Coast Guard Gypsies

By Jack A. Eckert


"Damn it Commander, I can't stay on another year on this job, we live like a bunch of gypsies......." - Chief Ray Wells

Beginning in the 1950’s there were five mobile Ship’s Training Detachments. STD-1, STD-2, and STD-3, went from ship to ship in cube vans providing emergency as well as routine training. STD-4 and STD-5 were large tractor-trailer rigs containing CIC simulators that were used to provide dockside training to Deck Officers and Bridge personnel. STD-4 was also used to provide training to OCS students. STD-1, STD-2, and STD-4 were under the operational control of Commander Eastern Area (now Commander Atlantic Area) and STD-3 and STD-5, were under the operational control of Commander Western Area (now Commander Pacific Area). I was first exposed to STD-4 training while attending OCS at Yorktown, Virginia during early 1961.

Between 1963 and 1966, I was on duty with the Navy at the Philadelphia Damage Control Training Center and had the opportunity to work with several senior Eastern Area officers and the regional inspectors, which later morphed into Area Operational Evaluators, and the officers and men of Ship’s Training Detachment’s One and Two, whom we conducted an annual special class for. In the first year at NDCTC, I taught several of the lessons, but my major effort was to act as a go-between.

In the Damage Control Training area, the Navy tended to emphasize the construction and organization of cruisers. Their concepts were expanded for carriers and larger ships and contracted for frigates, destroyers, and DE’s. While you can make most of this work on weather ships and icebreakers, it became less usable as the ships got smaller. Who needs a DC Central and two repair parties and on a 125- or 165-foot Cutter? This is where I came in, trying to help make their organizations on smaller units workable. In the follow-on years I did almost all of the special course training during the two-week period, being spelled by a Navy Instructor long enough to meet my own teaching obligations in the sixteen-week NDCTC bread-and-butter courses.

I stayed in touch with the Eastern Area people and both STDs between annual two week courses and did whatever I could to make things better for all parties. I was usually invited to Governor’s Island a couple of times a year for their readiness training conferences. All in all, I was in pretty deep for a lowly LTJG, and later a Junior Lieutenant.

After detachment from Navy duty, I went to the CGC COOK INLET as Engineering Officer. At the end of two years, much to my surprise, I was assigned to Commander Western Area’s Operational Evaluation Division as the Engineer.

I loved the job at first. OpEval was a good concept. Instead of checking paper work for compliance and running a few cursory drills like the Regional Inspectors did, we observed the unit’s operations, ran more complex evolutions, and left a detailed report on what we observed right and wrong. In general it was, “How well are you doing your job?” We would only check paper work and records if we thought there were problems that we could uncover by delving deeper. I am the first to admit that the program seemed subjective, but after observing enough ships and crews, the standards became apparent. The one major difficulty was after uncovering deficiencies, particularly in training, then going away after the report was presented. The units would be apprised of their problems and were expected to correct them on their own. As a practical matter, only the major problems were corrected. The rest just carried over. This was a consistant pattern.

In the matter of training, I saw where an outside training team would be of great assistance to the ships. It is not easy to train yourself beyond a certain level.

During the late winter while working in the 13th District, we received a message from Headquarters announcing the two OPEVALs were to be disbanded on June 30, 1969. We continued the program in the 12th District. As it wound down I wasn't needed for the small units that were being evaluated. I was TAD’d over to the Area office and assigned to take a captain’s place who was going to an icebreaker and no relief had been ordered in. As a senior Lieutenant, I became the acting Chief of Training for Western Area. Even though I was very junior, it was a good match. I had many contacts in the Navy Fleet Training Groups and was able to use them effectively. There was nothing that came across my desk I couldn’t handle and my senior officer peers treated me with respect, and I appreciated that. I made only one more operational evaluation, the CGC BARATARIA, which had just returned from Vietnam.

While at the training desk, I had both of the West Coast STD’s under my cognizance. They were working out of the Alemeda Government Island Training Center as tenant commands. STD-5, the CIC trainer, was a first class operation. STD-3 on the other hand was minimal, the CO changed during this period. They had an old, rather unreliable cube van which they used as a mobile office. Like their East Coast counterparts, they traveled up and down the coast with it going port to port. I checked their program and was unimpressed. The work I did with the East Coast crews never carried over to the West Coast. I would have liked to take the bull by the horns at that time and got their program on track, but my status was temporary.

Headquarters personnel called after OpEval folded and said, “You are a Naval Engineer and needed elsewhere in your field.” “Elsewhere” became Headquarters in Washington within the Naval Engineering Division (ENE). And I was on my way East with my family after spending only one year on the West Coast.


Two years into my assignment at Headquarters, I learned the CO STD-3 job was coming open and successfully applied for the job. We moved West again.

Prior to my detachment from Headquarters I flew out to a Western Area Training conference and was given the opportunity of making a presentation on where I wanted to take the STD-3 program. The Admiral, the Captains, and the Commanders bought into it. My reputation there was good and my background and credentials to setup a program and conduct it was better then anyone’s who held the job prior to 1971 in Western Area.

I bought a house in Danville, California and flew back to Washington to finish out my tour of duty. Before leaving, I spent a lot of time with the readiness people in operations and solicited their support, particularly financial support. Without funding I wouldn’t be able to make the program go and under no conditions did I want to do it on the cheap. The key man was a Commander who had been the CO of STD-5. I reviewed for him my intention to gut and redo the program and was assured of full cooperation. That being done, I finished my projects and left.

The Trip West

From prior experience I knew that a Coast Guard family could go under financially on a permanent change of station transfer. Temporary living expenses were not then reimbursable. You received mileage from one station to another, a reduced mileage rate for each of your dependents, and one month’s basic allowance for quarters. Household effects were packed, stored/transported to your new home of record. That was it. I knew many people in the Coast Guard and Navy who went under financially because of a transfer. The Navy provided some relief by authorizing six months of advanced pay upon request. For those who don’t know what a “dead horse” referred to, that was it. Many families were left destitute after they got to a new assignment, settled down, and then realized they had no money coming in for six months. Fortunately for most, the Coast Guard did not encourage that. Our family got around this financial predicament by owning a travel trailer which we used for transfers.

For our first transfer west in the summer of 1968, we purchased a 13-foot Shasta that barely slept us all. It worked both going west and returning to the East Coast. The great advantage was we carried our bedrooms and kitchen along with us—we needed no motels or restaurants, and when we had to pull into a park it cost only three or four dollars a night. When we got to the Bay area it took several weeks to find a house, rent it, and move our furniture in. Those several weeks were spent at Samuel Taylor State Park at $2.50 a night plus groceries and Laundromat costs. I was getting sick and tired of picnics every night, but the kids had a great time and we met many life-long friends there.

Going west for the second time in 1971, we purchased a much larger trailer that accommodated all of us comfortably and it had its own bathroom. This time Joana and my oldest son, Randy, drove our second car, a VW Bug, and I drove the trailer rig with our other two sons. Again we stayed at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, but only for about a week until we could close on the house and our furniture arrived. Our new house had a large driveway, so I backed the trailer in the day we moved in.

The three moves across country paid for the trailers.

Reporting For Duty

STD-3 left for the 13th District the day I reported in to Pacific Area (the name change had taken place while I was en route.) As we hadn’t quite moved out of the park and into our house yet, the Commander, who was Chief of the Training Division, let me stay in San Francisco for a couple of weeks, putting me to work on the New Pacific Area Operations Training Manual, OPTREX, based on the Navy Fleet Exercise Manual, FTP-3.

Great progress was made during those two weeks and the manual was almost ready to be issued. Here my Navy and Coast Guard experience came into play and I was able to make many of the necessary changes to keep the exercises as practical as possible. This was what I really wanted, the new manual and the full OK to begin training our smaller Cutters with it. It helped that I had devised some of the exercises. My two weeks at the Area Office prior to relieving STD-3 was well worth it and allowed time to get my family settled in before I had to leave the area on travel.

The STD-3 CO took his travel trailer with him on the job. I followed suit and took mine too. Simply amazing, no packing, no unpacking, just hook up and go. I made sure my superior at the area office was aware of what I was doing and had no objections. At the time, per diem was $25.00 per day in the lower 48 states. Motels ran to about $15.00 per day and the rest was for meals. The team members normally doubled up in a room for some degree of savings. I could usually rent a trailer spot for $35-40 per week and bought most of my food at the grocery store. Thus the trailer continued to pay for itself.

I left the Bay Area on a Friday morning and arrived in Astoria, Oregon late the next day. I had arranged for a parking place with full hookups for a month before I left the Bay Area. I pulled in, unhooked, set up and looked around the park for the man I was going to relieve. He had flown home for the weekend and didn’t get back until late Sunday afternoon. We got together, sat down over a pitcher of beer and discussed what we were going to do for the next week. He was proud of his program and wanted to show it off before I relieved him. He knew where his team was staying and we went there to meet them.

On Monday morning the men were gathering what they needed for the day and left for the ship to set up. The ship was a small buoy tender, the BLUEBELL, which was unarmed. After the preliminaries, a few walk through drills were set up and conducted. The rest of the day was devoted to showing old WWII Navy Battleship damage control movies. Then the Chief Damage Controlman gave a short lecture and we left for the day. The next day was an NBC warfare walk through drill followed by NBC movies, again about large combatants. During all of this time the STD-3 CO observed but did not participate. Some elementary drills were held on the third day while underway. I began to see that we were getting nowhere quick and told my crew to forget about the weekend, we were going to commence our own internal program and begin anew on Monday morning with a completely revamped program. First, I relieved the CO as quickly as I could, got him on the road. I then contacted the CO of the CACTUS, our next ship, and asked him to have the ship ready to get underway within an hour of our arrival. I also asked to be able to address the officers and men at morning quarters before we started.

The CO and XO were briefed about the changed program and advised I was also retraining my own crew. I asked the CO to pick a safe area for the basic drills and exercises. There were to be no walkthroughs.

The basic drills were set up to involve the whole ship, not just a few people at a time. We ran a man overboard, steering casualty, berthing area fire, flooding drill, generator casualty, and a basic general quarters manning the 50-caliber machine guns. We used smoke bombs, loaded live ammunition, patched a hole in the bulkhead below the water line, and so on. I began to make ship riders out of my crew. They liked it and also got the ship’s attention. We did well the first day.

We stayed at the dock the next day and my crew worked with the repair parties and their equipment, conducted procedural gunnery instruction, did maneuvering board problems with the bridge gang, and so forth. We didn’t finish the job that day and continued into Wednesday. My three Chiefs and First Class worked with various groups of ship’s personnel while I spent much of my time with the engineers on casualty control exercise discussions, and spent some time making appearances where my men were working, and talking it up with the officers. Our mission, as was theirs, was training for the entire week.

On Friday we got underway and held more complex drills. For some reason or other the ship’s crew and officers were somewhat lethargic, so I stepped up the intensity of the exercises, throwing multiple casualties at them. Several of the evolutions absolutely fell apart. The CO saw it as well as I did. We had a debriefing and left early Friday afternoon. I felt bad about it, I knew their skipper was not happy with their performance, and my crew was grumbling about too much too soon.

At four PM that Friday afternoon I told the team to suit up, we were going back aboard without fanfare and setting up a dead plant engine room fire. We got their attention all right; we filled the ship full of smoke and killed all power. They were reduced to whatever they could safely use from the repair lockers or from shore side. Everybody got into the spirit of things and the evolution, designed to confuse them, worked well; their performance was vastly improved. The CO was pleased, as was I. We held a second all hands debriefing where we talked through the exercise and how they responded. We left the ship on a high note. Word must have gotten around because we never had to use that tactic again.

During the following three weeks we did another 180, YOCONA and MODOC. My crew was catching on fast. They were also working their butts off. We began getting together once or twice during the week at night to let them blow off some steam at me and each other over a few pitchers of beer. I would rather have them blowing off at me then off at the ship crews. Sometimes it got hot and heavy but never to blows. It worked for the most part for a few years.

When we were done in the 13th District, we packed up and went back to Alameda. I spent a few days on paper work, then told the crew to take four or five days off then get ready for the 11th District. I checked in at the Area office and got nothing but positive feedback.

The First Trip To The Eleventh District

We set off for San Diego on a Saturday, stayed overnight in Bakersfield and arrived in San Diego on Sunday afternoon. There was a mishap on the way down when our Chief Radarman hit the canopy overhang of a Stuckey’s gas station with our cube van. The van suffered little damage but the canopy required a couple of thousand dollars in repairs. This proved to be a sticky wicket but eventually got straightened out. The event got me thinking about the usefulness of the van itself.

I set up my travel trailer at a park in Lemon Grove. We were scheduled to be in San Diego for two weeks and then move up to Oceanside for one week. Unlike the 13th District where we did larger vessels, the 11th had seven 82-footers and a spare. They employed a two-crew arrangement similar to what a nuclear sub uses. The CO, usually a LTJG was CO and in charge of an eight man Blue Crew. A Chief Boatswain’s Mate was the Executive Petty Officer and was officer in charge of the eight-man White Crew. Believe me, the boat may have the same name but for all intents and purposes they were two entirely different boats. Without exception, the White Crews always outshined the Blue Crews.

We usually got a unit underway on the first day and ran several simple evolutions to see where we should concentrate our training efforts. There never was enough time to do everything so we concentrated first on the remedial problems. When we could, we worked both boats simultaneously, which gave us the opportunity of doing joint ship exercises such as tow and be towed, etc. We usually tried to get a gun shoot in but were not always successful in obtaining permission and an operating area from the Navy. Sometimes they would OK it but we would have to travel 50 nautical miles to get there and another 50 to get back. Training time was against us, so we rarely got the shoots in. I would split the teams up, sending our Chief Damage Controlman, Chief Radarman, and Yeoman First on one team and the Gunners Mate and I would take the second boat. Team one would work on fire fighting, damage control, first-aid, fog navigation, and so forth. My team would work on gunnery instruction and engineering operation casualty control. We would then swap boats. On day four we would usually try for joint ship exercises and some NBC warfare defense training. Day five was complex drills and evolutions underway. I had no qualms about running multiple exercises at the same time.

I would write a report on the unit based upon our evaluation of their performance to the sponsor District Readiness office and back to the Area office. No unit was ever surprised with the reports we wrote. Everybody was thoroughly debriefed before we left and were encouraged to continue the training until we returned in a year or so. Compliments were given as well as criticism. We tried to keep everything on a positive note.

In San Diego we parked the van at Point Loma and used it as a field office. It wasn’t very comfortable and, to say the least, was crowded.

When we finished the two boats at Point Loma we moved up to Oceanside and did the 82-footer stationed there. I left the trailer in Lemon Grove and commuted to and from the boat daily. The Oceanside 82-footer was the most difficult one in the district to do. It had only a single crew and the OinC was a difficult man to deal with. I stayed back and let my able team members conduct most of the training except for the engineering work. The OinC had a pretty good boat so we could approach him gingerly. We were able to help him but he accepted it begrudgingly.

When working in San Diego I would usually spend a half-day or day with the Navy Fleet Training Group people, several of whom I knew from my days on duty with the Navy. This always proved to be beneficial to all concerned.

On the weekend after we finished in San Diego/Oceanside, we moved north to the Long Beach area where there were four 82-footers with double crews and the buoy tender WALNUT. Normally we parked the van at Terminal Island where the Coast Guard Base was located. Doing two boats at a time there was difficult as the boats were located remotely from one another. The extremes were from Marina Del Ray in the north,  south to Newport Beach. We tried moving around with the van but congestion on Los Angeles freeways made traveling slow. The guys usually stayed in a motel near the District Office while I parked my trailer a couple of miles away in North Long Beach. We were usually there for five weeks. I visited the District’s Readiness Office several times during our training period to keep them briefed on day-to-day and week-to-week progress. The week we did the WALNUT was OK as we could shift gears and work on a larger unit as a team again.

After Long Beach we moved the entire team to Santa Barbara to do the POINT JUDITH, which had two crews and was rather easy. I parked my trailer in Carpenteria and the team stayed at a nice motel downtown. Underway training was interesting. We could get close up on the offshore oil wells and set up several different drill scenarios there.

When we finished in Santa Barbara we checked out of the District and returned to Alameda.  

Operating in the Twelfth District  

Geographically this was a large district with units located from Crescent City to Morro Bay and a diverse set of floating units. There were three 95s-, a 143-, a 210-, 157- a 180-, and four 82-footers. Generally we split the district into two operating periods, one in the fall and one in the spring. It would have been ideal if we could have worked the Bay Area north during one period and south during the next period but it never worked that way. It was a case of working all week and traveling to the next unit on the weekend. This was mostly coastal travel and, while scenic, no fun to drive. It certainly cut into our family lives and was difficult to explain away to our loved ones. Per diem stopped in the Bay Area of course, but our day-to-day expenses were about the same, except for paying for hotel rooms.

We used the cube van when we traveled to remote locations and left it parked at Alameda when we worked the Bay Area. As a matter of fact, the thing seemed to always be in the way.


The Coast Guard was Alaska’s Navy and the six or seven assorted 180-footers were armed, some with 3”50 guns. In general it was easy to get a safe firing area and we made it a point to get a shoot in, weather permitting, whenever we could. We also had a 210, the STORIS, and a couple of 95-footers. It amounted to 12 or 13 weeks of work every year. In general we made two visits a year, one in November-December and the other in February-March, that was when their operations were at an ebb and provided an excellent time for training. From the standpoint of our personal comfort, it was no fun conducting drills underway during an Alaskan winter. We were like the Oakland Raiders playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay in December.

Naturally, we left the cube van behind, packed our needed materials and moved with them without much difficulty. The greatest bulk we carried was our winter gear. For our routine paper work, we borrowed a typewriter and our Yeoman did whatever reports and administrative work that was required. I began to think that we could do everything everywhere rather than move an old truck around port to port on the West Coast. If it worked in Alaska, why not everywhere?

The foul weather gear, available through normal Coast Guard supply channels we needed for the job in Alaska, was just not adequate. We found that the Air Force and Army had a heavy-duty parka in their system that would be ideal for our usage. As luck would have it we were able to obtain a half a dozen of them from the surplus lists. They weren’t pretty but they were functional. We also used heavy-duty combat type boots, which were much more practical then our boondockers and dress shoes. We protected our uniforms by wearing white coveralls and baseball caps in the summer and a heavier cap with earflaps in winter. The Chiefs and myself wore black uniform pants with a black wool shirt, sans necktie. Our first class wore undress blues. As a practical matter I only carried one white shirt along on an Alaska trip and then only wore it with my dress blues to visit the District Office in Juneau or to call on the Navy Admiral in Adak. With this clothing we were able to work in Alaska in the wintertime. On one visit I was told that the District Commander wanted us to wear dress blues and overcoats or peacoats when working on his ships. I didn’t question it, I simply didn’t do it. We weren’t inspectors, we were trainers. I was reminded a couple of times and made it a point to tell my men to stay away from the district office unless they dressed up.

The Alaska trips were very tiring. It was helpful if we could get all three Kodiak-based ships in one period and the two based in Juneau together. At least we could get a day or two off each weekend. Normally, we would finish a ship on Friday and travel over the weekend to the next ship by air to be ready to start again on Monday. This gets old after awhile, but we persevered and got through the schedule.

The tough ship to get to was the BALSAM based in Adak on the Aleutian Chain. It was also very costly as we could only get out there on Reeve Aleutian Airlines who flew old propeller driven equipment. The pilots were outstanding and I never worried when I was in one of their old aircraft. The flight was long and Adak was no Garden of Eden when you got there. The airlines schedule wasn’t that firm either, we hung around the airport a lot. Once we went out on an Air Force C-141 from Elmendorf Air Force Base and while it was faster, we over flew Adak because of weather (weather didn’t bother Reeve) and spent the night in Shemya, getting to Adak the following day after a stop on Attu, I think.

Accommodations at Adak were minimal. It was a Navy Base and the transient quarters were atrocious. Mine in the BOQ were OK, but nothing to write home about. There wasn’t much I could do about it except make sure we arrived there no earlier then Sunday and left on Friday. Usually we flew from Adak to Anchorage and thence on to Juneau. That was a tough two weeks that allowed minimal time to recharge our batteries.

When we were not working the Cutters down in the “banana belt,” we headquartered in Anchorage, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel Annex, which had one suite of rooms with a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms and a head. Splitting it up five ways, we paid about $9 or $10 apiece per day. We usually got $45 a day per diem and built up our cash reserves as other stops in Alaska were much more expensive. Anchorage at the time was the Chicago of the North. There was plenty to do besides having access to a large Air Force base.

Anchorage worked out well as we could drive to both Seward and Homer where the SORREL and IRONWOOD were home ported. It was also the airport terminus where we could fly out to Adak, over to Kodiak, or south to Cordova, Sitka, Juneau, Petersburg, and Ketchikan. We were always in Alaska over Thanksgiving and usually working in and out of Anchorage, preferring to stay there over other places went. At least you could find an open restaurant.

We usually went to Kodiak for three weeks. There were three ships there and plenty of work. Our schedules conflicted with the base's schedules so I requested and got the OK from the Area to exempt us from government quarters, and lived in a motel in the village. We probably logged a bit too much tavern time there but overall it was harmless. We usually checked out a “gray goose” for our commuting transportation needs. Didn’t use it for anything else. The time out on Kodiak usually dragged but we would have two free weekends there to charge our batteries and do our dirty laundry.

The airplane rides in and out of Kodiak were a bit scary. At the end of the airstrip there was a large mountain named “Old Woman” on whose face were many white crosses memorializing the planes that crashed into it. At the time, Wein Consolidated Airlines flew Boeing 737 jets in and out. When they took off towards the mountain they would bank sharply right or left and wheel themselves up to flying altitude. It was frightening to look out of the aircraft window when the plane began to make its sharp turn and feel as though you could reach out touch the pine trees growing on the side of the mountain. Coming in across the water and landing the aircraft shuddered violently after touchdown during the time it was braking. No flying in Alaska in the wintertime is fun.

Usually to conduct underway exercises, I preferred to get into a lee where it was safe and we didn’t have to hold on for dear life. This was difficult to find around Kodiak, so much of what we did was out in the open on the Gulf of Alaska. The STORIS and CITRUS rode OK, but the CONFIDENCE was horrendous. I couldn’t believe what a mismatch the Cutter was to that port.

The CONFIDENCE, STORIS, and the RESOLUTE in San Francisco, were a little larger and more sophisticated than what we were used to. To run multiple exercises more, than my five-man crew was required. We were spread just a little too thin and borrowed a couple of crewmen, adding them temporarily to my team. It worked but had mixed results.

The Alaska port I personally disliked was Cordova where the CGC SEDGE was home ported. For one thing it was difficult to get a gun shoot in. The earthquake had raised the bottom in several places, not all of which were charted at the time. I always ran complex exercises gingerly when there. In addition, Cordova was a lousy town. I was able to get the district to move the SEDGE to Sitka one year where we got in a good week-long session.

We usually drove out to Seward. One year it was almost 70 degrees below zero and we had a time keeping our cars running. Seward and the CGC SORREL were always a favorite stop. Resurrection Bay was a good area to conduct exercises in. Our hotel, The New Seward Hotel, was primitive but was close to downtown. The other hotel was well out of town. In 1973 the Coast Guard moved the SORREL out and replaced it with the CAPE JELLISON, a 95-footer. I never understood that move at all.

We would either drive over to Homer and the CGC IRONWOOD or fly in on a Wein Consolidated F-27 aircraft. Homer was a different town than the other Alaska towns. It was spread out quite a bit. It always seemed to be cleaner too. It was always desirable to do the SORREL and IRONWOOD back-to-back, but it only happened once.

What seemed remarkable there was the tide fall. I think we had to use a stepladder a couple of times getting on or off the ship at low tide. We usually ran into Cook Inlet to conduct exercises. We stayed at an old hotel called the Heddy House. One of their rooms was quite large with a half a dozen beds so the whole team would occupy it as we did in Anchorage. The hotel was primitive but we only stayed five or six days a year.

In Sitka we worked on the CGC CLOVER. Sitka was once the Russian North American capital and you could see that influence there. It was a nice town and we usually enjoyed our visit. The CLOVER was a funny ship. The CO who was aboard the first couple of years was a decent sort but had one quirk, and that was he always had a funny grin on his face under all circumstances. Wherever you went on the ship the crewmen wore the same grin; it was a bit maddening.

Our accommodations in Sitka were not spectacular but they were clean and comfortable. One year we arrived on a Saturday and settled in. That night three of us decided to go to the American Legion and hoist a few. We closed the place and went back to the hotel to catch some shut-eye, figuring to sleep in on Sunday for a change. The CLOVER was out and not due back in until Sunday. About five o’clock in the morning I got a knock on the door and was rudely awakened. It seems a large Japanese fishing boat had to come into Sitka to drop off an injured man for medical treatment. The local U.S. Customs agent contacted the 17th District and asked for assistance to inspect the ship as per some federal law or other. The district told them that because the CLOVER was out and as there was nobody else available, to contact me and I would do the inspecting. Great! All I could do was put on my dress blues complete with my only starched white shirt and accompany the customs agent. Here was a case of just trying to look like I knew what I was doing and generally play the role. It worked. I went through the ship, inspected their catch, checked some of their voids, and so on. The master served us tea. Afterward, the customs agent released the fishing boat and they sailed away around noon. Helluva Sunday to say the least.

I must have done well as there was no negative feedback. I asked the customs agent how he found me. He said, “Sitka is a small town.” Good thing Sitka had a laundry so I could get my one white shirt washed and pressed and my dress blues cleaned. I think I spent the rest of the day reading a book.

One year we started to work on the CGC BITTERSWEET in Ketchikan, and found that they were in Charlie status and unable to accept any outside training assistance. I contacted the district, who arranged to take us by helicopter to Sitka to do the CLOVER on short notice.

We were able to get started by 1 p.m. and easily made up the lost time. The crew did well considering that we weren’t expected for several weeks.

In Juneau we did a 95-footer and the CGC SWEETBRIAR. We usually stayed at the Driftwood Inn in a large suite with two bedrooms, a living room with a pull out bed, a bathroom and a kitchen. Again the team shared expenses. I usually called at the district office the week we did the 95-footer. I had a number of friends there and the stay wasn’t too bad.

One thing I liked about Juneau was we were there for two weeks and that gave us a free weekend in which we didn’t have to travel. It was good for battery charging, and so forth. Not really a good liberty town but there was always the Red Dog Saloon. In those days it was a real rough Alaskan saloon that had sawdust (I guess) on the floor, smelled of stale beer and urine, and an elderly woman played piano in the corner.

One year we came in from Adak on Thanksgiving week, arriving in Anchorage in a Wednesday. We were supposed to be in Juneau to start the 95-footer on the following Monday. By consensus we decided to stay in Anchorage over Thanksgiving and go down to Juneau on Sunday. At least there were places to eat in Anchorage on Thanksgiving Day. We had had a rough week plus in Adak and needed a breather before we started our last three weeks in Alaska. As luck would have it, we flew out on an Alaska Airlines 727 jet on Sunday and couldn’t get into Juneau because of weather, so we went on to Seattle for the night. What a strange twist of events. We had on our Alaska parkas, boots, and gear. It was warm (by comparison) in Seattle and we looked strange to the Natives. Alaska Airlines put us up and fed us.

I took advantage of the morning off and went over to the 13th District office to discuss our forthcoming trip in January to do the six ships in Seattle. That afternoon we got on the same plane, started out for Juneau, over flew it, and again because of weather, stayed in Anchorage that night. We finally got to Juneau on Tuesday afternoon to start work on the 95-footer. We worked over into the following Saturday afternoon to finish.

Our last stop, either coming in to or leaving Alaska, was Ketchikan. Everything except the ship was within walking distance so we usually got transportation from the base. The BITTERSWEET was one of those 180’s that were always kept up. In general I liked working on them and our program really fit.

The Thirteenth District and Seattle

The team usually did five units in Astoria, Oregon in the 13th District in the late summer. Astoria is a good training area because of the sheltered areas we could operate on in the Columbia River. Distances to conduct a gun shoot were too great and as a consequence we didn’t cross the Columbia River bar for that purpose. Our work consisted of buoy tenders and WMEC’s.

We made a second trip to the 13th District each year. They wanted us in the winter as that was their slack season for the 82-footers. Here we worked on the buoy tender FIR, four 82-footers, and a 65-foot tug, The FIR was unarmed so we usually conducted our exercises out in the sound.

The smaller vessels we worked on in Lake Union and Lake Washington. These were both good training areas. When we needed to get a gun shoot in we would go into the Straits of Juan De Fuca. This always presented a problem. I would have the boat move up there overnight and then send one of the Chiefs and the Gunners Mate by car. When done with them, we returned to Seattle.

For some reason or other the district wanted the 65-footer trained; it was the only one in Pacific Area and we didn’t have a very good program developed, thus we “winged it.” I usually only showed up there for the two underway days and used the rest of my time to catch up on paperwork.

As with the 11th District, where we for all intents and purposes only worked in three ports, we worked in just two in the 13th on normal years. This provided the team an opportunity to fly home once or twice in each period. These weren’t free rides, we paid for them out of our own pockets. Normally when any one of us went back to the Bay Area for a long weekend we flew Military Standby, which was about half of the full "Y" fare. All of us had to show up at home once in awhile or we wouldn’t have a happy home. This was one of the main reasons I pushed so hard to keep my team on per diem. By being frugal in our accommodations (doubling up) money could be sprung to go home on. Of course, I had my large travel trailer, which drastically cut down my lodging costs and served as my office.

Of the four districts we worked in, we probably had the best relationship with the 13th. The 17th was arduous, to say the least, our relations were good in the 11th and shaky in the 12th.

The Cube Van

This cube van was an old truck that had seen it’s better years and was probably a year away from replacement when I started agitating to get rid of it. For one thing, there wasn’t enough room for five of us. There wasn’t enough room to carry things as the desks and filing cabinets took up most of the space, it was poorly ventilated and poorly lit. We took it to the 11th the first year I was on the team. As an experiment, we left it in Alameda when we did some of the remote 12th District units. We carried what was required absolutely and borrowed office space and equipment as needed. I used my travel trailer for my office and always had a portable typewriter with me. I kept only the files needed for the units we were working in a portable file box. We carried our training equipment with us. It worked well and my crew didn’t miss the van at all.

My next move was to simultaneously get office space at Alameda and concurrence from CAPT Dolliver and CDR O’Brian at the Area Office. We moved into our makeshift office on our Christmas break. We backed the truck up to the door, unloaded, stored our gear, arranged our desks and that was that. We didn’t need anything elaborate as nobody visited us there. We had our telephone shifted and were in business. We pulled the truck into a storage area and recommended that it be declared surplus.

Life sure became easier without the truck. We put a lot of effort into portability. From that time forward we were able to make a few necessary changes that were long overdue.

A Few More Words About Working In The Twelfth District

As Jesus found out, he was just the carpenter’s son in Nazareth. That applied also to STD-3. The Area Commander and the District Commander were the same guy. There was no mystique at all. It is not an easy task to generate enthusiasm in a training situation where you are competing with maintenance, operations, and liberty. I never had a situation in the 12th where a unit fought the training, but I thought our training program was not sold there as well as it was in the other three districts. When you are operating with an eye to your flank you get a bit jumpy.

We couldn’t progress naturally through the 12th district as we did the other three. Distances were great for the most part and the coastal roads that we had to take to get to our training sites were no great joy either.

In general the only concentration of vessels was at Yerba Buena Island. There were three or four 82-footers and two buoy tenders there. For the most part my crew lived in Navy Housing on Treasure Island, a few minutes drive away. That might seem to be an advantage but it wasn’t. Once families were cranked into the equation, members of my crew had to respond to the needs of their spouses. It was difficult to keep the crew together to get the training in. I wasn’t the most popular CO with the wives, and for good reason; home time on STD-3 was at a premium. We operated 42 weeks of the year away from the Bay Area and I had no way of compensating my personnel with additional time off unless we had a week off between districts. I gave them liberty after all of the necessary in port work was done. More often than not, when we got back on a Saturday night from a twelve- or thirteen-week Alaska training cycle, we would be starting a Bay Area vessel the following Monday morning. If it was an-82 footer, I was able to release some of my personnel, keeping only those that were necessary on board at any given time. This luxury didn’t exist when we did a 180- or 157-footer, we all had to be aboard. It was really tough when we did the RESOLUTE. We only did two-210’s a year and were really undermanned for them. We didn’t have many stock exercises, and that required a lot of night planning. I knew what my crew, at least the married ones, were going through because I was going through it too. My wife was not a Happy Camper. She couldn’t understand why the boss, meaning me, couldn’t just take off and let the others do the work. Her job jar was always full.

Our trip North of the Bay Area consisted of a 95-footer in Crescent City, a 143-foot WMEC, the COMANCHE in Eureka and an 82-footer in Noyo. All of these were difficult to train because of their operating areas.

South of the Bay Area was a 95-footer in Monterey and one in Morro Bay. I remember once coming in from Alaska, stayed home overnight (what there was left of it), and left at nine Sunday morning for Morro Bay. I thought my crew was going to mutiny. My wife was apoplectic!

Crew Turnover

The CO usually stayed two years but I was asked to stay on another year as I had revamped the program and was viewed by many as being successful. My crewmen’s tours were eighteen months. Generally they went to a pretty good job next; there were a couple of exceptions though. The transfer spacing was pretty good, about one every six months. The first to leave was a Gunners Mate. I looked around and found a good replacement, very intelligent and personable, who wanted the position. I wouldn’t settle for anybody they sent me. He turned out to be an excellent trainer. After we came back from the first Alaska trip I lost the Yeoman, a good man but a little edgy. Under my predecessor’s regime, he only did Yeoman work, but I used him as a trainer. It took awhile to get him to accept his new role. By luck my next Yeoman was a confirmed bachelor who didn’t mind working long hours and had little family pressure. He also knew the ins and outs of being a Yeoman much better, but he lacked tact and had to be reined in on the training work. My Chief DC, who was my right-hand man, agreed to stay on awhile longer. When he was due to go, I was able to get a three-week overlap between him and his replacement. This helped tremendously because we didn’t lose a beat.

My other Chief was a Radarman. I would have preferred a Chief Quartermaster but there was a shortage of shore billets for RDCs and nobody wanted to make that particular change.

As an aside, most of the smaller units needed some bridge operations training. I needed a Chief Quartermaster to work with them on piloting and navigation, radar operations, rules of the road, radio operations, and so on, as well as being my bridge safety man. My first RDC was better at helping with fire drills and man overboard. We did some fog navigation, often not simulated north of Morro Bay. I couldn’t work into these areas as much as I wanted to. As it was, I had to spend more time on the bridge than I wanted to.

I would also have traded a Yeoman for a Hospital Corpsman and could have improved on the first aid training. Both of my Yeomen did OK but we could have done better.

The first RDC was a real rounder. I really didn’t care how much he drank or how late he stayed out, all I asked was he be in condition to work in the morning. After he failed to be able to work one too many times, I arranged for him to be transferred to an ice breaker going south. I hated to do that but things deteriorated too much. You don’t hold non-judicial punishment on a man who is a member of a small team. I understand he dried out and was a good Chief on the icebreaker, and I am happy about that.

The replacement RDC had put a full tour of duty on STD-5 and, like myself, traveled with a large travel trailer, but unlike myself he had his wife along with him. I applauded that. He was an improvement and we were able to do better bridge and deck evolutions. Unfortunately, after about a year he sometimes wouldn’t show up for a couple of days without saying anything to me in advance. It was particularly difficult when we worked in the 11th District and were doubling up with two boats a week, training them simultaneously. One day I faced him down about his absences. He stormed out, hooked up his trailer and drove to San Francisco and went to the Area Office and began a long tirade about our program and what we did that he didn’t approve of. My immediate superior contacted me and told me about it and said he arranged for his immediate departure from the Coast Guard. I hated to lose the man, even as disgruntled as he was. He was an excellent trainer when he wanted to be.

His replacement was a gumshoe returning to general service after a long tour of duty with Coast Guard Intelligence. He was not a good trainer and had been out of his rate too long. By the way he went about things, I became concerned. He was still with the team when I was detached in 1974.

I hated to lose my second Gunners Mate. I had a high regard for him, and he was an excellent trainer. His replacement was recently divorced and tried to be a good trainer but just didn’t have it.

In general, it was difficult to get and keep exceptional men on the training team. When it was as small as it was, it was difficult to hide a “turkey.” I had had several opportunities to enlarge the team but opposed it for a number of reasons. There is an advantage to cohesiveness on a small team working remotely and living like gypsies. The rates they would have made available were not exactly what the team needed. 

We were asked to and tried it once or twice but after all was said and done, I did not want to train shore stations. We weren't geared up for it and had the wrong mix of ratings.

Operational Readiness Evolutions

When I came on the job, I had the advantage of a strong engineering, damage control, and training background. I learned how to construct “battle problems” and conduct Operations Readiness Inspections (ORI) when I was on duty with the Navy. I was not afraid to run complex exercises. I had no qualms about going to dead ship and forcing them to use back up portable equipment. All fire lines for example were charged to the nozzle when entering any compartments but the engineering spaces. We used smoke bombs and M-80 firecrackers extensively. Every effort was made to make the evolutions as practical and as realistic as possible. I looked for vulnerabilities in men and ship features and exploited them. Every evolution we began had to be something that was plausible,  possible, and probable to happen. For example, people don’t usually fall overboard where everybody can see them and there are no hazards in the water. With this in mind, here is a sample course of events for a 180-foot buoy tender on our final day. Only the team knew what the drills would be.  

0800 – Quarters then mooring stations. Underway to target area for gunnery drill.

0815 – As ship leaves the dock “Oscar” falls overboard between the dock and the ship.

0840 – Fog navigation through the channel until open water.

0850 – Gyro compass fails.

0910 – In open water (apx) RDC shows a pattern from the Radar of a ship on a collision course. (Observe actions on the bridge). At collision –5 advise CO to go to General Emergency Stations. If ship collision is avoided by action on the bridge – OK – otherwise collision forward in forward hold, flooding contained but forward bulkhead of the main hold is panting and will have to be shored. (Do everything but saw the wood.)

0930 – If collision is avoided, continue on course.

0935 (alternate evolution) Engine room roving watch reported missing when making his rounds. (Observe ship’s actions to determine if he is missing and/or what happened to him.)

Ultimately he is found at the bottom of the ladder leading from the berthing area to the reefer flats, unconscious with a broken leg.

1015 – Launch target and prepare for gunnery exercises. Go to General Quarters, Trainers check condition Zebra throughout the ship. Conduct firing exercises. All trainers to act as safetymen and support the Gunners Mate.

1130 – Secure from drills, re-stow all gear. Break for lunch. Do not start back to port.

1300 – Quarters – Resume exercises and evolutions.

1315 – Steering Casualty – (Insure the ship is in an open and safe area.) (Ram equalizer valve slightly open.) If emergency steering crew finds the problem the evolution is over. If they misdiagnose the problem, rig the tiller and chain falls, let them. There should be at least seven or eight crewmen in the compartment.

1330 – Telephone talker in the steering room tells the bridge that the forward bulkhead is getting warm.

1335 – Class A fire in the Wardroom. (Use smoke bomb in a bucket.) Main Deck above is too hot to walk on. Smoke begins to fill steering engine room where the emergency crew is trapped. (Note: the 180’s have a drop dog hatch cover with no escape scuttle to the main deck. They can’t go through the watertight door as there is a fire blazing there. Men in after steering start screaming and shouting as the room fills with smoke – Telephone talker panics tying up the circuits. Rescuers are allowed to go across the main deck to get to the hatch if they either cool the deck or lay planking across it to get the trapped men out. Fire in wardroom had a good pre-burn and is not immediately brought under control.

1400 – Either the evolution is a success or the men in after steering are considered dead. Then secure from all drills and return to port.

Alternate Exercise If Steering Casualty Is Corrected Immediately

1330 – Bilge fire in the engine room out of control. Watch stander trips the main engines and auxiliaries as he escapes from the engine room (engines must be shut down so smoke can be used.) On “180-A” class if they indicate they would trip the installed CO2 system – ok. Drill is over – restart the plant and return to port. If they don’t take that action, they must rig for foam application to the bilges. There is no available power unless they can get #3 generator on line and get a fire pump started. Otherwise rig out with emergency equipment.

1430 – If they do everything right the gear can be stowed and the plant restarted.

Secure from all drills.

Conduct of the Critique On Mess Deck After Mooring.

Those were some of the things we did. We would progress an exercise based on the crew’s actions. Generally, it was something simple that started problems if they didn’t catch them in time. I never worried about charged hoses below deck in a berthing area. We usually always used our first underway drills to check the hoses and equipment. Most of the time the couplings leaked. We didn’t have to say much as it would be taken care of by the final day. Every piece of equipment had to work. Simulation and chalk mark training was held to a minimum. If a piece of equipment didn’t work, they couldn’t use it. If a person was doing something where he would get injured, we took him out of the drill. The evolutions were progressed based upon their actions.

Admittedly we used a bit of trickery here and there to obtain our results. For example, if I thought there was some bluffing going on on the bridge, I might throw a package of cigarettes containing a pencil magnet down behind the magnetic compass. The gyro-compass would be taken away from them. I might then do a precision anchoring evolution by pointing out a suitable place on the chart. It was fun watching the scramble take place when they weren’t where they thought they were. In the case of an obvious bluff before they let the anchor go, I would ask them to prove conclusively where they were. This usually generated some red faces. This was before the days of satellite navigation and widespread Loran-C.

The Polaroid SX-70 camera came into wide usage in the early 1970’s. This camera was pointed and then the shot was taken. It took several minutes for the images to appear on the paper. I often would send one of my crew around to snap a half dozen pictures of doors open, or any watertight integrity not observed, during General Quarters. As soon as I got the photos on the bridge I would ask the Captain if the ship was in Condition Zebra (buttoned up), and he would normally say “yes.” I would then ask him how he knew. He would tell me that was according to his reports. I would then hand him the pack of pictures that were just beginning to develop. Nothing more was said. The next time Zebra was set properly. The camera also helped in drills as pictures of the actual action could be taken.

COs and OinCs usually had a two-year tour of duty and we would see them twice. Invariably the drills and evolutions as well as the general training went better the second time. I evaluated our effectiveness, not by the final day’s complex evolutions but by the first day’s evolutions when we returned the following year. If things went well and there were few breakdowns, I knew we had gotten through and the ship was doing the self-training that we encouraged them to do the other 51 weeks of the year. If it was in the same state of readiness we found them in at the beginning the previous year, we bore down harder. I expected a fall off in performance when I met a new CO or OinC.

After the team made the rounds of all districts, material failures in emergency equipment on the ships we provided training assistance to became rare. That sure saved the material inspections. I would rather take that approach then arm my people with a lot of paper and clipboards.

All in all, the program gave every evidence of being successful.

The End Of STD-3

It was bound to happen. My fourth reporting superior in three years reported in to Pacific Area. He was a surface operations specialist with no first hand training experience. He felt the Training Team should not be an autonomous command; should be expanded to 13-15 men; the officers should stay in the office and only the enlisted men should travel on a regular basis; there would only be training assistance provided and that training would only be that selected by the local ship commanding officer; ORI-type drills would be stopped; and it was the commanding officer’s prerogative to insure his emergency equipment worked properly, the training teams were not to interfere.

I was due for orders after we finished the 11th district, three or four months away. The Area Training Officer let me complete my tour without making any changes. Relief took place at the Alameda Government Island Office without fanfare in July of 1974. I took my orders and reported to Group San Francisco at YBI as the Deputy GC the next morning and didn’t look back.

For all intents and purposes, this ended a program that was quite successful. My relief had no desire to travel and that was that. What became of the training team, I have no idea. I understood they were working on YBI after I got there for a few weeks but nobody checked in with us, and nobody got underway.

The unit disappeared from the Standard Distribution List in the following issue. I was surprised one day at YBI to learn that STD-3 had won the Unit Commendation Award while I was CO from the Commandant for being the best unit of it’s kind.

Funny, it was no more.

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