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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

CHENG, WEPS, AND SUPPO

Thursday, September 20, 2007
USS Cole – Cape Wrath 58°13N 05°33W

Like every human group, profession, and institution, the Navy has developed its own lingo, consisting of acronyms, abbreviations, and, most distinctively, words compounded of individual syllables from a phrase or description. Examples of the latter are COMNAVSURFLANT and SIGUMS and our old friend UNREP. The most unusual impression, however, is the abbreviated form of address amongst the officers. Crew refer to themselves, and are referred to, by their ratings—“ET2” or “MC1,” and so on—while the officers greet and converse using contractions of their duties. Though they sound together like a comedy troupe, for example, “CHENG” for “chief engineer,” “WEPS” for weapons officer, and “SUPPO” for supply officer. Wardroom etiquette requires that the officer entering for each meal request of the senior officer already present permission to be seated. So “May I join you, SuppO” is a typical line when one of the lieutenants enters the room. The effect, intended to be formal and deferential, is irresistibly comic. The commanding officer, however—though known throughout the ship as the “CO”—is always called “Captain” when addressed.

The CO is Capt. Cary Krause and the other night he came into the wardroom while medical officer Cmdr. John Fallon and I were in the lounge. Fallon was watching a movie and I was writing. Krause began speaking as soon as he saw us, eager to talk about the dangerous maneuvers he had been directing all day. “The closest I’ve come to risking my ship and my command,” he said, obviously both relieved and exhilarated by the experience. The Cole, together with the two British, one French, and one Danish ship in our group, had been making approaches and course changes in relatively confined waters between the islands off Cape Wrath, part of the Orkney cluster, in the course of which they also had to determine whether small craft, assigned by the warfare exercise to appear and circle the vessels, were hostile intruders. “I’m never comfortable if we have to be closer than 500 yards to anyone else,” the captain said. “On top of that you’ve got these shallow waters,” he said, “and all these other potential threats to watch out for.” Today the schedule calls for British jets to simulate missile attacks, coming for the ship at low angles before veering away. Should be exciting to watch. I’m sure it’s literally the closest anyone aboard any of these ships will ever come to surface warfare. At least I hope so.
…jb

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