Of the things I have done in my life, being privileged to be a Submariner is the one thing that stands out the most.
Looking back in the mirror of over forty years, what made being a submariner so special was a combination of men, machines, methods and materials (as well as the environment we lived in).
The men were bold and adventurous. In order to surrender your personal freedom and commit part of your life to operating in a steel tube (often for months at a time), you had to have a great sense of boldness. These are the men that forty years later I still call brothers. The shared sacrifice we made cemented that bond. They were the embodiment of trust and loyalty. They still are.
The machines were part of this experience too. The ones we rode on are all special to us since they took us into the unknown and brought us safely home in most cases. Whether they were named after fish, men, cities or states, they were our boats. Some rode to glory in a haze of diesel exhaust and some silently lurked beneath the surface on an invisible field of power. What made them common was the pressure that pushed against their hulls when they were sent into danger.
The methods evolved with the technology. The little pigboats that felt almost tethered to the shore were replaced by sleek combat vessels. Despite the horrific loss of 52 of them during World War 2, they emerged with more enemy tonnage sunk per capita than any other combat vessels. Post war, they ran picket duty against the new threat and became platforms for exotic missiles with a powerful projection. These warriors were at the front line of the Cold and Gulf Wars and although their stories will never be fully known, influenced the shape of the world for decades.
Since Holland’s little boat first broke the surface, the materials have adapted for each new mission. Stronger, quieter, more adaptable to depths unfathomable in the old days, these boats are powerful voices in a world of threats.
The environment continues to challenge our boats. Sea mountains, hurricanes, typhoons and classified threats to submarine operations will always be the wild cards that increase the risk. Any person who has ridden a submarine into the unknown without being able to see what is ahead knows what it feels like to commit your life to something greater than themselves. But our boats and our people continue to fight them and overcome the odds in the very face of the unknown.
Someday we will all stand and have to take account for our lives. On that day, I hope to still be wearing my dolphins. That is a sure way for St. Peter to know that I once did my time in hell and I am ready to come home.