Erik Gilliam sent me this story.

I was a Third Class Hospitalcorpsman and a newly minted Diving Med Tech when I reported aboard at Underwater Construction Team Two. Most of the Team was deployed when I arrived, but was due to return in a weeks time. The busy work of drawing gear, getting fitted for a wet suit, and getting my initial sets of Seabee greens took up the first few days. After that excitement ended I had little to do. One of the Chiefs, like all good Chiefs, did not like the idea of me just idling around the shops poking around without much to do. He directed me to a bin that was filled with loose open-end box wrenches. My job was to inventory the box of wrenches and let him know how many wrenches of each type there were in the box. The idea was to use the wrenches to complete sets that were missing wrenches, or to perhaps even put together a set. My response to the task was probably something along the line of, “No sweat, Chief.”

I got a pen and a tablet of paper and went to work. In no time I was done with the task. The Chief returned and asked how I was doing. I told him that I was all done and pointed to the bench where I had neatly laid out the wrenches.

“How many are there?” asked the Chief.

Pointing to one end of the row of wrenches I stated, “One big one,” then pointing to the other end of the row, “two little ones,” then pointing to the rest, “and a whole bunch in between.”

The Chief stood there for a moment in silence. Then, after taking a deep breath, stated, “Perhaps I didn’t make clear what I wanted you to do. I want the wrenches inventoried by size. You’ve got a start.” He picked up the one big wrench from one end of my row of wrenches. Pointing at the number stamped on the wrench he said, “See? One inch.”

Somewhat sheepishly I replied, “Oh, O.K. Got it.”

The Chief put the wrench back on the bench and as he was leaving told me that he would look in on me later.

I looked at the numbers on all of the other wrenches on the bench and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out the code that determined their respective sizes. Out in the shop one of the mechanics was on a creeper working under a one of the trucks. All I could see of him were his boots sticking out from under the truck. I walked over and talking to his boots asked, “Could you tell me the next smaller size wrench that comes after a one inch wrench?” His reply was short and to the point, “Fifteen sixteenths unless it’s a 32nd set then 31/32nd.” I said thanks to the boots and went back to my bench of wrenches. I looked at all of the wrenches, collected all the 15/16th wrenches (there weren’t any 31/32nd) and stacked them one on top of the other next to the one-inch wrench. I made a notation on my pad and then look at the rest of the wrenches, without a clue.

I went back over to the mechanic who was still under the truck. Talking to his boots I asked, “What size wrench comes after a 15/16ths?” The reply, “Seven eights.”, came as a grunt from under the truck. I went back to the wrenches and looked through them until I had all of the 7/8ths. I stacked them in a neat pile next to the 15/16ths wrenches and added the information to my list. I still had not broken the sizing code so I went back to my well of information, who was still under the truck.

Addressing the boots I asked, “What size wrench comes after 7/8ths?” The mechanic rolled out from under the truck on the creeper, looked at me for a minute and asked, “You’re the new Corpsman, right?” I nodded my confirmation. “Corpsmen have to know math, right?” I nodded again. “Well then, what is 16 over 16?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Still on the creeper the CM asked, “If you reduce 16 over 16 what do you get?”
“One.” I replied.
“O.K. then, what do you get when you reduce 15 over 16?”
“You can’t reduce it so it stays 15 over 16.”
“Alright, what do you get when you reduce 14 over 16?”
“Seven ei.., Oh, I get it! Thanks!” As I turned to go back to the wrenches I heard the scraping of the creeper as the CM rolled back under the truck.

Now I attacked the pile of wrenches with gusto. I arranged all the wrenches by size (1” to 7/16”) and wrote down on my pad all the sizes and how many of each there were. It was just before lunch and the Chief stopped by to see how I was doing. I showed him the wrenches all lined up and the inventory list. Chief Handley looked at the wrenches and looked over the list. “Great.” he said, “How many twelve point and how many six point of each size are there?”

I gave Chief Handley an incredulous look and stated, “I suppose next you’ll want me to get a bucket of steam or a couple of feet of water line. Look I may be new to the command but I HAVE been in the Navy for a while (a little more than two years at that point). I’ll see you after lunch.” And I walked out of the shop headed for the chow hall.

After lunch I was back in the shop when the Chief came in carrying a book. The book was a Navy correspondence course titled, ‘Tools and Their Uses’. He handed me the correspondence course and said, “Doc, since you’re going to be with a Seabee unit for the next couple of years you may want to work on this.” He handed me the book and walked back to the front office. I noticed that there was a slip over paper sticking out of the book and opened it to that page. Circled in the text was a description of the use of open-end box wrenches, both six and twelve point. I had the course done by the end of the week.

Thanks, Erik!

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