Each submariner’s journey begins when they finish all of their training and the hatch closes when the last man is down. For a hundred and seventeen years, submariners have steered a course unique to their own generation and their own type of boat. From the wildly dangerous gasoline powered boats to the sleek new nuclear powered leviathans, submariners have all pioneered their own form of warfare facing unique challenges. In my lifetime, I have watched the demise of the diesel boats and an entire generation of nuclear boats that had vastly different missions and capabilities.
The lessons learned on the early boats have been passed along in design and operations. Learning the characteristics of the sea is a never ending process as boats operate in depth greater than the early designers could have imagined at speeds that dwarf the Pig Boats. New technology and weapons have made the modern submarines the most fearsome warriors the world has ever known.
With all of these improvements in design and technology comes a much stronger need for training and skills. Even though I sailed on some of the most updated submarines for their time (688 Class and Ohio Class) the new boats have capabilities that make what we did seem like it was primitive.
Two things have remained constant throughout the entire history of U.S. Submarines. First, the older generation always had a rougher time than these newbies and were somehow the “real” submariners. Second, the older generation passes away and is replaced by the “newbies” that are now the older generation and had a rougher time than the current generation of newbies. They become the “real” submariners.
If you ever want to have some fun at a USSVI meeting, just whisper out loud to someone that the definition of a real submarine is one that can stay underwater for months at a time. Man Battle Stations Torpedo will soon be heard throughout the room. Shouts of DBF will fill the air.
News flash: your dolphins make you unique among the many classes of sailors who have ever challenged the sea. But they do not make you any better than anyone else wearing them because of the type of boat they earned them on. The mixture of bravery, comradery, sacrifice and tireless work binds us all together. I would even challenge that those men and women who are currently serving on the newest boats are more technically qualified than people of my generation. Their sacrifices are just as real however. In some cases more. Instead of weeks of sea time, they routinely do months. Instead of slowly cruising near the ocean’s surface, they bravely sail at great depths with astounding sustained speeds.
I love my many memories from serving on my five nuclear submarines. We did and saw things that will remain secretly in my heart forever. I also love belonging to a unique fraternity that stands alone in all of the fraternities of the world. I feel disappointed when any member of this fraternity tries to diminish the service of anyone else who has earned the position just to make themselves feel better or more important. You aren’t. And God willing, maybe the next generation will not be so inclined to be so self-focused.