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A Submariners Life

Taken from the Silent Sentinel, May Edition 2002

These undersea James Bonds ply the depths in cramped quarters. It seems crazy but there's nothing they'd rather do.

They're a funny breed, these submariners. They score at the top of the military entrance exams and can thrive for weeks beneath the surface of the sea in what amounts to a sophisticated tin can loaded with some of the world's most lethal weapons. They have their own rituals and initiations; their own language and bars. They tell jokes, love a good prank and will wrestle on the floor like puppies.

Their conversation can range from muscle cars to philosophy and physics almost in the same breath.

Without the benefit of a calculator they can calculate the ocean's salinity at 400 feet, the water pressure and the sub's buoyancy, then make adjustments on control panel that appear more scientific than military. Scientific Americans are in the head and Nietzsche in the galley. "There are a lot of really intelligent people in here It's one of the best things about this job," said Lt. J.G. Pau Seitz, who joined the Navy after graduating from college with a degree in physics.

"As a submariner, you get to have a James Bond life," explained Cmdr. Howard Trost, a former commanding officer of the US Ohio. "When you're at home, you're helping the kids with algebra and working out in the yard. When you go to sea you go to a whole different world."

Sailors who score at the top of the military aptitude tests in maths and science are generally offered a chance to join the Submarine fleet. If they opt in, they attend one of several specialised training schools, teaching them how to run a reactor, or supervise the underwater launch of a nuclear missile.

They also train for life below the sea, including how to cope with emergencies such as fire and flood. "There are two thing we fear: water in the people tank and fire," said Master Chief Dave Johnson, the head of curriculum and instruction at the training facility. "And we train for the worst that could happen."

The all-male crew submarines are one of the last bastions to prohibit women from serving aboard ship are part of a exclusive fraternity that few can imagine.

"What is it like to go out to sea?" I said, Master Chief Jerr Coss, the USS Alaska's Chief of Boat replied "Well, if you want an idea, first seal off your windows and doors and sleep under the coffee table. Hang a clipboard on your refrigerator and check something off on it every hour. "Then set your alarm to go off at random times, and when it goes off, get up, run around and do something that seems completely meaningless," he said laughing.

It's not surprising that with a schedule like that, the humour gets a little warped. "A sense of humour is very important. If you don't have one, you're not going to make it here," said Machinist's Mate 1st Class Zack Shepherd. They'll tell a new guy that someone has to swim to the mail buoy and then have him put on a wetsuit. They'll put a little hair remover in someone's shampoo while whispering about radiation poisoning. The lifestyle, isn't for most, submariners admit but for those who can hack it there isn't anything else they'd rather do. "Yes, we're a little bit crazy," said Command Master Chief Gary Flesher, the boss of all the enlisted submariners a Bangor. "People always say, 'How can you do it?' But we couldn't imagine doing anything else. To us, this is still the best job in the world.


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