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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Worked For Him

I got an e-mail today from the New York Daily News, wishing to ask me about my experiences in life with (now former) Rep. Eric Massa of New York. This kind of surprised me, since I did at one time serve with a Lt. Eric Massa on the USS New Jersey, but rumor had it that he had died of cancer a number of years ago, evidently someone got it wrong, he recovered from it.

So, I did the wiki look up, and lo-and behold, my old division officer is now a disgraced former US Congressman. What a small world. Honestly, I never saw that coming. Seeing him in Congress; not a huge surprise, he was a great politician as a Naval Officer; which is a required skill for survival in the wardroom. It actually took a number of years for me to appreciate that he was a decent officer, he was one of my first Division officers and I didn't know good one's from bad ones back then.

Here's a sea story. After we returned to Long Beach, Ca. in 1984 we went into a "post shakedown availability", which is supposed to be a quick trip to the shipyard to fix problems discovered on a shakedown cruise. New Jersey's shakedown was supposed to be 3 months, but turned into an 11 month trip. So the yard period was a little more extensive than originally planned.

Lt. Massa was charged with checking out all of the "self help" equipment from the shipyard, mostly hoses, fittings, and pneumatic tools for removing paint and rust. About 5,000 individual items were checked out. Six months later every one of them was returned, down to the last hose clamp. The shipyard was astonished, normally they figured on losing 10-15 percent of the gear they checked out to the ship.

How did it all get back? Easy, Mr. Massa had a crew working for him (myself included) that wasn't allowed to leave at night until every item checked out that day was accounted for. If we worked to 7pm to find everything, fine, so long as when he checked the books it was all there. If he spot checked the hose bin, the numbers better have been right.

Someone gave us a hard time, suddenly there was an ugly visit from a ticked of officer, and we got the stuff back. Give us a hard time enough, you just didn't check anything out.

Disorganized people couldn't have pulled that off. For years after that experience I said if I ever needed anything big organized and run, he'd be the guy I would have called.

After dealing with his immediate relief, I realized that while many of us thought him the devil, the truth was, he knew what he was doing, and did it for a reason. The guy that took his place had no clue, or any reason for what he did most of the time.

Now I'm pretty surprised by the misconduct allegations, but then again, I was a seaman and he was a lieutenant back in '83 and '84, so I didn't hang out with him. Hell, he may have been a nut case on liberty, I don't know. He might have groped anything that moved, but it would surprise me. He didn't seem like that type of person.

So, Mr. Massa, or "JJ" as we called you behind your back, sorry you had such a short stay in Congress. Hope the allegations aren't true, and hope you land on your feet. You taught me quite a bit while I worked for you, and I think in the long run, it's Congress's loss.

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