Monday, February 17, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night....

It was raining and I was on a base in far off east Asia.  POURING rain actually as the monsoon season was starting.

I had the night watch.  I asked one of the other patrol gals if she wanted to ride with me.  She declined for paperwork reasons.

Turned out that was going to be a good thing.

The rain continued to pour down, there was no moon, and I drove around wondering why I was even doing this like I always did.   Just, things you think about as a military police officer.

I finally drove into the port operations - port ops - where all the navy's smallcraft were kept.  Keep a visible presence and you deter.....things.....they tell you. 

Well, a US Navy Military Police Cruiser in the pouring rain around the smallcraft would be visible enough though I don't know who or what would be out here.  If someone was going to act up it would either be at the bar, or over at the weapons depot with enough weapons to lay a lot of a city like Portland Oregon flat.  We even had "blast maps" showing the blast radius if we were to detonate the whole place and how the concussions would bounce around and calculations of the damage if the place was to take a hit.  Recently we'd just armed up for World War III with China and I think moved more ordinance than we'd dropped in World War II over some issue with Taiwan, but now things were quiet.

And I was out patrolling around a bunch of aluminum boats and cranes.

I couldn't see.  I needed to turn around.  The visibility wasn't good and I became a bit worried about knocking one of the boats into the bay with the car not being able to see.   I needed a bit more room.

Ah, there we go.  Boat ramp.  Lots of room there and I could see.

I turned the car down into the boat ramp and looked at the sea water at the edge as I turned, when all of a sudden.....slowly, then faster, my car began to slide.

Why am I sliding?  Who slides on a boat ramp?  Boat ramps are supposed to have tons of traction!  What on earth???

Into the ocean I went.

The tendency to try to drive like steer was kind of natural although after a moment I realized.....this isn't working. 

Flooring the engine wasn't going to help and now, I was in a police cruiser turned boat in a bay.

And I had just a bit before this thing was under water and nobody knew where I was.   Again, it was a dark and stormy night.

My electrical system was still intact and I needed to get a call out for help as I was still headed out to sea actually.  The ocean was now up past the bottoms of the window and my windshield wipers sloshed seawater over my windshield.  I grabbed the radio:

"Breaker one-mike, I need all units, code two, code three at port ops....."  how do I tell them I'm sinking in a police car.....?  They're gonna be pretty ticked to say the least.  ".......and a tow truck...."

That was it, cat was out of the bag.  Not like I was going to be able to cover this up anyways.

I took one look at the water now halfway up my windows and decided to abandon ship.  I was wearing my Summer Whites.  I managed to open the door.  Water came flooding in and I watched it swirl around my shoes.  The car tipped and soon I was completely underwater and had to go down and under to come up from under the roof that sank on top of me.  Hm....all that navy abandon-ship-swimming we get trained in.....swimming under burning oil....how to make an air pocket....how to keep from getting trapped as a ship goes down under you.  Didn't expect I'd be using it on escaping from a police cruiser in a bay.

I swam back away from the sinking craft.

I turned around and watched the butt of the car rise up in the water and was like ".....no way....that just happened."

I decided to swim for shore.  I made it but with my dress shoes I had no traction to make it back up the stupid traction-less boat ramp.  Police cars from around the base swarmed into port ops.  I managed to do some crawl up the seaweed and slime and finally stood in the parking lot waving my arms in the rain.

The first car pulled up, it was the watch commander, I was waving my arms.

I pointed at the car in the bay and he said ".....what.....no....no....no....NO.....NO.....NOO....NOOOOOO!  %#!$#!$ IT HAD TO BE YOU, DIDN'T IT! IT HAD! TO BE YOU!"

I didn't know what else to say.

With much ado the car was roped and brought back to land.

I was given a ride in a drunk wagon back to headquarters.  That sucks riding in that thing like a prisoner, but it pretty much was what I was at that point.

As we pulled up, they let me out, soaking wet, MA1 and Chief were standing on the steps in the early dawn light.

I didn't know what to say. "Good morning MA1, Chief...."

MA1 looked......infuriated.

"GET IN THERE!" he motioned to headquarters.

I wasn't allowed to change.  I had to do all my paperwork covered in seaweed and soaking wet.

The questioning began.

I don't remember much of it other than I told them everything, I had nothing to hide.  I was making a U-turn and couldn't see in the rain and suddenly....I was out at sea.  I didn't do donuts or wrecklessly drive or anything.

I do remember this question though: "Did you even THINK that the boat ramp might be slippery when you turned around on it?"

"What kind of question is that?  Are you trying to find out if I'm stupid or what happened?" I wasn't and still am not the best at holding my peace when annoyed or dealing with.....stupidity.

"Don't be a smart ass, just answer the damned question."

"No, I did not."

I was sent home after questioning.

The base was waking up and the car was still finishing being towed out of the area while everyone was doing morning PT and running past it.  Another smudge on the MP reputation.  I wasn't going to see the end of this any time soon. 

Later I get a phone call in my barracks.

"This is Chief Cooper, you're being charged with destruction of government property, be over at the flag officer, Ensign Minnick's office by 0800 to have your rights read to you."

"Yes chief."

I had 20 minutes.  Putting together a navy uniform on no notice is pretty impossible.  I had nothing but my BDU's ready, so I threw them on rather than haggle with medals, shoe shines, name-tags, covers and creases and gig-lines.  I figured it would look bad if I showed up in camouflage, but I looked bad already, what difference was it going to make? 

I showed up at the Ensign's office.  I stood at parade rest outside, figure I'm in trouble already and showed up in more of a working uniform, might as well look the part of being squared away with a bit of discipline to take the edge off, though normally sailors don't do these things.  I got told more often I belonged in the Marines than the navy for this bit of demeanorial habit of mine of standing at parade rest or attention while waiting.  The Ensign showed up.  I snapped to attention.  He looked a bit startled.  "Uh, this way."

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, any questions before we start?"

"Yes, sir, how come you're investigating instead of one of the military police officers, sir?"

"Because you don't have an internal affairs division, you're friends with everybody and you wouldn't get a fair investigation."

"Oh."

"Let's begin. Read here at the top of this page."

I began to read, " Okay, I (my name, social security number) Machinists Mate Third Class United States Navy am hereby suspected of a traffic accident......." I trailed off. "A traffic accident?   I'm suspected of a traffic accident?  Is that even in the UCMJ and a crime, because if it is, I'm guilty because I was in that thing when it went down."

"Uh, that's what they told me to write."

I mumbled under my breath ready to add "disrespecting a commissioned naval officer" with my next remark to my list "okayyyy....it's your funeral and your paperwork...." I think he thought I was talking about myself, that or he was so new, being an Ensign and all, that he didn't catch it.  I continued. "I have the right to remain silent, anything I say can and will be used against me in a non judicial proceedings or as a court martial may direct, I have the right to an attorney being present during this interview, I have the right to terminate this interview at any time for any reason."

The Ensign then began "Initial here, shall we begin?"

"Yes, I wish to remain silent, I want an attorney and I'm terminating this interview."

He paused and looked confused.  "Well....that didn't take long.....sign here then."


I knew how the military played.  I'd been through enough of these investigations to know that if I talked they'd twist my words till they hung me.  I'd already told them everything the first time.  There was nothing more to say, nothing more to ask.  I needed to CYA before I ended up in the brig.  And they would do it, too.


I got back to the barracks.   The phone rang.


"This is Chief Cooper, you're making yourself look really bad by not participating in this investigation."


I about blew my lid, now I was going to add "disrespecting a senior petty officer" along with "disrespecting a commissioned naval officer" and "Destruction of government property" and perhaps "conduct unbecoming a petty officer of the United States Navy" "Disobeying a lawful order?" and definitely "insubordination" to the sheet.

I exploded and began yelling at the Chief Petty Officer knowing I was digging my grave:  "CHIEF! I ALREADY LOOK BAD! I SANK A FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLAR POLICE CRUISER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BAY AND THE ENTIRE (EXPLETIVE) BASE SAW IT!  I ALREADY TOLD YOU EVERYTHING! I'M NOT GOING TO PUT MYSELF OUT THERE SO YOU CAN TWIST MY WORDS AND HANG ME!  NOW IF THOSE AREN'T MY RIGHTS DON'T GIVE THEM TO ME!"


I was done for.


Chief seemed surprised and then related his own experience where he had a "weapons malfunction" in the middle of Japanese Protest where his M-16 accidentally lodged a round in a telephone pole during a stand-off on the base right over the protesters heads and he made international news for that one.


He was pretty kind about it and actually let me off the hook though I expected my life to be destroyed at this point.


When pushed, push back I guess.


I went over to the attorney's office some time later.  He asked me some questions:


"Was there a sign saying don't go down there?"
"No, sir."
"Was it roped off?"
"No, sir."
"Anyone tell you not to go down there?"
"No, sir."
"Have others ever been down there?"
"Yes, sir." And on and on until he said, "Son, I think you're the victim of some bad naval engineering and some bad luck.  I wouldn't worry about this."

Wow.  Whatever the jokes are about lawyers, I was sure liking mine right now. 


I got called back to headquarters.  I got my punishment.


No driving police cars for 90 days, foot patrol, lots of extra gate duty (I didn't mind standing the gate, it was as mindless a job as you could get and nobody messed with you and it gave me time to practice the language with the local native interpreters - actually, that was how I became fluent) and I had to clean that thing out, but because I was a Machinists Mate and not an Electronics Technician....I wasn't "qualified" to remove the hardware from it. My punishment was to watch it be done.

Can it get any worse?

Several weeks later, after the car sat in the hot, south Pacific, August sun, full of sea-water with the windows rolled up, it was opened up by an Electronics Techician Second Class.

I stood by with my punishment, watching.

The smell of months old, rotten, baked sea-life wafted out of the car into his face.  He doubled over after inhaling and started to throw up.

I stood by, still being punished, watching him throw up.

He gasped and he wretched inside the car as he unscrewed the radar attachments, heaving and cursing.

I stood, yet still being punished, watching him try not to puke all over himself.

I offered to help.

"You're not qualified."

Another blow to my self esteem as he puked and I stood there feeling a cool summer breeze blow over me while he tried not to spew chunks all over him.

I was definitely feeling this one, certainly was learning my lesson this time: It's better to be a Machinists Mate than an Electronics Technician when I got in trouble.  Lesson learned. 

He went home and took a shower when it was over and then went to the hospital to see if he got any diseases from the contact with the rotting sea-life in the car.

I noted that I would never forget this punishment ever.

At any rate, ever-after I had the nickname "splash" or "crash" but found myself on foot-patrol which was really nice because....well...you can't do much.  At least I didn't have to run all night like one of the Gunny's suggested.  Gunny's would have made me run in my whites for 12 hours a night for the next 90 days.  He'd have been yelling at me over the police PA while I did it.

But alas, I actually went and found a berth on a crane that was unattended and got some shut-eye from time to time after the nightly fights wound down and then got up periodically to report a new location and do a radio-check every now and then.  Dereliction of duty which carried a much stiffer sentence than watching an ET2 try not to spew on himself, but at this point, the navy ran on so much BS I can't say....I really cared.  I wasn't the only one.  The main thing was to not get caught.  Be responsible in your derelictions.

All I can say though is?  God watches out for me.  Though I hope I am worthy of it, I'm afraid my attitude hasn't always shown it or deserved it.

Oh, I did forget to say though, as I went into the ocean with the car, the spirit immediately said to me "You're going to be okay."

And I was.

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