From the Publisher / Arnold G. York

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A Different World, a New Navy

It was just about Christmas 1959 when I first reported aboard a U.S. Navy ship, and now, 52 years later, I was on a launch making a quick hop from the Malibu Pier to the guided missile destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones, anchored about one mile off the pier. Some things have changed in 50 years, some not. It has the same steel gray hull, but this destroyer is much bigger than they used to be, and lining up the launch next to the ship’s ladder was somewhat dicey. You have to step off the launch just as it’s at the same height as the ladder landing. It’s not so easy with the launch bobbing up and down and some of the gals in high heels, but with help from the launch crew everyone managed to get on board the ship without any serious incident. Although I remember it being a little easier 50 years ago when I was considerably more agile.

The first thing that strikes you is there are women officers and sailors of all races and colors; likewise, the rest of the crew. Fifty years ago it was an all male, white Navy, with a few minorities who were generally limited to being cooks and stewards, but that has changed significantly. Today, with a crew of 270, including 80 women, the John Paul Jones operates with a much smaller crew than a ship of this size would have had 50 years ago. The entire crew, officers and enlisted, looks just like America: Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islanders and just about every variation of human being you see anywhere.

Everything on board is computerized with all sorts of the latest high-tech equipment. You can drive the ship using a wheel, which hasn’t changed, but you can also do it by touching a computer screen. The ship is 30 years old, but the electronics are state-of-the-art, built to track aircraft, surface ships, submarines or anything else that might be a threat. As we talked to the crew it became clear the most difficult part of their job was distinguishing a friendly from a threat, and the tensions that causes. Is that little dinghy with an outboard motor just a curious tourist wanting to take some photographs or a terrorist with a load of explosives? This is not just a theoretical question. The sister ship, the USS Cole, was in port in Yemen when a small boat pulled alongside and blew a hole in its side and killed 17 Americans and injured another 29. When you read about an incident in the newspaper it’s remote and you’re detached. When you go aboard an American warship you can feel the threat and really understand that we live in a hostile and often dangerous world, and there are people who would harm us because we are who we are.

I can report that the crew of the Jones is very impressive. They are considerably more fit than the sailors I remember who often had big guts, and the new breed of sailor is a great deal more educated. It’s not just the officers who have master’s degrees. A number of the enlisted crew are also college educated, and probably half the crew has had some serious scientific training. My take was that the USS John Paul Jones is clearly a happy ship, and the crewmembers are proud of it, and of their competence and what they have done.

The relationship among the officers, chiefs and the crew has also changed. When the captain, Cmdr. Chris Cegielski, introduced some of his crew at the welcoming ceremony, he introduced the senior enlisted person on board, a master chief, and then he rattled off some of their accomplishments, like sailor of the month or quarter, and the awards some of them had received, and I couldn’t help but think that modern personnel management had come to the Navy. I can’t ever remember giving out an individual award for exemplary performance, but I suspect the Navy now knows that these sailors are expensive to train and they want them to stay and not leave for some higher paying defense industry job.

The visit finished with a buffet and drinks on the stern, or flight deck as they call it now. Clearly, in a time of declining defense budgets, the Navy understands the need for good public relations.

All and all I came away thinking, “They didn’t do it that way in my day,” and, frankly, they’re doing it better today.

P.S. This visit was a year in the preparation, and it never would have happened but for the work of the ship’s captain, Malibu’s John Payne, a retired Navy captain and president of the Malibu Navy League, Councilmember Jefferson Wagner, Ani Dermenjian, Chris Rodgerson and the entire Malibu Navy League, the Malibu Chamber of Commerce and Pepperdine University, and all of the individuals and organizations who worked hard to make this visit very special, not just for the citizens of Malibu, but also for the officers and crew of the USS John Paul Jones, DDG 53.