First Sergeant’s Halo

By Craig Johnson

USS Holland AS-32 was homeported in Holy Loch, Scotland in 1977.  The Holland had a marine detachment aboard to supply security.  The detachment had one officer, a marine lieutenant (LT) with approximately 34 enlisted personnel.  The senior marine non commissioned officer (NCO) was a first sergeant.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The marine detachment offices and berthing area were on the portside of the weapons berthing area just above the Steam Torpedo Shop.  The office was divided into an outer office and inner office.  Both offices had two desks welded to the deck so they would not become missile hazards when the ship was underway. Missile hazards are loose items bouncing around in rough seas that can hurt crew or equipment.

The outboard office against the hull was shared by the lieutenant and first sergeant. The inboard office was how you entered the other offices and had to be passed through to get to the outboard office were the staff sergeant and corporal sat.

 I was a second class torpedoman (TMT2) assigned to the Steam Torpedo Shop and had become friends with the staff sergeant.  He and I used to sit in his office at night and shoot the sh*t (talk in civilian language) to pass the time.  During one of these sessions, I noted that when the first sergeant was sitting at his desk there was a very highly polished brass valve handle that made him look like he had a halo.  I found this funny since that is counter intuitive to anyone’s thinking about a marine first sergeant.

Some months after I had noticed that valve handle, our Division Officer WO1 Walter Thomas announced to the Steam Torpedo Division that we had a conventional weapons certification inspection coming up in one month and that we had to get ready for it.  He then called me to his office, which was one deck down below the Steam Torpedo Shop on the starboard side of the MK 48 torpedo shop.

Once in his office, he informs me that on this visit the inspection team was going to certify the otto fuel storage system for the MK 48, torpedo fuel.  He informed me that he was putting me in charge of making sure that the fuel storage system was ready for inspection.

Now this is where my opportunity for mischief materialized.

All valve handles on navy ships are required to be color coded so that if there is an emergency, the crew can quickly identify what valves need to be operated. Some examples are that the salt water fire main valves are red and potable water valve handles are light blue. In my research for preparing the otto fuel tanks for inspection,  I learned that the color for all valves for the otto fuel were required to be painted pink.

Since this was the first time this system had been looked at in years for a certification inspection, I had to trace all of the piping.  I went to Damage Control Central to look at the Ships Charts to determine where I needed to look.  Just imagine my surprise and sudden enjoyment when I realized that the otto fuel piping ran through the outboard office of the marine detachment.

Yes, you guessed it, that big highly polished brass valve handle behind the First Sergeant’s head had to be painted pink!

 This was and is the first time I ever looked forward to painting in my 21-year career in the Navy.

The ships paint locker, which was located at the base of the port missile crane on the O2 level, two decks above the main deck, did not have pink paint.  What they did have was white and red lead paint that we could mix to create pink.  I sent one of my seaman up to the ship’s paint locker to draw out a pint of each – white and red lead – so that we could create the color pink that we liked.

When my seaman came back from the paint locker with the two pints of paint, I directed him to mix it slowly together in a third container to create a very bright pink that would stand out.  After several tries, he came up with a color we called ‘titty pink.’

I had him paint all of the valves in the system except the one in the marine office.  Once all the other valves in the system were done and our precedence was set, it was time to go visit the marines. We went up and knocked on the door to the office and asked for permission to enter.  The staff sergeant asked what we needed.  I informed him that we were there to paint the valve handle in preparation for a conventional weapons inspection the following week.  He sent me in to see the first sergeant who did not take this news graciously to say the least but left the office so we could paint the valve and it would have time to dry.

Every time the first sergeant saw me after that, he would just scowl at me. On my part, once a month I sent a seaman up to touch up the paint on that valve handle to make sure it stayed a nice bright, titty-pink for the first sergeant’s halo.

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