Submariners vs. Skimmers and Aviators
Based on the comments from my "Fast Attack vs. Boomers" post below, I figured I should do another good-natured comparison of submariners with the other two major line communities in the Navy - Surface Sailors ("skimmers") and Naval Aviation. Do not expect me to compare submariners with the other major line community (SEALS) anytime soon, though -- I like my legs the way they are...
I did one 18 month tour, including 10 months at sea, on the Battle Group Staff embarked on USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74). Based on this one data point, I feel uniquely qualified to point out the differences I saw between the three communities. (The previous sentence was, in fact, sarcastic. I do recognize that if your sample size is 1, your correlation will always be 1.0. However, since this is the Internet, I figure I have more experience in the topic at hand than do most commenters.)
The conventional wisdom is that the difference between the three specialities can be summarized as follows: Submariners can only do what the book tells them they can, Aviators can do anything the book doesn't tell them they can't, and the skimmers say, "What book?"
When I was riding the carrier, the thing that I was least comfortable with was the gulf between the officers and enlisted. There were certain passageways onboard the ship where enlisted personnel simply weren't supposed to go; there were even officer's ladders, and lots of other areas designated by blue tile where the only enlisted people you normally saw were Mess Management Specialists (now "Culinary Specialists"). At least on attack boats, except for the wardroom during meals, there really isn't anywhere the crew doesn't go. Another thing that surprised me on the carrier is that I'd see O-4s doing work that I would normally expect to see an E-5 or E-6 doing on a sub. Granted, the smaller number of personnel on a submarine means that you can't afford to waste anyone's talent, but it still seems that the surface officers exhibited a lot less trust in their enlisted personnel. It also seemed that the surface officers loved to have meetings, and that they basically loved to hear themselves talk. We were supposed to meet the wardroom from one of the destroyers the first night in town for liberty one night, but they sent word over that they'd be delayed so they could have an officer's training seminar -- on the first night in-port?!? You try that on a sub, the XO would find his mattress in the freezer before he knew what was happening.
As far as the aviators go: well, I have to admit that watching flight operations on a carrier is the absolute coolest thing I've ever seen. Landing on a carrier at night is probably the scariest "routine" evolution I've ever seen. (I have two carrier catapult launches as a passenger in a C-2 Greyhound, and helo takeoffs and landings, but no "traps".) The people who were able to do that have my utmost respect. That being said, the supreme confidence that you need to be a good pilot tends to make one less likely to be able to accept any limitations in your equipment or skills. Actually, come to think of it, the same thing really applies to successful submariners. I guess I really don't have that much to say bad about pilots, except that the Battle Group Admiral never had to go personally apologize to the Dubai Police Chief to earn the release of any submarine officers when I was on deployment. (I listened in on the Admiral's Mast after that one -- I actually learned some new words.)
Each warfare specialty does some evolutions that are inherently difficult. Submariners come to periscope depth, Aviators do carrier landings, and Skimmers do underway replenishments; driving their ships side by side with only a few feet between each other, passing heavy items back and forth. It's pretty cool; submariners really don't like to do this.
So, we see that each group does pretty cool things; so which group is "the best of the best"? One way to look at it is deciding which group is more selective. Although they don't do this anymore, it used to be that if an officer failed out of their initial training pipeline, they would be switched over to another specialty. In my Nuke School class, we had a few guys who had failed out getting picked up for Aviator training, while most of them got picked up to be surface officers. We did have some people who were physically disqualified from flight training (usually because their upper leg was too short -- you have to be able to fit in an ejector seat) get picked up as a nuke, there wasn't anyone who had academically failed out of Flight or Skimmer training getting sent to Nuke school. Plus, submarines can easily sink any surface ship, including aircraft carriers, while outside of carefully scripted exercises where the sub has a lot of restrictions, I really don't see the opposite happening. Advantage -- Bubbleheads!
My surface and aviator brethern are cordially invited to respond.