Why ships burn

USS BONHOMME RICHARD on fire in San Diego, from Wikipedia

Starting on Sunday, there was fairly non-stop news about the USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD-6) on fire in San Diego. The fire was extensive, burning from the middle of the 844 foot long ship, burning in 11 of her 14 decks all around the ship. It’s caused significant damage, and there are already talks it may not be salvageable. To put a dollar amount on it, she cost about 750 million to make in 1998, but today it would cost more like $3.3 billion to build a replacement vessel.

Most people’s first question is, how in the heck can a fire rage through a ship like that? The answer is complicated. First, BONHOMME RICHARD was in a maintenance availability period. She had a large number of shipyard workers fixing a variety of systems onboard. Imagine if you hired contractors to replace your roof, drywall and paint two rooms, replace your kitchen sink, and rewire half your house all at the same time. My first ship was in a maintenance period, and I didn’t recognize the rooms I was in while walking around. It’s a confusing, crazy, dirty mess to try and fix complex systems.

Extra complexity means nothing is normal, with firefighting as no exception. Firefighting equipment gets moved around to support maintenance, and on an 844 foot ship, that might mean extensive portions where there isn’t much equipment. Holes get cut in decks, requiring extra ventilation equipment and rerouting of normal movement paths, which makes getting to and from places hard. All that extra equipment is an inviting target for a fire. Even small fires take way more time and effort to find, fight, isolate and eventually put out.

Fighting fires on a ship is scary business. I’ve gone through our basic firefighting trainers. They are difficult. Contrary to the movies, a firefight is almost pitch black due to the smoke. So imagine you’ve got on 40 pounds of extra gear, breathing through a mask, walking in pitch black conditions, dragging a hose with you while the guy behind you with an infrared sensor guides you towards hot spots that you can’t see. That’s the reality of firefighting. A friend of mine fought a large fire on a submarine and nearly drown when the deck gave out below him and dumped him in a large pool of water, the same water he had been spraying on the fire. He’s really in shape, and even he struggled to get out.

I’m not surprised BONHOMME RICHARD caught fire and that it was bad. What I want to know is whether it’ll cause changes in the future. The shipyard has always been a dirty place, and shipyard workers aren’t normally known for cleanliness. Navy Sailors, unfortunately, get used to this and develop just as bad of habits, which the senior enlisted try desperately to fix. When I visited Japan, I was shocked at just how clean the shipyard was. While you can’t always keep an area clean, going days and weeks without cleanup significantly increases the chance for fires, accidents and all sorts of problems. If this fire forces the Navy to work with shipyards to clean up their act, it would be something useful in an otherwise tragic circumstance.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Why your Navy can’t telework (even if you wanted it to)

From Breitbart Media

It seems plenty of people want the entire United States to telework and stay at home until a COVID-19 vaccine is created. To be fair to those people, many jobs that we once thought weren’t telework capable are suddenly finding a way to overcome those barriers. But for government workers, especially those in the Navy, telework doesn’t remain a viable option, and we need to stop lying about its viability.

Let’s start with what should be an obvious point: many military members work with classified information. Information gets classified for a variety of reasons: it keeps ship movements safe, protects how sensitive intelligence is made, or where we’ve made breakthroughs in military technology. We spend a lot of taxpayer money to build systems with advantages over our enemies, and protecting the information from our enemies so we can maintain that advantage is important. Or put another way, we throw away taxpayer dollars when we give up classified information.

To protect this information, we make people work in secure facilities. More sensitive information merits more secure facilities. These facilities don’t include your living room couch. Or your home office. Or the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop. Worse still, we have some mobile technology, but its normally reserved for higher ranking members in the military.

So we’re put in a quandary. Navy leadership at the high level can work from home to some degree. The Sailors doing the work cannot. This inevitably leads to the desire to “talk around” information, or find ways of getting work done that put our information at risk. Remember to keep in mind this information costs money, so putting it at unnecessary risk is the equivalent of throwing money away to our enemies.

A second less obvious point is that the Navy has a lot of equipment that we don’t just lock up and store. Ships require maintenance. Submarine nuclear reactors always have someone at a panel. Without Sailors onboard, these vessels cease to be useful. We can’t drive them into a warehouse, turn on the dehumidifier, shut and lock the door and wait for a vaccine.

So your government, especially your Navy, can’t telework forever. We put information and systems, which are expensive, at risk. Just like the rest of America, we need to get back to work.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

The Navy is losing the information war, one Captain at a time

The USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, from Task and Purpose

As more details emerge concerning CAPT Crozier of the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, its becoming clear he has a distinct possibility of being reinstated as commanding officer. Given his circumstances, people have asked me if the Navy learned any lessons from this.

My answer is, no.

The Navy is in the middle of grappling with information warfare, and its not doing a great job, mostly because there is a significant age (and thus cultural) problem in its senior officers. The average age of an admiral hovers around the 50’s, meaning most were born in the late 1960s (or earlier!) and spent their childhood without internet. They entered the Navy in an era when information could legitimately be controlled while underway. Censoring mail and family grams was normal. When bad things happened, the first response is to close off the news, solve the problem, and then tell everyone what happened, and during that process, it was (in the past) totally OK to hide details and be opaque. In general, these officers grew up in a time when information could be totally controlled.

The environment is very different now, and these old responses don’t work. CAPT Crozier would have grown up with some internet access, and he is probably more savvy online than most of his senior officers. When his boss tried to clamp down on information flow, CAPT Crozier easily worked around it. It was an ugly black eye to have a video showing him leaving to cheering Sailors, and it likely wasn’t an accident that this happened. In warfare terms, CAPT Crozier was flying an F-18 against an opponent using a biplane. It wasn’t a fair fight.

Despite this really ugly fight, the Navy is unlikely to learn anything. Contrary to popular myth, the Navy isn’t inherently a learning organization. It learns through death and injury. When Sailors die, or when ships get sunk, the Navy learns really fast, mainly through firing people and changing operating procedures. But its unlikely anyone will lose their job over this incident, and the Navy won’t put out any additional guidance on how to handle these circumstances. We’ll only learn as flag officers start coming from people that grew up in an age when information had to be managed, not controlled.

This also explains why Navy isn’t good at information warfare. Do you see Navy countering misinformation well? Not really. At best, Navy commanders engage on social media via their public affairs officers. But posting on the command’s Facebook page isn’t enough to go viral and get your message out. And yet you see commanders claim, time and time again, that because they posted articles and gave the occasional interview, they “maneuvered” in the information environment. Meanwhile, Russia and China run rings around the Navy, easily maneuvering against their stories and constantly pushing their own agenda.

While we don’t want to admit it, in the information realm, we are flying the biplane, and our adversaries are flying jet aircraft. It’s not a fair fight, and won’t be for sometime to come.

This post (clearly) represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

This post was edited on 4/27/20 because I mistakenly listed the HARRY TRUMAN instead of the ROOSEVELT. That was an honest mistake, I had been working on something else and swapped the two carriers.

For lack of all things, the Navy

From military.com

I wrote about the CAPT Crozier/SECNAV Modly affair last week, and couldn’t have been more wrong. I was disgusted to get information from others that pointed to a lack of a plan and a lack of care by many in the chain of command for the well being of the Sailors aboard THEODORE ROOSEVELT. What should have been a good news story of the Navy tackling the COVID-19 virus turned into a complete shit show, resulting in Acting SECNAV Modly resigning, a lot of hurt feelings on all sides, and a huge loss in confidence in senior Navy leadership. The only good thing we got out of it was no more “Vector” emails. Despite tons of good news stories for the Navy right now, especially the USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY, the Navy headlines will be more bad than good.

So yes, I got it wrong. I was fooled by a good media performance early on, then watched everything descend into chaos. I do hope, if CAPT Crozier is found innocent, they put him back in charge.

Going forward, our Navy is in trouble in terms of leadership. To start with the situation, we have a Navy too small for what we ask of it. We’ve killed the Navy’s one saving point, mobility, by demanding presence per a Global Force Management schedule that doesn’t take ship maintenance into account. Yet we pay an astronomical amount of money for the Navy we have, mainly because our shipyards can’t produce a ship on budget or on time. Worse still, while the Army and Air Force had free reign of Overseas Contingency money, and a chance to recapitalize hardware, Navy still has old ships that are increasing in maintenance cost.

We need a strong SECNAV to get the Navy bureaucracy back on track, and yet to Congress, the Navy is somewhere on the bottom tier right now. Nobody cares enough to approve the President’s SECNAV choice, or to suggest someone else. Nobody cares enough to either build more ships or demand we scale back our overseas commitments. So this puts us lacking equipment and leadership.

But soon it’ll be worse, because we’ll be lacking people. When we put the Blended Retirement System in place, it was to make the system more “fair,” which for Congress means “cost less money.” The negative effect is that we’ll need more recruiting more often, because more people will leave earlier. Since it started in 2018, you’ll start seeing drastic changes in 2023 as Sailors that entered in 2018 leave in greater-than-anticipated numbers. For officers, who already have large incentives to leave after their 5 year initial contract, we’ll either have to throw huge bonuses at them to stay or live with gaps, keeping in mind in many cases, we’re already maxing out bonuses in many cases. If you’re an O-3 in 2023, would you stay in a Navy full of old ships, a declining retirement system and leaders that set poor standards, or would you jump ship for a civilian job?

The Navy’s approaching a crisis point. We’ll soon be lacking in equipment, leadership and people. Without some drastic rudder, the Navy will struggle to weather the upcoming storms.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Two Navies, Two Stories, One Choice

200321-N-TL141-1039 PHILLIPINE SEA (March 21, 2020) An MH-60R Sea Hawk assigned to the “Wolf Pack” Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 75, takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) March 21, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dylan Lavin)

The Navy is in the news a lot. On one coast, the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, named after the iconic President, is in the news in a bad way. Her Commanding Officer, CAPT Crozier, was removed by the Secretary of the Navy because of a letter he wrote (and didn’t safeguard adequately) where he argued to evacuate most of his crew due to a COVID-19 outbreak because “Sailors do not need to die.” Reading the letter on its own (available here), without any other context makes CAPT Crozier look like a selfless hero, amplified when he was removed from command by Acting Secretary Modly and then cheered by his own crew.

Obviously, very concerned about the virus spreading, just look at that social distancing!

Like most stories, the surface belies the true nature of the medium. The largest fallacy comes from thinking the Navy wasn’t already acting to help the THEODORE ROOSEVELT. The Navy was moving, quickly, to find a suitable plan for ROOSEVELT. It had already secured 3,000 beds in Guam, which if you’ve ever been to the tiny island, you’ll realize is quite an achievement. Secretary Modly was in contact with CAPT Crozier personally, on multiple occasions before the letter was sent.

Before you sign a petition supporting CAPT Crozier, or think the Navy is some evil, vile organization that hates its Sailors, try watching Secretary Modly’s full press conference. I can guarantee it is not boring:

The Navy balances Sailor morale and welfare with the mission assigned to it. Contrary to CAPT Crozier’s letter, where he asserts we “…we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish…”, that’s simply not true. The Navy executes dangerous “peacetime” missions every day. We fly planes, drive submarines, spy on enemies, rescue mariners in distress, ride out rough weather, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to areas that have multiple infectious diseases. Every day we engage in these activities, which occasionally kill Sailors, and while we balance our risk, the risk is never zero, because the American people expect their Navy to be ready for war, and readiness is never achieved with zero risk.

CAPT Crozier’s actions smell of grand standing. You can’t simply shutdown a nuclear aircraft carrier and park it like some cheap rental car. You always have Sailors onboard to monitor the reactor plants and maintain critical gear. CAPT Crozier even acknowledges that he has to keep at least 10% of the crew onboard. If he had proposed a rotation plan to maintain THEODORE ROOSEVELT while the virus burned itself out, he would probably still be in command.

On the other coast is another Roosevelt. DDG-80, the USS ROOSEVELT, is preparing for a deployment to Europe and a homeport shift to Rota, Spain. No doubt her Sailors are worried about COVID-19, as are their families. Instead of inspiring doubt and fear, her Commanding Officer is finishing deployment preparations, in a quiet and professional manner.

From https://www.dvidshub.net/news/365634/uss-roosevelt-prepares-homeport-shift-rota

Emotions run high when things are uncertain. Emotions feel good, and can even make you popular. But emotions cause you to make mistakes in war. Emotions, and emotional responses, sap your reasoning and break down your training. In war, when time and training matter, emotions get you killed.

If we’re being emotional now dealing with a virus with a mortality rate of 2%, and likely less than that for young people, how are we going to deal with a Great Power Competitor that has a higher death rate? Will we write letters to the press about the Sailors we lost in missile exchanges? Will we complain about driving into harm’s way?

When the going gets tough, do you want to be lead by someone ruled by their emotions, or someone who chooses to rule them?

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Buttigieg and the Military Service Check Box

by baldilocks

From last month at the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):

When Mayor Pete Buttigieg talks about his military service, his opponents fall silent, the media fall in love, and his political prospects soar. Veterans roll their eyes.

CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Mr. Buttigieg Sunday if President Trump “deserves some credit” for the strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. “No,” the candidate replied, “not until we know whether this was a good decision and how this decision was made.” He questioned whether “it was the right strategic move” and said his own judgment “is informed by the experience of having been on one of those planes headed into a war zone.”

But Mr. Buttigieg’s stint in the Navy isn’t as impressive as he makes it out to be. His 2019 memoir is called “Shortest Way Home,” an apt description of his military service. He entered the military through a little-used shortcut: direct commission in the reserves. The usual route to an officer’s commission includes four years at Annapolis or another military academy or months of intense training at Officer Candidate School. ROTC programs send prospective officers to far-flung summer training programs and require military drills during the academic year. Mr. Buttigieg skipped all that—no obstacle courses, no weapons training, no evaluation of his ability or willingness to lead. Paperwork, a health exam and a background check were all it took to make him a naval officer.

Wow.

Combat veterans have grumbled for decades about the direct-commission route. The politically connected and other luminaries who receive immediate commissions are disparaged as “pomeranian princes.” Former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus became a Naval Reserve officer in 2018 at age 46. Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, accepted a direct commission but was discharged after one month of service for failing a drug test.

I’ve never understood the need to overestimate the importance of one’s military service or to pretend to understand aspects of it outside of one’s field and be accepted as an expert simply for having served. However, I guess that’s due to the fact that I’m not a politician. (And even though I had four AFSCs during my career, I can’t even tell you that much anymore for two reasons: a great deal of it is classified and I have brain-dumped a lot of information. My hard-drive has its limitations.)

But this guy didn’t even have to go to Officer Training School! Now, I’m told that the military will occasionally use this form of commissioning to fill essential billets which are difficult; physicians and lawyers, for example. But why would the Navy need a paper-pusher wearing O-3 bars?

Answer: to credential this particular person for his planned future as a politician. No need for any real hardship — like being awakened at Oh-Dark-Thirty for exercise. He’s in; he spends some time in Afghanistan behind the wire; and then he’s back to the states with a check mark inside of the military service box.

I don’t see the point in bothering with this sort of thing anymore especially since our last two presidents have had no military service. But, if they must, I’m sure that there are thousands of worthy Democrats who at least have Basic Training/OTS under their belts. Why this one?

I’d give Buttigieg this: at least he didn’t get booted for being a crackhead.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

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What does a 355 ship Navy mean?

The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, from NavyTimes.com

The US Navy is locking horns with Congress and the other services, trying to build to 355 ships, which it needs to fight China and Russia in any sort of future conflict. Despite the recent claim about rebuilding our military at the State of the Union, the current Navy is in a bit of disrepair, mainly from being run ragged around the world without enough shipyard time to make repairs. 355 ships would make a huge difference, but its not achievable with the current budget structure.

But when we say 355 ships, what does that mean? Currently, the US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers, 34 amphibious ships, 22 cruisers, 12 littoral combat ships, 68 destroyers (including Zumwalt class), 52 fast attack submarines and 4 SSGNs, plus 14 SSBNs. That brings us to 102 surface warships and 70 submarines. On the support ship side, we have 78 ships. Navy official website says 294 “Battle Force Ships” and 338,114 personnel.

If we look at the last time we had 355 ships, it would be 1997. Back then, we had 20 more surface ships, 21 more submarines, 2 more carriers and 7 more amphibious vessels. Back in 1997, we had 398,847 personnel. Doing my napkin math based on the current way we man ships, that isn’t far off from what we would need.

Image captured from Navy History Website

I put battle force ships in quotes because the Navy came under fire for counting ships differently. When ship count dropped a lot, Congress got (rightfully) concerned that we didn’t have enough vessels to do our tasking. Navy came back with some new counting that made Common Core math look good. So, if you think 355 ships means 355 warships, then we need to flash back to 1992.

I count 343, including amphibious ships but excluding mine warfare, patrol and auxiliary ships. Back in 1992, the Navy had 576,047 personnel.

We’ve gained some efficiencies in how we man ships, but not orders of magnitude more. The crew size on a current DDG is 329 personnel. A Spruance Class destroyer from the 90’s had a complement of 335 personnel. Other ships are similar, and in many cases need more personnel to run the advanced equipment onboard.

If we think war with China is a coming reality, we need to start expanding our Navy now, or there is little hope to stop China from walking all over countries in their first and second island chains. Representative Carl Vinson saw that in 1934, we had lost too much ground to the Japanese Navy, and pushed through a number of bills to authorize what would eventually become a two ocean Navy. Japan’s Navy went from one of the largest in the world to utter destruction in only 4 short years, thanks to Congress’ foresight in building new warships quickly. We need that same foresight today.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Why calling out Russia matters

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, from the Jacksonville Coast Guard Website

In the midst of all the impeachment news was a Maritime Safety Information Bulletin issued by the Coast Guard concerning the Russian vessel Viktor Leonov, an intelligence surveillance ship that has been prowling the East Coast. The vessel has been in international waters, which while annoying to the United States is in fact very legal. However, unlike in previous years, this year it decided to behave in an unsafe manner. The bulletin spelled it out pretty clearly:

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has received reports indicating that the RFN VIKTOR LEONOV (AGI-175) has been operating in an unsafe manner while navigating through USCG Sector Jacksonville’s Area of Responsibility. This unsafe operation includes not energizing running lights while in reduced visibility conditions, not responding to hails by commercial vessels attempting to coordinate safe passage and other erratic movements. Vessels transiting these waters should maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel.

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, U.S. Coast Guard

The VIKTOR LEONOV’s operations should be a lesson as to why we build and maintain a Navy and Coast Guard. Navies aren’t cheap…the 2019 budget for the Navy alone is $194.1 billion dollars. In comparison, the United Kingdom spent about $79 billion on their entire military. The cost of not building a Navy is far worse though. The VIKTOR LEONOV is only a surveillance vessel, but she is likely preparing the battlespace for any future conflict in the Atlantic. The only credible deterrent to her operations is a solid response from a Navy, which she has received since entering the Western Atlantic.

Countries without Navies can’t enforce their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Every country is given exclusive rights over resources within 200 nautical miles of their coast. While that sounds nice in theory, in reality other countries are quick to take advantage of any countries inability to patrol their EEZ. China is exploiting EEZs to illegally fish in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, as far away as South Africa. Small nations are struggling to keep out the hoardes of Chinese fishermen, who bank on China’s use of economic power to stop any action against their illegal fishing. China has also shown its willingness to illegally drill in another countries waters for oil, which it did in Vietnam in 2014. Even the United Kingdom illegally used waters for fishing, fighting three different “Cod Wars” with Iceland before recognizing Iceland’s EEZ.

A Navy isn’t cheap, but its cheaper to have one than watch another nation plunder your resources. It’s better to fight in waters far away from the Western Atlantic than on your own door step. As tensions continue to rise between the US and peer competitors, the Navy and Coast Guard will be the first to push back against any attempts at aggression on our shores.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, US Coast Guard, or any other government agency.

Does Russia even need a carrier?

Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov on fire. Image from Reddit.

Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is on fire, and not in a good way. A large fire spread throughout the ship during recent welding work, and has so far killed one crew member (likely more, due to the extent of the fire). Anyone that has seen the fires aboard Forrestal can’t help but make an eerie connection.

Fighting the fire aboard the Forrestal. By Official U.S. Navy Photograph – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID USN 1124794 1124794#mw-category-media.

You would think this would be big news, but its barely scratched the Google News feed. Given that its Russia’s only carrier, you’d think this might change their Naval strategy or ship building priorities. For Russia though, this might prove to be overall a good thing.

Unlike the United States, Russia doesn’t have nearly the amount of foreign interests around the world. Most of Russia’s interests are right next door to them, in Eastern Europe and the South and Central Asia. These nations don’t require a Navy to reach. When war broke out in Syria and the Kuznetsov couldn’t launch and recover planes, Russia shifted to using other nearby airbases.

This is quite different from the United States, which uses aircraft carriers to project power around the world. The U.S. has multiple islands, two entire states and a number of Caribbean and Pacific territories to defend. Additionally, there are a significant number of Americans overseas, as well as a number of American owned companies that do business around the world. The U.S. needs a Navy to protect all these interests.

Russia’s Navy, in contrast, exists to foil the U.S. Navy. The small Russian economy can’t produce 11 supercarriers. Instead, Russia builds small, extremely capable vessels (such as the Buyan) that are fast, difficult to track and yet carry capable weapons such as the Yakhont anti-ship missile. Russia also builds an extensive and capable submarine fleet, with anti-ship missiles for use against carrier strike groups and fast attack submarines against U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

Remember too that Russia doesn’t need an outright win in any U.S. conflict. It’s sufficient for Russia to slowly take back former Soviet Union territory and keep the U.S. out of a conflict. Georgia and Ukraine are prime examples of Russia “nibbling on the edges of NATO” but keeping the U.S. at bay. In a possible large conflict, Russia would need a quick strike that would hurt the U.S. and convince them to do nothing. A strike on a carrier strike group from a Russian submarine, or an exchange of fire from a small Russian vessel against a NATO surface group, might be sufficient.

So for Russia, it would come as no surprise if they scrap their carrier. It doesn’t fit their naval strategy, and the cost to repair would be far better used building more submarines and smaller, more capable surface vessels. While we might laugh at them for this, given our wasting of money on stealth destroyers that can’t deploy or small ships that can’t fight, perhaps we have something to learn from the Russian Navy.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

That Such Men Lived

At the Doris Miller Memorial in Miller’s native Waco, Texas.

by baldilocks

Doris “Dorie” Miller has always been my favorite Pearl Harbor hero. Is it because he was black? Partially.

Simply, it’s impossible to separate his race from his heroism, considering that the US. Military was segregated back then, that black servicemen and women were mostly assigned to segregated units, and that most were tasked with servant and “menial” jobs. Miller, himself, was a cook — Messman Third Class and Ship’s Cook Third class — aboard the USS West Virginia. Way back when I was in kindergarten, he was the first war hero to enter into my consciousness.

Miller was the recipient of the Navy Cross – at that time, the third highest award behind the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal  — for the following:

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Miller was doing laundry below decks on the USS West Virginia. When the alarm called the ship’s crew to battle stations, Miller headed a gun  magazine amidships [sic]. A torpedo had damaged the magazine, so the physically strong Miller began carrying the wounded to safety. Among those he attended to was the ship’s commander, Capt. Mervyn Bennion, who was mortally wounded. Miller then manned a .50-calibre antiaircraft gun, for which he had no training, and continued firing on the enemy until he ran out of ammunition and received the order to abandon ship.

Admiral Chester Nimitz himself pinned the Navy Cross to the young man’s chest. Miller died in 1943 when his subsequent ship, the USS Liscome Bay, was sunk by the Japanese. He was 24.

There was a Navy destroyer escort/frigate named in Miller’s honor – the USS Miller, service date 1973 to 1991.

What I love about Doris Miller’s existence is that the man was here for only a short time and was merely playing the cards that life dealt him when he performed the action that will long outlive him. When the challenge came, he stepped to it and met it — something intrinsic in heroes and heroism.

And this may seem like a change of topic, but it isn’t. Back when Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV; ironically) passed away in 2010, I remembered writing — prior to his passing — about his actions during WWII:

Byrd refused to serve in World War Two due to blacks being a part of the force, even in their lowly status before the desegregation of the US Armed Forces in 1948.  I cited that here using Wiki, but the reference has been cleaned up.

If, by some chance Byrd got to go to Heaven, I hope he gets to be Dorie Miller’s butler.

Whoever Miller’s Heavenly Cook and Messman is, I’m sure he’s just happy to be there serving a great man and is doing so with a smile.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

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