Radarman “A” School

I flew out of sunny San Diego in January 1970 for 16 weeks of radar school at the Naval Training Center north of Chicago.  The plane flew into O’hare Airport late at night and boy was I surprised at the climate change!  The wind was howling and snow was piled up along the roads about 6 feet deep.  I arrived at the base sometime around midnight and was led to a barracks.  I was directed to a bunk in a room that in the darkness seemed way crappier than boot camp.  The following morning I was sent a couple of blocks away to a much nicer barracks space.  In fact, it’s hard to even refer to it as a barracks since it was more like a modern college dorm.  Two guys to a room and you each had a huge locker and storage area as well as your own desk.  The bunks had nice thick mattresses and plenty of blankets.  Good thing too, since one day that winter the temperature was 55 below zero with the wind chill.  The wind here mostly blew right off of Lake Michigan and across the base.  Most all travel for me on base was by foot, going to the mess hall, PX, school, sick bay and the club, which was sometimes challenging with the snow, ice cold and wind.  Speaking of weather, springtime brought me my first experience with midwest thunderstorms.  We get an occasional thunderstorm here in the northwest, but nothing like those back there!

Radarman Logo

Radarman Badge

My classmates were mostly “boots” right out of basic training, just like me, but we had a few “salts” who had been out in the fleet and decided they wanted to become radarmen, so were sent here for training.  Only the Navy knows why I was sent here when there was a second Radarman “A” School located about 600 miles north of San Diego at Treasure Island, San Francisco.  The school part was pretty uneventful.  All this was new and was hard to correlate to any real world scenarios until you get aboard a real ship.  I do recall one of the most challenging parts of school was in using the maneuvering board.  This was a diagram on paper that had concentric rings coming from a center position and also from the center were lines (like wheel spokes) that went around the rings 360 degrees.  On this chart you plotted positions so that you could see the relative motion of 2 (or more) moving objects through vectors and calculate a true course, speed, CPA (closest point of approach), time to turn, etc.  I think I only used a maneuvering board twice in the fleet.

While back there I got to see a lot of the sights up and down the western shore of Lake Michigan.  Sometimes a buddy and I would go into the little town of Waukegan to shop or see a movie.  During my stay here, I went into Zion, Illinois a couple of times to sell blood.  $14 a pop was easy money back then.  My roommate (SA Watson), had the urge to buy a motorcycle, so he got a Triumph 650 Bonneville.  Funny thing was that I don’t think he ever rode it.  He just gave me the keys, knowing that I had a 250 Scrambler back home and that I had a MC endorsement on my Washington drivers license.  It was great when it got closer to spring and I would take off for a ride on Saturday or Sunday and be gone for hours riding up to Wisconsin by myself for lunch and see the scenery away from the base.  Other times I would take the train and go down to Chicago for the weekend.

Dennis Clevenger Grad. Radarman School 1970

Radar School Graduation Photo 1970

So, upon graduation from radar school, I receive orders to report to the 32nd Street base in San Diego for a Pre-Commissioning school.  I don’t really recall what these classes were about, but I guess it was to prep me for eventually reporting to the Long Beach Naval Station at Terminal Island.  I was to report to the USS francis Hammond (DE-1067) which was moored in the shipyard.  It was still receiving equipment and was swarming with yardbirds and tech reps as well as the nucleus crew and the rest of the pre-commissioning crew.  Yardbird was a name hung on civilian shipyard workers.  A commissioning ceremony was held on July 25, 1970.  You can see the Commissioning Ceremony Program here.  A navy tradition is to consider any crew member assigned to a vessel at time of commissioning a “plank-owner”.  You can see my Plank Owner Certificate here.

Plank Owner Certificate

Plank Owner Certificate

25 Responses to Radarman “A” School

  1. BILL CASWELL says:

    hi dennis… i was in rd/a school in 71. my first duty station was ns subic bay rpi. we probably crossed paths somewhere along the way.
    your blog on olongapo brought back a lot of memories. i got out an os2 after 4 years.

  2. Al Schafer says:

    Was walking to lunch at Galley 409 when someone yelled across the grinder that Kennedy was shot. You posting brought back lots of memories. Went from there to Minesweepers as a Radar / Sonar operator.

  3. Dana Perko says:

    Dennis: I went to boot camp at Great Lakes in Jan 1972. 26 below zero the day I arrived. Stayed on and went to rd/a school summer of 1971. Spent 1972 on the USS Alamo with many trips to Subic. A lot of great memories.

  4. Eddie carrier says:

    Found it interesting that you only used a maneuvering board twice. As a radarman on a minesweeper every “skunk” detected by radar had to be manually piloted on a M/b to determine course speed CPA. Sometime we have 6-7 plots going at the same time. Maybe more. Our CIC watch consisted of two radarman. One on the scope and one on the plot.

    • Yeah, seriously Eddie I really don’t recall using it much in the fleet. I think we may have whipped it out for a solution when doing maneuvers during an exercise in a battle formation. I think our watches during normal steaming consisted of 4 or 5 of us. We manned a surface search radar repeater (SPA-10?), air search radar, log keeper, DRT plotter and maybe a floater or radio monitor. If I recall we would rotate positions every hour or so.

      • Al Schafer says:

        We just used a surface plotter with a protractor arm .

      • Michael Phillips says:

        Maybe you didn’t use the maneuvering board much because you were on a screening ship. I was never on a screening ship, but my impression was that you weren’t too close to other ships the way the main body ships were. What do you think? My experience was that we used maneuvering a lot. I was on an amphib.

      • Scott Gillespie OS3 says:

        Dennis, my recollection is we always used MBs to compute CPAs. Until we learned to figure CPAs on the DRT. Then we very rarely used MBs again, except to figure wind. And then it was like, “where did we put those maneuvering boards.” I remember complaining to the Chief about how annoying it was to figure course and speed on the DRT and then jump on a MB to figure CPA. He told me it was possible to do CPAs on a DRT. I asked him how to do it. He told me to go figure it out for myself.

    • Al Schafer says:

      We had 4 RD’s & 1 SO on board. 12 on 12 off During ops we were just on 24 to 30 Everyone manned sonar at some point t during ops.

    • Al Schafer says:

      There might be some confusion over the term Manuevering Board. We did sometimes track skunks and the occasional bogey on a vertical plotter (remember learning to write backwards ?). Used that sheet of paper we called a manuevering board for scouting exercises, etc. but from what I remember, all our tracking, navigation, harbor approach nav, was done right on the surface plotter.

      • Michael Phillips says:

        In RDA school I was told by one of the instructors that the word “Skunk” was misspelled in the text. He said it was supposed to be spelled “Scunk” because it was an acronym for Surface Contact Unknown. I don’t know how he knew that because no one else seemed to, but there you go.

  5. Eddie carrier says:

    Great hearing from all my fellow RD friends. Amazing how I can still remember the terminology and lingo. I guess you never do completely get the Navy out of the boy. A long time ago but still remember so much. To tell the truth it’s the only thing I have ever done in my like that I would like to do again!

    • Al Schafer says:

      I think you’ll find wr all feel the same way mostly because we remember the good moments. One thing I never did feel comfortable with ewas the caste system which dictated the officer / enlisted relationship. That did not seem to exist in other services.

  6. Eddie carrier says:

    You are right Al about the officer/enlisted relationship. I have a relative who was a Navy officer and he is snobbish around me because I was a lowly enlisted man
    And yes we do just remember the good times. Life was hard at sea and we tend to forget that.
    I guess we all are proud of our service to our country and if things got bad most would do it again. In my case I don’t think they will be calling an old man for any more duty!

  7. Al Schafer says:

    I think you speak for all of us.

  8. Michael Phillips says:

    When I was on watch and I had some maneuvering recommendations to send to the bridge the CIC watch supervisor would send the information. On a rare occasion the OOD would ask to have the CIC watch officer give the recommendations. I was amused because when it happened to me the watch officer had to write down the information I gave him before he sent it and when he was finished writing he asked me if I was sure it was correct. I told him I was sure that it used to be. I enjoyed telling that story for a couple of years.

  9. Michael Phillips says:

    Dennis, I could nearly copy your story and just change three things and claim it as my own. My story starts in 1969 and I went to RDA school on Treasure Island and the new commissioning ship I was on was the Coronado. I bought my own 650 Triumph (that part was just eery) and my Plank Owner Certificate is hanging in my wife’s office right this minute. My wife is more impressed with that certificate than I ever was.

  10. Ernie Copenhaver says:

    Found your blog by accident. You must have went through RD “A” school at Great Lakes just ahead of me. I graduated on May 22, 1970 which means I started somewhere around the end of January or beginning of February. Lucky you on getting a dorm room… I lived in one of the old wooden barracks and had a corner bunk between two windows at that. I remember there being at least 1″ of ice on the inside of the windows. That winter was brutal. After “A” school I got stationed on a Farragut/Coontz class ship (USS Dahlgren DLG-12) out of Norfolk and did a 1970 Med cruise and a 1971 North Atlantic cruise on her. My second ship was a Leahy class NTDS ship (USS Richmond K Turner DLG-20). Before going to the Turner they sent me to “B” school for NTDS but it was pretty new back then and didn’t work real well. I have always considered myself a Radarman. We took the Turner through her shake down cruises and went to Gitmo, the Caribbean and South America. Had a chance to do the 1973 UNITAS cruise but decided to get out instead. Wish I had stuck around for that one.

    • John Tonsick says:

      I just stumbled across this terrific blog yesterday. I graduated on May 8, 1970. We may all of met at one time or another. Ernie, I was aboard the Dubuque, you were on our sister ship. Steamed together until I was separated in August of 1973.

  11. Al says:

    Maybe the Navy just wanted to give you a taste of the real world !

  12. D.C. Barnett says:

    Entered “A” school arround May of ’70. Billeted in the old WWII era clapboard barracks. Never saw so many roaches in my life!! Even in the Gator navy, I never saw anywhere near that many cockroaches! I could tell roach stories for hours (if you were buying . . )The class ahead of me graduated at the time of the Cambodian incursion. They took 6 or 8 guys for VN duty stations. My class had exactly one picked for VN. 80% of us (at least) volunteered.
    Went to Vancouver (LPD-2). We had a surplus of RDs. I really enjoyed LEARNING about Ops, but it was pretty boring actually doing it! We were short of GMG’s (and the fleet had big excess of GMG’s. . . go figure!). So I fought w/BuPers for 18mos, and eventually became a Gunner’s Mate. Best move I ever made. Had a lot of unusual assignment, and amazing experiences.

  13. Richard McDonald says:

    I was sent to Treasure Island Radarman A school and stood icy watches on empty bldgs in the middle of the night and had to take hot showers to sleep
    My radar knowledge did help me beat a speeding ticket when I told the judge cop radars use the Doppler effect and can be skewed if the cop does not steady his arm
    The judge agteed. and dismissed the case evrn though he probably knew I was guilty as hell

  14. Tom C Dailey says:

    Hi Dennis, back in ’62, I was in ET-A school at TreasIs. Spending a fair amount of time at the “ham shack”, we were just down the shoreline from “Surfside Six”, where you guys had to occasionally stand watch over the SPS-10 and SPA-8 site. It must have been “brisk” out there. Visiting last Fall, there’s little left of what we knew of TI… it’s just about “scraped clean”, with even the Main Gate gone. Only 3 of the original wooden buildings remain, but the Bowling Alley (where they sold wonderful dripping-grease tacos & french fries in a bag) was still standing! Stumbled across your site looking for a Michael E Walker, from whom I bought a slide rule (still have it)… Fair Winds & Following Seas – Tom D – RMC USN (former)

  15. Janis Evett (Brewer) says:

    Stumbled on this site searching for a pic of the Naval hospital where my daughter was born, November 1971. My husband was one of the RD instructors, Fredrick “Rick“ Brewer, at the time. We lived in Waukegan. I’ve forgotten a lot but certainly remember subzero temps!

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