By: Garland Davis
I was thinking this morning about all the hours of my life that were spent preparing for inspections. Inspection is ingrained in a sailor from almost the first moment of Boot Camp. There are white hat inspections, skivvy shirt inspections, gig line inspections, bunk inspections, locker inspections, sea bag inspections, laundry inspections, shoe shine inspections, zone inspections, Captain’s inspections, XO’s messing and berthing inspections, not to mention having my rectum inspected before I was permitted into the swimming pool at NTC San Diego. A few other times I was subjected to an embarrassing and demeaning “Short Arms” inspection. If you don’t know what that is, ask an old sailor, he will explain.
And of course, before I forget, not only were we subjected to inspections, there were numerous pre-inspections by each level of the chain-of-command. For instance, if an Admirals visit is scheduled, spaces will be pre-inspected by the Section Leader, the LPO, the Division Chief, the Department Chief, the Division Officer, the Department Head, the XO, and the CO for weeks before the Admiral arrives. Also, at least, two personnel inspections will be held, just to make sure the sailors are presentable in case the Admiral’s gaze happens to fall upon one of the crew.
How many times has one gone through this inspection drill, only to have the Admiral spend time in the Wardroom with the officers drinking coffee and then leave the ship without even a perfunctory walk through?
I remember the mantra on the FF’s, “If the Engineers are having an inspection, the entire ship is being inspected.” I have seen all ships work put on hold to field day the entire ship because PEB, Ney Award, Medical, Weapons, Operations, and etc., inspectors are going to be aboard. I still fail to see how the cleanliness of the Signal Bridge was going to affect the outcome of a PEB or Ney inspection. Someone was always being inspected. I have spent many evenings aboard, doing paperwork, to catch up on work that I should have been able to do during the normal work day instead of supervising a field day preparing for a 3M inspection
When I was in Midway, there was a pre-ordained route for showing off the ship to VIP’s. To prepare for a visit, the route was cleaned, buffed and shined enough to dazzle any viewer. The rest of the ship could look less like numerous hours had been wasted preparing it for inspection and no one seemed to care. I remember when Admiral Brown was assigned as Battle Group Commander and was being given a tour of the ship. The Admiral had once commanded the Midway so he understood the drill. The after Galley and Mess Decks were on the tour route and, of course, we had everything sparkling. I was standing by with the Food Service Officer when the official Party came through. As we moved forward, the Supply Officer stopped them at the display of our Ney Award Plaque. The Admiral congratulated the FSO and me.
The party was milling around and Admiral Brown leaned over and said to me, “You’ve got an excellent operation Chief, but tell me,” and pointing to the passage leading to the garbage storage room asked, “Is it still as fucked up in there as I remember?”
You could have cut the sudden silence with a knife. I replied, “Probably worse Admiral.”
He slapped me on the back, laughed and said, “Then we won’t go that way.” He said to the others, “You want the truth, ask a Chief.”
That was one of the things I loved about the Airdale Navy. They were mission oriented. Their primary mission was to “launch aircraft.” Once that was accomplished, the primary mission suddenly changed to “recover aircraft.” There wasn’t the continuous pressure to “Jump through hoops” to satisfy some inspector with a checklist.
In my first ship, USS Vesuvius, often Friday afternoons were devoted to Captain’s Upper and Lower Deck inspections. During the three hours between thirteen and sixteen hundred, the CO actually inspected the ship. Personnel Inspections were conducted at 0800 on Saturday mornings, inport. Personnel Inspections were also conducted in ranks on the quarterdeck five minutes before the scheduled departure of the liberty boat. When the ship was inport, all hands were required to wear the Uniform of the Day, undress blues or undress whites, during non-working hours.
After leaving the Vesuvius, I went to a three-year tour in Yokohama, Japan. By the time I returned to the fleet things like weekly inspections and shifting into the Uniform of the Day had been relegated to the dustbin of history due to the Viet Nam War and the tempo of operations. The subsequent changes to shipboard routine and the authorizing of civilian clothing for liberty and storage aboard by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and the constant churning of the seabag precluded a return to prewar shipboard practices.
Talking with fellow retirees who either work for the Navy of for Navy contractors, the modern day sailor’s primary function is to prepare for one inspection or another. I don’t know how much emphasis is given to learning and ability.
Perhaps, if the Navy returned to the concept of professional Petty Officers and Chiefs who were knowledgeable and proficient in their rating specialty and leave the touchy-feely programs to the officers we wouldn’t have ships aground on reefs, broken down in foreign ports, or unable to sail or meet commitments.
As much as I hate to say it, it seems as if the civilian manned MSC auxiliary fleet is the only branch of the Navy that is fulfilling their mission requirements. Perhaps, they are not as hampered by the necessity of preparing for myriad meaningless inspections.
Now, I am not saying that inspections are unnecessary, but why can’t everything be inspected in one or two inspections instead of a myriad of continuing inspections. Perhaps if Officers and crews were permitted to do their jobs, perform sensible drills aimed at gaining proficiency in fighting the ship, the fleet would be better served in that endeavor instead of striving to satisfy a check off box on a meaningless inspection.
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.