Before we left the Norfolk Naval Station, we wanted to drive through as much of the base as allowed and hopefully get a glimpse of the huge Navy vessels in port (picture gallery following this post). Well, we got that and more!
There were a number of ships in the port including the USS Harry Truman, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. As we came alongside one of the many piers, Helen (adorable wife) spotted a submarine, the USS Boise. Immediately she yelled “Stop! I wanna go on it!” Me, ever the sceptic, doubted that would be possible under any circumstances, but Helen, ever the diplomat, approached the sailor at the gate and asked if we could get a tour. The sailor paused for a minute and picked up the phone. When he came out of the guard post, he said that there was someone available and willing to show us around. Helen turned to me with that “never doubt me” smile and marched through the gate in step with the sailor.
At the walkway to the submarine (forgive me if walkway is not a proper Navy term–I’m Army, remember), a group of armed sailors met us and asked for our cell phones and cameras. We only had phones and handed them over.
Shortly thereafter, we were met by CPO Third Class Fred Kelly of Jacksonville, Florida who was to be our tour guide. We thanked him for offering to do this for us, but he assured us that he loved doing tours. It was obvious that this young sailor was very proud of his ship and was eager to show us around.
The USS Boise is a nuclear powered submarine and had just returned from a 33,000 mile mission before arriving at port in Norfolk. While waiting for CPO Kelly, one of the guards told us that they had spent as much as two and a half months submerged. I don’t know if I could do that and realized that these were some very special and unique Americans.
We descended through the hatch into the submarine. I was immediately aware of the low ceilings. I am 6’4″ and may have had an inch of clearance above my head, again recognizing that this job is not something for everyone.
Since most of the submarine crew was enjoying some well deserved time in port and elsewhere, there were few sailors on board at the time. We were shown the living quarters and small bunks which were shared depending on the duty rotation of the occupants. Since we were not permitted to take notes, I only have my poor memory to rely on, but I think we were told that the bunks were a little more than five feet in length–and they looked it.
Inside the small dining area, there were some delicious meals available on the steam table, including one very appetizing shrimp dish. I always heard that the Navy had the best cooks!
Adjacent to the dining area, was a conference room of sorts, where staff meetings were held, and which doubled as a dining room for the Captain and the ship’s officers. We were greeted by two officers, one of which was wearing a shirt which proclaimed him to be a University of South Carolina Gamecock. We shared a few light jabs as SEC rivals, but in the end, wished each other well when USC meets Tennessee later this fall.
During our conversation, we were joined by Commander Christopher Osborne who had just been appointed as commanding officer of the USS Boise the day before our tour. Commander Osborne welcomed us aboard very warmly, and chatted with us for a few minutes before moving on to take care of the many responsibilities now under his care. I have no doubt he’ll do well, and CPO Kelly said that everyone was very impressed with him.
Although there were areas of the submarine we could not visit, we saw most of it, and certainly enough to know that a nuclear submarine is a highly technical machine, and one that requires a high degree of skill, knowledge, and dedication to undertake the difficult missions assigned to it. Everywhere one looked there were valves, gauges, switches, digital monitors, pipes, couplings, and other things that are beyond my ability to describe. Teamwork is a very important ingredient in everything accomplished here.
As we neared the end of our tour, CPO Kelley stopped in front of a display board which bore the names of all aboard who had earned the Dolphin Badge. This badge is awarded to sailors who undergo extensive training and evaluation, both oral and written. The Dolphin badge verifies a sailor’s knowledge and skill as an expert and accomplished submarine crew member. CPO Kelly wore that badge and was a justifiably proud Dolphin.
We were led back to the hatch and climbed the ladder back to the bright sunlight outside. We retrieved our phones and gave CPO Kelly profuse praise and thanks for the generous amount of time spent with us when he could have used it to regroup in port. He is one impressive young man and will do well. We wish him nothing but continued success in whatever comes his way. By the way, Helen gave him a big hug on the way out…might have embarrassed him a bit, but he was a good sport about it!
I send a hearty salute to the crew of the USS Boise. We are a country blessed with incredible talent.
Thanks to all who serve. We’ll be Easin’ Along for now.