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.
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.
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…