In 1983, in addition to all the things going on in Beirut, Lebanon, we were also having issues with Muammar Gaddafi. The USS Virginia (CGN-38) was in the Gulf of Sidra crossing Gaddafi’s so called, “Line of Death.”
One morning, around I came up to take over the watch in the Combat Information Center (CIC). As I walked into CIC, the atmosphere was so tense you could cut it with a knife; something I or anyone else entering could not help notice upon walking in the room. The tension in CIC heightened my senses and enabled me to quickly assess the developing situation.
It turned out that there were two unknown radar surface (ship) contacts tracking directly at us. Normally in the Mediterranean, this would not have been an alarming occurrence for any Naval ship. The tension was brought about by Libya’s “Line of Death” threat and the undeniable fact that we had crossed that line, just to knock that chip right off Gaddafi’s shoulder, and we were very close to Libya.
With Libya being so close, the increased tension was based on the fear that the Libyan Navy had sent these two ships to confront our ship. With these two ships coming straight at us and closing the distance between them and us. every minute the tension was escalating.
As I looked around the compartment, I observed our CIC watch officer was very excited and standing at the Harpoon missile launch console, with his hand alternately hovering or resting on the launch switch.
That is when everything fully registered with me. At that moment, time seemed to stand still!
With my heightened senses and mind working a mile a minute, I quickly moved over to a radar console so I could get a better overall understanding of the situation. Watching the radar for what seemed like forever, I was able to do that.
My experience standing CIC watches enabled me to quickly identify two aircraft flying around in the area. I brought this to the attention of the CIC watch officer and asked him if anyone had requested the aircraft, which were United States’ F-14’s, to overfly the ships to get a visual on them and report back?
The CIC watch officer, while looking like a deer in the headlights, stared in my face, paused and said, “Oh. Good idea!”
The CIC watch officer gave the order to contact the carrier, diverted the two F-14’s to do a flyover of the two ships and report back on what kind of vessels they were. They quickly closed in on the two unidentified vessels, identified them and reported that back to the carrier. This information was then relayed to us: the ships were in fact freighters.
You could actually feel the instantaneous relief in the CIC and the rest of us as the tension dissipated. We let out an almost audible collective sigh of relief. The two freighters just happened to be on a conversion course with us and were no threat at all.
This allowed the oncoming watch standers to finally relieve the off-going watch standers. We resumed normal watch posture and routine in the CIC.
I can’t help thinking that there were some very lucky seamen on those two ships. I also think that all of my training and experience in the Navy may have had a hand in saving their lives.
I guess that makes up for what we had to do in Lebanon.