While on board the Morrison from 1989 – 1991 a very historical event occurred. Desert Storm. Saddam Hussein decided he needed more beach side property so he invaded Kuwait. Most of the World united to deny him that real-estate transaction The Navies and Ground forces of Nations all over the world congregated in the area for what would become known as Operation Desert Storm.
My ship the Morrison was home ported out of Charleston South Carolina. Our main mission was to train Reservists. One weekend a month we would have any where from 10 to 30 Navy Reservists report on board. We’d hit the open sea and go through a regiment of situations in order to keep them up to date.
Twice I had been to Persian Gulf region because of intense situations and nothing happened. Now this. I called my detailer and said,
“I’ve been over there twice and now things are happening and I’m stuck on a reserved ship in South Carolina training Reservists, can you get me over there, even if’s just TAD (temporary assigned duty)?”
He hit me back with this.
“Tell you what Sigs, I’ll tell you exactly where we need you right now. Training Reservists in South Carolina!”
Well, dang it. In all actuality it was over with in a little over a month anyway so by the time I would have arrived there it would have been done.
As I’ve said before this was one of the best assignments I had in my career. The Captain was great, I enjoyed training the reserve Signalmen. We were constantly pulling in to nice ports across South and Central America plus the Caribbean Islands.
In June of 91 we took off and 3-week cruise off the North Eastern Sea Coast with the task of spending July 1st ‘Canada Day’ in St. Johns New Brunswick and Independence Day at a city with the Honor of every year being the first town in the U.S. to raise the flag on The 4th of July. East Port Maine.
On the way we encountered a bit of bad weather. In fact, in all my years at sea this might have been the worst I ever experienced. It was the middle of June; we were maybe a hundred miles off the coast when early in the morning the north eastern winds began to pick up followed by the seas beginning to become choppy. This is what is referred to as a nor'easter.
By sunrise we were getting pounded. Winds were gusting up to 45 knots and waves were hitting maybe 10 feet high. We had no reservists on this cruise which meant that we were all busy. I had gone though the steps to become Junior Officer Of the Deck underway (JOOD). Not something that many First Class Petty Officers are allowed to do but as I said we were a modified Ships Company. The JOOD mostly just gave out steering orders and speed adjustments. Usually repeating orders spoken by the Officer Of the Deck.
I went on watch duty at 1200 (noon). By this time conditions were, well really bad! An hour into my watch the winds were now gusting over 50 knots and waves were breaking over the bow. I was feeling a little unstable. Sea Sickness was something that always plagued me, even after all the sea time I had experienced. As hour 2 of my watched approached things really took a turn for the worse. We started hearing radio calls from merchant ships in the area talking about being Dead In The Water (DIW). These were vessels off to the east which gave us the warning that the bad stuff was coming our way. We were making way at around 10 to 15 knots and trying to keep the bow directly into the wind. In weather like this you do not want to get broad side by either the wind or the sea.
The OOD told me we need to come 10 degrees to port and increase speed by 3 knots.
“Helmsman, turn course to 060 true and increase engines to 15 knots.”
No sooner did I get that order out, the ship began to slow down. I said to the helmsman again to increase the speed. He replied to me that he was trying but the ship was not responding. At that moment the wind indicator spiked out at over 70 knots. The ship began to shake, literally it started to tremble. White water was breaking over the bow now with waves I know had to be at least 20 feet high. And then it happened.
The ship gave one big shutter and then silence. The engine lost power. We were DIW and a scramble for appropriate action began. Emergency generators were activated so that we still had lights. I, without being told quickly gave the order for the Helmsman to hold our course. He replied to me that he was doing his best.
Another gust and the wind speed indicator tapped at nearly 90 knots. Another problem now was that with no engine power the ‘fin stabilizers’ were no longer working. Fin stabilizers are like airplane wings sticking out on both sides of the ship just below the water line. They were computer controlled and would adjust their plane degree to minimize the rocking of the ship. You really appreciate what they do when that stop doing it. Now we are rocking 10 to 20 degrees each direction.
The OOD was on the horn with the engine room. They were estimating that we should have power again in less than 10 minutes. The helmsman was doing a great job of holding the nose of the ship directly into the wind. That is until the wind changed directions and was now coming at us from about 15 degrees of the starboard bow. Consequently, we began to turn and then the rocking of the ship increased noticeably.
I was watching the wind speed indicator closely and saw that it was on its way up again. We shifted another 5 or 10 degrees to port which left out starboard side open to the wind and the waves. I told the Boatswain mate to pass the word. He quickly got on the 1mc warning the crew.
“Stand By For Heavy Rolls”
The meter indicated 90 knots and now the waves were breaking over the bow but in the form of blue water. This means the waves are so high they aren’t even breaking before they hit us. They are hitting with maximum power, very dangerous, especially if they start to break over the side of the ship.
Then like music to our ears we heard the engines start humming. We had power back and I quickly order the helmsman to return to 070 degrees true. The bow began to swing to starboard. We could also tell the stabilizers were working again too.
By the time my watch was coming to an end it seemed that the worst was over. We were now steaming directly into the monster and still taking water over the bow but it stayed as white water. My relief showed up and I filled him in on everything that was happening. Announced that he had taken over the watch and then I went below.
I was so messed up that I had no intention of going anywhere near the Mess Decks. My stomach was a rolling like the ship so the only goal I had was getting to my rack. It never looked and felt so good. I strapped myself in and pulled the curtain and slept like a rock. When I awoke the next morning, the seas were still choppy but tolerable.
I had sailed in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and up to that point the Red Sea was the most unstable but now we had a new champion. Those few days off the North East Seaboard were the roughest waters I ever experienced.
On June 30 the Morrison was moored pier side at Saint John, New Brunswick. What a great Liberty Call town and surrounding area. I was fortunate enough to get to see some of the sights out side of the city limits. The one thing that sticks in my mind is the ‘Reversing Falls’. Exactly what the name implies. This is a river or creek I guess you could call it. For part of the day the falls go one way and then later that same day, it will be falling in the exact opposite. In other words, Reversing.
The average tidal range from low too high for the entire world is on average around 3 feet! The range in this area can sometimes be 56 feet! So, when the tide is high it’s pushing the water up the St. Johns River over many rock levies just below the surface turning the rapids into a falls. Then hours later as the tide goes out the water is pulled back in the opposite direction causing the rapids and falls to reverse. Reversing Falls. It is truly a sight to see and listen too!
The tide actually played a trick on me when I returned at about 2100. I looked at the pier and had to rub my eyes. The ship was gone. I thought how did I miss ships movement and I am going to be in mocha trouble. Then I looked a little harder and realized that what I thought was antennas turned out to be the mast of my ship. As I got to the edge of the pier I was actually looking down at the ship. The OOD and the Petty Officer of the watch looked up and waived at me. Shouting. “Come on down”It was quite a scene.
Saint John is a beautiful town. Nice shops, restaurants, shopping and super nice residents. We were there to observe and help Canada celebrate their version of “Independence Day”. July 1st. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Next port of call would be East Port Maine. Now here is a city that in away seemed time forgot. A North Eastern Sea Board Town that has a personality of that cute little fishing village that you see in movies and novels.
It was July 3rd when we tied up pier side. The ship had requested volunteers to march in the 4th of July parade. I was first in line for that! The night before was celebration time in the village. We found a cute little bar and grill with live entertainment by a local 3-piece band. Reminded me of Cream. We then learned that the local school gym was hosting a dance and everyone is invited. It was like stepping back in time and I loved it.
The parade was as Americana as you could ask for. Floats, bands, horses and the Shriner's riding their motorcycles. We mustered up maybe 26 guys or so for our part. We were in our dress whites and lined up 4 across with one of the Officers leading us.
I had not marched in a parade since 1972 Mardi Gras parade as a member of Ouachita Baptist University ROTC. In fact, not many of our group had any experience but you know what, it didn’t matter. When we turned the corner and started down main street the applause almost knocked us over! Every one shouting and cheering, it was amazing.
Remember this was just a few months after the dynamic defeat of Saddam Hussein and his retreat. These fine folks of Maine treated us like hero’s! And we were in Charleston for most the war. They didn’t care, we were U.S. Military in Uniform and we were representing the USA! It was an experience that gives me chills to this day!
The next day I rented a car and along with a couple of friends we set out to see the country. There was the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse that may be the most picturesque scene ever! We also crossed back over the boarder in to Canada. In those days you could enter Canada or Mexico with only your Military ID. We passed an open field with a timber lake where I saw more Bald Eagles in one place than I have ever seen before or since. We visited Roosevelt Campobello International Park, took the tour and saw where the President would spend time when he wanted to get away. The cottage he vacationed in was open to the public. I remember looking at the living room area. There was a huge glass window with a rocking chair setting in front of it. The President would set there for hours watching the wildlife on and around the lake. It was beautiful and historical.
The next day we cast off the mooring lines and set a course back to Charleston with a little lay over at Naval Station Norfolk. The one and only time I ever visited that famous base and didn’t even leave the ship.
Shortly after returning to Charleston I received some really good news. I had been selected to take part in the Navy’s Enlisted Educational Associate Program. EEAP was a program where an Enlisted Person could go to college in lieu of their Shore Duty Assignment. All you had to do was keep a ‘C’ average, not miss any classes and graduate with at least an Associate Degree.
I was scheduled to be back in Jacksonville to attend Florida Community College of Jacksonville. Super excited and ready for some relaxing shore duty, not the rat race of recruiting duty I’d had earlier in my career.
I had about a month to wrap things up on board the ship and also to get my 22-foot Southcoast sail boat back to Jacksonville. I thought I’d rather sail it back than tow it.