Reporting On Board the Casimir Pulaski
Where to begin the story is the toughest part of all… it was one, ongoing, contiguous chain of events.
End of the year, 1978
Driving home to Chicagoland from Dam Neck, VA for a Christmas vacation at home with the family, prior to reporting on board my submarine for the first time, one of the front wheels on the “Starsky & Hutch” 20 Series Chevy step van began to squeak. Making it home without issues, I conveniently forgot to address the squeak while in Chicagoland. After my week catching up with friends and family, I loaded up the truck and headed towards Groton, CT.
The snow was blinding, but the roads were dry as a bone. Checking the map with virtually no traffic in front of me, I concentrated more on the map with each glance. Thinking I had a handle on the straight line I needed to maintain, I gave a good look at the map as needed. The only other vehicle on the I-90 east was a little MG Midget in front of me by about a quarter mile. On the last extended “glimpse” of the map, the front of the step van rose up to about a 45 degree angle, then came crashing down. Then the back end rose up about 30 degrees and crashed down with the truck parking nicely in the shoulder, off the road and tilted down forward and to the right. Then my right front wheel went rolling by the truck and down the hill into farmland.
Seems I had melted my wheel bearing assembly. With the luck of the Irish, I happened to stop just before the exit where a tractor trailer repair facility was located. They just happen to find a junkyard nearby that had what my truck needed. And, I happened to have the money necessary (pre credit cards for me) in the form of a check written out to me for the sale of my last motorcycle project, not finished prior to enlistment, in the USN. After many collect calls back home and to Sr. Chief Chris Leach’s house in Groton, my destination prior to flying to Holy Loch, Scotland, I had all parties updated on my delay. A night in a roadside motel, breakfast at the local diner, and I walked back to the truck which was almost completed.
Back on the road, I took assessment of all that could have gone wrong and all that went right, gratefully. The rest of the trip from Ohio, where I experienced my minor deviation, went quite smoothly.
Getting to Chris Leach’s house, I unloaded my sea bag and made arrangements for the step van storage for the winter of 78-79. The following night I was to fly out with another submarine crew to meet my crew on the Casimir Pulaski for the first time. They were a few weeks into their refit tied to the tender while I was on Chistmas vacation.
The “change” from my originally assigned billet to the Casimir Pulaski was an entire story in itself, for some other time.
Having a brother named after Chris Leach was knowledge I had as long as I can remember. Chris and my father were, at my age then, were electronics technicians on a navy destroyer together. Meeting Chris for the first time, in the stairwell, at Basic Submarine School after the previous Christmas vacation is another story, once again.
While I was going through sub school, Chris was like an uncle who took me in his home on many nights and some weekends. His kids were great and enjoyed the strories that Chris told about he and my father, as much as I did. I found it quite interesting how some significant details were left out when my father told them. Between the two Christmas vacations, I completed electronics “A” and “C” schools in Dam Neck, Virginia Beach, VA, which earned my chevron and non-commisioned officer status. Then it was time to meet the boat, the crew, and get qualified in submarines.
Chris took charge, as navy chiefs tend to do when experience should lead the way, and decided I would spend Christmas evening at his place for dinner, a few drinks, a few more drinks, then he would drive me to Hartford, Conneticutt to meet the other crew travelling to Holy Loch, Scotland. He stated that it was going to be the epitome of a “red eye” flight and would be best done drunk. I wisely took his advise as he was doing the driving.
On the way to Hartford, it was just Chris and I. Although I would stop in and visit after patrol, the Pulaski’s home office was already being relocated to Charleston, South Carolina. This meant my last visit to see Chris for some time to come. With just the two of us in the car, he got very fatherly and gave me the inside scoop to submarines. He let me know that everything about being crazy enough to be enclosed in a submarine made everything about it a mind game.
He gave me examples of things I might experience on a boat and how to play my cards. It seemed like general information at the time and I didn’t even know how soon I’d use it. He advised me someting to the effect of behaving like William Shakespeare described when he stated “All the world’s a stage…”. I took the information in while enjoying the stuper. I thanked Chris for advice, ride, and insight into my immediate future.
Chris got me connected with the other crew at Hartford International and I got checked in with the Chief of the Boat (COB) of the other crew. Shortly after that, I was seated on a plain and ready for another drink which was NOT going to happen. The flight was everything that Chris said it would be without sleep and dealing with a hangover to boot.
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When the plane landed I followed the other crew to the bus, it drove to the base, down to the pier and stopped in front of the tender where a few boats were tied up. The COB held back as his crew was assigned birthing and introduced me to the Officer of the Deck (OOD) of the submarine tender, which was also a chief.
Submitting my orders with a smart salute, the OOD returned the salute and said “Pulaski, let’s see what the status is.” He scanned across the grid of ships movement infomation and found the date he was looking for. He gave me a welcoming “You’re in luck! The Pulaski won’t be back for four days. Report back to this station and ask for the location of the Pulaski when you return.” He assigned me a birthing space in a completely empty ships birthing area, but the particular bunk he assigned me required that I get out of the bunk to roll over on my back or front, no side sleeping there. This assignment also include the staunch recommendation that I take advantage of the chance to see Holy Loch as the Pulaski was not going to be returning. It was slated for refits in King’s Bay Georgia from then on.
After only one night in the squeeze bunk, I decided to see just how much it would cost for a B&B in town. As it was affordable, I paid for the remaining three nights in advance and made myself at home. Daytime tourist and nightime disco dancer, I had a blast. My favorite disco had a family room down the halway where I could drop off my shopping goods rather than having to take a cab back to the B&B during the evening. There was a place behind the TV where I knew that someone was keeping an eye on them.
Three memorable days completed, I headed back to the tender suitable for inspection and ready to meet my crew. Walking down the brow of the tender, I wondered which submarine was mine. Checking in with the OOD again, different guy standing the watch this time, I was directed to the Pulaski.
Walking across a couple other boat’s brows to reach the Pulaski, I noticed things were kinda busy there. Guys were quickly loading ships stores in preparation for setting sail. Seems like I was just in time? Saluting the topside watch and asking permission to come aboard I stated “Petty officer Houman, reporting as ordered!”.
A broad smile came across the topside watch’s face as he said “Oh Houman, we’ve been looking for you.” Instantly, everything that Chris Leach had told me came flooding back to my consciousness. The smiling guy told me to report to the topside watch at the sail and let him know I’m finally here. With sea bag over my shoulders I swaggered to the other end of the boat.
Again, I exclaimed “Petty officer Houman, reporting as ordered!”. As if rehearsed, that watch stander said “Oh Houman, we’ve been looking for you.” At this point I figured I should probably chant to myself that “it’s only a game” and “you can take” inside my head. I then listened as the topside watch got on the “growler” and announced that he had found Houman. Once instructed to go below, I lowered my sea bag through the hatch and climbed down the ladder which led to the center point in the control room.
Upon my arrival at the bottom of the ladder, I extracted my orders and placed them in my left hand, found the closest most senior officer and saluted exclaimlng “Petty officer Houman, reporting as ordered!”. Eyes went wide throughout the control room which was packed and busy until my announcement. Everything got very quiet. I heard an order to find the Nav Chief and the Navigator which didn’t really take long for them to show up.
So, there I was, still standing at attention, holding a salute with pride and trying to figure out just how far this mind game was going to go. The Navigator, a lieutenant commander and the Nav Chief, a chief petty officer, took turns ranting at me. Sometimes the Navigator would put the chief in his place when the two ranting sessions would overlap. Sill holding my salute, looking in the crowd for the slightest sign of someone not playing along with the game and there was none. All eyes, about 20 pairs, were on me and how I was handling the situation.
After my long peripheral look around, while being attentive the two streams of grief headed my way, I noticed a white haired guy stand up in the background then make his way towards me. The crowd parted as he touched shoulders. It was another lieutenant commander. As he came up behind the Nav and nav chief, he avoided touching them, reached between them and pulled the orders from my hand. The rants continued as he read my orders and then stated: “Petty officer Houman, welcome aboard the U.S.S. Casimir Pulaski. Based on your orders, you have more than an hour until you’re supposed to report in”.
The control room went totally silent again. The white haired lieutenant commander it turn’s out was the Executive Officer (XO). He then stated “Navigator, Chief, my quarters, now!” It seems that the ranters were about to get a ranting, outside my earshot.
Playing the game, like it was a mind game I was supposed to survive, had it’s rewards. The Navigator and nav chief were not happy with me even though I had done no wrong to nobody. It was determined that a transposition error occurred between the Casimir Pulaski’s departure date for see and the return from sea trials date. The Pulaski was in port all three days I was touring Holy Loch and I didn’t know it.
With the authority of a lieutenant commander, the Navigator, and a chief petty officer, the nav chief, neither saw it necessary to “bump out” an E-1 seaman recruit from crew’s birthing as we were about to set sail, for the guy that caused so much grief with his delayed orders. Instead, I was banished to missle compartment lower level as my birthing area, all by myself. It was not until after my first night’s sleep that I realized that I had the largest stateroom on the ship! And, I had it all to myself. I also figured it would not be a good idea to describe it as such until the very end of the patrol.
Since then, having received the positive benefits of properly playing mind games, I have made it a point to “…choose the role I wish to play”.
After 5 days of fighting sinusitis and bronchitis unsuccessfully, I drove to the VA Hospital in Decatur, GA. I was informed that the main hospital did not have “sick call” capability and was sent to the clinic to see my doctor. Upon arriving at the clinic in Lawrenceville, GA, the only VA clinic I have been to in the ten months I have been relying on the VA as my primary care provider, I was told for the first time that my primary care physician was located at the Newnan, GA clinic. Based on Google Maps, that makes the Newnan clinic 50.7 miles from my residence. I asked for the name of my doctor and the address of the Newnan facility. More than an hour later, I arrived and was seen first by Dr. Parvo’s nurse and then Dr. Parvo, herself.
While talking to the nurse I discussed receiving an appointment for an MRI that was 72 days out. She told me the “Veterans Choice” program had procedures that included up to a 7 day delay to get into the Veterans Choice “system”. I told her of my first encounter with the congressional Band-aid known as Veterans Choice and how the temporary contractors on the other end of the phone ask for Full Legal Name, Address, Date of Birth, and Social Security number (ALL THE INFORMATION NECESSARY TO STEAL ONE’S IDENTITY). She assured me that I just needed to go to the location of the MRI appointment, Atlanta VA Medical facility, Nuclear Medicine, MRI department, state the fact that my appointment was more than 30 days out and they would help me make the arrangements.
After my appointment in Newnan, GA, I drove back to the VA Hospital, Nuclear Medicine department. The man behind the plexiglass enclosure gave me a four digit phone number to dial and pointed out the house found in the mini waiting room where I was to call the MRI department that was around the corner in the building I was standing in. I spoke to a man who only identified himself as Corey. I read back the letters in his name and he verified. He then gave me a phone number (866 606-9198) and told me to call it for help with another appointment.
I called what turned out to be the exact same number found on the Veterans Choice website that I had called a few weeks earlier, but with new expectations of now “being in the system” I waited and waited for a human being to answer the call. After giving my name, I was asked for my SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER, DATE OF BIRTH, ADDRESS, AND FULL LEGAL NAME. I then asked to give my Veterans Administration member number instead and again was told that Veterans Choice did not use the VA’s member ID system.
Upon putting the phone back in the receiver, I returned to the VA Hospital in Decatur, GA. One of the gentlemen at the information desk, Mr. Walker, assisted me in locating the office of a Mr. __________________ and I was given his extension as _____________ only to find, at 4:07 PM, that all senior administration officials had gone for the day. After explaining my situation to Mr. Walker, he accepted my business card and assured me that Mr. _______ would want to speak to me tomorrow. I assured Mr. Walker that my number on my card was strapped to my belt and with me at all times.
The question at hand is: “Has anyone from the VA checked out the Veterans Choice system to see that the program designed to help veterans wasn’t actually set up in a manner that will eventually harm veterans of the U. S. military by the very program known as Veterans Choice. Congress created this patch that is made up of contract workers with no supervisors on site, as verified this morning when I asked to speak to a supervisor, to supervise these temporary contractors that are gathering all the information necessary to steal a person’s identity.
So, not only is the system being implemented incorrectly, but it is also NOT set up to work correctly, using the VA member ID numbers of the veterans who have registered with the VA and which is all that is needed to verify eligibility.
It is my sincere hope is that this problem is corrected immediately, including the VA protecting the credit of all veterans who might have had their personally identifiable information gathered and compromised by temporary contractors, working without supervision, and/or the database of information is being gathered becoming compromised as many more sophisticated security protocols employed by private companies have experienced in recent years.
I believe it is important to note that Mr. Walker’s handling of my dilemma was done in a professional and courteous manner and I believe he did a great job representing the interest of fellow veterans as well as the best interest of the Administration. I look forward to meeting him again someday.
I should also note that the MRI appointment that was scheduled 72 days in advance is to determine if I have a tumor in my brain that might be causing my hearing loss. And, as I have gathered, tumors are one of the the medical issues that if allowed to grow over time can get to the point known as “inoperable”. That is something I’d hope to avoid by getting a timely MRI performed ASAP!
Stone Mountain, GA
11-17-15 Submitted to Ask Clark:
Tip: Clark, as a member of the VA health system, I was recently given an appointment to for an MRI to determine if I have a tumor in my brain that might explain the recent and consistent reduction in my hearing. I was shocked when I called the Veterans Choice phone number only to be asked my Full Legal Name, Address, Social Security Number, and Date of Birth. And, the Veterans Choice program does NOT use the VA member ID system. I see one more government created risk applied to our nations veterans. Please help? Thank you 4 your service.