You’re a Nuclear Submariner? How did you get such a cool job? (1963) 3

By January 1963, the United States Navy submarine force was growing at an amazing pace. The Soviet launching of Sputnik had sparked a fire in the Defense Department and the government as a whole to find ways to counter the perceived threats of an unbridled Soviet Union.

The answer of course was to capitalize on the advances that had been gained by the Navy’s marriage of nuclear power to submarine propulsion. The lessons of the Second World War were clear. Submarine warfare was the key to global seapower but submarines needed to be able to operate undetected in the farthest reaches of the ocean. Nuclear power provided the means for the boats to operate in those regions and for longer periods of time. Without the constant need to come near or on the surface to charge batteries, these boats were only limited by the crew’s abilities to deploy under stressful conditions and the amount of food they could carry.

From “41 for Freedom”

“Submarine building proceeded at a furious pace in the early 1960s, as the United States strove to deploy a major component of its Strategic Triad. From 1960 to 1966 the U.S. Navy launched a total of 41 SSBNs, called the “41 for Freedom.” All were named for eminent figures in American history and divided among the 5-ship George Washington class, the 5-ship Ethan Allen class, and the 31-ship Lafayette/Franklin class. Initially, each boat carried 16 Polaris nuclear missiles that could be launched underwater toward distant targets. Conversion to Poseidon missiles began in 1972. Further modification allowed Franklin-class boats to convert to Trident I missiles beginning in 1979.”

But where would the men come from that would man this growing fleet?

The answer in the beginning was to try and use existing sailors and officers that already had experience. Because of the complexity of the systems and the haste in which they had been built, there was a lot of risk involved in operating these new boats. Nuclear power was still relatively new and the launching of missiles from a submerged submarine had only been a dream until the Polaris program was begun.

Experienced Navy men would be the main answer for the time being. New men could be brought on as the pipelines were extended. In fact, by 1972, most of the new members of the submarine community were recruits that went through the pipelines that were developed in the sixties. After nearly ten years of operations, enough seasoned and experienced men had risen through the ranks and were now in the ranks of the senior enlisted and officers operating the boomers and fast attacks.

But in 1963, the Navy needed volunteers. Since submarines were always a volunteer force from the very beginning, every effort was made to recruit from within and entice men to join the ranks of the nuclear navy.

While the article in ALL Hands from January 1963 does not specifically advertise itself as a recruiting tool, in the eyes of this old Navyman, it sure does look like one. I wonder how many sailors in the fleet saw this article and said: I could do that!

JANUARY 1963 ALL HANDS MAGAZINE

How to Become a Nuclear Navyman

THE PARABLE of the seven blind men who discovered an elephant? Because they could not see the strange new animal in its entirety, each visualized it in terms of the one portion he could explore with his hands. The results were deplorable, to say the least.

A similar problem exists in attempting to see the nuclear submarine program of the Navy as a whole—it also is a strange new animal in our midst. Many men are interested but don’t know just what it is, don’t know if they can qualify, or if it would be to their advantage to make the attempt.

One point to consider when evaluating the consequences or the potentialities of the nuclear program upon your career—it’s a wildly expanding field. At the present time, there are approximately 14,000 men in the combined submarine forces. Included in these forces are 11 FBM and 16 attack nuclear subs now in commission. As stated in the November issue of ALL HANDs, six SSBNs, eight SSNs and one DLGN have been authorized for fiscal year 1963. Within two to three years, the Polaris program itself will require some 10,000 men. The FBM repair ships Proteus and Hunley are on station, with more to follow.

ONE ASPECT of the nuclear elephant—to coin a phrase—is frequently overlooked by those considering the nuclear Navy as a career. Nearly a third of the billets in FBM subs are general service billets with little or no connection with nuclear power or the Polaris weapon system.

Here, for example, is the rating structure of one crew of an Ethan Allen class FBM sub:

GENERAL    NUCLEAR    POLARIS

SERVICE     POWER         4 QM

3 SO              3 ET            7 TM

2 FT               15 MM       5 FT

4 RM              4 EN          7 MT

2 YN              9 EM          12 ET

1 SK              5 IC                 35

3 CS              36

5 SN

5 FN

I HM

3 SD

29

All this means a radical change in the occupations of many Navymen. The field is wide open for those who can—and will—qualify. It’s more than probable that you may be eligible to participate in one of the most exciting developments in history.

Let’s assume that you want to become a member of a typical crew in one of the Navy’s FBM subs and see what your duty is like and what qualifications you must meet.

FIRST OF ALL, of course, you must be a submariner. There are three basic programs that produce men qualified for duty on board FBM submarines. They are the Nuclear Power Program, the Polaris Program, and the conventional submarine school program.

Here are the ratings from which applications for submarine training are desired:

* SO, TM, ET, FT, and MT in pay grades E-4, E-5, E-6 and E-7 and designated strikers.

* MM, EN, EM, IC, QM, RM, YN, CS, SK and SD in pay grades E-4, E-5, E-6 and identified strikers of these ratings.

  • HM, in pay grades E-5, E-6 and E-7.
  • SN, SN, FN, TN and TA.

Because the Submarine Forces are growing rapidly, greater numbers of men in all of the above ratings and rates are needed for initial submarine training. MMs should request sub training only if interested in going on to nuclear power training. If you are afloat on Seavey and have not received orders, you may apply for basic sub school. If accepted, you will be ordered to sub school provided you have not yet received orders to shore duty.

With the exception of sub school candidates ordered direct from Class“A” schools and recruit training, it is preferable that men normally serve in their present duty (sea or shore) for one year before they are ordered to submarine school.

MEN Now ASHORE including those on Shorvey who have not received orders may apply for enlisted basic sub school by requesting orders direct to sub school. If you are assigned to shore duty, you must serve at least 12 months of your shore tour before you can expect detachment to sub school. This is not to say that you may not apply before your completion of the year ashore. On the contrary, it is preferable for all concerned that your applications are submitted as early as possible to permit ordering reliefs.

Here are the eligibility requirements to Basic Submarine Training:

  • Have 24 months’ obligated service commencing with the conveningdate of the class to which ordered.
  • Be a volunteer for sea duty in submarines.
  • For those in other than ET, MM, EN, EM and IC ratings: Have a minimum combined ARI and MAT or ARI and MECH score of 100, or a minimum combined GCT and ARI score of 100. For those in ET, MM, EN, EM and IC ratings, you must have a minimum combined GCT and ARI of 110. (This requirement is the same as that in effect for nuclear power training.)
  • Men in the ET, MM, EN, EM and IC ratings must be high school graduates or have a GED equivalent.
  • Be physically qualified for submarine duty in accordance with BuMed Manual, Article 15-29.
  • Have demonstrated evidence of emotional and mental stability and maturity. The absence of these qualities is often disclosed by a poor service record.
  • Be no more than 30 years of age.

Waivers will be considered if you are in other than source ratings for nuclear power training.

IF YOU MEET these requirements, you may submit your request on the Enlisted Evaluation Report (Nav- Pers 1339) via your commanding officer direct to the Chief of Naval Personnel (Attn: Pers B-2131). You must indicate your willingness to extend your enlistment or to reenlist, if necessary, to have the required obligated service.

If accepted, you will be ordered to the U. S. Naval Submarine School, New London, Conn., for an eight week basic course of instruction.

Unless you hold a rating of MT, YN, Cs, SK, HM or SD, you should expect additional training when you have completed the basic course. Approximately 60 per cent of those eligible receive additional training. Therefore, if you are eligible for extra training, you should be prepared to spend at least 13 weeks at sub school.

Your orders will read for “temporary duty under instruction and further assignment by BuPers (Pers B2115) to duty in submarines in the Atlantic or Pacific Fleet.”

During your seventh week at the Naval Submarine School, you will receive your orders for duty.

ALL THIS IS, of course, merely the preliminary. Your ultimate goal is assignment to a nuclear ship and that’s what you’re going to get. As FBM subs have the greatest construction priority for the next few years, we’ll discuss here the means by which you become an FBM submariner.

If you are an MM or EN, you have an excellent chance of going directly to nuclear power training from sub school.

However, most basic sub school graduates are ordered to duty either in conventional submarines, or to a non-nuclear billet in a nuclear submarine. If you are in this category, you should become a qualified submariner about six months after re-porting aboard. Once qualified, you may (depending on your rating) submit your request for Nuclear Power or Polaris training.

The majority of men now being ordered to FBM submarines are already members of the submarine service. If you are now a submariner, serving in either a conventional or nuclear-powered submarine, you should submit your request for FBM submarine duty to either the COMSUBPACREP at EPDOPAC or the COMSUBLANTREP at EPDOLANT.

If you are eligible for duty in an FBM sub, your name will be placed on a waiting list at one of those two locations. You will then be ordered to a new construction submarine approximately 10 months in advance of its tentative commissioning date, or you may be ordered to an operating FBM sub as a replacement.

Source ratings for FBM submarines are: TM, QM, FT, MT, ET, SO, RM, MM, EN, EM, IC, YN, SK, CS, SD, FN and SN. Although there may not be billets in all pay grades, men in all pay grades are encouraged to apply should substitutions be necessary.

Before reporting to their assigned ship, men in the QM, ET, FT, TM, MT, RM and so ratings are normally ordered to attend courses of instruction ranging from three weeks to six months.

Men ordered to SSN or SSBN new construction will not be transferred before they have spent one year on board after commissioning.TO BE ELIGIBLE for duty aboard an FBM submarine, you must:

  • Be eligible for Secret security clearance.
  • Have obligated service of 24 months from commencement of course of instruction, or date of re-porting to the supervisor of ship- building in the case of men not receiving instruction.
  • Be in one of the source ratings.
  • Be designated SS (except for non-rated men).
  • Not on current Seavey. (Men extended off Seavey by COMSUBLANT or COMSUBPAC are eligible for such duty.)

Let’s now assume that you meet all the qualifications for eventual assignment to an FBM submarine, are a graduate of basic submarine school, and a qualified submariner.

If you are in one of the ratings that make you eligible for Nuclear Power School, you will go to either Vallejo, Calif., or Bainbridge, Md. There you will learn something about the field of basic nucleonics.

The curriculum at the schools include courses in math, physics, reactor principles and thermodynamics. Plant information is also studied, including reactor technology and engineering materials and equipments.

From THE BASIC school you and other potential nuclear-Navy sailors will move to Idaho Falls, Schenectady, or Windsor, Conn., for a 24- week operational course. There you will study and train on a live reactor. From this school you will be assigned to an FBM crew.

(It might be mentioned here that instruction for surface personnel is identical to the submarine program. Operational training on surface ship propulsion prototype plants is conducted at either Idaho Falls, Idaho, or Schenectady, N. Y.)

Men who operate the special navigation equipment, Polaris missile launching and guidance control equipment, and other special equipment necessary for missile launching are trained through the Polaris Program.

These men, although not graduates of nuclear-power school, do begin as qualified submariners, and they do receive special training at several locations.

With the exception of SOs and RMs, men of this group start their training for the FBM program at the Navy’s Guided Missile Schools, Dam Neck, Va. Men trained together in these schools generally serve together as a crew of an FBM submarine.

Some courses include more than one rate, but for the most part, single rates train together.

HERE, FOR EXAMPLE, is the background you will get if you are an ET. You will first attend a three week navigation sub-system familiarization course at Dam Neck. An eight-week special technology course follows. It is in the special tech course that you will first come in contact with new terms, techniques and devices associated with the program.

After these two courses, which are a general, over-all indoctrination on the FBM submarine and the Polaris missile system, the ETs move on to more specialized training. At this point, the group is split up to receive different training. You will become an expert in one phase of the program. Then, when you are assigned to a crew, you will learn about additional special equipment through on-the-job training.

One group of ETs start a 19-week course learning about the Ship’s Inertial Navigation System (SINS). This training is done at either Dam Neck or the factory where the gear was developed.

Another group of ETs spend a 19-week period at Dam Neck learning to operate and maintain different types of navigation data simulation computers.

A third group spends 19 weeks training on various other special navigation equipment at Dam Neck.

FROM ONE OF THESE schools you may go for further training aboard USS Compass Island (EAG 153), which is equipped with navigation equipment similar to that aboard the FBM submarines.

Quartermasters also are introduced to special navigation equipment at Dam Neck, where they take a five- week course in navigation familiarization. From there, the QMs also go aboard Compass Island for additional training in the operation of special navigation equipment.

Fire control technicians also start at the Guided Missile School. They first take a one-week course in weapons system orientation, and then an eight-week special technology course at Dam Neck. The special tech course is the same as that presented to many other ratings. From Dam Neck, the FTs move on to Pittsfield, Mass., for a 31-week course in SSBN fire control systems. Missile technicians, although already trained in guided missile theory, also are given an eight-week special tech training course, followed by 25 weeks of training in the missiles and guidance course at Dam Neck.

Torpedoman’s mates also have an active part in the Polaris missile pro-gram. These men spend one week in the weapons system orientation course at Dam Neck and then move on to another course at the same school on ordnance preparation.

Still at Dam Neck, the TMs complete six to nine weeks in missile ordnance and launching. They are taught how to handle Polaris between ship and pier, or between ships. They also study the missile launching system.

Another group of men who undergo special training is the radiomen and another small group of ETs. They are trained to operate and maintain new type communications equipment which has been developed solely for the FBM program. A combination of short courses takes about 12 weeks.

Sonarmen may find themselves in a 31-week BQQ-2 course at Key West, or a 12-week subjective analysis course at either Key West or San Diego.

DOES ALL THIS have any effect on you? It all depends. The Navy needs men urgently for this program and is willing to make any reasonable concession. For example:

  • SS personnel serving outside the Submarine Force because they are in excess, and who want to investigate the possibility of returning to submarines via Polaris may address their inquiries to the Chief of Naval Personnel (Pers 2133) for sympathetic consideration.
  • Anyone who wants to get into the Polaris Program, either the SSBN portion if eligible for submarine duty, or the support program if not, has an excellent chance via the SCORE program, no matter what his rating.
  • Anyone else who is in the right rate can be considered for direct entry by submitting a NavPers 1339.

If you are a YN, SK, SD or Cs, you may attend advanced training in your rating before joining an FBM crew, although this is not required.

These ratings may be assigned to an FBM submarine upon becoming qualified in submarines.

So there you are. That’s how you enter the nuclear Navy. It’s worth investigating further.

—Jim Lewis, JO2, USN.

A Gangers

One thing that is missing from this entire article is the evolution of something called a Submarine Auxiliaryman. By the time I joined the Navy, another pipeline had been added because of the need for trained men in non-nuclear mechanical equipment operation and repair. Most of the ones I served with were either Conventional Machinist Mates or converted Enginemen from the old diesel boats. We ran the atmosphere control equipment, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration systems, High Pressure Air, Trim and Drain Systems, Hydraulics, and the auxiliary diesel on many of the boats.

I am proud to have served as an A-Ganger from the oldest boomer to one of the newest. While our rate has been changed again so much in this new Navy, we were there to fill a gap when the country needed us the most, along with all of our comrades that wore dolphins.

Mister Mac

Blockades do work 16

One of my earliest memories as a kid was the story about the Cuban Missile Crisis. While there were many parts to this story, the one that I remember most was the Naval Blockade.

October 22, 1962 – President John F. Kennedy orders a surface blockade of Cuba to prevent Soviet offensive weapons from reaching Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. By forcefully employing U.S. naval forces, President John F. Kennedy is able to achieve his strategic objectives and deal with a dangerous and well-armed Soviet Union without war.

I would be interested to hear from those who served during that time about their experiences.

Mister Mac

Dedication Ceremony for the Submarine Service Memorial at the Cemetery of the Alleghenies 4

It was an honor today to be present as a Memorial Stone was Dedicated by the USSVI Requin Base Pittsburgh PA at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Pittsburgh.

The pictures tell the story.

Hand Salute!

I’d like to be a submariner. How hard could that be? 61

Caution: Some salty language may be found in this post

I belong to a number of very fine military organizations that all have special purposes. The Navy League for instance is a group that supports and promotes the sea services. I think this is important because of the dangers still present in the world at large. The American Legion and VFW both focus on active duty and veterans benefits so they are also near and dear to my heart. MOAA (Military Officers Association of America) is a fine group of leaders who help to ensure Congress doesn’t spend all of its money giving themselves haircuts and special deals that average citizens will never imagine.

But the organization that really holds my heart is the USSVI –

United States Submarines Veterans, Inc.

Riding high 2

I have belonged to the group for a number of years but wasn’t very active until recently. Work and home obligations have kept me pretty busy but this past year I have had a chance to remind myself that I  really like being around submariners. While I share strong bonds with a number of people for different reasons, being a part of this brotherhood has been the strongest of all. Its not a military thing. Most of the submariners I have known through the years are strong patriots but while on active duty probably bristled under the yoke of a militaristic setting. Submariners are actually pretty individualistic in their own way bordering on a bit rebellious against some kinds of authority. But they put that all on hold when it comes to the mission. If I were ever in a bad place, I would want to be surrounded by submariners.

Bob Hazen and Ken Pyatt

I know from speaking to men of different generations that their journey was slightly different than mine. Some will tell you it was harder and some will tell you it was not hard enough. Its a funny phenomenon that as you get older, the “kids” that come behind you have it so much easier and no one’s journey is as tough as yours was. I chuckle a bit when the Diesel Boat Forever (DBF) crowd talk about their hardships. I don’t chuckle because I think they are exaggerating. Its only because many of them think that nuke boat sailors lived in pampered luxury boats that rarely encountered sacrifices. After serving on five boats that had their share of challenges, I can assure you that each generation has been tested and proved well qualified.

So how hard could it be to become one of the most elite group in the world?

SSBN 598 A gang

It depends.

Most of the guys I knew and served with were already on the high end of the gene pool. They tested better during classification, they seemed to adapt to unusual lifestyles with ease, and they had the ability to suspend their fears long enough to sign not once but twice as a volunteer. While I am sure there are some who will claim that they were “drafted” or “forced” into the pipeline, the rule has always been that only volunteers were able to be trained and tested as potential submariners. Submarine school and technical specialty schools were one way of getting to your first boat but back in the day that also included testing (both physical and mental). By the time I got to my first boat, the Navy had 73 years of experience in weeding out the wannabes from the will-bee’s.

Getting there is only half of the struggle. Staying there is quite another. From the minute you get there, you are an air stealing nub that has not yet proven yourself worthy of even the simple pleasures like having your own bunk or watching a movie. Your job is to do the most menial tasks like peeling potato’s or scrubbing the shitters in the head. Depending on your rate, you may even find yourself inside a shit tank or even worse a potable water tank crawling around and doing tasks that are indescribable. Torpedo men routinely found themselves inside the long cavity where a water slug had just met its demise, rags in hand while the ocean was a mere few feet away on the other side of a valve. You had to be careful where you sat on the mess decks so you didn’t incur the wrath of some “Qualified” man who could make your life even more miserable than it already was.

Salvation came from the ink in a standard Navy ball pen.

As you learned more and more about the many systems that made the submarine a killing machine, you gathered more and more of the precious signatures on your qual card. Hand over hand, piping systems were traced, valves were memorized, electricity was diagrammed and damage control became not just a second nature but a first. This whole effort ended up with you facing a Qual Board made up of men who had themselves been tested. Grizzled old Chiefs and an Officer would be the deciding factor of whether you would remain lower than whale shit or could stand up tall with a new set of silver dolphins on your chest.

My board was probably the hardest test I ever could have had. I had the A gang chief, the TM chief and the Navigator. At the end of the two hours, I had two lookups. By midnight on that day in 1974, I had a completed qual card with all of the required signatures attached. Shortly after that, I received my dolphins and was a Submariner. Men who had been my tormenters now were my brothers. There was alcohol involved at one point after the boat returned to port. My chest was a bit sore from the “anointing” those poor fish received at the hands of a number of sailors.

Artie Quals

In all the years since, I have had many fine things in my life. A beautiful wife. Some great successes that were personal as well as professionally satisfying. My Zombie room is flanked with certificates from a lifetime of service in and out of the Navy. But the one thing I am proudest of is those silver dolphins. I am also proud of those who share the honor and distinction. While it may be difficult to understand to an outsider, every man who has ever earned his “Fish” knows exactly what it took.

Mister Mac

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By the way, if you are a submariner, you really need to belong to the USSVI