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.)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Royal Navy "Perisher" News Reports

Sky News has a reporter and camera crew aboard HMS Trenchant (S 91) for their most recent "Perisher" PCO examination; they've posted two reports to date: here and here. The first report has some footage of U.S. Submariner LCDR Travis Petzoldt (former editor of Undersea Warfare magazine), who is one of the five officers being tested. The 2nd one has film of a fire drill onboard; it looks like the Brits use smoke generators for their drills. (Much more realistic than sticking hairnets over your EABs if you ask me.)

I'm looking forward to the next report; while my first impression on watching was that the reporter sounded exactly like Eric Idle doing a Monty Python documentary, it ended up being pretty good.

Update 0540 02 June: The 3rd and last report is here; plus, I think I've got the link issues worked out for this video and the 2nd one; you'll have to search for "submarines" if you hit the first "here" link in the main post.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Amusing Navy Reserve Video

Check out the newest YouTube video from the Navy -- it's a recruiting video for the Navy Reserves:

My favorite part: click on the "More Info" link in the box on the right of the video's page and you get an "Office Space" reference. Someone over in the Navy Recruiting Office actually has a sense of humor!

HMS Superb Suffers Submerged Grounding In Red Sea

The British Swiftsure-class submarine HMS Superb (S 109) grounded while running submerged in the northern Red Sea on Monday, the Royal Navy announced yesterday.

The 272-foot vessel had passed through the canal and was in the northern Red Sea when she grounded. No other vessel was involved.
An MoD spokesman said the submarine's nuclear reactor was "completely unaffected" and there was "no environmental impact" from the collision.
"There were no casualties and the submarine remains watertight, is safe on the surface and able to operate under her own power," he said.
The vessel is in international waters but unable to dive because of the damage to sonar equipment.
The Sub Report has many more links to this breaking story. The most recent similar accident, the grounding of USS San Francisco (SSN 711), is of course very familiar to American submariners, and I'm thankful that this grounding seems much less severe in terms of casualties.

Staying at PD...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

On this day that we honor fallen heroes, let us recommit to remembering the sacrifices of the Submariners still on patrol -- a good place to read about them and reflect on their service is at the ComSubPac website. Here's a listing of the 52 boats lost during WWII, and here's where we can read about Submariners lost on other boats.

To all those who have given all for our freedom -- Thank You.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

J. R. Simplot, Idaho Legend, Passes On At 99

Idaho billionaire J. R. Simplot passed away earlier today at age 99. After making a fortune from perfecting the frozen French Fry, he concentrated on philanthropy and investing, helping many Idaho companies (including the one where I work) get started. An amazingly open man who never even attended high school, his home number is listed in the phone book, and it's said he answered the phone himself.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Simplot once; I was a JO on USS Topeka (SSN 754) in the early 90s, and the members of the USS Boise Commissioning Committee came to San Diego for a dog-and-pony show that featured a VIP ride on our boat. I helped him down the Weapons Shipping Hatch and to the wardroom, and mentioned that my wife was from Idaho. He didn't walk around the boat much (he was in his 80s, after all) but talked with all the crewmen he could. He was the epitome of the true American success story.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tracing Paper Over Nav Charts -- A Lesson Re-learned

The Royal Navy this week released the results of the official inquiry into the grounding of HMS Trafalgar (S-107) while doing Perisher PCO training back in 2002. The news reports are focusing on the use of tracing paper to cover the chart of the local oparea, which apparently obscured some information that could have prevented the grounding had it been more noticeable. An excerpt from one report:
A group of officers were in the last stage of a command examination nicknamed "The Pressure Cooker", in which they control the submarine during a simulated attack.
They had submerged and trainees were estimating their position from previous track and depth readings.
The tracing paper was put over the chart so they could draw their course on it - but the inquiry found it had obscured vital information.
This included symbols showing the strength of the current, which led them to misjudge their position.
It also hid part of the contours of the sea floor, which they were using to judge when it was safe to turn.
This led navigators to change course too early and head into water where the seabed was rising sharply.
The inquiry criticised the skipper and senior officers for not monitoring the sub's position separately using all navigational aids. It also recommended a ban on the use of tracing paper to overlay charts.
It said: "The chart became increasingly untidy and elementary mistakes were made.
To me, this wasn't really a "training aid"-induced accident; I think all boats used tracing paper over charts when you were staying in the same small area for a long time with lots of maneuvering, whether you were doing PCO Ops or not. All submariners, I'm sure, have good stories about where training aids actually contributed to real-world casualties; unfortunately, all of mine happened back aft, so I can't talk about them. If you have any that pass the NNPI test, let's hear about 'em in the comments.

Meridian, Idaho Senate Primary Generates Absurdity

I wrote a couple years back about how I, a life-long Republican, came to the realization that, when it came to state-wide politics, I was a Democrat here in Idaho. While the Idaho Republican Party seems to have been taken over by people more concerned about controlling the behavior of strangers than in coming up with real-life solutions to problems, there are still a few Republicans (those normally called "RINOs" by the louder and more self-righteous Republicans) trying to carry on the legacy of Eisenhower. Here in the 20th District, we have a race for the State Senate between a traditional Republican, Rep. Mark Snodgrass, and a John Birchian black helicopter enthusiast, incumbent Sen. Shirley McKague.

Sen. McKague has been filling our mailboxes with postcards containing endorsements she never really got, and just today I got an E-mail from a supporter accusing her opponent of not being "pro-life" because he appeared on the "Judge Judy" show about 10 years ago, suing his neighbor for the cost of ensuring his dog had not been impregnated by the neighbor's dog. The funniest thing about the E-mail is that the McKague supporter apparently doesn't understand the concept of "YouTube" and included the entire 4.2MB video file (in .wmv format) of the opening of the "Judge Judy" show in question. I thought this was ridiculous enough that I called Rep. Snodgrass to find out if he'd really been on the show, and he confirmed that he had. Still, if Sen. McKague (who's way behind in fund-raising) is reduced to spamming people with huge videos in outdated formats, it looks like she's on her way to a big loss anyway when we vote next Tuesday.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Submariners At War

On this day, please say an extra prayer for Submariners serving in the Middle East, and their families and loved ones. While they're out there doing good for the people of war-torn countries, there are bad people who are trying to do them harm. These brave men deserve our special thoughts, as do all of our brave men and women who voluntarily go in harm's way to protect our freedoms.

Update 1435 23 May: As mentioned in the comments below, we did lose a Submariner in Afghanistan this week. LT Jeff Ammon was killed by an IED in the Aband District, while serving with PRT Ghanzi; he was on IA duty from shore duty in Navy Region Northwest, and was previously assigned to USS Alabama (SSBN 731). From an article in the Kitsap Sun:

At Navy Region Northwest, Ammon was an operations and planning staff officer. He had transferred from the Bangor-based Trident submarine USS Alabama, where he was an engineering officer, Hughes said.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lt. Ammon’s family and to our Navy Region Northwest family during this very difficult time,” said Rear Adm. James A. Symonds, Navy Region Northwest commander. “This is a tragic loss to Jeff’s family, friends and the entire CNRNW staff. All of Jeff’s uniformed and civilian co-workers are touched by the loss of this brave man. He was a professional who was extremely dedicated to his family, his shipmates and our nation. He will be greatly missed by all of those who loved him and worked with him. We extend our deepest sympathies to Ammon family.”
Ammon, who is survived by a wife and two children, is from Orem, Utah. He enlisted in the Navy in 1988 and went through an enlisted-to-officer program at Oregon State University. The family doesn’t want any other information released, Hughes said.
My understanding is that he was an ELT in his enlisted days. I wrote about some other submariners serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan here.

Sailor, Rest Your Oar...

Update 2236 23 May: Here are links to many more stories about LT Ammon, along with a picture of the fallen hero in Afghanistan:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Submarine Networking

Every submariner knows that who you know is as important as how well you've done your job when it comes to getting your next set of orders; having an old shipmate as your detailer is better than being Sailor of the Year when it comes to getting that cushy shore duty job or sea duty in your desired homeport.

One thing I found after I retired is that the Submarine Brotherhood still exists when we go looking for our career after the Navy. Moving to the Boise area without a job lined up, I was lucky enough to find a retired submarine Admiral here in town who seemed to know everybody, and was willing to take time out of his schedule to introduce me to his network. It was through one of those connections that I got my current job.

While in the past most of the networking was probably done through digging through old E-mails and Christmas cards to figure out who you might contact when it came time to start looking for a new job (especially if you were planning to move to a non-Navy town), the 'net has made looking for network contacts a lot easier. For officers, one new source of information I've found is through the Gold Dolphin Network via LinkedIn; the website for this group is here. I'm sure there are plenty of other resources out there; which ones have you found that worked for you? What stories do those of you who've transitioned to CivUS have about fellow Submariners helping you find your next career?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Happy Armed Forces Day!

Today is "Armed Forces Day" -- one of those holidays where it sounds like it should be a big deal, but it turns out that you only get the day off because they have it on Saturday. The 3rd Saturday in May was designated as the day to honor all the Armed Services after re-alignment in 1949; before that, there were individual days for all the Services. (Navy Day was at the end of October, for instance.)

How are you planning on celebrating Armed Forces Day this year? Here in the Boise area, we'll be celebrating by having record high temperatures and going to the Armed Forces Day Open House at the Idaho Military History Museum. For those not lucky enough to live in the Treasure Valley here in Idaho you could engage in these other activities:

1) Check out bothenook's Bubbleblogger Roundup over at his place for recent posts from the entire pantheon of submarine bloggers.

2) Check out all the new pictures of submarines they've recently posted over at the newly-redesigned site; you can get to them by clicking here, then selecting "Pictures" in the dropdown menu and typing in "ssn", "ssbn", or "ssgn" ("ssn" has the most), or you can click on the links I'm providing below:

Pictures of USS Dallas (SSN 700) last week pulling into Diego Garcia: 1 2
Pictures of USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723) leaving on deployment from Norfolk: 1 2
Pictures of USS Albany (SSN 753) pulling into Souda Bay, Crete: 1 2 3 4 Newly-commissioned USS North Carolina (SSN 777): 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
USS Hawaii (SSN 776) returns from her maiden "deployment": 1 2
USS Montpelier (SSN 765) returns from deployment: 1 2 3 4 5
And the picture of the last few weeks, associated with USS Pasadena's return from deployment, is this one, of a Pasadena Submariner proposing to his girlfriend right after the boat pulls in:

BZ, ET2(SS) Gibson! Your romantic act gives hope to long-suffering submarine girlfriends everywhere that, yes, eventually the guy's going to marry you!

3) You could read some submarine books. I'm currently reading "Scorpion Down", and when that's done, I'll start reading a new submarine book I just picked up called "Escape From The Deep", about USS Tang (SS 306).

4) You could even do something having to do with another part of the Armed Forces, but I don't see why. Personally, I'm hoping to go to the Military History Museum, then go see a movie, and then maybe write a blog post making fun of the new "plastic retention" program our submarine crews are having forced upon them. I'm sure there will be lawn work involved as well.

Happy Armed Forces Day!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Controlling The Flow Of Information

I was watching the post-game show after a basketball game the other night, and seeing Magic Johnson reminded me of how surprised all of us were when we heard, while underway on USS Topeka in 1991, about how he'd been infected with HIV. Submariners won't be surprised to learn that a fairly good portion of the crew didn't believe the news until they had it confirmed when we pulled into port.

I'm not sure if they still do it (since most boats have Internet access at PD) but the only way submariners on station used to get news about the outside world was through whatever news and sports the radiomen at the transmitting stations happened to put on the broadcast. If your RMs happened to download it and print it out, you'd have some idea of what was going on in the outside world. If, however, your RMs were feeling mischievous, you'd end up with fake news that they'd attach to the regular news reports. This had happened enough that most of the Lakers fans on Topeka were convinced the RMs from the Boston area were just trying to spin them up.

While the RMs were the only ones who could really mess with fake News and Sports, other people could mess with things like regular messages. We were on station on Topeka the next year when the results of the Lieutenant promotion board came out. Since we were busy, all the unimportant traffic was being screened off our broadcast, but the SubGru we were working for sent a short message with the names of all of us who had been selected. It was an easy matter to reprint the message with the name of the one officer who was asleep deleted, and leave it on the wardroom table for him to see when he woke up. Hilarity ensued!

What's your favorite fake news/messing with messages from your time at sea?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Congressman Bill Sali: Afraid To Debate Opponents With Military Experience

Tonight's news that my Congressman, Bill Sali, pulled out of a long-scheduled primary debate because of "scheduling issues" comes as no surprise. While some people would be ashamed to admit that they can't schedule their own time properly, Bill Sali seems to have no such compunction -- it's almost as if he recognizes that people already know he's a failure, so when he can't even clear the low bar that's been set of "show up where you agreed to show up", he isn't the least bit ashamed. My guess is that we won't see Congressman Sali showing up for any debates this year, because a) he doesn't want to have to talk about his record in places where there will be people who will question it, and b) because he's afraid to show further ignorance of military matters when debating someone with military experience (which is both his primary and general election opponents).

I don't blame Bill Sali for not serving in the military in his youth; he turned 18 in 1972, and the military wasn't exactly a popular place to be in those days. I do, however, wonder why a serving Congressman chooses to remain so ignorant of military culture that he doesn't even understand the difference between a unit award and a medal: "The U.S. Navy had previously awarded VO-67 the Navy Unit Commendation medal, a medal of lesser value and stature." I am glad that he helped VO-67 get their well-deserved upgrade, though, and hopefully he'll get some more people with military experience on his staff (campaign or otherwise) so he can learn more about the culture of the military he's supposed to be overseeing as a Representative.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Movie Review: "Speed Racer"

Tonight's prom night here in Meridian, Idaho, so with the two boys off at the prom (tux rental prices have sky-rocketed in the last 27 years!) the girls and I went to see "Speed Racer". I'll admit up front that I was really wanting to like this film -- it was even one of my New Year's predictions that it would be good.

So was my prediction a good one? Rotten Tomatoes doesn't think so; it's only getting a 35% favorable rating. I don't care what the critics think, though -- I look at these films from a guy's perspective. And as a guy... I'm still not quite sure what I think about it.

The Wachowski Brothers have created a visual delight; I loved their use of bright primary colors. The film is an explosion of visual stimulation, but it's (usually) not overdone. It's one of those $100 million dollar movies where you can see every dollar up there on the screen. The actors were well-cast; Christina Ricci in particular stood out. (It helps that she naturally has the most anime-like eyes of any actress around, seeing that the original cartoon was a manga.) The main problem is with the plot. The screenwriters apparently decided that when you're working with an established franchise you're limited in what you can do with the characters. In this case, though, since the target audience probably has no experience with the original cartoon, I think they could have done a little bit more to make it more interesting. In most movies, I like when they put in backstory to help us understand the motivations of the characters; in this one, I think they did a little too much.

As stunning as the visuals were, the racing scenes were kind of a disappointment. Many times I just couldn't follow what was happening on the screen because they choose to emphasize the speed of the cars -- particularly in the climatic run up the home stretch of the final race. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the way they paid homage to racing video games (particularly the "Mario Kart" series); the use of the "ghost" was a very nice touch.

The main problem with the movie, I think, is that they never really decided which audience they wanted to entertain the most -- the kids, or their parents who remembered the original cartoon. As a result, they didn't really hit the target for either market. Overall, I give "Speed Racer" 3 Trippy Scenes That Will Really Freak You Out If You Go To The Movie After Drinking Too Much Cough Syrup out of five.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Commenter FTN Started His Own Submarine Blog

Frequent commenter Free The Nucs started up his own blog, The EM Log. He put up a picture of a blue-shirted Bill The Cat as his avatar, which gives him big ups in my book. He's got a great sea story up today that's one of the funniest I've read in a while -- I look forward to seeing more of his stuff.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Story Begging For Follow-up

Last month, I stumbled across a story about a Submariner from USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) who supposedly shoplifted from a store in Nashville while in town on a COMREL visit:
Only someone at home around water would swim the fast-moving Cumberland River, especially at night.
That's why helicopters and rescue boats scoured the stretch of river near Opry Mills mall, looking not only to catch but also to save a man suspected of shoplifting who dove into the fast-moving water Tuesday night.
Police say the suspect is a sailor who swam downstream and nodded a friendly hello to barge operators.
The crew member of the submarine USS Tennessee, stationed in Kings Bay, Ga., was visiting the Nashville area as part of a goodwill community program. His name has not been released.
"His naval training is, we believe, responsible for him being able to negotiate the Cumberland River and getting out of the water," Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said.
Police believe the man stole some boxes of ammunition and a T-shirt from the Bass Pro Shop in Opry Mills and left the items in the trunk of a car in the parking lot before he was chased by a security guard.
The car was not reported stolen in Nashville, Aaron said, but was reported as such to the owner, the U.S. Navy. It was registered to the government and assigned to five sailors who were in town for Nashville Navy Week, said Lt. Taylor Clark from Submarine Group 10.
A group of USS Tennessee sailors visited veterans at the VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro and, according to Navy Week's schedule, were supposed to meet with children at the Boys & Girls Club later in the afternoon.
[Emphasis mine] I figured I'd sit on the story until I saw some confirmation, but never did, and forgot about it until today; the story only inferred that he was a Submariner because he was loading the loot into their car, but didn't say he'd been captured. Does anyone know if this really was a Sailor demonstrating his great Boot Camp swimming skills, or did the Submariner's car get stolen by the thief?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Non-Standard U.S. Subs Visit Europe

Spanish ecologists are once again protesting the visit of a nuclear submarine to Gibraltar; this time it's the first post-conversion overseas visit of USS Florida (SSGN 728), who left on her first SSGN deployment a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, it looks like the people of Portsmouth, UK, are a little bit happier to get a visit from NR-1 -- I think that's because she's just so darned cute!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Montpelier Liberty Ports Above Average

Two submarines, USS Montpelier (SSN 765) and USS Pasadena (SSN 752) recently returned from deployment. USS Montpelier deployed to the Arabian Gulf with the HST Strike Group; it looks like she got a couple of fairly exotic ports in the Med:
During the deployment, Montpelier's crew members served as ambassadors for the United States Navy during port visits to Souda Bay; Bahrain; Jebel Ali; Aksaz, Turkey; Rota, Spain, and the first North African port visit by a U.S. submarine in 12 years to Bizerte, Tunisia.
While I think a Tunisian port visit would be pretty cool, I could also imagine there were fairly restrictive liberty rules. USS Pasadena did a WestPac; let's see if she did any better than the recent boats in terms of liberty ports:
Pasadena departed Pearl Harbor Oct. 31, for a regularly scheduled six-month deployment. Making the deployment more special for the crew, Pasadena departed with a portion of the cremains of retired Rear Adm. Eugene Bennet Fluckey, who passed away in June 2007, for a burial-at-sea. Fluckey, a Medal of Honor recipient, served as Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet from 1964-1966. During the six-months, Pasadena made port visits to cities in Guam, Japan and Malaysia.
While Malaysia can be interesting (I pulled into Port Kelang / Kuala Lumpur when deployed on USS John C. Stennis in 2000), it's still not Australia. Hopefully SubGru SEVEN will keep working to get regular WestPac boats some Aussie liberty.

To the Sailors on both boats -- Welcome home and enjoy some well-deserved I & I.

Monday, May 05, 2008

How To Make DC Duty Better?

A submariner on duty in the Pentagon writes that the new Director of the Navy Staff recently asked the Pentagon Chief's Mess how to make duty in D.C. better. Excerpts from the talk:
Those of us who have served in the Beltway all know the perceptions, the politics, the cost of living, the long hours and the endless traffic just to name to name a few. What can we do to make DC a better place to serve?
DC is where it all the regulations and rules are written. You have the White House, the Capital, the Pentagon, NR and I could go on and on. Our lives in the fleet are affected on a daily basis by the importance of the decisions made here. If we can make DC a better place to serve, more people from the fleet will want to work there. In a nutshell if we can improve the lives of the sailors who work in DC it will have a “trickle down” affect to the rest of the fleet.
The submariner who wrote in (who just got orders to head back out to sea) was hoping the readers here could provide some answers to this question in the comments. I imagine that comments from those who have served in D.C., and those who have taken less-desirable orders in order to avoid D.C. duty, would be the most helpful. The submariner said he's hoping to actually route our comments up his chain, so here's you're chance to be heard!

Friday, May 02, 2008

PCU North Carolina To Be Commissioned

PCU North Carolina (SSN 777) is in Wilmington, N.C., in preparation for her commissioning ceremony on Saturday. A quick video of the boat (including a cute tiny 21" torpedo tube) is available here. (The last link also has a link to the live webcast of the ceremony, which will start Saturday, May 3, at 1000 EDT.)

More videos from the local TV station, taken during an underway earlier this year, are available here, here, and here.

Update 0528 04 May: The ceremony apparently went off without a hitch; a report is here. Video of the ceremony can be found here.