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.)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Submarine Video News Stories

There were two national news stories that showed video from Ohio-class submarines the last couple of days. First, here's one on food service aboard USS Alaska (SSBN 732) from Fox News on Wednesday:

And here's a couple of stories from NBC on the Women on Subs issue; one on NBC Nightly News and another from the Today Show, both shot on USS Maryland (SSBN 738):

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For the historical record, here's a link to NAVADMIN 152/10 that officially integrates women into submarines.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Origin Of The Species

A question came up: what is the origin of the term "bubblehead" as a term of derision/endearment for Submariners? Is it because of the need to keep a "zero bubble" on the inclinometer? Because of the bubble-looking headgear worn by early divers? Or is there some other reason? (Bonus points to whoever can come up with the actual answer, accompanied by a citation from a reliable source. My Googling skillz weren't up to the task, which is fairly rare for me.)

Monday, April 26, 2010


A few days ago, I had a great visit from an old shipmate on USS Topeka (SSN 754) who was passing through town. (An EM2(SS) when I left Topeka in '93, my friend got commissioned, and is now a Naval Flight Officer on E-2 Hawkeyes. Quite a career change.) He brought over all the letters he had sent home from the boat's '92-'93 deployment, and I brought our my scrapbook for us to go over old memories. In going through the scrapbook, I saw all the Family-Grams my wife had sent me during those six months.

For those young Submariners who wonder what a "Family-Gram" is (since you have E-mail almost every PD trip), it was a one-way message your loved one could send a Submariner while on deployment. In my day, the wives were given six of them to send during the deployment, and I think they were limited to 50 words. Like most things on submarines, they weren't very private -- the Radiomen saw all of them (and in fact could download the Family-Grams from all the boats on deployment if they wanted). Here's a story from an old Submariner about how the lack of Family-Gram privacy resulted in an embarrassing situation.

One of our pastimes during midwatches was to try to come up with the worst possible Family-Gram (limited to 50 words). I liked to add the old submarine standby, "The flooding put out the fire". Many submissions involved the wife running off with the neighbor and selling all the Submariners possessions.

What are your favorite Family-Gram stories?

South Korean Ship Sinking Update

A while back, we discussed the possibility that a North Korean submarine had attacked the South Korean corvette ROKS Cheonan (PCC 772) last month. Now that the ship has been raised, it's looking more and more like it was an external explosion that sank the Cheonan, with more people suspecting that a North Korean mini-sub of the Sang-O class was involved.

How do you think this will turn out? I'm thinking that the South Koreans might not do anything overt, but the North Koreans might find one or two of their submarines failing to return from patrol over the next couple of years. The big question is how the South Korean public reacts to the realization that the ship was sunk by the North, and how patient they'll be with waiting for retaliation.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Another Death Aboard Nebraska

According to this article at Navy Times, another Sailor has died aboard USS Nebraska (SSBN 739). Excerpts:
A sailor was found dead Monday aboard the ballistic-missile submarine Nebraska at sea, according to a Navy spokeswoman, marking the third death aboard the ship in the last five years.
Machinist’s Mate Fireman William Mack, 21, was found dead in the submarine’s berthing spaces while the ship was underway in the Pacific Ocean. The cause is under investigation, said Lt. Kellie Randall, a spokeswoman for Submarine Group 9; she said there was no damage to the ship and there had not been an accident...
... The Nebraska sailed March 18 from Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Wash., on a normal deterrence patrol. It surfaced this week “off Hawaii,” Randall said, to take aboard agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who conducted an investigation for about 36 hours. Nebraska then met up with another boat, as was scheduled, to deliver people as part of an exercise. Mack’s body and the NCIS agents were transferred to the second boat, Randall said.
Nebraska, in the hands of its Gold Crew, will continue its patrol without a replacement crew member.
Mack is the boat’s third sailor to die aboard since 2005. On Jan. 6 of that year, Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Aaron Scrimiger, 25, hanged himself in the machinery spaces while the ship was in port. On Sept. 20, 2008, Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class (SS) Michael Gentile was killed after being “entangled and pinned” as he worked on the rudder machinery while Nebraska was at sea.
This is so sad. I discussed the earlier rudder accident here. My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Nebraska family. Here's an article from his hometown paper, with a picture:

Sailor, Rest Your Oar.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Breakfast Of Champions

Here's what I had for breakfast this morning -- I calculate it has about 1300 mg of cholesterol:

As the father of my namesake famously said in "Risky Business", "Sometimes you just gotta say 'What the heck'". Do you think that the old or the young are more likely to do things they know aren't good for them just because they feel like it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TTSBP Commenter Makes WaPo

John Mason, who sometimes comments here at TSSBP, was mentioned in this Washington Post article about the upcoming smoking ban and gender integration policy changes in the Submarine Force. The article includes a link to John's petition opposed to stationing women on submarines.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Submarine Movies

There are a couple of new submarine-themed movies in the news. There's a documentary about WWII submarines and Submariners called "Dive: A Submariner's Story"; you can watch the trailer here. It's supposed to be released sometime this year.

There's also an Australian short film about Russian submariners called "Deeper Than Yesterday" that's being entered at Cannes, so it's probably artsy-fartsy.

What are your favorite submarine movies?

Friday, April 16, 2010

♪♫ "Boys In The Back Ordered Bench Spares" ♫♪

As occasionally happens, I recently got an E-mail from a screenwriter asking about some submarine trivia for a screenplay he was working on, and it got me thinking about supply shortages on the boats.

I was E-Div Officer (concurrently with being RCA) during the pre-deployment workups on USS Topeka (SSN 754) back in '92, and I found that the most important thing for E-Div, supply-wise, was to ensure we had enough spare parts on board for the washer and dryer. Of course, the standard loadout only provides basically one of each spare part for those vital pieces of equipment, so pretty much every boat on the waterfront left with 3 or 4 times the allowed allotment in the form of "bench spares". At the time, I realized this only contributed to the larger problem -- load lists were based on how many parts each boat ordered, and since the boats didn't have to order any additional parts since they were carrying them "off the books" as bench spares, the system never got updated. Still, since I didn't want to get yelled at in the middle of the deployment because the CO couldn't get his knickers washed, I decided not to take a stand and do the right thing, so I got us loaded up with extra spare parts.

What are some of your favorite supply shortage stories?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

USS Virginia Returns From Deployment

USS Virginia (SSN 774) returned from her first real deployment on Tuesday (as opposed to the pre-PSA "deployment" the Navy trumpeted back in 2005). Here's a picture from the Navy:

From the text under the picture, it looks like Virginia visited Rota, Spain; Souda Bay, Greece; Fujahra, United Arab Emirates; and Aksaz, Turkey during her deployment. Pretty fair set of liberty ports for a LANTFLT boat.

For those who have never been on a Virginia-class boat, here's an interactive tour of USS New Mexico (SSN 779) that features 360 degree views of several compartments. Amusingly, the tour of the "Engine" room is actually AMR, but it's still pretty neat.

Update 0730 16 Apr: USS Jefferson City (SSN 759) also returned from deployment this week, to San Diego. Welcome home, guys!

Monday, April 12, 2010

By Popular Demand...

I wasn't originally going to post this uninformed piece on the recent USS Hartford collision that appeared in the UK newspaper The Sun, but I've gotten so many E-mails about it that I figure I should let you guys have at it. Do you think the general public really expects that Submariners are supposed to be 100% at their posts and fully engaged at all times?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Happy 110th Birthday to the U.S. Submarine Force!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Today's Submariners Keep Up Traditions

Word on the street is that the USS Texas (SSN 775) "lost" her ship's pennant at this year's Pearl Harbor Submarine Officers Birthday Ball. Luckily, the pennant is keeping people apprised of its activities via this Facebook page. Here's the pennant's Profile Picture:

The pennant has apparently been playing a lot of online Texas Hold 'Em and recently posted the puzzling status that "The COB wouldn't let me take leave, so I went UA." It most recently posted that it believes it might be developing Stockholm Syndrome, indicating that the pennant may have been taken against its will.

Word on the street is that the pennant will be delivered back to the Texas within a reasonable time, after it's had a chance to stretch its legs. Personally, I'm happy to see today's Submarine wardrooms and crews involved in good-natured pranks. As long as no one gets permanently hurt and senior officers don't over-react, I think that such episodes can contribute to unit cohesion and improved morale. (Of course, being on the receiving end of such good-natured ribbing might not be as fun. Once, on Topeka, we had to pick up an op for Chicago after they turned their diesel into a seawater pump. We sent them a "Wish You Were Here" card when we pulled into Nanaimo during the tasking; I heard their CO was not amused.)

What are the best boat-on-boat pranks that you've heard about?

Update 1901 09 Apr: Just after I posted, the pennant statused this: "So it's official, the fun is all over I have been turned in to the man. The USS Hawaii COB now has me and I'm awaiting transfer to cell block 775."

Submarine Birthday And Wearing Your Dolphins To Work

The Submarine Force will celebrate their 110th Birthday on Sunday, April 11th; the birth of the U.S. Submarine Force is dated to the acceptance of USS Holland (SS 1) by the Navy on 4/11/1900.

Did anyone wear their dolphins to work today? (Active duty guys don't count -- you always get to wear your dolphins.) If so, did you get any comments? (I was off today, so I'll be wearing mine to work on Sunday night. Unfortunately, I wear a bunny suit while working, so it's likely that no one will notice.)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Submarine Smoking Ban Announced

It looks like the potential ban on smoking aboard submarines we discussed last week is the real deal. According to this article at, COMSUBFOR sent out a message announcing that smoking would be banned as of the end of the year. Excerpts:
The smoking ban, announced via naval message, will become effective no later than Dec. 31, 2010.
The impetus behind the change of policy is the health risks to non-smokers, specifically exposure to secondhand smoke.
"Our Sailors are our most important asset to accomplishing our missions. Recent testing has proven that, despite our atmosphere purification technology, there are unacceptable levels of secondhand smoke in the atmosphere of a submerged submarine. The only way to eliminate risk to our non-smoking Sailors is to stop smoking aboard our submarines," said Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, COMSUBFOR...
... Subsequent to the 2006 Surgeon General report, the Submarine Force chartered the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory to conduct a study on U.S. submarines. The study indicated that non-smoking Sailors were exposed to measurable levels of Environment Tobacco Smoke (ETS), also called secondhand smoke. The year-long study was conducted in 2009 on nine different submarines, including at least one from each class of submarines in the force.
In conjunction with the policy change, cessation assistance to Sailors is being offered. The program will incorporate education techniques and nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine patches and nicotine gum, to assist in kicking the smoking habit. In keeping with current submarine policy, drugs such as Zyban and Chantix are not authorized.
"To help smokers minimize the effects of quitting, nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches and gum, will be readily available along with an extensive cessation training and support program on every boat. What we want to discourage is smokers turning to alternative methods of tobacco use such a chewing tobacco," said Capt. Mark Michaud, Submarine Force Atlantic surgeon.
Zyban and Chantix both apparently have some bad side effects like depression and suicidal ideation, so I can see why they wouldn't want submariners taking them, but I wonder if they did the studies with people taking the drug without quitting smoking at the same time. I imagine nicotine withdrawal could cause depression by itself.

So what do you think? Will this new ban make the U.S. Submarine Force a more effective war-fighting organization?

This Is A Friggin' Cool Use Of My Taxpayer Dollars

From Popular Science, an article about a submersible that recharges its batteries from the temperature gradients in depth changes and produces more power than it consumes. Good job ONR!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Can We Win The War?

The recent announcement by Afghan President Karzai that he wouldn’t allow the NATO offensive in the Kandahar region to commence without the support of the local population got me thinking about the War On Terror, and whether or not we’re winning. The answer to this question requires us to look at history and the development of American morality with respect to other nations and cultures.

The U.S. has fought two enemies within the last 70 years that are similar to the radical Muslims with whom we’re at war today. In WWII, the United States fought a Japanese Empire whose fighters were also inspired by a religion that, like the more radical strains of Islam, encouraged self-sacrifice of its adherents and saw non-believers as people upon whom any brutality could be inflicted. We were able to defeat this threat by waging total war against Japan; stories from the island battles in the Pacific indicated that American troops could be just as intense as the Japanese during fighting (with the exception of launching militarily ineffective banzai charges), and the air war against the home islands showed we had few restraints in attacking the civilian infrastructure. Nevertheless, our treatment of Japanese prisoners never fell to the level that we had shown even towards fellow Americans during the Civil War 80 years earlier. Twenty years later, when confronted with another determined enemy in the Viet Cong, we were unable to defeat them because the American population – and leadership -- could not countenance the waging of total war against this foe. This, I submit, is due as much to the basic American ideal of Fair Play as it was the changing American morality towards other cultures; the obvious disparity in the conventional capabilities of the opposing forces (one that didn’t exist during WWII) caused Americans to shy away from the thought of pursuing an all-out war against the pajama-clad terrorists of the communist insurgency. Additionally, there was no real threat to the American homeland from this enemy -- Domino Theory notwithstanding.

Our current enemy combines the religious fanaticism of the Imperial Japanese with the seemingly hopeless technological inferiority and willingness to hide amongst the civilian population of the Viet Cong. Like the conflict with Japan, this war “started” (or, more accurately, was brought to the forefront of public debate) by a horrific sneak attack; in this case, 9/11. Here, the enemy used the kamikaze tactics of the Japanese in a way that even the most ardent practitioner of Bushido would never have contemplated – against mostly civilian targets while hiding behind kidnapped victims. The American public reacted with righteous anger mixed with coldly-directed resolve, supporting by vast majorities the bringing of the war to the terrorist base. I submit that the ease of the initial victory in Afghanistan, coupled with the mismanaged invasion of Iraq, caused American fury to wither away more quickly that would have been the case had the enemy been more capable in the post-9/11 battles. This was seen in the reaction to the initial revelations of the prisoner abuse taking place at Abu Grahib.

One of the main complaints about American treatment of prisoners during this war is that we practice “extraordinary rendition” wherein we send the prisoners to places where they might be mistreated. Lost in the complaints about this practice is the fact that these countries are most often the home country of the accused. Why is it that these Arab governments can still exist, with the seeming support of their populations, when they routinely mistreat their own citizens? To understand this, we must understand the Arab mindset. It’s often pointed out that the Arab world has no real democracies (and were actual voting allowed, most Arab populations would most likely elect even more dictatorial governments than they already have). This is because, I submit, the cultural mindset that developed over the years of Ottoman lordship over the Arab peoples, combined with the Islamic belief that all actions are directed by Allah, results in people believing that they have no real means of improving their lot by their actions – it’s all Allah’s will. Therefore, they are willing to docilely accept the cruelty of their own leaders because they believe it’s divinely ordained. Arab leaders, on the other hand, cynically recognize that they can cling to power only by brutally repressing any expressions of revolt or opposition; they therefore torture their opponents as a means of breaking the will of their populace, who in turn comes to recognize brutality as the hallmark of an effective leader – one who is worthy of respect.

This is an example of the disconnect between those who know what’s going on in the world from those who only know what they read in the papers. When the revelations came out about the distasteful mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq, our enemies saw our national revulsion – basically no one said that such conduct by American servicepeople was acceptable, and the main debate between the two main factions of American politics was over whether the National Command Authority knew about this conduct. This made our enemies, and those who support them, realize that we didn’t really have the stomach to dominate an Arab society at the level that was needed to win respect, and gave them hope that they could rely on the long-suffering acceptance of death and hardship by the Arab masses to eventually wear down and force out the Americans. While we surprised them by getting back some of our resolve in agreeing to and carrying out the “surge” in Iraq that led to an acceptable exit state, they adapted by realizing they could just bide their time until we leave. As Colin Powell once pointed out, it’s not as if there are a bunch of Jeffersonian Democrats who will come forth to lead an Arab country, so the jihadis think they are likely to get what they want – control of at least part of Iraq – after we leave. They do seem to do better than us at taking the long view.

(Another example of the disconnect between those who understand the world versus those who see it through rose-tinted glasses concerns the varying reactions to the leaked video of the Apache gunsight camera view of an incident in Baghdad in 2007. Those who are willing to believe that the American military is made up of cold-blooded killers wail, “How could Americans be so heartless as to chain-gun these poor innocent civilians”? Those who know better realize that it’s highly unlikely that a group of young Iraqi men would hang around on the street corner waiting for a patrol to come by while showing no concern for the U.S. helicopter hovering behind them unless they had been trained to do that. The fact that the Reuters journalists were with them only proves that they were insurgents up to no good – do you really expect war correspondents would embed themselves with bored teenagers? When all is said and done, tactics like those shown in the video are needed if we hope to win. People will volunteer to be an insurgent if they think they have a chance to kill Americans; if they know they'll be mowed down from the air before they get within a half mile of an American military vehicle, I think we'd see Al Qaeda recruiting numbers plummet.)

The main front of the war has now moved back to Afghanistan, and with the overly restrictive ROE in place along with lots of hand-wringing about civilian casualties, it looks like we’re once more headed down the path of getting the country just stable enough to declare victory and come home. To be honest, that might be the right thing to do. As the shock of 9/11 has worn off, it’s clear that the citizenry and current leadership of our country really doesn’t have the stomach to prosecute the war in the manner needed to eventually win. We can announce that we’ve won the War On Terror and concentrate on domestic concerns – like in the '90s, after we won the Cold War. However, a war is really not over as long as one side still has the will and desire to fight, which I submit our enemies do. At some point, they’ll become emboldened and hit us again. While one might think that this cycle could repeat itself ad nauseum, I submit that current trends contain the seeds of an eventual American victory. (“Victory” in this case is defined as an association with the Arab people similar to the mutually-beneficial relationship we have with post-war Japan.)

Right now, our political leadership is made up of people who really don’t understand our enemy – it’s been such since Colin Powell resigned as Secretary of State. The American populace generally believes that we shouldn’t change our values in order to prosecute the war more robustly, and that if we do so then the terrorists have won. That’s a completely valid point, one to which I believe well-meaning people can sincerely subscribe. It may even be right. However, I believe that the enemy will continue to attack us even if (and especially if) we start being “nice” to them, and quit interfering with their culture – they believe hard, and honestly think that they can spread Islam throughout the world by the point of the sword. They’ll see any appeasement on our part as a sign of weakness. It’s the next generation of America’s political elite that will lead us to victory in this war. I believe (based on no real data other than my own analysis of American history and political trends) that within the next 20 years, a critical mass of the new breed of civic leaders will be veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ll be people who understand the enemy from the lessons learned in the world’s most effective classroom – the battlefield. Starting with the election of H. R. McMaster sometime in the 2020s, I think most American Presidents for the next couple of decades after that will be combat veterans. They will be the ones who will convince the American people that this war is important, and teach us what we need to do to win. Most importantly, they’ll convince our enemies and their potential supporters that we do have the sustained will to continue the fight, and strip from them the recruiting base they need. We’ll have to be more vicious than we’re used to, but, like in 1945, the eventual outcome will be better for all involved.

Or maybe not. In the meantime, is the war still worth fighting in the here and now if we accept the premise that we can’t win for at least a few decades? I think it is – we’re killing some people who need to be killed, and exposing the core of tomorrow’s political and military leadership to the practices of the enemy. While the tide of battle will ebb and flow, I’m convinced of an eventual American victory in the long term – and maybe after that, the cycle of history may finally come to an end. (Or maybe we’ll start all over with dealing with a resurgent China.) Only time will tell.

So what do we do about President Karzai's ultimatum? In a perfect world, the American Ambassador pays him a call and says, "I'm sorry, but we can't operate under these restrictions. We'll be pulling out in six months. Good luck surviving, but please pass on to your successor that if they ever give sanctuary to any other group that ever attacks us again, we're going to kill everyone involved. From the air. Collateral damage be damned." But I know that won't happen.

(Note: Throughout this essay, I’ve focused on the American aspects of the war. While we’re clearly fighting for Western, vice just American, civilization, our European allies have the luxury of pompously tut-tutting American tactics while hiding under the benevolent umbrella of a hemispheric Pax Americana. I really don’t see much hope for the continental Western Europeans coming to their senses in the next few decades; for allies, we’ll have to count on those old standbys, the Brits and the Poles.)

Monday, April 05, 2010

Departing 1MC Announcements

A reader sent in a picture of his old Eng making his "departing" 1MC announcement:

What are some of your favorite announcements made by departing crew members as they left the boat for the last time?

Friday, April 02, 2010

All Hands Submarine Video

Here's a good video from All Hands Television about today's Submarine Force. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be embeddable.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Big News!

Word on the street today is that President Obama is going to confirm the existence of the secret submarine base under the Nevada desert.

Additionally, I'm hearing that, in support of the efforts of the city of Topeka to win the Google broadband network, the Navy will be changing the name of my old boat to USS Google (SSN 754).

Update 1440 01 Apr: More big news coming out today! From the U.S. Navy Facebook page:
Today the Navy announced a new and unprecedented partnership with the U.S. Air Force on the next Aircraft Carrier. The next Ford class aircraft carrier will be jointly crewed by both Navy and Air Force personnel becoming the first fully joint warship. In the spirit of this partnership the ship will be named the "James Doolittle" after Lt Col. James Doolittle that famously led a raid on Tokyo in April 1942. In the spirit of environmental efforts in the Navy, the ship will include a new 'Green Flight Deck' designed to Air Force specifications. Naval aviators have never been so excited about an upcoming deployment.
They even have a picture: