My first sea tour: USS Lafayette SSBN 616
When I discovered I was going to a ballistic missile submarine, I had to quickly acquaint myself with the routine. Ballistic missile submarines consists of two operating crews (Blue and Gold). While the crews were stationed in Groton, Ct., the submarine was operating out of Holy Loch, Scotland. One crew would take over the submarine, execute an upkeep period of a few weeks and then go out to sea for about seventy days on patrol. Basically, the sub finds a nice quiet spot in the ocean and hides. You just wait for the message you don't want to receive and conduct a lot of training. After the patrol period is up, you return to Scotland, where the other crew is waiting to take over the submarine and repeat the cycle your crew just performed. Once relieved by the other crew, you fly back to Groton, Ct. and spend about four weeks in "stand down". During that time, you could take leave or show up at the office for a few hours a week unpacking materials and organizing the office. Once the stand down period was over, you conducting your training cycle. The whole purpose of this cycle was to improve the crews knowledge and get the crew ready for the next time they took over the submarine. It was a regular cycle that some really enjoyed because people could plan their lives around it.
Holy Loch, Scotland is a small inlet off of the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. In the middle of the loch was a submarine tender and a floating dry dock. It was referred to as "site one".
Site one. Note the SSBN next to the submarine tender.
Most of my first patrol was spent qualifying my junior watch stations and there is not much to describe. Qualifications is part of life on board a submarine and it goes extra for the nuclear trained personnel. It takes about one to two years for a "nuc" to qualify their senior watch stations. For me it was Reactor Operator. You have to stand watches with a qualified watch stander as well as perform casualty drills with them. It is quite extensive and very difficult to learn how to operate a nuclear plant on board a submarine and the Commanding Officer has the final say on those that stand the Reactor Operator and the supervisory watch stations in the plant.
In addition to qualifying your nuclear watch stations, the "nucs" also have to work on their submarine qualifications. This is learning the rest of the submarine and all the systems that make the submarine operate. Once the qualifications are complete, you have an oral board with three other qualified submariners and an officer. After demonstrating you have satisfactory knowledge, they qualify you and you get to wear your "Dolphins", the insignia of a submariner.
Earning your dolphins is a big event for a new submariner
The patrol was relatively uneventful and routine except for one big event in which the entire crew participated. We crossed the Arctic Circle, which meant we were initiated into the "Blue Nose" fraternity. For those familiar with the shellback celebration, the "blue nose" is very similar. It can be traced back to the days of sailing ships. When crews crossed the equator, it was considered a rite of passage for a new sailor and it was signified by a ceremony that was "brutal" by today's standards. Our "blue nose" initiation was fairly mild. The first thing that happened is you were told to strip down to your underwear and then were sent to the Torpedo Room bilge, where cold water from the ships tanks were sprayed upon us. The temperature of the water was pretty cold (slightly above freezing) but it was not like we were dunked into it. We then crawled through the passageway to the crews mess, where we were treated to a simulated haircut by the royal barber and taste of some royal grog that was something vile. We then moved on to crawling through a trough of garbage. As best I can tell, it was all edible but it sure did not smell like it. Upon exiting the chute, we had to take a seat on a rather large block of ice as we were addressed by the royal court. I also recall having to drink more grog as I awaited my opportunity to address the baby. The "baby" is the heaviest guy on board and we had a very large man as the baby. Inside the baby's belly button was a cherry and it was your job to get it out. If that is not bad enough, the baby's belly was covered with more disgusting, but edible, materials. I think the prime ingredient was peanut butter. As my face was pressed against the belly, I recall my first class petty officer's recommendation, "Don't use your tongue, just suck the cherry out". I was able to extract the cherry quickly. With the most disgusting part complete, the commanding officer painted my nose blue and I was sent to the showers. As one last cruel twist, the electricians had removed all the hot water heater fuses. The showers used to clean up had only cold water! As a consolation, I was awarded this certificate in my service record. It was worth it....I guess. At least I would not have to endure the ceremony again.
Royal order of the Bluenose
Once the patrol was complete we returned to Groton, Connecticut and began the off-crew cycle. By this time I was aware the ship was going to Newport News, Virginia for a refueling overhaul in January. Parts of each crew were selected and combined into a new crew. Most of those selected were junior personnel, who would have enough time in service to be around at the end of the overhaul period. As a result, I was allowed to be part of that crew. Prior the submarine going into the shipyard, the submarine made a cruise down to Puerto Rico where training was conducted with some other ships as well as for the crew. During that time, many of the junior crew members (myself included) earned their dolphins. Here is the Commanding Officer giving my dolphins in the Control room between the periscopes.
Hooray, I am a qualified submariner!
The shipyard period was very interesting and took over two years. We worked extremely hard in the engineering plant as it was a refueling overhaul. Removing and installing a new reactor core was no easy task. We also upgraded and refurbished all of our equipment. During that time, I received several awards. The first was my initial Good Conduct medal. I think the engineer at the time referred to it as an award for "Four years of undetected crime", which is appropriate. Anyway, enlisted men get the medal for not getting into any serious trouble while they are serving. This is me receiving the medal with several others.
Four years of "undetected crime".
We also received an award for the hard work we performed during the shipyard period. Note that I am a second class, have one red hash mark for my good conduct award, and I am wearing my Dolphins.
A letter of commendation and handshake
Just before we left the shipyard, my Senior Chief got me assigned as the Engineering Logroom Yeoman. At the time, I was pretty upset because it took me away from the thing I enjoyed the most. That being maintaining the electronics equipment in the reactor plant. This photograph was taken of me shortly after we left Newport News in the logroom office.
The Logroom yeoman's job is not that glorious
Notice the "dialex" phone behind my right shoulder. It operated just like telephone circuit and was independent of the normal sound powered phone circuit used throughout the ship. From what I remember, this system never worked.
My efforts as the Logroom Yeoman position actually was a pretty good deal and my Senior Chief realized what he was doing because it gave me a lot of knowledge about the inner workings of the administrative parts of the engineering plant. I guess the chief figured I needed that training for my future career.
In the summer and fall of 1983, the submarine went through a shakedown period where we test fired torpedoes and went through inspection periods. We enjoyed a trip to Port Canaveral, Florida, which was a good time for the "nucs" because we did not have much to do while the weapons department had a lot of work. The sub went to sea and a couple of us got to stay ashore. As a result, I got to take this picture as the submarine came back from being out for a day.
Woo Hoo! Watching the sub come into port from the other side.
We then spent some time in the bahamas for torpedo testing. At one point there was a break in operations. The Captain then stopped the submarine and held a swim call for the crew. It was fun for all and here is a photograph of me in front of the sail after taking a dip.
Swimming in the Bahamas, submarine style
By November of 1983, we were just about ready to take the submarine back on the patrol routine but we had to go to Charleston, SC where they loaded us up with our missiles. There were lots of Marines surrounding the sub during that time as well as at least one armored vehicle. To be honest the Marines were pretty scary and you had to watch where you stepped when leaving or boarding the sub. About the same time, I was advanced to First Class Petty Officer.
ET1 (SS) Printy get to work on your Engineering Watch Supervisor qualifications
My Senior Chief now pointed out that I was a supervisor and had to learn to be one. He also suggested that I think about my next tour of duty. If I qualified Engineering Watch Supervisor (EWS), I could be stationed in Orlando, Florida at Naval Nuclear Power School. Additionally, they were going to open up a new school at Orlando called Nuclear Field "A" school. It was to consolidate all the training for the nuclear trained personnel in one area. I was very interested in going to Orlando, Florida because I loved the base when I was a student there. Things were looking up for me.
In early 1984, the ship returned to Scotland and resumed the normal patrol routine. I was no longer the Logroom Yeoman but I received an award for the work I did while I was serving in that capacity. This photograph shows the presentation of that award. While we were at sea, I tried to grow a beard. Unfortunately, I was not very successful. It really did not matter because the Navy banned beards about this time.
The old "grip and grin"
I eventually did qualify EWS and it gave me some additional free time to see some of Scotland. This photograph was taken of me on the pier near Dunoon, Scotland, which is not far from Holy Loch.
An unusually nice day in Dunoon, Scotland
I also went to Edinburgh and saw the Castle. That was pretty cool. This is a picture of me with "Arthur's seat" and "Salisbury crags" in the background. Arthur's seat is an extinct volcano. I did not expect to see anything volcanic in Scotland.
Sightseeing in Edinburgh, Scotland.
My last patrol on USS Lafayette was completed in the fall of 1984 and I returned to Groton, Connecticut to find orders to my desired shore duty, Naval Nuclear Field "A" school in Orlando, Florida.
Nuclear Field "A" school Orlando, Florida
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