In 1984 I watched the USS New Jersey Make A Sideways Wake

In early 1984, I was flying in an EA-6B Prowler at Flight Level 20. The Ike, where my VAQ-132 Prowler squadron was deployed, was off the coast of Lebanon. I was in the backseat gathering electronic surveillance for the intelligence officers. Hezbollah groups supposedly had some Russian surface to air missile systems. So we strained in vain to detect the SA6 Straight Flush signal.

At some point during that mission, the U.S.S. New Jersey went into action. She carried  16″/50 caliber Mark 7 guns. I witnessed her fire those bad boys into the Chouf mountains. That was cool.

The U.S. Marines were stationed at the Beirut airport. Under the Reagan Administration the United States had gotten drawn into a conflict between squabbling factions in Lebanon.

Somebody in the Chouf Mountains thought it was a smart plan to shell the U.S. Marines in Beirut. Bad idea.

The New Jersey‘s guns fired shells slightly bigger than Volkswagen beetles. The power of those guns was spectacular. When she fired them, the New Jersey left a sideways wake. She was blowing the tops off mountains. The decision to shell the U.S. Marines at the Beirut airport was reconsidered.



The Dreaded Exocet Missile and How It Scared the Poop Out of Me

We were deployed aboard the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in the Mediterranean Sea when we heard the news about the British-Argentine Falklands War and the sinking of the HMS Sheffield, a British destroyer.

On May 4, 1982, the British ship HMS Sheffield was attacked by a squadron of Argentine Super Etendard attack jets. The Super Etendards launched AM39 (Air to Surface) Exocet Missiles and one of them went home. The missile warhead never detonated. But it did blow a big hole in the Sheffield’s hull and knocked out fire-fighting electrical systems. The Exocet’s burning rocket fuel set the Sheffield ablaze.

The dispute between Britain and Argentina arose over Britain’s claim to Islas Malvinas, the Falklands Islands, a British colony. The islands are located off the east coast of Argentina near the southern tip of South America. (See map.)

I was a young ECMO (Electronic Countermeasures Officer) Naval Flight Officer on my first operational deployment with VAQ-132, an EA-6B Prowler Squadron. We were deployed aboard Ike.

The sinking of the Sheffield caught the immediate attention of Commander Battle Force Sixth Fleet, Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle. Admiral Tuttle’s flag was aboard Ike. I was a very junior officer in an electronic countermeasures squadron, and an expert in electronic warfare. My squadron was caught in the vortex of Admiral Tuttle’s reaction to the sinking of the Sheffield.

VAQ-132 officers from top to bottom were tasked with analyzing and briefing what happened to Sheffield. This was important question to everyone aboard Ike. What do we need to do to keep it from happening to us?

Muammar Gaddafi

The threat from air to surface missiles to super carriers was serious. In fact, the strongest argument against spending billions on building the super carriers was the fact carriers are vulnerable to modern air to surface missiles. Even a third world enemy such as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was a threat. If Gaddaffi could find Ike and deploy a squadron of Exocet-carrying warplanes, we might be destroyed. A tin-pot dictator could sink us. Think about what Russian Bears could do.

We had to understand what happened to the Sheffield so we could take counter measures. In hindsight, Britain was lucky to have lost only one destroyer. Argentina had only five Exocet missiles at the start of the war. Overall the Argentinian air force was antiquated and poorly supplied. The Exocet air strikes were limited by logistics and range from their airbase at Rio Grande on the continent. Argentina might have even chased the British task force out of the south Atlantic with more Exocet attacks and a better means to target British ships. During the war, Britain bombed Falkland Island airport. That attack crippled Argentinian intelligence of British ship movement.

French-made Super Etendard Attack Jet

Early in the war, the British were caught by surprise. The Argentinians found the Sheffield and tracked her with Neptune surveillance aircraft. A Neptune pilot relayed the Sheffield’s latitude and longitude to a two-plane strike group of Exocet carrying Super Etendards. The attack jets flew toward the Sheffield at 400 knots and an altitude of just 200 feet. Flying fast at low level is what attack naval aviation (TACAIR) is all about. Using the curvature of the earth’s surface to hide under the radar, the Super Etendards never emerged on the Sheffield’s radar. The war birds launched their Exocet missiles and returned to base.

Once launched, the Exocet computer programming directed the missile silently toward Sheffield’s position. It dropped to 2 feet above sea level, accelerated to Mach 0.92 (600 knots), and stayed quiet until within just a few nautical miles of the target. At that point, a seeker head activated and it acquired the target. The Exocet, a French-made missile, executed its final navigation corrections and zeroed in. By the time the seeker head emissions were detected by Sheffield’s shipboard electronic surveillance monitoring alarms the ship had just seconds to react.

Air to surface missiles are a nasty weapon. The first and best defense against them is to keep your ship from being detected in the first place. Admiral Tuttle undertook extreme measures to prevent anyone from being able to find Ike in the Med. The ship executed high speed course corrections. Nevertheless, it is usually easy to locate an aircraft carrier by her electronic emissions. But Admiral Tuttle ordered us into EMCON (emission control). EMCON made triangulation more difficult. Admiral Tuttle took EMCON seriously. We trained to extreme and even dangerous levels of EMCON flight operations.

From the perspective of a young airman, the problem with EMCON is that it is otherwise very useful to use your aircraft radios, radar, and navigation aids like TACAN to navigate. Under EMCON operations, including night EMCON operations, you lose all navigation aids and are relegated to dead reckoning along with very limited radio communications from the E-2 Hawkeye radar aircraft. When you’re flying around the Med, especially in the winter and at night while running out of fuel, navigating your way back to Ike was of critical importance to your survival. Failure to find the ship before running out of gas would result in ejecting into the frigid waters and praying someone could find you before you died of hypothermia or drowned. The pucker factor was huge.

The possibility of an Exocet strike is a legitimate concern. But the idea of punching out in stormy weather while flying around the Med at night under EMCON conditions scared the poop out of me.

It Feels Great to Escape the Oppression of Living Under a Timekeeping Clock

This week on my commute I tuned into the Tim Ferriss Show and listened to his interview of Pete Adeney, publisher of the Mr. Money Mustache blog. Adney’s life philosophy allowed him to retire at age 30. At one point in the facsinating 1 hour, 57 minute interview, Ferriss asked Adeney to describe his feelings when he first retired. His answer described relief and freedom. It reminded me of a similar event in my legal career.

I worked for South Carolina’s biggest law firm in my first trial lawyer job. The big law firm billed corporate and insurance clients for lawyers’ time at varying rates of $100 per hour and up. Therefore, each of the lawyers and paralegals kept a desk timekeeping note pad. We tracked our time to the smallest detail in six minute intervals. Six minutes was coded as a .1, along with the client matter and details of the task. It is hard to account for every minute of your work day. I kept these detailed timekeeping logs every day for the entire 4 years that I worked at that firm.

Every week, the firm published a report that it sent to all 300+ lawyers in the firm. The report showed each associate’s time worked, billed, and how money he collected. (Associates are what big law firms call lawyers that are not partners.) The report grouped the associates together by their law school graduation year. I was in a group of ten people hired from the class of 1989. These weekly reports naturally created competition among associates and some grumbling. The most ambitious would want to bill more hours and collect more money than their peers every week.

I remember one of the associate lawyers clutching the report and complaining bitterly that another associate billed 60 hours last week. The dude complaining said knew that the other guy wasn’t at work early and didn’t stay late. The implied suggestion was that the other guy exaggerated his hours and over-billed his clients. Therefore, over-billing clients, if you could get away with it, would put you in a better position to become partner.

I don’t recall the partners at this big law firm spending much time discouraging associate over-billing. I do recall them complaining that we associates were not efficient enough in recording our time. One partner told me that he billed a client for time spent while he was taking a dump. The partner said he thought about the client’s case. I would like to see the timesheet entry for that work! Maybe he described it like this: “Evaluated and compiled litigation strategy designed to yield successful movement forward.”  I don’t know. Just a guess. I didn’t take that advice.

Even for those of us who didn’t cheat our clients (which I hope was everyone), the insidious weekly report was an effective means by which partners encouraged associates to work long hours. I had to work more than 50 hours per week if I wanted to bill a minimum of 40 hours. Forty hours was a good medium target.

I found it impossible to optimize my time and efficiently track it. I lost at least ten hours a week every week. I avoided breaks. I did not indulge in excessive time talking to co-workers. Telephone calls to family or other personal business calls were curt. Lunch time was short or non-existant. I was constantly scribbling timekeeping entries on my pad all day from daybreak to sunset.

When I left that big-law job in 1994, I felt an enormous wash of relief. When you’re under it, you don’t recognize the silent and massive oppression your absorbing. The moment of escape yielded a feeling of incredible relief and freedom. Leaving big law was the best career move I ever made. Why did I let myself live like that?

Working on the Mastery of Compost–Also, a Poor Man’s Kettleball Swings

I’ve audited Geoff Lawton‘s online course on soil pores and crumb structure. Geoff joked that he is a master of compost piles. He has worked compost in excess of the required 10,000 hours. I don’t have that many hours . . . yet. I put in 1.5 more this weekend.

I have twelve compost piles. Four piles are finished and ready for the garden this spring. The remaining eight are still cooking. They require human intervention to heat up the decomposition process.

Making a hot compost pile involves finding the proper mixture of air, water, brown material (carbon), and green material (food scraps, manure, etc.). Although animal poop is usually brownish, it is considered a green. Chicken manure has the highest level of green components. Chickens are followed on a sliding poop scale by pigs, horses, cattle, goats, and sheep. The latter animals are ruminants. Their poop is already in process of becoming compost as it ruminates in 3 to 4 stomachs before exiting. Such poop is lower in green content. Therefore, you need more of it with fewer carbons to optimally balance your greens and browns. This is the expertise of a compost artist.

One reason I like building compost piles is because it’s a form of function stacking. Function stacking agrees with me. I see building compost as a way to simultaneously complete at least three tasks:

  1. Eliminating an over-abundance and accumulation of manure in animal pens;

  2. Creating a spring soil supplement for gardens, trees, and bushes; and

  3. Exercise.

I need exercise. I’m considering Tim Ferriss’ kettleball swings. But I haven’t invested in the actual kettleballs. In the meantime, my pitchfork wielded properly for mixing greens and browns into compost piles advances my conditioning regimen.

Soreness. Ahhhhh.