Monday, March 25, 2019

Corpsman Chronicles XIV: Zuki and the E-5 Mafia

But first, a word from our sponsor, Suck It Up And Drive On.

It was a good winter for keeping to the new and improved fitness regime. Some days were a challenge, but with the exception of a week's illness and two days of actual blizzard, I was able to work out outside every day. Going into winter I was secretly worried that I'd just wimp out and say screw it when weather conditions were a little bit rough, but that didn't happen. There were days I really didn't want to exercise in the freezing, blustery cold, but I could never quite convince myself that the inclement weather should be dictating terms. And with rare exceptions I found that if I dressed correctly most of the cold associated misery disappeared once I got warmed up. So an issue that turned out to be mostly a non-issue.

Coming up on eleven months since I began a systematic, daily workout routine. I started with baby steps. I progressed pretty quickly, in fact much more quickly than I'd hoped. Although I've tracked my progress with numbers -- reps, steps, miles, flights of steps, etc. -- I've never tried to set firm numeric goals. My daily goal has been to do just a bit more or just a bit better than yesterday. Over the last couple of months the daily little bit more has been pushing me hard enough to get into the "yes I can" zone, and that is something I relish. It takes me back to the tough navy training courses of my youth, training that allowed me to find a way to dig deeper and do more than I believed I could. Today when muscles burn sweat pours and heart pounds and lungs scream and I prepare to quit, that old, lovely spark ignites in my core and I know for certain that, yes I can. Just another blessing that I tend to take for granted.


One of the ebootewe channels I enjoy is PeriscopeFilm. They put up a lot of old military training and recruiting films and many of them are great fun to watch. One that caught my eye this morning is called "1400 Zulu." It's a Royal Navy recruiting film from away back in 1965. And despite being "recruiting propaganda," I liked it a lot. Of course I still enjoy watching the "recruitng propaganda" films produced by our own Colonial Navy, particularly those I watched in the decade or so before I embarked on my own naval career. Go figure. Anyway, "1400 Zulu."

Now I happen to think that was a great little film. I was always a big fan of the County Class Guided Missile Destroyers -- probably because they were the easiest to pick out during a ship recognization test. No other warship ever carried such a big Jungle Gym on the fantail, making the Counties easy to pick out.

I also loved the Buccaneers. Hideously ugly to my American eye, the Bucc was and all-weather bomber, sharing a similar mission set and unsightliness with our Yank Intruder. The Buccs in this film were the S.1 variant with Gyron Junior engines, easily identified by the smaller, round intakes. When the S.2's came along with their Spey turbofan motors the intakes grew much larger and took on a distinct oval shape.

But none of that is what this is about. What this is about is the title of the film, "1400 Zulu."

Way back in the mists of time, before the internet and even before the Bug entered fleet-wide service with the Colonial Navy, there lived an interesting group of navy corpsmen at the Branch Medical Clinic at Naval Air Station Oceana. There were about 10 or 12 of us who were friendly and hung around to a certain extent. We were all very different people with different jobs, yet we shared a similar outlook on life and naval service and we were all at a similar place in our careers. We were the E-5's Mafia.

Being an E-5 is (or was at that time) a pretty good deal. You're senior enough to have a significant quantity of horsepower while at the same time junior enough to avoid any real major responsibility.

Our group was quite diverse, and evenly split between boy sailors and girl sailors. I was the only airwinger in the club, and the only one who did clinical and emergency medicine. The others worked in Admin, Records, Preventive Medicine, Lab, X-Ray, Supply, Pharmacy, and Physical Therapy. Only two of us had ever deployed on a ship, but those who hadn't had done tours in overseas hospitals.

It took more than a crow with two chevrons to be part of the E-5 Mafia though.

To be a member in good standing you had to be a hard charger and very competent. You also had to have an extremely low tolerance for chickenshit and a major aversion to sucking up.

Lest you think we were god's gift to the navy, we were not. Oh, we excelled in our assigned duties and in that sense gave the service a great deal more than most any other double-handful of mid-level enlisted corpsmen. But we also took a lot in return. None of us were shy when it came to taking advantage of the leeway our competence bought. Simply stated, we got away with shit that very few -- read "none" -- of our peers could get away with. Our immediate superiors, and their immediate superiors in turn, valued our competence, our dedication, and the trust we had earned highly enough to let us color well outside the lines.

It was a lot of fun.

Who were we?

Other than myself, Mikey (he hates everything) from the ER, we had Q, (last name started with Q and went on for several days) from Admin. Babs, from Records. Notso (last name Sharpe) from Preventative Medicine. P-Boy (AKA Piss-Boy) from Lab. Tits (you had to be there) from X-Ray. Cookie from Supply. Rat (play on last name) from Pharmacy. Boards (big ears) from Physical Therapy. 

And then there was Zuki. She was from Admin too. She'd only just made E-5 and If you'd been around the clinic a little bit you'd be surprised to find her hanging out with the E-5 Mafia. She was very quiet and shy, and I'm guessing rather self consciousness about her thick Tagalog accent. She was also extremely smart and curious and an absolute master of administrative regulations. When she let her hair down a bit, among friends, she had a great sense of humor and a supremely caustic wit. When it came to all-in barb slinging, Zuki usually won by miles.

Zuki earned her nickname soon after checking aboard the clinic as a newly minted E-4. She was a "Quad-Zero" or basic Hospital Corpsman (HM-0000), having attended the basic A-School only, with no advanced or specialist C-School training. For comparison, I was at this point an HM-8404/8294/8406/8409. Zuki had gone from A-School in San Diego directly to the wards at Naval Hospital Naples, Italy. There she'd spent three years as a basic ward monkey, something along the lines of today's civilian Certified Nursing Assistant.

When she showed up at Oceana, Zuki would have been a good fit for the ER, or Sick Call, or Family Medicine. Naturally, she was assigned to Admin, where she had zero experience or training. So she rolled up her sleeves and pretty much took the place over.

On one of her first days in the office, however, she transcribed a handwritten form into a clean, typed copy and turned it in for signature. I've no idea what the form was, but I do know that it included a time rendered as Greenwich Mean Time, or in the military, as Zulu time. For instance, 1400 Zulu. When Zuki transcribed the time from a handwritten scrawl, her typed copy read -- you might have guessed it -- 1400 Zuki. She'd never before worked with or even heard of the 25 more-or-less universal military time zones or their phonetic identifiers. Everyone had a good laugh, the new girl learned something new, and a nickname was born.

And yes, there are 25 military time zones. When citing local time it's rendered "Juliet" rather than the phonetic of the local zone. Because military reasons. For instance, it's just now 5:18 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time here, and the military time zone "here" happens to be Tango. If I was writing it in a message addressed locally I'd render the time "0518 Juliet." If my message was going out to addressees in multiple time zones I'd render it "0518 Tango," or more likely convert it to universal, or Zulu time. At least that's the way it was back in the day.

And that's about it. A simple film title rang a memory bell and I was off to the races, visiting people I've not seen and only rarely thought about in nearly four decades. Funny how the mind works. I think I'll try to revisit and write down some amusing tales of the Oceana E-5 Mafia. There are some good ones as I recall.


  1. Ah E-5...

    Probably the most fun I've ever had and the most work I've ever done. A fine place to be.

    Great tale, and I learned something new.

    1. Yep, E-5 was one of the great deals back in the day. Thanks for stopping by, Sarge.

  2. As many "C" schools as I attended, they never gave me any four digit numbers.
    But being an E-5 was pretty close to the most fun I ever had because I was allowed to work unsupervised and not required to supervise anyone else.

    1. I think all those four digit identifiers reflect the dozens and dozens of specialties across the rate. It always freaked the personnelmen out. They usually got the numbers wrong and had to fix my record every six months.

      I've heard lots of people say that E-5 was a golden time for them.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Being no't but a granny to an E-5 I still enjoyed your post, and learned a thing or two to boot.

    1. Thanks Brig. Being a granny to an E-5 must be fantastic!

  4. So, whom were you? Mighty Shaun, perhaps?

    1. I didn't write that paragraph very well. I was Mikey. Like the kid in the commercial. I had a superficial reputation for hating everything but frequently surprised people by liking or enjoying things that everyone knew I would hate. Keep 'em guessing. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I was an E-4 forever and then made E-6 in minimum time in grade. So I didn't get to experience much of the E-5 fun. Well, that was in the Army ( CalARNG ). In the USAFRes, I didn't spend much longer as an E-5.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks for stopping by Paul. I yo-yo'd between E-3 and E-4 several times before it stuck. I think it made me a better E-5. But I think a lot of silly things...

  6. Ha! I did the yo-yo thing (e3~e2~e3) when i was a “booter” at RTC Orlando! (1993) very good lesson for the future on how NOT to be “awarded” reduction in rate, 45/45 & 1/2pay x2...and being so early in my career, allowed that long time period to receive the “didn’t get caught” maroon (purple? maroon/purple?) chiclet!

  7. It's good seasoning to have to go see the old man!

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting cT!