By Daniel Bowen
Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) is the world’s largest multi-national maritime exercise, occurring every two years in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. 25 nations, 46 ships, 5 submarines, over 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel participated in RIMPAC 2018 from June 27th to August 2nd. RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants, critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.
RIMPAC 2018 was the 26th exercise in the series that began in 1971. I was fortunate enough to participate on board the USS Sterett. My experience underway being on an Arleigh Burke‐class guided-missile destroyer (DDG) for the first time brought up so many different feeling and emotions. Because this was my first time underway I can’t speak to all ship experiences, but here are some of my takeaways that I want to share.
Berthing was horrible. I was assigned a top bunk (called a rack), which was about 6′ high. As I am only 5’9″, it was quite difficult to get into my rack without stepping on people. Everything was metal, hard, and quite possibly sharp. I felt like a piece of bread in a toaster with how little room there was in my rack. There was no headroom so sitting up was not an option. I couldn’t even lift my knees without hitting something. As a stomach sleeper, I left the ship bruised and beaten.
Due to 24-hour watch rotations, there were always sailors sleeping. The room was kept dark with only red lighting, so I was required to use a red lens flashlight. Because everything was metal, everything you did banged and clanked, making it extremely difficult to manage yourself and stay quiet.
Getting around on the ship is a logistical nightmare. To get from my berthing to where I spent my waking hours, I had to climb several ladder wells. These were steep, hard-metal stairs that required at least one free hand to climb. If you wanted to carry things like a backpack, coffee mug, and water bottle, it would take several trips, or require planning ahead to plant things around the ship. Backpacks sometimes wouldn’t fit through the enclosures at the top of the ladder and would require carrying my backpack underneath me. I frequently forgot where I left my things and would have to backtrack around the ship to collect my things at the end of the day.
The food was good. Each day, breakfast consisted of a different, rotating sweet with made‐to-order eggs and omelets. For lunch and dinner, there was a theme for certain days of the week. Tuesday was Taco Tuesday, Wednesday was Burger Day, Friday was pizza and wings day, and so on. On Sunday, they would have a “Steel Beach Picnic,” where sailors grilled out hamburgers and hot dogs on the flight deck. They wore shorts, threw footballs, and played cornhole-style beach games. It was a big, fun cookout with music playing. Every meal was complimented with fruit and a salad bar, as well as dessert. The quality of the food exceeded my expectations.
Eating on the mess deck was a bit chaotic – in the best way. You never knew where you would end up sitting. I had the pleasure to meet and eat with many different sailors. The sailors referred to our group as the “civilian table.” There was always a movie, or several, playing on the TVs. The Navy has access to newer movies that are just hitting the shelves. We watched The Avengers: Infinity War.
Being in the middle of the ocean was great, as I had the opportunity to see many sunsets and sunrises. In the mornings after breakfast, before I settled into work for the day, I would go outside and spend some peaceful moments gazing out over the ocean. The Pacific Ocean is gorgeous with a dark blue hue. It was so inviting, and I wanted to swim in it so badly. Of course, man overboard in no joke aboard the ship.
I also had the privilege to go onto the bridge wings at night. Like the name describes, they are landings just outside the bridge where the navigators can see the horizon with their optics. Sunsets over the horizon and the view of the stars was absolutely stunning. We viewed satellites and airplanes, as well as constellations and stars. One night, one of the sailors on duty provided a star chart and we discussed celestial navigation. With light pollution almost everywhere on land, you just can’t get that view unless you’re on the ocean.
The work was awesome. I spent most of my hours inside the Combat Information Center. I worked with the sailors known as the Cryptologic Technician ‐ Technical (CTT). I got to know the team of CTTs so well that by the end of the week, they gifted me a pair of Navy issued coveralls and a name badge. I’m now an honorary CTT with them. Among the various experiments I was involved with, there were Electronic Warfare countermeasure launches, lear jets, electronic attacks, helicopter takeoffs, and landing.
It was a wild week full of very exciting things happening all the time. This is quite the contrast from working in labs or at a desk all day. Overall, the experience solidified the work that I do at my desk or in the labs. I could see how the work we do each day, miles away from the ocean, directly affects the Navy’s capabilities. It really put things into perspective. As a developer of prototype software that models and stimulates tactical software, I sometimes knew more than the CTTs themselves about the hardware they managed. I was thrilled to utilize the experience I’ve built over my years at SimVentions in the EW division.
I was able to leave the ship after a few days and return to my life on land. That wasn’t the case for the sailors I left behind. They spend months underway, away from family and friends. This week increased my respect and honor for the Navy exponentially. The sacrifice these men and women make to keep our country safe is astounding. I am so honored and proud to serve them with the work I do every day at SimV.