Thirty Years Ago Today

Thirty years ago today I left the US Navy. A reflection.

Thirty Years?

I left the Navy thirty years ago today. Things were crazy. My submarine was still undergoing a “Restricted Availability” (a form of mini-overhaul) and my command was in flux. They needed to get the sub fixed and go do that they did. The Cold War was coming to a close but the tension was persitent, and real. If you did not serve forward deployed in the Cold War you cannot understand. You can emphathize, maybe. But folks, you have no idea. Forward deployed submarines in the Cold War were basically at war. You just never knew. It was not a game. It was deadly serious. And the Soviet Union was the adversary. Their fall into being just Russia didn’t change a thing. If anything, with Putin it’s worse now.

China is probably a bigger threat today. But don’t kid yourself. Russia is still a player, as we see with the troop buildup on the Ukraine border. The game is not over. War is a continuation of politcs by other means, but apparently Clauswitz never actually said that. If you think that either China or Russia are not ready to take military action to futher their ambitions please call me. I have a few bridges to sell you. Oh, and the US is just as willing. In case you wonder. It’s the reality of geopolitics. But I digress.

I served for six years. My first two were filled with intense, advanced training in electronics and nuclear science. The last four was onboard the nuclear submarine USS Richard B. Russell (SSN-687). I am most proud of earning my Dolphins, the “special warfare insignia” that denotes qualification in submarines. After that I value the Presidential Unit Citation and an Expeditionary Medal. That certificate is pretty vague about what we did to earn it. We don’t discuss submarine operations, you see. I qualified everything a Nuc could in my rate, all the way to Engineering Watch Supervisor. Yes, I supervised a whole nuclear power plant once upon a time. NASA famously says “failure is not an option.” I can relate. We did stuff that was enough to have the President acknowledge our actions. Stuff that you can’t just lose power while you are doing it. It seared in my soul what “good operational practice” means. For a kid in my 20s that was heady stuff.

I had a love-hate relationship with the Navy, but in reality it made me who I am. I would definitely not be as successful as I have been had I not had that experience. Had I not been tossed into the pressure cooker of the Nuclear Power Program. Had I not had the fantastic mentors and leaders that played such a core part of shaping my views on leadership and commitment. People like CMDR Giambastiani and CMDR Munns, my two COs. But mostly it was the Navy Chiefs who made me who I am. Men like MMCS(SS) Miller, ETCM(SS) Dahler, MMCM(SS) Dix, MMCM(SS) Shupe, ETCM(SS) Ashton. The truest thing ever said is that the core of the Navy is it’s Chiefs. In another universe I’d like to believe I’d have joined that fraternity. But I left the Navy instead.

Thirty years ago today I stepped away from the closest brotherhood I have ever known. I miss it. But I’m more glad that I left it. The life that unfolded for me since then has been spectacular. A wonderful wife. Two amazing kids. A great career. I never hit the tech jackpot but I hit the life jackpot. I have no regrets. I have a wonderful life, and more career and financial success than I ever dreamed of on that cold Chicago night 36 years ago when I went off to boot camp. And I owe a huge part of it to the values instilled in me by the US Navy Submarine Force.

Bravo Zulu US Navy. And fair winds and following seas to the many thousands of sailors out there right now serving. A special prayer for my bubblehead brothers (and sisters!) who never leave a war footing. Even if the enemy is not trying to sink you the ocean always is. Thirty years is a long time. Things must have radically changed. But being a submariner never really changes.