Destroyer Life at Sea, Pt. I: Standing Watch
Obviously, a huge part of my life, is the fact that I serve in the US Navy. As I stated in my post yesterday, I am stationed on-board the USS HALSEY and am currently doing a deployment in the Western Pacific. This is my fifth deployment (all in the Western Pacific).
I figured that people reading would like to know how things are out here, on a day-to-day basis, when we’re underway. First off, I’ll give a general overview of what I’ve done and what I do, but for each person things are different. For my career, I’ve been an Electronics Technician (ET) and an Information Systems Technician (IT). I’ve been on three ships now and worked my way up from the E-4 paygrade (USS Constellation, CV-64) to the E-5/E-6 paygrade (USS Preble, DDG-88) to the E-7 paygrade (USS Halsey, DDG-97). Honestly, my jobs have afforded me a pretty good lifestyle, with fewer watches than some, and working in an air-conditioned space my entire career (as opposed to a space that could reach in excess of 120 degrees or so). I don’t typically get dirty, my job is pretty safe and affords me the chance to be on the computer a lot (and browse Chive frequently). I’m spoiled to tell you the truth.
Things are different each ship…you’ll notice that I was on an Aircraft Carrier (CV-64) and two Destroyers (the DDG’s). On the Carrier, there’s about 5,500 people! Life is more laid back, because the job is split up between the people a lot better; for instance, in my Division (as an Electronics Technician), we had about 35-40 people at any point in time spread across three work centers. My work center had about 10-12 people, and we only really had the work for less than half of that. I’m going to focus on the Destroyer life, as we’re talking 250 people, and about 14 in my Division (as an Information Systems Technician). The reason I’m going to is for this simple fact: I was on a Carrier over 10 years ago, it was a non-nuclear Carrier (of which there are no more that are commissioned) and that was pre-9/11 and things have changed. The Navy is going through a draw-down right now, and the same number of personnel aren’t on the ships as there used to be. I can’t speak about working on Carriers anymore just because it’s probably changed so much.
However….this is deployment #3 on a Destroyer, which is where I’ve spent 4 of the last 7 years (between the Preble and the Halsey). There are fewer people on a Destroyer, and everyone is specialized. I have both Communications personnel and LAN (computer) personnel, because that’s the two sides of our rate. Some of my guys are good in both, some lean one way or the other. For most of my career, we have done 12 hour watches (0700-1900 or 1900-0700) while underway. That may sound like a lot, but, honestly, when you’re underway, what else is there to do? That still gives you 12 hours or so (minus other responsibilities that you have to be involved in, I’ll get to that).
However, that’s not the norm. Most watchstanders (which is mostly everyone but Supply and Admin personnel, along with the cooks) are on 5-hour rotations. Because I’m the Chief and don’t stand watch in my workspace, standing it in my departmental workspace, I fall into this 5-hour rotation. The rotation is as follows: 0700-1200, 1200-1700, 1700-2200, 2200-0200 (yes, only 4 hours) and 0200-0700. We relieve on the half hour prior to the watch, so for a 0700-1200 watch, I’m actually on watch from 0630-1130. This is to accommodate meals and turning the watch over properly (passing down all applicable information).
Sounds easy, right? Well, just wait…some people are in 3-sections, some are in 4-sections, I’m not going to lie, 4-sections is pretty easy. That means if I have the 0700-1200 watch (as I did today), then tomorrow I have the 0200-0700 watch (always the watch previous, since there are 5 watches in a day). And, it always works like that: the 1700-2200 watch today will have the 1200-1700 watch tomorrow.
Three section though…that means that after the 0700-1200 watch, you’ll then have the 2200-0200 watch, and then the next day you’ll have the 1200-1700 and the 0200-0700 watch, etc. Essentially you get 10 hours off for every 5 hours of watch you’re standing.
There are many places that people stand watch: the Bridge, Combat, Engineering spaces, individual workspaces, etc. Most Chief Petty Officers and Junior Officers stand watch in either Combat, Engineering or the Bridge. There are too many different watches for me to list them here. Each one has a different responsibility: for example, I’m trying to get qualified as CSOOW (Combat Systems Officer of the Watch) and our responsibility is oversight for the entire Combat Systems suite, which essentially includes all electronic equipment, including Fire Control Systems, Communications, Navigation and Display systems (the consoles in Combat). In a couple months, I’ll be standing CICWO (Combat Information Center Watch Officer), where I’ll be responsible for the communications circuits that the Combat watchstanders are using (among other things).
Please keep in mind that for many of us, “standing watch” is not our only responsibility. Actually, for very few people is that the case. I still have to run my division and accomplish all my jobs (I’ll get into those later), which for the most part I have to do outside of my watch. I have many meetings each day (the price for being a Chief Petty Officer) and get woke up when circuits/systems go down. It’s not like I can work 5 hours, have 15 hours off, then work 5 hours and that’s all I’m doing. There are some days when I have to work 16 hours or so for the day to get my stuff done. That’s probably not too far from the norm. I get about 5-6 hours of sleep a day (I need some relaxation/decompression time, which I’ll get into in a later blog).
On top of that, there are ship-wide evolutions, like Replenishments at Sea (RAS), which is when we get new supplies, mail, fuel, parts for equipment, etc. Those require working parties and the working parties are made up of people not on watch. Personnel in the lower paygrades also have maintenance that needs to be done (we have a system called 3M-Maintenance and Material Management), where we conduct preventative maintenance (like getting your oil changed before your engine seizes) on all of our equipment.
The reality though? What else are we going to do? It’s not like we have families to go home to. Nor is there enough common space that we can just “hang out” a lot. We can “hang out” in our workcenters, but who wants to do that when you’re not on watch? Well, you’d be surprised…many people hang out for a considerable amount of time after watch.
That’s all for now…if there’s any questions, put them in the comments and I’ll answer them there. I hope this was informational for you non-Navy personnel that may be reading this.