22 June 2006

In Praise of the Rest of the Naval Service

It has been inferred, oh, ok outright claimed, that we submariners are arrogant pricks.  As is obvious from my previous dispatches, bubbleheads rejoice in needling our surface brethren, if for no other reason than to see how quickly we can spin them to mode 7.  And while patrician aviators click their tongues at our churlishness, they will not hesitate to shoot a few barbs as well.

So, before our fellow services think that we squids are nothing but brawling, unruly siblings, let me first explain our appearance of churlishness, and then drop my submarine devotion (for just a moment or two, mind you!) to give the rest of the Naval services the praise they richly deserve.

Then back to the hectoring.

To understand the mentality of a submariner… well, some might say it is impossible to fully understand us, as we are crazy.  I mean, we seal ourselves into a steel tube, drop down to unmentionable depths in it for months at a time, all the while straddling a nuclear reactor, fergoshsakes.  I will, however, attempt to lift the veil shrouding our rather warped outlook at least somewhat.  

Submariners are an exacting lot.  We demand absolute excellence, and tolerate incompetence poorly.  Now, the same can be said of any other branch, true, but we have an almost religious devotion to it.  Why, you might ask?  Rickover?  Partly.  Nerd snobbishness?  Maybe, but not really.  The true underlying reason is pounded into every nub once he comes on board.  A mistake can be fatal, not just for him, but the entire boat.  This has been proved time and again, tragically.  228 souls are on eternal patrol from two accidents alone, the two most recent and catastrophic since the end of WWII, and they are not alone, but in good company.  I would hazard a guess that the sub fleet has lost a higher percentage of sailors during peacetime to accidents and mishaps than any other branch of the service.  It was the same in wartime, and we constantly remind ourselves that survival depends on constant attention to detail.  And so we train.  Constantly.  We have an insanely long training pipeline before we even get to a boat, and then, once we are there, we start all over.  And then the drilling and inspecting continues.  We never stop, because we never want it to happen again.  And even so, sometimes fate deals us a losing hand, and we lose a shipmate.  How do you keep people going in such conditions?  You tell them that to even be selected to such a service makes them elite, and the constant training makes them even more so.  And so we become confident, because we have to be.  Second guessing ourselves can be almost as dangerous as incompetence (almost, but not quite).  To some, that confidence seems to be arrogance.  But I will never tell my brothers to not think that way.  We have to.

But why do we so roundly, and joyously, abuse our fellows, both on the boat, or in other parts of the service?  Well, campers, it has to do with that low tolerance for stupidity I mentioned, plus our knowledge that we cannot suffer those who would freeze in a crisis.  And so we test each other.  Brutally.  If you have never been underway on a sub, and see the crew let down the façade they put on for PR purposes, let me tell you, it is an eye opening experience.  It is almost non-stop harassment, some in good fun, some not.  It allows us to see who knows what he is doing, who can handle pressure, and who does not.  And woe to the sailor who shows even the slightest hesitation or weakness.  Once exposed, his brethren will gang up to constantly poke into this unexplored territory, until the offender fixes himself or collapses.  It is often said that the submarine force eats its young, and this is not entirely untrue.  It has its purpose, though – it is hard, friends, to dismiss someone from the submarine service.  It is much easier to convince those that can not handle the stress that they would rather be elsewhere, and, as the sub service is strictly volunteer service within the service, if they should strongly express a desire to leave us, we will generally accommodate them.  Thus we enact Darwin’s rules among ourselves.  Is there a better way of handling such personnel in our ranks?  Probably.  But this is our way, it is tradition, and in a service so devoted to its tradition, changing it is hard.

So that explains why we are so hard on each other.  But why on other sailors, or other branches?  Well, we make a game of abuse underway, when we abuse our fellows.  We come to find the humor in it.  So, when we are ashore, and among the more civilized members of our society, we tend to forget that our humor has a rather nasty tone to some.  To us, well, it is in good fun.  Even more so than usual, since exposing a sore spot on others and poking at it mercilessly does not mean we might be ruining a crewmember.  So, yes, we abuse.  Consider it flattery, though.  We feel you, the objects of our abuse, are worth the effort – you are enough of a brother to earn our attention, and therefore, our friendly abuse.  The problems arise when others do not realize there is meant to be friendliness there.

So, before I finish up, let me dispel rumors that, as a submariner, I am an elitist prig.  I do truly value every other member of the Naval service, and here is why:

Skimmers – They truly fulfill every mission of the Navy.  Perhaps some do some missions better, but none do as many.  They do things other navies only dream about, they do really cool things, and some really boring things.  But the point is, they do them.  And without them, we submariners would be in the hurt locker.

Flyboys – They define forward presence.  Sure, we can project power with ships and big guns and missiles, but bringing the equivalent of another country’s entire air force into play just off their coast?  That is an undeniable attention getter.  Sure, they are often at their own level, far above us lowly 33 knot minds (good luck getting there without that 33 knot mover, though), but they make up for it often enough.

To this day, one of my most enjoyable experiences underway was vectoring in a surface ship to harass another unit we had found, and when it tried to hide, revectoring the skimmer, and then hearing it bring in a P-3 to join in the harassment.  Naval unity in action.

So, in the interest of continuing this theme of Naval unity, let me toss out a few gems I am sure we can all agree on:

Jarheads, despite what they may say, are our junior service, and, well, really freakin’ odd.

Army boys are, well, just silly (although they do manage to point out the best charities).

Zoomies are part of the military?  Really?

And because I cannot be all hugs and backslaps, one last point of dialogue:
ROTC clearly produces superior officers to the Academies.  Discuss.



At 6/22/2006, Blogger jeff said...

And direct commisioning and OCS beats both taxpayer funded education opportunities hands down.

At 6/22/2006, Blogger John of Argghhh! said...

Oh, I dunno, 'bout that, Jeff. I suspect the costs of ROT-CEE and OH-CEE-ESS are about the same.

As for Army Guys being silly, how can I argue that?

Castle Argghhh! Number 1 (and only) in Google for this, and this, and this.

Though if Google scans comments, that won't be true any more. *You'll* be in there, too!

At 6/22/2006, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...


I will admit to limited exposure to that flavor of occifer. The only direct commissioning types I knew were the Nuke School instructors, who were a special breed - Direct Input Limited Duty Officers, who were only commissioned to teach at the school for a few years, then mustered out. And yes, whoever came up with that designation had a sense of humor ;-)


Thanks for the reminder - I loved that post, if for no other reason than I could think to myself, "Well, at least I haven't do THAT to myself!"

At 6/22/2006, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

haven't *done*, dammit, DONE that to myself. *sigh*

At 6/22/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PBS, in essence you say the really Stupid Will Be Punished by the enitire military (not unique to the U.S. military), but all submariners attempt routinely to torment everyone. -Not bad, considering your advanced age and lifetime exposure to gadolinium.

At 6/24/2006, Blogger SonarMan said...

Jeez, why did you go and tell them that for? You've gone and told them all of our secrets, like we were all buds or something. What's gonna happen now is they'll follow us around like annoying little puppy dogs. Sheeesh!

Now when we zing them we won't get the satisfaction of seeing them get to 1SQ. Or... maybe we will because they're just dumbass skimmerpukes and they'll forget everything you said, so nevermind!

At 6/30/2006, Anonymous LCDR in title, MM2(SS) at heart said...

As a former MM2/SS (A-gang) who got a commission and went to the surface community, I can definately say there is a marked difference in our cultures. The guys on boats take their jobs seriously and have an unequaled work ethic. I still wear my dolphins and have them (in liu of the license plate) on the front of my truck. I worked harder and learned more while getting my dolphins than I did getting my SWO pin, no exageration.

At 7/03/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those are some pretty big words for a BubbleHead...and actually the hidden cost of most military officers is the real burden to our tax payers; the dead sailors/soldiers they produce through incompetence or arrogance...Have a good 4th my BubbleHead Friend.


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