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The Original Navy Rate
by Benjamin Carr, DVIDS - October 20, 2015

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WATERS NEAR GUAM - Boatswain's mate (BM) is a rate that is full of pride and tradition. They are the men and women who do “classic” Sailor work, such as handling line, steering the ship, bringing in fuel and cargo, standing lookouts and dropping the rigid inflatable boat to rescue a man overboard.

The BM rate was established in 1775 during the inception of the U.S. Navy. They were among the first Sailors to serve on the early wooden warships.

September 26, 2015 - Aviation Machinist's Mate 1st Class Alberto Balderramos, from Albuquerque, N.M., inspects a jet engine using a borescope in the jet shop of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke)
September 26, 2015 - Aviation Machinist's Mate 1st Class Alberto Balderramos, from Albuquerque, N.M., inspects a jet engine using a borescope in the jet shop of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke)

“The term ‘boatswain' came from the captain putting people in charge of boats and personnel. The word ‘swain' means to be in charge of something,” said Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Kyle Combs, from Lima, Ohio. “Back in the day to be a Sailor was to be a boatswain's mate.”

A large part of a BMs duty is shipboard watchstanding. BMs can be found standing aft and foward lookouts, bridge watches, anchor watches and more.

“We stand watch on a daily basis,” said Combs. “We stand the helmsman and lee-helmsman watches that steer and control speed. Our aft steering helmsman will take charge if there is a steering casualty in the pilothouse. We also have lookouts to watch for ships, aircraft and man overboards.”

Combs said he thinks it is important to know his rate's history. He believes well-rounded Sailors should know about the legacy left by their predecessors.

“We take pride in knowing that we as boatswain's mates have retained a lot of our traditions and ways of doing things,” said Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class James Girolamo, from Hopewell Junction, N.Y. “It was the first rate in the Navy. We say ‘first rate, best rate'. I would say we're the lifeblood of the ship. Other rates have been cut apart or combined with others, but not BMs. We've been around since the start and we serve the same purpose since our inception.”

Even though today's Sailors work aboard and operate some of the most technologically-advanced ships in the world, many traditions have not been forgotten.

“Boatswain's mates used to sew the sail, tarps and canvas,” said Combs. “We were also in charge of piping for announcements. It's one of our oldest traditions. Piping is the way word will get spread. If it were time for chow they would pipe mess call. If the captain wanted to address everyone, he would order a boatswain's mate to pipe an all hands call. This was at a time where there was no radio system. We still pipe before announcements because it's such an old tradition.”

According to Girolamo, he does not mind working hard for Deck Department. He embraces challenging and difficult work and believes he is a better Sailor for it.

“I really like the work that we do,” said Girolamo. “It's definitely a rate that gets its hands dirty. We're the rate that busts our butts all day, but we feel like we've got a lot to show for it with our professionalism on the bridge and in everything we do.”

Traditionally, BMs are placed in leadership positions soon after advancement to petty officer third class.

“As a BM3 I'm in charge of the enlisted watch team on the bridge,” said Girolamo. “We're also in charge of saving lives. We're the ones who throw the life ring and smoke float in the water in case of a man overboard.”

Combs added that he enjoys the responsibility and the leadership requirements that were put on him very early in his career. He said Deck Department has a large number of seamen who require supervision and mentoring.

“We have a lot of responsibility to start with. In most rates, you don't start supervising until you're a 2nd or 1st class. We start immediately when we make 3rd class,” said Combs.

According to Combs, boatswain's mates are very proud of their rate, and many of them are eager to tell people about what they do.

“We have a lot of pride because many boatswain's mates strike the rate from being an undesignated seaman. It used to be the only way to become one,” said Combs. “People are proud because they entered the rate knowing the hard work we do and the responsibilities we have.”

Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Tyler Santos, from Sunol, Calif., said there's a lot of camaraderie in Deck Department. The blended crew from the hull swap is getting along like a big family.

“It's a lot of fun and you really earn your paycheck,” said Santos.

By Benjamin Carr, DVIDS
Copyright 2015

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