Somewhere some ingenious bastard decided to make an AOE the size of a Norwegian Cruise Liner and just about as doggone pretty as one too! No, she didn’t have beauty parlors, five star restaurants, Bingo Halls and Casinos with swimming pools and bowling alleys, but she was quite exquisite as far I was concerned!! The Supply Class AOE was a work of sublime beauty!!!
I came aboard the Rainier built in NASSCO shipyard outta San Diego in the early Nineties as part of the Precommissioning (Precomm) unit! I had no idea how the Precomm selection process worked, but worked it did as they sifted through a shit load of idiots and came up with me!! To make it even better … unlike previous ships, this would be the first where there’d be no more Vienna Sausage Luaus on the flightdeck during steel beach picnics!! Yep… this new jalopy had steel belted condoms in all the heads and passenger air bags… on all the female types… something new in the Navy unless you’d been on a tender!! Living in close proximity to the wimmins and Fanroom Fannies can change the way young men conduct themselves in public!!!
This was a new experience for me! We had a brand new ship with a brand new messdeck, passageways big enough to play collegiate level football, berthing compartments with elbow room and brand new Heavy Weather Gear instead of the Hand-me-down stuff we used to sleep on in between breaks!! We even had a ‘Sailor to Home’ phone center that was a brand new concept at the time!!!
The Rainier was a modern marvel in seagoing technology made for Quality of Life and streamlined jet engines to push her through the water… that high speed low torque to low speed high torque kinda thing you transmission fellas should know something about! But I’m a twidget… so I’ll stay outta the details!! It was a lot of OOOHs & AAAWs from most of us fleet types who were used to smelly, oily things with oxidation dripping off the sides and steam pipes & water mains leaking in every direction!!!
Her mission was underway replenishment (Unrep) of beans, bullets and fuel to combat ships… just a regular ol’ floating General Store! We had a captive market to say the least!! We spent as many as twenty hours a day Unrep’n with as many ship’s sometimes both port & starboard!!!
Yep… when we were underway, it was the Indian Trade Company of the US Pacific Fleet! We were like the great outpost on the open range… only this was the open ocean!! This was where all the crusty salts and rapscallions of all types came to get what they needed to survive deep at sea!!!
Alongside connected replenishment (Conreps) and vertical replenishment (Vertreps) were risky business! You’ve got ships and helos side by side trying to do some kind’a gyroscopic tango with the open seas for hours upon hours!! The hydrodynamics of two ships running alongside each other causes a suction you don’t wanna be any part of if fallen overboard!! It took a well-qualified helmsmen and a great bridge crew to keep things going in the right direction!! This was made quite evident watching the Sacramento pull in with busted outriggers, a few major dents in the ol’ wagon and a CIWS Mount that looked like it needed some replacement after a brush with the Stink’n Lincoln!! Like I said… it was risky business!!!
It was during Unreps we did the heavy lifting, fixing shit, shoving probes into huge orifices pumping JP5, DFM and all that other stuff, humping beans & bullets and acting as the muscle & guts that brought the fleet to life! There were many a blackened face from hard working crews grimy with steaming sweat just making the best of a tough situation!! Grimy, grease-covered Kapok wearing Crackerjacks with a bandanna hanging out the hip pocket... now that was the signature hallmark of an Unrep’n Bos’n, whipping his Seamen into shape!!!
The general population of our floating village contained a wide variety of characters within the spectrum of humanity... from the exceptionally bright to the walking brain dead! The fuel on deck was as slick as a minnow’s dick and Monkey Fists shot out of M14s could put quite a dent in a bosun’s hard hat giving him instant celebrity or instant death!! You could hear one of the line handlers asking the rig captain some silly question while riggin the lines with an…
“I appreciate your concern shipmate but I’m fucking this cat… you’re just holding the tail!”
A good leader can always put things back into perspective!!!
Through a long day’s work you’d be wrapped up in fuel hoses then the starting pistol for major ‘Can you top this’ bullshit would go off! The 1MC blaring…
“Lunch for the Crew”…
We all knew it was feeding time at the local zoo!! When Unreps run one ship after another, the crews had to rotate out to get chow!! Let me tell you… when Crackerjacks only have five minutes to eat they looked like a pride of lions devouring the carcass from a group kill!!!
Then it came… one day the Skipper would demand that all Departments participate in some form with Unreps! So now twidgets had to get involved in the way of communications to the bridge and Central Control… and when I say in the way, I mean sometimes we were in the way!! I still remember someone showing their ‘Cat Brains’ to the other side of the span wire as a Spruant Can was taking on fuel!! RMSN Doris invented the stunt down in berthing and it grew in popularity!! Before long every slacker on the ship with twigs-n-berries was in the trend!!!
Then one day while crackerjacks in dirty foul weather jackets and worse for wear mouths were hollering stupid comments between ships one of our own unzips and there was a loud resounding ‘Thwack’ upon his ‘Cat Brains’…
“Unreps is like a midget at a urinal kid… you always gotta be on your toes!”
A bit of fanroom counseling and once again a good leader can always put things back into perspective!! There was plenty of time for grab ass and skylarking when not on the rigs!!!
So often we pulled into Jebel Ali & Fujairah to refuel, the amount of GPM & JP5 we gave out must have reached astronomical proportions! But all roads that lead to success have to pass through Hard Work Boulevard at some point!! On some days after a dozen Unreps those fellas looked like they’d been in the outhouse when the lightning struck… but to each and every one there was a sense of pride and feeling of accomplishment… the reason we one the Battle ‘E’ on successive tries!!!
They say the two best Commands in the Navy....The one you just left and the one you are going to! Well... After five years, I had a love affair with that ship like no other… I think they made me sign a waiver of some sort… do not indulge yourself in the enjoyment of Naval Service… and to that I’d sold my soul for Indentured Servitude to the US Canoe Club!!!
Yes these old sea going memories come and go in kaleidoscope fashion as colorful a recollection as you can ever get! It’s like catnip to the soul!!