Pictures of Arleigh Burkes refueling Russian Federation destroyers brings back memories that even in the bad old days, we still managed to have some fun. I’ve written before about the Bear Box and Gate Guard missions but may have failed to share a story I heard about that occurred during one ship’s transit through.
This particular ship was to start her transit of the box on Christmas Day, which was – in honor of the holiday – scheduled to be a day of relative rest. Holiday routine and a no-fly day to give the flight deck a day off. Since they were entering the Box and didn’t want to be caught flat-footed by long range bombers, they had changed course slightly, stood up alert 5 and 15 fighters and raised the EMCON status to increase the circle of uncertainty – they’d never be found!
Anyway, in celebration of the upcoming day and – secure in the knowledge that 1) There was no flight schedule to sweat, 2) they could sleep in a bit on holiday routine, and 3) even those godless communists wouldn’t dare come out on Christmas Day, many of the junior air wing bubbas decided to participate in miniature Christmas parties right there in their own staterooms. Complete with simulated adult beverages, the real thing being of course proscribed aboard ship by naval regulation. In celebration of the birth of Our Savior. And because Christmas at sea is kind of the suXx0r.
But there were two things about simulated adult beverages: 1) The power of suggestion is a remarkable thing. So much so that even simulated beverages invoked effects which the outside observer might have difficulty distinguishing from the real thing, and 2) You still needed ice. Lot’s of it.
The net effect of which was that one junior pilot, whom I shall call “Wes” – a man who, by 2330 or so, had probably had enough simulation for the evening – decided that, no: More ice was required. If only to ensure the continued high fidelity of the simulation. Those who loved him best might have prevented him from leaving the safety of his hootch, for simulation or not, if the Big XO were to find him out and about it in a simulated state it might very well mean the End of His Naval Career. Rules being rules.
Yet Wes was not to be dissuaded. Boldly he went forward to the dirty shirt wardroom with plastic bag in hand, and again, the disinterested observer might have noted from his gait that the ship seemed to pitch and roll more in his presence than it did for those both before and abaft him.
The air wing commander hisself – the “CAG,” a Navy captain and a man like all of his species both antiquated and humorless – was in the wardroom having his evening converse with the maintenance tong when our man Wes manuevered to the ice machine for to fill his little plastic bag. But what with all of the little simulated Christmas parties going on, the ice machine, she was empty.
These are industrial size machines, the kind that had not, in the memory of the Republic, ever gone empty before. Not in cold waters, anyway. So perhaps you could forgive Wes his first 45-60 seconds of breathily leaning on the dispense button. The machine loudly emitted evulsive sounds which precluded all conversation, but with all the will in the world it could not bring forth ice when there was none. The moment stretched on for a bit with the CAG forced to suspend his conversation while the machine fruitlessly bumped, coughed and wheezed.
Eventually he turned to Wes and with a hard look in his eye he nevertheless asked in a quiet voice, “What’s the matter, son? Have you wrenched your knee? Or something?”
Wes, who was not so fully simulated as to be unaware of the gravity of his predicament, made quick excuses before making an even more hasty exit. CAG, being a clever man as well as a post-graduate student of human nature, considered the sordid little tableau he had just witnessed in company with the protestations of the helplessly empty ice machine and decided that it would be best if he was to man the dawn alert 5 fighter himself.
From which position, at 0615 on Christmas Day, he rattled down the catapult and into the rosy-fingered dawn, the Communists having chosen to prove their godlessness by sending forth bombers in search of the task force.
Having intercepted the Bear at the appropriate distance from the carrier, he was riding shotgun in starboard cruise when a Soviet crewman pressed a sign up against the glass observation blister back by the stern gun. CAG pulled closer to read the sign which, as it turned out, spelled “Merry Christmas!” with a little smiley face.
The CAG directed his RIO in the back seat to make a little sign of their own. When it was complete, he moved closer to the Bear’s gunner and raised his own little personal salute to go with the sign in the back.
Which combination emphasized, “Fork You.” Or something very like it.