Signalmen Shine a Fading Light

Story Number: NNS031114-17Release Date: 11/14/2003 4:02:00 PM
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By Journalist Seaman Mark A. Catalano, USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs

ABOARD USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (NNS) -- The Office of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) approved the disestablishment of the signalman (SM) rating Oct. 1, affecting 13 Sailors aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

SM "A" school was done away with Oct. 31, further emphasizing the harsh reality that one of the Navy's oldest rates is slowly fading away.

The visual signaling capabilities of the SM rating become part of the quartermaster (QM) rating. However, only 10 percent of SM-rated Sailors are expected to convert to QM.

SMs have had a long and successful history in the Navy. Many are sad to see it in the process of being phased out, especially the SMs aboard TR, who have set an example for other ships with their tireless work ethic.

"I've been in the Navy for 19 years, and they've been talking about doing this for as long as I can remember," said TR Chief Signalman Adam Green. "To be honest, I was shocked when I heard they were actually going through with it."

"We're going to do everything we can to help them get what job they want," Green said. "Each Sailor will need to get individual attention for that to be possible. Taking care of them is what matters most."

Concern for SM-rated Sailors extends throughout the chain of command.

"It is important that we accommodate these Sailors where they can be a benefit and serve happily," said TR's Navigator Cmdr. Rudy Lupton. "It will be a challenge, of course, because we're increasing the workload. QMs are going to be tasked to do things in a rate they haven't yet been trained in. They're going to have to know more in order to do their jobs."

The signalman is responsible for visual communications in the Navy. When ships are under "radio silence," all ship-to-ship communications in the area are performed by signalmen.

The methods of signaling used aboard TR include flashing the 12-inch signal search light, using semaphore flags and flag hoists.

By flashing the signal search light, SMs convey messages at a rate of 10 five-character coded words per minute, transmitting the message by opening and shutting a lens which allows rays of light to escape for intervals representing dots and dashes, deciphered through the International Morse Code.

The semaphore flags or "sticks" are moved in different directions, and each angle at which the stick is pointed signifies a different letter in the alphabet. Using this method, an SM sends plain language messages at a rate of 125 characters per minute.

On a moment's notice, signalmen hoist flags on halyards, which are lines running from the yardarm of the mast down to the signal bridge. SMs must know what each flag and pennant represents, and the meaning of standard flag hoist combinations.

When not signaling, signalmen are on the alert for signals from other vessels and aircraft, all the while keeping a sharp lookout for enemy aircraft and ships. SMs must also know storm warnings, distress signals, emergency signals, and signals to lifeboats and aircraft.

A plan has been developed to reduce any possible impact on fleet operations, ensuring a smooth transition for SMs being forced into other rates. The Navy will maintain normal advancement opportunity throughout the transition, and it plans to use Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test scores to match a Sailor's capabilities and interests to potential Career Reenlistment Objectives-1 and -2 ratings.

The Navy hopes to complete the disestablishment plan by Sept. 30, 2004. SM rated personnel need to submit rating conversion requests no later than Jan. 31, 2004.

For related news, visit the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Navy NewsStand page at

Signalman 3rd Class Tabetha Bermea from Killeen, Texas, looks through high-power binoculars
Official U.S. Navy file photo of Signalman 3rd Class Tabetha Bermea looking through high-power binoculars called "Big Eyes" aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).
February 3, 2003
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