Friday, January 10, 2020

Salt Horse

Navy Stereotypes
Random Ramblings of a Navy Veteran

Long ago – when I joined the Navy – there was a tendency to stereotype officers – especially officers of the Executive Branch (“Seaman” Officers) – on ships.

Those days – a warship had four “Specialist” Executive Officers:

1.            Gunnery Officer (GO)

Typically – Gunnery Officers were supposed to be “hot-shot” “spit-and-polish” “rough and tough” Type-A personalities who would be hollering at the top of their voice most of the time.

In addition of their professional gunnery duties – Gunnery Officers were responsible for all Parade, Drill and Ceremonial Activities/Events/Routines on the ship.

Gunnery Officers commanded Landing/Boarding Parties sent by the ship on operations to land ashore or board other ships.

Traditionally – the Gunnery Officer of the ship was the Officer of the Watch (OOW) during the toughest “Middle Watch” at Sea (Midnight to 4 AM or 2400/0000 Hrs to 0400 Hrs).

The “stereotype” Gunnery Officer was a redoubtable officer with “spic-and-span” bearing – the “prima donna” among Seamen Specialist Officers.

Of course – Gunnery Officers had the reputation of being “hard drinking” officers who could drink everyone else under the table.

In earlier days – Gunnery Officers dominated the Navy – they were the “prima donnas” – the “crème de la crème” – and – most Admirals were Gunnery Officers. (Now – it is not so).

2.            Navigation and Direction (ND) Officer (NO)

Navigation Officers considered themselves as “intellectuals” among the Seamen Officers.

The NO was the “pilot” of the ship – responsible for safe and proper Navigation of the Ship.

The NO also looked after Operations and Aircraft Direction – and was the Ship’s “Meteorological” Officer – unless a qualified “Met” Officer from the Education Branch was borne. 

Since Navigation Officers considered themselves to be the intellectually superior “crème de la crème” among Seamen Officers – so – they tended to remain aloof.

In fact – in British Origin/Design Ships – the NO’s Cabin was located near the Bridge – far away from the Cabins of other Officers (Officers’ Cabin Flat) – and this distance further facilitated aloofness and exclusivity. 

3.            Signal Communication Officer (SCO)

These were the “clever” and “smart” officers – shrewd, canny and wily – who – owing to the nature of their duties – enjoyed proximity to the Captain – and hence – the Captain’s “Spy” in the Wardroom was most likely to be the SCO.

Due to their intelligent cunning and crafty nature – they always outwitted their counterparts – especially the straight-talking Gunnery Officer (GO) and the laid-back TASO (Torpedo Anti-Submarine Officer).

A unique feature of the Signal Communications Branch was that though SCO’s were considered Executive (Seamen) Officers – their Sailors were not “Seamen”.

This enabled them to enjoy Command and rise to the highest echelons of the Navy.

4.            Torpedo Anti-Submarine Officer (TASO)

(With our penchant for changing names – and – in consonance with the increasing “Americanization” of the Navy – TASO was later renamed as ASWO (Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer) – but – I will use the designation TASO of the 1970’s – the era to which this story pertains…)

The TASO was the most “laid back” Officer among the “Specialist” Officers.

Maybe – this was because his domain was towards the aft of the ship – away from prying eyes of the Captain on the bridge – in contrast to the Gunnery Officer’s “part of ship” – the fo’c’sle – in direct view of the bridge.

Or maybe – it was because of the rather nebulous nature of underwater warfare in those times.

I may be wrong – but it was my observation – that – on the ships on which I served – the TASO was the least ambitious among “Specialist” Officers – in contrast to the “Hot-Shot” Gunnery Officer, the “Cat’s Whiskers” Navigating Officer and the “Shrewd” Signal Communication Officer.

The TASO did his job quietly and efficiently.

“Visibility” is important in the Navy.

On a ship – the Captain (and “powers-that-be) – are normally stationed on the “Bridge” of the Ship. 

From the “Bridge” – the TASO was not “visible” – nor did he make too much “noise” – so he was not “audible” too – and this made him appear relatively “laid back” as compared to his “Eager Beaver” counterparts.

TASO’s were my best friends on the ships on which I served.

Those days – it seemed – that – very few TASO’s reached the higher echelons of the Navy – as compared to their counterparts in Gunnery, Navigation and Communications.

However – with the renaming of TAS to ASW (and TASO to ASWO) – things seem to have changed dramatically – and – there seem to be plenty of ASWO’s in the higher echelons of the Navy. (Yes – the renaming of TASO to ASWO seems to have miraculously brightened their fortunes).

Well – based on my observations of “yesteryear” – I have “stereotyped” four types of Executive Officers (abbreviated as “X” Officers) – GO, NO, SCO, TASO.

However – I did come across other types of officers who belonged to the Executive Branch (“X” Branch).

For example – there were the “Hydro” Officers (Hydrographers) – highly specialised professionals – who were in their own world – busy on their Survey Ships – which were painted White in contrast to the Battle-Grey of Warships.

There were Naval Aviators (Pilots and Observers) – and Submariners – some of whom were specialists in G/ND/C/TAS too.

Also – there were the “landlubber” Naval Armament Inspection (NAI) Officers – why they were categorised as “X” Officers – I have not understood till today.

And – when the Supply and Secretariat (S&S) Branch was abolished in the late 1970’s – suddenly – overnight – hey presto – all S&S Officers became “X” Officers – and some of them completed their “X” courses and Sea Watchkeeping – and in due course – they qualified their Specialisation Courses too – and became GO, NO, SCO, TASO etc.

And of course – there was the “Salt Horse” – Navy Term for an Executive Officer who has not specialised in Gunnery, Navigation, Communications, TAS etc.

Yes – a “Salt Horse” is a Non-Specialist “X” Officer.

(Will some “Sea Dog” please tell us the origins of the term “Salt Horse”…?)

Well – let me tell you that I have seen a few “Salt Horses” reach high rank in the Navy – even command Warships. 

But – these are exceptions – and – it is the “Specialist” Executive Officers who rule the roost.


Do these stereotypes exist today…?

I don’t know.

But – I certainly saw the stereotypes diluting towards the later part of my Naval Service.

I did see a few “laid back” Gunnery Officers – but – I have yet to see an “Eager Beaver” TAS Officer.

What about you – Dear Reader…?

Are there such stereotypes in your organisation…?

If you are a Navy Veteran – do you agree with the stereotypes above – or – have things changed…?

If you are a Military Veteran – do tell us about the “stereotypes” in the Army and the Air Force. 

Dear Reader – before some “Hot Shot” Gunnery Officer comes “Gunning” for me – let me add a “disclaimer” that this story is a fictional spoof – and the stereotypes are a product of my imagination. 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve (All Rights Reserved) 

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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