Executive Officer

USS Saratoga CV-60

  October, 1983 through February 1985

Last Updated May 4th, 2024

Training Prior to Assignment as Executive Officer USS Saratoga CV-60

SWOSCOLCOM (Surface Warfare Officer School Command), Newport, Rhode Island (Basic Course)

Cathy, Jessica and I moved from NAS Jacksonville and bought a house on Tilefish Court in Pablo Point off of San Pablo Road. The house was located close to Saratoga at Mayport. I knew that the working hours as XO would be long and it would enable me to have more time at home if we were living close by.

Reported for Duty as Executive Officer on October 29th, 1983

"Super Sara-Circa 1984"

IN 1984, during our successful deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, Captain Jack Ready proclaimed that USS Saratoga would be known as "Super Sara".  That was not the nickname previously used to describe the Saratoga.  During several years previously, Saratoga had the derisive nickname "Sorry Sara". She had be known to have an unusually poor reliability of her engineering plant and an even worse reputation for her Supply Department. In the late 70s she had to be tied up to the pier in Mayport during a planned type training at sea. The CAG was forced to deploy his squadrons to NAS Mayport and conduct type training as if he was at sea! Many thought Sara was a disgrace!
Service Life Extension Program (SLEP)

SLEP was intended to provide significant upgrades to our remaining fossil fueled aircraft carriers while establishing an improved capability at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Saratoga was the first aircraft carrier to go through SLEP. There were significant problems in the initial portion of SLEP. There was not a sufficient labor pool of experienced workers or the required shops to support the needs of SLEP. They had to hire many workers who were untrained and many proved to be unreliable. It took awhile to establish small business shops to support SLEP at the Philadelphia Shipyard. SLEP was a great strategic idea to establish an improved capability in Philadelphia but Sara paid the price of being the first SLEP carrier. Unreliable workers stole valuable hardware such as brass valves.  Significant work proved to be either unsound from a design or engineering aspect or was poorly accomplished. Some of the work that was reported to have been done had not actually been accomplished. When Sara made her initial attempt at sea trials following SLEP, she had to be returned to the pier because the rudders wouldn't work. LIve wires were arcing on her sides.

Change Of Command

Captain Ready relieved Captain Len Perry on November 11th,

Captain Ready relieved Captain Perry

Captain Ready and I changed the shoulder boards for newly selected Rear Admiral Perry

I only had the pleasure of working with Rear Admiral Perry for a short time. But, it was clear to me that the Navy selected the right officer to lead the Saratoga through through the SLEP process. SLEP required a man of intelligence and the ability to lead the ship through the process with great patience.

My Initial Challenges Upon Arrival as Executive Officer

I checked in as XO when Sara arrived at Mayport following SLEP.  During her time at sea transiting from Philadelphia to Mayport, it was discovered that there was a serious problem with all the high pressure steam lines in her boilers. The "astro arc" welding process that was used to repair the steam lines during SLEP was intended for the repair of new material not for used material. All these steam lines had to be redone along side in Mayport. Welders from all over the world came to be interviewed to do the very exacting work. Inspectors from every conceivable level arrived to determine who was responsible for this situation. Fortunately, Saratoga's Chief Engineer, Mike Landon, was an experienced, dedicated, and talented post sea commanding officer who handled all the engineering aspects of the welding operation. During that evolution, he discovered that the eight Ships Service Turbo Generators (SSTGs) that had supposedly been reworked In Philly, hadn't been. We had them removed, properly reworked, and reinstalled during the high profile steam line repairs. During the period we were alongside for the post SLEP repairs, I was busy with resolving other issues.

Hurricane Incident

We were alongside Charlie Pier, no ability to get underway, and were in the path of of a late season hurricane. The Chief Engineer, First Lieutenant, an active reserve LCDR and I came up with a plan to protect Sara and the pier if we experienced high winds to the Captain; I don't recall if he was the outgoing SLEP Captain S3 background Len Perry or the Incoming F-14 Test PiIot Jack Ready.

The Plan

Sara was alongside Charlie Pier port to. The plan was to remove the port anchor and attach it to the starboard rear quarter. Next we would run out the starboard anchor using a barge and lower it to the center of harbor and then run out the anchor from the starboard rear quarter to the harbor. Once both anchors were in place, we had them winched in to pull the Saratoga away from the pier using reinforced spring lines. The goal was the keep the Sara stable during high winds. The Captain approved the plan and it was successful. The Chief Engineer, the First Lieutenant and I worked well together for the rest of my tenure as XO.

 Post SLEP Administrative Mess

About a week after reporting for duty as XO, I decided that I would review the folders of sailors who had been recommended for Captains Mast (XO Inquiry) in my spacious second deck cabin on Monday nights with Monday Night Football on the TV. My plan was that I would handle the less serious cases at my level and recommend the more serious cases for Captain's Mast. Imagine my shock when there were almost 500 hundred cases covering about the last six weeks of SLEP. After working to about midnight, it was obvious there was no way that I could properly handle that number of cases. The next morning, I called for my first formal Department Head's Meeting at 1500 in the afternoon. At 1500, I convened the meeting in the 2nd deck officers mess. I think that most of the departments were represented but not by the Department Heads. I disbanded the meeting and told the representatives that were not Department Heads to report back that I would reconvene the meeting the next day, Wednesday, and that I expected Department Heads to attend Department Head meetings. I expected to make decisions at Department Head meetings and if they didn't have a good excuse, they better send someone in their stead who the had confidence could represent them at the decision making level. I knew I was on solid ground with Captain Ready as he had told me that he wanted me to "run the hotel" so he could "think big thoughts" on the bridge :-) The next day all of the Department Heads showed up, even the Chief Engineer who was very busy with the super heater tube issue and the Navigator,who had no where to navigate. The Navigator had pass when we were underway. That set a precedence lasted for the rest of my XO tour.

I told the Department Heads that I was returning all the discipline records to the individual departments and only wanted to review the cases that they thought appropriate for my review the next Monday night.

Chief Petty Officer Review Board (CPORB)

The Chief Engineer, Mike Landon, suggested that we might want to consider establishing a Chief Petty Officer Review Board (CPORB) to handle some of the cases especially those involving disrespect of a petty offer. The review board would consist of E8 and E9 Chief Petty Officers and be chaired by the Master Chief Petty officer of the Command and be held in the Chief's Mess. The CPORB could refer the cases to Captain's Mast or handle them at their level with a "tongue lashing" or reasonable punishments such as extra duty. They could not award reduction in rate or pay; only the Captain could do that.! He reported that this approach had been effective in surface warfare commands that he had observed. We decided to give it a try. It turned out to be very effective and reduced everyone's work load. Many of the sailors would rather face the Captain than the Senior and Master Chiefs in the Chief's Mess.

Reserve Temporary Active duty JAG Officer/Naval Intelligence Service (NIS) Cases

We had a full time NIS agent assigned to the ship. We had anew NIS agent onboard. The previous NIS agent had left behind two three drawer file cases behind when he departed. Fortunately, we had a LCDR Reserve temporary active duty JAG Officer assigned for six weeks. He was a prosecutor from from the Memphis District Attorney's Office. I asked him to review all the cases and recommend which cases to handle and which to destroy. After his review, we destroyed most of the cases due to insufficient evidence or other reasons. But, he He said that we we had a serious homosexual situation that involved a couple of officers, chief petty officers and numerous enlisted personnel especially in the Aviation Fuels Division of the Air Department. He also said that we had a potential serious security issue involving the Cryptology Officer the Communications Department. It was complicated by the fact that this officer was the #1 LtJG in the most recent ship's fitness reports. His reports resulted in numerous Captain's Masts and Summary Courts Martial that removed many personnel in the Fuels' Division.

The Cryptology OfficerI reported the situation to the Captain and we removed this officer from his position pending further investigation. I also requested that the Captain relieve me from the normal prosecution of the case so that I could get the facts in the case and determine if we had as serious problem. He approved my recommendation. I asked the current NIS agent how he would proceed in the case. He recommended that I interview the officer at length and repeat my questions over and over to get to the truth. Initially, the young officer denied any involvement but after an hour or so, he demonstrated a significant personality change and finally related that he had been a homosexual prior to his commissioning and had been involved in homosexual behavior onboard Sara but that it had not affected his work as the Cryptology Officer. I reported my findings to Captain Ready and the NIS Officer took over the case The officer was awarded a Special Courts Martial. The result of the Special Courts Martial was that he was allowed to resign his commission.

GTMO at Guantanamo Bay Cuba

By the time the engineering issues had been resolved, most of the Fuels personnel and the Cryptology Officer had been replaced, and some underway time had been conducted, we were ready to go to Guantanamo Bay Cuba to conduct challenging damage control training and certification. By then our nightly Department Head meetings were going smoothly, my Monday night XO non judicial punishment folders were down to about 100 records, the Chief Petty Officer Review Board concept was working and the Captain was down to holding about 20 cases every two weeks at Captain's Mast. After some early issues at at Damage Control training, our scores were improving and successfully we passed our certification.  

The Saratoga/CAG 17 Team

Captain Ready

As Captain Perry was the right officer to the lead Sara through the challenges of SLEP, I thought that Captain Ready was a great choice to make the transition from SLEP to underway carrier operations.

Under his leadership, Sara made the transition from "Sorry Sara" to Super Sara". Engineering passed the OPPE Operational Propulsion Plant Exam) on the first try and the Saratoga/CAG 17 team had an outstanding grade on the ORE(Operational Readiness Exercise).

Captain Ready established a great working environment for me and the heads of the various departments in that we understood what kinds of issues could and should be addressed to the CO and what kinds of issues should be addressed directly with the XO.

Captain Ready gave me the authority and a wide latitude to "run the hotel" so that he could concentrate on Operations and Operational Readiness.

Captain Ready and "lefty" Weapons Officer, Hank Zambie, probably playing me and a "ringer" I brought with me.
Captain Ready was great for morale of the troops; enlisted and officers. He created some new approaches to improve the living environment onboard the ship and enjoyed himself with the officers on liberty.

I particularly appreciated his support and participation of the Saratoga tennis team. I enjoyed putting the team together and making sure we had places to play in every port.

The Saratoga Tennis team was very competitive when we had the opportunity to play host teams particularly in Naples, Toulon, Palma and Barcelona..

The Saratoga Tennis Team

We enjoyed playing on the red clay courts in Europe.

The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Command

MCPOC James Courson was an essential member of the team. Not only did he represent all the Chief Petty officers assigned the Saratoga, but he also worked closely with MCPOCs of the Airwing.

He met with the Senior and Master Chief Petty Officers in the Chief's Mess to hear their complaints and comments.

He met regularly with Captain Ready on the Bridge to discuss the results of those meeting and advised him on what action was being taken at the XO/Department Head level.

MCPOC Courson attended regularly scheduled Department Head meetings and worked closely with me on a regular basis.

Commander Air Wing 17

Squadrons of CAG 17

VMA (AW) 533

Air Wing Missions

Air superiority including defense of the ship: VF-74 and VF-103- F-14 Tomcat
Power Projection: VA-81 and VA-83- A7E Corsair II
Anti Submarine Warfare: VS-30- S3A and HS-3- SH-3H
Air Warfare Coordination- VAW-125- E2C
Electronic Warfare: VMAQ-2 and VMA (AW) 533- EA6B
Surveillance: VQ2- EA3B

Note: The airwing works directly for the Captain and the embarked staff in accomplishing these missions.

Air Wing/Executive Officer Responsibilities

There are approximately 2500 officers and enlisted in the ship's crew. When the airwing is aboard, that number increases by about 3000 to a total of 5500 people. More people means more berthing and more people to feed. When the airwing comes aboard, each squadron sends personnel on Temporary Additional Orders (TAD)to the ship as either compartment cleaners or mess cooks to help with the additional work load. In addition, the air wing is responsible for the upkeep of their assigned work spaces. The Executive Department monitors this by conducting "Zone Inspections" on a routine basis.

Due to the requirement to be on station during underway operations CDR Ewing rarely attended Department Head meetings. But he normally sent a representative. CAG Ewing had an A7 background at Cecil Field so I knew him well before coming to Sara.

Ship's Operational Departments and their Relationship with Working with the XO


The Navigator did not normally attend Department Head meetings due to the requirement to be on the bridge during underway operations. He normally sent a representative.Due to the requirement to be on station during underway operations

Stu Fitrell, had an A7 background and was actually senior to me according to date of rank. Stu and I never had an issue with getting along. He pretty much stayed on the Bridge and sent the Assistant Navigator to my meetings. Stu did well as the Navigator and later in life, Captain Ready arranged for Stu be the Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Pax River, Maryland when Admiral Ready was the Commander of the Test Center.


CDR Christie normally attended Department Head meetings or sent CDR Robb, the Strike Ops Officer in his place.
CDR Christie had an A7 background at Cecil Field and knew him well before coming to Saratoga.

I knew Butch Christie from our A7 days.

I guess that Doug White must have relieved Butch Christie toward the end of the cruise. I may have left before he reported aboard.

The Operations Department is a large department composed of many divisions which I will outline briefly below.

OPS Administration
OA Division: Meteorolology
OC Division: Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC)- control of air operations except for operations controlled by CIC
                   (Combat Information Center)

OE Division: Maintenance of Operations' computers and electronic equipment
OM Division: Defense of ship based NATO  Sea Sparrow and CIWS (Close In Weapons System)
OP Division: Photo Lab
CIC- (Combat Information Center): Provides timely tactical information to the Operations Officer, the Captain and the embarked staff
OX Division: ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare)
OW Division: Electronic Warfare
OS Division: Security Group
Strike Ops (Strike Operations): plan strike warfare employment
OZ Division: CVIC- Intelligence Center

Air Department

Saratoga had two outstanding Air Department Heads (known as the Air Boss) during my tour as XO.

CDR Ralph Staplin was the Air Boss for the first half of my tour.

He did an outstanding job of organizing and training the officers, chief petty officers and enlisted personnel after SLEP. The Air Department was in great shape when he handed over the Air Department to the Mini Boss, CDR Pat McGovern.

Ralph moved on to the AIRLANT staff where he was able to put his experience to work while monitoring all the Air Departments aboard all east coast carriers.

CDR Pat McGovern was an exceptional Air Boss during our Med deployment.

Pat was one of the first if not the first officers selected to be an Air Boss with a helicopter background.

Pat was well qualified for the job as he was a graduate of the Navy's Test Pilot School and had aircraft carrier experience in a deployed helicopter squadron.

Pat and I would work together both when I was the CO of Austin when he was at the Test Center at PAX River and and during my tour as Chief Of Staff of COMCRUDESGRU 12 when Pat was the Helicopter Wing Commander at NAS JAX.

The Air Department is a large department composed of many divisions which I will outline briefly below.

Next Chapter

Training Pipeline Prior to Reporting to USS Austin LPD-4

Senior Officers Shipboard Engineering Course (SOSMARC), Idaho Falls, Idaho
SOSMARC Class training at the Navy's Engineering Training Center in Glenviw, Illinois Chicago
SWOSCOLCOM (Surface Warfare Officer School Command), Newport, Rhode Island (with SOSMARC Class)
Large bridge simulator training at Toledo, Ohio and Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York

  Commanding Officer USS Austin LPD-4

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