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A Field Day to Remember 

by William K. Isaksen, MM3(SS)

We were on one of countless patrols, well settled into our grooves for life at sea until our transit was over; maybe a few more days. I found myself at the helm of the USS Dace SSN-607, going flank speed, with depth control surrendered to the outboard station. "This is great!" I thought, "No field day for me this Friday and I don't even have to worry about keeping ordered depth (400 feet)." Pretty good situation for a junior A-Ganger, since my field days were always back aft, wiping up 2190 from the bilges beneath the ever-rotating shaft. I knew someone was back there, but it wasn't me. I wonder now who was, and what must have gone through their minds soon after on that day.

The outboard station was manned by a fellow who shall remain nameless. It's not my intent to drag a shipmate through the mud. Still, the story warrants telling. To know that he was one of our shakier shipmates should be sufficient, but he'd manned this station several times under similar conditions and no one felt concerned. Still, no one knew he'd be given to panic so readily.

Anyway, he had depth control, had lost track of ordered depth and was 10 - 20 feet deeper than ordered. The diving officer (MMC(SS) Raines) caught it and yelled, "Hey! Get back on depth!" Eager to comply, he pulled back on the stick too quickly and sent us hurtling toward the surface at full throttle. "WHAT THE @$%^ ARE YOU DOING?!" screamed the OOD. We were going up fast and blind, but at least we were going up! With that, he buried his stick at full dive in an attempt to recover our angle, but the boat responded instantly and we were suddenly on our way to the bottom, still going balls to the (opposite) wall. This was all in the course of about 10 seconds. Thank God we never locked the inboard station planes in place during flank speed. Not that it seemed to make too much difference, but I did put my planes at full rise. We must have been close to a 45 degree down angle. I hate to think where we'd all be right now if the Chief hadn't grabbed the outboard stick to level off the boat. Looking back, I think the Chief deserved a medal. Feasibly, he could have saved 115 lives all at once that day. The next thing we all heard was the old man's voice ordering him off the planes as we all checked our shorts. "Get that man relieved!!" Honestly, I don't recall how deep we went; we were far more concerned about the bubble at the time.

I can still hear the pens, coffee mugs and technical pubs hitting the deck and the green field day buckets spilling suds and sliding down the passageway toward the control room as I "stood" on my foot rests. Wide eyed shipmates all around. How the reactor never shut down remains a puzzle. Everyone in the control room had at least a clue as to what was happening. What could all the others have thought? I know the MS's were ticked off! At least we were all awake, being a field day…

I felt bad for my fellow planesman. I know he caught a lot of grief after the incident. He was relegated to Messenger status for the rest of the cruise. I'm thinking now, maybe no one was more scared than he was that day.

[the above took place around 1985 - Ed.]


Published February 2007