Boatswain's Mates grunts of the sea

6 Oct 2000 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Given the salary of his current rank, BM3 Scott Wold would have to work well over

1,000 years to pay off the ship he is sometimes responsible for driving.

Wold is one of 70 Boatswain's Mates aboard USS Saipan, and like aboard most Naval ships, this group of Sailors are responsible for not just steering the vessel, but ensuring its overall upkeep, refueling, re-supplying, launching and loading landing crafts from the ship's well deck, tying the vessel down when pier-side, manning the anchor and maintaining the entire outside hull.

"A Boatswain's Mate works long hours, hard hours," said Wold. On his busiest days, like when the outside of the ship has to be painted, the Louisville, Kent. native said he and his fellow Sailors will work from sun up to sun down. "But it's rewarding. I can look around and know that without us, this ship wouldn't be the same."

Wold's right. The Sailors who make up the ship's Deck Department, who virtually all the Boatswain's Mates fall under, account for only seven percent of the Sailor's aboard ship. Still, this seven percent is in charge of more than a third of the 108,240 square feet of USS Saipan.

"The Boatswain's Mate is a great rate," said Navy CAPT Ron Chapman, Commodore of Amphibious Squadron Four, the Amphibious Squadron USS Saipan belongs to. "As a Navy, we rely heavily on them to perform tasks that have to get done."
According to Chief Petty Officer Mark Henson, Deck Department Leading Chief Petty Officer and Fredricksburgh, Va. native, the Boatswain's Mates relationship to the Navy is similar to the Rifleman's relationship to the Marine Corps.

"Grunts often carry out the primary mission of the Marine Corps," he said. "The Boatswain's Mates are a big part in helping the Navy carry out their mission."

Though one can choose to enlist into the Navy as a Boatswain's Mate, it more often happens this way: Men and women enlisting into the U.S. Navy can choose to do so as undesignated, meaning they enter the service with no Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Many of these new Sailors are sent to work in Deck Departments aboard Naval vessels as Undesignated Seaman. Though they can seek any rating, or MOS, those Seaman sent to Deck Departments often seek the rating of Boatswain's Mate. Becoming a Boatswain's Mate may be as easy as joining the military, but being a Boatswain's Mate is a far different story.

Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Jamall Carrethers has been a grunt of the sea for 12 years, much of which was spent on ship. This has meant more time away from his wife and nine-year old daughter than he would have liked. Carrethers said it's one of the difficulties you must learn to adapt with.

"You have to have a stable and comfortable relationship," said the Winston-Salem, N.C. native, who is one the Deck Department's Leading Petty Officers. "If you leave with a problem, that problem is going to be there when you get back.

"What makes the job worth that separation is different for everyone. For me, I know it's an important assignment. What makes the Navy powerful is our ability to stay at sea. We can re-fuel, re-supply and perform maintenance while we're underway. Without Boatswain's Mates we would lose a lot of that ability. That would weaken our Navy. And that would weaken our country."

The Boatswain's Mates aboard Saipan said the simple things often yield reward too.

Wold enjoys sitting behind the wheel of the ship.

"It's like driving a big old Cadillac," he said. "Only this one's gray."

As the U.S. Navy approaches its 225th birthday, Wold points out the Boatswain's Mates have been around even longer. In some form or another, he said, they have been around as long as ships have been in water.

In a wooden case displayed near his office, Wold pointed to a rope whose intricate knots formed a lanyard worn by Boatswain's Mates of long ago.
"Look at the way that rope is tied," he said. "That shows detail. That shows craftsmanship. The same effort that was put into tying that lanyard is the effort we try to put into everything we do. That's what makes a Boatswain's Mate special."

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)