This was the first incident I analyzed in addressing PTSD issues. Please have a read.
The Boat Pocket Incident
This really messed me up. I was probably 5-6 months out of boot camp, CDR. XXXXX XXXXX decided that we were going to do “the fastest night-time boat launch” since WWII. We were in the South China Sea area, not far from Brunei. The sea state was roughly 3, the ship was taking light rolls, and the ocean was choppy with small whitecaps. This particular area is also dotted with oil rigs, most of which have no lights.
During this launch, I was doing about what I was qualified to do, manning the “sea-painter” (essentially guy-wires running both to the stem and stern of the motor whaleboat from the ship). The BMC (Boatswain’s Mate Chief Petty Officer) was the acting Safety Officer, XXXXX was the helmsman, another shipmate, “XXXXX”, a good friend of mine and also a signalman helping me strike out of deck division was the boat signalman, and a hispanic guy that I got along with (I forget his name) was the other crewmember.
As the davits were being lowered, Tank manned the aft boat hook. (XXXXX was an SM3, as such was in no way qualified to be manning the boat hook, but he always was too helpful of a guy.) As the boat hit the water XXXXX released the aft hook, just as the ship took a roll towards the starboard side. The hook automatically retracted into the davit arm, striking XXXXX in the chest and lifting him a good 10′ out of the boat, like a rag doll. As everyone scrambled towards the boat, the ship rolled back to port causing both XXXXX and the hook to come crashing back down onto the deck of the boat. I saw the look on XXXXX’s face as he fell- he was in shock, bug-eyed, mouth agape, looking right at me. I’ll never forget the look of horror in his eyes. There was a loud and sickening “crunch” as XXXXX and the boat hook struck the deck.
We all scrambled to re-attach the boat to the ship, did so, and carried him to sick bay, all the while this eerie groaning and wheezing , with blood issuing from XXXXX’s mouth. He was (gratefully) unconscious. Arrangements were made to get him medical care, the nearest military installation being a British base in Singapore. It later came down from the QM’s on the bridge that the Captain had said that “no US Navy man is going to a British facility”, and tank was eventually airlifted to a US Navy hospital ship closer to PI. XXXXX never made it to the ship.
I remember the BMC (who was one of the foulest, most profane human beings I have ever met, and also looked like a weasel- tall, skinny as a rail, craggy-skinned as fuck, and MEAN) squealing “I was gonna call a safety! I really was!” as they took our statements in the forward crews lounge after the incident. I remember thinking then, and I feel even more this way today, that the man was a COWARD, as he had the authority and he had the DUTY to his subordinates to stop the operation, to “speak truth to power” against CDR. XXXXX, the other crew members knew it was too rough (we had commented about this amongst ourselves prior to the launch).
This incident has affected me greatly. I have come to view authority as almost “God-given” (maybe some of that plays into the backlash from the MST incidents), and that if you have that power, then it MUST be used for the benefit of those who lack that voice, and that it must be used without regard for self-interest. ( I have in years since resigned from jobs where I have been ordered by a superior or even a client to staff sites unfairly and unlawfully (read racist/sexist/religion), or have been otherwise instructed to break that almost sacred bond of trust with my subordinates, I remember one of my bosses calling me a “real Boy Scout” because I would not unfairly and illegally reassign a number of subordinates based on their race and religion- incidentally, he was a real “Charlie-church” type. Fucking hypocrite IMHO.)
This scene still haunts my dreams, I often find myself replaying those events, vividly, knowing that I should have spoken up, hell, all of us should have, stopped it. We didn’t have the authority, but we did have the responsibility, instead of just “bitching about it” amongst ourselves.