Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Naval Reactors... Gestapo or Soulless Automons?

(I admit that the title of this post is a little over-the-top, but I really just wanted to see if I could snag the #1 Google listing for "Naval Reactors Gestapo"; that should bring me in a few hits. Update -- As I was checking it to add the link, though, I found I already had the #1 result. We'll see how long it takes this one to take it away, simply as a check on the Google algorithm...)

So there I was... I was stationed at NPTU Charleston on MTS 626 as a Shift Engineer as my post-JO shore tour. There were about seven Naval Reactors guys in the local office; as a general rule, they were all jerks. (I'll probably get the guys in Groton that I worked with in trouble, but they generally weren't jerks; based on my other dealings with NR, though, I think they were an anomaly.) They expected phone calls about any problem, and the Shift Engineer could get in a lot of trouble by not keeping them informed. When we were on midshift, I'd occasionally have something come up that I knew I didn't have to inform them about right away, but that they'd be pissed if I didn't call them sometime during the night. I used to wait until about 4:15am to call them; I figured at that point it'd be harder for them to get back to sleep.

Anyway, one day I'm on day shift, and were preparing for a really complex test during a maintenance period. The youngest NR guy (a really weasely little sh*t) comes into my "office" with a complaint that "your ETs don't have all references present at the worksite for RC Div maintenance". (For those not familiar with Navy Nuclear Power, this is probably the most frequently violated rule out there; each procedure normally lists about 8 references, which were big-ass, really heavy books, and often they were only listed for some dumb comment like "don't piss on live electrical wires" or something asinine like that.) Anyway, this NR guy is sitting on my desk as he tells me this, and it was a pretty stressful time, so I guess I kind of snapped at him. "I appreciate the comment, but in the future I'd appreciate it if you could inform me if you're starting a monitor watch, and I'd also appreciate it if you didn't sit on my desk." Well, he gets all huffy, and says he wasn't going to make it an official comment, but now he would, so I had to get out the sheet and write it up. (One thing that NR guys do is that they never write down their own deficiency comments; they make the duty officer do it. That way, if they make a mistake, they can claim the duty officer wrote it down wrong.)

Back to the story. OK, I could accept that he would make the comment "official" in retaliation for me talking back to him, but then he goes up and... tells his boss! Next thing I know, the phone's ringing, and it's the head of the local office, yelling at me that the guy I talked back to was "the Admiral's official representative" and asking if I would "tell the Admiral to get off your desk." I'm pretty exercised at this point, so I say something to the effect of "No, but I don't think the Admiral would sit on my desk." He hangs up, and five minutes later my bosses boss is down there telling me not to piss off Naval Reactors anymore.

A couple months go by. The thing about NR reps is that most of the field reps are active duty military, but they don't ever wear their uniforms; they're normally Lieutenants or below, so most people they hassle outrank them, but that doesn't count in the NR world. Anyway, this kid whose chops I busted was an E-6, and he was having a really hard time passing the CPO exam, which he needed to do to become eligible for the Limited Duty Officer board. (NR guys get commissioned that way; essentially all of them that "make the board" get selected.) NR told him that since he didn't pass the exam, they were sending him back to the fleet as an ET1, which was his normal rate. By this time, I already had my orders to be Engineer on Connecticut (SSN 22) and he decided that going to the shipyard would be the best job for him. (I always thought they should have one boat set aside for ex-NR guys; kinda like the section of prison where they put the ex-cops.) He figured the detailer will give him whatever he asked for. So, he comes up to me and says, "It looks like I'll be working for you next; I guess I won't be able to sit on your desk... heh, heh". I said something non-commital, but what I was really thinking was... "Oh, yes, Petty Officer Xxxxx; you come work for me, and I'll be sending you into the bilge, but it won't be for a zone inspection".

Anyway, he ended up going to a boomer in King's Bay (and later passed the CPO exam, so I heard NR took him back) and I reported to the Connecticut. The first thing my new CO says to me is, "I heard you like to tell NR guys to get off your table. Please don't piss them off here." I imagine it's probably an urban legend in Charleston by now; some story about how a Shift Engineer punched the NR guy or something.

In conclusion: What are Naval Reactors guys anyway? If you want an organization to design the best and safest military reactors in the world where price isn't an object, they're your guys. As far as the local reps who move into NR from the Fleet, in order to spy on their old shipmates, I kind of pity them; maybe they didn't have any friends on the boat. So, I guess I'd have to generally classify them as "socially inept traitors with a serious Napoleon complex". Not all of them, but enough of them to make the generalization valid. I'm sure they perform a vital role, but right now I can't figure out what it is...

Going deep...

Update 0932 24 May: I suppose in the interests of fairness I should link to some remarks from ADM "Skip" Bowman, who was recently relieved as NAVSEA 08; I really admired him. He talks about what is good about Naval Reactors.

Update for Google-philes, 0848 25 May: It took two days for this article to get picked up by Google; since it's from the same website as the previous #1 result, though, they just made it a sub-entry. I did, however, steal the #1 spot from bothenook for "naval reactors gestapo" in quotes... Sorry, bo!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a frequent visitor to The Stupid Shall be Punished since settling into civilian life here in Georgia. I have been trying to figure out who Bubblehead is as I too am a recently retired submarine officer. Well, your 626 NR story has left me no doubt who you are. As one of your 626 fellow shift engineers (I was crew D, you were B weren't you?), I can vouch for the desk story. Though it cost you a little ass, I can say that I never saw anyone else from the NR field office sitting on the shift engineere desk while I was there. Keep up the good work. rbp

5/23/2005 5:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked at KAPL in the mid-80's (I wrote some of those big heavy books you mentioned) and I have to agree with two of your comments: 1)"If you want an organization to design the best and safest military reactors in the world where price isn't an object, they're your guys." Totally true. Even as a young punk straight out of college, I could see these guys were very serious about thier work and 2) "Generally, they are jerks." While I wasn't in operations, the guys we dealt with from NR were the most humorless, officious martinets I've ever seen. They wanted all the technical stuff spot on, but also insisted on all the other stuff being that way to. We even had specific "language" we were and weren't allowed to use in letters to NR (We could "consider" something to be so, but we couldn't "believe" it to be so) I've been an engineer for 20 yrs + now, and have learned that being good doesn't mean you have to treat your sub-contractors like crap.

5/23/2005 9:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you in advance for another week of nightmares.

I had a run of something like 6 or 7 consecutive SRO watches where the bastards showed up on the Eisenhower. I was spoken to about:
-having my foot on the footrest
-not knowing the status of the RC Division scheduled maintenence (it was 0430, none was being done - I didn't really care if it had been completed or put off)
-waking up the watch officer
-not waking up the watch officer
-waking up the watch supervisor
-sending the Log recorder out of the plant to wake the above up
-not sending the Log recorder out of the plant to wake the above up
-wearing a watch cap on watch
-making a plant anouncement clearly designed to wake up the watchstanders
-making a plant anouncement cleverly designed to wake up the watchstanders
-making a plant anouncement at all (Log recorder should have done it - he had a sqeeky voice, I never let him touch the mic)
-not 'minding my panel' (we were in the shipyard, and the 'panel' had been removed but the watch not secured- still haven't come to grips with that one)
And the best one- not granting permission for NR to enter, even though 1. He never asked, and I wasn't allowed to turn around to see who it was, and 2. NR never asked/needed permission to do anything.

5/23/2005 9:49 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

This looks like it good turn into a good thread... rbp -- good to hear from you! I ran into your old running mate Dusty in Tampa last year. If you get a chance, drop me a line at joel dot bubblehead (at) gmail dot com.

5/23/2005 10:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

NR monitors can get pretty full of themselves, but truly unreasonable actions can be taken up by your CO. You'd better have it all in one sock though. There is normally a grain of truth at least in a monitor watch's comments, and that grain of truth trumps emotions. When I commanded a submarine in decom (including defueling) I told my crew to keep smiling and report any problems to me through the Eng. Most often we just said it wasn't worth fighting about. Sometimes you just need thick skin.

I can tell you that when you need technical help, there is no organization that is more responsive. The technical expertise available from them is impressive, and they don't punch time clocks.

5/23/2005 1:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, the submarine community sure is a small world. I remember that little a**hole you mentioned. The fool got me disqualified ERLL because my student was analyzing his turbidity without sufficient lighting, i.e. the normally installed lighting. That guy is definitely on my s*** list. Could not believe how asinine he was considering I just came out of the yards in EB and the NRRO reps there were helpful instead of adversarial.

5/23/2005 2:56 PM

Blogger ninme said...

Bubbles, yer a born storyteller.

5/23/2005 3:39 PM

Blogger Xopher said...

I yelled at a NR rep too. I did that as the PTA and not 5 minutes later I had a conseling session with the XO. Something to the effect that you never yell at NR, no matter how justified it is. Little whiner ran straight to the XO.

5/23/2005 7:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't get on too high of a horse... I seem to recall plenty of you Shift Eng's being overly dickheadish, even after I was a QT. And don't even try to blame it on my military bearing, or lack thereof. :)

Back to the subject, though. My boat failed it's first ORSE, and we had NRO so far up our asses that we could taste brill cream for a year. Well, we didn't technically fail, but we got a BAM (Below Average with a Message), and the message was: we would have failed your dumb asses, but you retards seem have a positive attitude so perhaps it's just a lack of proper guidance. They rode us, both literally and figuratively for a long, long time. I can show you the scars some time if you want.

I always privately enjoyed a vision of them informing their torturers in hell that their implements of pain needed touch-up paint. *gasp* "You don't even HAVE a procedure for this?"

5/23/2005 11:52 PM

Blogger WillyShake said...

Great story, and all too familiar! Question: how exactly did your CO here the story about you hacking-off NR types?

5/24/2005 9:24 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

bo -- He was buddies with the OIC of the other MTS; when he saw the initial manning list, and saw where his Eng was stationed, he called his contacts to find out what he could about me... (The person he talked to was Doug McAneny, who went on to be CO Philly and CSS-11.)

5/24/2005 9:31 AM

Blogger bothenook said...

i hated dealing with NR as a squid, and even more as a nuclear shift test engineer on the shipyard. not all of them were weasels, and i actually got along with most of them. but professionally, they were certifiable, card carrying dickheads.
i was the remote site Nuke Dept rep in pearl harbor for a tiger team job back in the early 90's. we had one of those "you have 3, count them 3, days before you recover from this evolution" evolutions going on. PH NRRO decided to convince the boat's skipper to halt all work until we got the reactor compartment and tunnel cleaned up to "his highness's" satisfaction. we were chasing cracks, and grinding was the methodology. so it was going to be messy.
i called a critique, and placed the nRro office and it's head bubba on report. washington got involved, and my department head had to get on an airplane to pearl to fix my attitude.
quote: you can't spank naval reactors, even when they've been bad. end quote

5/24/2005 11:30 AM

Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

Joel & Bo-

Damn you both just made my day. Any time someone tells off NRRO is a good day, even though the consequences suck. Can't tell you how many time I got removed from watchstanding 'cause of them (ok, sometimes it was warranted). Ended up with my Eng telling the CO, "That is going to be a dirty duty day. We'll give it to the DCA, he doesn't mind getting shafted by NRRO." Nothing like being a sacrificial lamb...

5/24/2005 1:45 PM

Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

By the way, loved ADM Bowman. Best memory of him:
He came several times to visit our boat while we were in the yards. The first time, with the crew's anxiety dialed way up, he addressed the assembled crew (the COB actually tried to make us dress-right-dress prior to 08 showing up, what a cluster that was), and then turned to head down onto the boat. The CO quickly handed him the 4-star hardhat we had waiting for him. The ADM took off his garrison cap and flung it towards the gaggle of shipyard and NAVSEA folk behind him. From out of the group came flying a brownshoe (LT I think) who leapt up and grabbed the ADM's cover before it went into the river. The ADM looked back at the CO and XO as he crossed the brow, and said, just loudly enough for the crew to hear, "I love making pilots jump." Yeah, we loved him for that, even though we hated the field days his visits brought...

5/24/2005 1:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its been a long time since I've reflected on my late 60's tour as an NR Rep at NNSD. It was one of the most uncomfortable jobs I ever had and by the previous posts I don't "believe" the marching orders for the NR Reps has changed much.

There were only a few occasions where I enjoyed being a Warrant Officer with an Admiral (Rickover) on my shoulder. One was winning a CO's challange about being authorized to ride the senior officer elevator on the "Big E" (a target not a submarine). After prevailing in this issue I prudently became health-concious and started using the ladders.

The rest of the time I labored, with some success, on how to get effective purpose out of my "jerk" job. However, we had a rule that did not allow us to conduct a "no finding" surveillance, so nitty I became when I just wanted to go home and see my kids.

Ah yes, the 0430 phone calls, good tolerance training for my wife. You will be glad to know she did not hold a grudge, she just got even - with me.

5/24/2005 10:40 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

What makes you think "souless automaton" and "gestapo" are mutually exclusive?

5/26/2005 4:27 PM

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