Oct 2, 1992: (Very) Shortly After Midnight – USS SARATOGA – Part VI

March 3rd, 2007 by xformed

And onto the topic of Explosives Handling Personnel Qualification Certification Program (EHPQCP). There is a history to this program (like all others) and it has it’s good and it’s bad sides. Like the Personnel Qualification System (PQS), the EHPQCP arose from disaster, and formalized what has been done in the past by less bureaucratic means. PQS will be dealt with later in detail, separate from this series.

One of the bad parts of the EHPQCP was it “pig-piled” on other qualification processes, which increased the administrative loading on the Fleet operators, which takes time away from actual training efforts.

While the EHPQCP does not play a direct role in how this incident occurred, it was something we had been checking on surface ships for compliance during the Combat Systems Assessments, and during Cruise Missile Certification exams.

USS FORRESTAL Flight Deck Fire
EHPQCP has it’s roots in the flight deck fire on the USS FORRESTAL (CV-59) off Vietnam on July 29th, 1967. Just about an hour before noon (local), as the air wing began it’s launch cycle. The story of the heroism and tragedy of that day are well chronicled in “Sailors To the End” by Gregory Freeman. That story is about East Coast sailors wanting to do well, and “modifying” the approved procedures, coupled with a starined logisitcal system that sent WWII bombs to fulfill the requisitions of the carriers, whihc cause more loss of life.Side historical note: LCDR John McCain was strapped in his A-4 Skyhawk, waiting to launch, when the initial missile was fired from an F-4 Phantom due to electromagnetic interference (EMI), starting John’s plane on fire. He crawled to safety off the nose and refueling probe of his flaming Skyhawk, dropping to the deck clear of the flames from the ruptured fuel tanks and ran to safety.
Sailors to the End Cover
It’s a great read, I highly recommend it.Net result of the fire: Another layer of training and qualification, titled “certification.” In addition to this efforts, the certification must be renewed annually. The basics of the program is that all persons who handle or “operate” ordnance must be certified for the discrete actions (loading, maintenance, firing, etc) on specific systems (Mk13 GMLS, Mk45/54 Gun, NATO Sea Sparrow, etc). Demonstration of knowledge of the tasks to be preformed is the intial step, and then the annual renewal to make sure the knowledge is retained/updated for newer procedures/system modifications.That, in and of of itself is not bad, but, with it’s proscribed forms, it was easy to “pencil whip” the paperwork for inspection and assist teams, which is the problem.

In the surface Navy, the program had been emphasized at the paperwork level, in detail by the Combat Systems Assessments. Surface Navy sailors would routinely question the need for such “extra” work, as there were systems such as PQS in place for the ordnance systems, complete with plenty of safety knowledge requirements, but they did it, albeit most times grudgingly.

Then, an incident in the surface Navy brought the EHPQCP right to the forefront: USS IOWA (BB-61) on 19 April 1989. The loss of 47 lives in that explosion resulted in a Court of Inquiry, in which a co-worker of mine had to sit at “the long end of the green table with no coffee cup and no ashtray” and answer some uncomfortable questions. He, a few months before, had been the inspector that gave a passing grade to the EHPQCP after scanning a small portion of the many thick notebooks of records aboard the ship. Needless to say, this brought a whole new level of attention to not only the forms, but the process in place aboard any vessel in the surface Navy. The inter-community friction over this program was that aviators caused the problem, but it was the surface ships who were chastised for not keeping up the extra paperwork, while the air Navy thumbed their nose at it. Even the Naval Air Forces, Atlantic Ordnance Handling Officer thought we were way too obsessive with the program (and that was in the early 90s, after IOWA’s accident)

As a result of the carriers I had to visit in the wake of the SARATOGA incident, I can say many ships did not use the program.

There’s a little history involved in several other parts of my Naval experience, that also was an area we would inspect.

The saga will continue….

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 3rd, 2007 at 11:15 am and is filed under History, Military, Military History, Navy, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 response about “Oct 2, 1992: (Very) Shortly After Midnight – USS SARATOGA – Part VI”

  1. Chaotic Synaptic Activity » Oct 2, 1992: (Very) Shortly After Midnight - USS SARATOGA - Part VII said:

    […] Part VI […]

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