Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NBS Det Rota: Marine Training

While I'm uploading stories I produced as a Navy journalist in the late eighties I'm also writing a bit about my years in Rota, Spain. That's where the Navy, in its inscrutable logic, chose to send me, despite the fact that I had been adamant about wanting to be assigned only one place in the world.

Back in "A School" we were instructed to write our ideal duty station on a form. So I wrote, "Florida." Three times.

I can almost imagine the Navy dispatcher slowly placing his coffee cup on his desk as he reads my form. I can see him rubbing his hands together, a serene smile on his face. "This is going to be good," he says. And then, savoring the chance to throw a curve in my life, while incidentally prioritizing the needs of the service, he cackles: "Spain it is."

I never got a chance to reply to that anonymous dispatcher. I would have shouted, "but Jenny lives in Florida, and we're engaged to be married!" He wouldn't have cared. It was practically a law of nature: you were bound to pull some miserable duty early in your Navy career. Only, I earned no sympathy from the other folks who stood in that line while our orders were read out loud. I was going to Spain, for God's sake, and I was complaining. Everyone thought I was nuts.

I guess I was a little crazy at that moment, especially when I offered to switch orders with the married guy who'd been assigned to a frozen outpost in Adak, Alaska. They didn't allow junior enlisted sailers to bring spouses there; Rota did. And since I was only engaged, it didn't seem fair to send the other guy so far away from his wife. At least one of us should be happy, I figured. So we visited the Senior Chief and made our announcement. The married guy would go to Spain; I'd go to Alaska.

The senior chief gently told us to get the hell out of his office.

Flying over the Atlantic, I would have even preferred to trade places with that other sad sack back in DINFOS, the unlucky guy assigned to the "Shitty Kitty." Of course I'm referring to the aircraft carrier whose actual name is Kitty Hawk, the floating city scheduled to spend three years being refurbished in dry dock. For all we knew, this newly minted JO would be chipping paint instead of writing stories. I'd rather have switched places with him. But for all my griping, I neither went to the arctic north nor "haze gray and underway." I was dumped onto the Iberian Peninsula.

Aerial view of Rota. NBS was located in the lower right, on the beach near the docks.
As I wrote yesterday, things only got worse when I got stuck "working the board" -- plugging in tapes for our base television system from late afternoon until we went off the air. A kind fellow awaiting a transfer to a fate worse than mine (the rarity of that situation drew us together, I suppose) taught me the rudiments of video editing during those late shifts, and I summoned the courage to show my tentative skills to the program director. I hoped things might change from that point onward. I wanted to join the news team, if only so I could do more during my active duty tour than just watch other people work.

I was a JOSA at this point, on track for a somewhat perfunctory advancement to JOSN (yes, I would be proudly called a "Seaman"). While I lacked the requisite training and maturity, I hoped to be assigned to something more meaningful than board duty. I mean, the guy awaiting transfer to the brig had been working the boards before I showed up. Now that job was mine.

Eventually, once I showed some initial enthusiasm for video-editing, I rotated into a more regular routine of helping out the news crew, programming the daily schedule, and sometimes working a DJ shift for our radio station, though most of my time was spent back in the control room, cueing up tapes. Then finally I was given my big break, the chance to pitch in and help produce a real news story. Other folks had shot the footage and written the story. I merely had to edit the thing, and I certainly knew how to edit.

Only, I mucked the whole thing up.

Looking back, the workflow seemed easy enough. I'd start by laying down a voice track on reel-to-reel tape (splicing, if need be, with an actual razor blade and tape). Then I'd run through the "A Roll," taking turns to drop voice-overs and sound bites onto a master tape. Then I'd lay "B Roll" of background shots and cutaways over the "black" and wherever I needed to cover a jump cut. All the while, I'd make sure the ambient sound illustrated the story without detracting too much from the vocal work, and I'd check for peaks and valleys in the audio/video output. How hard could it be?

Somehow during that first opportunity to show my stuff I did everything ass-backward. What's worse, since I took so long finishing the job, nobody had time to check my work before we produced our newscast. "There's no way Wood could screw it up that bad," they probably assumed. I remember the anchor introducing the piece and all of us watching each second of the embarrassing mess. It was sloppy, convoluted, and ugly. And it ran long, making the whole ordeal all the more excruciating. Afterward, the anchor actually apologized for the story's poor quality. A "junior journalist," he explained, required some more training. A "Junior journalist!" The monicker made me feel like a failed comic book sidekick.

My future as a broadcast journalist looked bleak.

I'll return to this recollection tomorrow. Maybe the story has a happy ending; you'll have to check back to see. But for now, let's take a look at another story from NBS Det Rota. Again, this one is from a later part of my Navy career. It features a group of Marines "inchopping" from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Ocean, a time for them to return to dry land and unwind from a cramped ocean voyage.

When their ships took on supplies for an upcoming Med tour, Marines would hit the firing range, tackle new exercises, and practice combat strategies. My job was to follow them everywhere and, as much as possible, gain some understanding of what they were trying to do. It was PR stuff, but the story was also an opportunity to gain experience. That's how I got that footage from inside the helicopter.

And while I didn't videotape all the action, I exited that chopper the same way as everyone else: by fast-rope.

[Get higher-quality playback. To see the story in its highest possible quality (given the generation loss) visit its YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCe1vgeJcbM - and select 480p. If the words on the lower-left are "jaggy," reload and try again. If the words are relatively smooth, you're seeing the video as it's intended.]

1 comment:

Oma said...

Once again...TOO COOL!! I had to laugh, though, about your choice of subject. My clearest memory of the Marines coming through Rota involves the stories we heard from O-Club employees about the Marines who stripped down to their tightie-whities and held Sumo wrestling contests at the bar....and yes, alcohol WAS involved! ;-)