Denizens of the Deep – the bond between submarines and their crews 3

failure is not an option

From the very beginning of submarines, the vessels have been compared to a steel coffin or a sewer pipe closed on both ends. But to the men who have sailed on them and especially to the men (and now women) who built them and then drove them below the waves into a sea of uncertainty, they gain an almost mystical property. These underwater “denizens of the deep” become an all-encompassing force that changes a person forever. There is a bond that builds between crew and boat that lasts well beyond most other bonds.

Not all who sail on them love them. From the moment you come aboard the boat it presents a challenge to the physical and mental capabilities of the sailors who operate them. You are the newbie, the non-qual. All of the school and learning you have done to date means nothing to the boat or to the men who have been there before. You will only become part of the crew by giving up a part of you and becoming a part of the force that makes the boat operate at her best. There is nothing less than perfection expected form each sailor in the qualification and many hours of sleep will be sacrificed along the way to earning your “fish”. But it’s not even that simple. While you are learning, you must also contribute.

Endless days and nights beneath the darkness of the deep sea, you find yourself pushed and pulled at the same time. Pushed to contribute in achieving the mission and pulled in your own testing. There simply is no place for second best and you learn to hate the challenge while clinging on to every small victory. Line by line, you complete each level of achievement only to be given a newer and harder task. Respect is rare for a newbie and privileges even rarer. The pressure can be relentless but that pressure ensures that you will be ready to respond when called upon.

Each person must be stretched to the limit because in the end, the sea and the enemy beyond the edge of the horizon are unforgiving of mistakes. A missed valve could cause a catastrophe just as easily as an unseen mountain. Everything inside the hull has a risk of one kind or another and everything outside the hull presents a danger to the unprepared. No detail is too small and no amount of preparation is too much. There are no second chances when you are driving relatively blind in an ocean filled with the great unknowns.

The mission can be great or small but it is always faced with the same consequences if you fail. Unlike a normal job where missing a goal or schedule might mean an admonishment or a chance to do it over, the submarine only allows you the chance to get it right the first time,

One day, you reach the end of your checklist. You sit across the table from other men who have been tested and you reach down inside to remember every detail of every system and schematic you learned. You rattle off details about tank capacities, frequencies, weapons characteristics and hundreds of other details. After a long time they send you out into the passageway so that they can discuss your fate. Sometimes there will be a look up for some small detail that you missed. Sometimes you are judged not ready at all with a list of things to relearn. But on one special day, the leader of the board sys, “Congratulations. You have earned your dolphins.”

From that day you belong to a unique group of people. You become the teacher for the next person in line. You grow a unique bond with the boat that tested you and allowed you to meet the challenge. The boat becomes a part of your life in a way that will last as long as you live.

Now the test really begins. Will you be able to use that knowledge and skill under any circumstances? Will you discover that while you have learned much, there is still much more to learn? The sea learns too and so does your enemy. Both continue to probe for weaknesses every single day. This is a mighty warship after all and the war is never fully defined. You can talk about what you will do in a storm but until you ride the storm, you cannot predict how you and the boat will respond. You can practice countering an enemy but he has the ability and the skills to do the unexpected. Your survival is based on all of the crew responding with everything they have and the boat with all that is has. There is no second place in this undersea war.

A million miles and a thousand dives later, it’s time for the boat to come home. Like the grey haired old men who built her so long ago, she is tired and deserves a rest. The smooth lines of many years ago are slightly puckered with age. Driving to test depth and back again will do that to the old girl. She creaks a bit more when she dives but she still manages to put on a head of steam when she needs it for that last big run. But up ahead, she sees the pier waiting. There are men there with ropes ready to tie her down for the last time. Other people are waiting with wrenches and torches standing by to cut her apart and prepare her for the end. The bunks will all be stripped, the galley will close down forever and the power will come from long black lines attached to the shore that gave her birth. The periscope will soon be taken out and the memory of all the things she has seen will disappear into the mists of time. The phones and communications circuits will growl nor more. Slowly, the watch standers will rotate off, never to be replaced

On the saddest day ever, a band will play and her remaining crew will gather for a ceremony that all knew would come someday. There is no more somber a day than the day when the flag of the country she defended so well for all of those decades comes down for the last time. She has flown that flag at sea and in foreign ports all over the world reminding them of her mighty power and the power of the nation whose symbol she represents. She has lent that flag to the family members of shipmates who have gone before. Now it is her turn.

It’s hard to escape death. You can delay it, but in the end, the life that she represented is finally ended. The memories will last as long as there is a crewman alive who sailed her. But she will never again feel the salt air blowing waves across her bow. The angles and dangles she once performed will be nothing but a fading sea story. The rushing speed that you feel below your feet as the hull pierces the dark depths of the ocean will only live in the imaginations of those who have felt it. Her best stories will never be told out of respect for the boats and crews that take her place. But the grey old men know. They look at each other with faded eyesight and see a group of twenty something year olds who once mastered the ocean in a highly unconventional way.

As the USS San Francisco transitions to her new role preparing another generation for the challenges to come, I will always stand with pride when her name is called. I hope that any man or woman who has ever been a submariner can say the same about the boats they rode. It was my greatest honor to sail on board her and it was an even greater honor to sail with you all.

Mister Mac

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Alumni Association

alumni-association-1

 

What a great time to have been a submariner… Riding the 711 Boat 3

What a ride

b-_-711-sea-trials

Of all the adventures in my short life, the one that will always rise to the top is not just one single adventure, but a collection of adventures over a four year period that have one thing in common: They are all related to being a crewmember of the best submarine a man could ever hope for. The USS San Francisco (SSN 711) begins a journey towards her new life as a Moored Training Ship (MTS) on Friday November 4th. There are rumors that she might be delayed a bit, but her path now seems pretty clear. This mighty war ship will be partially dismantled and used to train the next generation of technicians and officers for their roles in the fleet.

The boat was launched on October 27, 1979 in Newport News Shipyard

Just a few days before she was launched, I reenlisted in the Navy after an absence from active duty of a few years. I was newly divorced, tired of living from paycheck to paycheck and ready to try my hand at being a sailor again. The Navy was a life saver for me since the economy in our area was in a serious mess and the prospects of a great future were non-existent. Three things happened in the year that would follow. I would join the crew of the pre-commissioning ship San Francisco, Ronald Reagan would run for President and ultimately win, and I met and married my beautiful wife Debbie. These three events made the adjustments in my life that helped me to achieve many of my unfulfilled goals.

Plankowner

I missed the launching but didn’t miss anything else related to outfitting the ship. As a member of Auxiliary Division, I helped to put together the non-nuclear machinery thsat would support the ship’s operations and life. I discovered a love for developing and delivering training that would later transfer over to my achieving Master Training Specialist and a Bachelor of Science degree in Workforce Education Development. But I also learned to be a sailor and operate a ship that could do some amazing things.

He ain’t heavy, He’s my Brother

One of the other reasons this was a special assignment was that I was able to serve with my youngest brother Tom. We had a lot of crazy adventures together and one of my favorite memories was pinning my original pewter back Dolphins on Tom when he became qualified in submarines. I would later pin my San Francisco Dress Dolphins on my nephew Artie Anderson who followed in the family tradition of becoming a Submarine Auxiliary man. Tom’s son Theodore was a submariner as well but somehow we lost him to the Nuclear program. But we were very proud of each of them as they found their own paths.

711 in the Bay_606626945_n

In the 36 years San Francisco has played a role in defending this country, she has had her share of good fortune and stark terror.

One of the most memorable of course was the collision that occurred a number of years back. I asked the author of the book  Making a Submarine Officer – A story of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711)  Alex Fleming: for permission to post just a small part of that story.

Note:  You can order your own copy here:  https://www.amazon.com/Making-Submarine-Officer-story-Francisco-ebook/dp/B0052YQLWA

January 8th, 2005, 1142 hours, near the Caroline Islands

           : There is a low rumbling which sounds to some like “God crushing a beer can,” and the ship slows instantaneously from 30 knots to 4 knots. The boat is well stowed for sea, so there are no projectiles, but every single person is thrown forward into the nearest vertical object. The people in the chow line end up in a huge pile in middle level. Rome and Litty are on the starboard side of the Diesel in lower level and they land in a heap on the deck. The OOD is thrown out of control, shouting Emergency blow even as he hits his head on a computer screen. The DOOW, Senior Chief Hager, is up out of his chair to update a status board, and he is thrown onto the ships control panel, shattering a gauge. His chair is thrown forward, breaking his leg. The Quartermaster flies fifteen feet forward and lands on the stern planesman, breaking the back of his chair. The JOOD is thrown forward onto the fire control displays in front of him, hitting his head and neck. The men in the smoke pit land on the pumps directly in front of them, except for Ashley, who is thrown forward 20 feet and hits his head on a pump assembly. Every single plate of food is thrown all over the galley. In the wardroom, one officer shoves his fork through his lip, and the Captain watches as one of the mess cooks flies over his shoulder and lands on the flat screen TV on the forward bulkhead.

            The Captain is pinned in his chair, but quickly recovers and runs up to control to find out what happened. He gets there after the Chief of the Watch has already thrown the emergency blow handles, but the ship is not going up. The DOOW is back in his chair, not saying a word about his broken leg, shouting out depths. The ship has a down angle, and it is clear from indications that something serious has happened to the forward ballast tanks. Matt Priests quickly recovers from being slammed against his stateroom wall, and runs back to the ER as he hears an emergency report of “Flooding in the ER.” He knows this is the most serious situation that a ship can have, underwater, doing an emergency blow with flooding in the ER. No submarine can get positive buoyancy with the ER filling with water, and for a moment, Matt is sure that they are all going to die. He quickly finds that the report was an error, and the water is just a leak from a cracked freshwater pipe.

            The Captain and Chief Hager in control are still watching the depth gauge, waiting for it to show upward movement. Finally, after almost a minute, the ship begins to rise, breaking the surface at 1143:52. The next forty minutes are a chaos of emergency reports, calls for the Doc, people trying to respond to ten different casualties, and people trying to care for injured shipmates. In shaft alley, an electrician named Brain Barnes does not know what else to do, so he holds Joey Ashley’s hand and talks to him, waiting for Doc Akin to arrive.”

You will have to buy the book for the rest of the story. I will also be adding the book to my Now Read This section of the blog.

On Friday November 4th, the change will start taking place. It will probably not be dramatic except for all the ghosts who I am sure will be on the pier. I earlier had thought I would not be allowed to go because of my heart issues. But frankly, my heart has never been the same since I left the San Francisco. Service on board her changed my life. I am pretty sure a lot of other people can say the same. It will be my greatest honor to stand on her decks one last time.

Thanks to all those who kept her going all these years. I am proud to have been called shipmate and even prouder to call all of you my shipmates.

Mister Mac (AKA Big Mac)

big-mac-in-tr-ssn-711

Happy 115th Birthday to the United States Navy Submarine Force 3

Of the things I have done in my life, being privileged to be a Submariner is the one thing that stands out the most.

003

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).

488101_417741151652089_799546593_n

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.

1488127_10202241042524155_1032441081_n

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.

tmb_ship_cero14

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.

1932405_10152755447552403_8195662080263927086_n

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.

thresher  384051_2666288348226_1586561932_2423497_534551727_n

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.

Dolphins 2

 

To my Submariner comrades, I wish you all a Happy Birthday

Mister Mac

I made that. (Okay. I might have had some help) 6

1555478_10152212065201974_1641817544_n

There was a change of command in San Diego California on January 24, 2014 onboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711).  Cdr. Eric Severseike turned over command to Cdr. Jeff Juergens during the ceremony held at Naval Base Point Loma. Congratulations to Commander Severseike for a successful tour and best wishes to Commander Juergens as the 711 enters the next phase of her career,

1536549_10152212065336974_450058801_n        1555392_10152212065181974_1125006964_n 1535531_10152212065346974_2044031198_n

There is something that bonds men to their ship besides the fact that they are assigned by an order from some higher command to sail on her. Your fate is tied to the ships fate in both peacetime and war. How well you operate her and how well she responds to the demands made on her will ultimately assure your mutual survival or mutual destruction. Every warship built since the beginning of time has been purpose built to respond to the known threats and perceived challenges that she may face while on the oceans that range the face of the earth.

As a young boy, I developed an early interest in ships and particularly warships. I earned money cutting grass and as fast as I earned it, I spent it on building a world class fleet in my basement. In the early sixties, Revell was king of the models and the cardboard boxes filled with parts were regularly brought into my subterranean shipyard on Duncan Station Road.

From their Web Page: “Since 1945, Revell has been the leader in plastic model kits. Our designers are passionate about scale model authenticity and model building. Choose from our huge selection of accurately detailed cars, trucks, ships, aircraft, spacecraft plus much more and say “I Made That!””

Sure, I built a number of cars, planes and spacecraft, but by the time I was fifteen, my brothers and I had amassed a fleet that was absolutely incredible. In our fleet, the Arizona still proudly led the way as part of a battleship Navy that could withstand any attack from. New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina were all lined up in perfect battle formation to challenge ships they never saw; the Mighty Bismarck, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the Battle Cruiser Graf Spee were joined by the Monster ship Yamato to stare down the American and British Fleets.

!B6s2,ygCWk~$(KGrHqQOKpgEy+jCyS,1BMyTTK0fBg~~-1_45

We had World War 2 carriers (Hornet, Wasp and Yorktown) alongside the most modern and fearful ships of our day: The USS Enterprise, bristling with F4 Phantoms and Corsairs. Destroyers screened the vulnerable carriers and supply ships. One of those was a model of the ship my Dad had sailed on during his trip home from the Philippines. We even had a couple of JFK’s PT boats and a gunboat or two from the Vietnam era.

Revell%205020%20Defiance  05087a

Submarines.

80-5115-lg

Like most kids, I had a healthy curiosity about submarines too. That meant that we had to have a couple of U-boats and Gato class submarines lurking near the field of battle. But I did not have a nuclear submarine in the fleet until the very end. I’m not sure why but I suppose it was probably due to the lack of availability. It wasn’t until just about the time I discovered girls that our local toy store finally had a model of the USS George Washington. It folded open so that you could see the insides and even had a firing missile tube (launched by a small spring that needed to be inserted).

RMX-7820-2 klebergwc klebergwa

Sadly, by the time this one came along, I was weary from the meticulous assembly, gluing, and painting that were required for the many ships that came before her. Also, I discovered that my new found interest with girls was all consuming and the fleet went into mothballs except for the times my younger brother Tom still put them to sea. Even Tom eventually lost interest since his war gaming did not require actual ship models and planes. The basement became a graveyard of sorts and when I joined the Navy in 1972, the entire fleet suffered a catastrophe of epic proportions in July when Hurricane Agnes roared up the middle of the country. The water backed up through the drainage system and floated the hapless fleet into history, damaged by the muddy water and mold.

SSBN-598_2

SSBN 598 – The real thing…

My first boat was the real USS George Washington and I was surprised to find that the interior didn’t match the model we had in our collection at all. I also found that the GW was already starting to show the signs of continuous operations on a boat that was put together in kind of a hurry. She had leaks were there shouldn’t have been leaks, much of the equipment was already out of date with the newer technologies and things broke a lot. Let’s just say that as a young submarine mechanic, I got a lot of chances to practice my skills and figure out a way to fix things that lacked spare parts.

Me second boat was the Halibut and she was ending her service life when I arrived. Again, many hours doing tasks that were not what I thought I would be doing during my early days of dreaming about being a sailor on the seven seas.

San Francisco Precom Crew

A _ 711 launch

The in the early days of 1980, I got a chance to actually build a real submarine. I had requested the Ohio Class boats but my detailer wisely knew that I would be better off on a boat that had just been launched and was rapidly taking shape as the newest Fast Attack Submarine in the Navy’s quickly growing Cold War arsenal. (Actually, I am pretty sure the guy was just filling holes and really had no idea of the favor he had just done for me).

When I arrived, the crew was still pretty small. Launched in the fall of 1979, she was in the water but still pretty bare inside. The big stuff was in of course since hull cuts are never a good idea if you can avoid them. But the ventilation, piping and electrical systems were not completed. There were holes where the galley and crews berthing would eventually be. Our days were filled with fire watches, training and more training. We studied diagrams and quickly became subject matter experts in systems that were not quite ready for business.

While the people from the Newport News shipyard worked very hard assemble our boat, others were in line behind us. They built the boat but we built the crew. Hundreds of hours watching and learning helped prepare us for the day we would sign the papers to take over this new weapon. Slowly over the course of the next sixteen months, we added machinist mates, electronics technicians, sonar men, radiomen, yeomen and many others as the shipyard finished the installation and testing of the equipment we would need. The work was hard and exacting but as the ship came together so did the crew.

For me this was a unique experience. My other commands were places I came to almost after the fact and fitting in was not easy. But being on board a new commissioning vessel is an experience unlike any other I had before or since.

What we were building was the heart and soul of that warship.

Newport News builds an awesome submarine. I have been able to see their work up close a number of times since the SSN 711 days but I can assure you that the country gets a good product for their investment. Just as important though were the Officers, Chiefs, Petty Officers and non-rates who poured their hearts and souls into that boat. I had no fear the first time we submerged the ship. Everything that could be done to ensure the physical safety of the crew had been done with meticulous attention to detail. Everything we could do to prepare ourselves as a crew had also been attended to with exacting purpose. I knew that Randy Simpson would do well on the planes and Nick Dalebout would perform his duties well. Bill Phelps inspired confidence and our DCA knew how to manage any casualty that we would face. We had the best torpedomen, radiomen, sonar operators and nuclear trained technicians that existed in any boat. Our Captain was a standup guy (still is) and I thank you Al Marshall for leading us to a successful start.

The San Francisco has had many miles under her keel in the ensuing thirty plus years. Some of those miles have been harder than anyone could have imagined when we built her. We have lost a few shipmates (tragically) along the way. But the ship that holds my heart still sails.

I wish the new Captain the best in his tour. I wish continued good fortune to my shipmates who now man the watch. There will be a few of us in San Francisco in September of this year and I will proudly toast the boat that represents one of the finer parts of my life. I have been blessed with many things in my life but one of the proudest moments of all comes when I can point to the USS San Francisco SSN 711 and with great honor say: We made that.

 

Mister Mac

130102-N-DI599-003

2014 National Convention

600 Ships – The Path to Victory started on the 711 3

After the upheavals in the Navy caused by the end of the Vietnam conflict, you can imagine how discouraged many people who wore the uniform were by the time the Carter years were at the three and a half year point. Blend in the miserable economy, high unemployment, interest rates never before seen and you can understand that the country in general was ready for a long stretch of misery.

imagesCA6E6Y4H

The fleet was limping along with limited growth and some of the key programs that were in progress (Trident and the Los Angeles Class submarines) were behind schedule, over budget and on the congressional radar for supposed savings. The entire military was in a sorry state and maintenance and upkeep programs on all types of equipment were falling away.

imagesCAP2ILOD  imagesCA7YDE8I

Any hopes that the Navy would gain support by having the first Naval Academy graduate as President were swiftly dashed as the nation realized that Carter did not agree that communism was our greatest chief enemy. His policies were really directed to the arms race and support of NATO policies. The real vision for the Navy was to become nothing more than a bus service to troops that would be sent to Europe in case of an event in the central European countries.  According to Nathan Miller, noted historian and writer “ Naval strategists charged with this plan meant the surrender of the Pacific to the Soviets without a fight. “The Naval equivalent of the Maginot Line has been constructed,” declared Navy Secretary Graham Claytor, Jr.” From Nathan Miller’s The US Navy, A History.

History is not kind to the remaining part of the Carter administration as the Middle east proved to be too surprising and too confusing for the hapless administration to deal with. The fall of the Shah in Iran, the rise of fundamentalist Muslim groups in his place, the invasion of Afghanistan and perceived weakness of the US in almost ever corner of the world destroyed most of the remaining credibility the United States had on the world stage. Much too late in the game, the affects of cutting the fleets growth was being felt all around the world.

imagesCAZB79GC  JC Malaise Picture

Modern war ships are not built in a day. The logistics and planning for these vessels in peacetime are influenced by a great number of factors including politics. Vessels during that era were forced to undergo lengthy deployments with cutbacks in training and preparedness. Breakdowns and lack of crewmembers stretched the already meager resources to the breaking point as Carter was obsessed with the Iranian hostage situation. Morale was at a breaking point and so was the equipment. Neglect is a strategy that only pious old fools think will be successful.

Then came Reagan

Immediately after the inauguration, plans were revealed that would change the Navy back to a three ocean Navy, capable of defending the nation, ensuring freedom of movement in the world’s oceans, and check the growth of the Iranians and other rogue states that would challenge global peace. In the words of the Ronald Reagan, the vow was made to never again be humiliated by the Iranians or anyone else.

037

The pre-commissioning unit for the Los Angeles Class Fast Attack was informed that their commissioning ceremony in April of 1981 had just taken on a new significance.

Instead of the usual commissioning that would be viewed by Navy officials and family, the whole world was about to be treated to the ceremony. Two important guests were coming and the new location would be at the aircraft carrier piers in Norfolk Virginia in order to house the press for a special announcement.

USS San Francisco Scans 001

John Lehman, Reagan’s new Secretary of the Navy and Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense would bear witness to this proud new ship’s introduction to the fleet. While there, they would announce the most ambitious and costly peacetime buildup of the military and the Navy in the nation’s history. Nearly 500 billion dollars was announced that would be used to build the Navy back to a three ocean Navy of six hundred ships by 1989.

USS San Francisco Scans 013

As a crew member on the ship, I can assure you it was a powerful day.

The arrival of President Reagan in the white house reassured a nation that a new day had come. We would not just drift off into the night as another country without direction and purpose. The enemies who vowed to destroy us would have to face a protracted struggle with a determined nation and a Navy that was once again on the rise. I was proud to be in my dress blues that day. I can assure you that most that I stay in touch with from that time frame agree. Every year on July 11, you will see us in the submarine chat rooms and Facebook wishing each other a happy 711 day.

SSN 711

Many will say that the Cold War ended for any number of reasons.

My fervent belief is that the end of the Cold War started on that day in April 1981 topside on the deck of the USS San Francisco.

At one  point in the ceremony, the Executive Officer is directed to bring the ship to life. The crew then runs across the brows, down the hatches and up the sail as the ship’s whistle blows. On that day, as we ran, we represented the hundreds of thousands that would follow us in all the uniforms of the services. America was back and we were going to retake our rightful place in the world. This was the turning point that spelled the beginning of the end for the Soviets and the Cold War.

401737_375359329177395_100001099925252_1086128_1026644665_n

This country has the resources to defend itself and protect and serve other nations that are not so blessed. We have the capacity to build the best ships (Like the San Francisco SSN 711 which is in its 32nd year of operations). When we have the right leadership, we can overcome any attack and any adversary. Most importantly, we have the right people to man those ships and face dangers from every quarter.

My prayer each day is that the Spirit of Ronald Reagan will speak louder than the people who want to surrender our moral imperative and authority. To assume that other nations will do well by us by out of the goodness of their hearts is ludicrous and flies in the face of history.

When I wish you a happy 711 day, it is with the wish that we do remember the goal of using whatever means needed to defend and protect this great land. The thought of living in a land of delusional fools who believe in the good will of our enemies is too hard to accept.

God Bless America, God Bless the United States Navy, and God Bless the men who have served in and on the USS San Francisco SSN 711.

Mister Mac

2

As much as today (April 24) is a day of remembering the great things about the 711 Boat, I thought is was good to also reblog one of the earlier blogs about the heroic crew that saved her (and the one who gave his all).

theleansubmariner

USS%20San%20Francisco%20(SSN%20711)%20patchA

Seven years ago, an event happened on the USS San Francisco that serves as a reminder that even in this day of modern technology and science, the ocean is still mightier in its capability to test man’s limitations. On January 8th 2005 at 0243 GMY, she collided with a sea mount resulting in massive damage to the bow section, 23 were wounded as a result of the collision and the tragic death of MM2/SS Joseph Allen Ashley of Akron Ohio occured the next day as a result of his wounds.

Within a very short time of the collision, the emails of previous San Francisco lit up with passed along messages. Speculation was the name of the game which seems to ghoulishly follow all tragedies at sea. The first thought was an underwater collision with another boat but a closer examination revealed that the damage to the sonar dome and the forward…

View original post 734 more words

No excuses. 10

For some who follow my blog, I need to apologize but its been a hard week. Thanks to my friend Joey Sagnis, I found out well after the fact that one of the best sailors the Navy ever had passed away.

“Here is Silas’ phone number ***-***-****. He said he would appreciate a phone call. He misses the Big Mac.”

Those words were part of an email I saved from 2005 in a folder where I keep old shipmates info on. As soon as I saw the Facebook entry saying RIP to another shipmate, I felt a rush of grief and guilt mixed together. One phone call in seven years. I really can’t blame him since we have moved for work a lot of times and its been hard for many friends and family to keep up with us.

Like most people, I had good times and bad times in the Navy. Hopefully the bad times taught me something and the good times were certainly life’s rewards (even if I often didn’t deserve them).

The best times always had to do with people and I have many great memories from those days. There will always be one boat and one crew that I can always point at and say: that one was the best.

A _ 711 launch

The San Francisco (SSN 711) was barely in the water when I showed up to help put her together in Newport News. The crew was not all together but as time went by, the numbers got bigger.

Captain Al Marshall was the pre-com CO but since I was just a third class A-ganger, I rarely saw him. The Executive Officer was LCDR Bill Godfrey. He was well thought of by the crew and a really down to earth man. He and his wife were on a short trip in the Caribbean when the helicopter they were both riding went down. No one survived.

Most of the crew were shocked but the new XO, LCDR Mark Keef went about leading them back towards the mission at hand. I would have hated to have been him. To his credit, he added a level of professionalism to the crew despite the tragedy that brought him there. There was little time to mourn since the boat was already marching towards its place in the Navy’s new goal: A 600 ship fleet.

We made it through pre-commissioning with a lifetime of stories to tell. The days when an unexpected snow storm hit coastal Virginia and some of the crew was stuck in the shipyards for days eating food out of the machines and the geedunk. Traffic in that area slows to a crawl with one inch of snow so you can imagine the shock of seeing several feet of drifting snow around the area.

The crew grew to its full size and the day came when we finally opened the galley. We were fortunate to have some pretty good cooks on board as well as a seasoned supply department. Food on a submarine is probably the most important morale builder of all. Even at the end of a shipyard period, the exhausted crew looked forward to the many meals that would come from behind that little sliding window that separated the galley from its customers.

Our commissioning was awesome. Instead of a quiet little ceremony in the shipyard, they had us move to the Aircraft Carrier piers at the Norfolk base. The Secretary of the Navy brought along the Secretary of Defense and it was on this occasion that Casper Weinberger announced officially to the world that under Ronald Reagan, we were going to build our way to a 600 ship Navy. Even though we weren’t the stars that day, it did get us to the front page of most major papers and the evening news.

scan0006

I stayed with the San Francisco for four years altogether. Most of the crew made the trip around to Pearl Harbor and continued to make a lot of great memories together through our ops and in-port activities. Our wives grew close, we celebrated the birth of many children, and we shared our wins and losses.

In December of 1983 I made First Class and received orders to the USS Ohio. The boat left for another West Pac and I asked Mark Keef to administer the Oath of Reenlistment on the Bowfin. The guys who had also transferred or were left behind all joined us for the ceremony.

Silas

Silas Hines MS1(SS) was standing just up from me on the brow of the Bowfin. I would only see him one more time in San Diego a few years later. He and his wife allowed a few of us to stay with them. Those days will remain a private memory. Nothing bad, just a private memory

Silas was from Oklahoma and lived life to its fullest. But he was also a man of many contrasts. As loud and rowdy as he could be, he lived his life with all of his heart. His favorite movie was Lady and the Tramp. That one kind of shocked me, but I also remember sitting with him on the mess decks late at night just talking about life. Plus he was kind to all of the guys that worked for him. No single guy ever had to spend a holiday alone when I knew him. After talking with his wife Kathy tonight, no one ever did after I knew him as well.

Silas was one of those guys who you expected to run into on submarines. A little crazy, a little serious, a whole lot of dedicated to his shipmates, and lived life better on the edge than in a ho-hum kind of existence. In the years I knew him, I never once thought of him as anything but real.

There is one thing I never got a chance to say to him. I never got to thank him for the meals he made or the joy he added to my life. So if you can read this Si, I know its overdue but here it is:

Thanks Si!

God speed shipmate… see you soon!

Mister Mac

Silas and Cathy

The moral of the story is that life is much shorter than you plan on it being… putting off a conversation with an old shipmate may become more permanent than you could ever believe. If there is someone in your life who meant that much, pick up the phone and call him. No excuses.

404522_2360527347162_1669666101_1507131_1109096258_n

The Submariner’s Prayer

Almighty, Everlasting God, the Protector of all those
who put their trust in Thee: hear our prayers in behalf
of Thy servants who sail their vessels beneath the seas.
We beseech Thee to keep in Thy sustaining care all
who are in submarines, that they may be delivered
from the hidden dangers of the deep.
Grant them courage, and a devotion to fulfill their duties,
that they may better serve Thee and their native land.
Though acquainted with the depths of the ocean,
deliver them from the depths of despair and the
dark hours of the absence of friendliness and grant
them a good ship’s spirit.
Bless all their kindred and loved ones from whom they are separated.
When they surface their ships, may they praise Thee for
Thou art there as well as in the deep.
Fill them with Thy Spirit that they may be sure in their reckonings,
unwavering in duty, high in purpose, and upholding the honor
of their nation.
Amen

By: Joseph Sagnis

Joey S.

In Its Path 3

hurricane flags

One of my least favorite memories of the USS San Francisco was the stop we made in Guam in 1982. In an earlier blog, I talked about the first part of the visit where the wives came to visit. But in the middle of the stay, two things happened that made it a very bad memory. The first thing that happened is probably still classified so let me just say that during a routine evolution, sea water was found in a high pressure air line. You don’t need to know a lot about submarines or high pressure air lines to know that its probably not a very good thing to find sea water in them.

When 4500 pounds of pressurized air rapidly squeeze through pipes in any amount of volume, anything that is carried along with that air becomes like a carving knife on the surfaces they come into contact with. That air is used for a number of things inside the boat but one of the most important things is the emergency blow system that can rapidly return a boat to the surface in an emergency. Salt water in that system can also cause a very highly corrosive effect so it was important to get this taken care of as quickly as possible.

The second thing that happened was the approach of one of Guam’s typhoons. The wives were gathered up and sent back to Hawaii and we got to work trying to fix the boat. Normally, typhoons and submarines have a mutually compatible agreement… they come and we go under them. It has worked well for most subs for years. You still feel some of the effects but as long as you drive anywhere but where the typhoon is, you are pretty safe.

Guam typhoon

But if your emergency blow system is out of commission (as well as some other pretty important equipment) you will not be diving anywhere. If you can’t get it fixed you will be buttoned up next to the safest pier you can find and pray the storm surge doesn’t get you. Even though the lines are tied up pretty well, any appreciable surge would probably snap them like ribbons. All of the other ships were leaving so we would be on our own.

Auxiliary Division and others worked feverishly around the clock with the help of the tender guys and we did some pretty creative things to try and empty any traces of salt water from the HP air lines. Flush after flush with testing that continues to reveal the extent of the contamination. All the while, we were being fed information about the location of the typhoon as it got closer and closer. I can never remember being so tired in my life after we finally managed to get the all clear just in time to clear the port.

Guam typhoon 2

I think we were too tired to be afraid. But as Irene closes down on the east coast tonight, I can imagine how many people are feeling. We all know that hurricanes can come at any time. We get complacent and are willing to take the risk because of the joy of living close to the water and all its adventures. But no one can ever be fully prepared for Mother Nature’s fury in a way that will completely shelter them.

Prayers go out to all. Listen to the advice of the emergency workers. And we will see you all on the other side next week.

Mister Mac

Too Big To Fail 2

I was only able to serve on five subs and two of those were 688 class boats so my viewpoint may be a bit limited. But I am under the opinion that the designers did a pretty good job making a machine whose sole purpose was to hunt and kill the enemy. The reactor and machinery spaces took up quite a bit of room, the weapons systems and sonar equipment were neatly packaged and there was just enough Lebensraum for the crew to sleep, eat and shower (even if some of that did have to be managed in rotating shifts). Generally, they were comfortable boats compared to some of the older ones but they were still missing one important feature.

uss-washingtonb

Despite helping to build the San Francisco and spending four years on board, I was never able to find the 1.5 mile PRT track. The George Washington and Halibut didn’t have one either but for some reason there didn’t seem to be any critical urge to prove you could actually run that far back in the early seventies. Maybe the realization that the boat was only three hundred or so feet long drove that point home enough to earlier generations. As long as you could race from the torpedo room to shaft alley in an EAB, that seemed to be quite good enough.

scan

We just sort of watched what we ate mostly and I can only remember one time having a sailor get stuck in the hatch at the end of a patrol. To be fair, Big John was big boned before the patrol started and he did spend quite a bit of time mess cooking too. It always seemed such a waste to throw away the remains of the ice cream so he was merely doing his duty. But I personally think they should have let him put the .45 belt on after he got topside when we returned to Guam. It was funny seeing the “closed” indicator light come back on though and made for quite a discussion after we turned the boat over to the Goldies.

The San Francisco was a thoroughly modern boat with many highly developed technological devices on board. In addition there were large rooms full of cabinets filled with machines that computed speed, distance, and all manner of information. In retrospect, it is kind of interesting that the laptop I am typing on probably has a more efficient operating system but at the time, it was all pretty impressive. What was more impressive was the amount of training and skills that the crew possessed. No matter what the rate or rank, each person brought many months and years worth of training to the boat. Even Auxiliary men (A-gangers) generally received at least a years worth of training to operate and maintain the equipment required to support the submarines operations.

scan

By the early eighties, physical readiness was beginning to creep into the framework of the Navy’s leadership. The enlisted men had shifted back from the fancy but hard to maintain suit jackets (which I believe hid much of the fat that bedeviled the leadership) and returned to the traditional cracker jack outfit. Frankly, the design is much less forgiving for someone who has spent too many hours hunched over a control console plotting a way to kill the enemy (who was assumedly doing the same thing to us). There seems to be a direct connection with how much time one sits and how bad one looks in formation with a polyester white uniform hugging their body.

Personally, I felt the PRT emphasis was also directed at me. First, it only became important as I started getting closer to the age of thirty. Second, it was directly related to my rank. I used to watch guys with absolutely no self control be advanced for many years before that time but suddenly as I became interested in getting more rank, it became a priority. Some of you who are older may have noticed but past the age of thirty, gaining weight becomes infinitely easier and losing weight becomes nearly impossible. Its as if the body realizes it is coming closer to the end and tries to preserve every ounce of fat to try and ward of the imminent end.

Complicating the matter is the type of food available. On a boat that stays under for months sometimes, the only way to keep morale up is to feed the crew well. If its fried, deep fried, or refried, its on the menu. Pizza night is a big must, sliders are a much looked forward to meal and the ever present deep fried shrimp that comes in large buckets to the hungry hordes each week. Whole milk, cheese by the brick, salted butter and gravy on everything round out the epicurean delights that pack on the pounds. To this day, I can still taste and smell the New York Strip Steaks so lovingly prepared on the grill by MS1 Silas with fried potatoes, onions and mushrooms swimming in a sea of butter.  Top that off with a sheet cake covered with butter cream chocolate frosting and you have the epic end of patrol meal that no living sailor can resist or refuse.

It’s ironic that all of the skills and knowledge I had been acquiring pushed me towards a more responsible position at the same time my body decided to start betraying me. The tape measure got smaller each cycle and the running seemed to take much more energy (and time). Frankly, a couple of the “jocks’ on board who helped the XO run the PRT probably snuck out at night and lengthened the course just to throw us off.

The most insulting part was that the course in Pearl Harbor was over by the Marine Barracks. I am sure some old Marine is sitting at a Legion Bar someplace regaling his bar mates about the time the “whales” showed up for their semi-annual run. It normally happened right after we had come back from a run so everybody was pasty white and of course, t-shirts and shorts can only cover so much cellulite. I am told that Hawaii experiences a large number of earthquakes each year that are only detectable by machines. I wonder if anyone ever tried to correlate a pattern between the small quakes and the return of a submarine crew to the “killing fields”.

I have a confession to make. I managed to stay one step ahead of the PRT police just long enough to get promoted from first class to Chief and then on to Chief Warrant Officer. It was tough and I swear, if I ever have to run again now that I am at my retired age, you may as well just go ahead and shoot me.

TTF Instructor of the Year

 

              Indianapolis Commisioning

 

There was only one guy who I ever met who managed to beat the system. I am not sure if it was because we were in Scotland (where the only people who ran were the sheepherders) or if it was because he was in charge of the unit where we were stationed. Maybe it was because he was so huge and frankly pretty gruff that no one dared to actually tell him he may have been over the limit. Of course, the XO (who I still regard as a friend) did me the favor of assigning me as the command’s PRT coordinator. This did much to endear me to the old boy and I can remember a number of delightful conversations leading up to the PRT over lunch.

Consumption was never an issue for the Captain. He had a lot to maintain so it was understandable why extra portions would be required. On the day of the PRT, he brought me his measurements scribbled on a piece of paper. I had never known anyone with a thirty inch neck before but I assumed he would know what his own measurements are and duly recorded it in the log as directed.

The rest of the crew ran a wonderful 1.5 mile route in the beautiful highlands of Scotland. I actually learned to enjoy that run since the air was always cool and the scenery was brilliant. Although I never actually saw the captain run, he apparently did it quite well, always managing to beat his age appropriate time by a few seconds. Pretty miraculous I would say.

Personally, I think that was the origin of the term “Too Big To Fail”.

Scotland England 1990-91_034               Rainbow

Fortunately, the tour came to an end quickly and before I had to monitor another PRT. My last tour was on the USS Hunley where I learned about the special exemption granted to Chief Engineers who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. Apparently they were also not required to participate in the presence of others for our semi-annual fun run. I have to assume he also never located the 1.5 mile track on his previous commands. I ran with abandon during this tour if for no other reason I knew I would not see him anywhere near the field.

I retired with my dignity and have managed to climb up and down the scales a number of times since then. I am content with who I am now and manage to walk the equivalent of that 1.5 miles every day that I am able. I hope someone has corrected the design flaws in the most modern boats so that the boys (and now girls too I suppose) will be able to be better prepared.

The nation’s future probably depends on it! (at least that’s what I told myself at the halfway point of the run every time I did it).

You want me to do WHAT sir? 2

Most of us remember Newton’s First Law of Motion:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

A 688 class submarine operating submerged has a displacement of about 6900 tons. So it goes without saying that if it is motion, it will take some effort to stop it. If it is going really fast, it will take a bit longer. Even maneuvering on the surface at a slower speed dictates paying attention to Newton’s First Law. Underneath the surface, the consequences can become much more serious much quicker since you really can’t see anything in front of you (other than what sonar and your updated charts may have told you).

So it takes a great deal of faith and trust on the part of the planes men and the Dive Team when the Captain comes into the control room and orders the Officer of the Deck to take a twenty degree down angle and ring up all ahead full. It takes even more faith to respond when he says right full rudder. (Don’t try this at home by the way).

You can feel the boat starting to shake a bit as it responds to the increase in throttle. Your heart beats a little faster as you see the trim angle respond to the maneuver. You try to plant your feet on the rests in front of you as you push the yoke of the control planes  forward.  Faster and faster with each second and all around you are the small items that weren’t stowed for sea, rolling like marbles on a steep hill racing to reach the bottom. Time ticks by and the digital indicators are starting to whirl faster and faster. Without even thinking about it, you start to hope that something will be done to overcome Newton’s First Law. You know that the only something in this case is the man standing (or leaning in this case) over by the Officer of the Deck chomping on an unlit cigar.

He orders full rise on both planes and the boat shudders to respond. It’s right about then you realize that what seemed like a long time was less than a few minutes and you start to breath as the depth gage slowly turns positive.

Is it just because you were ordered to do it that you responded? Maybe to an extent. You would probably do it whether you fully trusted the guy or not, but if there is trust, all of the things that needed to be done before that dive were done in a way you had faith that they were done.

I was lucky to have some great Commanding Officers. Almost all were at the least very good, but a few stick out in my mind as great. Commander Bill Previty was one of those guys. He came on the San Francisco during the second part of my tour there and from the moment he got there the mood of the boat was lifted. It was obvious by his mannerisms and his presence that this was a skipper you wanted to go to sea with and probably to war as well. No offence to the previous captain who commissioned the ship, they were just different.

What makes a great leader? Why would you be so willing to do the things needed to shake out a submarine?

I am sure most people have their own answers but mine are pretty simple. First, I need to trust the guy. His training and background need to be such that I know when the unthinkable happens, he is not going to lose his cool. Next, he needs to be consistent in the routine. That means that in the day to day activities, he is not going to let things dangle or put to hard of a rope line around them.

We all have an expectation of what our leaders should be. Firm but fair. Criticize in private and praise in public. Remember that you are leading men not children. Give each man his due respect no matter what station he is in life. Remember that each man plays a role in the team and is valuable for his contribution. See the possibilities in people not their weakest points. And for heaven’s sakes if there are weak points, help the person with real encouragement not cynical badgering. In short, that person should be someone like Bill Previty.

Most of us have had leaders of the other sort as well. I always used to think that sundowners were abused as kids and it was the only way they knew to do what they called “leadership”. Everything is a crisis, every small affront is personal, only a few select people would be in their inner circle and everything was always the fault of some junior officer who had somehow failed to live up to their expectation. The crew were generally miserable and performed as best they could if only not to take a beating for failing to hit the marks the old guy set. The request for transfer box is always full and the Chaplain is kept busy on overtime.

Because the second type of leader often plays people against each other, trust is always in short supply. People are reluctant to stick their heads out of their holes for fear of getting them chopped off. Creativity is squelched and rewards are few and far between. Why in the world would anyone think this is the most effective way to lead? Experience has shown that if that person holds the reins of leadership so tightly, when the situation gets out of control, they do not have the tools or the support to survive the storm. In most cases when that happens, their response is to beat harder.

There is a third type of leader and I think they are the most dangerous of all. This type is the one who always has his eye on the escape hatch. They are already planning for their next promotion so they hate anything and anyone who would keep them from reaching their goal. The current assignment is really nothing more than a necessary stepping stone so they really don’t make much effort to get to know the men. Problems are for the other guy and delegation is not only an artful dodge, it is a mandatory skill.

With the third type of leader, most issues won’t surface until long after they are gone and the problems have festered into a huge blazing sore. Moral is completely shot, trusted leaders are betrayed by his ambition, and if something does go wrong, he is quick to offer up a human sacrifice. If there are conflicts on his own staff, it is easier to just “let them work it out” among themselves. The sad thing is that they seldom do. This type of leader also tries to surround themselves with people who will make him look better. But they quickly learn that there is no reciprocity for their contributions.

When the tough assignments come in, the third type of leader will often quickly volunteer if their name will be prominent. But when things get sticky, they have already groomed the senior staff to understand that they were innocent and someone on their staff had hidden the problems from them too.

If you are smart you will learn to survive both type two and type three. If you are even smarter than that, you will learn never to trust them and develop skills to work around them in order to get the job done. If you are lucky, you will get a chance to serve with one of the Previty’s of the world. I would have then and still would today fallow that man anywhere he wanted to go.

Mark Twain once said “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too can become great.”

Thanks Captain Previty.

Mister Mac