Robert, We Hardly Knew You…
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia is publicly incensed about President George W. Bush landing on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, claiming it to be a waste of taxpayer's money. I take issue with the Senator's pretensions for a variety of personal and historical reasons, and feel strongly enough about it to take keyboard to cursor in an effort to set the record straight. I am a Navy veteran, on each of the years 1990-1994, I earned at least one month of hazardous duty pay serving on destroyers. Six of the eight years I served were aboard ships; the remaining two years were at school commands. I have gone in harm's way and served honorably in extremely trying duties. Others have had rougher service, and I honor them, but few veterans have ever doubted that I did my share.
My first ship was a reserve ship, a compromise between Congress and the Navy to keep more hulls in the water for a higher return to congressional districts. The USS Patterson was stationed in Philadelphia, within easy commuting distance of six Senate seats. She was provided with half the rated manning with the expectation that in time of war, the manning would be completed with reservists. The effect of this was that half the men did twice the work doing basic maintenance and little time preparing for war. We worked long hours with little relief in peacetime. It was tremendously unfair, everybody knew it, and generally we did our jobs knowing that life was just going to suck. We were not tremendously appreciative of the Congress that had given us this situation.
One of the banes of our existence was inspections. In the month of July 1989, we had five major inspections, one after another. The worst of the inspections was INSURV; the Board of Inspection and Survey. This was the inspection that determined if your ship could stay in the fleet, and the inspectors worked for the congress, not the Navy. In my six years aboard ships, I went through four INSURV inspections, and I have to say that nothing was worse for the readiness of the ship than one of those inspections. All of the extra gear that we used to make things bearable onboard, easier to do our jobs, and kept for emergencies were required to be removed. The lowest snitches got their jollies ratting out their shipmates and the officers had to indulge them regardless of the cost of loyalty.
In 1991, the second INSURV I endured almost cost me a stripe and my sanity. After throwing away $50,000 worth of spare parts that would not pass official muster one morning, I was questioned by the Executive Officer if all the goods I was throwing away had no military value. He did not want me to answer honestly; he wanted me to tell him exactly what I was supposed to tell the inspectors. I told him the correct lie and could feel my heart break while doing so. Earlier that month he had turned down my request for transfer to the Gulf War, stating that our ship had a higher mission, fighting the INSURV war. I grew despondent afterwards and lost focus. An alcoholic snitch ratted me out so that he could feel more important. INSURV is the inspection that breaks men's souls and ship's crews.
My second ship was the USS Stump, named after one of the most successful of native sons; she was the flagship of West Virginia. Since before Vietnam, Senator Byrd has been on the Armed Services Subcommittee. Recent advances in parallel computing have allowed scientists to begin to estimate the amount of pork that Senator Byrd has brought home to West Virginia, but I can only guess about him. You see, I have never met the man. In all my time onboard, after four massive inspections for his edification, he never once trod the deck of a ship I served on. He never visited a ship anywhere near me, and considering that I was based out of Norfolk for three years, that is a lot of ship time. I never saw him, and I never saw another congressional person onboard. I never got a word of thanks for my efforts or saw a personal sign of gratitude.
It does not bother me in the slightest that President George W. Bush visited the USS Abraham Lincoln. It does not bother me if it cost the taxpayers like me $100K or even if it cost $10,000,000. The sailors aboard the Lincoln deserve that much after all their efforts and sacrifices. They deserve the recognition and they deserve the chance to meet their leadership. Senator Byrd does not want to recognize that, and he has good reason to not recognize his own abandonment of his duty to the people who keep his state rolling in pork. Robert, we hardly knew you back then…and we hardly can view you as an authority now.