The Sidewinder Story

Most of you probably haven't thought about it, but anyone that emails me knows I utilize sidewinder for my email. When I can't get sidewinder, I use sydwynd (for sidewind). Hence the URL for my blog (just try getting sidewinder anything on the internet). The story goes back to my Navy days. For those that don't know, I was an officer in the United States Navy for 5 years.

My first actual job was the Missle Officer aboard USS Bainbridge (CGN-25, now decommissioned, not to be confused with USS Bainbridge DDG-96 now under construction). We went into the shipyard for 6 months for an overhaul and offloaded all of our ammunition. Standard complement was 76 SM-2 surface to air missles with boosters, 8 Harpoon anti-ship missles, and various sizes of small arms and other ammunition, including 76mm depleted uranium rounds for our Close In Weapons System (or CIWS [pronounced see-wiz] for short). Anyway, it came time to order all new ammunition. This was about $50 million worth of stuff. The way we ordered it was to plug the numbers representing the ammunition into a software package that kicked out a 10 page purchase request that was all 12 digit numbers with quantities. There was no column with text stating what the number represented.

So my boss (the Combat Systems Officer) and I reviewed this entire document to make sure we got everything. We believed we had ordered everything we needed and noted the line with a 12 digit number and a quantity of 8. I told him this was our order for Harpoon missles and he said great. We were originally scheduled to load out at the Yorktown weapons facility. However, something came up and we were ordered to go to the Charleston Naval Weapons facility instead. We sailed down, had a nice weekend in Charleston (with plenty of partying), and Monday morning we're sailing up the Charleston River to the weapons facility. I'm in the wardroom and my boss (6 foot 4 inches and about 250 pounds) comes barging in yelling at me "What the fuck did you do!". I give him the look of confusion and he proceeds to tell me (scream actually) that he just got a call from the weapons facility.

As they were getting everything on the pier to load on to our ship, they realized the 8 Sidewinder missles had been shipped to us instead of 8 Harpoon missles. Now, for those non military, couldn't care less about guns/weapons/things that blow up, a Sidewinder missile (classified AIM-9M) is a short range air to air missle. This is something a fighter plane mounts under the wing and shoots at other airplanes. I go and get our massive 10 page list of numbers and find the order for the Harpoon missles.

I dig into the what the number represented, and it was indeed a Sidewinder missle. Turns out that when I took my hand written notes and typed them into the computer, I entered a 9 instead of a 7. Minor mistake it seems. Not so minor. It's the difference between getting anti-ship or anti-air missles.

To give you a little more on how impressive it was that I managed to get these missles, in order to get approval to purchase a Harpoon missle, it has to go through several commands. First, the Destroyer Squadron that the ship belongs to must approve the purchase. Next, it goes to ComNavSurLant (Commander, Naval Surface Fleet Atlantic). Then, because the Harpoon missile has an air launched variant, it has to go to ComNavAirLant (Commander, Naval Air Fleet Atlantic). Once it gets through there, it goes to the weapons station. In other words, our destroyer squadron said we could have anti air missles, the Surface command approved us having them, the AIR COMMAND approved us having them, then YORKTOWN NAVAL WEAPONS STATION IN VIRGINIA SHIPPED THE MISSLES TO CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA! In all that time, no one, including the weapons station that packed up these missles and sent them to another facility, questioned why a surface ship needed air to air missles.

Anyway, once we figured out it was my fault, we tried to get the correct missles. No dice, the weapons station didn't have any to give us. The only thing left to do was notify the Captain. My boss was both sure we'd be fired (meaning we'd be assigned new jobs and get a bad evaluation on performance, death to a naval career). We walked into the Captain's cabin and I got my first taste of proper management skills. My boss tells the Captain, "Sir, I fucked up." Not the guy that works for me fucked up, but that he did. He took complete responsibility for the incident, a lesson I carried with me when it comes to personnel that work for you, if thier job isn't done correctly or they make a mistake, it's still your fault. But I digress.

We explained to the Captain what happened and he looked dumbfounded. His next words also showed great leadership skills. He simply said, "So what do we do next?" Big enough man to recognize that mistakes like this do occasionally happen and this should have been caught somewhere else down the line. We ended up leaving the Sidewinders behind and ordering the correct missles, which we got a few weeks later. We aslo had many laughs about it over drinks later and I had an interesting nickname and sea story to tell.

The moral of the story is that in the military, if you order it, it will come.


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