Enlisted antics aboard Navy ships leave officers demoted

By Martha Jette

Aboard the USS CAMP (DER 251) while in Key West, Florida, back in 1964, the boys were on base playing baseball all day and drinking. As Rick Magnuson remembers:

“Some came back that night pretty sh*t faced and snuck onto the ship.”

They proceeded to the paint locker and got some paint. Then they started dumping it all over the place. Next they made a trip to the bridge where they unscrewed the main steering wheel and then tossed it over the side. This was perhaps the wackiest ship in the Navy!

The next morning when the ship was ready to pull out for a training exercise, the Captain and Executive Officer (XO) realized that the steering wheel was missing and saw that paint was splattered all over the place. Needless to say, they were fuming!

They had to get the wheel from after steering and use it on the bridge. Being very resourceful, they also had a sailor take a trashcan cover, drill a hole in the middle of it, and use it to replace the aft steering wheel they cannibalized to replace the forward steering wheel that was now decorating the the ocean floor.

The garbage can cover worked pretty well –better than it looked anyway!

Another officer was left behind from the day-long training exercise, charged with an important search and retrieve mission for the jettisoned steering wheel with the help of a diver.

Upon the USS Camp Der’s return to port that day, the officer was standing on the dock proudly, with the recovered steering wheel in hand.

These antics were most embarrassing for this Captain, since his dad was the Admiral. Anger, embarrassment and high rank is never a good combination. Of course the Skipper, the XO and the other officers wanted to unleash their wrath on the enlisted perpetrators, but they didn’t know who was responsible. For some time they tried to find out who the culprits were but they never did.

As any sailor well knows, when officers are embarrassed and enraged by enlisted personnel, quickly, the “sh*t rolls downhill!” In their frustrating and unsuccessful search for the culprits, the entire crew suffered. It was assumed by the officers, that the crew knew “who dunnit” and were covering for the guilty…Maybe they were.

Sometimes, such antics on a ship can go terribly wrong and even the top brass has to pay a price, past being embarrassed in front of their father, an admiral.

A more recent story demonstrates this point:

After some sailors complained of temporarily inoperable toilets aboard the destroyer USS Jason Dunham, 13 female shipmates became the subject of a hazing incident. On October 15, 2013, they were forced to march in formation to the end of the pier at the Norfolk, Va. Naval Station carrying plastic bags that contained feces while the other sailors and top Navy personnel on board watched on.

As a result, Cmdr. Kenneth Rice and Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Stephen Vandergrifft were fired by Captain John Wade, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 28, Fleet Forces Command for failing to report and/or investigate the incident.

Chief Vandergrifft and other enlisted personnel, as well as officers aboard the destroyer were disciplined for failing to prevent or report the hazing. Cmdr. Michael Meredith, the ship’s skipper, was not disciplined because he did not know about the hazing until the investigation began on October 21.

FFC (Fleet Forces Command) spokeswoman Lieut. Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said, “We’re holding the CMC and the XO accountable because, hey, they didn’t even tell [Meredith] about it so he didn’t even know.”

Apparently, maintenance on the ship’s sewage system was being carried out the day of the hazing so some of the toilets were not operating properly. However, those toilets were tagged with a warning that they should not be used. It seems the warnings were not heeded in two female berthings and human waste was found in two heads, Mommsen noted.

A total of 19 female sailors were ordered to clean them out. It was after this that 13 of them were ordered to take the feces to the end of the pier. They were to dump the waste in a portable toilet there.

What was found especially alarming was that the female sailors who cleaned the toilets did so without rubber gloves, boots, hair coverings or face shields. However, Mommsen noted that sailors are “vaccinated to a higher degree than the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends for sewage workers. Needless to say none of them suffered any ill effects.

Mommsen said the female sailors “didn’t deserve to be publicly demeaned on the pier,” but added that two sailors – they don’t know who – should definitely “bear a bit of guilt for toilet misuse.”

In this case, two senior officers found that their distinguished careers had come to a swift halt due to what they deemed appropriate, if not humorous action at the time. It just goes to show that some Navy antics can get way too far out of control, and every once in a great while…

sh*t rolls uphill!


Sea Stories: Rick Magnus0n

XO and CMC fired over toilet hazing

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2 responses to “Enlisted antics aboard Navy ships leave officers demoted

  1. Whose Idea was the additional story about punishment? This looks like an attack on the establishment and changes the read of the story in my mind.

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  2. Our editor, Martha Jette, added the story about the USS Jason Dunham, to what Rick Magnuson contributed to “Sea Stories” about the paint and steering wheel antics. Sometimes the stories that are contributed are too short, as Rick’s was. In that case, we need to do research and combine it to a story with a similar theme. In this case, Martha found the story about the toilet cleaning fiasco, which I think mirrored Rick’s story well. I definitely see where this content could be perceived as an “attack on the establishment.” It definitely doesn’t show any sailors –officers or enlisted, at their best. But I assure you, the intent of telling “Sea Stories” is just that; to tell stories. Some of these will put the Navy in a good light, some in a bad light. As the publisher, it can be difficult to keep a balance, because we can only publish what is contributed. I’m sure 98% of the time, sailors are sober, responsible and dutiful. However, human nature dictates that it’s more likely that the out-of-the-ordinary stories are going to be the ones that are shared, because they are more entertaining, and stand out in the memories of those who experienced them.

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