The following is Segment 7, one of many segments from the Oral History of Rear Admiral Peter K. Cullins, USN (Ret.). Five interviews pertaining to RADM Cullins' time aboard USS Little Rock CLG 4 are provided, numbered as Segments 7 thru 11. The segments are in chronological order. The entire 174-page Oral History which concentrates on Rear Admiral Cullins' naval career, along with short descriptions of his youth and post Navy retirement work can be obtained from the Naval Historical Foundation.
U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: RADM Peter K. Cullins, USN (Ret)
Interviewer: CAPT Kent R. Siegel, USN (Ret)
CULLINS: In early summer (of 1973), imagine my surprise to get a phone call from the Chief of Naval Personnel informing me that I was going to CLG 4 Little Rock. The reasons given were that the existing CO could not, would not go to Gaeta, Italy where the Little Rock was to be homeported for three years as the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, (she had also been homeported there from ‘67 to ’70 and been relieved by CLG Springfield), I had been ‘chosen’ from a list of five candidates sent to the Commander of the Sixth Fleet for his selection. (I bet one of the reasons was that Valaree had survived her Yoko homeporting and that we didn't have any dependent children at this time). A bit of a ‘red flag’ came up for me, as the two CO’s (before me) had only one year in command of the Rock. So, on 25 June, my orders to the NatWC were canceled (it would have been fun to be with my POW classmate Bill Lawrence and my Enterprise shipmate POW John McCain, both of whom were in the FY ’74 class) and my orders to Little Rock were issued. Three days later, I was detached from OpNav to proceed to Newport, RI (as usual with no leave) where the Little Rock had been since 15 May after having been in NSY Boston for 158 days for conversion from ‘black oil’ to the Navy Distillate Fuel (NDF) System. In the shipyard the ‘Rock’ also received the Navy’s first SHF satellite communication system.
SIEGEL: So, instead of a much deserved sabbatical, you were tossed back into the grist mill. However, you must have been excited about command of a fleet flagship, homeported overseas.
CULLINS: Of course being selected for this assignment was flattering, but I soon had misgivings. It was in Newport that a nagging problem turned up – the converted fuel tanks ‘wept’ (the NSF oil was less thick than black oil and so seeped through seams in the ship’s fuel tanks) and you could see an oil slick surrounding the hull. A team of civilian contractors was assigned to seal the tanks in Newport. There's nothing like an additional problem compounding the normal Preparation for Overseas Movement (POM) madness.
SIEGEL: That had to build great frustration for you and your engineers; apparently a result of not considering the undesired consequences of this revolutionary ‘improvement’ in propulsion fuel technology.
CULLINS: That's for sure, and even worse, the personnel situation was wild! The Bureau was trying to man Little Rock with all volunteers. (It wound up with about 75% being volunteers). Trouble was, every non-rated, married sailor who didn't volunteer had to be transferred, and their replacements were usually straight from boot camp, where many had sort of been ‘conned’ into the delights of foreign duty. Many of these sailors reported onboard in the first 10 days of August. It also hurt the senior petty officer rates, where most of the engineering department was well below the authorized levels. (The engineering department sailors were to be the unsung heroes because of the need for constant steaming, inport and underway, for the entire 3-year deployment).
SIEGEL: Sounds pretty grim. How was the officer manning situation?
CULLINS: I relieved CAPT Bob Morris on 24 July, and he proceeded on to become the Captain Detailer at BuPers. As I got to know the officers, they seemed good, although as usual BuPers had sent us CDRs/LCDRs who had for one reason or another failed either selection or XO/CO screening, and the LTs/LTJGs were mostly dropouts from nuclear or submarine or flight schools. Most all were good, but with Bureau ‘tags’, most weren't going anywhere no matter how successful they were in the Rock. (The Bureau did send a water-walker previous destroyer CO as my XO, thank God, and as his relief-- toward the end of my tour of command, a surfaced submariner with command experience.).
SIEGEL: Some of this is starting to sound familiar to me as the guy who came in as that 2nd XO in the spring of ’75. But, back to your POM, you and your crew had to navigate some pretty rough water—in a figurative sense—before literally crossing the big pond.
CULLINS: Yes, it was a mixture of vexing issues that seem to bode ill for a smooth departure for Italy. There was the continuing horror of the weeping fuel tanks. We had weekly messages as to whether we were fit to deploy. XO Roger Simon had all of the checklists for POM well underway when I took over. Good thing, because I had to go through a 20 hour Race Relations Training Course ten days after I took over. The other big horror was, of course, the XO and Personnel Officer problems with people leaving or reporting, and their fighting with the personnel types in higher commands. Regarding the pre- deployment dependent screening/ indoctrination and planning for their move to Gaeta, most of that had been set up by the XO prior to my arrival, and was quite detailed.
SIEGEL: What sort of wickets did you have to go through before being certified for deployment? I don't recall you mentioning RefTra or the need for a pre deployment inspection.
CULLINS: Apparently there was no time available at all, with the relieving pressures at hand. The classic RefTra was not on the horizon. Yes, we had some serious training hurdles to get over, especially with our ‘green’ crew. On 11 August, we got underway from Newport, bound for Yorktown, VA for ammo load-out. It was a shrinking feeling, what with the prospect of still-leaking tanks, and I believe we still had some lingering boiler/engine problems. We had a couple of ‘fast cruises’ (going through 24 hours of evolutions while still tied up to the pier, with no liberty). This is a concept I had picked up from the ‘nukes’ in my time in Enterprise and Long Beach. After Yorktown we went to Norfolk, where we embarked a Gitmo training team, as we were one of the very few ships not to actually go down to Gitmo for Refresher Training after an overhaul or long RAV. And, we finally convinced the powers-that-be that there were no visible signs of tank leaking. We sailed for the Med on 15 August about 100 short of our personnel allowance of 915. Almost half of our people had never been to sea before and, of course, it was higher than that for those who had never been to sea in the Rock itself.
SIEGEL: It sounds like you were in need of lots of strong prayers as you sailed. Seriously, did you have a chaplain and medical officer assigned?
CULLINS: Come to think of it, we had a good guy - a Doctor, who unfortunately was a radiologist, but could refer people to the medical facility in Naples after we arrived in Italy. The Chaplain was a pip… a California-type, transcendental meditation devotee, but he later proved effective in keeping some families together in Gaeta. As we started this deployment, we knew it was dicey, but that's what ‘Uncle’ was paying us to do, so we determined to give it our best shot.
SIEGEL: Admiral, this seems like an appropriate place to end this session and pick it up next time as the Rock transited eastward to the Med.
CULLINS: Fine, see you then.
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The portion of RADM Cullins' Oral History pertaining to his time on board the USS Little Rock (CLG 4) is presented in several segments, chronologically arranged. You have just finished reading Segment 7. Click below to go to any other segment or to go to the Introduction.
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