HOW THE SWEETGUM TRAINED THE FTG

David E. Riffle

Our hero endears himself to the Fleet Training Group Ship Rider assigned to instruct him and observe his radio shack operation....


PROLOGUE -- I was stationed on the CGC SWEETGUM two different times. The first time was from January 1960 through September 1962. The second was September 1965 through June 1966.

I reported onboard as an RM3 and the only radioman aboard. I had a wonderful radio shack and an absolutely great time except when it got too rough.. Our homeport was the U.S. Naval Base, Jacksonville Beach, Florida. At times we tied up next to the USS Saratoga, a Navy Bird Farm.

One night while watching a movie on the fantail the crew was having a difficult time hearing it because one of the navy ships was operating the sonar. Every so often we would get a 'ping' as it scanned our stern.

One of our crew got telephoned Base Operations to determine which ship was the culprit. As soon as Base Ops was off the phone he called the ship that was pinging telling them that he was the Admiral and to cease using their sonar in port. Within minutes we were able to continue watching our movie in silence. As a crew we knew how to deal with our big sister service.

As an aside we were the only Search and Rescue vessel in the Jacksonville area thus we were always in a B-2 or B-6 status. Working buoys always came second to SAR. Many a night we were awakened while ashore and we would speed back to the ship to get underway for a rescue. The QMOW would also inform the Jacksonville Beach Police and they would allow us to drive a bit faster or escort us back. Heaven help you if you didn't make the recall. The Captain, LCDR Harry A. Vaughn would have you for breakfast.

 

During September of 1965 I returned to the SWEETGUM as an RM1 as they needed someone to go with them to Underway Training at the Naval Base in Charleston, S.C.

We arrived at the Coast Guard Base in Charleston. We picked up a group of ship riders (they preferred to be called instructor/observers but take it from me a ship rider is a ship rider, nothing more, nothing less) from the Navy Training Command to take us out to determine if we were ready to undergo the training.

We really screwed up everything that was thrown at us. When we returned to port they held a conference and informed the Commanding Officer that they didn't think we could make it through underway training in the condition we were in. He told them, "He would expect them at 0800 hours the next morning as we didn't have the luxury of going away for underway training when ever we wanted to as the Navy does. We were a working service."

They arrived bright and early the next morning and were really ready to flunk us quickly and surely. The training lasted two weeks. At the conclusion we obtained the highest score of any ship, Navy or Coast Guard that went through their training. The old man did make a few telephone calls that first night and had a few more experienced senior people brought in overnight to augment the crew.

From my vantage point I had a Radioman from the Navy who spent all of this time with me in the radio shack. As matter of form and to prevent being unnecessarily given demerits, I would check his identification each day when he arrived and compared it against the security list, have him sign in and all follow all those good security precautions that were part of my job.

I was the only Radioman on the SWEETGUM. Having an RM1 on board this little boat surprised the Navy Radioman, but I quickly explained that with possible search and rescue missions at any time the SWEETGUM had to maintain a qualified radioman onboard. The truth was that the ship billet was for a PO3, as I was the first time I was stationed on her.

I noticed on the first day of underway training that this Navy RM's ID card was going to expire during the two weeks of refresher training. I was obligated by security measures to check it each and every morning and lo and behold on the day of expiration he had not renewed his ID. (All good things come to he who waits.)

I had him taken to the mess deck and placed under guard for the whole day. He tried to get back at me by ordering me to come up on the Navy Training CW circuit that evening and participate. I asked why since I believe I was good enough in CW that it would be wasted time. He said it made no difference and to be there at 1900 hours. I asked him who would be on the other end and he said that he would - with a smile. I was very good at sending and receiving CW - that was the life of a Coast Guard Radioman. I met him up on the circuit - I waited until the other ships signed in and then I blasted him with Morse code as fast as I could using my speed key. He must have been overwhelmed. A few minutes later while I was waiting for his reply on the circuit, the quartermaster of the watch came up from the quarter deck and told me I had a phone call from an RM1 at the Navy Training Command saying that I didn't need to stay up on the circuit any more that night. He would see me in the morning.

He was all smiles when he arrived the next morning and we got along fine from then on.

EPILOGUE -- I can't help but having a bittersweet feeling about my part in beating the Navy FTG at their own game.

 

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