A Reader Shares His Memories

A reader sends in his memories of serving on submarines:

“The Stupid Shall Be Punished!” Yeah I heard that from MMCM/SS Tommy Connell back when he was the Unfiltered Camel Smoking, 2-3 pack a watch COB on the 617B out of Holy Loch in the early 80’s, he was my first COB and the man did make an impression. During off crew he was also famous for saying during the weekly all hands “One if you will die this off-crew.” And he was right, someone either died in an accident or came damn near close to it but lived. Interesting times which seemed to happen so long ago but also seems like yesterday.
Every once in a while I catch a whiff of boat or what reminds me of the boat smell, a few years ago I found my old A2 jacket I wore on the boat, yeah the green one and the one I stole and kept for my personal use. It was brand new and the guy responsible for the inventory on the boat was my running mate so we all know how that works. Anyway I pulled it out of the box and it still had that smell. Not as strong as it used to be but that smell alone just brought back a flood of memories both good and bad.
I was Boomer Sailor more specifically a SWS Nav ET a SINS Tech and I was never going to a fast attack unless I got another NEC. In Sub School our entire class was SWS, everything we were taught was boomer-centric, all the instructors were SWS and we were either going to be Nav ET’s, FTB’s or MT’s, we would find out that after the Sub School Survivors all went to Dam Neck together for A school. But we were segregated for a reason, every day we were reminded what we volunteered for…Submarines and Nuclear Weapons. We were the ones who were going to be trained to launch those missiles no matter what. Think about it…. who in there right thinking mind would give 19 and 20 year olds the knowledge and skills necessary to destroy the world? Pretty nuts if one thinks about it but it was and still is necessary.
SWS ‘A’ school was nothing but math and electronics for 26 weeks and LOTS of drinking, partying and being reminded daily that we were going to be nuking the world! It was also drilled into our heads we were the cream of the crop, better then the nukes, which IMHO still believe to this day. That is when people started dropping out of the SWS program out of my original A Schools class we lost 50% most were sent back to redo a week or 2 a fair number were sent to easier A schools after failing to many weeks but unless they were a total fuck up they stayed in the submarine community.
‘C’ School was across the street from ‘A’ School at Dam Neck, only lost 2 out of a class of 10 and the party did not stop either. The guys I went to sub school with were all in C school classes together but after about 16 weeks of C school guys started heading off to the fleet. Being a SINS Tech my C school was the longest out of all the SWS classes, when I left Dam Neck only the guys in my class were left from my Sub School days that was by now over a year later.
I end up on the USS Alexander Hamilton, SSBN 617, Blue Grew. The COB was MMCM/SS Tommy Connell, not the biggest fan of NAV ETs and us SWS types but he did not pick on us, he pretty much left us alone as did most of the crew. A couple guys I was in Sub School and A school with were already on the boat too. We were special, we did not stand topside or below decks watches, we sat on our ass in the NavCenter in port. Most times actually working but still lots of time sitting on our ass. Well let me take that back we did sometimes stand top side and below decks but it was not often when it happened and it usually was only for a day or 2 at most. As for special, yes we were, all our guidance for the SWS Weapons System came from SSPO, they trumped all, even SEA08, Naval Reactors. The boat revolved around the Weapons Systems and the Nukes hated us for it too. They had to keep the NavCenter nice and cold, they had to keep the power on and chilled water flowing, their drills could not disturb the SWS Weapons System else they got their asses reamed. So I can understand the fair about of resentment some have for us SWS types, I almost think of us as our own little sub community of the larger submarine community.
I don’t have any good sea stories of Tommy Lee, I do know he was one of the best people I ever served with but I did not realize it at the time. He did sign off on the DC portion of my Qual Card, most were too terrified to have him do it too and yes it took a few hours to get the signature Still to this day I can name the location of every piece of DC gear on the boat. Even today I remember Tommy Lee on his hands and knees during field day scraping gunk out of the corners on the deck. The man never asked anyone to do something he would not do himself; he earned more respect for doing that then anything else he did. To this day that is how I operate with people who work for/with me.
Thinking back over the years Tommy Lee Connell made one of the biggest impressions upon me….” The Stupid Shall Be Punished” is a truism and applies to everything one does. Another thing he used to say was that ‘the people you served with on the boats are the best people you will ever work with in your life.’ That is also true. From time to time I get to work with people who wear dolphins some I know some I do not but without exception they are always the best people to work with. Another truism I learned in life was told to me by a Retired RMCS/SS, Fast Boat Sailor…”You Wear Dolphins, You can do Anything!” and that is also 100% true.