Caution: Sensitive subject matter with some salty language. If you are easily offended, turn in your dolphins and stop reading this right now.
Submariners are a unique brand of people.
In my lifetime, I have seen the Navy go from conventional powered diesel boats to the most modern form of nuclear powered boats imaginable. Its still hard to get my head around the fact that my last patrol was spent on a submarine that was nearly two football fields long. The Ohio class is still the largest boat the United States operates even though many of the first boats have now been converted to special operations and cruise missile boats.
But there remains to this day a division among submariners that have worn the US Navy Dolphins.
That division is mainly between those who were diesel boat sailors (DBF) and those who were either a combination or purely nuclear boat sailors (NBF). To complicate matters, the last barrier was broken a few years ago when women were added to the mix. In all the years I rode or operated my five submarines, the only time women were allowed on board was for short trips, repair work and much of the time they were married or engaged to someone on board. Those days have changed forever.
So on submarine message boards and on social media, one constant for a long time has been the division that exists among the family.
I suppose its natural in any family to see that division play out. My older brother always got the preferential treatment (choice of which bunk bed he slept in) and certainly got a lot more attention. By the time my turn came along there were no more firsts. Its probably why I joined the Navy at 17 and eventually volunteered for sub duty. And I really feel sorry for my youngest brother who followed me into submarines. By the time he came along, I am sure Mom and Dad were just worn out.
Yesterday, though, I witnessed a miracle.
It all started with a guy on one Facebook page bemoaning the fact that too many people were revealing classified stuff and he felt compelled to leave the page. The subject that caught his ire was the new watch rotation schedules which are based on a 24 hour day. I searched the page and could find nothing that actually violated OPSEC so was puzzled. As you can imagine, his need to announce his imminent departure from a public Facebook page brought hundreds of supportive comments. Or not. Being the typical sarcastic bastards most of us are, he was pilloried with one shot after another. I am not sure if he was just seeking attention on a cold and wintry day or was trolling the group, but if you post something like that on a page called “Always a Submariner”, you should understand that it will bring out the bubblehead in most of us.
Being the kind of supportive shipmate I am, I posted two new subject ideas to draw fire away from him. The first was about the origin of Naugahyde. This was the covering on the cushions we had for the seats and benches on most modern submarines. It comes in various colors and resists stains, oil, smoke, and human gaseous output with a strength that is remarkable. The stuff is impervious. But many legends have grown over the years as to the true origin of naugahyde and the hundreds of comments on that post were entertaining and brought back many memories. I laughed a lot. The comments are still coming in.
The second post I made however brought the whole family together.
It was a picture of a submarine toilet (stainless steel) with the infamous flapper valve and nearby racks where reading material was stored. Hundreds more comments from submariners of all generations flooded the page. One guy even mentioned late in the day that more comments had been made on this subject than any he had seen on the page in the past. It occurred to me that no matter what form of propulsion or who was operating the submarine, we all had one thing in common in the end. It was suggested that an entire book could be written about the subject.
I have to admit, I have dozens of books about the boats and not one has this as a central feature. Oh sure, there are lots of references to it in submarine lore: “I have more time on the shitter at test depth than you have in the Navy” will always stand as a classic bubblehead put down. And lord knows that the longest and most impressive outcome will always be a subject of submarine history. But no one has written a complete tome on the subject. Talk about the ultimate reading material while seated upon the throne.
It will have to wait for another day I think.
But if you have a favorite memory of how the stainless throne affected your submarine experience and want to share, please do. Perhaps an indiscrete moment when you were midway through and the battle station alarm sounded. Or a lingering odor that woke everyone up in a nearby berthing area, causing sleeping men to rise in anguish. Or perhaps it was finding the Ensign’s underwear (stenciled) stuck in the ball valve of a malfunctioning system. Whatever it is, just put it in the comments.
I leave you with one parting thought.
It is the wisest of submarine wisdom to remember to never ever ever let them know what spins you up.
Submariners can be the most loyal brothers and sisters you will ever meet.
They can also be the most unrelenting in reminding you of this wisdom.