Lest Naval Engineers Forget Readiness

My education is manifested by a degree in arts and sciences and another in engineering. Perhaps because of the former I usually saw things differently from most other engineering duty officers (EDOs). I intuitively ferreted out inherent logic before accepting the status quo. This was at odds with the don’t-rock-the-boat policy imposed by the EDO senior to me when I was assigned in the late nineteen fifties to a combined operating and logistics staff.

I knew from the start that technical capabilities should be applied from the operational commander’s viewpoint. That perspective led me to realize that the definitions for restricted and technical availabilities, then prescribed by the Regulations of the U.S. Navy, were illogical. I also thought that any proposal that I initiated would not get beyond the senior EDO. Thus, my pertinent thoughts were on the back burner until he addressed the four of us who reported to him, “The Fleet Maintenance Officer’s Conference is coming up. We should submit something for the agenda.”

He offered no suggestions that could be developed into an agenda item. While we were thinking about what he had just said, he added, “We cannot go to the meeting without proposing something.”

Thus the senior EDO’s need to avoid personal embarrassment, not my proposal’s merits, started it on its way.

A restricted availability then meant that a ship that required work between its regularly scheduled overhauls would be present in a shipyard for a specific period. Navy Regulations required force commanders to designate the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) as an information addressee on each message that assigned a restricted availability. CNO would then know that a ship was in a yard, that is, not available for immediate operations.

A technical availability as then defined by Navy Regulations simply meant that work would be performed without the ship being present in a shipyard. The work could progress anywhere that a ship happened to be. Force commanders were not required to notify CNO of technical availability assignments.

The proposal I drafted focused on whether a ship’s primary mission was affected during performance of work and not on where a ship was located. In other words, my draft was solely in the context of readiness for war, the raison d’être for any peacetime navy.

As instructed I was prepared to present my proposal at the conference of about fifty attendees. However, the Fleet Maintenance Officer opened the meeting by saying that only the senior EDOs from the force staffs represented would be allowed to make presentations. Thus, my proposal was presented by my unprepared boss. Manifestly nervous and fumbling for words, he obliterated my emphasis on readiness.

As if that wasn’t bad enough a naval shipyard repair officer, another EDO, suddenly stood up and bragged, “We don’t care what you call it. Just give us the work and we’ll get it done!”

That did it! While his bravado illustrated my point that EDOs were not sensitive enough to operational matters, the stirrings by others in the room indicated that he had blasted my proposal off its already crumbling pedestal. Then there was an interruption by an officer preoccupied with readiness for war.

Rear Admiral Rollo Wilson, the lone CNO representative, stood and said in effect: “The Air Force proponents in Congress do not miss any opportunity to badger our CNO about aircraft-carrier readiness. Consequently, an aide is assigned to maintain the readiness status of our carriers on a three- by five-inch card and to insure that an up-to-the-minute card is always in Admiral Arleigh Burke’s pocket. Whenever there is a change the aide has to prepare a revised card, find the Admiral no matter where he is, and substitute the new card for the obsolete one.

“During a particularly harsh encounter, Admiral Burke was so challenged. He recited the impressive aircraft-carrier readiness status per the card in his pocket. Then an Air Force proponent countered, ‘One of those carriers that you said could get underway in four hours, I happen to know is at the Norfolk Operating Base and cannot possibly get underway in four days!’

“Admiral Burke investigated and to his chagrin learned that the carrier in question had all of its ammunition off loaded while magazine-sprinkler systems were being modified. Since the work was being accomplished outside of a shipyard, per Navy Regs the ship was available only in a technical sense; no notification to CNO was required.”

Thanks to Admiral Wilson, my proposal was rescued just in time and the pertinent passages in Navy Regs were changed accordingly.


Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo