EDITOR'S NOTE: For many American Sailors, forward-deployed around the world in defense of freedom, it's already 2021. As America gets ready to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, we wanted to share a unique, longstanding U.S. Navy tradition you may not have heard of. U.S. Navy ships maintain a deck log in which they record all the important activities in the day-to-day life of the ship. These are legal documents, so although they contain important and valuable information, they tend to be pretty dry reading, except for the first entry of each New Year. It is a long-standing tradition in the Navy that the first deck log entry of the year may be rendered in verse. They must include all the elements of a standard deck log entry required by law and policy, but they also include the reflections of the Sailor penning the entry on the year past, their current situation, and their hopes for the New Year. Aboard the San Diego-based guided missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114), here's the Officer of the Deck recorded the ship's first deck log entry of 2021.
The bridge was dark and quiet when Lt. j.g. Grace Miller, from Atlanta, Georgia, the officer of the deck, signed the first deck log entry of the New Year aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) on January 1st 2021, but what was typically a routine task for Miller was instead a historic moment for Ralph Johnson and the Navy as a whole.
While all deck log entries are considered legal documents and are sent to the Naval History and Heritage Command who archive them, the first entry of the New Year sets itself apart by being the only one to be written in verse.
"Typically, the deck log regulations tell you what you can and cannot write in a ship's deck log," said Lt. j.g. Mark Corkery, from Roanoke, Virginia, who serves as the ship's navigator aboard Ralph Johnson. "Traditionally however, the first deck log entry of the New Year is a poem, which gives Sailors a unique chance to express their thoughts about the New Year in the deck log."
Corkery, whose duties as the ship's navigator include reviewing and approving the deck log, worked with Ralph Johnson's chain of command to develop a contest to determine the final deck log entry. Ralph Johnson Sailors of all ranks were encouraged to submit their poems for consideration, with the winner receiving prizes and the assurance that their poem would be enshrined in the deck log and thus in the annals of history.
The author of the winning poem was Electronics Technician 2nd Class Hailey Coop, from Fairfield, Iowa. Her poem encapsulated daily life aboard Ralph Johnson and major events that happened aboard the ship in 2020, to include references to COVID-19 precautions the ship had to take throughout the year to avoid exposure during the pandemic.
"Everyone is hiding and in quarantine. Why is it so hard to find a vaccine," wrote Coop.
Even with the challenge COVID-19 presented Ralph Johnson over the course 2020, Coop made sure to note the tenacity and strength the crew showed throughout the year.
"No mission or pirates can stop our team. We are closer and stronger than we all may seem," she wrote.
While the first deck log of the New Year presents a unique opportunity to show creativity in a document that is by necessity otherwise bereft of individuality, there are still some facets of a typical entry that the poem must contain to stay within regulations.
"You still need your engineering lineup, who the officer of the deck is, where the captain is, and some other details depending on whether or not you're underway," said Corkery.
For Coop, Corkery, and Ralph Johnson as a whole, this New Year's deck log entry was even more exciting than usual. Ralph Johnson is currently on her maiden deployment, and happened to be operating near the International Date Line on the New Year, making her the first United States Navy ship to celebrate the New Year in 2021 and enter her poem into the deck log.
"It's truly an honor being onboard Ralph Johnson during her maiden deployment as the ship's navigator here in 7th Fleet, especially being this close to the International Date Line and being one of the first to enter 2021," said Corkery.
"Getting to write the poem for the New Year's deck log entry on our maiden deployment, especially since I'm a plankowner and have been a part of everything since the ship was commissioned, is pretty great," said Coop. "It's even better knowing that it'll be the first deck log poem of 2021."
Coop's entire poem is written below.
The ball may be dropping in time square.
Onboard Ralph Johnson we're still in the middle of the ocean somewhere.
Our time on deployment was supposed to be fun.
But then came Ms. Rona, and oh how she's won.
She took all our ports and made us a bubble.
From what we can tell she has given us nothing but trouble.
She made us wear masks and clean all around.
You would not believe all the dirt that we found.
Everyone is hiding and in quarantine.
Why is it so hard to find a vaccine?
Our crew is still working because we're essential.
The trips that we take are quite confidential.
We boarded a small boat and gave them a fright
Searched top to bottom all day and night.
We seized everything the law deems illegal.
There was so much you could fill a cathedral.
We allowed scary pirates to come aboard our ship.
They said they would have us all cleansed in a zip.
Opened their mouths and ate our wogs like little snacks.
After they spit them out they called them all shellbacks.
No mission or Pirates can stop our team.
We are closer and stronger than we all may seem.
A family of warriors is hard to bring down.
We will keep fighting until the next year rolls around.
Our mission out here is to following all orders.
We could not carry on without our supporters.
To our supporters at home and our families who need us.
We are coming home soon and that you can trust.
Continue the watch. U/W as before.
It doesn't matter if you are tired to the core.
Independent steaming in the Pacific Ocean.
Only Ralph Johnson can cause such commotion.
No other ships are out here showing their presence.
The only ones out here are just us peasants.
Engineering plant status is as follows: 1 & 2 GTG's online, 2B GTM's online, 2 and 3
A/C units online, No. 5 fire pumps online, 1, 3, 4 5 SWS pumps online.
Engineers claim that everything's fine.
Condition 3 readiness is what we achieve.
The crew is so ready to take leave.
Modified zebra set.
That you can bet.
EMCON Delta set.
All objectives were met.
All Nav lights are bright.
So anyone out there will see us alright.
The OOD is LTJG Miller. The Captain is tired and off the bridge for the night.
We traveled 421.05 NM throughout this day.
Everyone's excited to be home, it's not far away.
The work and the struggles have made us both happy and sad
Thank you 2020 for all the memories you had."
Ralph Johnson is deployed to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, the Navy's largest forward-deployed DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet's principal surface force.
The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) is working to strengthen the poetic New Year deck log entry tradition with a contest to find the best such entry for 2021. For more details on this contest, see NAVADMIN 330/20 and this webpage from NHHC.