“Petty Officer Marcom! Your fifty cals are rusty!”
I must admit; yes, they were. I tried so hard to keep ahead of the rust, but here I found myself between the second half of a six-month, round-the-whurl-WestPac deployment, and somewhere just off the coast of Somalia. Yes, rust was my enemy, and never my friend—the machine guns were always mounted while we (The USS Callaghan DDG 994, full cast and crew) were Haze-Gray and Underway. Yes, always mounted. And subject to rust. Rust Relentless. Relentless She Be: That Sea.
My professional life was to be found somewhere in those machine guns.
The Navy had a solution though. They provided canvas covers to cover those guns and make them safe from the rust. Alas, those canvas covers had seen better days, probably back when Pearl Harbor was just an ordinary Naval Base.
While scrubbing the Indian Ocean rust off’n the fifty-cals one morning I hatched a plan. Knowing full well we were soon to pull into Mombasa, Kenya, I saved my money. Once in Mombasa, I would smuggle one of the moth infected, jig saw, ‘holy’ canvas shards off the ship. I would rent a taxi and find a leather shop in Mombasa and commission new covers for my fifty caliber machine guns.
And This is exactly what I did, and to the amazement and astonishment of my Senior Chief Petty Officer and my Department Head (almost a Navy Commander… he kinda looked like JFK, now that I think on it—I did not like him, but he respected me—not sure why…)
The next time they inspected my Fifty Cals, they were pristine! (They did not take notice nor time to notice that the canvas covers were not exactly Haze-Gray Naval Gray–No, more like Third-World-Rustic. And I was so desirous that they did NOT notice, but my Master Chief did notice, yet, never ever voicing his ‘inner thoughts’ in front of what he referred to as “Shit Birds” — ‘Officers’ — Never let on.
And I should have been cognizant of this, yet I was somewhat giddy after my .50 Cals had finally passed inspection, that I did not stop to think that anyone, not even Master Chief had seen through my ruse. I was drunk with my own cleverness and lying in my rack, congratulating me.
(Now, you must realize how the Military Mind works. I was my Ship’s Armor All–Armorer– IN Charge of All The Ship’s Small Arms! I was a Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class! Freshly rocked out of SEAL Training and trying to regain what little was left of my pride.)
And I loved and Respected My Master Chief. Did not ever want to become an embarrassment to him, nor to my Fellow Gunner’s Mates who worked on the “Big Guns”.
And even more important, (anyone who has ever ‘Served’ will know this), the Military is Run on Fear: “Oh God, Please Don’t Let Me Fuck UP!”
That kind of fear.
Well, as I was lying in my rack just before Taps with my little blue ‘privacy’ curtain drawn, someone abruptly jerked back the curtain.
Master Chief Anderson
“Son, tell me where you found those brand new gun covers.”
Trying to try to my side and find an elbow to lean to, I half-coughed out, “Master Chief, I had them made while we were in Mombasa.”
“I see”, was all he said, as he yanked my curtain back shut.
I did not sleep that night. For you see, I knew I had broken Naval Regs by doing something not-in-the Naval Seaman’s Bible–The Blue Book–The book I had been made to almost memorize while at Recruit Training Command, i.e. boot camp. I had broken the rules.
Sometime mid morning the next day, I was summoned to the berth/office of The Department Head of my Division, Lt. Commander ‘Kennedy’. Shitting bricks is too trite.
I was nervous.
I gave a hearty rap on the bulkhead door as I was trained to do in bootcamp…
“Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcom Sir!”
“I know who you are Lance; sit down.”
(What??? Lance??? Sit Down???)
Mouth agape I sad down, speechless
“Son, Master Chief Anderson tells me you went out on your own, commissioned and paid for, with your own money, those .50 Cal Gun Covers. Is this true?”
“Yes, uh, yessir,” I stammered.
“Well, that shows some fine initiative. How much did you pay Son?”
“Un Sir. Doesn’t matter…. I just, well, the .50 Cals cost ten-thousand dollars each, and I thought…rust….an…”
“How much did you pay?!”
“250 Dollars Sir.”
Without saying a word he opened a little three lock box (OK; I made that up. It was only a one-lock box) that he had in a drawer and handed me two-hundred and fifty bucks.
I sat there a moment too long, still in shock, looking the bills in my hand…
“Petty Officer Marcom! You’re dismissed!”
Jumping up, some tears welling in my eyes, “Yessir!” As I saluted him and abruptly left his quarters, knocking some books off a shelf as I tried to hustle out…
I may continue this story, (or not). My time in Kenya was rather interesting though.
(Those bits I remember anyhow)