Boot in the (Sticky)Buns
by Don Ennis ETCS(ss) USN(ret), USS Stonewall Jackson SSBN-634
Submarining is not for everyone and I have always felt that the qualification program, aside from assuring the requisite knowledge of systems and submarine operations, served a more vital filtering purpose. The qualification program forced a large majority of the crew to take a long hard look at the nonqual and give their approval or disapproval. It should be no big secret to any of you who earned silver dolphins that if a crew has negative feelings about a new guy; he just wasnít going to make it on that boat. I never saw this process used vindictively with any success. There were cases when individuals had reservations about a non-qual but there were always alternatives if it was a personality clash and not an out and out case of miss assignment. Iíve seen some pretty slow performers make it through the qual process with the help of a crew that knew that this guy would not be a scrubber load and could be counted on to do the right thing in an emergency. Itís probably the most democratic process I have ever witnessed. This story is about someone who didnít make it on the Jackson and although it gives me no pleasure to say so: Iím the reason he didnít.
We had an unqualified first class cook report to the Jackson who immediately demonstrated an inability to understand what was required to wear the dolphins. I remember his name but I wonít use it in this story. I didnít have any misgivings about him because he was a first class or a cook although he turned out to be a bad cook or because he was an unqualified first class. After all, those of you who remember me reporting to the Jackson will recall perhaps the youngest unqualified chief you had ever seen. I was given no special treatment and I didnít expect any. I learned not to give any. Our lives depended on that mentality from all of us. We did a patrol with no salt in the galley because of his negligence. No salt. None. Zilch. We would have been in trouble, I think, if the medical department hadnít stocked up on salt tablets. I saw one very pissed off sailor sprinkling a salt tablet he has ground up on his popcorn before the movie. I could overlook the no salt situation the same as I later forgave the COB who ordered 100 rolls of toilet paper instead of 1000 rolls There after in one case I always had my own stash of table salt in the other case my locker always had a couple of rolls of TP. I thought spaghetti and tuna fish were a bit odd for breakfast but Iíve had worse and I chalked it up to eccentricity- not a disqualifying factor by any means: if fact Iíve always thought it somewhat favorable to be a little off center. You do have to be a little bit crazy to go to sea in a sewer pipe loaded with nuclear bombs. In the eightyís we drilled all the time and it wasnít difficult to figure out when a drill was going down. It was going down all the time. The way drills were handled in the 60ís was more to my liking. They were less frequent and we rarely knew when the X.O was going was going to throw fire, flooding or nuclear pestilence at us and every time an alarm went off it was treated as the real thing. By contrast I saw more showmanship than good damage control later on in my submarining career. ďFire in the torpedo roomĒ I was in the goat locker. I grabbed an EAB and a fire extinguisher and headed that way. As I proceeded past the wardroom, the door to the forward room opened up and out bailed the cook. I stopped him and walked him through the expected procedures. After what turned out to be a drill, I went to great lengths explaining that we didnít have damage controlmen on submarines and that it was the submarinerís duty to stay in the affected compartment to fight the causality. Our lives depended on it. Several weeks later I was in the Navigation Center. ďMissile EmergencyĒ The Navigation supervisor grabbed the emergency bill and started rigging the compartment. I went with him as he shut the door to the upper level missile compartment. I reached up and operated the ventilation damper. As the damper went shut the watertight door opened. This time I shoved the cook back into the missile compartment and slammed the door while he looked at me dumbfounded. I decided to write this story because later on there was some speculation that when the X.O. came to me and asked for an explanation of why I was being uncooperative in qualify this otherwise good sailor , someone speculated that I told the X.O. that I would see to it that he never got qualified because the cook had written up report papers on me. The fact was, I blocked his qualification process, because I knew that he would always be bailing out of emergency situations. Some guys can do it some canít and if you canít you donít belong on submarines. I hold this view even today. I stand by my actions. I guess I should tell you about the report chit (is that the way you spell it?)
This is my side of the story:
My first experience with submarines was on a diesel boat, the USS Carp SS 338. I wasnít there very long; only a couple of months, and from the beginning I knew I was going to the precom unit of the George C. Marshall SSBN 654. As it turned out I wasnít with the Marshall long either because I was selected for NESEP. I was on the Carp long enough to do my first dive on a submarine and to witness a first class ET named Rice (nicknamed GohanĖ Japanese for rice- because he was a west- pac sailor) do an admirable thing. Rice had more that 20 years in the Navy mostly on submarines and from my view most have been on active duty when dirt was invented. I was in the after battery, which on the Carp was the crewís mess. I was enjoying the noon meal (the Carp was the best feeder I ever served on) when Rice came walking through on his way to the control room and he noticed that the mess cook was getting behind on the dishes.
Without a word, Rice stopped picked up a towel, helped the mess cook get caught up, and just as silently went on his way. When we pulled into port there was an all hands working party, but I was a 1st class and I didnít think that meant me. Rice pulled me to my feet with one of his meat hook hands and with a swift kick to my backsides invited me topside where I loaded stores with the rest of the crew including some wearing Khakis. I thought this was the way it was done in the submarine service and because I am always in favor of what is fair and democratic, I liked the egalitarian nature of it. While I was on Jackson, being young, strong and properly indoctrinated, when all hands working parties were called, I reported topside in a tee shirt and khaki pants. Some of the other older chiefs had some things to say about this. There is this notion that goes if you work with the men you supervise and if you party with them on liberty, they wonít work for you. This is a ROAD notion (Retired On Active Duty), which I have never subscribed to not even as a 47-year-old Senior Chief. Besides, like Pavlovís dogís when I heard the word ďAll hand lay topside for a stores working party ď,I didnít salivate, but I could definitely feel a size 13 boondocker where the sun donít shine. So about half way through the stores load, the cook in question came topside where I was catching and throwing boxes. Me in my tee shirt and khaki pants. We were in Guam and I was covered with sweat. I invited him to get in line and he informed me that he was a first class petty officer and he was supervising the stores load. With that he turned his back to me and I kicked him where Rice had kicked me. Actually since he was pointed towards the water I gave him more of a shove, placing the sole of my shoe squarely against his backside. I did have the topside watch call away ďman overboardĒ and he was pulled safely from Apra harbor: no harm done. Nothing every came of the report chit he wrote up accusing me of assault and pushing him into the water. Somehow the document got passed around to the crew, forty of whom, signed their names beneath the part that said they saw him slip and fall into the water and his life was probably saved by the quick thinking of Chief Ennis.
We went to sea with a new lead cook who could bake sticky buns like one of Godís own angels.
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