Ripple Effects

Way back when – in April – I had a bit of a trend going of discussing things related to why the Navy is what it is, where things stack up in the world, and all the rest. But then a bunch of things popped up, like a trip to Paris, family being here in-country, an actual war (you know, ’cause they just sorta happen sometimes) – um, so I lost track.

It's time-consuming

It’s time-consuming

Let’s get back on it.

Question: Why are people so obsessive about shipbuilding plans?

Answer: Because ships take a long time to build!

Let’s examine the USS Ramage, a ship I’ll pick simply because my family has recently become associated with it. Ramage is a guided missile destroyer (a DDG), eleventh in the class and thus fairly representative of a mature program and the most common ship class in today’s U.S. Navy. The Navy placed the order to the shipbuilder in February 1990. Almost three years later, the materials were finally ready, and Ramage was laid down at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on January 4, 1993. The hull was put afloat a year after that, February 1, 1994, and Ramage’s commissioning was a further eighteen months later, July 22, 1995. And it didn’t actually get anywhere operationally useful until its first deployment, which only commenced on November 25, 1996 (yes, right before Thanksgiving – “you’re welcome,” said the Navy).

So, the length of time between placing the order and actually influencing national security took nearly seven years. That is longer than U.S. involvement in World War I and World War II. Combined. And remember, this isn’t a giant aircraft carrier or a first-of-a-kind project – this is literally the most common, frequently-built thing we’ve got.

On the positive side of the ledger, a typical DDG should last us about thirty years. Except – wait a minute – it’s 2016, and this ship is already twenty years old! Good thing the DDG program continues, and more are being built. But not many more.

The cruel truth is the surface fleet is disproportionately the product of the Eighties and Nineties. Seawater is a nasty environment to live in; ships get old and simply can’t go on indefinitely. Every single frigate is now gone. Their supposed replacement, the Littoral Combat Ship, is, er, not on schedule, and an overstretched fleet of cruisers and destroyers fills the gap, wearing themselves down and shortening their own service lives in the process. Their eventual replacements, to my knowledge, don’t even exist on paper.

Today’s conditions are the result of decisions made ten and even twenty years ago. So what will the Navy of 2030 look like? That is being decided today.



An Even More Unusual Moment

LEAVEAs the last returns came in – you know what about – I had the good fortune of being in the company of a Royal Navy officer. I don’t know his vote, nor does it matter at this point.  But it is rare to witness a world event concerning a faraway country with a member of that very country close at hand. And I was glad to do so on this occasion.

But as the country that more or less invented the modern concept of liberty, I am happy for the United Kingdom. It is unbecoming of the people who gave us the Magna Carta to live under the arbitrary rulemaking of bureaucrats in Flanders.

Oh, look at the pound…

Currency traders were first to the precipice

Currency traders were first to the precipice

Some kind of long process of extrication starts now. It will be painful for a great many reasons; no one says it won’t. But when this 1,000-page book is revised, the new revision will have a couple hundred pages more of very interesting material.

Either that, or none of this matters because



An Unusual Moment

The next few weeks mark an unusual period in my family’s history – three of its members are on simultaneous military deployments. I don’t think this has ever happened before. My brother-in-law just departed on patrol aboard a Coast Guard cutter – yes, that’s the military; they’re a uniformed service – one of my younger cousins recently arrived aboard his ship in the Arabian Gulf, and I am, of course, in Bahrain doing the staff thing. (Occasionally I even get to exercise control over my cousin’s ship. It’s a small world.)

Three of my grandmother’s four grandsons and grandsons-in-law are all out there, doing the nation’s business, at this very moment. Just as her husband once did, and one of her sons.

And this is not even counting the other cousin, from another branch on the family tree, who recently returned from a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier.


Meet the family

How did this happen?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course; everyone takes their own path to whatever career they land in, and I won’t presume to speak for anyone other than myself. But I do remember growing up with my cousins and basically still envision all of us as kids. Yet, here we are – this week I hit eleven years of service in the Active and Reserve Components, my brother-in-law reaches nine years in a few weeks, and my cousins four and one, respectively, this summer.

So I guess we’ve actually been doing this for a while.

And yet this is not so uncommon at all.

Military service is increasingly a family business, it would seem. The best recruiters are servicemembers sending their own relations in their footsteps. It is rare to find a Sailor who is the first in their family to join the military, unless, perhaps, you’re talking to a recent immigrant (a topic worthy of its own post). But that immigrant’s U.S.-born children will probably serve someday, just as an immigrant’s grandchild is writing this post. And so it goes – service is concentrated more and more on the same families across the generations.

You see this reflected in geographic representation of servicemembers. Of course, you see plenty of people from the biggest states, but proportionately the southern states and border states are well over-represented, and anecdotally, I would add the Big Ten colleges punch well above their weight as commissioning sources (a cohort of which I am proud to be a part). My native California provides a lot of members, hosts several large bases and is home to a lot of veterans, but they are overwhelmed in a sea of other people – its per capita rate of service is actually among the nation’s lowest.

Sadly underrepresented is the Northeast, home to what can be safely said is the nation’s elite. But signs of progress exist – Princeton recently reestablished ROTC on campus, and after a decades-long hiatus just commissioned its first ensigns and second lieutenants to have participated in the program throughout their four years of school. I do not expect legions of senators’ sons to be taking over the ranks anytime soon – but let us applaud anything that retards the further segmentation of society and spreads risks and burdens to its uppermost levels. Congratulations to Princeton and its newest graduates; may there be many more of them.


Bahrain U.


The flag was put at half-staff when they realized it isn’t actually a college campus

If you get orders to Naval Support Activity Bahrain, what you may not realize is you’re basically going to be living and working on a college campus for the duration. Seriously.

It’s full of young people between the ages of 18 and 22, and a few older, wiser folks.

You’ve got a certain section of town divided from the rest, with its own police department and other services.

There are plenty of dorms. But most people live off campus off base.

People gather in a quad for public events.

They’ve got a nice gym.

You can find people playing ultimate frisbee.

The landscaping is impeccable.

There’s a big food court. And Basic Allowance for Subsistence is basically a meal plan.

The bike racks are always full.

Only a minority drives cars – partly because parking is terrible.

A library exists, but nobody knows where it is.

VIPs visit and hold events in an auditorium, which is also a nondenominational chapel.

It hosts plenty of international students coalition partners.

This was a thing that actually happened.

So, other than the fact we all dress the same, are better paid, and seize drugs instead of use them, it’s basically college.

And college is fun, right?


Whereupon It’s Ramadan


The local establishment

Ramadan has begun. Back in the States people are mostly just familiar with it as a period
that seems to come at a different time each year, about which foreign policymakers are skittish. As a dilettantish non-Muslim foreigner in a country populated by Shi’a but run by Sunni, I know only marginally more than that myself… but I do know at least a little bit. So here are some words on the Salty Wog’s take on Ramadan.

You may not know the Islamic calendar is similar to the Jewish calendar in that it is lunar-based. That’s why Ramadan keeps moving up a few days each year on the Gregorian calendar. The holy period commences with the first sighting of the crescent moon after the new moon. In the weeks leading up to it, we knew Ramadan was beginning sometime around now but no one could say when exactly. That’s because it’s an actual sighting of the moon – yeah, we know to the second all the phases of the moon due to super-advanced techniques developed centuries ago, but someone has to actually see it. And you never know when the guy on watch will be taking a coffee break, or if a cloud will get in the way. But eventually the crescent moon will appear, and Ramadan will begin. If you can’t see it because you’re spending summer at the North Pole, just follow Mecca’s schedule.

Us secular Americans were very interested in Ramadan’s beginnings because it really changes the daily routine in the city. Muslims are confined to six-hour workdays, and business hours radically change. Many places are open first thing in the morning, but close the bulk of the day and open up again after dark. The many Muslims who work on base get alternate hours, and I would imagine (though I don’t know) they’ve had to hire some extra seasonal workers to fill in the gaps. You’ve really got to plan.

The biggest change is food and water consumption. Muslims are supposed to fast during daylight (again, those in the extreme latitudes follow Mecca). Public consumption of food and drink is forbidden in Bahrain and the other Gulf nations during this time. We can do whatever we want on base, of course, or behind closed doors, but if you’re drinking from a water bottle on the street, or so much as chewing gum, you could be cited.

It used to be the U.S. personnel had to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts out in town; that’s how I packed, anticipating Ramadan when I was planning my extended stay. However, that has been relaxed this year because, in practice, none of the locals do that. So our dress is basically unchanged, though wearing an In-N-Out t-shirt with a big picture of a double-double is probably frowned upon.

Restaurants will be open late every night. I anticipate seeing a lot of voraciously hungry customers out there.

Sensitive Westerners try making a good-faith effort to curtail their military operations during Ramadan. Not that their adversaries often care; there was a spate of attacks last year during the month, and ISIS is apparently threatening overseas attacks in the next few weeks. So much for that.

Should be an interesting month.


My Candidate

News back in the States has me deeply perturbed, leaving me deliberately avoiding more than the minimum (quite in contrast to my former habits) and not writing too much right now.  At the top of the long list of things I’d rather not discuss is, of course, the prospect of my steadfast inability to vote for either major-party candidate in November. But that’s OK – I’ve found my candidate.

A message we can all get behind

A message we can all get behind

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