Dan at Mare Island

My final assignment in the Navy was to Mare Island Naval Base near Vallejo, California.

The base here had a long history of building ships and serving as a submarine base for the West Coast until it was closed in 1995. Every base I served at has been closed.

I ended up at Mare Island to teach at CTMS, Cryptographic Technical Maintenance School. In those days Crypto (data and voice encryption) was done by electronic boxes that were very complex and needed someone with specialized training to maintain and repair them. Because the most sensitive data passed through these boxes, and cracking the secrets of the Crypto box would allow you to read those secrets, the boxes, and all knowledge of how they worked was classified "Secret" in most cases. If an enemy knew how the box worked and got a code key, he could decipher all messages sent and received by Naval units and possibly win the war against us. In other words, loose lips sink ships.

Because of this, instructors and students of this school were carefully chosen from among the most trusted of the Navy. You had to get a security clearance before you could even set foot in the door.

My problem was that when I arrived at Mare Island, I had a "Confidential" security clearance, which is good enough for a student of the school, but instructors needed a "Secret" clearance. So while the FBI worked on checking out my background I sat and waited in the office area, not even allowed into the classrooms where I had been a student four years earlier.

Once I got my clearance, I got to work. I did a sit-through of the class that I had been top dog in four years earlier. I had been Honor Man in 1977 and I was pretty proud of that fact. I dug in and worked really hard on being the best instructor they had ever had there. In the end, it came true, I was the best instructor they had ever had. My student's scores were the highest in the history of the training course. How did I accomplish this?

Well, it turns out I have quite a knack for training. I also did a lot of crazy things to make my points. One example stands out. I had to teach teletype theory, and explain how a character (letter, number, period, whatever) could be transmitted. Most folks are familiar with Morse Code, Teletype is based on Baudot Code, which is similar to ASCII which is the code that makes up the text you are reading right now.

In teletype Baudot Code consists of 1's and 0's that signify each unique character. The code consisted of five bits, and since 2^5 is 32, that covers the alphabet quite nicely. Numbers are a different story, read the link above for a complete explanation. Anywho, you can't just send the five bits down a wire, the receiving teletype must be told that something is coming, get ready to figure out what it is. That's done with start space. The start space is a "0" that interrupts the constant "1" on the wire (there are only two states, the default state of the wire has to be either a 1 or a 0). When the teletype sees the zero, it gets ready to read the code. After the 5 bit Baudot Code comes in, the sender pulls the wire back to a "1", and is called the Stop Mark. It "marks" the "Stop" or end of the code. Remember the old movies where someone is reading a telegraph, at then end of every sentence they say "Stop". So, Start Space, five character bits, and a Stop Mark. In the machine, those seven bits had to get received and they did this with a digital circuit called a Shift Register

Now how to explain this to Navy folks? One class I had was having a difficult time understanding it, I could tell because we had pretty miserable scores on the daily quiz, or Blitz as we called them back then. So I "volunteered" seven people from the class to be my bits, including a white girl and a black guy. The white girl served as the Start Space (if you are the receiver you can see her coming!) and the black guy served as the Stop Bit. Ok, racially and sexually insensitive you say? No, I needed two people who were unique for the start space and stop mark, and blacks and women in electronics were unique, nothing racist or sexist to it! Then I had them stand on a row of floor tiles in line, the gal at the front, the black guy at the end. Then I would say "shift!" and being good sailors, they knew how to march, they took one step forward which put them on the next tile. So every time I said "shift!" they would move deeper and deeper into my makeshift (ha!) shift register.

Based on the Blitz results from the next day, my demonstration had worked, they all understood the shift register, thanks to my ingenuity and my volunteers cooperation.

After the graduation of each class, their test and troubleshooting scores were entered into a book. This book went back to the first days of the class, 10 years earlier. Every classes scores for the past 10 years were in this book. and mine where higher than anyone else's. Because of this, my boss, Chief Linard nominated me for a Master Training Specialist Award. After a few months the board at the Naval Technical Training Command voted to give me the award, it was my greatest achievement in the Navy, and my most prized possession.

While we were at Mare Island, April and I had an apartment off base right next to the major freeway, I-80. Our bedroom window looked right at the freeway about 80 feet away. However, our back door went out to a nice yard with a parking area. We ended up adopting a dog we named TJ. He was a great dog, just fantastic. We also hung out with our neighbors Mike and Cathey Collins. They were orginally from New Jersey, and after we left Mare Island, they went back there. I visited them on a buisiness trip, having never been to New Jersey before. My roomie at San Nick was from New Jersey and I ended up hanging out with his family and dating his sister Mary, so I knew something of the culture of New Jersey.

One nice thing about Mare Island was that it was close to my family in Tracy. I had spent the last year and a half in isolation from them in Australia and enjoyed spending time with them on weekends and such. April worked at the "Message Center", which processed and distributed what would later become emails, but in this age, electronically received messages had to be printed out and distributed like mail. Of course many of these messges were classified, so she had her Secret security clearance as well to handle these messages. She also had to send messages, typing then into a teletype and yet trying not to read them. Imagine that!

Finally, after two years of great fun, it was time to get out of the Navy. We could only imagine where the Navy might send me next, and we were sure to be seperated, and we just couldn't handle that, so we decided to end our Navy careers.

On my "getting out" party everyone showed up and helped me celebrate moving into civilian life. I didn't have a job yet, but April still had a few months left on her enlistment, so I had to start looking for a job, but it wasn't a high priority. Or was it? During the party she gave me the news, I was going to a father! Oh boy, I had better get cracking!