from the “Cookie Cutter”
What the &$#@ is a GITMO?
By John Russell
Sitting in the ET shack one day I heard we were going to “GITMO”. Now geography was not one of my best subjects but I thought any place big enough for us to spend better than a month in I would have at least an idea of where it was. GITMO? No clue! So I broke my rule of not asking stupid questions and asked. The response was Guantanamo Bay; Cuba was the mysterious GITMO. Although that did not sound like much fun it had to be better than freezing my *&^% off in the North Atlantic. Coming from New Orleans, the weather in Portland, Maine and Ocean station Bravo and Charlie was not what this boy had in mind when I joined the CG. On top of warm weather I found out that midway through the training in GITMO we would be going to Jamaica for liberty. How much better can it get, an all expenses paid cruise to the Caribbean! Maybe this CG thing wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
First stop on our way was to on load 5” ammo somewhere. I
thought this was cool, I was going to get to see the 5” bad boy do its thing.
On a “White One” anytime the 1MC (P.A. System) came on it was usually not
good news. “Now here this, now hear this, all hands E-4 and below lay to the
Quarterdeck”. Not a good sign for a SN/ET because this normally meant work of
some kind. When us peons had gathered the GMC started explaining the detail. I
listened intently until I figured out what it was he was talking about. Only one
thought flooded my little pea brain….. You want me to carry WHAT!!!!! These
things are designed to explode and you want me to carry them!! I was not alone
in the pale sheepish look on my face; many others had the same look. To make it
short we managed to get the job done with no death or destruction but I, for
one, was glad when it was over.
THE COOKIE CUTTER MOORED AT STATE PIER, PORTLAND, MAINE
We got under way and headed south, the weather grew warmer and the ocean was actually blue rather than the gray and white as in the North Atlantic. After a few days with little to do we were soaking up the rays and rejoicing in a berthing area that was actually above 50 degrees. Life was good. We arrived and set the special sea detail, which put me on the Bridge wing, and in between taking bearings I had a great tourist view. The water was a multitude of blues and greens and the cliffs and rocks we beautiful. I knew this was my kind of place. That night we had liberty and I rode the “cattle “ car to the EM Club. The “cattle” car was just a big empty trailer used to haul the ship personnel around, not too bad I thought at the time. That was until the trip back with about 50 drunk CG and USN sailors that couldn’t stand up and some getting sick which prompted others to get sick, not a pretty sight or smell. I tried to avoid the cattle car from then on for the return trip. We soon discovered a small “private” bar run by Cubans and frequented mainly by local Cubans and Coasties. They served a “Cuban” sandwich made with Ham and Roast Pork with hot sauce and the coldest bottled beer on the base. In over thirty years and many places that served so called “Cuban” sandwiches I have never had any that were even close to the taste of these.
The weather we soon learned was cool for that time of the year and quickly changed to hot, no, not hot, but *&%^$%$ HOT! At night the berthing area cooled down to 90 to 95 degrees and I came to the realization that the 311’ Cutters never were designed for crew comfort, they were either very cold or very hot, but never anything in between! The training was interesting for me because the RD’s were short handed and we (ETs) were over staffed because we were losing some on our return. I was drafted to CIC as the Air Search radar operator. That was ok by me because there was only two days when we had any air operations and CIC was one of the few places that was semi cool temperature wise.
The first weekend I decided to try snorkeling and went to the beach that was not a beach but stairs down to the water from the cliff. After about 10 minutes of swimming around looking for coral I looked up to find a large silver fish looking at me with at least 3,476 tiny pointed teeth , smiling at about 2 feet from my face. Due to some Jamaican agriculture product testing it took a long 3-4 microseconds to realize this was a Barracuda and he was not really smiling at me. I would like to say I stayed cool and very still but in truth I was petrified and couldn’t move if I had wanted too. After 2 or 3 hours (10 to 15 seconds in real time) he turned and swam away and I made a rooster tail for shore. That ended my snorkeling for the day. The next day I went back and spent most of the day swimming around and never did see my friend again although a jellyfish took a liking to my arm and I discovered that swimming with one arm was possible but difficult. I was rapidly finding that snorkeling was not my thing. This was later confirmed in Jamaica when I stepped on a sea urchin and limped for 2 weeks, the only good thing was I recovered almost half my investment in gear when I sold it to some other fool….
JAMAICA- the hippies’ Mecca, cheap drugs, cheap sex and
come to think of it even the scenery was nice. One day when I had duty a small
rubber boat came flying across the bay and a grizzly man threw a line and
climbed aboard. “Any Marines here?” he asked. To my shock it was Steve
McQueen! Yea that one, Bullitt, The Great Escape, etc, etc…. I replied CG
ships did not have Marines aboard them. He explained he had been a Marine and
thought he would find some here. As I was awestruck my only reply was to ask if
Ally Macgraw was here with him? He just scowled and told us he was here making a
movie called ” Pappilion”, If you remember the movie he looked just like at
the end of the movie, skinny, dirty and in general, bad. He then hopped over the
rail, fired up the outboard motor and like the wild man he was took off across
the Bay to a private island.
All good things must come to an end and we returned to GITMO to complete our training. About a week later in the middle of the night the GQ gong started and the dreaded 1MC came on with “General Quarters, General Quarters, this is NOT a drill, I repeat, this is NOT a drill”. This did not sound good. We went to GQ in probably a record time and when I got to CIC I was told not to fire up the Air Search radar as every ship in port had theirs going and we would be jammed anyway. We were told the whole base was on alert as an unidentified vessel was entering the Base. After about an hour we stood down and found out a Haitian Gunboat had attempted a failed coup and was here asking for asylum. Being the only CG vessel in port we were tasked with escorting them to Puerto Rico which was fine with us because it meant more liberty, this time in San Juan. But that is another story in itself , a bawdy one to be titled something like “How my virginity was wrestled from me for only $30”.
We went back and completed our training, got our “E” and went home. My second adventure in the CG had come to a close and added to my rapidly expanding life experiences.
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