11 September 2006

Groton, CT, 11 Sept 2001

There is nothing like rolling out of bed around 0430. Typical for a duty day. It was bound to be a busy day, though. We were in upkeep, more equipment had been ripped out of the forward part of the boat than I care to recollect, and the engineering spaces were in a shambles as we prepped to conduct a dual media discharge (of our primary coolant ion exchanger and primary cooler filter for the non-nuclear among us).

All this added up to be a lot on my plate for the upcoming 24 hours. Why did it all concern me? Well, I was the oncoming Ship’s Duty Officer, so I would be overseeing the work on all the tactical systems, I was the Main Propulsion Assistant, so I was responsible for training up the Engineering Department for the DMD (and the boat who had just gone through this evolution had a few, ahhh, difficulties with it, so we *knew* we would be under the microscope), and the Engineer was med down with a 104 degree fever, so, as the senior Eng. Dept. JO, I was acting Eng as well. Fun fun.

Just before 0800, I got relieved by our Navigator, so that I could conduct section training on the working barge for the Engineering department. Making this training anything other than deadly dull is hard, but I was doing well, helped in part by pelting guys who were zoning out with candy and reminding them all of the difficulties faced by our brothers who had screwed this up.

About an hour into the two scheduled hours of the training, LT K, one of my compatriots on the boat, stuck his head into the training area and said, “LT PBS, get everyone back to the boat, ASAP.” I was annoyed. This training had to get done, and LT K was, well, not helpful on a good day, and with the weight of responsibility on my shoulders, I wanted no hitches, including my training getting screwed up.

“P (he almost never used my first name), the country has been attacked. Get back to the boat.” I vaguely remember hustling the guys back to the boat. We got down to crew’s mess just in time to see the second plane hit.

Read the rest of the day's events in the Full Post

I ran up to control, to reassume the duty and do anything to try and not feel quite so impotent as I currently did. I found the Weps (bless him, almost always on the ball, even if his temper sometimes got the best of him) yelling at the Nav to start increasing the readiness of the boat and do what we could to get underway. The Nav simply looked dumbfounded.

“Do you want me to take back the duty?” I asked the two of them. The Weps said, “I need you to be Eng. Go back aft and see what you can do to get the plant steaming, ASAP. Half the boats in port are already on their way out. The Duty Chief is arming the watchteam, make sure the guys back aft understand why they are armed, and get them moving.” I nodded and headed aft.

I got aft to Maneuvering and found Ltjg C, the Engineering Duty Officer, and pelted him with questions: “What do we have to do to get the plant steaming? Have you made preparations to start an OP-8 (precritical checks for reactor startup, back when we still did ‘em)? Have you briefed on the possibility of doing an emergency reactor startup?” He shot me a blank stare. “C, why aren’t you armed yet?” He raised his arm, and showed me the 9mm in its belt, dangling from his hand. “Do you have a handle on this?” He replied, “No.” I remember being angry that he seemed so lost. Looking back, I am glad he was at least honest about it.

I took the duty and called in the Engineering Duty Petty Officer. Thankfully, it was the Machinery division Leading Petty Officer, MM1(SS) P. He was as wide as he was tall, but he knew the plant backwards and forwards, and was as strong in both theory and practical knowledge as anyone on the boat. We quickly put our heads together to figure out what would keep us from getting the boat to sea. The outlook was not good.

Weeks before, the boat had put the plant into Cold Wet Layup. Since it was assumed that we would be shutdown for weeks, due to the pending DMD, parts that could not normally be removed, due to their necessity while the plant was steaming, had been taken out for maintenance. Only the Port Turbine Generator could be brought up for power, or the Starboard Main Engine. We could not, however, bring up both due to various gauges being removed.

We called in the Electrical Division Chief and LPO. The E-div CPO was a good guy, and absolutely by the book. It was a running joke in the Eng Dept. that if it weren’t for the heads having procedures for use posted nearby, he would die of constipation. He informed us that it would be possible to take some of the needed gauges from the port side, and get the starboard side turbine generator operational, so we could steam the whole starboard side of the engineroom. However, doing so would require securing power to a major electrical bus, so we would have to wait a few hours to perform the work.

The reason for the potential several hour delay was because of what was happening in the forward end of the boat. Squadron had come to the realization that, even if we did get to sea, with the boat torn down to parade rest, we would not be able to get anywhere useful quickly, and, once we got there, we wouldn’t be able to fire anything other than small arms. So they had decided to pull all our Tomahawk missiles off us and give them to potential shooters. In order to index and move those missiles off the boat, though, our power had to stay on. However, they still wanted us to get to sea ASAP, as the news of the Pentagon getting hit had now arrived, and the prospect of this being larger than a single attack was looming, and having nuclear reactors just sitting in port waiting to be hit was not a comforting one.

So we had a dilemma. We could not delay the missile indexing, but we had to get the engineroom up in some capacity so that we could get to sea. The E-div CPO advised me to tell the Captain we would just have to wait until they were done with the weapons. I nodded sadly, and then told him they were having problems with a breaker constantly tripping up forward, and it was slowing down the weapons work. I requested that he take one of his EM2’s and see if he could help. He agreed and headed forward. As soon as he left, I turned to the E-div LPO, and asked, “Ok, so how quickly can we get this done?” “Do we have C.O.’s permission to work on energized gear?” “Assume we do.” “30, 40 minutes tops.” “Very well, switch the gauges.” “Switch the gauges, aye sir.”

I headed forward to let the C.O. know our status, and get his permission for the work I had just authorized in his name. I had a little trouble getting through the watertight door, due to the 12ga. I had been issued during my time back aft – no one was quite sure how we should arm the watchstanders, but everyone was quite sure that if we had weapons remaining in the weapons locker, we were doing something wrong. I passed the 12ga. Off to the offgoing belowdecks watch, as he was quick reaction force, and would, if the worst happened, need it more than I.

I got to the wardroom and found not only the C.O., but the X.O., Weps, Nav (still the Duty Officer), and the Squadron Deputy (who also happened to be our old C.O.). They were discussing our timeline for getting out of port, and the operational details, such as sortie areas, and the few-hours old requirement to now be escorted out by armed escorts from the nearby Coast Guard station (collocated with the Coast Guard Academy across the river).

Since I came into the wardroom through the scullery, I walked in right behind the C.O.’s chair, and right into the spotlight. Ooops. Quickly, the Squadron Deputy asked, “So, LT PBS, are you going to be able to bring up the engineroom at all?” Apparently, he had been briefed on what our status had been this morning. That was, however, hours ago. “Yes sir. Capt.,” I said, turning to the C.O., “Request permission to perform an OP-8 precritical checkoff. The engineroom will be ready to steam the starboard side in half an hour.” The deputy cocked his head, “How did you manage that?” “We simply handled it, sir.” The deputy, who had called me one of the sleaziest, but effective, JO’s on the waterfront when he had been our C.O., smiled, and said, “I understand.” The CAPT then told me to call him once the engineroom was ready, and then we would discuss the OP-8.

E-div, working quickly and efficiently for the one and only time I can remember, had the engineroom ready to steam in the promised 30 minutes. However, when I called the CAPT, he informed me that, even with the engineroom ready to go, and the holes in our sail patched with steel plates, squadron did not want to risk sending us to see barely seaworthy. We were to be one of two subs left in port, the other one being in drydock. It was crushing. No one in the military wants to stand idle in a crisis, even if the action you are taking does not contribute to the immediate solution, at least you are doing *something*.

Some of our crew did get tapped to replace crewmen on other boats who were either med down or unable to get on base due to the security lockdown. However, the majority of us had to stay in port. I relieved the Nav of Duty Officer, but spent the rest of the evening with Ltjg C, who was once again Engineering Duty Officer, helping him put the engineroom back into a shutdown condition.

The only excitement that remained came around 2100, when I got a panicked call from the topside watch. I went topside, and he pointed me towards the Auxiliary Security Force that had been hastily stationed at the end of every pier. I went down to see what the ruckus was, only to hear it had been a false alarm. One of the locals had headed up river first thing in the morning to get some fishing or crabbing in, and had headed back down the river once the sun set. However, as he got near the base, the new, and very jumpy, Coast Guard patrol boats had swooped in with spotlights and M-60’s to stop this unexpected intruder. Apparently they had almost given the poor man a coronary.

So, in the end, there was much running about, a lot of confusion, and in the end, we were left behind, waiting to do our part. It would not come immediately, but it did come eventually. But that bit is for a different time.

Lex, Castle Argghhh!, Blackfive, and Eagle1, commemorate the 2996 dead.

CDR Salamander ensures we do not forget.

Steeljaw Scribe gives a firsthand account of the attack on the Pentagon. Just click there and keep scrolling.


At 9/11/2006, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

As a postscript:
Our XO's wife, unbeknownst to the rest of us, worked in the Pentagon. He did not manage to get a hold of her until the next day. Her cell phone had been in her purse – and while she wanted to go back for it, a coworker convinced her not too. It was a good call, as when salvage teams went in later, her entire office was destroyed.

He did not tell us this until months later.


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