Sorry, this is really, really long. But hopefully its also informative and entertaining.
I had just finished an excellent dinner of steak & lobster, got a few chocolate chip cookies wrapped in some napkins and a nice hot cup of coffee, and headed up to the radio room. Leaving my stuff in the radio room, I went to the attack center/control room, to read the captains night orders, then back to the radio room, where I'd be the Radioman of the Watch (RMOW) for the next 12 hours. I as on a fast-attack sub (SSN), and our boat wasparticipating in a couple-week long international operability exercise with the Polish Navy, but at this exact moment, we were doing a hunter-killer exercise with one of our own boats (another SSN). The captains night orders indicated that we'd be going to periscope depth at least once during the night, but otherwise, no major evolutions.
Now this was the earlier half of the '90's, so except for special operations missions, we didn't do much with pre-watch briefs, and pre-PD briefs, and the general, meetings to discuss what we were planning to discuss at the meeting, meeting - like they do now.
So I'm talking with a couple guys in the torpedo room, when I feel a somewhat aggressive up angle on the ship. I headed up to the attack center to find that the ship has entered a "stovepipe" and is moving to clear baffles, and go to PD.
Now, hunter-killer exercises between subs are where tactics and equipment are tested, and the crew learns how to fight the boat against another sub. In the 1960's, when they used to have all the fun, they actually shot exercise torpedos (torpedos without warheads) at each other. The torpedos would just keep hitting the hull of their target until they ran out of fuel or broke up. On several occasions, boats were damaged, and ended up returning to port with a damaged rudder, fairwater plane, propeller, or even a few times, torpedos sticking through the sail superstructure, damaging masts and antennas. Also during this time, sonar technology was surpassed by sound-silencing technology, making our teardrop hulled boats too quiet for us to hear each other, resulting in ship collisions during these exercises.
By time my generation made it to the navy, we no longer shot exercise torpedos at each other. We shoot "water-slugs." Water-slugs are where we go through all the motions of shooting a torpedo, but never load the torpedo - like pulling the trigger on a gun with no round in the chamber. The accuracy of the shots can still be determined by the plotting and positioning data, correlating to ships sensors, leading up to the shot, combined with all the same data from the opponent boat. Hunter-killer exercises also included depth bands, stovepipes, and underwater telephone communications. During these exercises, one boat was restricted to a shallower depth, say 0-400 feet, while the other boat was restricted to between 400-800 feet. The boats communicate via underwater phone to start and stop exercises, and the stovepipe area is where the boats could go to PD - once they'd communicated their intentions with the other boat.
The Navigator (NAV), 3rd in command, and also my department head, was having a bad day. He'd been onboard for about 5 months, and seemed to be on a mission to piss every enlisted guy off, and now had just gotten us killed, in our hunter-killer op with the other boat. The NAV had to take a crap. When he finished, he caught his clothing on the toilet seat, lifting, then dropping the toilet seat onto the stainless steel bowl, thereby alerting everyone in God's deep blue sea to our exact spot. Subs and their crews simply aren't big enough for anyone to hide this kind of secret, so everyone was greeting the NAV with a "thanks for the torpedo" remark.
While I was relieving the watch as RMOW, the NAV was relieving the watch as Officer of the Deck and (OOD). The OOD is overall in charge of the ship, for the time they are on watch. In an emergency or attack, the Captain (CO) will relieve the OOD, but normally, the CO is hands off unless needed, or he has something to assess or contribute.
Anyway, back to the up angle....the boat is clearing baffles. I ran to the radio room, and get the equipment ready. Back then, we were the "silent service." We hardly ever exceeded 30 outgoing messages transmitted in a full month. When I retired in 2009, we'd transmit 300-400 messages, not counting chat, videos, email, etc.
The control/attack center had an open mic system, so the sonar, radio, and electronic countermeasures (ECM) rooms could hear what was being said. On our way from clearing baffles to PD, I reported, "Conn, Radio, in sync VERDIN on the VLF loop."
The OOD acknowledged. When we reached PD, ECM reported no radar threats, the OOD reported no visual threats. I requested, "Conn, radio, request the BRA-34 for the next passive broadcast in 1 minute."
The OOD responded, "Roger." Then I heard, "Helm, all ahead 1/3, Chief of the Watch, raise the BRA-34." The helmsman reported "maneuvering answers all ahead 1/3." The Chief of the Watch (COW) repsponded, "Raise the BRA-34, aye. BRA-34 coming up."
A half minute later, I reported, "Conn, radio, receiving passive broadcast." Then, "Conn, radio, in receipt of the 2200Z ZBO." The OOD responded,"Roger."
Radio always works on GMT (Z) time. The "ZBO" is like a message table of contents, whereas all messages have a number. Your record the last numbered message you receive from a broadcast, and begin looking for the next number, when you receive the next broadcast. The ZBO lists the message number, sender, subject, and the number of runs (hours) the message will be broadcast for. Sometimes you absolutely have to get a message, and sometimes its BS, and nobody cares.
The broadcast ended, I reported "Conn, radio, broadcast ended, request BRA-34 lowered. Message traffic still printing." The OOD responded, "Radio, conn, negative on lowering the BRA-34. Establish voice comms with the (Polish Navy ships name), per commplan." I responded "Establish voice comms with the (Polish Navy ships name), per commplan, radio, aye. Clear the 2200Z ZBO." The OOD acknowledged.
Voice communications are conducted via the TA-970 phone. The TA-970 has a regular landline handset, with a push-to-talk (PTT) button. The phone is attached to a box with a few buttons. The important buttons are the RED "Plain" button, and the GREEN "Cipher" button. When the green button is selected (illuminated), the user can say anything, because the communications are encrypted - in "Cipher" mode. Conversely, when the red button is selected (illuminated), the user must be careful, or preferably, use a code book, because anyone listening on that radio frequency can hear and understand what's being said - in "Plain" language. An amber lamp Illuminates when the PTT button is pushed, to indicate we're transmitting.
My Chief came walking in with 2 cups of coffee, and handed me one as he passed by. He said in front of the VERDIN TTY and watched traffic printing out.
I established comms with the Polish ship, patched the attack center TA-970, and reported, "Conn, radio, voice comms established. (Polish ship name) standing by, TA-970 patched to control." The OOD responded, "Roger."
Suddenly, the TA-970 in radio switched from green to red, and the amber lamp illuminated. I dove over my Chief, and pushed the green button. The amber lamp went dark, and I hear, "Radio, conn, did you switch the radio?" I responded, "Conn, radio, affirmative. You need to be in Cipher mode."
My DH started chewing my ass over the open mic. My Chief, hand full of chem-wipes, cleaning the coffee I made him spill, is now staring at me dumbfounded.
I picked up the 2JX phone, and buzz the OOD location. The 2JX phone is just a PTT internship telephone between the radio room, attack center, and the CO'S stateroom - more private than the open mic/speaker system. I'm trying to explain to the OOD how the TA-970 works, as tactfully as possible, since he should be well acquainted with this equipment....he's having none of it.
He told me to standby. He's getting a relief, and he'll be in the radio room in a minute. My Chief rolled his eyes, ducked out, and said "tell me how it all ended in the morning."
The NAV stomped into radio, yelling that I'm never to speak to him in that manner again. He picked up the TA-970 in radio, hit the red button, I reached over and hit the green one. He said, "I'm giving you a direct order, not to touch the phone again. Go get your chief." I said "yes sir!" I flipped a few switches and pulled a patch cord, disconnecting the circuit, and left the radio room. The CO was opening his stateroom door as I was walking by, and asked what was going on. I said "Captain, the Navigator is in radio." I entered the attack center and requested the BRA-34 lowered, as it wouldn't be needed for a few minutes, then went back towards the CO's stateroom, to take the ladder down to middle level, where I could get my Chief. The CO stopped me, to explain what was going on, and as I was explaining, the NAV opened the radio door to ask where my Chief was - he didn't see the CO. The CO told me to get my Chief, and headed towards the radio room. I got my Chief and said "no need to wait till morning." He said "yup. I knew, that's why I'm sitting here instead of laying in my rack. Somehow I knew there was going to be trouble."
When we got up to radio, I pushed the door open, and an unseen force pushed it shut. The CO pushed and held the door shut so he could yell at the NAV for a few minutes. The CO came out, said good job, and went back to bed. The NAV came out and went down to the wardroom. He had to give officer training on how voice communications worked, supervised by the CO & XO.
The NAV had a high-pitched, nasal voice. When he initially started yelling at me, he woke the CO. The CO treated the Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) position as a punishment for the senior officers. He even called it "the penalty box." The NAV stood watch in the penalty box for a full month. The CO told him that he'd stand watch there for another full month, any time he woke the CO by talking.
TLDR: Department head kills everyone by pulling up his pants carelessly, then finds out he doesn't know how to operate the phone. The CO is pissed, the chief is victim to a coffee spill, and circuits are disconnected!
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