Another SWOtivational Day!

Every year after a week packed with birthdays and Halloween, we tend to spool down and intentionally take a breather before the Holiday season is upon us in earnest. This year was no different and, after Flight’s departure for work on All Saints’ Day, we didn’t venture terribly far from Davista for a couple days. That’s not true, we ventured some 100 yards down the line of RVs to the on-site Laundromat (free!) and back again (several times!), where we saw this gorgeous Great Blue Heron. That was the extent of our exploration until we were sufficiently restored.


On the third day post-Halloween, after book-intensive school activities were complete, I thought we’d add on to our growing knowledge base in Naval History and planned a field trip to the USS IOWA (BB-61), the magnificent warship that is now parked in the Los Angeles Harbor.

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Keeper, who has occasionally threatened an interest in becoming a weapons systems engineer, was the most eager (behind me, of course) to visit the Iowa. Although, upon arriving at the massive ship, we learned that the first Captain’s dog, Victory, deployed with the crew and served as their mascot. As we are currently jonesing for a dog (dogs?) of our own, the girls thought this was pretty cool and they, too, were eager to follow “Vicky’s” clues throughout the tour thus earning their own set of “Vicky’s dogtags.”


My interest in seeing this big gas ship (HA!) has conflicting roots. First of all, I recognize that I am shamefully ignorant of how my surface Navy brethren and sisteren live aboard these gigantic steel beasts. Furthermore, I know that my personal assessment of my general lack of knowledge of the Surface Navy enterprise has at least evolved from a fierce sense of pride (only aviators who fly aircraft too large to land on a carrier crow about this ignorance) to a (probably more appropriate) modicum of professional chagrin. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have walked my Navy career path any other way and I am very thankful that my few “deployments” were to live solo in a one-bedroom suite at various Air Force bases where we took off from and landed on long, straight, non-pitching and non-yawing runways. Yet still… When I learned that the USS IOWA still hosted midshipmen training through my commissioning year, a (very small) part of my 23-year commissioned self was a little wistful about the missed opportunity. And then moments later I thought about who I was as my 20-year old self and reaffirmed that sailing from Annapolis to Bermuda and back again was a much better fit for then MIDN 1/C Me.

And, somehow, I am still drawn to learn more about the Fleet (albeit truthfully only those ships of yesteryear). Maybe it’s due to a WWII vintage Navy plot line I have kicking around my transom, but more likely it’s because I now know that there’s no way I might find myself squirreled away in the bowels of one of them that I’m more inclined to venture out to gain some professional surface Navy knowledge. I guess that in knowing that my Navy days behind me far outnumber those ahead (and maybe it has something to do with our current “deployment” in this 32’ land-yacht) I can’t help but entertain a morbid curiosity about how my brothers and sisters aboard ships have managed truly deploying aboard those enormous metal cans. No matter how I try, I can’t fathom preparing beef stew for 2500.

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It’s all I can manage to meal plan for our flight of 5 and only then with a heavy reliance on the InstantPot. So, maybe I’m making up for it by soaking in as much as I can now as the opportunities present themselves, getting my Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) – geek on, as it were. Papa, you should be proud.

Here are some of the fruits of my recent research labor. First, this battleship has traveled the globe many times over at least as many decades. The mighty Iowa’s keel was laid down in the New York Naval Shipyard on 27 June 1940 and she was launched 27 August 1942. A year later (to the day!), she was tasked with her first wartime patrol in the Atlantic and then headed to the Pacific theater in early 1944. I was surprised to learn that my own number of transitions on and off active duty is more than that of the mighty Iowa’s (but only just), yet knew that her decades of naval service far exceed mine. This blew me away though: her ship’s company was designed to number 1900, but swelled to 2800 in WWII. I’m guessing that’s why the enlisted berthing in 1944 sported stacked racks four deep. !!!


We made our way throughout the ship, first taking in the forward 16-inch guns. Holy cow are they ENORMOUS!


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Each 16-inch gun required 6 – 110 lb sacks of propellant (“smokeless gunpowder”, a total misnomer as it is neither smokeless nor a powder) to launch a projectile a maximum range of 24 miles. Keep in mind these projectiles weighed anywhere from 1900 to 2700 lbs. !!!

The three-gun turrets could position and fire each gun individually (thus “three-gun” and not “triple”) and required a crew of 79 men to operate each. Great googlie mooglie! If you, too, want to get your SWO (Surface Warfare Officer) – geek on, you can watch this 1955 training video on firing these awesome tools of diplomacy.

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Later in her career the Iowa and her three sister ships (only four were built in the class) received upgrades in their weaponry to include anti-ship Harpoons, Tomahawk land-attack missiles, and four Phalanx Close-in Weapons Systems (CIWS, acronym pronounced sea-wiz) that resemble R2D2, and are so nicknamed.

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She also boasted twin-mount 5-inch guns that required only (!) 27 men to operate, not including those needed on lower decks for projectile handling. Check out Keeper checking out the Harpoons and the higher mounted CIWS.

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I always learned the R2D2 units were kind of a last ditch effort for any inbound missiles or aircraft that made it in through the Fleet’s air defenses. I’m not sure how comfortably I would rely on these rebel droid look-alikes, but they sure look like fun to shoot.

We finished our tour as the museum was closing and (in my head) I requested permission to go ashore. Not unlike Exactly the same faint ship aroma I had picked up aboard the MIDWAY only a week ago hung closely in my nostrils as we made our way back to the Subaru.

We stopped for a few pics before I respectfully bade her majesty adieu and, eager to continue our land-based travels, shook off any longing that my days afloat counter was stuck anywhere other than zero.

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