The Allowable Radius

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

We used to get liberty in increments of 48 and 72 hours. Each came with something called 'the allowable radius'… This translated to the distance, that some goofy bastard somewhere who set navy policy, thought a bluejacket operating on a migratory grape-picker's wages that Uncle Sam paid, could responsibly go and return from. We figured the sonuvabitch had never been nineteen and must have an anvil grafted to his leg.

An enterprising E-3 submarine sailor with proper planning, could go from Norfolk to the moon and back in 72 hours. We traveled light… You could toss enough gear in an A.W.O.L. bag to to survive an expedition to Mt. Everest. We could stretch a 72 to an operating radius that included multiple time zones. We put elasticity in an allowable radius that would have amazed the guy who wrote Around The World in Eighty Days.

Adrian Stuke could go from Norfolk to Quincy, Illinois and make morning quarters standing tall on a 72. He was the master… No one could expand the allowable radius like the 'Stookeyman'… He could cover real estate faster than the Indianapolis 500.

It was a time when six lads would pile into a car that looked like it wouldn't make it around the block and drive night and day… Driving in rotating shifts, eating rations packed by on board cooks in on the conspiracy to violate the allowable radius policy, time after time.

A lot of what went on at the bottom end of the submarine social scale was based on 'us against the system'. Not because we had a smart-ass mindset… Not at all. We did it for the same reason the navy selected us in the first place. We were bright… We could work as a well-coordinated team to overcome obstacles and find ways to get the job done. We thought on our feet and looked at regulations as applying to the poor, dumb bastards who didn't own Dolphins… The sheep who rode surface craft, wore the uniform of the day and spent their lives being herded around by doofus idiots called 'Master at Arms'.

I am sure that there were competent MAAs, but in my short, bottle rocket naval career, I never met one. They were usually dull-witted oafs that had percolated up through the naval rate system and reached a point where longevity bounced up against the ability to do a decent job. Most of the dumb idiots couldn't tie their shoes on a dark night, so the navy gave them a badge and made them shipboard cops.

The best entertainment a qualified E-3 ever had was the game of putting stuff over on the tender MAAs. We made monkeys out of them on a regular basis. They hated us… We stole them blind… Not for personal gain but to keep the old smokeboats going.

The reason I mention these dimwits in conjunction with stretching a 72 is because one of the pea-brains once caught us crossing the Orion, hauling ten cans of Spam in a couple of AWOL bags… They were intended to cover us for a two-day trip to a North Carolina beach.

This porked-up monster caught us at the lower brow and inspected our AWOL bags… Found ten cans of Spam in those green navy issue cans.

"What do we have here?"

He was licking his chops like Brer Fox… Make that Brer Bear.

"Spam, chief… You have trouble reading the big words on the cans?"

"And what in the hell are we doing with it tucked in our bags, gentlemen?"

"We're hauling it over to the duty cook on the Redfin."

"In an AWOL bag?"

"Did you ever try to stuff ten cans of Spam in a couple of jumper pockets?"

"Well, gentlemen…"

('Gentlemen' was a smart-ass term the goofy bastards used when they thought they had a boat sailor by the short curlies…)

"Well gentlemen, let's take a little stroll over to the Redfin and see if they are expecting you."

Mr. Dick Tracy Chief Bosun' Doofus walked us over to the Redfin where we unloaded the Spam and apologized for the delay in delivery. The topside watch went aft and called down to the cook, who came topside having figured out that a couple of idiots were tap-dancing in some kind of doo-doo.

"Well, it's about gahdam time… Where have you two stupid bastards been? How many cans are there?"


"Thassa 'bout right… Who's your ugly friend?"

"MAA off the Orion."

"What can we do for you, chief?"

"Nothing… You call for this Spam?"

"Does a hobby horse have a hickory dick?"

The whole squadron was our briar patch.

If you worked the system wearing Dolphins, it was like you were bulletproof and there was always somebody out there to throw you a life jacket and toss you a line. And with ten bucks, a tank of cheap gas and a 72, you could stretch an allowable radius like a fat girl's garter belt.

And we did.