…and – alongside such an announcement – there’s this blaring noise in the background. The all-pervading sound of a klaxon, bell, or siren; shrieks it’s obscene collection of tones – all up and down the depth and breadth of the ship. It’s loud, it’s frantic, and it appear to be nothing but utter chaos! It’s real: when that bell sounds, you react. Your body moves! Your training has conditioned you to such a degree that even if you were blindfolded and ‘hog-tied’, you’d have to physically struggle not to answer the sound of such a clamouring commotion.
A friend and I were talking about this business – not all that long ago. We were having lunch and kicking back – the way you do – shooting the breeze. We don’t get together as much now. There was a time where we once spent nearly every day together. Living in each other’s pockets will do that to you. So will living on a Ship. Many years ago – we once wore the uniform of sailors and we were well trained to react to such things. I’d bet that even today – if you had me in just the right frame of mind, and surrounded me with one or two things I’d once associated with ship’s at sea – my body would react before my brain did. Conditioning the mind to allow the body to act instinctively is all about training yourself to react!
Straight after the ACTION STATIONS warning, the ship’s sea state changes. That is, when a warship is running at what’s considered the normal every day steaming routine, nothing untoward is expected to happen, so it’s ‘sea state’ – it’s readiness level (to react to any possible situation) – is relaxed. It’s not expecting to get into a messy scrap with a school bully, so it’s ‘guard’ is somewhat down. However, when a warship is taking part in activities that puts it at a higher risk of coming to some harm, it of course steps up it’s sea state where it’s only a moment away from defending itself. It’s ready for a fight quicker then you could tap it on the shoulder and demand it’s Vegemite sandwiches, or flog it’s play money!
These ‘States’ are known as Damage Control States and when a ship goes into it’s ACTIONS STATIONS phase, the next announcement over the loudspeakers is: “ASSUME DAMAGE CONTROL STATE 3, CONDITION ZULU!”. This is where a ship gets ready for Damage. All water tight hatches are closed; preventing the chances of flooding, fire or gas damaging a ship in the event of taking some incoming fire. The ship’s crew is broken up into teams and are spread ‘strategically’ throughout the ship. If the ship takes a hit, you avoid killing too many key crew members by having them split up and spread out. These teams consist of fire fighters, first-aiders and stretcher bearers, electricity re-routers (in case power gets cut on one side of the ship – there’s someone to bring it in from another point), and damage control teams. A warship’s ability to stay afloat is determined by it’s sailor’s ability to react well to threat, and eventually – DAMAGE!
Every sailor onboard is trained in their core job (cook, stoker, electrician, signals etc) and then, every sailor is trained in a secondary key duty that adds to the warships ability to survive such damage. Sailor’s are taught how to aggressively fight fires – big or small. They’re taught how to plug holes – in people and in the ship’s hull. They’re taught how to re-run electrical cables to regain emergency power, and maintain water pressure in the water pipes – after all, fire pumps fail to run without electricity, and you can’t charge fire hoses without reliable water pressure. They’re taught to assess damage, and think on their feet – any damage found, requires an immediate assessment and – immediate action. Above all this – ANY action require well trained people, who are coordinated in how they react, and completely committed to keeping the ship afloat. A dead ship in the water is exactly that – Dead!
During lunch that day – my mate and I were talking about the troubles some people were having in their lives. I meet many people in my work and most of them have experienced – and are still experiencing – severe difficulties in their lives. As a result, some of them have moments in their lives where they experience such depressingly deep lows, they have no way of knowing how they’ll make it through to the next day. Some people have experienced damage so real – so encompassing – they barely make it to the next minute. A complete day is terrifying for them. We spoke about the things I dealt with in my daily dealings with people and we suddenly got to comparing the nature of damage done to these people (no matter how you might perceive it), to the ships we served on. We wished that we could set lose small damage control teams inside of people where their sole job was to limit and repair any damage – and keep that person’s ‘ship’ afloat.
As I walked back to work that day, in my mind I wondered how many times that damn mongrel bell goes off for them – in THEIR minds. More though – I worry for those who simply don’t hear it any more. I think to myself how many times does that ‘bell’ ring for a person before they simply stop hearing it… how many times does a warning siren sound to trigger a reaction – only to have ‘nothing’ happen? What does that do to a person – how do they go on – how do they last?
And once again, I’m blown away by the sheer tenacity of people. All the Damage I see people receive – no support, no repairs, no coordinated assistance of any kind – and STILL they remain afloat – they keep doing whatever it is they manage to be doing and they keep taking hits the whole way around. Truth be told – the odds say they should have been sunk ages ago- but no, they’re still there – still going!
I have to tell you folks – people still amaze me every day. Perhaps you know someone yourself that is amazing – and maybe – you know why!
Belongum – Out!