Diary of a Sea-Going Sailor

Part 4, Assignments, Watches, and Ship's Routine

Wow. Now you’re really hip into the shipboard life, right? Well… not quite.

Once you’ve completed Indoc, your division gets you back. Be ready for various assignments – such as your Personal Qualification Standards (PQS) assignments, and your maintenance assignments.

And, though no one likes it, it’s a necessary evil - be ready to be assigned away from your division for Food Service Attendant (FSA) duties sometime during your first year aboard ship.

FSA duty is 90 days (for the first tour) where you are assigned to the S-2 division to work either on the mess decks, in the Chief’s Mess, or in the Ward Room (that’s Officer country). Yes, we have cooks, called Mess Specialists (MS) – but not enough for them to cook, and clean, and stock food… so FSA is designed to augment the MS people. You will likely feel overworked and under appreciated, but you are doing a job that needs to be done, and that has been done by just about every enlisted individual above you. I’m not going to say that you need to just suck it up – but remember that this doesn’t last forever (though it may seem so at the time). In reality, these days the FSA individuals get some better working conditions than when I first enlisted. And you’re not standing duty days while in FSA status.

You will be assigned to an in port watch section (or at least should have been, but there were ships that used to forgo it until after indoc), as well as any underway watch section that your rating may stand.

Watches & watchstanding are necessary, and not just because of the recent war on terrorism – there’s been watches and watchstanding since the beginning of the Navy. There are different watches for in port and underway. In port, there are watch stations such as Officer of the Deck (OOD), Petty Officer of the Watch (POOW), Messenger of the Watch (MOOW), DMAA, Duty Driver, and Command Duty Officer (CDO).

Just about everyone stands one or more of the above (and not all watches are listed), depending upon their pay grade or rank. Some of these watches are for security, some to maintain ship’s condition. Duty section personnel are responsible for the condition of the ship while the rest of the crew is on liberty.y Officer of the Watch (POOW), Messenger of the Watch (MOOW), DMAA, Duty Driver, and Command Duty Officer (CDO). Just about everyone stands one or more of the above (and not all watches are listed), depending upon their pay grade or rank. Some of these watches are for security, some to maintain ship’s condition. Duty section personnel are responsible for the condition of the ship while the rest of the crew is on liberty.

Underway watches depend on upon your rating – STG’s such as myself stand watch in Sonar Control, Operations Specialists (OS) in Combat Information Center, Boatswain’s Mates (BM) on the Bridge, and so on.

The rotation of the watches is different these days. [special effect: pulling glasses to tip of nose, and talking in a raspy voice] When I first joined the Navy, our watches were set up thusly:

  • 0800-1200 – Morning Watch
  • 1200-1600 – Afternoon Watch
  • 1600-1800 – First Dog Watch
  • 1800-2000 – Second Dog Watch
  • 2000-2400 – Evening Watch
  • 0000-0400 – Mid Watch
  • 0400-0800 – Rev Watch

[clearing throat, pushing glasses back up] These days, the rotation is slightly different:

  • 0700-1200 – Morning Watch
  • 1200-1700 – Afternoon Watch
  • 1700-2200 – Evening Watch
  • 2200-0200 – Mid Watch
  • 0200-0700 – Rev Watch

The reason for the change? I don’t really know. I do know that it allows fewer watchstanders to maintain a decent rotation (trust me – you don’t really want to have to stand the mid watch every duty day) without getting “burned out”. It also works better for chow – instead of needing a watch relief for chow, the rotation allows the watchstander to eat first, rather than in the middle of the watch (less worry about indigestion that way).

And let’s not forget the ship’s normal daily routine… as modified by the Plan of the Day (POD).

The POD is an official daily document – and is not meant to be taken from the ship. Usually, it not only contains the events for the day, but also notes for the crew (example – quotes from the Uniform Regulations, “Atta-Boy’s” from the CO to the crew), the meal menu, OMBUDSMAN information, times for sunrise & sunset, and perhaps even the long-range schedule. Different commands have different viewpoints on what to put in the POD – such as a movie list while underway.

Ship’s routine – Daily items include sweepers/clamp down (another way of saying clean the ship and take out the trash), quarters, and Department Head meetings. Weekly items would be things such as Supply Petty Officer training or divisional training.

There are irregular events that occur, both in port and underway. Among items that can happen both in port and underway are refueling & small arms qualifications. Flight Quarters is normally an at sea event (for things such as refueling the helo or sending/receiving parts, personnel, or mail), and the Sea & Anchor detail is for pulling in and leaving port/anchorage.

Being underway isn’t much different than being in port, other than not being able to go home to the wife and the 2.5 kids (I’ve yet to see that .5 kid…). One gets up in the morning, goes about the daily routine, and goes to bed at night. It’s like consecutive duty days in that regard, as most have underway watches to stand.

Oh, okay - there are differences. The deck moves… constantly. Like living in a funhouse, where the floors move up and down, back and forth, and not always to the same degree. Sometimes it’s calm, sometimes it’s rough. If you get motion sick, there’s usually some sort of solution at Doc’s – though the solution is best applied before the problem, in this case. I usually recommend eating some bread or crackers – something to settle the liquid in the stomach. Don’t try (at first) to match the old salts… just because they can drink four or five mugs of coffee a day doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do the same. Trust me – you really don’t want to be seeing what you had for breakfast… yesterday.

And there are other things to be aware of at sea. Water conservation is a big issue. Even though one is surrounded by water, it’s all salty. The engineers make the water for all the shipboard uses, and that means we need to report leaky faucets and such for repair ASAP. If too wasteful, the ship could go on water hours – having only specific times in which one may take a shower, and that, one is taking a “Navy Shower” (get in, turn on water, get wet, turn off the water, soap up/lather up, turn water on and rinse, secure water and get out. Meantime – 3 to 5 minutes, tops). There’s not an infinite source of water on board.

Another item underway is separation of trash. In port, one can simply bag it up, and take it to the dumpster at the end of the pier. Underway, though, we can’t do that – environmental concerns, doncha know.

Most every space on board, when underway, has three trash receptacles – Paper (and garbage, on the mess decks), Metal/Glass, and Plastic.

Paper is usually biodegradable, and can usually be disposed of over the side in large paper bags that are designed to sink. The exception to this is classified materials, which have a different disposal method.

Metal and glass are processed through a crushing machine, and can usually be disposed of over the side. The crushing prevents/minimizes air being trapped within, and causing flotation when discarded.

Plastics are (on Porter and most newer ships, I believe) processed by a nifty machine that heats it up to melting point, then pours the melted plastic into a mold, resulting in a 1-foot diameter plastic disc – usually 1 to 3 inches thick. The plastic discs are sealed in plastic bags and held until the next port visit for disposal.

General garbage (uneaten food) is usually disposed of over the side, as it’s biodegradable. However, I’m not certain how humane it is to be feeding Flipper some of the stuff that humans wouldn’t eat (just kidding).

HAZMAT is also kept aboard for disposal in port – things like oily/greasy rags, dead batteries, paint and so on.