Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Reviews

While I was up in Newport last summer, the President of the Naval War College, RADM Wisecup, recommended a couple of books.  Since then, I've read two of the books he recommended, and both were excellent.

The first book I read was World War Z.  The admiral himself admitted he felt odd recommending a fiction novel about a future zombie war.  Apparently the story was good enough that the movie rights were purchased, and Brad Pitt is going to star in it.

From the title, I was expecting something of a gruesome horror flick of zombies grumbling, "braaaaaains" and reaching out to grab unsuspecting victims.  However, it was actually a very thought-provoking story.  It explored the concepts of how to manage the spread of a global disease and massive refugee migrations.  It highlighted how the military is always trained and equipped to fight "the last war," and how that training and equipment would be useless in a global pandemic scenario like this.  It also explored how the human race might adapt to meet their basic needs of food and shelter after a major world conflict had destroyed the "normal" methods of consumerism (farming, production, distribution and shopping).  Overall an excellent book and a page-turner. 

The second book I read was Execute Against Japan: The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare.  The author, Joel Ira Holwitt is actually an active duty submarine officer who earned a PhD in History from Ohio State University.

It reads very much like an academic paper such as a PhD dissertation or a masters thesis with many quotes and endnotes.  Holwitt makes some bold statements about the U.S. submarine force's campaign against the Japanese in WWII.  He falls victim to some logical fallacies in his reasoning, and I don't necessarily agree with all of his conclusions.  He makes statements that guess at the motives and intentions of key players in the President's cabinet, the Navy, and the State Department, and then claims that because he can't find any evidence to refute this, then his guess must be right.  He also doesn't have any evidence that conclusively proves his assumptions.

For example, he presumes that the Navy never asked the State Department for their opinion on a strategy of unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan, "since the State Department's reaction would undoubtedly be negative..."  (p. 129).  The book is riddled with words or phrases such as perhaps, probably, undoubtedly, no one recollected, could have been because, seems highly improbable, and seems probable.  Don't get me wrong.  They're pretty good guesses and he's probably right, but his conclusions are based on the absence of evidence to refute his opening arguments and assumptions. 

All that being said, it was a very interesting read.  The thing I enjoyed most about reading this book was the description of the isolationist sentiment in America prior to December 7th, 1941, and the dialogue over what America's strategy should be in the event of war both internal and external to the Department of the Navy.  I was aware of the isolationist bent of the general public at the time, but this book provided many specific examples of those sentiments from the neutrality laws, speeches, and letters.

Holwitt surprised me with some of the pre-decisional type documents he was able to find in various archives to illustrate how the leaders of the age were formulating their plans. We tend to take for granted our 20/20 hindsight of how things turned out in history and lose the perspective of how we got to the end result.  That's a big reason why I enjoy historically based fiction books that bring to life the active debates, public sentiments and fears of the people leading up to major events before they knew the outcome. 

Well, I'm very thankful to RADM Wisecup for the book recommendations.  Both were very good books.

For anyone who might wonder why I picked World War Z over Execute Against Japan to read first, that simply boiled down to which one was available on my Kindle.  I downloaded World War Z and started reading it on my Kindle while I was still in Newport.  Execute Against Japan is only available in hard-copy, so I had to wait for that one to come in the mail.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lest We Forget

Just recently, a very talented MSP shipmate of mine put together this video in memory of COB Higgins and STS2 Holtz.

The families and fellow shipmates of COB Higgins and STS2 Holtz are in my thoughts and prayers throughout the year, but they weigh heavily upon my heart today.

Sailors, Rest Your Oars.

Friday, December 24, 2010

National Museum of the Marine Corps

We've heard multiple friends rave about the National Museum of the Marine Corps, and it's been on my to-do list for a while.  Last weekend, my friend Bob and I took the boys down to Quantico to visit the museum.  We went with pretty high expectations, and we weren't disappointed.

The exterior invokes the image of the Marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima.

My youngest son under the F-4 Corsair

The museum is very well organized to take you through a chronological series of exhibits on everything from the Revolution through the War of 1812, the Mexian War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War.

There was a LOT to see.  The exhibits were very high-tech, interactive multi-media type displays.

Then there was some goofy fun, too.

My youngest son (6 years old) brought his stuffed-animal dog, Waggy, and we have dozens of photos of Waggy from all over the museum.  My eldest son (9 years old) really liked the World War I exhibit since he's been doing a segment on World War I at school.

Amphibious landing craft used in the landings at Tarawa.

Bob and I especially enjoyed the World War II exhibit since we just finished watching The Pacific.  It was great to see some pictures of the real Marines who were portrayed in the HBO series, and videos of interviews with them, too. 

The first US flag flown over Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima.

In the Korean War section, we walked through a life-size diorama of the Chosin Reservoir with gunfire and mortars going off, tracers flying by, and they have the temperature in that room cranked down so you feel like you're freezing your butt off at the Chosin Reservoir.
The boys running down the ramp of the CH-46 into Vietnam.

You enter the Vietnam section through the fuselage of a CH-46 helicopter.  The inside of the helicopter really SMELLS like a military helicopter.  While in the helicopter, you listen to some radio dialogue between the pilot and the ground forces about landing in a hot LZ.  Then you run down the ramp into the diorama of Vietnam, and it's HOT and HUMID and there's a battle raging around you.

Harrier and helo

I was impressed to see so many Medals of Honor on display here.  Since it's illegal to reproduce or sell a Medal of Honor, you know the ones on display here in the museum are the real thing donated by the families of the brave Marines who earned them.

We arrived about 1 p.m., and they kicked us out at closing time at 5 p.m.  We had to drag the boys out against their will.  They were busy doing some interactive team problem-solving game when I had to drag them out because the museum was closing.  

Two peas in a pod.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is essentially a museum of American History.  In every conflict our nation has ever fought, the Marines have been there and done that.  This was an extraordinarily good museum and a fun time for all of us.  

To top it all off, it's FREE!  And when I say free, I'm not saying Smithsonian it's-free-but-you've-gotta-pay-$14-to-park "free" (like the Udvar Hazy Center).  This is really no kidding FREE. 

Don't forget to check out the Lego Sculpture in the Gift Shop!

Frivolous Lawsuits Vol. 5

Okay, instead of "Frivolous" lawsuits, maybe the title of this post should be "Downright Sad Miscarriage of Justice."  Here is yet another example of how pathetic the American legal system is, and this time it's not just costing someone a dollar amount but their livelihood.

We came up to NH for Christmas, and as we drove into town yesterday, just about every house had a "Free Ward Bird" sign on their front lawn.  I had to google it after we arrived and got settled.  Here's the story in a nutshell:
It’s a long story, but in the short– a woman trespassed on Ward’s property and he asked her several times to leave, but she refused. She claimed that Ward came out of his house with a gun, ran down his porch steps pointing it at her. At the time, Ward had only been home 9 days since emergency surgery for a ruptured abdominal aorta. Not only was he in no condition to do what she claims he did, he has always maintained that he never pointed or gestured towards her with the gun. Now he is doing 3 to 6 years in state prison because it was her word against his.

Amazing.  What happened to "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire?  If this had happened in Texas, he could have actually shot her for trespassing and would have been justified in doing it.  I scratched my head and wondered what crime Ward had committed in asking a trespasser to leave his property. 

This article provides a good explanation.  This is the part that really pissed me off:
The key element of the criminal threatening law, for example, appears to be not the state of mind of the person making the threat but the emotional state of the target of the threat. If the person is scared enough, then the person making the threat is guilty.
Unfortunately for Ward, it also comes with a mandatory 3-year minimum prison sentence.  That baffles me.  I could understand some circumstances in which that law might be useful, but the mandatory sentence leaves the judge no room to account for mitigating circumstances.  It seems pretty clear that the punishment didn't fit the "crime" in this case and the courts are enforcing the letter of the law without regard to its intent.  Even the judge himself didn't want to send Ward to jail.  It has the local community here in an uproar.  Now Ward, husband and father of four and Cub Scout den leader is behind bars.

Is it just me, or is our legal system all about making each of us out to be victims of some wrong by somebody else so we can sue them (or in this case send them to prison)?  This case has some similarity to my last Frivolous Lawsuits post. In that case, if you publicly say something bad or embarrassing about somebody, then they can't sue you for slander because what you said was true.  However, they CAN sue you under the invasion of privacy false light tort because what you said made them LOOK BAD and caused them some sort of emotional trauma.  In this case, it doesn't matter if someone is trespassing on your property and you have asked them to leave if the manner in which you ask them to leave causes them some fear or emotional trauma.

Our society has gone from a "the stupid shall be punished" philosophy to a "the stupid must be protected by the law so we don't emotionally traumatize them" and "what can I sue you for to get rich quick" modus operandi.

My thoughts and prayers are with Ward and his family tonight.  I sincerely hope SOMEBODY with authority in the NH government sees what a miscarriage of justice this is and has the fortitude and integrity to pardon Ward so he can be where he belongs - at home with his family on Christmas.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advice to Junior Officers: PCS Entitlements

First, a disclaimer...  As a general rule, I avoid posting rants against Navy organizations, institutions, or commands on my blog.  However, in order to provide this advice to the junior officers who read my blog, I must provide some background information that will come across as a rant.  Suffice to say, that's not my intent.

You probably don't have to ask more than one or two shipmates before one could tell you a personal story about a less-than-optimal experience dealing with the local Personnel Support Detachment (PSD).  Throughout my career of 16+ years, I have dealt with 9 different PSD offices around the globe.  On many (not all) occasions, I have walked out of PSD or hung up the phone with PSD in a state of frustration and angst.  The most frustrating thing about dealing with certain PSD offices is the inconsistency of standards.
Disclaimer:  I am NOT saying that ALL personnel working at ALL PSD offices are below standards of professionalism or knowledge of their field. 

In the submarine force, we are trained to operate by procedure and to know the requirements of our business.  If it's not a casualty that requires immediate action, then we don't operate on memory or by consensus amongst your shipmates.  You break out the black-and-white written procedure and you follow it.

My observations have been that many people working in PSD offices operate on "tribal knowledge."  They don't know what the requirements are or where to find them in written instructions or procedures.  They rely on what other people have told them and either don't look up the rules themselves or don't keep up to date with changes to the rules over the years.

In the same way that local dialects of the same language develop in isolated geographic regions, so do local understandings and interpretations develop of how to apply the rules for what Sailors are entitled to when they PCS transfer from one duty station to the next.  You may have the PSD at your detaching duty station assure you that you'll get X, Y, and Z when you get to your new duty station, but then when you arrive at your new duty station, the PSD there says, no, you aren't entitled to X, Y, or Z.  Unfortunately, there's no mechanism by which the personnel at the first PSD are held accountable for giving you bad gouge and the resultant financial impact on YOU.


As a submariner, I should have known better and learned much earlier in my career to look up the rules myself.  The problem is, we (submarine officers / line officers in general) spend very little time dealing with PCS transfers and entitlements, so we rely on PSD to be the experts and to tell us what the rules are.
Arriving at our new homeport.

It wasn't until my XO tour that the effects of this were made painfully clear to me during a change of homeport.  When a submarine (or ship) changes homeport, it is a monumental task for the ship's office and the PSD offices at both the old homeport and the new homeport.  There are SO many different rules for what entitlements each Sailor gets depending on how much time he has left on board and whether his family is staying in the old duty station or moving to the new duty station.  I created (and still have) a Change of Homeport reference binder that has printed copies of each of the pertinent sections of the reference documents, and it was worth it's weight in gold in making sure my Sailors received the entitlements they deserved.

A few months before our departure from our old homeport, we had a Change of Homeport Information Night at the base theater for the Sailors and their families.  We invited representatives from PSD, the POV shipping office, the Household Goods (HHG) / Personal Property shipping office, Navy Legal Service Office (NLSO) for powers of attorney, the Housing Office for those checking out of base housing, and so on.  When the PSD representative (a female civilian) got up on the stage, she spewed rubbish proclaimed one false statement after another about our entitlements.  She was totally relying on tribal knowledge, and it was ALL WRONG.

She was doing an excellent job of getting my crew, and more noticeably their wives, pretty riled up.  Thank goodness I had the applicable references in my Change of Homeport Binder!  Before the wives in the audience could start throwing flaming barbed spears at the PSD lady's chest, I had to step in, politely tell the PSD lady that the things she said were incorrect, and read from "the good book" to assure my crew and their families what their entitlements were.

The lesson I have learned from that change of homeport, AND in hindsight from experiences I had before that, AND in experiences I have had since then, is this:  Anytime someone at PSD tells me I am or am not entitled to something, I ask them for the reference.  Make them show you in an official document.

That being said, here are some references you may find useful:
  • Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR) - I tend to go here first, because in my experience, the other references below are derived from and reference back to the JFTR.  For instance, if you look up PCS entitlements in article 1300-100 of the MILPERSMAN below, you will find:
"Service members who are ordered to make a permanent change of station (PCS) move are entitled to personal travel and transportation allowances per reference (a)."  (Reference (a) being the JFTR)
    • The JFTR is mostly for PCS and TDY travel and per diem entitlements, including moving your family before or after you transfer.  It also addresses things like when your BAH or COLA start or stop.  
    • Two Examples of useful info in the JFTR:
      • Delay of Dependent Travel / keeping your old BAH Rate.  In accordance with JFTR U10412, there are several circumstances (such as transferring to "unusually arduous sea duty") under which you are authorized to leave your family at your previous duty station or move them to another "designated place" (such as your home of record).  If the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rate at your old duty station is higher than at your new duty station, then this article covers the authorization to keep the BAH rate for where your dependents reside.  (There's a form letter you send to Pers-451 to get authorization for "delay of dependent travel.")
      • Per Diem during temporary training in your previous or new ultimate duty station.  In accordance with JFTR 5120.D., if you are executing PCS orders that have you make a stop for training in the same geographic location as your previous or ultimate duty station, then you are not allowed to receive per diem.  ...But wait!  That's not all!  Many folks stop reading there, but the sentence doesn't end there.  You aren't allowed to receive per diem IF you occupy the same permanent residence that you lived in at your previous duty station or are going to live in at your next duty station.  To wit:
"No per diem allowance is payable at a TDY location ICW a PCS with TDY en route near the old or new PDS if the member commutes to the TDY from the QTRS occupied while attached to the old PDS or the permanent QTRS the member intends to occupy at the new PDS." (JFTR 5120.D. emphasis added)
      • Note immediately after that is a very useful and clear-as-day definition of exactly when the quarters are considered "permanent."
"QTRS (residence, suite, room, cubicle, etc.) at the old PDS are no longer permanent QTRS on/after the PCS HHG weight allowance transportation date. QTRS at the new PDS are permanent on/after the date the PCS HHG weight allowance is accepted."  
  • Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN) -
    • Leave and Liberty rules (1050) - I think this is the primary reference for Leave and Liberty.  The JFTR doesn't touch this. 
    • PCS Entitlement policies (1300) - Mainly refers you back to the JFTR, but offers some sample situations and how they interpret the JFTR.
    • POV shipping (4000)
    • HHG shipping (4000)
  • Submarine Personnel Manual (SUBPERSMAN) - COMSUBFORINST 1306.1.  I can't find a link to this one on the 'net, but your ship's office should have it.  This was an excellent reference during change of homeport.  It provided me a one-stop-shop place to see what the entitlements were for moving families, household goods, shipping POVs, Dislocation Allowance (DLA), Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE), Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), Family Separation Allowance (FSA), and it points you to the base reference (such as the JFTR or the Enlisted Transfer Manual).  I didn't even know the Submarine Personnel Manual existed until my XO tour, but it was the first place I would look for answers to the crew's questions.
  • Enlisted Transfer Manual (NAVPERS 15909G).  This manual is also very useful in that it cross-references to other instructions and tells you what the baseline instruction is (such as the JFTR or the SUBPERSMAN).
  • Officer Transfer Manual (NAVPERS 15559B).  I can't find this on the 'net, but your ship's office should have this on a CD.  It is important to note that there are different rules for officers versus enlisted.  For instance, in order for an enlisted crewmember to be entitled to a Change of Homeport certificate, his PRD must be at least 12 months after the change of homeport.  For officers, the requirement is 90 days.  It seems to me that a lot of people use the Enlisted Transfer Manual but aren't even aware of a separate instruction for officer transfers - as evidenced by the fact you can easily find the ETM on the internet but you can't find the OTM.
Hopefully, the PSD for your detaching command knows the reference and can show you.  Write it down or make a photo copy.  Then, if the PSD at your receiving command tries to tell you that you AREN'T entitled to what the detaching command PSD told you, you can show them the reference.

How about you?  Do you have any similar lessons learned with regard to travel or PCS entitlements?

    Saturday, December 4, 2010


    Last weekend we had a wonderful Thanksgiving here in Ashburn with friends from church.  Then my wife and I made a spontaneous decision to go to Baltimore on a family weekend getaway.  We've been wanting to go for quite some time, but just never got around to it until now.

    We drove up just after lunch on Friday.  Our first stop was at Fort McHenry to see where the flag was flown that inspired the Star Spangled Banner.

    I have yet to be disappointed by listening to a Park Ranger from the National Park Service give a talk.  The Park Rangers here at Fort McHenry were no exception.  This Ranger gave us a great introduction in the visitor's center, and another Ranger was dressed up in a uniform from the War of 1812 and was milling about the grounds of the fortress.

    After the introduction by the Park Ranger, we went into the small theater to watch the introductory video.  The video was a little on the cheesy side, but did provide good background on the sequence of events during the battle.  Then ending was extraordinary though.  As the video ended, an electric motor drew back the curtains to reveal the flag flying over the fort while a very moving rendition of The Star Spangled Banner played on the stereo system.

    The entrance to the fort and a Park Ranger dressed in a uniform from the War of 1812.

    My eldest son looking out over the entrance to Baltimore Harbor.

    Self-Portrait with ES.  That flagpole in the background is where Francis Scott Key observed, "that our flag was still there."  Fort McHenry is an excellent National Historic Site with many interactive exhibits in each of the buildings inside the fort.  Both of the boys did the Junior Park Ranger activity sheet and earned another Junior Park Ranger badge, too.

    Next we went and checked into our hotel.  We used our Marriott Reward points to stay at the Renaissance Hotel right on the waterfront in Baltimore.  When we checked in, the lady at the counter gave us a free upgrade to a room with a view.  Score!

    When we got to the room, we found that they even provided binoculars in the room.

    The front desk staff was VERY helpful with information about what to see and do nearby.  We had already been planning on going to the National Aquarium Baltimore because it is open until 8 p.m. on Fridays.  What we didn't know, and what the hotel receptionist informed us, was that the aquarium was only $5 after 5 p.m. to get into the aquarium on Fridays.  Score!  Cha-ching! Cha-ching!  It was like 4:30 then, so we went and had an early dinner at a restaurant across the street first, and then headed over to the aquarium.

    I've been to many aquariums across the country, and I was very impressed with the National Aquarium Baltimore.  When you buy tickets, they are for a certain entry time, done in 15 minute increments.

    The inside of the aquarium is organized in a manner to keep people moving through each of the exhibits, with moving walkways and escalators keeping people moving in ONE direction through the museum, not back and forth and all over the place.  Having the time sequenced entry, limiting how many people are allowed to enter each 15 minutes, and having the layout to keep people moving was genius.  It was very efficient and well planned.

    Here is YB checking out the kelp forest.  This felt like a homecoming to me.  I "grew up" learning to scuba dive as a teenager in the kelp forests off of San Diego.  You can see a beautiful male sheepshead in there, too.

    YB with the jellyfish.

    Toward the end of our visit to the aquarium, we came to this seemingly black wall.  I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it, except for a smattering of various people sitting and standing around watching this wall as if they were watching a giant movie screen with nothing on it.  Suddenly, there were "ooohs!" and "ahhhs!" and gasps through the crowd as these gray ghosts gracefully glided past behind the glass.


    We ended up taking a seat to watch the dolphins swim past a few more laps before moving on.  (Note the reflection of LW's pink sweater in the glass above.)  This reminded me of being at sea off the coast of Southern California where the dolphins look like ghosts in the water, but there they are highlighted by a sheen of bioluminescence and leave a glowing trail behind them.

    Night view of Baltimore from our hotel room.

    Saturday morning, we went to tour the historic ships on the Baltimore waterfront.  First we went to USS CONSTELLATION.

    This boatswain's mate met us on the main deck of the CONSTELLATION, and he was AWESOME.  He enlisted our help to do morning colors.

    Raising the flag on USS CONSTELLATION

    The Bo'sun showing the boys the ropes.

    Oh say can you see...

    The boatswain told us to come back after we finished our tour in order for the boys to receive their "pay" for working for him that morning on raising the U.S., Maryland, and Baltimore flags.  When we returned for the boys to receive their pay, he explained how much they had earned and how much he had to deduct for their uniforms and candy they took from the ship's store, so they wouldn't actually get any pay.  However, he said in honor of their service, President Lincoln was awarding them each a presidential medallion.

    The boatswain presents "presidential medallions" to the boys.

    ES inspects the presidential medallion he earned for doing morning colors.  It looked suspiciously like a penny, but the boatswain assured him that pennies had Indian heads on them and that this was a genuine presidential medallion from President Lincoln.

    We also toured the submarine USS TORSK, the last submarine to sink a Japanese ship during WWII.  One of the volunteers on board told us the boat received an encrypted message in the middle of attacking a Japanese convoy.  They sank two of the Japanese ships and were lining up to shoot a third when the radiomen brought the deciphered message to the captain reporting the Japanese surrender and directing U.S. forces to cease all hostilities.

    While we were touring the USCGC TANEY, we were climbing up a ladder and my eldest son behind me said, "Daddy, there's a big hole in your pants."  There is?

    Why, yes, indeed there was a RATHER LARGE and GAPING WIDE hole in the crotch of my pants.  No wonder I was so cold!  My loving family proceeded to form a sort of privacy-screen walking in front of me as we proceeded down the street to the nearest department store to buy me a new pair of jeans.

    Last stop for our whirlwind trip to Baltimore was the Port Discovery Children's Museum.  The boys had a BLAST. 

    Here are two young archaeologists pulling themselves across a river in Egypt.  I was actually pleasantly surprised by some of the side exhibits at Port Discovery like this Egyptian archaeology exhibit.  There was an actual mission to find out the name of a pharaoh, and you had to put together pieces of pottery and take crayon rubbings of hieroglyphs and decode clues in order to come up with the answer at the end.

    Later, YB asked my wife if he could get his own car when he gets older.  She said, uhhhh, sure, why?  He responded because then he could drive himself to Baltimore to go back to the Port Discovery Children's Museum.  Sadly, by the time he's old enough to drive, I think he will have long forgotten how much fun he had there last weekend.

    We had a great weekend getaway to Baltimore.  There's still a LOT more to see and do around Baltimore, so we look forward to going back again someday.