, and pretty much every other vehicle we are familiar with.  When you have a ship turn left, the first thing that happens is the stern “kicks out” to the right, and then the bow starts moving to the left; this is something you have to bear in mind during underway replenishments, docking maneuvers, and other tight quarters. 

00:28 – 00:31:  “’Base course’ means nothing.”  This is a true statement; all orders involving a direction you want the ship to go should involve an actual number for the bearing, not an assumption that everyone is on the same page. 

00:33 – 00:38:  OOD:  “Rudder amidships.”  Conn:  “Rudder amidships.”  Helmsman:  “Rudder amidships aye.  Rudder is amidships, no new course given.”  In general, Conns are given a little bit of lee-way when it comes to driving ships.  OODs know where the ship is supposed to be going, and that they have to get it there at a certain time, but if a Conn wants to do something along the way to practice ship-driving, and it fits into the schedule, there is no real harm.  In high-risk / high-cost / high-stress situations, though, Conns are basically puppets with either the OOD’s or CO’s hand up their nether region, as this situation shows. 

Helmsmen are basically always repeating stations, doing exactly what the Conn tells them to do, and providing no input into the situation.  Behold:  the chain of command. 

00:46 – 00:55:  When underway, all warships have at least three lookouts on watch all the time – port, starboard, and aft.  These are junior, and I do mean junior, enlisted sailors whose sole job is to scour the horizons and provide an idiot check to the ship’s onboard radars with their Mark 1 Mod 0 Eyeballs.  In this particular case, it sounds like the starboard lookout saw another freighter poking its bow out from behind the freighter the Porter was attempting to avoid.  From the way the OOD was talking, he was looking at the new contact himself while informing the CO of its presence, and he saw a red running light, indicating he was seeing a port aspect on the freighter. 

Why any of the surface search radars onboard the Porter did not pick up this contact is anyone’s guess. 

00:55 – 01:02:  The OOD provides one of the “correct” suggestions in this particular case: come right, and pass the ship port-to-port.  Now, he did say “pass them down their starboard side”, but, at this point, it is fair to say that he was somewhat flustered, and “turn to starboard” turned into “pass them on their starboard”.  Unfortunately, people are fallible, and miscommunications like that are not uncommon when thousands of tons of metal are floating around the ocean near one another. 

From personal experience, OODs getting flustered when the CO is on the bridge is not unheard-of.  You will hear the CO repeatedly asking why the OOD chose a specific course of action on the recorder, and the OOD stumbling for an answer; a lot of that has to do with the intimidation of being interrogated by the CO, but a lot of it also has to do with having to juggle two or ten other things at that moment, and not having enough attention to provide a solid answer.  Understanding thought processes is important, but discussing them is sometimes best saved for times when you are not in close proximity to other ships. 

01:05 – 01:15:  The OOD provides another “correct” suggestion: slow down.  Almost no ill can come of slowing down, so long as the ships in convoy behind you are informed of the decision.  The Porter weighs in a somewhere around 9,000 tons, and when she is moving at 20 knots (20 nautical miles (a NM is 2000 yards) per hour), which she was when she entered this situation, that is a lot of momentum.  DDGs luck out by having variable pitch propellers, which means they can slow down and speed up a lot faster than steam ships, but “faster” does not mean “fast”. 

Speaking of letting the ships around you know of your intentions, why do we not hear the Porter going out on bridge-to-bridge radio trying to make passing arrangements with the ships around them?  On the one hand, freighters very rarely actually have people on their bridges, and the Porter may have given up trying to connect with them.  On the other hand, everyone on the bridge could be busy trying to keep up with the contacts and the situation and it just did not cross their minds.  On the gripping hand, someone could be on B2B, but we cannot hear them on the recorder. 

01:16 – 01:17:  “Why did we come up to flank?”  Good question, CO.  Another good question is when did you come up to flank, and a third good question is why were you not aware of it?  Short of a combat situation, I cannot come up with a good reason to come up to flank in the Straits, and especially not when you are busy avoiding other shipping traffic. 

01:23 – 01:35:  Given that the OOD requests that their speed change be passed on to the ship behind them in formation, and given that the CO indicates the information should be passed over FleetTac (the Navy’s encrypted radio network), someone is obviously on the radio.  It sounds like the OOD was asking the Combat Information Center to pass the speed change, which raises another really good question: where was the CIC in all of this? 

If the bridge drives the ship, the CIC processes all of the information that comes into the ship.  All of the radars, radios, and so forth pass through CIC first on their way to the bridge, and the CIC is responsible for keeping an eye on the overall tactical picture.  Additionally, they maintain parallel navigational and track plots to serve as a backup for the bridge and to further idiot-check everyone.  Finally, the bridge and CIC should be constantly communicating back and forth regarding contacts and such, just so everyone is on the same page.  As far as we can tell from the recording alone (which, in fairness, does not even show us half of the picture), not a lot of that happened.  Now, having spent a lot of time as a CIC Watch Officer, I can tell you that we often felt like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed gos-se – but in that case, you get on the horn with the bridge and ask what on God’s Green Earth is going on up there.  Or you get up out of your chair and find out yourself. 

01:35 – 01:37:  “Passing 230 to the left.”  So, we are in a bad situation because we turned left, we have a ship on our starboard side, and we are still coming left.  I do not know about you, but this seems like something we should tend to… soonish. 

01:38 – 01:46:  But, instead, let us discuss how coming to flank was a bad idea.  Yes, it was a bad idea.  No, the OOD / Conn / whomever made the decision should not have made it without consulting with their CO.  Hell, on both of my old ships, if I rang up flank without checking with the CO first, regardless of where he was, I would be receiving a phone call in very short order asking just what the hell was going on. 

But maybe we should discuss that at another time? 

01:47 – 01:53:  The OOD realizes they are in a bad situation and slowing down is not making it any better. 

01:54 – 02:00:  The OOD recommends turning left, the CO concurs, and orders are given for first left full rudder (generally ~35 degrees) and then hard left rudder (generally ~38 degrees).  I am of two minds about this command.  On the one hand, turning left is bad, for all the reasons we discussed previously.  On the other hand, if your situation looks less like a “T” and more like a backwards “7” when it comes to your course being the vertical line and the other ship’s course being the horizontal line, I can see how turning left could work.  You would end up pointing the “wrong” direction when it comes to transiting the straits, but that beats… well, what happens in a few seconds. 

Unfortunately, at five knots, there is generally insufficient wash over the rudder to make any significant course changes.  Surface ships’ rudders are behind their screws, and if the ship is at all-stop, you can put your rudder in any direction you want and it will not matter.  Conversely, if you put over a hard rudder at flank, you are liable to break something.  A lot of things, really.  On both ships I served on, five knots was just enough to get the bow turning, but certainly not at anything approximating a quick speed. 

As an aside, we generally avoided using “hard” rudder commands on both my ships, as the rudder is probably going to bounce off the stops installed to keep it from bouncing off the hull itself, and those are expensive and time-consuming to replace. 

02:04 – 02:06:  The CO requests “five short” – five short blasts on a ship’s horn is the universal “danger” signal.  If you are underway and you hear that, you immediately look around and try to figure out what is going on and if you are involved. 

02:20 – 02:30:  The OOD asks the CO if he wants the ship to continue coming to port, but the CO orders “steady as she goes”, which is shorthand for “whatever heading you are on right now, come back to it and stay there.”  The helmsman announces that they are coming back to 170, which is not a reciprocal course for the heading they were just on.  This will become important in a moment. 

02:44 – 02:50:  I can only assume that the CO is now realizing that he took a bad situation and made it worse, and literally attempts to dive out of it by ringing up flank speed.  At this point, it is safe to say that the Porter has successfully dropped to five knots – that order was given a minute-and-a-half ago, and before a 100 degree turn; both time and the simple act of turning will have successfully slowed the ship down.  Going from 5 to 35 knots on a DDG is a relatively quick process – they will even “rooster-tail” if the conditions are right – but that term “relatively” is important; we are still talking on the order of minutes. 

“Let’s go, get me up there to flank,” are the words of someone woefully… unaware… of his platforms capacities and limitations.  DDGs are awesome ships, there is no doubt, but physics are a bitch and will not be denied simply because you realized you put yourself in a sticky wicket. 

03:04:  Someone orders five short blasts again. 

03:09 – 03:11:  In what can only be an attempt to mitigate the damage/impact, the CO orders left full rudder. 

USS-Porter-203:14:  The CO’s career is over as the Porter and the M/T Otowasan trade a lot more than paint. 

03:35:  After checking the status of folks on the bridge, “all engines stop” is ordered. 

03:48 – 03:53:  The OOD makes a report to the TAO (Tactical Action Officer, the guy in charge of CIC) that the ship has been hit on the port side, and that they are setting general quarters.  The ship was actually impacted on the starboard side, but, at this point, it is quite safe to say the OOD is more than a little flustered. 

And that is about that. 


So what went wrong?  Where do you want me to start? 

Why did the Porter initially turn left? I sincerely hope there was a compelling reason behind that decision, because the root-cause analysis basically points to that as the pebble that started this avalanche.

Why was the bridge so damned loud?  I have been on some busy bridges and some loud bridges, but in either cases, all of the COs I served under, even the most laid-back amongst them, would have outright demanded silence on the bridge, especially given how chaotic the situation was getting.  On two separate occasions that we could hear, bad information was passed, and I feel certain the distraction of the background noise factored in. 

Why did the CO think now a stressful, complicated, contact-filled transit of one of the most dangerous (militarily speaking) straits in the world was the correct time to take the time to psychoanalyze his subordinates’ decisions and thought processes? 

Why did the CO not relieve the OOD, if not take the Conn himself?  He would be well within his rights and abilities as a CO to do so. 

How the hell was the bridge crew supposed to keep track of who was in charge?  Unfortunately, speaking from experience, this is a systemic problem on warships; when the CO is up on the bridge, as the OOD, it is almost impossible to determine who is in charge of the ship.  By all standards of rank- and position-based authority, the CO is always in charge, but by the same token, the OOD is in charge of the safe navigation and operation of the ship.  You can see how well the conflicting positional authorities worked out in this case with the CO and OOD shouting out conflicting and confusing orders, with the Conn just trying to go with it. 

Why did none of the surface search radars pick up the Otowasan?  DDGs sport AEGIS Combat Systems, which include SPY-1 Phased Array Radars (those big octagonal plates on the sides of the ship’s superstructure), which are supposed to be THE premier radar in the world, and no one thought to pick out that contact?  And why did the lookouts only see it after it passed the disabled ship? 

For that matter, where was the CIC during this entire incident?  They are supposed to serve as a check and balance for the bridge, and, as far as we know/can tell, were largely silent. 

Why did no one question the CO’s / OOD’s decisions to ignore the Rules of the Road?  I can answer it in regards to the CO – people are terrified of them.  COs might as well be God Himself when a ship is underway, and questioning a CO, even when you are right, sometimes especially when you are right, can lead to disastrous consequences down the road.  Unfortunately, the Navy honestly has engendered a “the CO is always right” mentality amongst the crew, and any observation of any chink in that façade is viewed very poorly. 

And Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was happening on the bridge after 01:54?  If you are in that crappy of a situation, and no one is right on your ass (which should have been handled by CIC), then throw it into full reverse and back your way out of it if you have to.  But turning left into a contact that is passing you on the left when you can already see the left side of their ship?  When did that even begin to make sense? 

As the saying goes, no true disaster is the work of one man, and this one involved the efforts of the CO, OOD, CICWO, TAO, and potentially a few other people to boot.  And, yes, for those curious, the CO of the Porter was fired and officially reprimanded, though he appears to still be active duty according to his LinkedIn profile. 

And please understand that I am not trying to disparage those on the bridge or CIC, or their service, or anything like that.  But the fact is, something went wrong – a lot of somethings went wrong – and if we do not take the time to figure out what those were and why they went wrong, then there is no positive value of this incident at all.  But if we can learn from the incident, and try to ensure things like it do not happen again in the future, maybe some good can come out of it. 

If anyone has any issues with what I have said here, feel free to sound off.  If anyone has any further information than what I was able to dig up and present here, feel free to sound off.  If you have first-hand knowledge of the collision and feel like sharing it like was done here, I will happily publish here sanitized of any identifying information to keep it from being traced back to you.  And if you have any questions about anything, please sound off – ship-driving is complicated and not for pansies, and I probably omitted a lot of smaller (and potentially larger) details simply because I did not think to think of them. 

(Image of the damage to the Porter is a U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman/Released.) 

on identity

So my legal name is not “Linoge”.  Obviously.  In fact, more people than ever before know my legal name on account of it being emblazoned across my media credentials at the NRA Annual Meetings*. 

And yet I go by “Linoge” here on the internets and you call me “Linoge” here on the internets, because that is how I have chosen to identify myself and that is what I have asked you to do.  Obviously people who do know my carbon name could call me by it, but the whole “username” thing is something of a polite fiction we all abide by just because it is polite and it is just simpler that way. 

Plus, it is occasionally useful – there were at least four people possessing some variation of my legal first name on the firing line at Boomershoot, so calling out that would have resulted in confusion and hilarity, while calling out “Linoge” was pretty darned clear. 

Which leads me to wonder why people – people who otherwise have no problems calling someone by a name that is not actually, legally theirs – have such a difficult time referring to a person by a gender-specific pronoun other than the one that might be “appropriate” for their particular genetic makeup. 

Do I think it a bit… odd, for lack of a better word, that someone whose genetic code indicates a female gender would instead go by a male identity, or vice versa?  Of course I do; I come from a particularly puritanical society – specifically, America – that has a kink about not having kinks about sexuality.  But does referring to someone by the gender they choose to identify as cost me anything, or harm me at all? 

No, it does not.  So I go along with it for the sake of being polite and for the sake of being asked to do so; for the same reasons that you all go along with me being “Linoge”. 

I am forever confused by people, especially small-l libertarians, who go along with bizarre requests when it comes to names, but dig in their heels, clap their hands over their ears, and start humming when it comes to requests about gender.  Does going along with a person’s wishes cost you anything?  Does it harm you in any particular way? 

If not, then why be an asshole?  If so, how? 

(* – Which is something of a funny story in and of itself – I would introduce myself as [Legal Name], which would draw the predictable blank stares and, “Um, it’s nice to meet you…” one would expect, and then I would go on to clarify, “I’m known as Linoge on the internet,” which would be met with varying degrees of, “Oh, I know you!”)