Chapter 4: End of Detour: the REAL tour So this is the "real" Navy...
It's January 1973 - we're sailing into Apra Harbor - approachingthe east pier that forms one wall of the channel into the innerharbor - and Polaris Point... We can see a bunch of people onthe pier - looking for familiar faces and waving as eyes meet.Some are friends - some are family. The Hunley has a couple ofboats along side - one of them is my brother-in-law's boat - theNathan Hale (SSBN 623). But he's on the "other" crew- back in Hawaii. I'll see him in three months when the Blue andGold crews rotate once again. We tie up to the pier - and thatundercurrent of chaos that I'd barely experienced a year beforewas suddenly underway again - People, equipment, supplies and"stuff" started flowing between the ships almost immediately- the Hunley crew was ready to leave - and of course our job (atthe moment) was to get them on their way.
During the overhaul - I was given tasks to do - which I did -but I seldom "found" things to do - . The same was truefor most of the people that I worked with - there just wasn'tany enthusiasm - no dedication. But one of the first things Inoticed once we were back on station - No -- in fact I startednoticing it after we left Australia - the people who were indifferentthree weeks ago - were suddenly charged up - like draft horsesready to go to work. When we finally got tied to the pier - severalcharged over to the Hunley to expedite getting everything turnedover. I remember thinking - What's the rush? What's with thesepeople? Chaos. No one was telling anyone what to do - yet someof these guys were dashing about like there was no tomorrow. It'snot that there wasn't a chain of command - nor that things weren'tgetting done - no it was just the opposite. These people seemedto know instinctively what needed to be done - and they didn'twait for anyone to tell them to do it. After the turn-over - andthings began to settle into a routine - I figured that the initialnewness would wear off - and things would be like they were throughthe yard. Nope. There seemed to be this "core" of people- the leadership - who took charge - with confidence and competence- and they weren't necessarily the chiefs, etc. At first - I dreadeda boat arriving for re-fit. Long hours "deciding" whatto do - then more long hours getting it done. The worst part wasnot "knowing" what was going on. Slowly - I caught onthat if you want to be "included" you gotta get involved.I also had an experience that I found very uncomfortable: I finallyran into something that I wasn't an expert at - that I couldn'tavoid. I don't mean that to sound like a smart-aleck. I was usedto being very knowledgeable about electronics - stand toe to toewith anyone. Math - was a problem. Never was much good at it.And it turns out - the part of SINS I hadn't been trainedfor - the analysis part - is nothing but heavy math!!!!Fixing a SINS is easy - just show me what's broke - and I'll haveit fixed in minutes. Analyze the last 20 days of a patrol to finda correction factor - or determine if an error is caused by hardwareor software? Sheeezzz...
And the thing you have to realize - as it came to press upon all of us - is that the reason this navigational information has to be so accurate from these "SINS" - is because it is the basis upon which the flight of up to 16 nuclear missiles will deliver their awesome destruction are aimed. Unlike modern "smart" weapons of today - once a Polaris, Poseidon or Trident is launched - there is no correction - no changing your mind - no safety if it's mis-aimed. Each boat carries more destructive force than was dropped on Europe during all of WWII... Mis-aim that - and how many innocents are killed? I (and all others in the "Special Weapons" program) are all volunteers - and have expressed that we will have no reservation about retaliating against an aggressor's attack - but NONE of us have any desire to harm innocent people - especially due to the fact we didn't do our job "well enough". SINS tells the missile where it's at - it knows how (from there) to reach it's target. If it's origin is off even a little - it can make a very serious error after 2500 -4500 miles of flight. So the "motivation" to strive for perfection is pretty strong!
The USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN 631)
Things can be deceptively quiet at night - you never know what's going on below...
They might as well have been talking in Greek.Scared the hell out of me. I'm supposed to know this??? Theseguys rattle it off like yesterday's sports scores. I decided thatif I was going to survive - I better figure something out - fast!Then I got to watching everybody... Not everyone was a walkingcalculator. In Fact - turns out - there are only a few of themwho really seem to know what each other is talking about- and about half of the rest of the people - catch enough to knowwhat is needed... The remaining people are the ones that haveto be told "everything". Slowly - like the rising sun- it dawned on me.... not everyone has the same skills - not everyonedoes the same job. Hmm... Jimmie Taylor - concentrates on theI/O device (at the time - modified IBM Selectric Typewriters).Wilson concentrates on theodolite calibration/ verification. RussHaden - he's one of the brains - he likes the analytical part- and the political part - dealing with the Navigator and otherofficers of the boat's crew... The "light bulb" overmy head was finally beginning to glow - you can be self-motivated,find something you like to do - become very good at it - and that'swhat you "get" to do - you "get" to work onwhat you like to do. -OR- you can wait to be assigned to a task- the tasks no one "wants" to do - that's what's left- that's what you get!!!
I found my niche. I was fairly resourceful at some things -- andreasonably skilled in others. My eyes were never very good - andin spite of getting contacts - I was never comfortable doing anyoptical work. As noted earlier - the SINS provides the primaryinformation for targeting the missiles. One of the steps in insuringthat the data the SINS provides is as accurate as possible isto insure that the SINS is perfectly aligned to the boat it'sbolted to.
ET1 Russ Haden setting up a theodolite
A combination of transits and periscopes are used to transfera light beam from the reference mirror that the boat itself wasbuilt around - to mirrors mounted on the SINS. Some mirrors referencethe main "stem" -- the part that is actually boltedto the ships structure--- to ensure mechanical alignment. Othermirrors reference the gyro and accelerometer planes to ensureelectrical alignment. The actual tolerances these things are alignedto is very tight - VERY tight. Since my eyes weren't that good- I was not comfortable doing optical work. So I found other thingsI could be good at. Like the Verdan and Mardan computers. Gads.The size of a very large suitcase - and the computational power- of a modest pocket calculator. Hey you gotta remember - whenthese things were designed -- Integrated Circuits were still 15to 20 years away! And actually - considering the accuracy thesethings work at - doing real-time conversions against TIME... theyare still impressive computers! I got to where I could fix thempretty fast. Sodid Sherry. A lot of times when I would have the duty - she wouldcome up to the repair shop and help me work on units. She gotpretty good at them too. With my background in electronics - Itook on some collateral duties as well - like test equipment repairfor the boat's test equipment - and equipment pool.
Things did settle into something of a routine - Since I had gonethrough FireFighter training at Treasure Island while we werein the yards - I was put on one of the damage control parties.Over the next year - I got a lot of experience - and further trainingin that area. The only part of that I didn't like was the Radiationtraining - and the potential for having to deal with a reallyserious situation. Looking back - I realize that the trainingI received would have probably saved my life if we'd hada nuclear spill of some sort - at least I knew exactly how tobest protect myself. I also continued to hone my skills in CIC.I liked Navigation - (traditional in this case!) and enjoyed beingpart of the underway team. Soon my Sea and Anchor station wasCIC.
I'm Dazed and Confused- ....Led Zepplin
1973 went by really fast. I still had an occasional bout withfoot-in-mouth syndrome - but I felt I was getting that under control.One of the chief's called me aside one morning after muster -and wanted to know if I was ready for the rating exam coming upin two months. "Naw, I don't have any reason to take the test."After all - you have to have 4 years in service - and a year inrate - to even qualify - and I didn't have squat in points - andin the Navy that's how advancement works. A complicated formulae- but the simple explanation is: Take your current Rating Examscore - add accumulated points for time-in-service, time-in-rate,carry-over points, etc. and you wind up with a final score. SinceI was 10 months in rate, 46 months in service - and had nevertaken the E-6 exam - (hence no "carryover" points)...no chance: why bother. He invited me to join him on the weatherdeck - and he started ripping me a new - er - ah - tail. He'dhad enough of my mouth - he didn't think my "worth"as the best technician in the squadron outweighed my caustic attitudeand occasionally detrimental impact on division morale by my occasionaltactless outburst of disapproval of the most recent policy reversal.While I admit I had been quite guilty of not exercising tact onoccasion - this attack was so pointed and vehement - I was juststunned. I didn't know what to say. He stood there a moment -eyed me with a deadly glare that was nothing short of hate. Thenit hit me. Some time back - I had zipped into the shop and severalpeople were gathered around a test-set. They were trying to finda fault in it. I just stuck my head over a shoulder - glancedat the schematics they had spread all over the bench and a largetable - took a test lead out of someone's hand - made a couplequick measurements - and announced that the problem was a shortedZener - reference number umpteefrats - then went on my way. Theyhad been looking for the problem all morning - several hours -and I walk in and point to the part in roughly 90 seconds. I didn'tthink anything of it at the time - I'm supposed to knowthis stuff. But now the guy who hadn't found the problem in severalhours - the guy I grabbed the test lead from - was three feetoff my nose - and now I'm trying to figure out what to do - whatto say. After all - my mouth was my biggest asset - and my worstenemy. There was a long silence. I started to say something. Ihad some notion about apologizing for being tactless or arrogantor something - but as soon as I started to open my mouth - hesnapped "I'm not interested in anything you have to say.Frankly I think you just skate along doing what comes easy - butI don't think you've got the "guts" to tackle somethingyou're not so cock-sure of. Prove me wrong." With that - he turned and walked off. Stunned? He could have hit me in theface - and not had any more impact. I gave that conversation alot of thought over the next few days. -
The "home entertainment center"
Turned out he had orders- and was leaving the ship... so I saw almost nothing of him afterthat. But he had hit a nerve. I had gotten a little too comfortablein doing "what was easy". So I decided to give the exama real shot.Even today - nearly 25 years later - I'm not surewhat all of my motivations were - he was gone - showing "him"became a moot point. No it really came down to showing me. SoI started studying. I found out that the "time" requirements don't matter just to take the exam - as long as you can meet the time requirement by the time you are rated. The test day came - I took the test. I couldn't have chosen the subjects better myself. Lots of general theory, not too heavy on RADAR, and SPS-10 at that - which is what the Proteus has - and the only one I'd actually worked on. The communication was on R-390A -and Teletype - which I had an R-390A of my own at home - and amodel 28 TeleType. CV-591 - yup. The last section - ElectronicsNavigation? SINS. geez my exact specialty. I had to admit - inspite of knowing the odds - I had given it my best - and thatfelt pretty good!
My boat sails stormy seas, battles oceans filled with tears. At last my port's in view, now that I've discovered you. Oh I'd give my life so lightly, for my gentle Lady, Give it freely, and completely, to my Lady. ....Moody Blues
I had worked some long hours on something or other - I don't rememberwhat - but it was usual that when we did pull some long hours- we'd get the next day off. One such day I was home when thephone rang. "The" 28 volt power supply had crapped.We had several large test sets - and other equipment that used28 volts DC as the primary control and switching power. And withoutthat supply - nothing worked. I have mentioned that attimes I had wondered what manner of "nuts" were loosein the Navy hierarchy. This is one of the prime examples. Granted;with all of the equipment we had, plus an occasional feed to acouple of other shops, this supply had to be able to accommodatemany amps - like 100. Which is no small supply. So some loose-nutin the Navy decided to put a supply in there that could more thanhold the load. Now this was no ordinary supply - whoever got it- made sure they had any possible load covered! In theAft-Port corner of the Navigation repair shop was bolted this1000 pound jet-start power supply capable of some 5000 amps. Fedby the ship's three phase 440 volt main bus - this thing was nothingbut huge. You had to practically crawl inside to get to some parts.And because it was so old - and so - ah - strange - few peopleeven would try to work on it. The main transformer was huge -and had many windings. Six Primary and six secondary connectedin delta and wye configuration - to supply 12 phase power to theselenium rectifier stack. Yup Selenium. (If a selenium rectifierfails and shorts - the resulting smoke is quite toxic - And theseare HUGE). Back to the transformer - besides the six secondarywindings - (or should I say wound with them) were twelve saturationwindings - - they had this thing set up so that each winding endhad a bucking winding - so that the uneven voltage drops acrossthe selenium rectifiers could be compensated for. There were 12huge rheostats that controlled the bias to these "buck-windings."Once rectified, the DC was fed to two banks of capacitors - eachbank added up to about 500,000ufd at 50 volts - and each was fusedwith a 10Amp fuse(!). Since it was a day off - and we had beenon our way to the Anderson (Air Force Base) Commissary to shop- Sherry decided to "tag" along. Besides - I knew thatgetting into parts of that beast - her small frame could squeezeinto places I could barely stick my head. And she and I couldwork really fast together. So into the shop we zipped. Pullingthe covers revealed nothing unusual - hitting the start buttoncaused the main contactor to snap in - then the overload circuittripped - and the unit shut itself down. We found that both theCapacitor bank fuses had blown - replacing them helped - now itwould run about 10 seconds before blowing both fuses then shuttingdown. I started to go get a meter and a scope - I figured a fewresistance checks to start with. Sherry had moved around to theback side - and called out - "I got it" She poked herhand over the top and had what was left of a dead gecko (you'dcall it a garden lizard). "I need a soldering iron, dikes,needle nose - and about 2 inches of heat shrink." Seems thegecko had gotten into part of the bucking wiring / controls andhad somehow caused something to short -and cause a wire to burnin half. She always did have a knack for finding problems witha good visual inspection - I have a bad habit of grabbing metersand start probing... sometimes that isn't the best way... In afew minutes she had the wire repaired - and had found where thegecko had pushed another wire over and caused the original problem- she pulled that wire, applied heat shrink to it so it couldn'tshort anymore - and soldered it back. Two more fuses in the capacitorbank - and presto! up it came. Since it hadn't been touched sinceMare Island - we got a scope and ran through the rheostats - justto get it as smooth as possible. We were just about finished whena voice came from behind us... (we were both half in each sideof the beast - half the rheostats were on each side) - "Youguys about to get it?" "Yup - looking real good..."I answered. The voice was familiar - but I was concentrating onwhat I was doing - and didn't give it another thought. A few moreminutes and we put the covers back on; put the tools up - andwas fixing to head on up to Anderson. One of the chiefs came byand asked what we found - we told him - then he asked: "Whatdid the Captain want?" ohhHHhh ... That's who thatwas... "He just wanted to know if we were about done - why?""Just heard he had come through - he doesn't get up herevery often, must have heard we were down..."
There is a Navy axiom about ship's captians: Captains may not be omnipresent - but their ears certainly are...