A Rite of Passage

by Chris Herst

One of the first things I learned upon reporting to my first submarine, is that everyone seemed to have a nickname. Of course being a non-qual, I had not yet earned that special right. There are two times in a submariner's life that fall under VERY special. The obvious first is when those 'silver tuna fighting over a shit-can' are pinned on, and that special moment when you know you are part of the crew by the blessing of a nickname.

There are rules to obtaining a nickname. For example, you cannot pick your own nickname such as 'Spike', 'Killer' etc. There is normally one designated name giver. When he decides what your 'new' name will be, you will be duly informed.

You cannot purchase a nickname either. This would be unethical. Nicknames, afterall, are EARNED or BESTOWED.

You cannot bribe one, either (I tried…cookies, candy, cigarettes).

On the Darter, nicknames tended to run towards the lower region of manhood. There was 'Blue Steely', 'Pee-ater', 'Mule'. But then there were some seemingly normal ones as well; 'Charlie Brown' (also known as 'Him' when intoxicated), 'Hammer', 'Clog', etc. I was deep into being a nonqualdinkpukelowerthanwhaledungairbreathinrackstealinworthlesspeiceofcrap when I got my new name.

I was 'crankin' at the time. We have all had our go at that, although it seems the 'New Navy' does not sanction the use of highly-trained nuclear personnel. I cannot confirm nor deny that I actually saw this.

On a diesel boat, EVERYONE gets a turn. The other 'New Navy' issue is that the individuals that are awarded this specialized duty are no longer called 'cranks', the new politically correct name is 'Food Service Attendant' (FSA for short).

As smoke boat sailors know, the normal operation when on station is to run under during daylight hours and surface and charge the batteries at night. While on the surface housekeeping evolutions take place. Sanitaries are blown, trash is taken to the bridge to be given a proper burial at sea, etc. It was during this evolution that created the scenario for my new name.

The evening meal was complete. The mess decks were clean and the qualified minions of the boat were preparing for the 2000 movie. The movie projector operator had set up the screen. Popcorn was being popped and bug juice was flowing freely. My compatriot and I were preparing the trash for disposal. As was protocol, we went to the control room and asked the control room supervisor permission to move trash to the bridge. That permission was obtained and Andy and I began the process of moving properly bagged and weighted trash bags to the bridge access area.

As most submariners know, plastic trash bags are surrounded by a mesh bag and properly weighted with at least three TDU/GDU weights, then stabbed a multitude of times to release any trapped air. Seven and a half pound discs of steel in the bottom of the GDU bags are used to properly send a bag of trash to the ocean depths. Once the trash was moved to the control room, permission was granted to move trash to the bridge to be thrown over the side. The control room was rigged for black. Andy moved up the ladder to the Nav level of the bridge with a bag in tow. Once there, he passed the bag to the lookout who then disposed of it over the side. I grabbed a bag and moved up the control room ladder, passed it to Andy…etc.

On about the fifth bag, I had just touched the grate in the control room when I heard Andy say "Shit!", followed by a blinding white light and much confusion on my part. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the edge of the Con and the several people yelling,

"We got a man down!"

"We got a man hit!"

I was trying to figure out who it was.

I had a massive headache and the room was kind of spinning. Then I was floating! And a deep voice kept calling me by name and reassuring me everything was going to be okay. I was going to a light….turned out to be the mess decks. John V. AKA 'Mule' was carrying me. The one A-ganger on the boat every non-qual feared.

"Keep looking at me Chris. You're going to be alright buddy."

Mule said to me. I was placed on one of the benches at a table. Movie interrupted. Four or five doctors were on board for some inspection. They all had a way to determine if I was alright.

"Follow my finger..."

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

"Don't close your eyes."

I had no idea what had happened. I was sweating…I wiped it away…RED! OMIGOD! I'm bleeding!

"You have a concussion."

I was hit by a TDU weight, that fell about 10 feet, right in the grape. Once they determined I wasn't going to die, a QM1 by the name of Dan made a statement. His wife was into arcane arts. He said that if his wife had seen that, she would have said that I had a head like a dragon. There it was, my new name was born. 'Dragon'.

It could be used several ways; he's built like a dragon, he's draggin' his ass. The important point here was the realization that I was officially part of the crew. Mule was not the evil guy everybody thought. And they cared. I was a shipmate. Still a nonqualdinkpukelowerethanwhaledungairbreathinrackstealinpieceocrap…but I was a shipmate. As I lay down on my forward torpedo room rack with the most massive headache I ever had…I smiled.

I was a shipmate.