Hole in the Clouds
Sep 16, 2009
At the Naval Academy, all the students, even the wrestlers, are required to attend all the home football games, They march in uniform from campus out to the stadium, where they parade onto the field by company and then march up into the stands, where they stand, literally, on their feet throughout the game. When Navy scores, plebes race down into the end zone and do pushups, one for each point scored.
But on parents' weekend, some of the students drift on out of the midshipmen's section of the stands to sit with their families like regular people--assuming that "regular people" is a fair term for lightweight wrestler Allen Stein and his good friend Mike Landis, the wrestling team's heavyweight. Mike was captain of his high school football team before limiting his energies to wrestling at the college level, but even without him in the lineup the Midshipmen did well last Saturday, beating Louisiana Tech 32-14.
In acknowledging the victory, the Academy superintendent awarded all the midshipmen an extra hour of liberty Saturday night, till 1 a.m. The wrestlers wasted that hour with the best of them.
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Jun 30, 2010
Somebody is sitting on top of the nuclear submarine Toledo while it's tied up in port. Allen recently spent a couple of weeks aboard the Toledo for a training cruise; he took this picture with his cell phone.
(Image credit: Allen Stein)
Jun 2, 2011
A few minutes after commencement and commissioning last Friday, in the parking lot outside the Naval Academy's football stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, the new ensign in his choker whites and shades got his first salute, from midshipman Aaron Kalil, who still has a year to go until his own graduation and commissioning.
Per tradition, the new ensign bought this first salute, handing Aaron a silver dollar.
Ensign Stein now begins five years of active duty in the navy. Midshipman Kalil begins a year as captain of the U.S. Naval Academy wrestling team. There was champagne all around.
(Image credit: Norman Stein)
Aug 3, 2011
In hopes of maintaining secure communication with its ships and submarines at sea, no matter what, the U.S. Navy maintains arrays of thousand-foot-high Very Low Frequency transmitter towers at three locations around the world. This is the Navy's Cutler array, the largest and most powerful radio installation in the world, with 26 towers located on a peninsula at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in downeast Maine, near Machias.
Cutler, constructed in 1961, is 100 percent Cold War technology: no GPS, no internet, no cellphone network. The biggest towers in the world were built here because this station services vessels in the Arctic Ocean as well as the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and naturally occuring electromagnetic pulses in the Arctic–the Aurora Borealis–can interfere with all but the most powerful radio signals.
The transmitters here run on power generated on-site and distributed to the towers by underground wiring. Underground wires also extend far offshore under the ocean, to maximize communication with submarines. There are no naval personnel working in Cutler; a civilian crew maintains the site, which sends out encrypted signals generated at a base in Norfolk, Virginia.
Although this shaky picture, which was taken with a handheld camera on a dark and cloudy night, suggests a somewhat haphazard string of towers, they are actually arranged in two identical clusters, which can operate separately or together. Each cluster can be shut down as necessary for maintenance. There's a problem, however, in the part of the installation around the power plant, where the two clusters are so close to one another that the electromagnetic field can be hazardous to humans, even when one of the clusters is shut down.
This area of the installation is called the Bowtie. People doing maintenance try to work as little as possible in the Bowtie, because even if they are working on towers that have been shut down they may still be exposed to dangerous electrical radiation from nearby still-active towers.
Because the Navy requires that at least one of the Cutler clusters must be functioning at all times, the towers in the Bowtie area of the installation have seen little maintenance over the years. In particular, they have never been painted, and they are now fifty years old. The civilians onsite requested a four-month shutdown of the entire array to complete the painting, but the Navy said no.
I predict one of two probable resolutions: either they'll run out of money for the paint job and just let the salt and snow do their thing on the thousand-foot towers, or else they'll redefine the safety standard for electromagnetic radiation so that working in the Bowtie magically becomes safe.
Can you get cellphone service on submarines?
Sep 26, 2011
The USS Ingraham tests its weapons during a recent live fire exercise at sea. Very soon, the 'ham will leave its home port of Everett, Washington, for a six-month deployment in the Pacific; the crew of about 200 enlisted men and women and a dozen or so officers includes Ensign Allen, aka Sparky, the ship's new electrical engineering officer.
Nov 28, 2011
We have permission from The Ensign™ to share in this space one of his stories of high adventure on the high seas. As many of you have already heard, he is currently deployed on the USS Ingraham, a navy frigate patrolling the Pacific off the coast of South America.
Last week, we caught a drug smuggling ship disguised as a fishing vessel, which is awesome. However, there is a down side; having the prize vessel means that we have to send a crew over there to man the fishing vessel [and] what this means for the rest of us is ... we get even less sleep than we did before.
I stand watch, get a break just long enough to take care of my DIVO stuff and eat and if I'm lucky get two hours of sleep before I have to go back on watch again.
Eyeing an opportunity to get off the ship and do something interesting and new, I asked the captain if I could go be part of the captured vessel's crew for one of the shifts. She smiled at my excitement to get over to the other ship but said no. So the next day I asked again, citing the fact that it would be a good "learning" experience for me. She thought about it for a short time, but once again shook her head. Third time's the charm. I approached her stateroom the next night after dinner. "Captain," I said, "what an adventure this could be for me! A chance to be the executive officer on board a captured drug smuggling vessel would make this deployment for me!"
Finally, out of being annoyed by my Stein persistence more than anything else, the captain shrugged her shoulders and picked up her phone. "Go ahead and put Ensign Stein on the watch bill for tomorrow morning, uh huh, okay, thanks." She looked up at me and smiled. "Well, go pack a backpack, Electro, you're on the 0600 small boat transfer tomorrow morning."
And my adventure began.
All I packed was a book, my board shorts, my flip-flops, and a water bottle.
The next morning I was transferred over to the fishing vessel early. The first thing I noticed was an incredibly putrid smell. I gagged even before I stepped foot on board. These drug smugglers really went all out in making it appear that they were a legitimate fishing ship; they even had actual fish in the icebox below deck. ... only I'm sure all of the ice has melted by now. It was one of the worst smells I have ever been exposed to. One of the other guys started throwing up immediately.
I spent most of the morning down in the bilge with the resident engineer while a Coast Guard guy and an LT drove the ship. We finally figured out how to rig the electric pump and got the bilge flooding down as much as we could. The engine died a couple of times, too, but we were able to get it up and running after some sweet engineering magic.
After everything was set down below, I changed into my board shorts and flip-flops, grabbed one of the cots, brought it up to the roof of the pilot house, took out my book (Moby Dick), and lounged out and read for an hour. The sun was shining, the ocean had a nice breeze, it was awesome!
After a short lunch consisting of a pop tart and a peanut butter sandwich, we made a startling, disgusting discovery: cockroaches. At first we just saw one, and there was a bottle of Raid, so we quickly took care of it. Then another came out, and we killed that one too. Then another. What the hell was going on? The Coast Guard guy noticed that they were all coming from behind this one crack in the bulkhead, so we decided to spray some Raid in that crack. We hit the mother lode! All of a sudden, cockroaches started pouring out of there like the mass exodus from a movie theater after someone pulled a fire alarm. Big ones, small ones, fat ones, fast ones. It was unnerving, to say the least. We sprayed the ones we could, but the others made fast to another crack and were gone. For the rest of my time on board the prize ship, my head was on a swivel.
I was John Wayne in a classic western movie, only [with] a can of Raid instead of a 44 magnum, and in a fishing ship floating in the Pacific instead of a western frontier town.
After the cockroach scare died down a little, we got a call from the Ingraham. There were some buoys way off in the distance that were suspicious, and they wanted us to investigate. We left our stationing spot off the Ingraham's port quarter and headed for the buoys. Well, these buoys did not have any drugs in them, but the lines around a buoy had wrapped tightly around a poor sea turtle's left front leg. Feeling bad for the turtle, we decided to pull up close and cut it free. The turtle was so funny up close; it had zero expression on its face, it didn't even say thank you! It felt good to save the turtle's life, though.
All of a sudden, after the turtle swam away, the buoy started pulling really hard from us. Apparently, there was something really strong caught in the net below the buoy. What happened next was all at once terrifying and amazing: A twelve-foot manta ray–twelve feet no exaggeration– wrapped all in the net, exploded from the depths of the ocean. It started splashing about vigorously in the sea and pulled the buoy out of our hands and then dove back down underneath, temporarily pulling the buoys down with it below the surface. We couldn't believe it! Watching a sea monster splash around so close to where I was made me feel like a character from Moby Dick.
After the experience with the turtle and manta ray, the engine died and we were dead in the water until our reliefs came that night. I went back to the Ingraham smelling like long-dead fish, but filled with tales to tell. About how I fought a war against an army of roaches. About how I saved a life. About how I came face to face with a sea monster from the deep. It was so much fun. I was tired, sunburned, I had to stand watch on the Ingraham's bridge from two in the morning until seven in the morning, I smelled awful, but I was happy!
Hopefully this message finds everyone with full bellies and in good health. Tell people I miss them and that I wish I could be there.
Dec 17, 2011
At the end of November, when it came time to assess the results of a shaveless month, some of the 'staches sported by men of the USS Ingraham were of the Sharpie variety.
Dec 30, 2011
We have received another posting from The Ensign™, who is still bobbing around out in the Pacific Ocean aboard the USS Ingraham. This time, he confesses to taking up a habit that mama sez will ruin the headliner and upholstery and even the plastic of the dashboard in his car. . . .
So I thought it would be cool to buy a box of really nice Cohiba cigars when I was in Panama. All the engineering officers were doing it, and they told me that they could get a better deal if more people got in on the purchase. So I decided to get a box for myself. The problem with this is that I don't really like cigars, and now I have a $120 box of eight-inch-long, super thick cigars. I have tried to be a man and smoke them, but I feel like I'm being punished for something. I have already given a couple of them away. And I traded the Chief Engineer two of them for his old LTJG shoulder boards. (I know it is a bit presumptuous of me to assume that I'll get promoted, but I like my odds.)
Even though I do not enjoy the actual smoking of said cigar, I do take pleasure in the act of smoking on a ship. Today I got off the reveille watch from two to seven in the morning, and although tired I began my day. I went to quarters, did an electrical safety walk-through of Radio division, ordered some parts for a broken coffee maker (this thing is HUGE and apparently has a lot of electrical components), emailed our shore engineer to coordinate some post-deployment electrical work, validated a bunch of jobs that my guys have written up that came back to me for grammatical errors (Yay! My English degree is slowly paying dividends...), ensured that some of my guys helped to secure the electrical power to a food storage freezer that needs to have work done, went to departmental training on the mess decks, and located a ground in the B phase. It was a standard day.
Anyways, after dinner, and a short nap, I went out to the weather decks (the designated smoke area) and lit up a cigar. Watching the sun dip below the horizon, and talking to smokers as they came and went, I couldn't help but laugh. Even though I felt like I was smoking a flaming cucumber, it was pretty cool to be out there. As the breeze whipped back my hair and rippled through my grease stained coveralls, as I tried not to embarrass myself by coughing amongst veteran smokers, and as I contemplated how small we humans are as the stars started to poke needle holes through the clouds, I couldn't help but laugh. This deployment, this job, it's kind of funny sometimes for no particular reason.
Well, I'm off to stand the evening watch and to try and come up with more excuses to give away my expensive cohiba cigars.
Jan 18, 2012
Last week, the USS Ingraham crossed the equator, somewhere in the eastern Pacific. Per centuries of tradition, this event necessitated a Crossing the Line ritual; those sailors and officers who had crossed the equator before assembled as King Neptune and his court to supervise the cleansing of the rest of the crew, slimy pollywogs all. The lengthy proceedings included green, slimy-looking food that had to be eaten without utensils or hands, and pushups on deck, attempted at the business end of a firehose.
Here, the royal court ponders the worthiness of one of the wogs. Seated in the middle in t-shirt and ball cap is the Ingraham's captain, Commander Kristin Stengel.
Crossing the Line ceremony
Feb 13, 2012
The electrical engineers of the navy frigate USS Ingraham pose for their official cruise portrait. From left to right: EM3 Huggins, EM3 Miller, EM1 Nkwanga, EM3 Acostasoto, EM1 Gillespy, EM2 Genaovargas, Ensign Stein.
The Ingraham left its homeport of Everett, Washington, last September for a six-month deployment with an international force trying to suppress drug trafficking in the waters off Central and South America.
The thing around Acostasoto's neck is an electrical shore power cable.
Aug 4, 2012
On the bridge of the navy frigate USS Ingraham, the tiny gold-colored wheel near the center of the picture, with spokes protruding from the rim, is what actually steers the ship. As the instrumentation suggests, American naval frigates were designed in the 1970s, back when phones were attached to the wall by curly cords. Frigates are gradually being decommissioned--sold off to countries looking for cheap warships--but meanwhile they are still very much in active service, accompanying aircraft carriers around the world or sailing independently on anti-piracy or anti-smuggling missions.
The Ingraham recently returned from a six-month deployment in the eastern Pacific near Panama, where its helicopters chased down small boats thought to be smuggling drugs to North America. The picture below shows family and friends standing on the flight deck during a recent tour of the ship conducted by Ensign Al, the Ingraham's electrical engineer who also serves as public information officer. Two helicopters operate from the flight deck. The ship in the background is a destroyer, slightly bigger than a frigate, which is also based at Naval Station Everett on Puget Sound north of Seattle.
Feb 20, 2015
Somewhere in the eastern Pacific, a Harrier jump jet prepares to drop down onto the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard.
USS Bonhomme Richard
(Image credit: Allen Stein)
Apr 3, 2016
This fence is part of the security for Naval Base Kitsap–Bangor, home to eight submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles.
The deer are apparently not a security issue, but drones, on the other hand, are becoming a big problem. Multiple drone flights over the base been reported, all taking place at night, and nobody knows who is flying the drones or why.
Naval investigators have yet to solve the mystery. Nearby residents have been interviewed, but their involvement is doubtful. "I really can't imagine any of the neighbors or neighbors' kids thinking it's OK to run drones over Bangor," said one area resident who'd been interrogated about the incidents. "Everyone here is very aware that this is one of the most lethal places on earth."
Signs around the base perimeter warn "Keep Out. Use of force authorized."
(Image credit: Ken Lambert for Seattle Times)