‘Fraternity like no others:’ Blount submariners talk about force’s 114-year history
By Matthew Stewart | firstname.lastname@example.org | Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014 12:00 am
For members of the “silent service,” today is a hallowed day.
The U.S. Navy submarine force celebrates its 114 years of existence today. The submarine force was born April 11, 1900, when the Navy bought the submersible Holland VI from inventor John Holland.
Today’s submarine force consists of 63 attack, 14 ballistic-missile and four guided-missile submarines. Five attack submarines are currently under construction, and two attack submarines are under contract.
“As submariners, we definitely understand our history and the importance of this day,” said Blount County Veterans Affairs Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum, who served on the USS Louisiana, SSBN 743. “The submarine force is a fraternity like no others. We’re a small force with a rich tradition. When you earn your ‘dolphins’ (Submarine Warfare Insignia, the uniform breast pin to indicate someone is qualified in submarines), you become a brother to everybody who came before you.”
Weinbaum, who served January 2002 to October 2006, earned his “dolphins” on June 21, 2004. He completed five strategic deterrent patrols on the ballistic missile submarine, which was based out of Kings Bay, Ga., when he started serving on it but later relocated to Bangor, Wash.
“During my service, we were in the heat of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” he said. “We never forgot we were at war — even though we weren’t firing at each other. We would have done our duty and launched our missiles if the president ordered us.”
Weinbaum, who was an electronics technician/radioman second class, and other crew members work 18-hour days. Crews are divided into three watch sections. Each section is on duty (on watch) for six hours then spends 12 hours off watch.
During the 12 hours off watch, crew members engage in a wide variety of activities. They attend training sessions and study, both for advancement examinations and in order to become qualified to stand other watch stations, eat and perform routine preventive maintenance on their equipment.
“In the moment, it can be challenging,” said Daniel Hudson, who served on the USS Rhode Island, SSBN 740. “However, it’s a rewarding experience for the camaraderie and lifelong friendships.”
Hudson, who enlisted in 2006, served as a nuclear machinist mate until Dec. 13. He is currently serving as a liaison between government contractors and the Navy.
Submariners forge deep bonds and deep friendships with their peers, Weinbaum said. “We had 150 sailors aboard my ship; 150 sailors who learned every part, every system of their ship; 150 sailors who were capable of taking care of their ship, capable of putting out fires and stopping leaks; 150 sailors who placed their trust in each other and placed their lives in each other’s hands.”
A submariner’s experiences also transcend generations, he said. “As veterans affairs officer, I’ve been fortunate to meet submariners who served before me. I met a 90-year-old man and 100-year-old man who served in World War II, and we could relate to each other. Our experiences were different, but they were similar as well. You experience every emotion imaginable while at sea, underwater without a window.”
Hudson recently participated in a 20-year celebration of his former vessel’s commissioning ceremony and shared stories with former sailors. “We all share a bond independent of our term of service. It’s something that I’ve felt many times. I’ve attended U.S. Submarine Veterans meetings and met with World War II vets. We tell different stories, but they’re similar in a lot of ways, the personal perspectives, the interpersonal relationships.”
Submariners are “cut off from the rest off the world,” he said. “We’re out for 75 days. We don’t make phone calls. Emails are limited. We can only receive emails at periscope depth, which is infrequent. It’s absolute separation. When the hatch shuts and we dive ship, it becomes indescribable. We do our jobs, and the rest of the world moves on. When we get back to port, it’s always different. The little things surprise us. New songs on American Top-40 stations. New movies in the theaters, ones that we haven’t even seen previews for.”
Sports are also harder to follow, Hudson said. He attended the 2012 Chick-fil-A football kickoff game — UT and North Carolina State — in the Georgia Dome and saw the Vols rout the Wolfpack in a 35-21 victory.
“Anticipation was high,” he said. “The Vols were going to turn the corner that year. We were going to be good, and they looked good in that one. I went out to sea, and the weekend I got back we lost to Missouri. The season was lost, and (former head coach Derek) Dooley was out the door. The world just moves on while we’re at sea. The only constant seems to be (Maryville High School football coach) George Quarles and the Rebels, who just keep on winning. That’s the only constant I see.”