"The Last Refuge Of The..."
...blogger with writer's block is to post some "Best of..." type articles. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of new submarine news today, and I'm feeling a little bit down anyway -- I lost at Stratego for the first time in over 30 years, not once, but twice. Both of my sons beat me. And they're taller than me. And they're having more success in football than I ever did. (Both of their teams made it into their championship game; on the play that clinched the berth for deepdiver's team, the guy who intercepted the ball fell down, instead of trying to return it, and fumbling, like the player for the previously-unbeaten 'Huskers did.) And I tried to fix a small problem with my truck today and sheared off a ratchet adapter. As I type these words of self-pity, I can the wise words of one of my old COBs: "Waah, f**king waah..." I know I shouldn't be too down...I can still beat the boys at ping-pong (although not left-handed anymore).
Anyway, here are a couple "Best of Bubblehead" posts, combined into one entry for the first time ever: "Fast Attacks vs. Boomers" and "Submariners vs. Skimmers and Aviators", originally posted back in February. Going deep...
Fast Attacks vs. Boomers
The other day at work, I had mentioned to someone that I am a submariner, and they asked me if I served on boomers. Reflexively, I gave the standard answer: "No, I'm heterosexual". Other than making me realize that this answer probably isn't appropriate around people who don't understand submarines (and may even get me in trouble in corporate America) I figured I should come to terms with my feelings about the great fast attack vs. boomer debate.
I never served on an SSBN, although I did got to sea on one once, for the Alpha Sea Trials of USS Louisiana (SSBN 743), the last of the Ohio-class boats. The advantage of serving on boomers seemed to be that you had a long-range schedule that they stuck to pretty closely; if someone called to see if you could attend a family reunion six months from now, you knew if you'd be at sea or not. Boomers have two crews (Blue and Gold) that rotate about every 3 months, so half the time you don't even have a boat to take care of. On fast boats, you're lucky if you know your schedule for the next month. (I had one underway in early December 1991 where we went out for 4 days, and came back three weeks later, the day before Christmas, after picking up an assignment for one of our sister ships that'd turned their diesel into a seawater pump.)
On the fast boats, the time you spend in-port is often more intense than it is at sea, what with having to get all the maintenance done. Although I've heard that "refit" periods between patrols for SSBNs can be pretty intense, boomers have an organization called Trident Refit Facility that does most of your major maintenance for you. On the fast boats, it's a pain to get your guys to the schools they need, whereas the boomers have a 2 month period between patrols where they have nothing to do but training.All that sounds like being a boomer Sailor would be a pretty sweet deal, quality of life-wise. And I suppose it is.
What I don't think I would have liked about boomer life, though, is what you did when you were at sea. Boomers go to sea to hide; their job is to be ready to launch their D-5 missiles when ordered. Sometimes you get to do test launches, which I suppose could be fairly eventful. The rest of the time, you try to stay away from other ships, and run drills. I, being a sneaky bastard, really preferred to do something at sea that involved sneaking up on other people, whether they were warships, interesting wildlife, or even people on sailboats. All in all, I'm glad I did my sea time on fast boats, but I still respect those who served their country honorably on ballistic missile submarines, and I really don't think you're gay. Really. I don't.
Submariners vs. Skimmers and Aviators
Based on the comments from my "Fast Attack vs. Boomers" post (above), 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!