Warning: Some salty language may have snuck past the censors
There was a Navy training film many years ago called “The Lost Sailor”.
The idea behind the film was for Navy leaders to recognize all the things that could go wrong with a young sailor when they first report on board a ship or submarine. The newly arriving boot was probably fresh from school and this was his first assignment at sea. He reports on board and suddenly gets disillusioned when everyone is too busy to pay any attention to him. In fact, the sailor that ultimately takes him to his berthing assignment is a sub-standard sailor who is only available for such duty because he is on restriction. It doesn’t take long for the squared away recruit to turn into a derelict just like his “mentor”. The entire film is based around leaders not letting this kind of thing happen to their new sailors when they report on board.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the term “Sea Daddy”. Thinking back to my earliest days in the Navy, I remember reading the Blue Jackets Manual from front cover to back. The Eighteenth Edition of Ridley McLean’s handbook for sailors had specific details on everything the American bluejacket would ever need to know about being a sailor.
Delbert D. Black was the Master Chief Petty officer of the Navy in the 1969 edition and he gave the following forward: To all Navy Men: The Navy is a man’s job. It requires courage, dedication and daring. Navy men have a proud tradition of heroism in all conflicts.”
He goes on to say more but in the entire book, nothing is mentioned about the existence of a position or assignment called Sea Daddy.
Maybe that’s why I never had one when I went to my first submarine. I was a Machinist Mate Fireman that was assigned to a Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine and my role would include driving the boat, cleaning dishes in a hot deep sink, compacting and shooting trash and eventually standing watch as a roving Auxiliaryman and later as a Scrubber Room watch.
As I was reporting on board, the senior men in that division all hit their rotation dates. Once the dust settled, we had a brand new Chief (who had just been advanced) one first class and one second class. The rest of us were new to the boat and new to submarines. If there actually was an official title of Sea Daddy, there wouldn’t have been enough of them left to care for the rookies that showed up for duty,
Looking back through a long lens, I think Chief John did the best he could with what he inherited. All of us had been through a lot of technical classes before we showed up. The problem was that the technical classes were mostly geared towards the sleek new SSBN 640 Class Boomers and this was the original 41 For Freedom experiment called the George Washington. By the time I reported on board, she had sailed in both oceans, made over forty patrols, and was showing the signs of age that can only come from a boat that had been stitched together in a rush to beat the Russians to a viable boomer.
Old Boats Leaked
Everything that could leak did. The pumps we had to pack and repack were buried under pipes and deck plates and lines that crisscrossed each other in a chaotic maze that had been designed by a mad man. The high pressure air compressors were not the kind any of us had trained on so each time they required repairs (which was pretty damn often) it was like an exercise in jig saw puzzle land. On my first patrol, I saw very little of these mechanical wonders since I spent most of the time in the galley as a crank. The second patrol was a little better since I was qualified and only stood dive and drive part of the time. Between watches and drills, I was indoctrinated into the world of adapt and overcome.
While I am sure he would have revolted against the idea of being called a Sea Daddy, Chief John probably fit the bill more than any other man I served with in all five boats. He was patient to a point but he was also firm that you didn’t get to walk away from a job just because it was kicking your ass. He would teach to a point but his main method of teaching was to make sure you didn’t screw things up too badly while you were figuring out the right way to fix them.
You do not have permission to quit
My least favorite job was repacking the trim pump. This pump was vital to the ship’s operation since it moved water from tank to tank and helped the boat to adapt to the ever changing sea and internal ballast. But replacing the packing meant climbing down into a tightly packed area with very little room to get comfortable. Then you had to maneuver your hands in such a way that you could pull the old packing as needed and insert the new rings. If you tightened the packing too much, you smoked the rings. Then you got to start all over. I found this out the hard way. After a few attempts, I went back to the Chief and said that I couldn’t get it. I was tired, hot and dirty and I just wanted to go to my rack.
I don’t think I saw my rack for another day. Or maybe it was two
Chief John made it very clear that he had no time for someone not doing their job. I don’t remember his words but I do remember he had quite the way with phrases that a young sailor would never forget. I finally got it right. I never had to repeat that error again. The same lesson would be learned on nearly every job I was assigned to for the next few years.
I lost track of Chief John when I transferred. After some time away from submarines, I returned to being an Auxiliaryman and never looked back. The lesson about doing hard things without quitting never left me and I hope that I did him proud. To be honest, I think he would be surprised to know I made it as far as I did. He was in my mind the day I made Chief. I tried to help other sailors along the way with some of his best lessons and maybe a few I learned from others.
Come to think of it, maybe there was such a thing as a Sea Daddy after all. If I were to see him today, I would thank him for helping me through some of the most difficult days of my life. And I would probably wish him a Happy Father’s day.
Dedicated to MMC/SS John Mills, US Navy
The best damn Chief I ever met