Articles

These are weird Navy traditions and their meanings

A recent Navy Times article notes that the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) joined the "Order of the Blue Nose" — a distinction reserved for ships and crew that crossing the Arctic Circle.


Most people have not heard of such a mystical Navy order, and there are others that are equally shrouded in seafaring lore, according to a list maintained by the Naval History and Heritage Command.

That list includes both well-known orders and not-so-well known orders. They are for notable feats — and in some cases, dubious ones.

Command Master Chief of aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) Spike Call plays the role of King Neptune during a crossing the line ceremony aboard the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Clemente A. Lynch/Released)

Perhaps the most well-known is the "Order of the Shellback," given to those sailors who have crossed the equator. The "Crossing the Line" ceremony has been portrayed both in the PBS documentary series "Carrier," as well as being the plot point for an episode of "JAG" in the 1990s.

But there is more than one kind of shellback.

If you cross the equator at the International Date Line (about 900 miles east of Nauru), you become a "Golden Shellback" (since those who cross the International Date Line are called Golden Dragons).

If you cross the equator at the Prime Meridian (a position about 460 miles to the west of Sao Tome and Principe), you become an "Emerald Shellback."

Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk (WMEC 913) line up on the flight deck and make sounds like a whale to call to the whales as part of their shellback ceremony. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by OS3 Vicente Arechiga)

Now, we can move to some lesser-known, and even dubious orders.

The "Order of the Caterpillar" is awarded to anyone who has to leave a plane on the spur of the moment due to the plane being unable to continue flying. You even get a golden caterpillar pin.

The eyes of the caterpillar will then explain the circumstances of said departure. The Naval History and Heritage Command, for instance, notes that ruby red eyes denote a midair collision.

Capt. Christopher Stricklin ejects from the USAF Thunderbirds number six aircraft less than a second before it impacted the ground at an air show at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The ACES II ejection seat performed flawlessly. The departure from the plane makes Stricklin a member of the "Order of the Caterpillar," meaning he gets a gold pin. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Then, there is the becoming a member of the "Goldfish Club." That involves spending time in a life raft. If you're in the raft for more than 24 hours, you become a "Sea Squatter."

This photo shows servicemen training on a life raft. If it were for real, they'd be members of the "Goldfish Club." (USCG photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Rob Simpson)

Using the Panama Canal makes you a member of the "Order of the Ditch."

The battleship USS Colorado (BB 45) in the Panama Canal, thus inducting her crew into the "Order of the Ditch." (Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command)

Oh, and in case you are wondering, crossing the Antarctic Circle makes you a "Red Nose."

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