Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Can't, Sir!

By Philip Gardocki
This took place around 1975. This gives you an idea of the military mindset regarding its enlisted personnel of the time. Unfortunately this mindset eventually led to tragic consequences.

All service men serve multiple duties. In the Navy, only the most educated personnel were assumed responsible enough to guard the ship from intruders. So, the PRP, or Personal Reliability Program, was populated mainly with Electronic Technicians, otherwise called "Twigits"*. Drills to lock down the sensitive areas of the ships were practiced daily, but usually after normal working hours.

One winter evening, on board USS Oklahoma City CG-5, such a drill found a petty officer, dressed only in a towel, wet from a shower, and positioned at the highest point of the ship with his pistol. When a drill was over, no man could actually leave his post until personally relieved by an officer in the security chain of command. Shivering from the cold, he waited an interminable time for the weapons officer to relieve him. The officer, a new ensign, climbed to the O5 level, and issued an order, "Sailor, load your gun."

As this was not the expected order, the surprised petty officer did nothing but shiver for about 10 seconds.
The officer repeated the order, "Sailor, load your gun."

Finally, the Petty Officer responded, "I can’t, sir."

The officer, actually perked up, thinking he was going to get to berate someone for incompetence."Why not?" he asked.

"I wasn’t issued any ammunition," replied the Petty Officer.

This story was probably replayed thousands of times. The most egregious variation on the story may be that M-16’s were being stolen from cadets guarding the gates at West Point. It finally hit home hard enough that the lunacy of sending unarmed men to defend sensitive areas was eventually reversed, and the first reaction teams were issued ammunition - with the admonition of a courts martial should anyone actually load a weapon without express orders.

  *The derisive and or affectionate titles for the various enlisted job classifications were "Twiget", "Snipe", "Airdale", "Nuke", "Bubblehead", "Rider", "Scope Dope", "Pecker Checker", "Rivithead", "Sub-mariner" and "Deck Ape".
Tragic consequences.
Dateline Lebanon , October 23, 1983 . 241 marines were killed when their barracks was targeted by a suicide truck bomber. Even though the barracks was guarded by several machine gun nests, none of the weapons were loaded.


  1. Dateline: Surf/Turf Patrol line, Persian Gulf, 17 May 1987. USS Stark hit by two Iraqi Exocets, 37 KIA, 21 WIA. Something not common knowledge is that one man responded exactly correctly prior to the hit - the forward lookout manned the port .50cal M2HB and attempted to fire - but the ammo was secured as it was after sunset, and the .50 were only intended to be used against small craft.

    Stark managed to do everything wrong before she was hit, but deserved a BZ for doing everything right afterwards. I heard the whole story in an 4 hour class at the SWO reserve midgrade course at Newport in 1991.

    Phil I probably missed you on the King, I was with NR DDG King 4113 from Oct 1984 to Jan 1991, ending up as CO of the ~120 man reserve unit. I first mobilized to King Thanksgiving 1984, taking 25 men with me to meet her in Rota for the trip back across the pond. But that engendered another sea story.

  2. Thanks Darrell. I left the King in 82. And yes, the Stark effectively did everything wrong. As a former FTM, I know when you are in that environment you track inbounds with a FC radar. ("in God, we trust, all others we track" The 55B would have picked up missile separation, and then provide an option to track that incoming. On the other hand, the Iraqi's were regarded as "friendly" of sorts. I have never heard what motivated the attack. We also have to give credit to the Iraqi pilot. He did everything right. He waited to fire after the 48 had swept past him, giving the missile 8 seconds to drop to the sea level. You also have to give credit to the DC crew and the ship architects. The Stark stayed afloat, the Sheffield, which was a larger ship, sank.