Welcome to the Cold War II: How to prevent killing annoying foreign military forces

And so it goes, we are officially into Cold War II. I never even got my certificate for serving in the first Cold War. Perhaps this morning Vladimir Putin got really hopped up on vodka and Red Bull. There has to be some reason why the Russians would send two unarmed fighter jets for strafing practice against a U.S. Navy destroyer.

Whatever the reason that is what happened Tuesday. At one point the Russian warplanes were flying within  75 feet of the guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Donald Cook. The Military Times reported that the Cook crew members saw the plane within 30 feet of the destroyer.

The ship was practicing deck landing drills in the Baltic Sea with an allied helicopter, reportedly of Russian origin, according to an official Navy news report. Some media said the helicopter was with the Polish military.

 A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea. (U.S. Navy photo)
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea. (U.S. Navy photo)

“In my judgement these maneuvers in close proximity to Donald Cook are unprofessional and unsafe,” said Adm. Mark Ferguson, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.

The Navy issued a statement saying:

“We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death.”

Whether the pair of Russian SU-24 jets were 75 or 35 feet away, having an event with an aircraft — regardless of whether they are U.S warplanes or those from another country — when you don’t expect it can scare the hell out of you. I remember an exercise when I served on a destroyer somewhere out in the Pacific. We were steaming not far off our port side by the carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. I was kicked back on the fantail watching the stars when all of a sudden this fighter appeared out of nowhere. It was screaming above our ship probably 50 feet above the stacks and radars. I only saw it for a few seconds, when all of a sudden its lights came on and the jet’s pilot kicked the plane in the ass and it was gone faster than it appeared. My guess was that the plane was a F-14 Tomcat launched from our neighbor, the bird farm that was affectionately known — sometimes — as the “S**tty Kitty.” No matter from where the loud jet launched, the aircraft certainly got my attention.

I likewise recall the first time our ship went to our “home port away from home port,” Subic Bay, Philippines, out of our starboard office porthole, we noticed that  some merchant man flying the Soviet Union flag was following us. Our CO decided to make a game of chase. The destroyer was brought about, passed the ship and turned back to follow the U.S.S.R. vessel until we got closer to port. Such interaction with Soviet ships and aircraft back in the day was routine.

This event was a little more menacing than in the Cold War I days. It looks like either Putin wants to play — with fire — or he is looking to start something. That isn’t a good idea either way. The Commanding Officer of the Cook stayed cool, which was good, because shooting up unarmed Russian planes would surely have stirred up a hornet’s nest, no matter that the planes were endangering our ship.

Perhaps that isn’t fair. But what is fair isn’t usually a large consideration when it comes to military forces, especially the biggest ones.

Here is a good quote I found from Navy TImes about why the Cook didn’t shoot:

“You don’t get to kill people just because they’re being annoying,”said retired Capt. Rick Hoffman, who commanded two frigates during his time in the service.



Listicles for itchy feets

Spring on the Gulf Coast is a time that is hard to beat. When I say Gulf Coast, I mean the area that extends from the “ArkLaTex” to the Florida Panhandle. It is a grand time of the year although it always leaves me with a case of “itchy feet.”

My feet, figuratively speaking, have developed that old get-up-and-go-somewhere feeling even more this year since, literally speaking, my feet have held me back from doing much of anything.

At last report, my podiatrist said I should go through about two more weeks of taking it easy on my tootsies, or should I say tootsie. My hammertoe surgery was performed about three weeks ago and yesterday was the first time I could even remove my foot from bandaging and take a shower. It, the shower, was “mahhvelous,” as Billy Crystal would say while performing as Fernando Lamas on “Saturday Night Live.” The toe doesn’t look very well, but that is only because stitches were only removed from both top and bottom of the toe.

I have been pretty much cooped up recently, that is hopefully ending in another week. One might observe that by reading my previous blather. My Union’s steward training at the end of July is in Albuquerque. It will be nice to get out and get away, despite that our training tends to get rather lengthy. And after reading about the Albuquerque police and its brutal ways, I might just stay to myself in my hotel room after training.

All this said, I have some places I have wanted to visit for R & R but couldn’t for one reason or the other, mostly a lack of funds. With that in mind I began thinking of the various places I have been after listening to sports talk radio hosts who were making a listicle of their favorite “Sports Towns.” With that in mind I shall make my own listicles of favorite places I have been to help prod my sad and itchy feet into happy and (non-itchy?) feet. Some of these places I visited 35-to- 40 years ago so for sure they will have undergone change. But as with gifts, it — supposedly — is the thought that counts.


1. Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

2. Perth, Western Australia

3. Auckland, New Zealand

4. Taipei, Taiwan

5. Devonport, Tasmania, Australia

TOP FIVE MAJOR UNITED STATES CITIES (More than 1 million people)

1. San Antonio, Texas

2. San Diego, California

3. Los Angeles, California

4. Dallas, Texas

5. Houston, Texas

TOP FIVE LARGE U.S. CITIES (From 500,000 to 1,000,000 people)

1. Denver, Colorado

2. Austin, Texas

3. Washington, D.C.

4. El Paso, Texas

5. Fort Worth, Texas

TOP FIVE MEDIUM-LARGE U.S. CITIES (100,000 to 500,000 people)

1. New Orleans,  La.

2. Gulfport- Biloxi, Miss.

3. St. Louis, Mo.

4. Little Rock, Ark.

5. Las Cruces, N.M.

THE REST OF THE BEST (Less than 100,000 people, for various reasons. U.S. and Territories.)

1. Nacogdoches, Texas

2. San Marcos, Texas

3. Hattiesburg, Miss.

4. Santa Barbara, Calif.

5. Estes Park, Colo.

6. Ruidoso N.M.

7. Lake Charles, La.

8. Mobile, Ala.

9. Stockbridge, Mass.

10. Albany, N.Y.

11. Milwaukee, Wisc.

12. Big Sur, Calif.

13. Agana, Guam

14. Surfside, Texas

15. Sabine Pass, Texas

16. Newton, Texas

17. Maydelle, Texas

18. Llano, Texas

19. Wimberley, Texas

20. Lajitas, Texas

*Just as larger cities are ranked more as sentimental favorites, places that I just like, and cool spots on the map, the 20 listed above are not ranked and are merely listed and enumerated.


Great name, ugly ship

Adm. Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt was a visionary to some during his tour of duty as Chief of Naval Operations. To others he was a pariah. Zumwalt led the Navy from May 1970 to July 1974. As a matter of fact, he left that post — one he assumed as the youngest CNO in Navy history — only a day before I took the oath to join.

The CNO was known for his looser regulations regarding hair and beards on sailors and beer in barracks vending machines. But he had the thankless job of keeping the Navy in tact during the end of the Vietnam War. That was a time marked by racial riots and widespread drug use among sailors.

I came to admire Zumwalt both during my time in the Navy and up  to the 40 years since. I noted in his biography that the future CNO was a destroyer officer and CO before eventual promotion to flag rank. Although I only served one year, including one western and southern Pacific cruise, on a “tin can,” I was hooked on the older ships’ lines and profiles. So I can’t help but wonder what Zumwalt would have thought about the class of destroyers that would bear his name.


The way ships and whole classes of ships are designed usually take place over a number of years. The DDG-1000 class, which is of the Zumwalt line, began to take shape four or five years after he died in 2000. The ship is a guided missile destroyer that came out of the DD(X) program. The “DD” designation are the identifiers of hull numbers for destroyers that were built up until 1980 when the last Spruance-class ship was commissioned. The ship on which I served was a Gearing-class destroyer which was first laid down in 1944 and eventually launched in 1946. The Agerholm, my home away from home in 1977-78, was the oldest active duty destroyer serving in the Navy at that time.

The Zumwalt is scheduled to join the fleet next year. Two other destroyers are being built in that class, the USS Michael Monsoor and the USS Lyndon B. Johnson. The former ship is named for Master-at Arms 2nd Class Monsoor, who was a SEAL posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006. Johnson, of course, was the president of the US from 1963-1969, and a World War II Navy Officer.

No doubt, the Zumwalt and its class will be among the most technologically engineered warship in history with advanced electronics and weaponry. She (as ships are referred to) will be 210 feet longer than the WWII era ship on which I served. The widest point of the ship will be double that of as the Agerholm’s width. The “official” speed for the Zumwalt is about the same for all Navy ships, around 30-35 knots, as actual speeds are classified. A big difference between World War II–Vietnam destroyers is in crew size. The Zumwalt class will carry almost half as many crew members. Another big difference is both in missions and armament to carry out those missions.

The old DD-826, my ship, was primarily in the anti-submarine warfare business. It fired torpedoes both through tubes and from rocket launchers. In the early 60s it was the first ship ever to fire a nuclear-powered anti-submarine rocket, or ASROC. With the ship’s two “big guns,” the two 5-inch/38 cannons, the ship could engage in offshore gunfire support. She did so in both Korea and Vietnam. The ship was hit by North Korean gunfire.

The USS Agerholm fires a nuclear-tipped torpedo from a rocket launcher in  1962. Fifteen years later I would ride this beaut
The USS Agerholm fires a nuclear-tipped torpedo from a rocket launcher in 1962. Fifteen years later I would ride this beaut

The Zumwalt carries a variety of missile launchers including those for firing Tomahawk cruise missiles, ASROC, 155mm cannons, among others. The ship can likewise carry two helicopters.

The electronic sensing systems on board are probably too complicated for me to even talk about, if they are not classified, which they probably are. This leaves the design for me to squawk about.

The Zumwalt class will be that of “stealth” destroyers. Take a look at the picture and you will find that DDG-1000 looks nothing like your father’s or grandfather’s tin can. The strange lines and angles of the ship will likely leave enemy radar-watchers without a clue that probably the most lethal destroyer in naval history is coming. It will be a problem for our aggressors. It will be a bit exasperating for me, as well.

You see, all the weird design is, well, I hate to say it, but it is truly butt ugly. Through history, ships have been objects of beautiful design, even if these objects are meant to kill and create havoc. A naval ship is something more than a machine or tank. It, she, or she it, guys (and gals) live on these ships for years or more at a time. Some of us sailors call her home, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffett. These ships also act as an art work of our country. Often, we invite locals from other nations onboard to visit the attractive ship from other lands. People from Australia and New Zealand thought ours was a nice-looking ship, I remember them saying. Even the Red Chinese sailors we encountered in Jakarta stood and looked admiringly at our ship.

Given, you wouldn’t want to see your ship sunk by an enemy missile. My ship was sunk by a “friendly” missile. It should have bore a happy face :). But I have seen the pictures of my ship several hundred feet down on the Pacific floor off the coast of San Diego. The Agerholm was sunk during missile testing in the early 1980s. More recently I’ve seen a video of the actual attack, which would have likely blown me to smithereens whether I was at battle stations or chow. I don’t really like to watch the video or see the pictures of our ship at the bottom of the ocean.

So it is a great idea to have a stealth ship. We want to outrun, and hide, from the enemy. Perhaps some day they will have an ability to build attractive “warships” again. Until then … well, sorry Bud.





The sound and smell of Facebook and free speech

Many reasons exist as to why one should avoid Facebook at all costs. Probably just as many reasons are out there why Facebook is a valuable communications platform.

“I don’t use Facebook,” said someone, I don’t know who, during a holiday gathering recently. I remarked that I use it to keep up with my family. I usually check it a couple of times a day.

I disagree with much that I see on Facebook. I see just as much with which I do agree. I take the good, with the bad, relatively speaking.

A friend in Alaska is discovering or perhaps rediscovering her eye for art in the digital photos she takes. Most are of outdoors with her dog. Her dog photographs well. Many of her nature shots are otherworldly. Those I mention are true art.

One of my brothers moderates a group devoted to our hometown. These are thoughts shared about all of our past days in the small East Texas town or within the school district in which many, if not most, shared.

A former student, brother of a classmate of mine and whose mother worked with my mother, hit a Facebook homer over the last couple of days sharing and asking the group to share little giblets of memory. These involved remembrances of sounds and smells. It is so incredibly mind-blowing to me as a journalist to take in all these moments in time. And that is what they are — moments. Add them up in actual time and you might get a couple of hours.

Shared are sounds of screen doors noisily but reassuringly closing. The sound of horse hooves and tack are recalled as the young boys and girls rode in their Texas tradition. Then there is the call of the bird I always thought was the whipoorwill. Turns out, it was a different bird.

The smells included fresh hay in the hot summer sun that teenaged boys sweated while loading up bales on trucks and trailers for the local farmers and ranchers, and rewarding the kids with a little spare change. The honeysuckle that any East Texan must surely smells in the brilliant green of spring.

That particular sense, that of smell, became expanded for me. Certain times that sense will take me to my younger days though not necessarily in my hometown. Instead I remember my young adult days.

The smell of diesel in the morning hits me with a memory of Central Fire Station where I mainly worked at the beginning of my five intense and memorable years as a firefighter. With each snootfull of diesel comes a vision of the wall where helmets and bunker gear were lined up for all the shifts. It is simple enough why it is such a stunning memory. It was where we were gassed with diesel fumes from Engine 310. Here I was a 22-year-old man, making my own way in the world, and where I feared only that which was knowable. That’d mostly be another daunting smell, one of the homes we would encounter fully engulfed in fire, “burners” as we called them.

It was said that the scent of flesh and bones from the “toast” — what we privately called with a macabre sense of humor those unfortunates who were burned up. Perhaps it was an insensitive description but it was one of those mechanisms to prevent our dwelling upon that misfortune.

The sea had its own distinctive smell, or should I say smells. The scent of the Gulf of Mexico beaches and those of Southern California were different. Places such as “the OC’s” Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach in LA County or San Diego’s Pacific Beach sometimes was as much sun screen than marine. But after spending a year on a ship in the Western and Southern Pacific you would sometime forget you were floating out there. Oh, and how could I forget the 2 1/2 years I was only a mile from the man-made beaches of the Mississippi Sound?’

Finally, there is the scent of reefer, so pervasive in the 70s and 80s that it was difficult not to inhale, as a president said he didn’t.

One has to use Facebook wisely. Don’t show those pictures of you passed out in the yard with “dead soldiers” littered all around. Trophies which were exhibited from those days of “partying till you puke.” Some thought should be given how such a powerful platform as Facebook should be used.

Those words written by Ol’ Justice Oliver W. Holmes’ from Schneck v. United States in 1919 are probably a good enough reason to watch one’s P’s and Q’s regardless whether one believes in self-censorship.

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic … “

Oh well, I don’t go to theaters much these days anyway.


Boomtown SE Texas: Let it rain

We had a hell of a rain on Friday. The thunder started booming about 4 a.m. and didn’t seem to stop until nearly 8 a.m. Normally, I can sleep and sleep well through thunder and a heavy rain, but this stuff just kept on rolling. The rain did likewise, falling and falling some more. Some areas in Jefferson County were hit with 4 inches to 6 inches from only several hours of rain. Consequently, some of the same old underpasses went under water.

The city of Beaumont has spent millions to install better conduits for flood water to flow off into the Neches River. The river, which is the Beaumont-Mid Jefferson County-Northern Orange County portion of the Sabine-Neches Waterway, is located on the eastern side of Beaumont. Still the area floods when we get a lot of water in a short period of time. And people still drive their cars into the flooded underpasses. I think I saw a figure of like 36 cars had to be pulled from underwater. Fortunately, no one was killed. Such is the price you pay when you live in an area that is at most about 20 feet above sea level. But, I guess the river can always use some refreshing.

I see different figures but the Port of Beaumont — on the Neches end of the waterway — usually runs from about the 4th largest port in the country to the 7th. I used to like to go down to the port and take a look at the big ships in port. Now they have a more restricted are around the port due to maritime security, a.k.a. MARSEC.

 “The Coast Guard employs a three-tiered system of Maritime Security (MARSEC) Levels designed to easily communicate to the Coast Guard and our maritime industry partners pre-planned scalable responses for credible threats,” says the Coasties.

A liquid natural gas tanker is assisted by tugs on the Sabine-Neches Waterway on the Upper Texas  Coast.
A liquid natural gas tanker is assisted by tugs on the Sabine-Neches Waterway on the Upper Texas Coast.

President Obama signed a bill last month that is meant to boost water projects across the country. Southeast Texas is to get the largest bucks from that legislation, the Sabine-Neches Navigation District said last week. The district said there are 71,000 vessel transits — meaning in and out  each year — in the entire Sabine-Neches complex. Those group of ports are located in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange and Sabine Pass. And since the modern petroleum industry began “right cheer,” as our Cajun Texans say, I suppose it is only logical that most of the cargo sailing around the area’s ports consist of crude oil and it’s byproducts.

 “We produce about 13% of the nation’s gasoline daily,” said Clayton Henderson, assistant general manager of the Sabine-Neches Navigation District 

Oh, and I forgot to mention there are big ol’ liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals at either side of where the Sabine-Neches and its bay, Sabine Lake, empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

If the remainder of the Keystone Pipeline gets allowed and built, it will end up right cheer in Jefferson County. And for something kind of completely different, some of the stockpiles of chemical weapons being taken from Syria for destruction — where do they go? Want to take a guess? Those nasty “weapons of mass destruction” are being sent to Port Arthur.

Now one may ask, why did he start with heavy thunder and rain, and end up with tons of petroleum products and weapons of mass destruction?

To look at it one way there is certainly a lot of stuff to go boom were the wrong people to get hold of all those dangerous product made and transported to and from our area. We would probably need a lot of foam if something caught fire, but we have plenty of water or so it seems.

Texas is a huge state and not even the biggest in the U.S. It is second in size to Alaska. But one gets a feel for its size when it looks at average rainfall from the nearly 60 inches per year we average here in Jefferson County to the 9-something inches received some 800 miles away in El Paso County.

I have to say that the LP terminals at the terminus of Sabine Lake bother me the most. But what can one do? Boosters of the project to deepen the Sabine-Neches channel by 8 feet say this will “promise” 78,000 new jobs in the area. It’s all about the jobs isn’t it? Or at the very least, the promise of jobs.

It seems as if someone needs to use the existing channel to transport to us a big ol’ “paradigm shifter.” Get that sucker rigged up like snappy, and working. Then, we should ask our Native-American friends who live about an hour away to the north on the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation if they might be so nice to come down here somewhere and do some rain dancing. Because even with all the rain we already receive if things get rough we might need even more liquid gold.