Field Day ~ The Legends, the Myths, the Reality

When I was on submarines we would occasionally rewrite the words to songs to fit our purposes. Submarines on patrol are notorious for being either very exciting or incredibly boring. For that reason, the Executive Officer will hold a “Field Day” where all of the crewmembers are wakened and set to the task of cleaning.

Today’s blog will cover this exciting chapter of the Cold War and will also publish for the first time the submariner’s version of the Battle Hymn.

One of the great mysteries of all time on board nuclear submarines underwater is this: After cleaning every level surface for weeks at a time, where does the dirt come from? Field Day is a Navy tradition which in and of itself is pretty weird since you are on a ship or submarine and there are no fields. On most of the boats I served on, Field Day was almost always set for Friday. Even if you were coming off the 4-8 watch and had a nighttime missile drills, you could count on participating in this ship wide evolution.

Sub Sizes

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes the areas that remained dark during the week (berthing for instance) dirt and garbage just sort of accumulated. Often, the mystery ship mate would drop gear adrift and not be very careful of their travels in the parts of the boat that may produce dirt and grease. So it does make sense to periodically have a scrub down from top to bottom.

I do suspect though that the main reason for the Field Day was to keep the crew mad at the X.O.

Now before you scoff, think about it. If you are cooped up in a steel tube closed off on both ends for months at a time, tension can really build up. Keeping the entire crew focused on being mad at one of the few people they couldn’t get to is nothing short of brilliant. (Note: This is obviously not taking into account the “Great XO’s Door Kidnap Caper – another story at another time since I believe a statute of limitations still exists).

The normal tension of being separated from members of the opposite sex alone can churn up all kinds of angst. People coming onto watch who are perennially late adds its own level of irritations. My worst source of aggravation is when I would relieve the guy before me who was monitoring the potable water tank levels so carefully that he allowed the tanks to run almost dry five minutes after I took the watch. The tanks running low always seemed to happen right as the XO was taking his after post-exercise shower. I suspect that is one of the reasons why he always seemed to be interested in inspecting my areas after the field day.

Big Mac in TR SSN 711

I will never forget Mark Keef’s favorite saying as he crawled on his belly with his flashlight to find that one loose dust bunny that no other human being on earth would notice: “In order to get to dirt Petty Officer Mac, you have to get to dirt’s level”.

If an enemy was ever to have attacked one of our boats, they would have probably had the most potential for luck if they attacked during Field Day. The passage ways on a submarine are very narrow and need to be secured during field day in order to allow their owners to complete their waxing/polishing. I personally know of at least three ET’s that would have stopped us from going to battles stations if it meant crossing their seven feet of freshly waxed tiled surface. There is no “up and over” during field day.

Like all things must, Field Day’s eventually end.

The results were normally lists of exaggerated “hits” that may or may not get taken care of. If the cooks are in a great mood, you may have an extended “slider” meal with lots of fresh hot fries.  Granted, it is nice for the berthing are to smell less like old socks for a few days. But I hope that someday I will get back all of the sleep I lost.

To close out today, I would like to share one of my favorite songs, written in the early days on the USS San Francisco SSN 711. This song was and always be dedicated to CDR Mark B Keef for his relentless pursuit of dirt and grime.


The Battle Hymn of the Field Day

Mine eyes have seen the dirt and grime that covers all our decks,

I have seen the filthy ladders and the garbage in the heads

Crews mess looks like a battleground, the wardroom is a pit

so Field Day Marches on!

Glory, glory what’s a Field Day?

Glory, glory, it’s a good way

to clean up all our dirt and mess and make our XO proud,

So field day marches on.

From the shadows of the turbines, high above the BCP

We have checked the level surfaces for dirt and verdigris

Some men died for their religion, some men died to make us free…



Dedicated to all the lost sleep, lost boots, and lost Gentlemen’s magazines which were all sacrificed to help win the Cold War.

Mister Mac

San Francisco 1981 Carribean

4 thoughts on “Field Day ~ The Legends, the Myths, the Reality

  1. Ha, we had those in Irrigation, although with far less intensity. It’s amazing how much crud and junk, and dried mud a service truck can carry after 3 months of 80 hour weeks.

    Don’t think we ever wrote a song about it though, that’s one thing that makes the military unique. Good lyrics!! And I suspect you’re right about the XO, certainly works that way with Service Managers/ Operations Managers.

      1. Most, in my experience, are, effective too I’d bet. They’ve (me too now) have their job to do and people to motivate, one way or another. Everyplace I’ve ever been, the XO, Mr. Vice or Operations Manager has used this, at least sometimes.

  2. Hi Mac,

    Oh the field day blues…..I had almost forgotten them. I had one boat where the XO made a deal with the crew, if we kept his boat clean during the week, we’d only have a 30 minute or so field day for berthing once a week to scrub the deck. We took him to heart, and he held to his word. We did after watch cleanups that were more detailed and even turned the lights on for a 5 minute sweep down of berthing once a day. A fair trade in my book.

    Now, on the subject of stealing the XO’s door, I can tell you the best place to hide it is in the bunk pan of a newly assigned JO who’s not yet qualified and terrified that without key signatures he won’t ever qualify. We held on to the door for 4 days, and the XO (who in my book was one of the best) made a mid-night assault on the head and stole every single toilet seat in the enlisted areas. The following morning a ransom note appeared, we’d get the seats, when he got the door back…..

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