Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another Glimpse Into The Culture of The Navy

As I mentioned a day or two ago, I lucked into an interesting evening aboard Old Ironsides. Besides being a prestigious post for those assigned to her, it's also a coup to have your milestone recognized with a ceremony aboard. Old Ironsides has been the backdrop for many promotions, re-enlistments and retirements. This past Tuesday night was just such an event.

CDR O'Malley was arriving at the ship to prepare for his part in the Senior Chief's official party when I bumped into him. We boarded together and CDR O'Malley was greeted by the OOD. We stood off to the side and watched the preparations. Constitution is currently undergoing a massive two year renovation and space is limited. Chairs were set up on the main deck facing the podium where CDR O'Malley and the MC (master of ceremonies) would speak.

I wandered over to four young Sailors who were shooting the breeze as the sun came close to setting. The ceremony would begin after evening colors (complete with cannon), so there was some down time. The group was comprised of three young men and one young lady. None had been in the Navy more than two years and all were very excited about their posting (or billet). All agreed that they were in the "right place at the right time" in getting such a plum assignment. One young man who had signed on for five years with the Seabees took this on even though it added two years to his overall obligation. I asked if their families had been able to visit them in here in Boston and their huge smiles answered the question before their words could. They were from all over and very excited to be living in Boston and serving aboard Constitiution.

When they were called to perform some task I stepped back to where CDR O'Malley was standing. Then the man of the hour came aboard with another officer and introduced themselves. I thanked him for allowing me to "crash" his retirement. The Senior Chief was very gracious and told me he was glad to share this event. A few moments later he gave me one of the programs for the evening. The cover illustration fit perfectly, a painting of Constitution at just about this very time of day. The inside listed the Senior Chief's active and reserve commands. The list reflected twenty eight years of service to our country from Great Lakes to Spain to NOLA and back to New England. The page facing the Chief's list was a poem, "The Watch". The entire back cover was the very impressive bio of CDR O'Malley. I know enough about the Navy to have been "wowed". CDR O'Malley wasn't the Senior Chief's current commanding officer, but it was pretty clear why he was the most outstanding one.

I left the ship for evening colors with most of the retirement party. If you visit Boston, you should make the time to visit Old Ironsides during evening colors. The ceremony is just a few moments, but it's very moving. I've been near or aboard other ships during colors but it's best there in the Charlestown Navy Yard. (LOL! I wonder why I think that?)

We made our way back aboard and took our seats. I took the last seat but was moved to the front row by one of the others present. He told me a cute little joke about polar bears being cold and I laughed and asked if he thought of that joke because he was the only one present without a jacket. His laugh told me that I had caught his drift correctly.

Then the official party (CDR "O'Malley and the Senior Chief) "arrived" (they were on the gangplank). The sideboys were assembled and the BM2 piped them aboard. The Senior Chief went to stand with his wife and two young children; CDR O'Malley went up to a seat behind the podium. We all sat down. The MC welcomed us in his opening statement and explained the history and tradition of the sideboys, the piping aboard, etc. Very interesting to a Navy girl like me.

Next up was CDR O'Malley. His remarks highlighted the differences in the world from when the Senior Chief enlisted to now. The comparisons caused more than a few chuckles. Then he addressed the significance of the date. It turns out that the Senior Chief was honoring his late brother by holding the ceremony on what would have been his brother's 43rd birthday. CDR O'Malley noted the bittersweet aspect aspect of the timing, but his positive words made one feel good about it.

The MC announced that CDR O'Malley would now be presenting awards. I had peeked at these awards earlier during the prep and was surprised to see there were awards for the entire family. The Navy recognizes that a Sailor's service is only possible with the support of those who love that Sailor. The awards were presented and pics taken of the CDR and the Senior Chief, both of them and the Senior Chief's wife and then their children.

I'm sure for some retirement is a sad time, but not for the Senior Chief. In his remarks he talked about his struggle with the decision. He spoke of how he came to realize that it was time. Once that was settled he saw himself going on to be happy in his next endeavor. One could clearly see that with such an attitude and an obviously happy and supportive family he is going to be a success.

The MC announced that the Senior Chief would now request permission to go ashore for the last time.

He saluted CDR O'Malley smartly, "Sir, request permission to go ashore!"
CDR O'Malley returned the salute, "Permission granted! Bos'n, pipe Senior Chief ashore."
The Senior Chief moved to the head of the sideboys, two bells were rung and the MC announced "Senior Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy, Departing!"

The Bos'n's Mate started piping the side and the CDR and sideboys saluted as the Senior Chief moved through the ranks. On the last note they all dropped the salute in unison.

Once we were all ashore, there was a little dockside party complete with sandwiches, coffee and cake. The Senior Chief introduced everyone, even me. I am not a very successful party crasher, I never manage to stay in the background.

It was a great time and even though it made me late for dinner by over an was totally worth it.

Congratulations, Senior Chief! I wish you fair winds and a following sea!


Just a Girl in a Port said...

Sheepishly, I must admit, I'm from Mass and have never visited Old Ironsides.

BostonMaggie said...

LOL! Well you must rectify that as soon as possible. All of Charlestown is a must see! From the Constitution to the Monument to the Bunker Hill Museum.

Although one of my favorite Charlestown things is not part of the Freedom Trail. My favorite is to sit on the steps of St. Francis de Sales Church and watch the sun set over the city. The best view used to be from the fire escape of the school. However, the school is now condos and I don't think they would appreciate me climbing their fire escape.