Reading this week:
- The Savage Wars of Peace by Max Boot
- A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power
If you’ll allow me to briefly skip over the entirety of Plebe Year in my Navy Life Story, I’ll talk about my submarine cruise during Youngster Summer. Every summer at the Naval Academy, you have professional training. This was split up into several different blocks, and on one of those blocks you went on a Fleet Cruise, wherein you did something with the fleet, aka the Navy outside of the Naval Academy. Each summer is named after the following school year, so Plebe Summer becomes before your Plebe (Freshman) year, and Youngster Summer comes before your Youngster (Sophomore) Year. My Youngster Summer I went on a submarine cruise.
During your Youngster Summer, your options for your fleet cruise are limited to either a surface cruise, where you go on a surface ship, or a submarine cruise, where you go on a submarine. The point of this cruise is to give you a taste of what life is like for an enlisted summer. Back in the day, like 1900, you would actually do like, work, but I think these days mostly Midshipmen just sorta wander around the ship looking lost. I can’t remember if submarine cruises or surface cruises were the more popular choice (you did whatever the Academy told you, but you got to put in preferences). Anything submarines-related was generally unpopular at the Naval Academy, but the submarine cruises had the advantage of tending to be shorter. The surface cruises were all for a month, but I wound up on a submarine for a whopping 9 days. I had put in my preference to go on a submarine because I was genuinely interested in submarines, I promise.
This cruise really cemented my desire to go submarines. Usually when I tell the story, I pithily say that “I found my people; they took me in, fed me coffee, and I was quite happy.” The first step was reporting to the Naval Academy, where we stayed overnight for some processing. I was to go on the USS Montpelier, which was stationed in Norfolk. Since it was pretty close, they just drove me down there, along with some other Mids. There was to be three of us on this particular submarine. We were driven by a newly-minted Ensign, who was at the Naval Academy on temporary duty, and had no real idea what was going on. He drove us to Norfolk Naval Base, and then drove along the pier until he found a submarine, and tried to just drop us off. We objected to being dumped on the pier next to some random submarine, so he next drove us to the squadron headquarters. This went better and we checked in with squadron and eventually checked into the on-base hotel for the night. Our submarine was leaving the next morning, and we’d come on board then before departure.
Now that I am writing this I am struggling to remember anything about the first day or so of being underway on the submarine. It must have been fairly overwhelming. Honestly I’m not even sure about the hotel thing, but it seems right. I do remember two officers from the ship picking us up and taking us out to dinner, which was fairly exciting because like, here we were meeting real life officers out in the fleet doing fleet stuff. Also they bought us dinner, after one guilted the other into it, citing the fact they got paid way more than we did. The next morning we must have gone to the submarine with our stuff. We probably sat in the wardroom for a bit while doc got us our TLDs (thermo-luminescent dosimeters, aka radiation detectors) and someone briefed us on the ship and had us sign whatever paperwork we had to sign. We were assigned bunks. I do remember getting the “Iron Cross,” as that particular bunk in 9-man berthing is known. Unlike most bunks, it is half hidden behind some other bunks, leaving a relatively small hole where you can enter it. And it’s the top bunk, all of which means you have to do some particular gymnastics to get up into it. I tried to minimize the number of times I had to crawl into that thing, unusual for a Midshipman.
There frankly wasn’t a whole lot for us to do on the submarine. We were assigned crew buddies, who we were nominally supposed to shadow. I don’t remember his name, but my buddy was a firecontrolman, who stood his watches in the control room. That was convenient because it gave me a pretty good excuse to hang out in control and sit at the fire control stacks. The major advantage there is that was the easiest way to figure out where we were in the world, by looking at the chart on those stacks. This was my first time underway on a ship, and since a submarine doesn’t have windows, it’s a little disorienting figuring out where you are in the world. Over the nine days we were on the submarine, it was slated to first drive down to Cape Canaveral for some Midshipman ops (I’ll explain later), and then to AUTEC in the Caribbean to do, uh, something I guess. I tried to spend a reasonably large amount of time with my crew buddy there to learn the ins and outs of submarine stuff. I eventually figured out someone friendly on each shift I could hang out with and so that’s mostly what I did, hanging out with people on watch. Quite the life.
Please come back next week for Part II, so I can stretch this into two weeks of content. Thanks!