By: Thayer Ward
After leaving Yokosuka, we got underway for a 4-week play-time with Japanese and Korean forces. Huge war games, included all branches, except the American Coasties. Japanese Coasties played along, though.
We were playing the good guys. We got stuck with a couple Japanese ships (we were the BMD testbed, and Japan was in the process of getting their BMD program off the ground, so we often worked with them). It was boring, turning circles in the ocean, away from the action, for the first 2 weeks. But then we got into it.
If you don’t know about EWS/EWCO, this is an explanation and helps with part of the story. I was a CTT (Cryptologic Technician Technical), the product of old CTTs (the ones that rode subs and aircraft and did all the super secret squirrel stuff) and EWs (Electronic Warfaremen, my old rate before the merger). The primary job of an EW was Anti-Ship Missile Defense, using the SLQ-32 to identify radars, and so identify other units. We did Intel, missile info, identification (only other means outside of IFF and Visual ID, or VID). We are, essentially, the ears of the ship. We also fired chaff/NULKA and did active countermeasures (jamming). We had two watch positions in CIC, EWCO, and EWS. The purpose of the EWCO (Electronic Warfare Console Operator) was to operate the SLQ-32 console, identify radars, talk with the other fleet EWs on radio, fire chaff, and jam. The purpose of the EWS (Electronic Warfare Supervisor) was to assist the EWCO for identification purposes, be in charge of the watch, take over if something happens to the EWCO, correlate track data to what we had on the NTDS consoles (Naval Tactical Data System, allowed everyone in CIC to see the same picture, including radar pictures). NTDS and the SLQ didn’t interface for the most part, so the track-to-radar correlation was a necessity. EWS also talked with everyone else in CIC and gave out info. EWS was the guy everyone in CIC was relying on for identification and tell them what type of missile was inbound and kept track of the big picture to allow the EWCO to focus on his job. There’s a LOT of radars out there.
I was on watch, EWS. We were Blue and Gold watch rotation, so I was on from 0600 to 1800 every day. We’re in the “war zone,” taking people out left and right. For a ship that hadn’t been out of the Pacific since I was onboard, we were kickin’ ass and taking names. Everything is good, until…
The EWCO says “Hey, got something I don’t recognize, and can’t find any info on it.” I come over and take a look. I know it’s an aircraft radar, but not sure what. However, I follow it around, and it correlates to an aircraft. The Japanese had a new Learjet they were using for Coast Guard purposes. We had no info on it, other than it was half-orange, half-white, and said Coast Guard on it. It is playing the bad guy, with a “missile release range” of 20 NM.
This guy makes a beeline for us. Still, no clue what it is. CO is asking what it is, and I can’t answer. Up until now, I had been spot on, but this guy was confusing me. Finally, it gets to 25 NM, and the CO calls me over our internal net and says “make the call EW.” I called hostile. The CO tells the TAO to shoot him down. Our TAO, who is my Dept. Head, objects, but the CO says “DO IT!!” One of the most stressful times of my career.
We “shoot it down,” 22 NM out. Immediately, the TAO comes over and starts chewing me out. “You just shot down a civilian aircraft!” Yeah, coming in at under 1k ft at 500 kts, okay…”We are the new Vincennes, and we will never sail in the Pacific! Your bad judgment embarrassed us!” I was pissed, so I went off on him (LT at the time). We got into a yelling match, and I flipped him the bird, right to his face, with EVERYONE in CIC (Chiefs, officers, enlisted) watching and said: “Well I will see you at mast!” (note that my quotes probably aren’t exact, more like an idea of what was said)
I sat down, stewing, knew I was up the creek. The net is silent (someone hit the switch so that everyone at watch stations outside of CIC heard it). Everyone knows I’m screwed, and no one wants to talk to me because I’d probably fight them…
I felt a hand on me, and I turned around and yelled: “WTF do you want?!?!” I turned pale and apologized immediately. It was the CO. “Petty Officer Ward, calm down, it’s okay son,” he said reassuringly. “We just got a message back from a P-3 in the area. They got a look at the target we just shot down. Half-orange, half-white, had Japanese writing, and said ‘Coast Guard’ in English.”
Vindication! I felt better, even knowing I was going to mast, because I made the right call, and were it real, would have saved our butts. “Don’t worry about your confrontation with OPS, I will deal with it.” “You mean, I’m not going to mast?” “Nooo. You’ve been doing an outstanding job. You were right, and he came over and picked a fight with you. You will be okay.” Man, talk about relief.
OPS subsequently apologized. I shook his hand, but I could see he was pissed about it, and still thought he was right. Fortunately, he left after that deployment, and I didn’t have to deal with him anymore. My DIVO later told me that, not only was I off Liberty risk, but that me and my liberty partner had first off the ship, no duty, and overnight liberty for the 4 nights we would be in Hong Kong. Yeah, good CO for sure.