Poseidon Smiles

Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, loves Hawaii and smiles on her shores. The sea is the best thing about working in Hawaii because travel time to cross it reduces corporate visits. It simply takes too much time out of the schedule of very busy corporate folks to fly to Hawaii. If the operation is working smoothly, profits stay good, government audits reflect appropriate behavior, and personnel are properly managed, then a manager can count on one program visit a year. The bad thing about working in Hawaii is that the east coast starts to work in the middle of the night and one is expected to answer the telephone. Of course, by noon, one is free to complete the paperwork as the east coast begins to shuffle home. With this schedule, my usual lunch hour was three minutes; time to gulp a sandwich and some fruit juice. The staff hung a sign on my door warning people that I was out to lunch and would be back in two minutes.

One bright, sunny day, however, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse; lunch on the sea wall at Pearl Harbor. I loved the Pacific Ocean and watched it every chance I got. In the middle of lunch and a budget strategy discussion with the finance manager, we had the experience of a lifetime. About 1,000 yards out of the harbor in open ocean, a Los Angeles class fast attack submarine breached. I mean that puppy came out of the water at a steep angle, showed at least half of the hull and splashed down. It was the craziest thing I had ever witnessed and, based on newspaper accounts the next day, it was a career buster for the Captain.

The Cold War (1947-1991) incubated and grew the largest submarine fleet the world has ever seen. Twenty-eight different classes of submarines glided under the water, through the mountain ranges and canyons of the world’s oceans playing tag with their counterparts and training war games with the fleet. Adjusting the count to remove the ten classes of submarines with only one vessel does nothing to the claim in the first sentence; the fleet was the largest the world had ever seen. Diesel submarines were used during the Cold War but only for the duration of their life cycle although, some lasted into the 1980s. The nuclear submarine came into its own during this time. The heavy lifting was done, and continues to be done, by two classes of nuclear submarines; the Los Angeles class fast attack submarines and the Ohio class ballistic missile submarines and guided missile submarines. According to the Navy, fifty-one of the Los Angeles class and eighteen of the Ohio class boats remain in service.[1] [2] The submarine fleet is also among the most under-appreciated piece of Cold War infrastructure.

The submarine, no matter how glorious, and it is truly awesome to behold, is a simple container, a platform to deliver goods and services. The brilliance happens because of the talent and teamwork of the individuals who operate and use the vessel. The Los Angeles class, for example, has been used for mining, search and rescue, intelligence gathering, and inserting forces. If needed, it can also fight other submarines. The Navy touts the Ohio class subs as “…virtually undetectable undersea launch platforms of intercontinental missiles.”

Submariners are a breed apart. I cannot imagine living for 70-days cooped up in forced association with people I may or may not respect. I feel tremendous admiration for the service they perform with so little acknowledgement. Life Aboard A Submarine[3] is a very humorous, illustrative, twenty-nine point essay prepared for the Submarine Centennial. What follows is a random selection using everyday examples we can all understand to explain how it feels to be a submariner:

  • Sit in your car for six hours at a time with the motor running. Keep hands on the wheel. But don’t leave your driveway. Log readings of your oil pressure, water temperature, speedometer and odometer every 15 minutes.
  • Every so often, yell “EMERGENCY DEEP!” run into the kitchen and sweep all pots, pans and dishes off of the counters onto the floor, and then yell at your wife for not having the kitchen area “Stowed for Sea!”
  • Put on the stereo headphones (don’t plug them in), go to the stove and stand in front of it. Say (to no one in particular) “Stove manned and ready” stay there for 3 to 4 hours. Say (once again and to no one in particular) “Stove secured”, then role up your headphone cords and put them away.

Once the tears of laughter are wiped away, spend a moment pondering how it would feel to be one of these service people. Acceptance into this service is completely voluntary and applicants undergo extensive, rigorous and psychologically painful testing.

A public historical milestone was met in 1953 when the U.S.Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, reached the North Pole beneath the ice. The tactical Cold War achievement was laying bare and vulnerable thousands of miles of the Soviet Union coastline. The Soviets were no longer untouchable. These great boats and their crews patrolled the U.S. shores and played touch and go with their counterparts in the old soviet Union for forty-three years. They provided an umbrella of protection that could be rapidly configured and reconfigured because submarines are agile beasts. Submarines gathered most of the precious little solid intelligence the U.S. had and most of the rest of the ‘good’ intelligence was provided by the air force. It is safe to say that the exploits and the missions of submarines during the cold war will not be declassified anytime soon and the service members don’t talk much. I am sorry to see this piece of Cold War infrastructure degrade.

The U.S. has lost all of the diesel electric boats and the vast majority of its nuclear submarines. Most of the nuclear boats have been lost at the refueling station. Nuclear submarines only have to refuel once every thirty or so years (wish I could get that kind of mileage) but when they do refuel it costs a bunch of money. It seems the budget just can’t handle the challenge so the boats are retired. Their reactors have, since 1986, been buried in a trench at the DOE Hanford site. I worked at Hanford for a brief time and the burial of a submarine reactor is quite a feat that takes several years to achieve. It is an ugly, sad job.

While the U.S. is busy downsizing its submarine fleet, Russia is cashing in on selling its new, improved SSK Kilo Class (Type 636) submarines around the world. The Kilo class subs are quiet and dangerous both to other submarines and surface vessels like the U.S. battle groups. So far the new, proud owners include Venezuela, Iran, China, and Indonesia. These countries are not our friends. For me this is news. I do not care that OJ Simpson is in court today, which is the Fox News the headline. I want to know why the devil Venezuela needs a SSK Kilo Class (Type 636) submarine that can carry armaments sufficient to and has the stealth to kill a carrier. I hope the few submarines we have left can patrol all seven seas because we need them now.

Poseidon must also love the company of the submariners that hunt and play in his seas. Their lives are hard and the humor unique. They give the old god some interesting times and make him smile.



[1] SSN Los Angeles Class Nuclear Submarine, United States of America; http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/la/

[2] SSBN / SSGN Ohio Class Submarine, United States of America; http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/ohio/

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