[September 9, 2019] We were in the back of a U.S. Air Force C-130 transport plane, flying between Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait and Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. Passengers were a mix of civilians and various branches of the U.S. military. It was the first time I ever heard the phrase, Admiral of the Narrow Seas.
In the old days of wooden ships, pirates, and England dominating the seas, an Admiral of the Narrow Seas was chiefly responsible for the command of the English Navy’s narrow seas squadron. Operating between England and the Kingdom of France, it was their job to protect the waters for fishing and trade. The title signified great honor and prestige. Originally held by Vice-Admiral Sir John Pendagrast1 in 1412, it was an important naval posting from this time to about 1688.
I was traveling with two U.S. Navy Captains and they were very much informed about the traditions of most Western navies; the customs, mores, and way of life in the navy. One was going to oversea the port operations in southern Iraq and the other to assist in our wartime strategic logistics operation. Both were highly thought of throughout the navy and their new jobs were designed to test their fortitude, intelligence, and flexibility. They were also both jokers.
During takeoff, a civilian beside me got sick and was about to throw up. This had happened near me on several occasions and my immediate thought was that I didn’t want any on me. Flying into a combat zone was bad enough but smelling of vomit would not make a great impression on my commander. In my sternest voice, I told the young man that if he threw up on me that I would throw him out of the plane. I would not (I was joking, of course) but the man threw up in the lap of the gentleman next to him.
One of the navy Captains sprang to life and shouted we have “an Admiral of the Narrow Seas.” Thinking this was an odd comment; I asked for and got an explanation. We all had a big laugh about it and prepared ourselves for landing in an active combat zone. After disembarking from the C-130, we were picked up by a burly U.S. Marine Gunny Sergeant who took one of the naval Captains, me, and the sick civilian to our headquarters. Jokingly, I noted that we had found an Admiral of the Narrow Seas on our inbound aircraft. The sick young man didn’t find it funny at all and surprisingly he was to work with me for the next year as our Army Corps of Engineer field expert.
I learned several things from the experience. Despite my knowledge about the U.S. Army, to my personal detriment, I was significantly deficient in naval customs and knowledge. Also, never joke around in areas which are not your expertise. A joke can be at someone’s expense that you may have to work with later. And, never ever tell a navy joke around an Admiral.