Tales Of Nuclear Cruiser USS Long Beach From A Sailor Who Built His Career Aboard Her

One of the most enigmatic ships of the entire Cold War period is the one-off USS Long Beach (CGN-9). She was the U.S. Navy’s first nuclear-powered surface combatant and was absolutely packed with the latest and greatest gear America had to offer when she was commissioned into service on September 9th, 1961. She looked like no other ship the world had ever seen before and she definitely had her quirks. One man, in particular, served numerous tours aboard Long Beach throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with the ship acting as a 721 foot-long steel springboard that catapulted him through the ranks and eventually to the position of Force Master Chief for the Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. That man is Douglas Healey. So this is the story of a ship, but also of the journey of a man that built his reputation largely on the deck plates of that vessel during one of the most interesting times in the U.S. Navy’s history. 

So without further adieu, in Master Chief Healey’s own words, let’s begin:

The family business

My dad was a career Navy man. He had enlisted in the Navy out of high school during World War II under a program known as a “kiddie cruise” which allowed 17-year-olds to serve up to just prior to their 21st birthday. He got out of the Navy but stayed a drilling reservist. After I was born, he went back on active duty. I remember him serving on USS Bigelow, a Forrest Sherman class destroyer homeported in Mayport, Florida from 1960 to 1965, then at the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia from 1965 to 1967. After that, he served two back-to-back nine-month tours in Da Nang, Vietnam with the Seabees.  

Following Vietnam, he was on the pre-commissioning crew of USS Gray (DE-1054), then director of Storekeeper Class C School at Naval Training Center (NTC) San Diego. He went back to sea duty on USS Dixie (AD-14) for three years and then his final tour was at Fleet Assistance Group, San Diego.  

He died while on active duty during this tour. He was a Master Chief Storekeeper (E-9) at the time of his passing in April of 1980.  I was an Electrician’s Mate-1 (E6) at the time, part of PCU (Pre-commissioning Unit) for USS

Arkansas (CGN-41).

Going Navy

I graduated from high school in San Diego in June 1972 and attended Mesa Community College for a while, but wasn’t ready. So, I looked at what my best options were for receiving an education and training. After checking out both the Air Force and Navy, I decided to enlist in the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program as I felt it offered me the most interesting and challenging training. 

I’d had three years of Junior ROTC in high school so after about a week or so I was instructing my company in the manual of arms when I was abruptly ordered to report to the battalion commander’s office. When I arrived, I requested permission to enter and when I entered, my father was sitting there drinking coffee with the battalion commander. I was able to share a cup of coffee with them and remember thinking “this isn’t going to be too tough.”

Afterward, my company commander wanted to know why I hadn’t informed him that my father was a Senior Chief Petty Officer stationed at the NTC. I mistakenly told him “I didn’t think it was important.” That was a major error in judgment to say the least! I received some extra ‘military instruction’ that evening.  

I finished boot camp as a company honor man and with scholastic honors.

SKCS Healey and EM3 Healey—father and son—both sailors in the U.S. Navy., Doug Healey

Harnessing naval power

Prior to Electrician’s Mate Class A school, I attended Basic Electricity/Electronics school at NTC San Diego. It was a self-paced course of 14 modules about electrical components, Ohm’s Law and other required knowledge for electricians and electronic technicians. I finished the course in just under a week.  

In Electrician’s Mate Class A school we learned about motors generators, shipboard distribution and troubleshooting electrical systems. In order to continue on to Nuclear Power School at Mare Island, I had to finish in the upper 50 percentile of my class. If I correctly remember, I was number two or three. 

At the end of Class A school, I was advanced to EM3 (E4). At Nuclear Power School we learned about the theory of reactor design and operation as well as learning about radiation and rudimentary chemistry.

At Nuclear Power Prototype Training, I was assigned to the S5G reactor prototype (designed as the USS Narwhal‘s power plant) where we learned the ‘hands-on’ operation of a naval nuclear reactor. We learned operations and maintenance and we also learned how to react during simulated casualty operations. I was one of the first Electrician’s Mates to qualify at S5G. There were two other prototypes at the site, an A1W (the USS Enterprise prototype) and an S1W (the USS Nautilus prototype).

S5G reactor at Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. , USN

Welcome aboard America’s largest nuclear cruiser, USS Long Beach

After qualifying, I requested orders to a fast attack submarine (SSN) out of San Diego since my father-in-law (at the time) offered me enough furniture to fill an apartment if I could get stationed there. I received orders to a nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) in New London, Connecticut instead. A classmate received orders to USS Long Beach and wanted to go to New England so we asked our advisers to see if we could swap our orders. After the order swap was approved, the sub-qualified sailors at S5G facility gave me a hard time constantly.  

I arranged with Long Beach’s Engineering Officer to report directly to Long Beach and then start my transfer leave in order to start my sea duty counter 30 days earlier. I wanted to apply for the Navy’s Enlisted Science Education Program (NESEP) which required a minimum of one year’s sea duty in order to be eligible. Unfortunately, when I reached the one year of sea duty point, the program requirements had changed and a full sea tour was required (four years in my case).  

When I reported aboard Long Beach at NAS Coronado, I looked up at the ship in awe. Here was the last ‘true’ cruiser built by the Navy. At 721 feet long, over 17,000 tons displacement and a crew of over 1,100 Sailors and Marines (there was a Marine detachment embarked), she was a truly impressive ship!  


My first impression as a crew member was of responsibilities of leadership. Supplies were being loaded and a ‘working party’ was called away. One of the division’s sailors failed to show up for the duty and the division-leading Petty Officer, an E6, was ordered to take the missing man’s place. The First Class Petty Officer was not the least bit happy and this impressed upon me to make absolutely sure that I did not disappoint my Leading Petty Officer!  

Navy ships have unique smells, sounds, and sensations. Every time I set foot on a ship, the memories of shipboard life and the unique routine that goes along with it come back to me. My first job on Long Beach was to qualify on the reactor plant. This involved completing basic engineering qualifications, damage control qualifications and my electrical watch station qualifications, both as a roving electrician and for monitoring the ship’s electrical distribution system.  

Long Beach had six 2500 kW turbine generators and two 1000 kW emergency diesel generators. After completing basic engineering qualifications, I was assigned to the electrical safety shop, ensuring the portable electrical tools were checked for safety prior to issuance. This was a challenging time in the Navy. It was going through the drawdown of the post-Vietnam era and there was a severe shortage of leadership personnel at the First and Second Class Petty Officer levels (E6 and E5). When the lighting shop needed a leading Petty Officer, the E Division Leading Petty Officer looked to the senior Second Class Petty Officers, but none wanted the position. 

I was one of the most junior Second Class Petty Officers but I asked if I could take the position and I was appointed as the leading Petty Officer in charge of the 115-volt distribution outside of the propulsion plant with 13 sailors reporting to me in addition to standing my watches in the engineering plant.

USS Long Beach. Note the SCANFAR phased array radar system mounted on the sides of her ‘box’ superstructure. , USN

In a class of her own

Long Beach had two pressurized water reactors, two main engines, twin screws and twin rudders. For weapons, she had two twin rail launchers forward for Terrier missiles (and could carry over 100 of them), amidships she had an ASROC (anti-submarine rocket system) eight-cell launcher with reloading capability and two five-inch 38-caliber guns. Long Beach was originally designed without any guns and rumor has it that during sea trials someone asked one of the NAVSEA representatives what the ship would do if a patrol boat came up and shot at them and it was decided to install the five-inch guns.  

On the fantail, Long Beach had the Talos missile system. The Talos missiles, which could be nuclear armed, were about the size of a telephone pole and would ‘sit’ on the launch rail building up thrust before taking off. I was told that while on station off of Vietnam, Long Beach shot down a North Vietnamese MiG with one. 

My most prominent memory of Talos is from a missile exercise before our 1978 deployment. We were to launch one for some other ships to shoot at but the missiles were quite old at that point. After we launched the missile, a fin fell off and the missile pulled a three-G turn and came back at the ship! It spectacularly self-destructed as ordered from the launch console in Combat Information Center.  

Long Beach firing a Talos., USN

In addition to the active measures for defense, the ship also carried chaff to confuse radars, SLQ-32 electronic warfare equipment and cryptologic equipment.  Since she was built as a true cruiser, Long Beach had a flag bridge and quarters to carry an admiral and his staff. This almost got me in big trouble as I was told to move some 115-volt receptacles in the flag conference room. I hit my head while working under the conference table, swore and wondered what kind of idiot wanted so many outlets under the table. I looked around and saw khakis with shiny black shoes and heard “I only wanted one at the end of the table where I sit” from the admiral in charge of Cruiser-Destroyer Group 1 (we were the flagship).  

In 1987, we were deployed to the Arabian Gulf area during the Iraq-Iran War. We had the Commander of the Joint Task Force Middle East embarked. We had picked him up at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean around Labor Day and were to transfer him and his staff to the group relieving us (with the USS Iowa) but he didn’t want us to leave as no other ship had the flag spaces we had. Fortunately, he was over-ruled and we were allowed to leave the operation area after over 100 days continuously at sea. 

Another unique thing is that Long Beach had an elevator that went from the main deck up to the 010 level (main bridge). It could stop on the 02 level (flag spaces), 03 level (CO’s in-port cabin) and the 04 level as well (flag bridge & flag plot, a mini CIC). During my 1st tour, the CO, Captain Schrader, had us secure power to it prior to getting underway. It was an electrician’s nightmare and broke down frequently. Every time we pulled into port in Subic Bay, we had workers over fiddling with it. On my second tour, I don’t remember a lot of problems with it but most of us wouldn’t ride in it because we didn’t want to get stuck in it. 

As a side note, with an enlisted crew of about 1,000, there was only seating for about 300 sailors in the enlisted mess decks at one time. As a result, you learned to eat fast and get up so a shipmate could sit down and eat.


The best late 1950s Cold War technology money could buy

Long Beach had several very complex systems. The Talos missile system and the SCANFAR radar system were just a couple of them. I was told that one time they powered it up in port and garage doors were opening and closing throughout the greater San Diego area and that it interfered with air traffic control radar at the San Diego airport. Generally, we couldn’t turn it on until we were at least three miles away from an airport for safety reasons. It was one powerful radar system and we had a huge contingent of Navy Electronics Technicians (ETs) embarked aboard to maintain it.

When it was running it required two 200kW motor-generator sets running in parallel to provide the 400Hz power the radar demanded. We knew it as the AN/SPS-32/33 radar system. Supposedly when being built, Long Beach was ready before Enterprise and received the ‘billboard’ arrays intended for the Big E. 

Long Beach under construction., USN

Besides 400Hz power, the system took a lot of 60Hz power and cooling water as well. Because of this, Long Beach also had plenty of chill water cooling available. The billboard arrays, and the big superstructure they were mounted on, made the ship a bit top heavy as well. Whenever Long Beach would make a turn, it would lean in the direction of the turn first and then lean a lot in the opposite direction. When this was done at dinner time we’d call it ‘having dinner rolls.’ 

For the longest time, the ship’s rumor mill had it that if Long Beach rolled to greater than 45 degrees to either port or starboard, the ship would capsize. In 1987 we were returning home to San Diego and because of the prevailing seas and our required course resulted in us taking seas on the port beam. One of the swells hit the ship just right and it heeled over to starboard for what seemed like a long time.  The watch in Damage Control Central claimed he saw 47 degrees on the clinometer. You could hear stuff crashing in the galley and out on the mess decks. One of the juice machines came out of its mounting and crashed against a bulkhead. 

Afterward, the crew took to ensuring equipment was secured for sea much more seriously.  


My two sons made a couple of ‘Tiger Cruises’ on the ship and enjoyed it, although when we took a big roll they were a bit animated about it. A family friend also made one Tiger Cruise but he spent most of the time in his bunk seasick. 

Even a slight sea would cause Long Beach to roll but you became used to it. I remember during that same trip home we were in swells with water breaking over the 01 level forward! Up on the bridge, which was on the 010 level, the ship’s rolling motions were amplified dramatically because of the height.

On the other hand, the ship didn’t pitch much (move up and down bow to stern). Additionally, Long Beach seemed to have a constant two to three-degree port list.


Running on The Atom

The major benefit to a nuclear-powered surface combatant, as opposed to a conventionally powered one, is the ability to stay on station for long periods without refueling. For nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the lack of stack gases and their corrosive effect on aircraft is another major benefit. 

There are several penalties of nuclear-powered surface combatants. First, there’s the high cost of training and keeping the crew. It takes almost two years of training before a nuclear-trained crew member reports to their first ship. Then there are the construction and maintenance costs. Construction of nuclear-powered surface ships is only done at Newport News Shipyard and the maintenance is only done at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and the Portsmouth Naval shipyard, in addition to Newport News Shipbuilding. 

There’s also the dealing with the nuclear material generated. The modern surface combatants like the Aegis cruisers and the Arleigh Burke class destroyers are gas turbine powered and require fewer crew members to operate. For example, USS Arkansas (CGN 41) had a crew of about 450 (comparable to a Belknap class cruiser) but the Ticonderoga class cruisers have a crew of only about 370. 

Long Beach at her commissioning on September 9th, 1961. The ship was an absolute modern marvel of her time. Note the massive Talos missiles pointing skyward. , USN

First stop: Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

The first place I sailed to after joining Long Beach was Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) in Washington. The ship would only go to PSNS for nuclear-related work combined with drydocking. The majority of the complicated work would be accomplished by the shipyard workers but the ship’s crew would have maintenance to accomplish as well.  

During the yard period in question, the ship’s hull was scraped and repainted and the voltage regulators on the ship’s service generators were updated. Back then, the crew remained living on the ship or were moved onto a living barge but remained in the industrial area. Later in my career, when I was a senior chief (E8) on the COMNAVSURFPAC/COMNAVAIRPAC Nuclear Propulsion Mobile Training Team, I was instrumental in getting funds put into yard maintenance to move the crew ashore out of the industrial area.

Long Beach out at sea., Doug Healey

Mastering 400 Hz

In 1976, when we were returning to San Diego from Bremerton, our Division Training Petty Officer came around asking what schools anyone wanted to attend. I figured more schooling couldn’t hurt so my first choice was motor rewind school (you learned how to rewind motors, Long Beach had that capability) and my second choice was 400 Hz motor-generator maintenance. The 400 Hz motor-generators were used to provide starting power for helos and power for radars.  

400 Hz motor-generator maintenance school was six weeks long and in San Diego, so I would also get six weeks at home with my family. As one of a couple of 400 Hz maintenance techs onboard, it helped me advance in rate also.

An HH-3 Sea King on Long Beach’s flight deck., USN

On cruise as part of the Enterprise Battle Group

Long Beach left San Diego in September of 1976 on what was my first Western Pacific cruise (WESTPAC). We made a brief port call at Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii with a salute to the USS Arizona Memorial. Upon arriving, we were told that we’d only be in port for a few hours and that only crew members with official business would be allowed off of the ship. 

Since E division was in charge of the movies for the ship, I went to the local Navy motion picture office to get new movies for the crew to watch. This also allowed me to make a quick phone call to my wife to let my family know we had arrived safely. This was long before the internet and email. Letters could take a couple of weeks to travel between the ship and home. Apparently, some of my shipmates went to the base enlisted club and got into a dust-up with some of the local sailors. When we left port after a few hours, the Engineering Officer (aka Cheng or Chief Engineer) had the supervisors go around and ensure the watch-standers hadn’t indulged in adult beverages. 

As a side note, the drinking age was 18 at that time.  

We left Pearl Harbor, once again saluting the Arizona Memorial, in company with Enterprise and the rest of our battle group. We headed down towards New Zealand. En-route, we crossed the international dateline at the equator enabling us ‘Pollywogs’ (newbies) to become ‘Golden Shellbacks’—a time-honored tradition.  

It was a different ceremony than what’s conducted today, not better or worse, just different. You must remember, Long Beach’s crew was entirely male. Afterward, we had a ‘steel beach’ cookout with burgers, hot dogs, and other cookout fare, but no alcohol. American ships were still dry.   

The Crossing The Line Ceremony goes way, way back. It has changed quite a bit over the years. Check out these sailors from one such ceremony back in 1953., Naval War College Museum

After a few days’ steaming, we arrived at Auckland, New Zealand. We anchored in the harbor after dodging a few protest boats. The unions shut down the town for a protest because of our arrival. They were not fond of the Navy’s policy on nuclear arms on its vessels, which officially was ‘we can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on our ships.’ We pointed out to the Cheng that having an ‘Atomic Weapons Officer’ seemed counter that message. 

Anyway, once we were briefed on the protests (we were told not to challenge them), we were allowed to go ashore (in our uniforms for one day at least!). A few of my shipmates and I went to one of the nearby pubs for an adult beverage. In the pub, we met some of the locals, including some of the protesters. Almost everyone was very friendly. Some of the protesters told me it wasn’t anything against us, our ship or America, they were getting well paid to protest and they’d protest their own mom for the right amount. A lot of the other locals told us they were just enjoying the unplanned holiday. 

We wound up a few miles away from the town at a party. When it wound down, one of the locals asked if there were anyone who was sober and could drive a stick shift. I said yes to both and was tossed the keys to an MG 1100 to help ferry us back to town. It was interesting driving from the right-hand side of the car and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road! I thought that it would be funny if I were pulled over and showed the local cop my California driver’s license but we all made it safely back without meeting with the constables.  

After three days’ port visit, we got underway and held and exercise with the Aussie and Kiwi navies called ‘Kangaroo Two.’ The Aussies still had their carrier, HMAS Melbourne, but even during the photo op, she wasn’t allowed too close to either the Enterprise or us because of her collision with the USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War.  

HMAS Melbourne is absolutely dwarfed by the Big E. , Australian Government/public domain

Our next port visit after the conclusion of the exercise was Melbourne, Australia.  Once again, we were anchored out mainly due to being nuclear powered. The HMAS Melbourne was pier side in the port. Both ships were open for visitors. There was a line of well over a block to visit Long Beach and one could walk right up and go on the Melbourne.  

I met some locals from the RAAF (the Royal Australian Air Force) and asked them to take me to their favorite local restaurant and we ended up at a KFC! I explained I wanted to try Aussie cuisine and then they took me to an out of the way diner and the food was great but not much different from home.  

The majority of the cruise was without drama other than the Tu-95 Bear flybys with fighters from Enterprise escorting them off their wingtips. During this deployment, we also visited Subic Bay in the Philippines for a maintenance period, as well as Singapore (one of my favorite cities) and Pearl Harbor on the way home to San Diego. 

Enterprise and Long Beach together., USN

Enterprise And Long Beach, closely related cousins born during the dawn of the nuclear Navy

Enterprise and Long Beach were linked for most of their careers. Enterprise was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and Long Beach was the first nuclear-powered surface warship. 

Long Beach was commissioned first, in September 1961, and Enterprise in November of the same year. They were both unique designs, each a kind of ‘one-off’ which generally doesn’t do well for ship designs.  

Enterprise had eight reactors while Long Beach had two. Long Beach was originally considered for the installation of sea-launched ICBMs, but the boomers (SSBNs) worked out and have owned the sea-based nuclear ballistic missile deterrent mission ever since. Long Beach was also planned to have the Regulus cruise missile but that program was dropped also. 

An early 1961 published rendering of Long Beach equipped with eight Polaris ballistic missiles. , Navy Rendering/Public Domain

In the end, Long Beach seemed to be designed around the reactor plants, the SPS-32/33 (SCANFAR) radar and the Terrier and Talos missiles. The reactor plants were similar between Enterprise and ‘The Beach’ but there were enough differences that they were considered separate designs.  

Once the nuclear cruiser USS Bainbridge (CGN-25) was commissioned in 1962, the three ships were almost inseparable. At some point, Bainbridge required some maintenance and during my first tour on Long Beach, Truxtun had replaced Bainbridge as the third ship of the ‘nuclear trio.’ Having a nuclear-powered carrier battlegroup offered the fleet commander options that didn’t require constant refueling to remain on station. 

It was interesting that when on Long Beach’s bridge, you actually looked down on a carrier’s flight deck!  I’m sure that the air group’s pilots weren’t thrilled when Long Beach was on plane guard station (trailing the carrier in case of a mishap). 

We had an impromptu exercise with a Soviet Kynda class cruiser when they took up plane guard during my first deployment. After flight ops, the battle group went up to 30 knots and after a couple of days, the Soviets had a replenishment ship come out and refuel the Kynda. While they refueled, Truxtun would take up the safety position returning the favor they had provided during Enterprise’s flight ops. 

Once refueling was complete, we went back up to 30 knots! After a few days of this, the Soviets left our group.  

I guess they were tired of refueling.

Bainbridge, Long Beach, and Enterprise, the first all nuclear-powered task force, sailed around the world in the summer of 1964. The group traveled over 30,000 miles in 65 days without the need for underway replenishment., USN

A refresh then back out on another cruise

After almost every deployment, ships go through what is called an ‘inter-deployment maintenance period’ due to the complexity of the systems on the ships and the normal wear and tear of use. It’s often a time when system updates and advancements are applied, as well.  

After a certain number of deployment cycles, the ship would go to a maintenance facility for extensive upkeep and or repair. For a nuclear-powered warship based in San Diego, this usually meant a trip to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.

Our 1978 WESTPAC cruise wasn’t greatly different from the one in 1976-1977.  The major difference was the port visits. We didn’t go to New Zealand and our port visit in Australia was the city of Perth in the western part of the country. It was during this cruise that my orders to Class “C” School at NTC Great Lakes in Illinois came. I was scheduled to transfer from Long Beach in late October but because of a cyclone in the vicinity of the Philippines, I left the ship from Subic Bay as it was making preparations to get underway for storm evasion.  

I was sitting in my shop when I received a call from the ship’s personnel officer and was told I had 10 minutes to pack my gear and get off the ship. After packing my seabag, I collected my records (medical, dental and pay) along with my transfer orders. I was told the base would provide my travel pay. 

I was unaware that President Carter and Congress had a disagreement over the budget and there was no way I could be paid or get any travel pay. The travel office at Subic had a flight booked for me out of Clark Air Base and transportation to the air base. I had fewer than forty dollars since most of my pay went home to support my wife and son. I flew across the Pacific on a charter (Flying Tigers) to Travis Air Base near Sacramento, California. Fortunately for me, my wife had a sister who lived near the base and was able to pick me up. My wife arranged a flight from Sacramento to San Diego so we could drive to the base located near Chicago.  

An interesting note is that when Long Beach pulled out, she left about 375 sailors behind who didn’t get back to the ship before it left to avoid the storm. One of my friends who was supposed to transfer around the same time as me, but was unable to get off the ship. He was a Talos missile Gunner’s Mate and they had a problem with the missile handling system so he was unable to leave the ship before they sailed from Subic.

Looking after from USS Long Beach as she rests pier-side in Subic Bay. , USN

Welcome aboard USS Arkansas!

Arkansas was a brand new and very good ship. It was the last nuclear-powered surface combatant the Navy built. It was also more compact than Long Beach and had fewer crew members, but it had better accommodations. Equipment wise, it had two twin arm mark 26 missile launchers fed by a rotary magazine but carried fewer Standard Missiles (the new name for the updated Terrier missiles) and it had the unmanned five-inch gun mounts like the Spruance class destroyers had.  

Those of us who had been on Long Beach called Arkansas a ‘cruiser with a forged birth certificate’ since most of the official plans and manuals referred to the ship as a DLGN (nuclear powered guided missile destroyer), not a CGN (nuclear powered guided missile cruiser). However, her displacement of 11,000 tons equaled that of WWII cruisers.  

Being a member of the initial crew of any ship is a great experience as you will get to know the ship better than any future crew members can. I was there before the reactors were placed in the ship. A lot of the structural bulkheads were not complete and it was relatively easy to go from one end of the unfinished hull to the other. 

I even got to see Admiral Rickover! He had a habit of going out on acceptance trials for all new nuclear-powered warships. He made an announcement on the ship’s announcing system which sounded like a slam on Newport News Shipbuilding. He stated “Newport News Shipbuilding used to have ‘commitment to quality’ on a rock at the entrance to the shipyard but now that rock is in a museum.”   

All of the plank owners were given a certificate signed by the Arkansas governor Bill Clinton designating us as honorary Arkansas Travelers. The state of Arkansas also helped sponsor a commissioning party for the ship’s crew. It was an interesting time as we did a lot of system testing that is only performed during the acceptance of the ship by the Navy. As one of the experienced electricians assigned, I was on the space turn over crew which consisted of ensuring the spaces met the Navy’s specifications (you can read more about this tense process here).

USS Arkansas sailing through San Francisco Bay. , Doug Healey

Arkansas vs Long Beach

Considering Arkansas and Long Beach each had essentially the same role in a battle group, I’ve always felt Long Beach was more capable. 

Arkansas‘ missile launcher and gun mount positions seemed poorly thought out to me. The missile launchers each created a large no-fire zone for the guns both forward and aft. Arkansas carried fewer missiles than Long Beach and lacked a separate ASROC launcher so some magazine space in the rotary mechanism had to be reserved for ASROC missiles.  

Habitability wise, Arkansas was superior to Long Beach. The crew berthing areas did not have any passageways through them and each one had fewer bunks in it than on Long Beach. Arkansas had a bit less than one-half the number of Long Beach’s crew. 

In a lot of aspects, the difference between the two is not unlike the difference between a 1960 family sedan and a 1979 model from the same manufacturer. They both can accomplish the same tasks without a huge difference in performance. The newer model takes less to operate but in my opinion, the older model is more stylish.

A close up of Arkansas bow area. Note the somewhat peculiar, if not entirely backward missile launcher-gun arrangement. , USN

Back to California, back to Long Beach

In order to get back to the west coast, I took a shore duty assignment as a recruiter in the Los Angeles Navy Recruiting District. It was an interesting time to be a recruiter. Recreational drug usage was high (no pun intended) among the target group for military enlistment, 17-25 year-old males. We actually had to get permission to send a female applicant to the processing station. There were a few reasons for this such as the ‘traditional’ jobs a lot of females wanted were overfilled with females (administrative and medical positions mainly) and at the time the sea duty slots for females were few and far between. 

We were even told not to send a female applicant, as enlistment candidates were called, for processing unless they were willing to accept a ‘non-traditional’ position such as an engineering job. This caused a small problem for one female I had sent for processing. She had scored exceptionally high on the ASVAB (military entrance exam) and would have been eligible for almost any position if all were open to women, such as the nuclear propulsion field which was closed to women at that time. So I had prepared her to accept an engineering position such as HT (hull maintenance technician) which I’d been told was wide open for women. 

The Chief Classifier, who had attended recruiting school with me, called and told me my applicant was not going to enlist for the position he’d offered her. This would have got me in hot water with the Chief Recruiter and the Enlisted Programs Officer at the district headquarters. I asked what he had offered her and was told it was a special air traffic controller school which was a rare offering. I asked to speak with my applicant and we talked about the position she’d been offered. She told me that she’d been interested in the HT position but after I explained the rarity of what she’d been offered, she agreed to take the air traffic controller training along with an advanced pay grade after boot camp.  

After that experience, I was very reluctant to send a female applicant for processing until I was working a booth at the Long Beach Grand Prix and met a Reserve Second Class who was a female and she relayed to me that her recruiter had been the guy who was the Chief Recruiter! 

Navy Ad

I was selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer (E7) during this tour. My regret was that my father had died from a heart attack while I was on the Arkansas and wasn’t there to witness my ‘pinning.’ As I mentioned earlier, my dad was on active duty as a Master Chief Storekeeper (supply & logistics) on shore duty in San Diego at the time of his death. 

At the time the Navy had only two promotion cycles for advancement to Chief (due to a budget crunch), first and last increments. The only ones who advanced in the first increment were those with many years of Naval service and since I only had seven years of service I was in the last increment. This meant I wore the Chief’s uniform for eleven months before getting the pay of a Chief.  

Around this time a vacancy opened at the recruiting station in Orange, California. It was a very competitive time for many reasons, not the least being you had to put four people in the Navy each month! I asked for and was assigned as Recruiter-In-Charge of Navy Recruiting Station (NRS) Orange, California.  

There were two recruiters assigned, including me. We each had to put the aforementioned four people (mainly men) in the Navy each month. My partner at the recruiting station was an Engineman First Class originally from the Philippines. Since we were both engineers, we hit it off from the start. The district had one Saturday a month when they conducted enlistments otherwise it was a Monday through Friday operation, however, if you had not made ‘goal’ (put your four in the war we used to say), you were expected to work on Saturdays.  

My partner and I aimed for goal by the 10th of each month so we wouldn’t have to work Saturdays unless our applicants couldn’t go for a physical and enlistment Mondays through Fridays. This didn’t necessarily please the zone supervisor, but he couldn’t say much as we were exceeding our goal each month.  

During this time, it was decided the Navy needed more recruits from the Hispanic community. The area around my recruiting station did not have a significant number of Hispanic residents, however, the school district was very good and we were able to get a good number of applicants for the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion program so our lack of Hispanic recruits was usually overlooked.  

After about a year as Recruiter-In-Charge, I heard from my detailer that he needed nuclear-trained chiefs back at sea. I asked what billets were available and was told they were on California, Texas, Arkansas and Long Beach.  

He told me to put a request through the district CO and if approved he’d give me a spot on the Long Beach. I submitted my request and it was approved all of the way up the chain. I believe, each one of my supervisors who gave their approval thought that someone above them would disapprove my request. They didn’t realize that although recruiting is important, naval reactors were even more influential and filling Chief billets at sea was a high priority!

Chief Healey, Doug Healey

Still having fond memories of the Long Beach, it was an easy choice for me to return to sea duty on her and this time as a Chief. It also helped that Long Beach was homeported in San Diego while the others were based in Alameda, California. I knew Long Beach’s capabilities and I also knew the Chief’s accommodations were a bit better on Lang Beach compared with the other ships, even though Arkansas was much newer. I was also aware that Long Beach had well over 60 Chiefs, Senior Chiefs and Master Chiefs in the mess and with my father gone, I needed someone I could learn about being a Chief from. Since there were more in the mess, I felt I had a greater likelihood of finding good and less good examples to model from.  

We hadn’t yet learned to formalize the mentoring process in the Navy. I was correct in that there were more good examples to learn from on the Long Beach. Additionally, Long Beach still had a Marine Detachment and I was able to learn from the Marine First Sergeant and the Gunny. 

I believe this learning process helped me greatly in my career. A quick example was the Command Master Chief when I reported back to Long Beach was a nuclear-trained Machinist Mate. I was able to learn a lot about being a Command Master Chief from him. 

One quick story was when the ship was in a port for a visit, he had a group of the chiefs go out with him to check out the area. We went into one dive bar and didn’t stay long. On the way out, he pulled out a list of places that were ‘off limits’ from his pocket and crossed off the place we’d just left and announced: “now we know why that place is on the list!”

Aerial view of US Navy ships docked at Naval Station North Island. They are (clockwise from bottom): the battleship USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62), the aircraft carriers USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63) and USS RANGER (CV-61), the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS LONG BEACH (CGN-9) and the guided missile destroyer USS CHANDLER (DDG-996)., USN

USS Long Beach 2.0

The Long Beach I returned to wasn’t greatly different from the ship I’d left before. The ‘billboard’ arrays of the AN/SPS-32/33 SCANFAR radar were gone and a new structure was erected over the aft superstructure to support the new AN/SPS-49 radar. A big AN/SPS-48 radar dish was also mounted on the forward mast.  

Gone too was the Talos missile launcher and all of the equipment that supported it. Long Beach had the cradles for the Harpoon anti-ship missiles on the fantail now. Otherwise, the remainder of the weapon systems were unchanged outwardly. I believe this altered the way the ship rode in the water as it looked like the bow was a bit lower than the stern now and it also seemed like we had a slight port list now.

CGN-9 post refit., USN

Setting sail alongside the USS Kitty Hawk as the Cold War heated up

The 1984 deployment was different than my previous deployments on Long Beach from the start. On our way to Hawaii, at the start of the cruise, we burned up a bearing on the starboard shaft. The breakdown was caused by a watchstander’s failure to check the shaft alley hourly as required. This, I believe was caused at least in part by a shortage of Machinist Mates who would have normally been responsible for keeping track of the shaft bearings. As a result, a different division was assigned this responsibility, one they weren’t too thrilled about having.

The bearing lost all of the oil from its sump and got so hot it damaged the shaft. I believe it was reported by the berthing where the Operations Specialists (formerly called Radarmen) slept. They allegedly could hear the bearing screeching. Regardless, the damage required Long Beach to stay in Pearl Harbor longer than planned and also necessitated going into drydock to replace the starboard shaft.  

Since we would be in Hawaii for a few extra days, my first wife and our sons came over and stayed with some friends of ours who were stationed there. While there, we noticed the Navy Exchange had t-shirts for sale calling USS Reeves (CG-24) ‘the only “real” cruiser in town.’ Needless to say, with Long Beach in port, no one was seen wearing those shirts! 


When we left Hawaii we sailed through the ‘Bear Box’ with EMCON (electronic emissions control) set to see if the Russian Bear reconnaissance planes could find us. They had no idea where we were and as we gradually turned on different radars, they finally came flying right down to where we were.  

We later rejoined the Kitty Hawk and made a port visit in Yokosuka, Japan. A group of took the opportunity to visit Tokyo Disneyland. 

As we were entering the harbor where Yokosuka is located, the Cheng (Chief Engineer) gave the ship a history lesson on how we avoided severely damaging the Yokosuka Naval Base so the US Navy could use the facilities after the Second World War, especially the dry dock facilities where the Yamato was berthed during the war.  

After a few days in port, we returned to sea with the entire Kitty Hawk Battlegroup. We went up into the northern Sea of Japan and while steaming in formation, a Russian Victor III submarine breached right in the middle of our formation. This wasn’t a surprise to those of us in the Engineering Department as we knew how noisy the ship was but we also had a Spruance class destroyer and a Perry class frigate in the group, both of which focus on anti-submarine warfare duties. 

A friend and I were sitting on one of the bits on the port side when he pointed out a periscope about 30 yards of the port beam. The Senior Chief Sonarman dismissed the sighting but when the submarine breached, the Sonarman ran down to the Combat Information Center! My friend knew a periscope when he saw one because he’d been on the USS Seadragon previously but was transferred off because of kidney stones which disqualified him from further sub duty. 

According to my friend, it can be very challenging maintaining periscope depth and if the sub is not trimmed correctly, it can easily breach (pop up to the surface). Since he’d been a qualified diving officer on his sub, I believed him.  


Later that evening, the battlegroup had an exercise planned to try to fool any sub monitoring the group. Kitty Hawk went alongside the USS Wabash for an underway replenishment (UNREP). When she concluded she was scheduled to modify her acoustic signature and move away and Long Beach would modify her sound signature and lighting to try to sound and look like a carrier and move into place alongside Wabash.  

Just as Kitty Hawk started to move away from Wabash, they passed a canex (cancel the exercise) call over ship-to-ship communications followed by “I think we (the Kitty Hawk) hit something.”

Soon after we noticed the Victor III on the surface, dead in the water.  We, Long Beach, offered assistance but were refused. The Battlegroup Commander left one of the frigates assigned behind to standby to provide assistance if needed but a Russian fleet tug eventually came out and towed the stricken Victor III away.  

Victor III fast attack submarine., USN

We knew it was a Victor III because of the unique device on the stern vertical fin for the sub’s towed array sonar system. When we arrived in Subic Bay a few days later, they already had t-shirts proclaiming Kitty Hawk ‘the best ASW (antisubmarine warfare) platform in the Navy’ and others stating ‘Kitty Hawk – 1, Victor III – 0!’ 

We were told by some of the repair personnel in Subic that a part of a blade from the sub’s screw was found embedded in the Kitty Hawk’s bottom. It was believed the Victor III was rolled through 360 degrees by the Hawk right after it struck her!

The rest of the cruise was fairly uneventful and we were able to return home.


Editor’s note: Stay tuned for part two of our USS Long Beach-Doug Healey series where we dive into Nuclear Cruiser and Battleship surface action group operations during the twilight of the Cold War, Desert Storm, the retirement of America’s nuclear-powered surface combatant fleet, life of a Command Master Chief, the Navy today, and so much more!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com