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Replenishment at Sea

 

A short story by Karl Bogott

 

 

 

The old man opened his eyes and lifted his head, his brief nap disturbed. The book in his lap lay open but he didn’t recognize the page. He sighed and flipped back until he found a familiar paragraph and picked up where he left off.

 

Honey? We’ve got company.”

 

He looked up and, seeing his five-year-old grandson hanging onto his wife’s leg, smiled. “Hi, Sailor.”

 

My name is Bryce, not Sailor. Grandpa. Grandma says I have to ask to come into your study. Can I come in?” The boy, son of their only daughter, lived in California and this was his first visit to their home since he was a baby.

 

You’re my little Sailor. Come on in. I can use the company.” He put a marker in the book and set it aside. He held out his arms. “But, the entry fee is a big hug.” He boy dashed the few feet to the La-Z Boy and threw himself into the old man’s lap, arms wrapping around the wrinkled neck. The chair back ratcheted back, threatening to tumble them both over backwards. “Woah, there. Paid in full. Welcome to my mini-museum.”

 

You mean your ‘I-Love-Me’ room, right?” She winked at her husband.

 

The boy gave his grandfather an extra hug and then twisted into his lap. His head swiveled at the collection of photos, memorabilia and ship models. “Wowzers! Is all this yours?”

 

The youthful enthusiasm was catching. “Every single bit of it. Yes.”

 

He repeated, springing from his lap, repeating, “Wowzers.” He pointed at a large model of a sailing ship within a glass cover. “Were you on that?”

 

Grandma laughed from the doorway, enjoying the obvious joy the old man took in the presence of his grandson. “He probably did, honey. Ask him if he was Captain.”

 

Her husband glared at her, a twinkle in his eye. “Very funny. And, I suppose you were my first mate.”

 

She stuck out her tongue at him. “And, I’d better be your only mate, sir.” She turned to leave.

 

He returned his attention to the boy standing with his nose nearly touching the glass protecting the model of a Navy Man of War. “No, Sailor, my grandfather might have, but I didn’t. That’s a model of the biggest sailing ship the U.S. Navy ever had. That ship sailed more than a hundred years before I did.” He dropped the footrest with a ‘clunk’ and stood. He walked over and took the boy’s hand. He walked him to a spot near the large wall where his shadowbox hung. Another model stood under glass. “I did sail in this one, though.”

 

Wowzers! Really?”

 

His smile, broad with pride and memories, was warm and wide. “Really.” He pointed to a spot on the ship. “See that spot where the ropes come down from the mast? That walkway is called the bridge wing. That’s where I stood when the ship was working. I was her Replenishment at Sea officer. That means I was in charge of her main battery.”

 

Cool!” The young hand squirmed loose and approached the model. “Did you shoot the guns? Hey. There are no guns.”

 

You’ve got a seaman’s eye, my friend. We didn’t have any guns; none that you could identify as guns, anyway.” A finger, bent with arthritis, pointed at a picture on the wall, above the model. “This is a picture of my ship at work. Here.” He pulled a small stepstool over. “Climb up on this and look.”

 

Hey, that’s an aircraft carrier, isn’t it?”

 

Sure is. That’s the Abraham Lincoln. She’s still in the fleet but nearing the end of her service life.”

 

He swiveled and looked up at his grandpa, full of the curiosity of youth. “What’s that mean?”

 

Well, it means that she’s getting old, like your Grandpa, and ready to retire and let some young ship, sort of like a grandson”, he rumpled the boy’s hair, “take over the work.”

 

Why are they so close together?”

 

He picked the lad up and set him on the floor. “My ship was a supply ship, biggest and best we ever had, before or since. We were giving the Abe fuel, food and parts.” He sat down and pulled the boy onto his lap.

 

His grandson immediately squirmed down and walked back to the model. “How? Did you send boats full?

 

No. We used wires stretched between the ships and helicopters. Look at the picture, again. See the black lines between them? Look at the back end of my ship. See the helicopter on the deck and all those bundles?”

 

Oh yeah! Looks super easy.”

 

Well, we practiced a lot, so it wasn’t hard. Let’s leave it at that. But, it was exciting. I remember one day, the one when this picture was taken, in fact.”

 

His wife walked back into the room just then. “Oh, Lord. Honey, we don’t have time for a sea story, and especially not that one. Bryce, would you like a bowl of fresh strawberries to keep you until dinner?”

 

Ships, models and stories flew from his attention. “Sure, Grandma. I love strawberries.” He grabbed her hand and tugged toward the door. “Come on.”

 

She looked back at her husband and gave him a knowing smile, allowing herself to be led from the room. “Dinner in an hour okay?”

 

Sure.” He sat down again and picked up his book. He opened the book and removed the book mark, intending to continue his novel, but, instead, his gaze returned to the photo on the wall. He said to himself, “It’s a hell of a sea story, though. You’ve got to admit it.”

 

 

 

~~ * ~~

 

On board USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, welcome alongside USS SUPPLY, one stop shop to the fleet.” The wording was tradition, the message unnecessary, the voice feminine. Women had come to sea some five years before, but CDR Bill Ellis, Supply Officer, could never quite get past the feminine voice of the Underway Replenishment (UNREP) Bos’ns Mate, Boatswain’s Mate First Class (BM1) Maryellen Carrier. Each time she welcomed a ship alongside, he would sigh to himself It just wasn’t the same Navy, anymore.

 

A masculine voice returned across the 100 meters separating the ships. “On board USS SUPPLY, welcome alongside Honest Abe. Prepare to receive shot lines forward, amidships and aft. On board Honest Abe, stand by to fire shot lines. All hands stand clear of rails, lifelines and elevators starboard side aft of frame 104.”

 

The traditional exchange of verbal warnings continued with as much enthusiasm and attention as airline passengers give the flight attendant on a commuter flight. After the third time, the wording is repetitive and attention wanders to duties more pressing.

 

On board USS SUPPLY, stand by to receive shot lines port side forward, amidships and aft. All hands take cover.”

 

* * *

 

The simple wording belied the complexity of the maneuver about to take place. Two ships were about to steam at 13 knots, side by side, connected by three 7 cm wire cables and various other wires and ropes. They would steam, 60 meters apart, in a straight line, for hours sending and receiving cargo. To those who had never experienced it, this seemed simple. To those who had been there, this was several nerve-wracking hours of one potential disaster after another; thousands of tons of metal, highly flammable fuel and ammunition, steaming in close proximity just waiting to be adversely acted upon by any one of Newton’s laws of motion.

 

The right-most twin in this sea-going Siamese pair is a Fast Combat Support ship, an AOE. USS SUPPLY is a floating shopping center, complete with gas station, airport, grocery store, hardware store and gun shop. Her class of ship is nearly 250 meters long and 33 meters wide and capable of steaming at 30 plus knots.

 

She carries eight and one-half million gallons of fuel, both marine and aircraft, and enough food and general stores to provide services to an aircraft carrier and her accompanying escorts for fifteen days. She can service five cargo transfer or six fueling stations at one time from her deck and carries two CH46 ‘Sea Knight’ helicopters for airborne replenishment. She also carries the Navy’s first fully - integrated fiber optic internal communications suite to pass all information, communications, computer data and digitized video input and output down a single cable or backbone’. She is, quite literally, a fully modern sea-going shopping mall. And she is about to ‘replenish’ her biggest customer.

 

That customer, USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, is gliding off her left side, four nuclear reactors pushing her effortlessly at thirteen knots. Two giant steering motors move two 15-ton rudders in tandem, turning bare inches at a time making the adjustments necessary to keep her 350-meter length and 90,000-ton displacement in a position measured in bare meters during this maneuver. Three 21-man teams of crewmembers, selected from her 3500-sailor population, stand ready in her great hangar deck to begin the operation which will refill her refrigerators and pantries, provide the parts to repair ship and aircraft and load the 35 soda machines, 6 candy machines and 10 cigarette machines which provide limited ‘geedunk’ support to the crew. On her flight deck, yet another team of specialists will receive the airborne loads deposited by the twin-bladed general-purpose helicopters that have been providing these services since 1959.

 

Like a ballet at sea, day and night, seven days a week, rain or shine, a carefully choreographed Underway Replenishment operation is ready to begin.

 

* * *

 

The amplified blast of a police whistle blares from speakers mounted throughout the SUPPLY. Bare seconds later two other shrill blasts come from the carrier, followed by the nearly simultaneous ‘POP’ of the shot line projectors. Young sailors armed with especially modified shotguns, and highly trained in their task, have launched rubber-tipped plastic bottle-nosed projectiles trailing a thick orange string, from the hangar deck of the carrier toward the marked Conventional Replenishment (CONREP) stations on the AOE. These bottles rebound against the bulkheads of the SUPPLY and fall to the deck and are retrieved by members of each station team. First one member will pull the string, hand over hand, onto the deck of the receiving ship. Another team-mate will carefully coil this line for later return. Some 100 meters later the string is connected to a 1/4-inch light line, itself to be followed by a 1 inch right lay composite rope. This rope is fed through a pulley and wound around a motorized capstan to pull its greatly increasing weight. This final ‘messenger’ is responsible for bringing the ‘Rig’ aboard. Today, three stations race to see which can safely and quickly be the first to ‘tension up’.

 

* * *

 

Conventional Replenishment, or CONREP, has been practiced in the U.S. Navy since World War II. Practiced skill has enabled our battle fleets to remain at sea for months on end, never needing to enter port or break off an engagement due to a need for fuel, food, water or ammunition. Mail, missiles and movies are delivered. Toilet paper copy paper, waxed paper, repair parts and chicken parts all move in 4-foot cube-shaped ‘pallet-loads’ from one ship to another. In war-time, the operation is conducted while carriers launch and recover aircraft. Often conducted in the dead darkness of a moonless night at sea, the operation is choreographed by experienced officers of all professions and performed by the young sailors and old salts of our Navy. The old man lead those teams.

 

A great wire with an especially designed hook is winched aboard the receiving ship and ‘hooked up’ to a metal receiving station welded to the side of the ship at an UNREP station designed just for this purpose. When hooked up, the supply ship will engage powerful hydraulic pumps and pull this cable tight. It will ‘tension up’ the line. The cable will support a pressure of 9000 PSI to hold it tight and will pull and release as necessary as the ships drift closer or farther apart. The combined skill and experience of Captains, their officers and enlisted crew is needed to keep the ships from being drawn together by this tension, yet not allow them to drift apart.

 

Across this greased cable will travel a wheeled dolly and hook assembly. This assembly, controlled from a small glass enclosed booth by yet another sailor, as young as 19, will be used to carry these pallets of goods from giver to receiver. On a good day, a pallet a minute can be sent in a dance of netted boxes floating over the sea moving between the two giant ships.

 

* * *

 

Station SIX requests permission to tension, sir.” The Captain’s phone talker leans near the CO, seated in his vinyl covered chair on the port ‘wing’ of the SUPPLY.

 

Very well. First Lieutenant take tension on station SIX”

 

Aye aye, sir,” responds the grizzled former Bos’ns Mate, now the First Lieutenant or chief deck operations officer of the SUPPLY. “Bos’ns Mate of the Watch, Pass ‘Stand by to tension high line.’”

 

Aye aye sir.” Again, the feminine voice seemed strangely out of place. In a moment, “Stand by to tension spanwire.” passes into the air from the speakers throughout the ship. Team members and helmsman prepare for the pressure of the cable trying to pull the two metal giants together and to act to prevent any such catastrophe.
The singing of the pumps and winches of the Ram Tensioners draws the massive cable tight. “Station SIX tensioned, Captain, 9140 psi on Ram 6. Request permission to pass UNREP gear?” The First Lieutenant is now into his forte. His crews can demonstrate their skills and compete in the jobs they exist to perform. He still marvels that he has instant access to every pressure and gauge reading from the laptop computer on the bridge wing. It wasn’t like that when he was a bos’n third slinging cargo off Vietnam.

 

Stations TWO and TEN request permission to tension, Captain.”

 

Very well, permission granted. Talker, pass ‘well done’ to Station SIX. Seven minutes from shot line to tension. Good job First Lieutenant.”

 

Thank you, sir, I’ll pass it along to the Rig Captain.” The old Bos’n still remembered that compliments given him are the result of a team of white hats down below in the salt, cold and danger. “Station SIX talker, pass Bravo Zulu to Senior Chief Corey and his crew and tell them permission granted to pass UNREP gear. Stations TWO and TEN, permission granted to tension.”

 

Two young sailors, one male one female, one black one white, but both Navy Petty Officers experienced in phone procedures and the routine of UNREP, repeat the messages exactly as they were passed. They are a vital link in the critical communication process which makes this complex operation work. They are also the only remaining vestige of the old communications system in Supply. Only their sound powered phone circuits do not pass along the ultra-modern backbone of Supply’s KEEL network.

 

Conning Officer you’re drifting ahead. Make 106 revolutions for 12 1/2 knots until you’re 15 feet ahead of station, then return to 13 knots.” Regardless of the magnitude of the evolution, the endless task of training tomorrow’s Captains continues. This time Ensign Denise Willard, Supply’s Combat Information Center officer, has the CONN.

 

* * *

 

Any grizzled officer from World War I, World War II, Korea or Vietnam would be at home in the tradition of ship control. He might be dazzled by the modern communications or sensors, but the ‘driving’ of the ship hasn’t changed since the advent of steam as a propulsion force for ships.

 

Each ship is manned by a Watch. That watch is a triangle of responsibility and a Gordian knot of intertwined dependence. The success of each, the safety of the ship and their ability to perform their mission are dependent upon their ability to work as a team.

 

Immediate responsibility for direction of the ships speed and course rest with the Officer of the Deck (OOD). This officer, usually with at least a year’s experience on board, has been tested by the Commanding Officer. The CO must trust the OOD and have faith that his policies and judgment will be interpreted correctly and acted upon in a timely and determined manner. This officer is, at any moment, in control of all evolutions happening on board a naval vessel.

 

In direct training to be an OOD, or perhaps already qualified, but learning new skills, is the Conning Officer. This officer is responsible for the actual driving of the ship. In today’s sea environment, there is no time to ‘take your eyes off the road’. The officer with the CONN will spend a four-hour watch glancing at gyro-compass repeaters which give the course of the ship, the magnetic compass which gives a magnetic heading independent of the giant gyrocompass buried deep in the ship, looking at the wake to determine how well the helmsman is steering, checking the horizon for unseen ‘contacts’ and burying his or her head in the rubber covered radar repeaters. He or she will use computers to determine approach paths of other vessels and then check the computers with paper and pencil to keep ‘seamanship’ skills sharp, in the event power is lost to the computers. The CONN will give and receive the orders which direct the movement of the ship.

 

In charge of the enlisted watch is the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD). On large ships this is an OOD in training, or a staff officer, not eligible to take on the responsibility of ‘command.’ It may also be a senior enlisted member whom the CO feels has the professional and leadership qualifications to undertake this task. The JOOD oversees bridge communications, watch rotation, seeing that all logs and status boards are correctly updated and serves as information holder for the OOD. In Supply, the JOOD has the added responsibility of watching the KEEL board, the monitor screen which displays the critical readings of the ship’s operation, the vital signs if you will. The Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch (BMOW) works directly for the JOOD.

 

The BMOW directs the training and performance of the deck watch, the Helmsman, Lee Helm, Messenger of the Watch, lookouts and Status Board recorders. These sailors, from all non-engineering divisions of the ship, are the direct descendants of the sailors who stood on the quarterdecks of our Men-of-War steering ships into battle or storm by lamplight in the open air.

 

During an UNREP, there are twice as many personnel, including relief helmsmen, additional lookouts, safety observers and ‘talkers’, as well as UNREP specific personnel from the Supply, Air, Engineering and Deck departments all gathered in this heart of the ship. Anything less than disciplined order would lead to chaos and, perhaps, disaster.

 

* * *

 

The jerky motion of the UNREP rig as it passes across Station SIX does not pass the notice of either First Lieutenant or CO. As the First Lieutenant heads for the Station talker, he sees the growing frown on the face of the Captain.

 

Damn! Station SIX, take a constant strain on that line. Keep the slack out or we’ll part the messenger.” If the motion of the ship can whip the line, it would break. The least danger would be delay, the greatest would be a possible injury as a tightened line whips back onto the deck. The First Lieutenant grabs the radio at his belt. “Corey...what the hell are you doing? It looks like you’re playing jump rope. If that messenger loops over the hook, we’re going to play hell getting that rig across.”

 

Roger, First. One of my crew let a loop overlap on the capstan. We had to slip the Capstan and straighten it out.”

 

Who in the hell fucked that up?”

 

I’ve got it First. He’ll be doing EMI for a while before he gets back at capstan controls.”

 

Unscrew it Corey. I don’t need the old man on my ass this early in a carrier hit!” He holstered his radio and half ran back to the wing to see if the Station Officer did, indeed, have the situation under control. What he couldn’t hear was transmitted by what he could see. The big Chief Petty Officer in the white hardhat of ‘Safety Officer’ was pointing and yelling at his crew. He then turned and had a brief, but obviously intense, exchange with a young ‘red hat’ whose shoulders sagged. The young sailor took a place in front of a line of others heaving around on the messenger which was now feeding smoothly from the Capstan. ‘Good man, Corey,’ he thought. The Chief had defended his right to discipline his own personnel but had told his superior who the offender was by naming his position. This Chief knew how to do it. He’d work out, fine. “Bos’n’ of the Watch, call Bos’n Marion and have him report to the bridge.”

 

The wheeled dolly neared its housing on the side of the carrier. It’s being seated and ready to work was transmitted more by a change in the movements of the crewmember with the ‘paddles’ than by either radio or sound powered phone.

 

* * *

 

The procedures of UNREP were developed before dependable short-range radios were available. They were developed to be used under combat conditions, often between damaged or disabled ships. Visual contact might well be the only communication means available. Therefore, each rig crew had a ‘paddle man’ with a large paddle, a square piece of wood, metal or fiberglass painted red on one side and green on the other. The movement of this paddle, up and down, side to side, in a circle or at a dead stop and the color displayed to the other ship would communicate every needed message to perform the CONREP job. At night, the motions of the paddle man were distinct in the dull orange light of each station. The sailor in each control booth kept his eyes on the paddle man opposite him.

 

* * *

 

What’s the status First?”

 

Captain, Station SIX is ready to pass dummy load to center the rig. Stations TWO and TEN are passing rigs. Estimate 3 minutes before all three stations are in position.”

 

Very well. ‘Chop’ you ready to pass cargo?”

 

Commander Ellis stepped forward. “Aye aye, sir. Billing package is on the first lift at station TWO, along with the Picnic Pak’.” Each supply ship traditionally passed some memento across to the receiving ship. One ship might pass donuts, another freshly made pizza. But in any one cruise, the competition was stiff to see who would pass the most unique. These mementos were expected, and once received, rushed to the bridge and the receiving CO. Supply always sent a cardboard box with fruit, sandwiches and a special dessert; enough for the standard UNREP bridge watch.

 

Very well.” The captain reached for his sound powered phone. hooked into the bridge to bridge circuit. “Captain, we are ready to pass cargo. Are you ready to receive?”

 

Let’s get to it, Captain. Plane Guard is in the air and my Air Boss is already impatient to have his flight deck back.”

 

Is that Willie Milton?”

 

That’s a Rog...old ‘Gas Bag’ himself.”

 

Tell Gas Bag to hold his water. We’re good. Tell your hangar deck to tighten up their flight gear. We’re going to toss him cargo faster than he can down a six pack of San Miguel.” With that the CO, replaced his phone handset and sat back in his chair. He simply glanced at the First Lieutenant. “Conning Officer make 112 revolutions for 13 knots. ENS Willard, keep a closer eye on the station marker. Don’t let the ship get behind your seaman’s eye.

 

Aye aye, sir. Make 112 revolutions for 13 knots.”

 

The Lee helmsman, keeper of the ‘gas pedal’, the Engine Order Telegraph, parroted back. “Make 112 revolutions for 13 knots, aye sir. .uh ma’am.” The speed change is cranked into the device, transmitted to the engineer below and transformed into additional revolutions of the two 14-foot bronze propellers. When the revolutions counter on the twin shafts match the order, the numbers are repeated to the bridge. “Making 112 revolutions for 13 knots, Sir...uh, Ma’am.

 

On the bridge wing, the First Lieutenant takes the glance from the CO. “Station SIX, commence CONREP. Stations TWO and TEN...get HOT’ Bos’ns Mate. Commence CONREP.”

 

Station SIX, Bridge. Commence CONREP.” echoes the station talker, “Stations TWO and TEN, Bridge. First Lieutenant sends GET HOT!”

 

Aye aye, Sir” repeated BM1 Carrier. She strode to the microphone behind the helmsman, keyed it and added one final message to the UNREP litany.

 

On board SUPPLY. USS SUPPLY is commencing CONREP operations with USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN. All hands stand clear of CONREP operations port side. Stand clear of all cargo handling operations, forklifts, elevators and ram tensioners. All hands not involved in CONREP stand clear.”

 

~~ * ~~

 

Dammit” The ringing phone finally broke through the dark thoughts. The officer grabbed the heavy handset, pressed the button which kept it clamped to the phone body and growled into it. “Marion! “.

 

Bos’n? Bos’n of the Watch. First Lieutenant wants you on the bridge.”

 

Shit!” Marion caught himself. “Sorry, boats. Not your fault.” The identity of the voice on the phone came to his consciousness. “MaryEllen? What are you doing on watch?”

 

We’re at UNREP stations, Bos’n. This is my UNREP watch. You know that.” The voice dropped several levels to a phone whisper. “Jim, what’s wrong? You weren’t in the STREAM shop for UNREP. Chief Corey covered for you, but...”

 

Dammit!” He cut her off. “Tell First I’ll be right there. Thanks, BM1..., for covering me. I fell asleep. I didn’t sleep much last night. I guess I nodded off.” He hung up the phone and stepped to the stainless-steel sink in his stateroom. A quick splash of lukewarm water on his face, a glance to see that there were no tattletales of his brief nap and he slammed his hardhat on his head and dashed out the door.

 

On the bridge, BM3 Carrier replaced the phone and returned to her duties. Her thoughts briefly troubled. ‘I’ll bet you didn’t sleep after I told you. Damn, we sure fucked this up.’

 

* * *

 

Bos’n Marion walked casually through the door from CIC onto the bridge. “BM3 Carrier. Status”

 

Station SIX moving cargo, Stations TWO and TEN tensioning up. First Looey is on the port wing, sir. Corey … uh, Chief Corey had a problem with one of the rig men on SIX, but got it unscrewed.” Her eyes locked on his, seeking...

 

Okay, Carrier, thanks.” His gaze locked on hers, then, he smiled and gave her a wink, before striding behind the helmsman and lee helmsman to the bridge wing.

 

* * *

 

You want me First?”

 

Where you been, Mary? We damn near screwed the pooch on SIX and the two other stations are slower’n a Snipe on his way to the shower.” The deck officer took every opportunity to tweak the ‘snipes’ or engineers. It was a part of the good-natured banter which had melded the wardroom of Supply into a tight knit team.

 

I was above TEN checking a low RAM pressure.”

 

Yeah, ... okay, get down to after cargo and get TEN moving. I don’t think BM1 Terry has the bubble, yet.”

 

Yes, sir.” Before he turned to go, their eyes touched just a moment too long. Marion knew that the First Lieutenant had caught his lie. The Bos’n slid down the hand rails of the port bridge ladder on his way aft.

 

* * *

 

One of the, from Bos’n Marion’s viewpoint at this moment, less desirable assets of the KEEL system’s immediate display of all readings on the bridge was that the First Lieutenant had been monitoring all RAM pressures on the bridge wing laptop monitor. He knew there had been no low pressure reading on station TEN. What he didn’t know was the reason for the lie. But, he knew he didn’t like it.

 

The voice of the COs phone talker returned his concentration to the issue at hand. “Stations TWO and TEN ready to pass cargo, Captain.”

 

Very well.”

 

* * *

 

The Combat Logistics Underway Replenishment Monitoring Network, is the backbone of SUPPLY’s ability to monitor her mission performance. The backbone of any ship is its keel. Thus, KEEL had been adopted as the common name for the complex pervasive system installed in the AOE6 class. To the Navy Storekeeper of even just a few years ago, KEEL would be science fiction. Today, it monitors nearly every event which might have an impact on the movement of cargo, fuel or food between ships.

 

The backbone of KEEL, itself, is a fiber-optic cable running in two parallel loops from stem to stern and signal bridge to her massive twin propeller shafts. Four UNIX network servers run a network which provides for the sharing, manipulation and heuristic interpretation communications, engineering and logistics information. From sensors monitoring shaft speed, tank levels and RAM tension pressure to cordless bar-code readers, KEEL keeps track of the ship’s vital systems.

 

Every supply item loaded onboard Supply is bar-coded. More than 99 percent of all items in the Defense Supply System have been bar-coded for 10 years. Those which come from private or foreign vendors, including the fresh fruits and vegetables loaded for transshipment have unique coded tags assigned as the material is received. KEEL has logged in and performed inventory tasks on each item long before it arrives at its assigned bin, shelf or refrigerator. Storekeepers and their helpers scan the codes as pallets and corrugated tri-wall containers are filled. Each pallet, lift or tri-wall is assigned a unique coded number related to the specific replenishment. In theory, and nearly always in practice, any item transferred can be tracked to the date, time, storekeeper, pallet and lift number.

 

All this information is summarized and instantly updated by the high-speed servers. The relevant data is displayed on liquid crystal display units on the bridge, bridge-wings, cargo and cargo fuel control offices, main engineering control, Combat Information Center and on the flight deck. Officers and others in positions of responsibility have instantaneous information at their fingertips. How many pallets transferred at what station, how heavy a lift under which helicopter and for which ship, how many barrels of fuel pumped, how fast the ship is moving in what direction and in what relation to the ships alongside and estimates of how much longer before the evolution is over are, but examples of the information displayed. The CO, OOD, CHENG and Helo Control Officer (HCO) all have at their availability a window-in window digitalized video image of what is happening in the evolution. The CO can view the movement of cargo from within the cargo handling deck and ‘click’ a view of the flight deck. Video images and information are recorded on Direct Access Storage Devices (DASD) for history or critical review and training -- a ‘HOT WASH-UP’ in Navy parlance.

 

There is no precedent for this type of instantaneous management information anywhere in the Navy. Each bit of information is gathered as it occurs, at its source, and is aggregated into management information by a system of heuristic programs designed by a committee of users, captains, supply officers, storekeepers and pilots. These individual collections of information aggregate into the knowledge required to safely, efficiently and effectively replenish the warships of the Navy.

 

So, when CWO Marion created his ‘white lie’ about working a RAM tension problem, he risked discovery at the hands of KEEL. Fortunately for him, the Captain, was not looking at the Port Bridge wing KEEL Board CONREP display during the early moments of the evolution. His eye was turned on ENS Willard’s inability to keep station. She did not share Warrant Officer Marion’s luck. A small laser mounted on the bridge weather bulkhead near the CO’s chair was trained toward and locked onto a receiver beneath the bridge of any ship alongside. It can note departures from ‘predetermined’ station-keeping of as little as 5 feet. Position was displayed both graphically and digitally on the OWNSHIP Window of the KEEL Board. In fact, one new module of the system was designed to hold station in automatic, but, except for tests and trials, the CO did not wish to lose the valuable training available to his officers. ‘I don’t care how good the computers are Chop, no damn machine is going to drive my ship.” The automatic station keeper was disabled. Unfortunately, ENS Willard’s ‘seaman’s eye’ was not quite that good and she routinely risked the Executive Officer’s sharp counseling and the Captain’s wrath for ‘sloppy’ station keeping.

 

The same laser which keep track of the ship’s position transmitted an executive summary of the events to the bridge of the ship’s alongside; keeping the receiving skipper apprised of the same how manys and how muchs and how longs. It also provided the two-way communications link between bridges. This laser communicator reduced the amount of radio transmissions and noise on the bridge as well as reducing the number of people passing information and the time required to both pass and process it; an asset in both routine or combat scenarios. It would not replace the Phone and Distance line passed as part of the traditional UNREP operation, as prescribed in long-standing operating procedures, but it was depended upon more than the traditionalists liked to admit. Old habits die hard.

 

* * *

 

Cargo moving all right Terry?”

 

Yeah, Bos’n. We’ve already moved 10 double lifts and are moving a lift every 2 minutes. I’ve got DT3 Benjamin up in the control shack. He’s got a good feel for the rig. Best I’ve ever had. Too bad he’s a Dental Tech.”

 

Hmph! Okay. Don’t let it slip any. The skipper must be trying to impress his ‘brown shoe’ buddies on the ABE. He’s up there chewing on the First Lieutenant every time he sees a rig pause.”

 

The next question that he intended to ask did not get vocalized, as a helicopter with cargo load swinging beneath it side slipped from the flight deck, a bare 100 feet aft of station 10. The heavy thrum of its loaded engines drowned out all possible sound as it transitioned to flight and lifted away and astern to swing into the pattern to deposit its load on the carrier’s flight deck. The noise diminished.

 

How are the hand-helds working?” The reference was to a new set of bar-code scanners being used to scan the pallet and lift number on station. There had been problems with the information transmission from earlier hardware being interfered with by static and electromagnetic interference caused by all the unshielded electric motors in use near the station.

 

The new ones appear to be working Okay. S1 (Stock Control) and CCC (Cargo Control Center) haven’t called down once for a retransmit. I guess the new shielded units and receiver stations on the gunwale fixed the problem.”

 

We’ll see at the ‘hot wash’. I just hope the pallet counts match. Keep ‘em singing.”

 

Rog.” The petty officer in the white hardhat of safety observer turned his full attention back to the cargo choreography at his station.

 

Marion walked ducked under the singing spanwire as he keyed his radio microphone. “First Lieutenant, Bos’n. Station 10 operating 4.0.” Two clicks in his earphone were all he would receive as confirmation that his status message had been received by his boss. He headed forward toward stations 6 and 2. For the moment at least, the adrenaline rush of an UNREP replacing the sleep robbing memory of his brief passageway conversation of the evening before.

 

* * *

 

- The Night Before -

 

The orange lights cast an eerie loom on the silent deck. Cargo for the early morning evolution was staged in packed double rows of pallets. Brightly reflective strips of ‘avastrap’, a polystrap used to tightly secure the boxes and bags from shifting as they were lifted, outlined each pallet. Fork trucks were parked at their charging stations, heavy cables attached to the heavy-duty battery chargers, stiff tie-down chains securely holding the rolling cargo equipment against ships motion. Marion glanced at his watch again, holding it close to his face in the dull light.

 

Bos’n?” The feminine voice was soft, but near.

 

Yeah, BM1.” Marion looked around, but couldn’t see the source of the voice, or, more importantly, anyone else. “It’s Okay. Where are you?” The owner of the voice stepped from the shadows between two pallets. “You must be nuts. What was so important?” Marion’s voice was concerned but insistent.

 

I’m sorry, but I really needed to talk with you ... alone. I couldn’t chance coming to your stateroom and you weren’t in the office any time I stopped. I left you a sticky asking you to find me.”

 

We’re all a little busy on the day before a carrier hit. I haven’t been there all day. Now, what’s so all fired important.”

 

I ... uh ... aw shit. Jim, my period’s late.”

 

What do you mean ... late? How late?”

 

Six weeks.”

 

Six weeks? Jesus, MaryEllen ...” His voice rose and echoed through the large room.

 

She cut him off with a harsh whisper. “Jim, keep it down. I can’t go to Doc. You know what would....”

 

The heavy clank of the water tight door at the near end of the passageway opened and the Sounding and Security Watch stepped through. Carrier stepped quickly back into the shadows and Bos’n Marion walked toward the young non-rated engineer charged with measuring all tanks in addition to looking for leaks and fires. This one was a young female Fireman Apprentice that he hadn’t seen before. The two passed and exchanged greetings. The Bos’n knew that she would go forward to the next ladder down, walk down the four ladders to check the refrigerator temperatures and then walk back up. He couldn’t wait there for her to continue her rounds. It would take nearly 15 minutes for the watch to check everything that needed checking and verification on the large open passageway.

 

Carrier?”, he whispered. He listened but heard nothing but his own heartbeat. “I can’t hang around here. I’ll find you later. Sorry. I forgot about the watch.” Marion stepped through the door from which the watch had come and swung the locking handle down with a dull clang. Without much thought as to where he was going, he found himself at the door to the stateroom that he shared with the electrical officer. The room was empty, his roommate was on watch in Main Control. Without even removing his jacket or shoes, he lay on his bunk and stared up at the base of the bed over his.

 

Shit!”

 

 

 

- The Present –

 

Captain. My Supply Officer estimates that we are 40% complete.”

 

Good. It won’t make Gas Bag happy, but at least he’ll know.” There was a pause. “Think we’ll be done by 1400?”

 

I never make guesses about the length of an UNREP, Captain. That’s a guaranteed delay.” He heard a chuckle on the other end of the sound powered phone line. “But, I’ll as the RAS team to put a few extra turns on.”

 

I’d be grateful, Dick, and old Gas Bag just may not shit a brick if he gets his deck back in time to launch and recover before dark.”

 

What? Your flyboys afraid of the dark?”

 

Nope. But, they are afraid of denting one of Gas Bag’s toys.”

 

There’s a reason Navy Aviators wear brown shoes, I guess.”

 

Rog. Out.”

 

The banter between aviators over, the captain replaced the handset in its cradle. “First Lieutenant see if you can light a fire under the teams. Maybe a special liberty in Naples?”

 

Roger, Skipper. But, I won’t push them past safety limits.”

 

The captain frowned. “Just push them TO the limit, then.”

 

The First Lieutenant’s ‘Aye Ay, Captain’, was less than enthusiastic.

 

~~ * ~~

 

CWO3 Marion stepped onto the bridge wing. “You sent for me, sir?”

 

Yeah. Bos’n, the skipper wants to get this done. He’s offering a special liberty pass in Naples, to the team that finishes first.”

 

That’s not a good idea, sir.”

 

The First Lieutenant’s head swiveled. “I know, but ours is not to reason why …”

 

Marion looked around. “BM1, come here, please.” BM1 Carrier walked over. She acknowledged the First Lieutenant and then addressed the Bos’n. “Yes, sir.”

 

BM1, please witness that I’m officially acknowledging an order to speed up the UNREP over my objections – despite safety concerns.”

 

The Petty Officer looked at both officers. She saw Bos’n Marion raise his eyebrows in search of the only possible response. “Yes, sir. Is that all?

 

Yes. Return to your duties.” The BM1 saluted and turned back into the bridge.

 

Was that necessary, Jim?”

 

Shit rolls downhill, sir. BM1 Carrier is my toilet paper if this goes south. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll see if I can move things along.” He stepped to the side to go around the First Lieutenant and into the bridge.

 

Bos’n. Sometimes, doing your duty sucks.”

 

The response was correct, but cool. “Yes, sir.” He walked to the helm where Carrier stood behind he helmsman, giving the BM3 guidance on holding station ‘a thought ahead’ of the Conning Officer. “BM1. Who would relieve you as UNREP BMOW (Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch)?”

 

Sir?” The question was so unusual that she just stared.

 

I need you on Station 10. Terry’s a good man, but we’ve been ordered to go, for all intents and purposes, to Combat UNREP speed. He doesn’t have the experience to see shit coming at that speed and to fix it before shit happens.” He paused and looked into the woman’s eyes. “You do. Now, call your relief. When you’re relieved, inform the OOD that I’ve directed you to assume control of Station 10. I’ll tell the First Lieutenant and then Terry. I’ll tell him that it’s not anything he did. He’ll stand by and learn from you.”

 

Uh, Okay.” She caught herself. Then she looked into his eyes. “Yes, sir.” She turned to the Messenger of the Watch. “Seaman. Go down to the RAS shop and tell BM2 Dayton to come up to relieve me.”

 

Ten minutes later, the KEEL display showed 48% complete and a 12% increase in rate of transfer. Marion could see that his crews were doing what sailors had always done when a prize was at stake; rising to the challenge. He saw BM1 Carrier at Station 10, or he saw her white hardhat, at least, distinctive with a First Class Petty Officer rating decal displaying the gold hashmarks of good conduct. A flash of concern passed into his thoughts before being overridden by a glance at Station 6.

 

He picked up his radio. “Station 6, I see a lot of trash on the station. It’s still an hour before ‘sweepers’, so keep it clean down there.” Two clicks of acknowledgement were his only response. Sweepers are designated times during each day when the entire ship is swept, and all trash collected. A few moments later the Bos’n saw the last crewman in line dispatched to pick up the pieces of AVASTRAP and paper swirling along the gunwale.

 

Is it going okay, Bos’n?”

 

Marion turned to see the First Lieutenant at his shoulder. He stopped the first visceral response and replied, “They’re doing fine, if a bit sloppy. I’m just worried about that one momentary lapse.”

 

The First Lieutenant put his hand on the Bos’n’s shoulder. “You trained em, Jim. I trust you. And, the CO wouldn’t have asked you speed it up if he didn’t think his ship could do it.

 

Sure.” His glance slid back to Station 10. “What the ...?”

 

What Marion had seen was also the immediate concern of BM1 Carrier. The fork truck driver, moving faster than normal had set the next load down before his truck was fully stopped. The netting had grabbed on the non-skid decking, but the pallet had continued to move, putting the bridle (the metal loop to which the hook would attach) off center.

 

He keyed his radio “Station 10, Bos’n. Your lift it off center!”

 

He saw Carrier put her finger to her ear to listen, but the sailor tending the load hooked the bridle around the hook and jumped clear. DT3 Benjamin, excited that his station was ahead by two loads, pulled the lift up before receiving the okay from Carrier. He started it on its journey across the moving sea toward the Lincoln.

 

As the load reached the midpoint of the stretched cable, the load shifted, tumbling from the pallet, but remaining within the net.

 

Dammit!”

 

Benjamin saw the shift and overreacted, stopping it.

 

The voice of the Captain echoed on the bridge. “First! What’s going on at 10?” He had left his chair and was leaning over the rail of the flying bridge. The helmsman, distracted by the Captain’s shout and the First Lieutenant running from the phone to the wing, let his right hand pull down a hair. The bow of the Supply drifted imperceptibly to the right as the huge rudder turned a half of a degree in response.

 

Mind your helm!” shouted Ensign Willard, who saw the phone and distance line stretch in response to the course change. At the same moment, a high RAM pressure alarm sounded from the stretched spanwire at Station 2.

 

The OOD rushed onto the bridge in response to the alarm “Ensign Willard, what kind of watch are you running?” The helmsman turned the rudder back to correct the error, the stern swinging gently away to bring the bow back in. But his correction was too large and too quick. The Station 10 RAM pressure alarm sounded.

 

At Station 10 BM1 Carrier wasn’t concerned with the movement of the ship. Her concern was the unbalanced load dangling, stopped, near the center of its travel. It became her concern when the movement of the bow outward, caused the load to dip to the sea. It struck the water at 13 knots and was flipped over the spanwire, a mess called a bird’s nest. She grabbed her radio. “Bridge. Station 10. We have a bird’s nest. The load is jammed.”

 

Dammit! BM1, I’m on my way down. Have your operator hold tension, but don’t try to move the load.” He ran from the wing, shouting over his shoulder. “First, 10 is fouled. I’m going down.” Not waiting for a reply, he slid down the ladder (stairway) and began running to the rear of the ship and the problem. The that moment, the overcorrection by the helmsman caused the cable to fray and part at the point where it had flipped over itself and twisted.

 

Everyone saw it, heard it and felt it. A puff of combined condensation, sea water and lubricating grease formed a four-foot cloud at the point where the cargo net was tangled around the spanwire. A loud bang resounded between the ships and the stern shuddered and jerked as the tension holding the ships together suddenly disappeared.

 

As happens in all disasters, time stretched out. Released from the pressure holding it taught, the spanwire retracted like a snapped rubber band. The load at Station 10 sagged, hit the water again and snapping the lines pulling it across, fell into the sea. The flailing remnants of the huge wire recoiled and whipped across Station 10. It hit the glass of the control booth, showering DT3 Benjamin with shards of glass, but leaving him, otherwise, unharmed. The giant greased snake knocked the Station team over like so many bowling pins, slamming them against the metal bulkhead (wall) of the ship as it lost its kinetic force. In a final death throe before settling in the water along the hull, it bounced off the bulkhead, slammed BM1 Carrier against the gunwale and swept her into the sea.

 

DT3 Benjamin, despite the blood beginning to run down his face from the knife-sharp glass, reacted, instantaneously, to his training and keyed his phone. “Man overboard, port side!”

 

BM2 Dayton, Carrier’s relief on the bridge, didn’t ask for a repeat. He keyed the 1MC loudspeakers and hit the alarm simultaneously. “Man overboard, Portside, USS Supply!”

 

The Captain picked up his handset. “Captain, we’ve got a man overboard.”

 

I heard. I’ve already told the Air Boss to send the plane guard. You want to break away?”

 

The captain looked at his First Lieutenant. “No, sir. It would take too long to do any good, especially trailing that cable. Until we reel it in, I don’t want to risk it tangling in the screws.”

 

The captain nodded and spoke into the handset. “No, sir. We’ll continue at two stations and VERTREP.”

 

Roger. I’ll have the pilot keep your tower informed. We’ll get him back, Dick.”

 

I know you will.” He put the handset back. He looked at the First Lieutenant. “Do we know who went over?”

 

The Deck Officer held his hand to his earpiece and held a hand in the air. “You sure, Jim?” His face fell. “Roger. The carrier has sent the plane guard back. You take charge of that mess.” He leaned into the bridge. “Bos’n call away medical emergency at station 10, multiple injuries.”

 

He turned back to the Captain. His face was drawn and white. “BM1 Carrier is over the side, sir. We’ve got a whole team down; slammed against the bulkhead by the wire when it snapped.” As he was reporting to the captain, the 1MC sounded.

 

Medical Emergency, Station 10. All hands not involved stand clear. Medical Emergency Station 10, multiple casualties. GQ stretcher bearers stand by to assist.”

 

Bridge Aye” The lookout talker held his hand to his earphones. “Bridge Aye. Captain, after lookout has the sailor in sight. He threw a buoy over the stern along with smoke marker and is keeping eyes on with his binoculars.”

 

The sound of the Lincoln’s 1MC sounded. “Medical Emergency on USS Supply. Lincoln medical teams stand by to received wounded on the flight deck.”

 

The CH46 VERTREP helicopters, ordered to hover until the rescue helicopter was clear, now continued to deliver their loads. But, on the Supply’s flight deck, were gathering emergency personnel, marked on their white rescue jackets with a red cross.

 

What do we have … Holy Christ!” Jim looked up and saw HMCS (Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman) Jasmine Deplane bending over the nearest fallen sailor. “Corpsman! I need”, she looked up and quickly looked at the scene, “eight stokes with stretcher bearers.” The Independent Duty Corpsman, senior enlisted member of the Supply medical team, keyed her radio. “Sickbay, Deplane. I’ve got 8 sailors down with serious leg and trunk trauma including multiple breaks. I’m sending walking wounded under escort to you. Most of these appear bad enough that they’ll need MedEvac (Medical Evacuation) so I’ll stabilize and send them to the flight deck for transport. Acknowledge.” She listened for a moment. “No, sir. You stay there. I don’t need a doctor here. I’ve got the scene. You’re going to need X-Ray and a shitload of splints. I don’t know the extent of internal organ damage until I can get this UNREP gear off them.” She paused. “Roger. Out.”

 

Behind her, Marion was directing a fork truck piled high with Stokes stretchers. It was followed by a collection of sailors, the stretcher bearers from the ship’s General Quarters assignments. “What do you need from me, Doc?” All corpsman, irrespective of rank, are addressed as ‘doc’.

 

She looked up and swept her gaze to an HM2 that had just arrived. “You, Mason. Organize those bearers into teams. As I finish my triage, you get them secured and, on their way, to either Sick Bay or the Flight Deck.”

 

Roger.” The HM2 ducked back behind the fork truck.

 

Bos’n, I need this mess cleared. Can you get rid of the cable and lines before someone trips and I have another patient?

 

Done! Oh, check out DT3 in the booth. I don’t know if he got glass in his eyes or not.” Marion spoke into his radio. Station 6. Station 2. Bos’n Marion at Station 10. I need three riggers from each station sent to Station 10. Out!”

 

The HMCS looked up and then glanced at the booth. “He’s next.” She keyed her radio. “Sick Bay. Deplane. Possible eye injuries times one. If I confirm, I will MedEvac. If it’s not serious, I’ll have him brought to you. Out.” She returned to putting a temporary split on the thigh bone bent at an unnatural angle; the young sailor screaming in pain as she moved his leg. “Easy, Markham. It’s gotta hurt like hell, but so does childbirth.”

 

Fuck that. It hurts. And, I hope I never have a baby.”

 

The woman laughed. “If you do, guy. Call me. I’ll assist, just before I call the press.” She twisted her head. “Mason. Take him.” The Senior Chief stood and jumped over two other sailors to get to the control booth.

 

Above and behind them, the thrum of the CH46s continued. Jim looked up but could only see the rescue helicopter sweep behind the Supply and out of his sight. Then, he was interrupted by the arrival of the Station 6 riggers. “Chief, I asked for riggers, not the station safety observer.”

 

My guys have to it Bos’n and you need a real rigger.”

 

Marion sighed, knowing that the Leading Chief in charge of the RAS shop was right. “Okay, Mike. I need you to put a slip line on what’s left of the spanwire and take a strain around the capstan. Once the weight is off, cut it loose and slowly let it over the side. When it’s all in the water, cut the slip line. But, warn us first. I don’t need more injuries from flailing lines.

 

Got it.” The Chief Boatswains Mate began barking orders to the five, Station 2 riggers had arrived, sailors and ignored Marion, who had stepped forward of the incident to report.

 

Bridge, Bos’n. Senior Chief Deplane is handling the injuries. No dead, but they’re hurt bad. We’re rigging the spanwire to cut it loose. When I’m ready, I’ll let you know. Keep a watch on the prop when I do. If it fouls, we’ll have to feather the screw.”

 

The Captain grabbed the radio. “If it fouls, Bos’n, we’re all screwed. We’ve still got two lines tensioned and cargo in the air.”

 

Marion looked forward and saw pallets moving toward he aircraft carrier. “I know, Captain. And I know you’d have to use explosive charges to blow the lines and do a crash stop. I won’t let that happen.”

 

The Captain took a deep breath. “I know, Marion. I’m just a bit jumpy about my ship.”

 

Our ship, sir. Marion out.”

 

Aboard the H3 Helicopter searching for a sailor in the frothing wake of the Supply, the Rescue Swimmer, an enlisted sailor trained in open water rescue, saw the red stain and smoke plume. “Pilot, swimmer in the water, left side amidships, about 300 yards. Smoke and dye in the water. I can’t see the swimmer, yet. Can you swing around so that I keep the stain in sight?”

 

You bet, McKnight. Ready to get wet?”

 

You know I love my salt water, boss. I’m thinking a two and half back jackknife.”

 

No points.” The aircraft was moving in on the red stain. “See anything yet?”

 

His aircrewman answered. “Not yet.” There was a pause. “Yes. Got him. Just to the left of the stain. Face up. No movement.”

 

Ya gotta love the salt water inflators on those things.” The pilot was referring to a device that inflated the lifejacket when submerged in salt water, in cases where the person in the water was unable to pull the inflation lanyard.

 

The crewman leaned out the door. “Rog. Slip left fifty.” The helicopter stopped and began to slide left. “Twenty … Ten … Perch!” The pilot, now unable to see Carrier in the water, moved the helicopter left in small movements as prompted by the crewman until it hovered ten yards from the unmoving sailor in the water and fifteen feet above the sea.

 

The crewman tossed a two man raft out the hatch. “Raft Away.” The bundle, although buffeted by the rotor wash, the downdraft wind of the helicopter, landed thirty feet from Carrier. Its own salt water inflator activated and, with an unheard pop, inflated. “Swimmer Away.” The Rescue Swimmer dropped from the door into the water. The pilot moved away until he had the rescue swimmer in sight.

 

The swimmer moved toward the raft until he could grab the line dangling in the water. He clipped it to his harness and swam toward Carrier. He wore a water-resistant headset. “Eagle Rescue, Rescue swimmer. I’ve got the swimmer in the water. She’s unconscious but breathing. I can see a bit of blood in her mouth but can’t tell injuries. I’m not going to be able to get her into the raft. Send down the Stokes.”

 

Did you say ‘she’, Rescue?”

 

Rog. When I put my arm under hers, I could feel her, uh. anatomy Well, he’s a she, sir.”

 

Right. Stokes coming down. Crew?”

 

Already out the door, sir.” The stokes stretcher with foam flotation tubes, like swimmy worms, attached dangled on the end of the hoist. “Left 15 sir.” He pressed the button to lower the stokes. “Five. Perch!”

 

Despite having practiced the maneuver, the rescue swimmer struggled to scoop the unconscious sailor into the wire basket. “Take her up. I’ll wait in the raft. She needs to get to Sick Bay yesterday. Her legs look really bad, sir.”

 

Rescue Swimmer, Lincoln Medical. We’ve heard all and are standing by. Well done.”

 

Marion, watching the line pull the heavy spanwire up to disconnect it from the ship, heard his headset crackle. “Marion. First Lieutenant. Carrier is alive. The plane guard has picked her up. She’s on her way to the Lincoln.”

 

How, bad …”

 

I don’t know anything else, Jim. Just get us free of that spanwire. We’re almost done, and the Captain is getting jumpy.”

 

Aye aye, sir.” He saw the H3 appear behind the tethered ships and swing around to approach the flight deck from the stern. He saw the stokes stretcher dangling from the hoist but balanced on the lip of the door.

 

Bos’n, I’m ready to detach the spanwire.” He jerked and returned to his own task. He saw that the spanwire had enough slack to loosen.

 

Take off the shackle.” He keyed his radio. “Bridge, Bos’n. We’re loosening the shackle on station 10 spanwire. Will advise when we cut it loose.”

 

Roger.”

 

On board Lincoln. Stand by to receive casualties on the flight deck. Unnecessary personnel stand clear.”

 

He looked aft again and saw one of the Supply’s CH46 helicopters lift off with no cargo and swing to follow the CH46 to the flight deck.

 

Shackle clear.”

 

Marion keyed his radio. “Bridge. I’m cutting the spanwire clear in one minute. I’ll count down from ten.” He spoke to the BMC. Reel it out, Mike. When the bitter end hits the water, hold fast and I’ll count down from ten. On one, cut the line at the gunwale. Keep out of the way.”

 

The Chief Boatswains Mate smiled. “Not my first rodeo, Bos’n. Slacking.”

 

The heavy wire rope began to fall away from the ship, held by the thick rope tied to it. When the eye, or attachment point, disappeared into the foaming sea, Marion keyed his radio. “Bridge, Bos’n. Spanwire wet, cutting loose in 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 …”

 

The BMC stepped to the side of the ship, beyond the line straining over the side. He knew that, when cut, it would fly forward before whipping back. He raised a fire axe and watched Marion’s hand.

 

2 … 1!” The axe fell, the line burst apart and the BMC stepped back to safety. “Spanwire free” He waited. He estimated it would take less than 5 seconds for the broke wire to sink behind and below the ship.

 

At ten seconds, his radio crackled. “Station 10. Bridge. Main Control reports no change in revolutions. After Steering reports no noises of fouling. Well done.”

 

Marion leaned against the side of the ship and took a deep breath before moving forward to Station 6. They were still at UNREP stations and he had a job to do. He’d worry about Carrier later. At least, she was safe.

 

~~ * ~~

 

That was quite an UNREP, wasn’t it, honey?” The old man looked away from the photograph, returning to the present. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

 

He looked at his wife of twenty-one years. Her hair was showing a few silvery wisps and her eyes, still sparkling, showed an addition wrinkle or two. She held out her hand to him. He took it and they turned toward the kitchen. The lifelike foot on her artificial left leg peeked from the leg of her jeans.

 

He kissed her cheek. “Just another day at sea, MaryEllen. Just another routine day in the office.”