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Hello my friends, this is Ross and welcome to Live Love Play’s first live (as in living) blog. In this series of blogs I will be sharing experiences, adventures, and sea stories that I hope you all find entertaining. Today I want to share a more general story, a period of time that has dominated my life and shaped who I have become so far. My reflection of service in the US Navy.
I enlisted in the Navy straight out of high school. I knew that it was what I wanted to do very early on in life. Inspiration came from many places, first and foremost, being a family legacy: My grandfathers served in World War Two, my Mother’s Father in the Army and my Father’s Father in the Navy. My father also served in both the Air Force during Vietnam and the Naval Reserve after I was born. I will always feel a great sense of awe and respect for those who have served before me.
My other inspiration came from a very different source, Science Fiction. The early 90s was a golden age of TV Sci Fi, Seaquest DSV especially fascinated me as a kid. The idea of exploring the oceans in a submarine stirred my imagination like little else. The talking dolphin helped too, of course. The dynamic on screen of a small group of people, friends, family, and crew coming together and working to overcome obstacles was appealing to me in many ways. I wanted to be a part of a group like that.
So I made the decision. I enlisted, took my oath, signed my contract, and shipped out to Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, Illinois or as it’s more colloquially known, “Boot Camp”. If you’ve heard one boot camp story you’ve likely heard them all. Mine is no different. They shaved my head, issued me uniforms, and I was given detailed and explicit instruction for every aspect of life at RTC. But I’ll save the boot camp stories for another blog.
I graduated from RTC on September 11th 2003 and moved on to the next phase of my training, Naval Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut. As RTC teaches you the basics of being a sailor, Sub School teaches the basics of being a submariner. Sub School was followed by a “pipeline” of schools that would eventually lead to the selection of a specialization, or Rating, and the final school that goes with it before being assigned to a submarine.
This selection process is different for many rates, most are guaranteed on enlistment while others are placed in a selection program and assigned based on the Needs of the Navy. I was in one such program. I intended on being a Sonar Technician when I enlisted thanks in no small part to Jonesy from The Hunt for Red October. Thankfully when it came time for the selection board to make a decision we were given an opportunity to submit a “brag sheet” to the board listing our desired rates in numbered priority as well as a written statement on why we would be best in a specific rate. I was fortunate enough to be selected for Sonar.
The pipeline of schools proceeded as one would expect with long hours of study punctuated by physical training and marching drills. Independant study would often drag late into the night with my classmates and I doing what we could to stay engaged and focused. But distractions and boredom happen and we often found ourselves having wildly tangential conversations that would leave us either laughing or scratching our heads with confusion.
Graduation came at last and with it our first assignments. My class had the opportunity to choose where we wanted to go from a list provided by our Rating’s Detailer. Many chose ships stationed at bases close to home such as Virginia, Florida, California, and Washington. But I wanted to go somewhere new and different. In the end I decided on an exotic location and a ship I believed to be prestigious, the USS Los Angeles (SSN-688), or LA for short, out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The LA was commissioned in 1976 and was one of the oldest ships in the fleet at the time I was assigned to her. She was the first in her class and namesake for all other submarines of her type that would follow, 62 units in all. Before I arrived she completed 14 overseas deployments and was awarded 7 Meritorious Unit Commendations. To me, she was the Starship Enterprise.
My tenure on the LA was a long one. Where a typical sea tour is about three to four years mine lasted seven. Life is not easy on a submarine no matter your rank or rate. The ship is isolated in nearly every way from the surface world, no sunlight, no internet, limited contact, and even more limited fresh air. Over those seven years I completed 3 Western Pacific Deployments (WESTPAC), two Eastern Pacific Deployments (EASTPAC), multiple international naval exercises and innumerable US naval exercises. During those deployments the ship ranged across the Pacific Ocean stopping places like South Korea, Singapore, Alaska, and Guam.
My tour on the LA ended with the ship’s inactivation and decommissioning. In 2010 the ship arrived in the city of Los Angeles for a ceremony and a week later we arrived in Bremerton Washington to begin the lengthy process of equipment shutdown, system isolation, and ship disassembly. The ship was dry docked and one by one we shut down her systems. By the time I officially transferred, the ship was missing large portions of the hull and the reactor was scheduled to be transported to a disposal and storage facility.
For the next year I was back in school just north of Bremerton. Bangor, Washington is home to Sub Base Bangor and many of the Fleet’s most powerful ships, the Ohio Class Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBN). There I attended another pipeline of schools collectively known as “C” school. Where “A” school covered the basics of theory and operation “C” covered details of theory and equipment maintenance. Best of all, it was relatively close to Seattle where I spent nearly every weekend.
As another graduation came, so too did the next set of ordered assignments. While many in the small class were assigned to SSBNs out of Bangor and King’s Bay Georgia I was again fortunate to be assigned where I wanted, an SSN out of Pearl Harbor, the brand new Virginia class USS North Carolina (SSN-777).
I had been very fortunate in my career up to that point to have a degree of choice in assignments. But that fortune turned when I started the administrative check in process. I was stopped in the medical department where my record was flagged because of a shellfish allergy. In 2010 a new policy was passed stating that people with food allergies were ineligible for submarine service for medical safety reasons.
I was placed in a transfer-in-holding unit where I remained while the Navy determined where to put me next. I submitted paperwork to request a forced conversion to a Surface Navy rating and continued to wait. It was eight months before a decision was finally made and I was given a new rate as an Interior Communications Electrician (IC), the corresponding “A” school. and another four months before orders were received and I was transferred.
Surface “A” and “C” schools take place at the Training Support Center in Great Lakes, Illinois. Because I was returning from the fleet, I was given a leadership role in the class pipeline. I went out of my way to help my classmates — all but one were recent graduates of boot camp — with the highly compressed and fast paced course of study. The environment of Great Lakes was very different from my previous experiences at other bases. Due in part to the high volume of new sailors and the command climate, the base’s rules were far more restrictive than I was accustomed to. As a fleet returnee I was given more freedom of movement, but the environment weighed on me and I was eager to return to the fleet.
Graduation came quickly and was followed in time by my first surface assignment, the USS McClusky (FFG-41) based in San Diego, California. Like the LA, the McClusky was an old ship. Commissioned in 1981 and named for the Leader of the USS Enterprise’s air group at the Battle of Midway, the “Mighty Mac” led a storied career in her day. But the Frigate class was quickly being inactivated and McClusky was scheduled for decommissioning at the beginning of 2015. I was only aboard the “Mighty Mac” for a year, but it was a high paced and productive year.
We deployed to Central America for Counter Illicit Trafficking operations in cooperation with local authorities and the US Coast Guard. In that time, we intercepted eight boats carrying cocaine and money en route to the mainland US. The drugs were confiscated, the boats strip searched and subsequently scuttled.
I very quickly learned how much the Surface Navy differed from submarines, prime among them was the availability of regular sunlight, fresh air, and limited but regular Internet! The McClusky was not a nuclear powered platform. Where as a nuclear powered submarine’s underway endurance is limited only by the amount of food it can carry (which is a lot), a Frigate like the McClusky relied on regular refueling ports every few weeks. We touched the pier in many latin american countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama.
My time aboard the Mighty Mac ended with the ship’s decommissioning and inactivation. Unlike the LA, we preserved the ship and left her systems intact for possible future use in case of emergency or for Foreign Navy purchase. The running rumor was that she was to be sold to the Mexican Navy. I was one of the last sailors to depart the ship before she was locked up and towed to the fleet reserve dock in Pearl Harbor.
I was transferred once more and found myself in yet another completely different environment. The USS Anchorage (LPD-23) is an Amphibious Landing Support Dock. Her purpose is to hold and transport a battalion of Marines, their equipment, weapons, vehicles, tanks, and aircraft to a theater of battle. She is a big ship with enough empty space to accommodate her intended cargo. My time on this ship lasted a year, just in time for their maiden deployment to the Gulf of Aden.
For the first time in my career, my ship was not deployed alone. We deployed with two other Amphibious support ships as part of a unit. Also unlike my previous deployment, special auxiliary ships were stationed in the area to enable refueling and resupply at sea. We made several port visits, most often to the country of Oman but also Israel, Thailand, and Brunei.
My final enlistment came to an end by the time we returned, and with it, the end of my Naval career. While the circumstances were not ideal I left with my head held high. I have accomplished a great deal in my career, seen so much of the world, and have been privileged to work with some of the greatest people I have ever met.
I can look back on my achievements and accomplishments with pride as I look forward to the future and all the possibilities it holds for me. I look forward to sharing more detailed reflections on my past, while living new adventures as I move forward.
Until next time
LLP and Aloha
Produced in association with Busy Little Beaver Productions