Sometimes you just have to let it go.
Even though I don’t have much grey on my head, I have more than a few other reminders that I am no longer as young as I once was. Its a bit tougher to walk the plant I work in during the winter months but I still give it my best. I take a few minutes longer to respond to the complicated questions that come my way but I find that it is better to let the question ferment for a second or two longer so that I develop the right response. But every once in a while, one of the youngsters catches me off guard with a condescending comment that is more a reflection of their age and inexperience than it is to my ability and life achievements.
The plant is getting ready to go into a twelve day “turnaround” common to the oil and chemical industry. I don’t mean to diminish the event. It will be twelve days of very intensive activity where the slightest mistake could mean the difference between success and failure. Frankly, in the industry, it could also mean life or death if the wrong things happen. Even in a small plant like the one I work in, disastrous consequences could result in mistakes.
Today, as I was leaving for the day, one of my young “colleagues” was finishing some task and I mentioned in passing that it had been a pretty challenging day. I was referring to a number of events related to labor relations having some interesting twists and turns. My young colleague turned and looked at me in an almost disdainful manner and with his three years of work experienced said “Well, its going to get a lot harder… it is turnaround.” His disrespect dripped with every word.
I used every bit of self control not to answer him in a more appropriate manner.
Before he was even born, I had already been on three submarines and did the equivalent of dozens of twelve day “turnarounds” in foreign ports with no rest during thirty day and longer refits and shipyard periods. What my shipmates and I accomplished kept the free world safe from the enemies that lurked off of our shores. We worked and sailed in dangerous times with an enemy that was sworn to destroy us under the right circumstances. Months underwater facing dangers that still remain clouded in secrecy. After he was born, I served on two more submarines and frankly worked more in a year than he probably has in his entire life. As the Docking and Damage Control officer on the largest floating drydock in the fleet, my crews successfully and safely docked five nuclear submarines. The planning alone probably equaled all of the actual work this boy has ever done. My final assignment as the M and A division officer on a large submarine support ship had my day starting mainly at 4:30 AM and frankly I am surprised when he shows up at 8:00 AM most days.
I’ll go back in tomorrow and still beat him to the work site by at least an hour. I’ll do my work over the grueling twelve days to come. I’ll even manage not to be too hard on him as he struggles to endure his toughest test in at least a year.
I do have one wish though. I wish he was even a tenth of the man or woman who ever put on a uniform and actually did something that mattered before he was disrespectful to an old man he neither knows nor understands.
Thanks for your service indeed
This is a great documentary of some of the best submarining any of us will ever see.
The Story of Submarine Warfare in the Pacific (1946)
I saw this video on one of the Navy Facebook pages earlier today and thought it was worth sharing.
When you think about how complex a machine submarines really are, you can understand why training and qualifications are so important. Compared to any other occupation or job I have had, none come close to creating the sense of urgency and need for exact knowledge and skills.
I should give you fair warning that this is not a story about submarines. It is a fairly graphic story about recent events that you may just want to pass by. I will be back next week with more tails of the submarine world, but this story is about the world around us today (July 19, 2014).
I have been traveling this week so have not had much time to take in the news of the day. Catching glimpses of the stories about the border of the US disintegrating, the ongoing destruction of Iraq and Syria, Israel once again having to defend itself against the rockets of Islam, and of course the 777 shot down by Russian trained and supported forces using a Russian Buk missile system . After almost seven years of living in a leaderless country, it breaks my heart to see what is happening to the world as a result of our “grand experiment”. I call it an experiment since it is the single most disastrous catastrophe to hit modern mankind. The grand experiment is to have elected someone with absolutely no leadership experience to the highest office in the land that used to be America. Add to that disaster that he surrounded himself with neophytes that also had no clue as to the special place that this country once held.
Reuters reports that after the explosion of the aircraft in mid air (most likely by a Russian surface to air missile), the plane disintegrated and everything in it fell to the ground. Including the bodies (many intact) that had up until that moment been dreaming in their padded airline seats. Many still had the ear buds in that piped blissful music into their ears in an attempt to drown out the plane noises around them. I have flown thousands of times over untold hundreds of thousands of miles in my life. The escape of music during those torturously long flights is indeed a blessing for travelers. Sleep is a better solution though. I have never taken a sleep aid. One of my companies actually used to offer them to us for longer flights. My only excuse was that I wanted to be as fresh as possible when I hit the ground in Paris or London so that I could take a few moments to see what else the world had to offer.
I wonder what they were dreaming of?
There was a large group of people on board headed to an Aids conference in Australia. They were led by a man whose passion was to provide cheaper and more readily available medical supplies to poorer nations that had been passed over by the drug companies as not profitable. Children were on board too, perhaps going on a vacation to see another part of the world as part of their life growth experience. Innocents all. Each with their own dreams and their own plans. I wonder if they ever in their wildest imaginations thought that their lives would be snuffed out by a rogue missile fired by Russian trained and equipped terrorists fighting for a recreation of a monstrous Soviet Union?
As I flew home yesterday over the Midwest, I could see the sprawling Mississippi snaking its way across the middle of the country. Looking around the plane I saw the weary businessmen coming home to their families. I saw a girl captured in a body that was crippled by some dystrophy that required her to be carried on the plane in a wheel chair. She was smiling and chatting with the people near her seat. There were young children and grandparents on their way to somewhere. Both seemed to be filled with a sense of adventure. The exhilaration of the plane taking off is still a thrill after forty two years of travelling. But this time was a bit different. I couldn’t help but think about how sudden it all must have been for that Malaysian airliner as it collided with a Russian missile.
I comfort myself in thinking most of them were asleep and had no time to think as they were ripped from the comfort of that atmospherically controlled space into 30,000 feet of sheer nothingness. I pray that their terror was short lived and that angels lifted their souls to safety before their bodies came crashing down into the fields and houses of the village below. I pray for their families too. They will never get a chance to say goodbye or even hold them in their arms again.
This country is spinning out of control almost as rapidly as the events around the world are spinning out of control. We have a leaderless government that spies on its own people, persecutes political opponents using the very instruments of government made to support us all, and is driving us faster and faster into a wilderness. We the people are to blame in many parts for drifting so far into a selfishness and hypocrisy that brought us this group of American haters. Too many people thought that things would be different never understanding that different can mean so many things besides better. The America that the current administration sees is a weak and feckless place with no more power than Botswana. The clueless people in the White House failed to understand that the thing that made American great was its exceptionalism that it seeks to destroy.
When you total all the failures of this administration, you end up with a list of moral surrenders that led to the shooting down of an innocent plane full of world citizens. When bad people fear no consequences for bad actions, good people die. It is that simple. We have emboldened the enemy and he is growing every day. The only thing a despot fears is that he will be vanquished in such a way that even his deeds will be swept into the ashbin of history. The man who occupies the White House can’t understand why there are so many people who now despise him. He fails to understand that it is the blood on his hands that makes him such an objectionable creature. His legacy is now cast in that same blood and he will forever be remembered as the man who would rather go to a fundraiser than to do his job.
Robert “DEX” Armstrong, Legendary ‘After Battery Rat’ on Eternal Patrol
Submitted by: Pat Householder on 7/8/2014
Dex cast off the lines of life at 6:20 AM EST July 8, 2014 and sailed off on his final patrol.
A larger than life character with a remarkable talent for writing thoughts and actions that all diesel boat sailors could relate to and say with a smile, “That was me when I was just young squid too!”
Dex will join his beloved Solveig in a shared plot at Arlington National Cemetery at a time and date yet to be announced.
To all who sent cards to DEX, THANK YOU! His Nurse said the stack is bigger than any she has ever seen come in on one day and she enjoyed reading them to Dex on what turned out to be his last night.
Dex, irreverent rascal that he was, would want us all to enjoy his submarine tales and a link to his AFTER BATTERY RAT tales is linked here.
Rest your oar, shipmate! We who remain will keep your memory alive, and thanks for the precious memories!
Navy wife… the toughest job in the Navy
Mrs. Mac spent a few hours underway on the USS San Francisco SSN 711. One of my favorite memories is the dependents cruise from Maui back to Oahu back in the 80’s. I had just qualified as Chief of the Watch and was on watch when it was decided to do an EMBT blow for the families. This was in a more innocent time before the Ehime Maru and USS Greeneville collision.
Mrs. Mac learned all about boarding a submarine that had lost its anchor from a small motorboat in a gently swelling Maui channel. I think that actually scared her more than submerging. Once on board, she settled in to crews mess while I finished up my watch. Four hours later, I rotated back onto the BCP and Debbie got to sit next to me. The Captain came in to control and told the OOD that he wanted to do the blow. He saw Debbie sitting next to me and asked her if she wanted to help.
A million things flashed through my mind but not one of them had anything to do with her being left handed. That simple fact would come into play in a few moments. After we got to depth and speed, he ordered the actuation of the EMBT valves. My beautiful bride reached up with her predominant left hand and pushed the plunger which let loose the 4500 pound beast through the tiny line. The muffler behind the BCP screamed in response which created a momentary freeze in Mrs. Mac’s left hand… the one grasping the aft blow valves. Sensing that this was not going to end well, I pulled her inoperative right hand away from the forward valve and shut the aft.
I have told this story a number of times over the past 32 years and never get tired of embellishing it. Mrs. Mac just smiles patiently as I do retell it and I am sure is thinking that she will ultimately choose which nursing home I get shipped to when all that submarining catches up with me.
She went on to do a stint in the Damage control trainer at Bangor but that’s a story for another time. I hold her in the highest esteem for her service as a submariner’s wife and give her much of the credit for my advancement to Chief and later Chief Warrant Officer.
I know submarining was sometimes hard on me. I believe it was just as hard on her in more than one ways.
I saw this today and hope you take a few moments to read this re-blog. It speaks a lot about being a submariner’s wife.
When I first started the blog, life was very different…
The intent was to share some ideas on lean manufacturing while celebrating the heritage of the United States Navy submarine forces. A lot of water has gone under the bow since those days. Over 260,000 views later, I find that the submarine stories have continued to dominate in popularity. Much of my recent work has revolved around developing new stories including an extensive amount of research on pre-World War 2 American submarines. That work continues in the background which is why I don’t post as regularly as I used to.
I have also had a few guest posts over the past year that have proven to be very popular. Jody Durham’s “Ever a submariner” essay is one of the three top hitters of all time on the site. It continues to draw interest both here and in other submarine blogs and outlets. It was an honor to be one of those that shared his story.
There are a lot more stories out there that are yet to be told. I thank you for each and every visit you have made to the site (even if it was only once or twice). Thanks also for the feedback both here and on Facebook, Twitter and Google.
The best is yet to come!
If you look to the right side of my blog, you will see a number of patches that reflect my duty stations (boats and ships) along the way. My sub vets vest has a fair representation of them and it is a matter of some pride that I wear each one. They all stand for a part of my personal journey and I am very honored to wear each and every one.
Recently I was asked (like many others to reflect on a patch for a USSVI region. The patch was nice and reflects the geographic area the region represents. Nicely colored, it also has a submarine template which is generic enough to fit a number of tastes for members and potential members. But like most patches, it seems to be missing something for me. The National Patch is also very nice since it a symbol of our shared qualification. It is an achievement that not every man or woman can claim.
I wonder if there will come a day where the Submarine Veterans Organization will have a patch that reflects the men (and now women) who are the Veterans. Because of submarine development over the past 114 years, there will never be a real consensus about what the optimal “submarine patch” would look like. And that opinion would change from generation to generation. DBF guys will be duking it our with Nuke boat guys until we all pass to the next great command. And I can’t wait to hear the fussing between the boys who sailed on boats with our old technology versus the youngsters that literally “fly” the Virginia class subs.
But the one unifying thing between all generations is that sailor who shows up at the head of the brow one day with a seabag slung over his shoulder wondering what the hell he has signed up for. My favorite Navy symbol of all time is The Lone Sailor which graces the Navy Memorial in DC and many other places around the country (including Norfolk). Did you know that the guy who was the “model” for the statue was a boomer sailor from one of the Trident subs?
I wonder what that symbol would look like if it were to reflect the submarine forces? I wonder if it would even be possible?
The sailor who mans the watch transcends every divide submariners have ever had. It doesn’t matter if he was on a ship named after a fish or a man. Nuclear powered or diesel. Boomer or Fast Attack. East coast or West coast. Just some kid from someplace in America that put on a brave face the first time they closed the hatch on him and ordered the ship to submerge. When someone captures that, I think it will be the real symbol of our great group.