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In Their Own Words - Cowboys and Cossacks

Harm    Mac     Bud

Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr.

By Sarah Kathryn Roberts (cloudbonnie@webtv.net)

We were transported to the USS Cayuga that was off the coast of Sevastopol, Ukraine. The Cayuga -- headed by Captain McNamara -- and the Russian destroyer the ANS Vasiliev -- headed by Captain Grinkov -- would be participating in NATO war games. Mac, Bud, and I were sent as observers. When we first talked with McNamara, I was surprised to find that Bud and I would be sent over to the Russian ship as an officer exchange to make sure each side played fair. 

When we had first come aboard the Cayuga, I had noticed some hull damage. When I questioned the skipper, he was a little less that forthcoming. Eventually, I remembered that years before, McNamara and Grinkov had been involved in a fender-bender with their ships. No doubt that this was a repeat. The next few days were going to be interesting for sure! 


When Lieutenant Roberts and I arrived on the Vasiliev, a man named Yuri Kretchiak greeted us. I remembered that he was a forward for the Soviet Olympic Hockey Team, but he said that that was long ago. He mentioned that I was a fighter pilot, and I told him that that was also a long time ago. Yuri was giving us a tour of the Vasiliev when alarms started to sound. He quickly called the bridge to see what was happening, then hurried off. Bud and I followed. We came to the missile loading room, and it was filled with smoke, fire everywhere. Bud yelled to me that his oxygen mask was not working, so I quickly gave him mine and told him to get out while I helped Yuri with an injured crewman. When I met back with Bud, he asked if I was okay because I was coughing and wheezing from the smoke. I assured him that I was fine. When he asked what had happened, I told him that they had been loading a missile into one of the tubes when something electrical shorted and caught fire. He asked why they would be doing that in a training exercise, but I didn't have an answer. We'd have to talk to the skipper. 

Later, we indulged in some Russian hospitality. The next morning, Bud was very hung-over. He apologized for anything offensive he might have done. When I told him that he had compared Stalin, Marx, and Lennon to the Three Stooges, he got a little paranoid of the crewmen looking at him. Remind me to never let Bud drink again! 

While looking around, I came upon Yuri trying to repair some wires and asked why the men would be loading a missile. He told me that it was a routine training drill. I would have asked more questions, but the games were about to begin, and we were called to the bridge. 


The exercise was simple: destroy the other ship before it did the same to you. At the very start, Grinkov ordered the ship to leave the regulated boundaries of the game. I confronted him, but he wouldn't listen. The captain had violated the rules and should therefore be legally disqualified, but Grinkov wouldn't obey. Why was he doing those things? Why were there so many unanswered questions about the occurrences on the ship since Bud and I arrived? 

While talking with Bud in the mess hall, some of the crewmen got into a fight. Yuri broke it up and apologized for us having to see such behavior, but I sensed something wrong. Man, I wish I spoke Russian... or at least had Mac with me to translate! 


I need to remember to never bunk with Bud again; he snores! It was his snoring that woke me up and made me take notice that there was someone moving outside the room. I poked my head out the door and saw a bunch of the crew hurrying down the corridor. I followed them to the deck and saw Yuri helping to load them into life rafts, while saying goodbyes. When I confronted him about it a few minutes later, he said it was a routine training drill. I was getting very tired of that phrase! I wanted answers! He finally confessed that the Russian navy was falling apart. Those men were sent off the ship because they had families. He told me that this was the Vasiliev's last mission and would be scrapped when it was completed. The captain would become a civilian, but his pride wouldn't allow that. Yuri feared that Grinkov wouldn't play the game, but attack the Cayuga for real. I told him that he had to relieve him of his command, but Yuri wouldn't do it. We then went to the weapons locker and armed ourselves. I went back to wake Bud and tell him that we were going to take over the ship. Bud objected, but Yuri soon knocked on the door, and Bud and I went down to the comms room to contact the Cayuga and tell them what was going on while Yuri went to secure the ship's weapons. We were discovered before we could call out and had to run. We hurried up some stairs where we found Yuri. I quickly told him that they were right behind us, but suddenly, it was lights out! Yuri had smacked me on the head with the butt of his gun. (Getting knocked out seems to happen to me a lot!) 

When I woke up, Bud and I were on the bridge in front of the captain. He accused us of terrorism and promptly threw us in the brig. Man, Yuri was really going to get it when I saw him again! 

We were moping around the brig when we felt the Vasiliev launch live missiles. That was bad! Right as I was getting worried for the Cayuga and Mac, a harpoon missile or something impacted the Vasiliev, sending the ship into a tossing fit. I smacked my head on something, and it left a cut on my forehead. I barely had time to realize that I was bleeding when the brig started filling with seawater! Bud and I tried yelling for help, but it was to no avail. We quickly ripped a pipe from the wall, pried the door open, and escaped. I saw Yuri running towards us, and I gave him a good punch to the stomach. He told me that he had only hit me to try to save me and was coming to get us from the brig. I couldn't afford not to believe him because the ship was sinking. He told me that Grinkov wouldn't leave, and I finally convinced Yuri to relieve him of his command. I contacted the Cayuga to tell them that we could use assistance on getting the fleeing men off the ship. Suddenly, Yuri told me that someone had armed the ship's missiles. It had to be Grinkov. 

I hurried down to the missile room to try to stop the apparently desperate skipper. I pleaded with him to stop this insanity. He told me that he had been born on a ferry and the first air he breathed was of the sea. All he had ever wanted to be was a sailor and insisted that he would go down with his ship, rather than see it scrapped and him relieved of him command forever. I was able to convince him to allow time to get his men off. He knew that they were far too young and had been waiting for them to get off before he set off the missiles. Dosvedonya, Captain. 

I hurried to the deck in time to see Bud and Yuri helping the men into rafts. When I told them that Grinkov was not going to leave, Yuri told me that I had given him the honor of going down with his ship -- and the dignity of a sailor's death. The ship was being tossed and jostled, so the three of us hurried into a life raft and made our ways to the Cayuga. Once Mac had made sure that Bud and I were safely aboard, McNamara asked where Grinkov was. When I told him that he was still on the Vasiliev, he looked back at it just in time to see it explode. All we could do was stare. Suddenly, McNamara, with Yuri following his lead, ordered everyone to salute. Mac said that she was surprised by that, but I told her that some men valued their enemies more than their friends. When she asked if that included me, I simply replied, "Need you ask?" 


Thanks to Susan for the beta.


Disclaimer: While based on the JAG episode, this is for entertainment purposes only and no profit is being made.