This is No Drill


Charles Howell AG2, OI Division
USS Salisbury Sound (AV-13)

Any old sailor will tell you that life aboard a ship consists, in part, of a series of drills done over and over again; general quarters, gunnery practice, damage control drills, man overboard drills, etc. Most of us reluctantly participated, mainly because it was not a matter of choice, and it offered a diversion from the sometimes boring life at sea. However, the repetition was a real drag.

The incident that I am relating here probably occurred in late 1957 or early 1958 (memory fades) aboard the USS Salisbury Sound. It was Sunday morning, and the ship was tied up at the pier in Buckner Bay, Okinawa. I was off watch and taking my ease in undress blues up in the Aerology office on the O3 deck. I was sitting in a chair leaned against the bulkhead, and I was doing my best to relax and enjoy the time off. Suddenly, the PA system blared out "Now hear this, General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations."

My first thoughts were, "Don't these people ever give up?" and "What zealot would call a GQ drill on a Sunday morning?"

Then I heard the dreaded words, "This is no drill!"

Being a lifelong victim of a vivid imagination, Pearl Harbor and Sunday, December 7th, 1941, immediately came to mind. Was I going to wind up like those poor swabbies on the ships in Battleship Row?

I immediately jumped out of the chair and ran to my GQ station in "Sky Aft," the after 5" gun director, and got ready to fire. After a short time, the word came down to secure from GQ. A flight of Marine aircraft approaching Okinawa had failed to turn on their friend or foe signals, and that had set off an area wide defense reaction.

After it was all over and everything had calmed down, a light suddenly went on in my head. That is what all those repetitious drills were about. Even though I was surprised, confused, and a little scared when the GQ alarm went off, I had done just exactly what they had trained me to do.

Apparently, institutions like the Navy learn from experience just like people do. Someone way above my pay grade had figured out a long time ago, that when an individual is frightened and confused by the circumstances in which he or she find themselves, they do what is now second nature to them. That is, they do what they have been trained to do through relentless repetition.

After that incident, I remained aboard another six or seven months until my hitch was up. However, I never again questioned the need for repetitive drills.



About the Author

After leaving the Sally Maru in Subic Bay, Charlie went to Los Angeles, where he married his waiting sweetheart. He attended Cal Poly, Pomona for four years and earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences. He then went North to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington for another four years, emerging with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. He was hired by the USDA as a Research Plant Pathologist, and he spent the next 40 years working on the biological control of cotton seed and seedling diseases and on soil microbiology. He also served as an adjunct professor in the department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Texas A&M University. He then retired in Bryan, Texas, where he and his wife enjoy the company of their 4 children and 4 grandchildren.