Happy Submarine Month
April is definitely submarine month in the United States. It’s also been that way for me personally since it was the month that my most memorable submarine experience celebrates an anniversary. The USS San Francisco SSN 711 was commissioned in April 1981 which was forty years ago. She has now been reborn as a Moored Training Ship and will begin her new service soon.
The birth of the Naval Submarine service was April 11, 1900 so we are 121 years old as a group. And of course several tragic modern submarine losses happened in this month.
As I am writing this, I can hear the crying of my new kitten, Oscar. We have not had a kitten for a very long time and our older cat Moses is not taking the new arrival well. Oscar reminded me of a non-qual coming to his first submarine. Bear with me for a few moments. This might actually make sense.
The nub shows up all full of piss and vinegar. They have more than likely been to submarine school so they are convinced that they know all they need to know about the boats. They have been through the damage control trainer and they are sharp as tacks about how to put out a fire and stop flooding. They went through the dive tower so they are salty as hell. Some of them have even been to advance training so they are the smartest kids on the block.
Until they aren’t.
They show up on board all shiny and new and are met topside by a guy who has just come back from an extended underway. Maybe the topside watch even remembers what it was like to come on board for the first time. Probably thinks to himself, glad I’m not that guy. Someone from their new division comes up and helps them below. If they are lucky, they get a rack. Or they find themselves next to a shiny torpedo in a moveable bunk. Then the process begins.
Yep. Every new crewmember is like a rock that may or may not have precious metals inside of it. The rock is nearly always in the way or someplace they shouldn’t be. Even with all their schooling, they struggle to make sense of the systems and equipment. The eight hour days they had in school are transformed into 24 hours days that seem to all blend into each other. The rock gets pounded at every turn. Non-quals are air breathing food consuming riders until they are qualified to do even the minimal tasks. But little by little, the rough edges of the rock are worn off. Step by step, they start learning. Some are quicker than others but all must go through the process.
Proverbs 25:4 Remove the dross from the silver, and a silversmith can produce a vessel;
Dross is defined as foreign matter, dregs, or mineral waste, in particular scum formed on the surface of molten metal. The process to remove it is a time tested process that goes back to the beginning of modern man. The silversmith heats up the rocks and allows the pressure and heat to remove the dross. Then the silver can emerge and be formed into the vessel that is desired.
Every step along the way, the non-qual is subjected to that same process. The arrogance and pride they once may have felt is channeled into the new creation. They learn that there are real consequences to being wrong and they learn ways to be less wrong. They study and learn systems top to bottom. They work hard and learn to accept the teaching of the older qualified sailors and Chiefs. They take their turns doing some of the most disgusting and unimaginable things they could never have imagined.
That silver slowly emerges. The shape takes form day by day. They earn the respect one step at a time as a fellow submariner until that most important day: the day the silver dolphins are presented to represent their hard work. If the process was done correctly, there are few days like that for the rest of their lives.
There are so few things I look at in my life that I can claim a sincere sense of achievement as the day I received those fish. The dross is gone.
The next day begins a new chapter in your life. You become one of the silversmiths. You have a sense of “been there done that” the next time a newby reports on board all fresh faced and ready to change the world. Now it is time for you to help them grow. That is what makes the US Submarine force the greatest crucible in the nautical world.
We never stop refining.
Happy Submarine Month.