My First Chief (Part II)
Let’s call him MMCS (Machinist Mate Senior Chief) X. He was a loud, big, salty senior chief. And by big I mean fat. Huge really. His uniform was so tight that I feared for the day when the thread holding his buttons would break. I was sure that those khaki buttons would cause more than a flesh wound when they came flying off his uniform. I’m not sure how he ever managed to climb through the scuttle when the hatch to the main engine room #1 was closed. During General Quarters when we would do fire fighting drills, everyone had to don their OBA (Oxygen Breathing Apparatus) to go into the main engineering spaces to fight the fire down there. Everyone but him. There was just no way that he would fit through a scuttle with an OBA on. And yes this is all before the Navy established weight standards, and before they actually took them seriously.
I’d like to say that my relationship with MMCS X improved over time. But it didn’t. He was a loud, big, crusty, senior chief and he was in charge and he just didn’t like snot-nosed, wet behind the ears Ensigns like me.
Don’t get me wrong, he was never openly disrespectful of me, he was smarter than that. But he definitely did his best to put me squarely in my place as much as possible.
As a junior officer on board the ship, I had several responsibilities. I was responsible for M Division (approximately 40 enlisted men), the Main Engine Rooms and all of their equipment, but I was also supposed to get qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer. So in addition to standing watch, I would have to manage my division, and then also participate in officer training exercises on the bridge. It kept me very busy. So I needed to depend on my Senior Chief to help me out. And he really did.
“So what’s the status of the evap,” the Cheng asked at breakfast. I swallowed my toast thinking that if the Cheng was asking the status of the evaporator, then there must be something wrong with it. “I’ll find out Sir.” I responded. And I would. And this would become part of the little running battle I would have with the senior chief.
There was only one officer (at the time) who stood Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) duty. The rest of the time, the engineering chiefs would stand watch. And when something broke, or there was a problem, they would call the Cheng to let him know. But for some reason that same information wasn’t getting to me. After getting tired of being completely caught off guard by questions about something wrong in my spaces from the Cheng at breakfast (or lunch or dinner), I had a little talk with the Senior Chief. I told him that any time he calls the Cheng with an equipment problem, that he should call me. Call me if I’m on the bridge, call me if I’m in my stateroom. Just call me. No I can’t do anything to fix it, but call me so I know there’s a problem.
And yet, it continued to happen. And I would call him on it. “Oh sir, I meant to call you after I talked with the Cheng, but then I had to do something else and then I forgot. I’m really sorry,” he would say without a smirk or hint of disrespect. But he hadn’t forgotten. He was maintaining his control and his relationship with the Cheng and I wasn’t going to get in the way of that.
Realizing that my ability to change the Senior Chief’s behavior was limited, I decided to take a different tact. I called all of my first class petty officers into a meeting. I told them that while on watch the EOOW reports to the Cheng. However, they all worked for me. I don’t care what happens in the boiler spaces, but if there is a problem in the main engine spaces, they were to call me. And I oh so gently reminded them that while the engineering chiefs (and a particular Senior Chief) might not like them calling me, that I was giving them an order and it was I who signed their personnel evaluation forms.
I lost a lot of sleep in the next couple of months, but I wasn’t caught off guard by the Cheng anymore. My senior chief did make a snide comment about the LPOs (leading petty officers) spending too much time on the phone, but I ignored him.
Still the battle continued.
One day while sitting in the engineering log room approving supply requisitions, I heard the LPO from the Main Engine room call for the EOOW who was doing a boiler inspection in the boiler spaces. There was an oil leak on one of the ships turbine generators. I quickly turned off the computer and headed to the Main Engine room. As I opened the door from the Mess Deck to the alcove where the hatch to the main engine room was, I ran into MMCS X.
“Hey Senior Chief, how’s it going down there?” I asked.
“It’s going great Sir, no problems at all, ” he responded. But quite obviously blocking my way.
“Well I thought I would go down and take a look.” I said.
“Don’t you have something else you need to work on Sir. We’ve got it all under control down there.” And he hadn’t moved an inch.
“Senior, I really think I want to go down and check out the space for a bit.”
“Well Sir, I don’t think you want to go down there right now,” he responded.
I stared at him, but he wouldn’t move. Causing a scene on the Mess Decks was not a good idea. So I turned around and walked away from him. And I walked quickly to the water tight door that leads to the escape trunk for the main engine room. I climbed down two levels using the escape trunk and entered the main engine room on the lower level. There were several of my guys down there and they were a bit surprised to see me come out of the escape trunk, but were more focused on stopping the leak from the SSTG (Ships Service Turbine Generators). After several minutes, they got the leak stopped and started to clean up the spilt oil. Having oil in the bilge water is dangerous and a fire hazard. As I started to climb up to the upper level in the engine room, which is where the EOOW sits, I heard the Cheng’s voice. “Where’s Ensign R? He should be here.”
“I’m not sure Sir,” my Senior Chief responded.
As I climbed up the last bit of stairs, I answered, “Oh I’m right here Cheng. Just wanted to make sure the guys were cleaning up after the leak.”
“Good. Okay if you’ve got this under control, then I need to get back to the watch in Combat,” he said and then climbed up the ladder out of the engine room.
The senior chief looked at me and didn’t say a word.
And I kept thinking of the
Sure he is.
Sure he is.
MMCS X retired from the Navy about 6 months after I came aboard.