Military-LiveIamA Retired US Navy Chief, with 20 years of experience driving Los Angeles and Virginia Class submarines. I've been on multiple deployments, seen numerous countries, and I was personally involved in the open missile salvos of the 2nd gulf wa
May 11th 2016 by Dirtydeedsinc • 68 Questions • 2183 Points
I have been asked on several occasions to do this. I have always tried to remain humble about my life experiences but I'm willing to passionately discuss my time on and around submarines.
Proof: Here's a few pictures from my time in.
Also this periscope video of a couple of the missile launches.
There's also this collection of pictures from the embedded journalist during our missile strikes.
Edit: I have received an overwhelming amount of questions. I appoligize if I don't get to you immediately but I will try to answer each of you. Except the Trolls, I'm done feeding them for the day.
Edit 2: Thank you to all my fellow submariners who jumped in on this to help answer questions. I was having trouble answering everyone with anything more than a sentence or two.
Additional Proof that I am who I say I am. (Very unflattering) https://imgur.com/a/NHRMK
What are some lessons learned from the losses of the USS Scorpion and USS Thresher, and how do you apply that to the modern fleet?
I could talk about this for days. The SUBSAFE program was put in place to ensure that no one else died due to an engineering flaw. We train on this once a year. There are certain systems onboard that ship that are affected and require special procedures and materials.
What's the most accurate sub movie and why is it Down Periscope?
That's a great movie. It probably is one of the more accurate in modern history. Tom Clancy is an idiot. Hunt for Red October sucked. The old WWII movies are slow but very accurate when you take to the old salts.
So you would count 'Das Boot' to those old movies? Only submarine movie I ever saw and I only know about subs from TV and docs but it seemed pretty realistic.
Great movie. Run Silent, Run Deep is pretty good too.
Haven't seen it. I'll add it to my list.
Has an animal ever been a threat to your vessel? I know the vessel is massive but anything that gave you guys a slight scare?
Believe it or not, Barnicles, they completely clog up the pipes after a while.
Whats the most difficult task or work in sub? 2. Staying underwater have any psychological effects on you?
Honestly, there is no easy job and no hard job. Every job has it's perks and every job has it's shitty parts. The real hardest part is your first year on submarines. You are expected to get qualified to stand watches and learn the ship inside and out as quickly as possible. This takes roughly a year. You learn a lot. Everything from firefighting to ship's construction.
Have you ever tracked another sub, US or otherwise?
If so, is it difficult?
And, if you can answer this, how would your boat have gone about sinking an enemy sub, is firing a torpedo really all there is to it?
Without getting classified, I'll say: Yes, Yes and Yes.
What made you want to stay enlisted? I know most people go back and forth on if they want to stay in, get out, or try to go officer. Was there a particular instance where you just said "I'm going to do the full 20."?
I'm just not officer material. I was happy being a Chief. I was able to be a father figure to a lot of young men. Sure, officers make more money but there's more to it that just money. In the end, I know there are kids (now men) then will remember me for the rest of their lives with a fondness in their hearts. Even after being out for several years, I have guys call and text me all the time. I'm prouder of that than any other accomplishment in my life.
In any organisation, the military especially, it is impossible to overestimate the value of true leadership. If after all these years your guys still stay in touch, that says more than all the brass on your uniform.
Diver here. Why do we keep finding used condoms in your TDU?
Also do you guys purposely run drills while SOF is sleeping?
Seriously though, you guys don't get paid enough, the hours you guys work is unreal, especially in port. I've only been a rider and I know theres no way i could do it. Thank god someone's willing to do it
Yes. It's just to piss you guys off though.
Today for lunch you can have any food you had on a sub. What do you choose?
Driving at periscope depth in the Artic Ocean during the winter time. The Ocean is a very unforgiving place. Despite the fact that you are in a vessel that weighs 6700 tons you can get tossed around like a bath toy. Trying to maintain a balance between not broaching (sticking a portion of the ship out of the water) and not sinking out while trying to see where we are going and/or communicate. We would do this for 6 hours straight, 12 hours off, and then back on, for months at a time. It sucked.
I had to start taking Vitamin D due to the lack of fresh milk and sunlight. I have joint damage but it's origins are debatable.
I remember reading somewhere that the crew on a sub basically loses the notion of a 24 hour day and essentially lives life in 8 hour segments. Is this accurate? What kind of adjustment is it after a long deployment in regards to getting your circadian rhythm back to normalcy?
When I was in it was 6 hour segments. 6 on 12 off, then repeat. You get use to it. Submariners can always sleep. The quickest way to get use to 24 hours again is exposure to the sun.
Chief, whats your rate? You look a lot like an old chief of mine. Are you a beardog?
OP always delivers. Sometimes it's a bit late but it'll get there eventually.
Understanding that movies have a Hollywood element to make them more appealing to the masses and are not a measuring stick for reality, I'm just curious as to your take on which movies are the most similar to life on a real submarine? It would be amazing if you said Down Periscope but I doubt that, lol. Also, in film, there are varying claims made about maximum depth of submarines, but I just saw a show (Impossible Engineering) about the newest class of subs saying they have a max depth of around 800 feet. Understanding that the actual performance thresholds are probably classified, can you give a range of safe maximum depths that modern subs can get down to?
The unclassified version is in excess of 800'. You can speculate from there. No movie really captures it completely but I do love down periscope. We are a bunch of sarcastic assholes.
Honest question: for long duration space travel (e.g. going to Mars) do you think NASA would be better off trying to court submariners than USAF / civilians?
There has already been a Submariner turned Astronaut. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Bowen_(astronaut)
About how many US Navy subs are out there actively patrolling the oceans?
We have roughly 70 in the fleet. While I can not discuss particulars you would be safe in assuming that half of them are out there at any time. Not all of them are deployed, quite a few will just be out training.
No, it was more bad than good but those good days were pretty awesome.
It might be selfish of me but every time congress even thinks about reducing veterans benefits of raising insurance premiums for retirees, I get pissed. I signed up and served under a promise. They have no right to change the terms of the deal after the fact.
What is the coolest place you have surfaced?
Do submariners have hobbies like diving? Or are they sick of the water and play golf.
Do subs carry firearms for the crew?
What is the coolest place you have surfaced?
About 2000 yards in front of an aircraft carrier for a photo op.
As for hobbies, we have large assortment of guys from all over the country. Our hobbies are as varied as the people are.
We are more than capable of defending ourselves. That's the most I can say about that.
It's cramped. I'm 6'3" and 250lbs. Even if you are a little guy there isn't much room. There's very little privacy. We are a very close community. Underways are long. Sleep is a rarity. The food is good, you get use to the lack of sunlight.
Or you can just go to the head and lock the stall when no one else is in there.
Source: RM on the USS Topeka for three years.
I thought that's why the Radio door was always locked.
Do you actually have an area to cook and eat down there? How many days worth of food could you manage to bring on each trip?
I've never even seen a sub, so I haven't got the faintest clue what it's like.
The crew's mess seats up to 24 at a time. We have a fully galley and can make anything you can think of. We carry several months worth of food although the fresh fruit and vegetables as well as the milk don't last a week. Then it's all canned or frozen. Submarine Cooks do an amazing job.
What do you think of the new sub drones? I'm curious about the practicality of them from an experienced driver.
I honestly know very little about them. They are highly classified and beyond my scope of work.
During the course of fulfilling your duties, did you consider yourself "in the loop" informationally at the same level as, say, the captain? For instance, it was obviously vital for you to know that you had to get somewhere, and maybe in a certain way, but were there ever situations where you were in the dark (at least temporarily) about why you were going there?
I'm mostly interested in how big a picture you had access to on missions or whether somebody meted out little bits of it as things unfolded.
I was in the control room on missions, so yes, I would say I was very in the loop. That being said, the crew knows what we are doing and where we are.
All of it. I'm on my first after lunch cup right now.
I always love when Submariners do these. Submarines to me are very interesting, I have watched probably every documentary there is on You Tube about them. Thank you for doing this. I have a few questions.
- Whats it like going through canals like the Suez or Panama? I watched a video of a Sub going through a lock in the Panama Canal, and was just wondering how that works. video
- When subs surface in the Artic through the ice. How does that work? I assume very slowly, but do they have to choose a good spot to go up or just where ever they want?
I've been thru the Suez 6 times, once right after 9/11. It's a tight fit with no room from error. You basically have less than a ship's width on either side. Subs are very deep drafting vessels.
As for the Artic, You have to look it up but they use sonar to find a polynya or an area of very shallow ice. There are some good articles out there.
My Father was in the Navy during the Cold War.
He served on both the Batfish and Kamehameha.
He says to this day that, if he had to, he could still take control and "drive" the sub. Like riding a bike, he says.
My question to you is, are the controls still essentially the same? Could my father actually do what he thinks he could? Thanks!
Basically yes. He probably could.
I just yesterday finished reading Michael Gannon's Black May about the war against the U-boats in WWII. While I obviously was rooting for the Allies, I couldn't help but feel sympathy for the things some of those U-boat men went through - we're all human in the end.
Were there any times underway where you felt genuinely scared, or situations where you felt like the boat was in imminent danger with you aboard? I can only imagine the usual concerns a sailor at sea might have in a danger situation would be all the more when you're not readily able to escape.
Congratulations on retirement, and thanks for doing an AMA!
I remember one time we had lost all power and were running on the batteries during a casualty drill. Something happened and we couldn't shift to out backup propulsion. The ships slowed to a point were the control surfaces no longer had an effect on depth. Add to this that we were ballasted too heavy. The boat started to sink out. The water we were in had a thermal barrier in it and the second we went thru it we got a lot heavier. As our depth increased faster and faster we did what we could to pump water off the boat and restore propulsion. The Captain announced that if we hit a certain depth we would emergency blow. The danger was significant but we still had a way out of it. Needless to say, we survived. It probably only lasted 15 minutes but it felt longer.
For the lay person, can you describe what an emergency blow is?
An emergency main ballast tank blow is a procedure used aboard a submarine that forces high-pressure air into its main ballast tanks. The high-pressure air forces ballast water from the tanks, quickly lightening the ship so it can rapidly rise to the surface.
Anytime you see footage of a sub "jumping out of the water" that's it.
I was on the Emergency Medical Assistance Team. We had a guy fall down the stairs and got a compound fracture in his forearm. It's all fun and games until the bones are sticking out.
Whats the weirdest thing that has ever happened while you were deployed?
Some guy in a bar tried to fight me because he thought George Bush was the devil incarnate and I was his minion.
Personally, what do you see as the greatest future threat to U.S. military superiority?
The National Debt
Decades. The Virginia Class is designed to run 34 years without refueling.
Hey there Chief, thank you for your service. Are there any advantages/disadvantages of being a member of the submarine service and how does it stack up against a top side position say on a destroyer or carrier?
I feel like we got away with more on submarines. You can talk shit without going to captains mast. Also, we typically promote faster.
Have you played any submarine simulation or other games like Dangerous Waters, Sub Command, Silent Hunter series, Aces of the Deep, Harpoon, Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations, etc?
I can't remember which one. I was too good at it. When you have the real procedures memorized it takes some of the fun away.
What was the process like starting as a private and moving up to become a submarine pilot?
Also, how exactly does one "drive" a submarine? The artic ocean story you shared made it seem a lot more difficult.
You start as a Seaman. believe it or not on the older classes of submarine, driving is one of the most junior watchstations. So at 18 years old, I had 135 lives and a $2 billion submarine in my hands. You get better and better with experience. They don't just throw you into a shit storm on the first day.
Did you ever come into contact with a submarine from another country that your were not expecting?
Example: Patrolling the Arctic, and all of the sudden a Russian sub appears.
If I did, I couldn't tell you.
I don't care about race, religion, gender, sexual preference. If you can do your job welcome aboard. If not you don't belong here.
How often did you come in contact with whales? Did you ever see megalodon? Did any sea creature of any sort ever attack the sub you were in? Did you ever hear any crazy sea stories about anything I mentioned?
While we can't see underwater, we would occasionally see whales. Dolphins on the other hand we would see all the time. They like to jump in the bow wake while we are transiting on the surface. It pretty cool to witness.
What's the longest duration you've "been under?" - i.e., how long were you in the sub while it was submerged and you didn't see daylight.What was it like, any worse than usual?
I've gone 76 days without so much as even seeing sunlight thru the periscope. It's no worse that normal. It just gets old. The crew gets snippy.
I've heard being in a submerged vessel is more like being on an airplane rather than a boat due to the currents, is this true?
Once you are below the waves yes. The only difference is when I'm flying I'm constantly worried about dropping to my death suddenly.
I wish I could. That looks so badass on a battle flag.
Former navy brat here. My ex step father spent many years on fast attacks and tridents in the pacific fleet in the 80's and 90's. His boats include the Dallas ( pre hunt for red october) Henry M Jackson, Portsmith, and a couple others I'm forgetting. He was a TM Cheif.
Over your career, how has personal technology changed your day to day while underway? I remember sending telegraph style messages to him that were limited to 30 words.
How is/was your family situation during and post career?
What was your favorite purchase from a foreign port?
Thanks for your service and sacrifice.
My first underway was in 94. There were no laptops, no handhelds, no emails from home. By my last underway, I was getting emails daily, playing on my laptop, We had big flatscreen TVs. It's a world of difference.
Family situation is great. We are glad it's all over. I do still travel for work on occasion but it's no where near the tempo and duration of before.
I have a handmade hour glass from Koper Slovenia that I keep quite safe. It's very ornate. All that being said. I have a submarine warfare ring that was made for me in Bahrain. It was a diamond emerald and ruby in it. I wear it everyday.
This is something I've always wondered about life/duty on submarines.
How can you guys tell what part of the day it is? Especially when it was a time before ubiquitous cell phones, did the Navy make sure everybody had a watch, or did you just have to trust the guy telling you its time for breakfast?
The messenger comes around and does wake ups for the oncoming section. You know what time it is based on the meal. Seriously.
Given the wars in middle East and the rise of terrorism what are your thoughts on spending more on cyberwar, unmanned tech /special ops versus building expensive and big equipment for conventional warfare?
A well balanced approached it probably best. Submarines have a lot of capabilities that aren't advertised. We have been involved in the war of terror from it's inception.
Proof time, Chief. Are you typing your own answers, or watching someone type while you drink coffee and shine a flashlight at the screen?
(I'm only half kidding here. I had some pretty great chiefs while I was in. They'd be right in the bilges cleaning along with the rest of us.)
He thinks I'm writing what he says. Send help. I'm here against my will. /s