Posted by: Jacqui Murray | July 11, 2011

Midwatch: Bain of Sailors; Backbone of the Navy

Say hello to my guest blogger today, Chief Petty Officer (ret) and critically-acclaimed award winning author Jeff Edwards. If you haven’t read Jeff, you’re in for a treat. Author of Sea of Shadows and The Seventh Angel, Jeff is a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer and an

sea of shadows

Great Navy thriller by Jeff Edwards

Anti-Submarine Warfare Specialist.  His naval career spanned more than two decades and half the globe – from chasing Soviet nuclear attack submarines during the Cold War, to launching cruise missiles in the Persian Gulf.  Collectively, his novels have won the Admiral Nimitz Award for Outstanding Naval Fiction, the Reader’s Choice Award, the Clive Cussler Grandmaster Award for Adventure Writing, and the American Author Medal.  You can visit Jeff online at NavyThriller.com.

Here’s Jeff’s take on the Midwatch. Don’t know what that is? Read on…

Sailors hate the Midwatch. It’s practically a law of the sea. Water is wet; what goes up must come down, and Sailors despise the Midwatch.
You can’t really blame them. Nobody wants to crawl out of the sack at one-thirty in the morning, after only an hour or two of sleep, to go stand five hours of watch on the Bridge, or in Combat Information Center, or the Engineering spaces.

When your ship is in a three-section watch rotation, you stand the Midwatch every third day. Every three days, you end up with a 19 hour work day. Toss in Damage Control Drills, Man Overboard Drills, General Quarters Drills, Abandon Ship Drills, and a bit of training just to keep the crew on their toes, and a 19-hour day can quickly stretch into 24 hours. By comparison, the other two days in the rotation are merely exhausting.

The Midwatch doesn’t nibble at your sleep time; it devours sleep in great bloody chunks. And it comes around for another meal every three days, just about the time your body is beginning to feel human again.

Okay, I’ve explained why it is that Sailors hate the Midwatch. Now I have a small confession to make… I like the Midwatch. Sometimes I even love the Midwatch. I’m generally very careful not to utter those words in the presence of other squids, lest I become a candidate for Psych-Eval. Nevertheless, it’s true. I really do like the Midwatch.

I certainly don’t enjoy the sleep deprivation. The Midwatch knocks me for a loop just like it does everyone else: a fact that I’ve done more than my share of grumbling about over the years. But a person can get a lot of thinking done during the Midwatch. And it was during a Midwatch that I finally began to understand the real job of the United States Military.

During the Midwatch, at say three in the morning, only a handful of crewmembers are awake: the Bridge crew, the teams in Sonar Control and Combat Information Center, a skeleton crew of Engineers, roving Sounding and Security watches, and a few others. The rest of the crew is asleep, catching a few hours of downtime between watches, drills, and emergencies.

Now here’s the funny thing … The Sailors who are lucky enough to be in their bunks at three a.m. don’t usually know who’s got the watch. It’s plenty of work keeping track of your own watch schedules. No one really has time to bother with someone else’s rotation. So at three in the morning, when a Sailor is sleeping, he or she typically has no idea who is running the ship.

This came to me in the wee hours of the morning, while I stood watch as Conning Officer on the Bridge of a destroyer in the Persian Gulf. I was standing on the port side Bridge wing with the hot desert wind in my face, scanning the water for navigation hazards. There are about a thousand things that a ship can collide with in the Persian Gulf. There are oil platforms, fishing nets, cargo ships, tankers, and all manner of strange floating debris. On a moonless night, it takes unceasing vigilance to avoid collision. All that stands between your vessel and disaster are the eyes of the Conning Officer, the Officer of the

Deck, and a couple of Seamen assigned to lookout duty.

As I raised binoculars to my eyes for what seemed like the five-hundredth time that night, I realized that I held the lives of every sleeping Sailor on that ship in my hands. They didn’t know that I was standing the Conn. They didn’t know who was standing Officer of the Deck, or Aft Lookout, or the Damage Control Console watch, or the radar watch in Combat Information Center. They didn’t know, and they didn’t care. They knew that someone had the Conn, and that someone had lookout duty, and that someone was running the Engineering plant. The sleeping Sailors didn’t need to know who we were. They knew we were there, protecting them, and protecting the ship while they slept. That was enough.

It came to me as I stood on that Bridge wing, that the Midwatch is an excellent tool for understanding America’s military. Every night, while nearly three hundred million Americans sleep, a few hundred thousand men and women in uniform stand the watch. It’s a small fraction of the population, less than one percent.

They stand watch aboard ships, in aircraft, in infantry units, aboard submarines, in armored fighting vehicles. They stand watch from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic, from office buildings to defensive positions in the desert. And they do it every day, and every night, whether the rest of us pay attention or not.

We don’t know who they are. We don’t need to know. We sleep soundly, knowing that we are protected. And that is enough.

Jeff has a special on his website, a free copy of his ebook, Sea of Shadows. I’m half way through and only put it down when I really must return to the editing of my own book (coming in the Fall–Twenty-four Days–also a thriller). The detailed insider information he shares about the US Navy, Destroyers, helos, submarines is amazing, all while the reader sits on the edge of their chair rooting for the good guys to win. If you like Joe Buff, you’ll like Jeff Edwards.

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Responses

  1. As an STG3 on a Spruance class destroyer, I liked the mid-watch. I especially liked it in port as the Armed Roving Patrol. As Messenger of the Watch, not so much. There is nothing more demoralizing than having to Never-Dull all the brass on the Quarterdeck. The only “good” parts were not having to wear your dress uniform (because of cleaning) or having to answer the phone (because no one calls after 23:30).

  2. Rick, always good to hear from another Ping Jockey and tin can Sailor. I had forgotten about the Never-Dull thing. I’ll have to sneak that into my next book. 😉

    • Remember the smell? I swear, when I i catch a whiff of that stuff I am back in NorVa on my boat. What ship were you, Chief?

      • Oh yeah. I definitely remember that smell. And I also remember trying to get the tarnish stains off of my fingers.
        I served aboard USS Reeves, USS Towers, USS Paul F. Foster, and USS Stethem. Good ships, all of them. Which Spruance were you on?

      • USS Comte de Grasse (DD-974)! Also did a 90 day stint on USS Fortify (MSO-446).
        The only thing worse than the Never-Dull stains was the dry skin from the PD-680 we used to strip the wax off the deck!
        AAAHHHH, good times.

  3. […] week, I’m guest blogging on USNA or Bust, Jacqui Murray’s excellent blog about getting accepted to the United States Naval […]

  4. […] week, I’m guest blogging on USNA or Bust, Jacqui Murray’s excellent blog about getting accepted to the United States Naval Academy. If […]

  5. Holy cow, Rick, you’re really bringing back the memories. Back in the bad old days, before the Navy became eco-conscious, Sailors used to practically bathe in PD-680. The good news, it cleans just about anything. The bad news, it’s toxic for your liver, your spleen, your pancreas, and six other organs to be named later. Before Material Safety Data Sheets, we didn’t know any better. It’s a miracle that none of my kids were born with gills.

  6. […] Midwatch: Bain of Sailors; Backbone of the Navy (usnaorbust.wordpress.com) […]


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