The Naval Supply System

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

In my day The Naval Supply System was a little ragged around the edges. It was run by a bunch of shore duty scoundrels who siphoned off cumshaw at a rate that would have amazed the gahdam Mafia.

Our major supply point was our tender, the USS Orion… Our mother ship. She was the big fat mama hog and we were her piglets. She was a little short of tits and we spent a lot of time hungry as hell. Why? Because the thieving, sonuvabitches onboard Orion picked over us poor seagoing bastards like termites. Any supplies that passed through the 'Mother Onion' evaporated at a rate that staggered the imagination. We used to say that the pier rats that ran all over Pier 22 were what was left of a herd of buffaloes that passed through Orion.

There were no rules, so we made them up as we went along. They stole from us so we stole them blind. Anything not welded or bolted to Orion was fair game.

Orion was a steel warehouse with screws... Filled with lazy bastards who had a racket billet. They were fat, dumb and happy.

To us they were sheep to be fleeced.

You must recognize that this is written by an idiot who, along with his mates, operated in the dark corners and because E-3s are rarely credited with the intelligence of your average housefly. So we were free to roam everywhere and steal everything not nailed down. We had to do it to survive.

"Hey Dex, you going up to the Squadron Office to pick up official mail and radio traffic?"

"Yo, Chief."

"How bout stealing us some gahdam pens… Pick up a stapler for the Yeoman and a clip board if you can lay your hands on one."

"You got it Chief…"

So that's what you did. When the idiots weren't looking you went shopping. You would be amazed at what you can toss into a guard mail pouch. We operated under an enlisted principal…The 'It serves the bastards' right... They're getting what they deserve' principal.

You have to realize that we were riding boats they quit making parts for… For which you had to beg, borrow, cannibalize, invent… And steal spares for. If boat sailors weren't inventive or smart enough to 'light finger' stuff… Our boats wouldn't have been worth a damn. We did what we had to do… And that involved wholesale tender theft.

We stole junk that we had no idea what it was… What it did… Why we needed it… Or gave a damn. You just brought it back... Tossed it on a messdeck table and hoped some sonuvabitch had seen one in 'A' school and knew what it was and if we could use one. If nobody could figure out what it was, what it did or how we could use it, we could always take it apart for screws, nuts, gaskets and usable parts… Like springs.

We once picked up a weird contraption in the torpedo shop on Orion… Had no idea what it was. It looked neat and we knew we didn't have one… And it was heavy as hell so we could use the damn thing as a garbage bag weight at sea. A lot of very technical equipment was used in the late fifties, early sixties to make garbage bags go to the bottom. Last resort… Negative buoyancy facilitator.

The day after we had reduced the weird contraption to a pile of assorted mechanical crap, the Senior Chief on The Squadron Office showed up for evening chow…

"Boy, all hell is breaking loose in the ordinance shop up on Mother Onion. Some jaybird misplaced some micro guidance unit for some prototype whiz bang torpedo they're testing on one of the Nuke Boats."

"What did the thing look like Chief?"

"It was about the size of a transistor radio… Any of you guys seen it?"

"Oh, no Chief… Never seen anything like that… Not since yesterday. Could have seen one yesterday... But not today."

What was left of that technological marvel was roaming around in the garbage weight bucket in the Forward Engine Room and the usable screws were in assorted baby food jars in the Sonar Shack.

Did we care? No… Make that, 'Hell no.' Why?

Two weeks before, we had been punching holes in the North Atlantic. It had been witche's tit cold… Really cold... And there we were on the bridge in ragged, shot to hell foulweather jackets… Busted zippers… Ripped and shredded gear. Jackets that had snagged on equipment in a hundred 'Clear the bridge' runs, and they had been patched and taped up an equal number of times.

We came in at night. Line handlers standing topside… Orion line handlers were waiting on the pier… Little lads fresh out of the cabbage patch. All decked out in brand new N-1 deck jackets. One with a white supply ticket still stuck on a sleeve.

The Prince and the Pauper.

So, we smiled at each other and said…

"Gotta find where that kid racks out on Orion and skin him for that gahdam jacket… He's GOT to sleep in the damn thing... I would. If I had that jacket, I'd have the sonuvabitch stitched to my back… Or pop-riveted to my gahdam shoulder blades."

You could steal anything within a thirty-foot radius of a clown wearing a welder's mask. Once watched Stuke walk off with a brand new pair of welder's gloves so a cook could pull pizzas out of the oven without burning his fingers.

Set beside a smokeboat deck force, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves were rank amateurs.

The guys off Redfin were worse than we were. They walked off with stuff it took two guys to carry. In fact, they hauled off stuff they had to chisel the data plates off of.

The Cubera deck force once showed up and walked off with typewriter and left their ratty piece of junk typewriter in its place.

Some clown on Cutlass hijacked a satin jacket from some shore bound Sublant basketball player that lived like a king… And the Cutlass lookout wore it at sea. He was a super hero to us. A satin Sublant basketball jacket off a prima donna, non-qual ballplayer. We never saw them play… We were out listening to PDCs and dodging tin cans.

It was all long ago. A long time ago when the earth was young. Screws were connected to electrical motors that ran off power produced by diesel fuel. They were great times because we beat the system and we kept boats going when we knew their day had come and gone. We were steel sharks that refused to go down quietly.

I am proud to have been a small insignificant part of it… To have had the honor of riding boats with a proud history. We put them away with dignity.

Today you couldn't duplicate our life if you had a million dollars. It's gone… Won't be coming back… But then sailors can't miss what they have never known.

Damn! It was a great time to be alive… Nineteen and be a part of Arliegh Burke's Saltwater Buccaneers. It was one big sea-going 'Hole in the Wall' gang.