Step inside a ballistic sub
October 12, 2023
"Woah, it's like an airplane," one of my schoolmates said in awe. We all loaded onto the charter bus. The wood panel floor, the reclining seats, and on-board bathroom were fancier than the yellow school buses we were all used to. It was five in the morning, and we were headed to the Kitsap Naval Base in Bremerton for a tour of the U.S.S. Maine (S.S.B.N. 741), an Ohio-Class Ballistic Submarine, and the Trident Training Facility in Bangor.
The trip was arranged following the success of our school's robotics team, The Mecha Mules, at the 2023 international SeaPerch tournament, where they placed first. Many Wahkiakum High School and Naselle High School students, including several members of the robotics team, were given the opportunity to attend the field trip. I was one of them.
After nearly three hours, our bus finally arrived on base, and we started going through security. We passed through three security checkpoints before arriving at Delta Pier where the U.S.S. Maine was in dry dock.
The pier was in an industrial area, and we got a real glimpse of the varied jobs the Navy offers. There were mechanics, submarine painters, and people all over loading and unloading the submarine.
One of the coolest "employees" on the pier was a falcon. To combat the gulls crowding the pier, the Navy hired a falconer to walk around with his bird a few days a week to scare off the gulls.
We started the tour of the submarine, beginning on the deck. Beneath our feet lay 24 circular hatches, each about seven feet in diameter. Inside each was a nuclear armed Trident Ballistic Missile. As our tour guides explained that we were standing on top of missiles it occurred to me that I had an incorrect perception of how large missiles are. They are so big that the entire ship seemed to just be one big maze of missiles. They stretched past the three levels of the sub we were allowed to tour. The entire ship seemed to be built around them. We first entered the sub down a very tall ladder. I cannot personally recommend this to anyone with a fear of heights. The first area we toured was the main missile room, where we learned about all the factors that go into launching a missile. We learned there are always two guards watching over the missiles. They are called Camp and Roaming. It was clear that the Navy takes security precautions seriously.
Next, we toured the study areas-little rooms designated for sailors in the process of becoming submarine qualified. To become qualified, each submariner spends a year becoming familiar with every system on the submarine. This is a huge task to undertake, and so the ship is designed to give them a specific place for extra research and studying.
Next to the studies lay the barracks. Each consists of a tiny room stuffed with nine bunks. When the ship is underway, only about half of the sailors assigned to a bunk are there at a time because of shift schedules. Even so, the rooms can seem crowded and cramped. It was strange to consider living on a sub, in a room that size, for months at a time.
We visited the torpedo room. There were no torpedoes onboard at the time. Nevertheless, we received a step by step explanation of onboard torpedo launches. We spoke with a sailor who specializes in sonar. He told us how different animals sound underwater. He said that shrimp sounded like thousands of people snapping at once. He asked us to eat shrimp once we got home, so he could have revenge.
At last, we toured the control room. We saw where the boat is steered and controlled. Our guide said that it is usually the two most junior sailors aboard who steer the boat, because they are more careful not to mess up. We looked through the periscopes, and pretended like we were out at sea. For months at a time, that's the only glimpse of the outside world these sailors get.
The captain's chair sat in the middle of the room like something out of a movie.
Finally, we viewed the trident training facility, where officers and enlisted personnel train to operate and maintain submarines. There we toured 3.D. models of a torpedo tube, a missile tube, and a 360 simulation of the control room. The simulation was especially vivid; it felt like we really were out at sea.
As I exited the room, some people complained that they felt seasick. Everyone agreed it was an awesome experience.
The trip opened my eyes to the level of pride sailors have, and reaffirmed my choice to enlist in the Navy. As a sailor, everything I do will have meaning. Each person we met knew their job and took it seriously. The camaraderie among them was clear. I recall one of our tour guides saying "You have to be able to look at every person on the ship and say you trust them with your life."
I enjoyed touring the U.S.S. Maine, and getting a glimpse into life underway.
I can also confidently say that submarines are not for me.