Where I worked was called CIC. This area was manned by those with a rating of Radarman (RD). This rating was changed to OS (Operations Specialist) in October of 1972. We were part of the OI (Operations Intelligence) Division which also included Radiomen, Electronic Technicians, Quartermasters and Signalmen. The job in CIC was multifaceted and included operation of radar (both air and surface), aid in navigation, detect, plot and track friendly as well as hostile targets, communicate with other vessels and basically provide information. Collection, analyzing, processing, display and dissemination of tactical information and intelligence is essentially what we did. There was a reason that we were located just a few steps from the Captains stateroom and had a direct stairway to the bridge. The skipper, the XO or the OOD (Officer of the Deck) could step in CIC anytime and see the big picture of what is going on around us through the use of status boards. These were steel-framed sheets of acrylic or plexiglass that were edge-lit and displayed information. The room was always dark when underway, with nothing but red lights overhead to protect night vision. The status boards stood out brightly in that environment. They would be written on from the back with yellow grease pencils then when viewed from the front, with the edge-lighting, lit up like neon. We had terry rags with which to erase the marks off the panel. Sometimes when at GQ and manning our battle stations I would be assigned to the large status board that displayed the Viet Nam coastline and we would plot various positions of other vessels in the fleet on it. Of course, for the writing or plots to be correctly visible in the room you had to write backwards from the back of this board. You worked from the back of the board so that the information was never obscured from the front. I can still quickly write backwards to this day! Some things just don’t go away. Working with legible logs and sometimes having to jot down codes, I got into a habit of modifying how I print zeros, 1’s, and Z’s to save any confusion. I still sometimes do this to this day, though I’ve never run the slash through a 7.
On any Navy ship the CIC is often referred to as the nerve center of the ship. For all the information flowing in and out of here, you would think we knew all of what is going on, but it wasn’t always so. We would be in the dark figuratively as well as literally. After having
worked there I cannot imagine being an engineer working down below decks in the engine room or boiler room, totally clueless to what is happening topside. I’m sure that sometimes we weren’t aware of all that was going on since the bridge would often take direct control of a situation, especially if the captain was up there. We had to detect and track radar contacts, then relay that information to the bridge. The surface search radar operater was on the same sound-powered phone circuit as the port and starboard lookouts, so he would alert them to the direction of a contact when it would come within range. We would track a contact and give them sequential sequential NATO phonetic alphabetic names. Unknown contacts or targets were called skunks, thus the first one of the day was Skunk Alpha, then Skunk Bravo, Skunk Charlie, etc. We would have to track them over a short period of time to gather their course and speed. This would have to be calculated taking into account our own forward course and speed. Ahhhh, ya gotta love relative motion! We could then tell the bridge “ Skunk Delta is on a course of 260 degrees at 14 knots and will pass 1000 yards astern of us at 2312.” We would still track it to watch for any deviation and then send updates to the OOD on the bridge.
Within our watch group at any given time there may be one guy manning the surface search radar, another watching the air search radar, someone
listening for radio transmissions, someone keeping a log, someone plotting on the DRT (dead-reckoning tracer) and a floater, probably the Petty Officer of the watch. In between tracking contacts on the surface search radar, the operator would be giving bearings and ranges to geographic features to someone to plot our position on a navigation chart. The bridge had their navigation team too, so we were sort of a backup for that and other reasons why we had to keep aware of our exact location. I remember once an Ensign came down from the bridge with a piece of paper and said here is the latitude and longitude we just got from the aircraft carrier in our task group, “they have a satellite system that tells them exactly where on earth they are.” “Hey, why don’t we have that?” Spendy stuff in 1972 and only the larger vessels had that hardware. Nowadays we have that technology in our wristwatch and cell phones!
Typically, we stood 4 hour watches which would rotate through 3 or 4 watch sections. This would allow you at least an 8 hour period for sleep or other activities. There was usually more shipboard activity during the daytime hours, so CIC was usually more active during this time with different things going on. Contrast that to a mid-watch which ran from midnight until 0400. This one could be quite boring, especially when steaming across the middle of the Pacific. We were no less vigilant, since there was still the chance of encountering commercial merchant traffic, but it was certainly more relaxed. Another reason to stay awake was in case of a man overboard, we would have to immediately mark the position on the DRT and then send ranges and bearing to that location to the bridge for them to get to get the ship back to the area until a visual could be made. In the Tonkin Gulf even the mid-watch could be tense, because anything could happen at any time. If on Yankee Station the carrier we were guarding could decide to launch aircraft anytime, or we could be sent off on a search and rescue. You just never knew.
When in a situation where more personnel was necessary you would go to a 2 section watch system, called port and starboard watches. If you were not on watch, you were next and you were usually there for 8 hours. When on the gunline or any other time that ordinance was being handled or other imminent threat, the crew had to be at Condition I, or in other words, at General Quarters. An alarm would sound and all speakers throughout the ship would call for “All hands man your battle stations.” You were to react to this immediately no matter what you were doing. If your station was topside you donned a helmet and flak jacket. The smoking lamp is out! You remained at this condition until you left hostile conditions or away from danger. During this condition there were highs and lows of activities with the adrenaline flowing heavy for awhile and then mind-numbing lulls where you could barely stay awake.
The next stage of readiness was Condition II. This was like a GQ-lite, where a high state of preparedness was necessary. This allowed crew members to use the head or go get chow and then come relieve the current watch standers to allow them to do the same. I think this is the condition we were in when we conducted harassment and interdiction missions that would go on most of the night. Some of us were allowed to hit our bunks as the gunfire continued through the night. We were just far enough offshore to not be threatened by any shore based fire. H&I missions were where you’re assigned an un-observed area to randomly fire to disrupt enemy movements, positions and suspected transportation routes. Doing so at night creates confusion, disrupts activity and sleep patterns.
Most of the time though was spent in Condition III (wartime cruising) or Condition IV. If I recall, we just stood the regular watches when at Yankee Station on Plane Guard Duty. Plane Guard is when a destroyer or escort follows the aircraft carrier 1500 yards and 5 degrees off the stern of a carrier. You’re ready to respond at a moments notice if a flight crew member gets blown off the carrier deck or a plane goes over or crashes nearby. We’re going to be much more maneuverable than the carrier, plus they may be in the middle of flight ops and cannot deviate from the necessary course and speed. If I recall, all of our plane guard duties during the 1972 WestPac were with the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43). The aircraft this carrier had were A6 Intruders, A7 Corsairs and F4 Phantoms. In May of 1972 we took part in Operation Pocket Money. This was where the Coral Sea launched aircraft carrying mines to drop in Haiphong Harbor. We found out later that the mine drop was timed exactly as President Nixon announced the situation publicly to the nation.
Working in CIC was very interesting, often stressful and other times calm. We worked hard, but we had to have our fun times whenever we could to keep things from getting too heavy. I’ll write about some of those times in another article.