Navy Life Story: Sub Ride Part II

Reading this week:

  • Mimi and Toutou’s Big Adventure: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika by Giles Foden (a perfectly normal adult book, besides the name)
  • Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (I worry this is a feel-good book for white people)

One of the more exciting times came when we did Midshipmen ops. During 2/C (Second Class aka Junior) Summer, Naval Academy Midshipmen go on PROTRAMID (PROfessional TRAining MIDshipmen), which involves a lot of stuff, but includes 24 hours on a submarine. The submarine pulls into port, a whole bunch of Midshipmen board, the submarine goes underway, dives, does some typical submarine-y type operations, serves everyone pizza, and then pulls in and discharges its Midshipmen cargo with them hopefully buoyed by wonder at the submarine life. Midshipmen ops on the Montpelier started about three days after the rest of us had come aboard, so by this time I was practically an expert in all things submarine-related. The Midshipmen that came aboard where actually ROTC Midshipmen, so I didn’t know any, but we had the same rank insignia and therefore I was a friendly face. I guided them in the essentials of Midshipmen life on a submarine, such as “how to ask to go up to the bridge to look at the ocean” and “where are the bathrooms.” That was fun showing off, but I was equally glad to be rid of all the other Midshipmen, and hear the crew complain about how annoying Midshipmen ops are. “Ah but you’re different,” they told me, a Midshipman, mostly because I was sitting within earshot (to be fair to me, Midshipman ops are annoying because doing all those different activities in 24 hours is taxing on the crew, and the Mids take up a lot of space and force people out of their bunks so the Mids have a place to sleep, whereas the longer-term ride-alongs like us don’t really impose any additional requirements on the submarine except that we occasionally bother people by pushing the “test lamp” button on the Tomahawk firing panel to make all the lights light up).

I remember being most impressed by the captain of the ship, who’s name I entirely forget. One time I came up to the bridge to find the captain already there. He had both the legs and sleeves of his coveralls rolled up, and his hat on backwards, enjoying the weather and driving around his nuclear-powered warship. I remember thinking that was just¬†so cool, him relaxed as can be in total command of his domain. This trip was also my first real glimpse of the terror a Navy captain can instill. One of our limited duties as Midshipmen onboard the submarine was to get the movie ready every night in the wardroom. This involved loading up the DVD and getting the popcorn ready. One night we finished watching the movie, and the captain said “Tomorrow we’re gonna watch¬†Talladega Nights.” So the next night we go to set up the movie, and flip through the wardroom’s large binder of movies, but we don’t find the ballad of Ricky Bobby. We ask around, and no one’s got it. So, being the enterprising young Midshipmen we are, wanting to forge ahead and not bother Garcia (I hate that book), we simply chose another movie. Shortly before the movie was about to begin, we casually mentioned this to the XO. “Oh no,” he said, fright evident in his eyes, “that’s not good.” This initiated a flurry of activity. People were woken up. Audio-visual systems were to be rerouted. Additional potential sources of movies were hunted down. Panic commenced when none of these options were bearing fruit. Suddenly, the captain walked in! We told him that we didn’t have the movie. The captain then simply walked out. We figured we were doomed. We couldn’t find the movie! How much of an abject failure could each of us be? But then shortly thereafter the captain simply returned to the wardroom, tossed a copy of the movie on the table, and stated flatly “Man to do a man’s job,” and we watched the movie.

Other exciting things happened during our time on board. We had two swim calls, to take advantage of the Caribbean weather. These are what it sounds like, where the submarine surfaces, stops, and people can go topside and go swimming. Also during this event we had a gun shoot (on the opposite side of the ship as the swim call). The ship came up with some excuse that they needed to shoot the 50-cal they had onboard for force protection, and we got to fire it and some boxes they had wrapped in plastic bags (submarine cruises are very very much recruiting trips). In the battle of AUTEC, the boxes lost, let me tell ya. Smoking was banned on submarines in 2010, but on this trip I also made sure to smoke a cigarette or two just for the novelty of smoking underwater. I had been given the advice to bring a pack of cigs or two onboard even if you didn’t smoke, because hanging out in the smoke pit and giving a away a few cigarettes was an effective way to make friends. I also fondly remember the ship’s gas-station-style cappuccino machine; the galley was small enough that in the right spot you could sip your cappuccino and then reach over and refill your cup without getting up from you seat. Heaven, truly.

Like I said at the beginning, this trip is what convinced me to go submarines. What I liked is how small and tight-nit the ship and the crew seemed. No one seemed aloof or distant, and there were few enough people it seemed you could get to know everyone. People were friendly, or at least willing to give you their time. The crew was irreverent that seemed especially appealing to 19-year-old me. I remember one Chief yelling to another that was disembarking “DON’T FORGET MY GOAT PORN” for when he was to return to the ship. It was a short ride, and after nine days we were off, loaded onto a tugboat that came to meet us and bring us back to shore. Quite the good time.

Swim call cigars.