Home > 2011 Posts, About Dave > The Jehovah Intervention

The Jehovah Intervention

The huge, gray ship steamed along at 28 knots, tossing a sleek, supersonic F-4 Phantom off one of its catapults every couple minutes. It was a calm day in the South China Sea and no other wakes cut through the deep, blue water save for a couple little Destroyers in company with the behemoth.

Wind was nil, so the 1,074 foot-long attack carrier had to make its own breeze. To fly, weapon-laden jets need more airspeed than the 120 miles per hour that cats can deliver. Only another dozen or so F-4s were up on the flight deck to refuel and load out with another full ration of bombs and missiles. Not much going on, really.

I stepped onto USS Ranger’s bridge, 70 feet above the flight deck, and nodded a greeting to the Officer of the Deck, my roommate, Sam, whom I would relieve in a few minutes. For now, I had to talk with the Navigator in his semi-sacred domain over to starboard. An Underway Replenishment was due in an hour and I would be ‘driving the boat’ throughout. So, I needed to know the ‘Gator’s plan. If the Unrep had problems, my career would have bigger ones, and rightly so.

F-4 Phantom II Awaiting Catapult Launch

The ‘Gator was a full Commander, and an old Sea Dog of 42 whose main job was to make sure the ship had enough wind across the deck and sea room around it to do whatever was needed to complete its mission.

What made the ‘Gator’s job really fun was the fact the mission would often change a dozen times a day as the battle shifted or Air Force guys poached the easy targets. When new word came down from On High over PriTac, the Navy secure radio net, Ordinancemen swarmed onto the already fully-armed planes and swapped their whole loadouts for different stuff-that-goes-boom in under ten minutes. Truly amazing skill and dedication.

In our case, ‘On High’ was the Admiral heading up Seventh Fleet and his staff. Back then, it was a simpler time when the Navy had dashing, noble radio call signs like you heard actors using in the Star Wars movies. For example, Ranger’s call sign was Grey Eagle and our sister ship, the Constellation, was War Chief. To give you a feel for how important it was to do whatever the Admiral wanted, no matter how different that was from what his staff had told you five minutes ago (or would tell you ten minutes from now), the call sign for Seventh Fleet was Jehovah. A subtle way to make the point, don’t you think?

As the ‘Gator and I talked quietly in our corner of the bridge, we paid scant attention as the third officer on watch picked up a black handset and responded to a radio call on the fleet’s general tactical net. We were too deep into ironing out a few kinks in the Unrep plan.

As you may surmise, an Unrep brings food, fuel, spare parts and weapons to Navy ships at sea. And that’s important. During intense combat operations, the Ranger would have used up it’s four million gallons of fuel and two thousand tons of weapons in a little under three days. So you can imagine the long string of supply ships spaced about two days apart that had to be out there somewhere for future Unreps. And we were deployed on that particular cruise for almost eight months.

Today, the Unrep was going to be more dicey than usual. Since our planes were vital, we had to keep resupply time short and flying time long. The ‘Gator’s plan had us run southeast at ten knots with two supply ships alongside at once, one on each side. To starboard, a ship with weapons and fuel would hook up via heavy steel cables. And to port, a ship with food and skivvies and spare parts would do the same.

In an hour, running three-abreast, pallets of supplies and thick fuel hoses would cross over on the cables while six helicopters would ferry more weapons onto our flight deck. From the moment when the last F-4 was recovered to the time the first one launched again, only 90 minutes would have passed. That was pretty typical for a beautiful day with one supply vessel along side, but snug with two. And it was about half the time that would be planned to do the job in heavy seas at night.

Soon, the ‘Gator and I had worked through tweaks to the plan and fallen into small talk for the seven or eight minutes until it was time for me to relieve my roommate. As the Commander and I bantered a bit about crunchy weevils in the Wardroom dinner rolls the night before and the prospect of fresh flour for the ship’s bakers after six months deployed, we became aware of radio-telephone hassles plaguing the Junior Officer of the Watch.

He now had a radio telephone handset up to both ears, one black, one red, and he’d been using them that way for more than five minutes. Apparently, a destroyer to our east was out of range from the other destroyer to our west. So, the JOOW had decided to help and gotten himself enmeshed in something a long way from what he was supposed to be doing.

He was an aviator trying to get his shipboard qualifications and had small experience with line-of-sight limits at sea level. After all, you can see darn near forever from 10,000 feet. One important limit was that talking in any way about a 20+ digit Navy Stock Number over a fuzzy radio takes a long time. And using that red phone for anything more than 15 or 20 seconds was always a bad idea. First, it was our only scrambled, secure line back then. And, second, if you were talking on it, no one else in the fleet could. Sucking up PriTac to relay even an urgent supply order for five or six minutes was a super-bad idea.

The ‘Gator and I gave each other one of those Bleep, Bleep and Double-Bleep! looks and I turned to wave at Sam then point at the phone-entangled aviator. Sam pulled his attention away from a complicated safety issue with a returning, badly shot up plane and saw in an instant what was wrong. He moved fast to stop the relay cold.

Sam took both phones from the JOOW and curtly told the destroyer to find another method to get what it needed. Then, as he hung up the black handset, I saw Sam’s face turn as gray as the eagle in our call sign.

Sam Listening on PriTac

As I found out from him later, a new voice had come through on the red phone now that there was the first opportunity in too many minutes.

“Gray Eagle, this is Jehovah, over.”

Oh, no! Sam thought. Someone on Seventh Fleet staff was listening. Crap on a stick!  But, Sam responded as he should.

“Roger, Jehovah, this is Gray Eagle, over.”

After a couple second pause that seemed much longer, Sam heard the following:

“Gray Eagle, this is Jehovah. Himself.

Get. Off. My. Net.”

The watch rotation sheet never listed the aviator after that, and Sam was pretty glum for a few days. For me, it was one of those there but for the grace of God go I moments. I resolved to avoid a similar one if I could.

As you might imagine, radio discipline aboard Ranger snapped right up to 11 on a 10-scale after that little conversation with Jehovah. Himself.

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  1. October 3, 2011 at 6:52 am

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