Sunday, March 05, 2006


Every sub sailor reading this will recognize the card pictured as it is a qualification card that once properly signed makes you a qualified submariner. It represents 6 months or 12 months of pure hell. This card is mine from the USS Picuda ss382, a diesel boat and I was allowed 6 months to qualify. When I transferred to the USS Snook ssn 592, a nuclear powered boat I was allowed 6 months for my Nuclear Qualification and requalifications on the general boat. New subsailors, as you may recall, were referred to as non-qualified pukes and they had 6 months to qualify on the boat and 6 months to qualify aft or the nuclear end of things. Didn't make any difference as all of the qualifications were pure hell. The only difference, for me, was when I walked over the gangplank to the Snook for the 1st time I was wearing my Dolphins which were earned on the Picuda and NO ONE referred to me as a non-qualified puke.

Dolphins are what we worked for in the qualification process. They are the award we wore that set us apart from the rest of the Navy. Many a 'skirmish' took place 'on the beach' because someone messed with or disrespected the Dolphins. I might have been in a few of those skirmishes, but I'm not sure as sometimes I forget things.

Enlisted Dolphins are silver, officers are gold

The qualification process on the smoke boats was trying at the very least and actually was very mind boggling and overwhelming. The COB and the rest of the crew played mind games with us to make the process even tougher. It was required that everyone know everything there was to know about every compartment, every system, every component, every wire, every valve, every operation. I don't mean to sound redundant but that's qualifications and it took a long time. We all had our specialties and we trained on them as well and we all stood regular watches, 4 hours at a time every eight hours. Our specialties included enginman, machinist mates, electrician mates, internal communication electrician, electronic technicians, radioman, quartermaster, torpedoman and a few bosin mates for good luck. We also had stewards, yoemen, cooks, quartermasters, sonar men and one cranky gunnersmate. Each had gone to special class A schools to learn their respective trades and then on to submarine school, on their way to the fleet. When schedules allowed all were sent off to more specialists schools to learn things like welding, operating lathes, special torpedo schools. None of us were dummies when we arrived and we were all capable of becoming qualified on submarines so long as we could put up with being beat up, taunted and harassed by the qualified crewmembers [officers included] and tolerate the endless string of practical jokes that always left the crew rolling in the aisles. Sending the hapless non-qualified puke searching the ship for a "sky hook", "Sorry, but I don't have any of them 'sky hooks' in my kitchen", the cook replies. "Maybe you should try tubes forward", a member of the crew sitting at the table suggests, and as the young sailor departs through the hatch to tubes forward, the entire compliment of crew on the mess decks at the time, suddenly burst into riotous , uncontrolled laughter, all to the bewilderment of the searching sailor.

It was a fairly simple system as everything was awarded points. You had practical factors that were worth 1,2 or 3 points each. Systems were worth more such as the High Pressure Blow system might be worth 10 points. You had to be signed off by an enlisted instructor and also an officer exam on your knowledge. The same was true for each compartment on the ship. If you didn't have 50 points at the end of each week you were considered deliquent in quals., and guess what? No liberty. You needed to stay on the boat and dedicate more time to qualifications plus you had incurred the special wrath of the COB and he was on your back until you were back on track. It was best to be ahead in order to keep your liberty card and keep the COB off your back. Way ahead.

Final qualifications was a walk thru with the Executive Officer [XO] and it was a tough exam. The XO didn't care what your rank or rating was as he expected everyone to know everything there was to know about the boat. The qualifications officer and the COB accompanied the XO as they conspired to trip me up. I was blindfolded in the Forward Torpedo room and told to head aft. As I stumbled through the Control Room the XO shouted there is a fire in the Conning Tower. Blindfolded I spun around and deftly reached out and grabbed the ships collision and fire alarm at the same time as the qualification officer grabbed my hand and said "Dickson, that's OK you don't need to actually sound the alarm." My other hand was already pulling the 1MC [ships general communication loudspeaker system] from its holder to shout "Fire in the conning tower, Fire in the conning tower". The Qal. Officer gently removed my finger from the talk button before I could shout and said "Well done Dickson." [The sounding of the fire/collision alarm would have every sailor following procedures and the sub would have been sealed up in a matter of seconds, systems shutdown, special breathing apparatus would be put on, and there would be no stopping it] The Cob headed me down the passage way to continue my test. It was constant questions and requests "find the shutoff valve to ...., where is the switch for......, flooding in the after engine room" and so it went. Two hours later I was completely soaked in sweat and the XO extended his hand and said "Well done sailor".

Every morning, when we were inport, at 8am we held quarters topside in order to account for everyone and get all of the news and things to do. The next day, after my walk-thru, at quarters, the Skipper walked up to me, shook my hand and pinned my dolphins on me. He then said "Crew dismissed, turn to and throw Dickson overboard." After a brief struggle, 4 of my shipmates managed to get ahold of arms and legs and counted 1,2 and on 3 gave me a mighty heave into the waters around Key West Florida. Hooray, I was qualified!

The next week we went out on a two week operation and along the way we pulled liberty in Ft. Lauderdale and I had to undergo one more ritual. When liberty went down we all headed for the nearest pub for a few libations. The first order of the day was "Dickson drink your dolphins". One of the Engineman walked over and removed my dolphins and placed them in the bottom of a very large glass. They gave it to the bartender who filled it with all sorts of cheap Rum, Vodka, Wine and anything else they wanted to get rid off. The glass was handed to me and I was told to drink my dolphins. I chugged the glass and finished up with my dolphins in my mouth and everyone cheered and ordered another drink. As soon as no one was watching I slipped off to the head and barfed my guts out as all that liquor was the last thing I wanted in my stomach as we were in Ft. Lauderdale and there were all sorts of women to catch. Now I was really, finally qualified.


keewee said...

Ted, thanks for the great story on submarine life, and what it took to become qualified. whew! I am exhausted just reading it.

Mr. Completely said...

Great story! A friend of mine went throught the same thing many years ago, and that was just how he described it too.....

.....Mr. C.

bothenook said...

1963?!? dayam nuke, you ARE older than dirt.
i've got my qual card jpg'd somewhere, should post it in response. it's good to see this stuff on the web, with explanations. too many people out there don't realize what it means when they see the dolphins on some pup's uniform. i'm enjoying your submarine posts big time. please keep them going!

Ted said...

After reading Geezers blog I realized that I had made a mistake in my story about the final qualification walk thru. I only included the part about the XO walk thru blindfolded. I forgot to include the other two days with the Chief of the Boat and the engineering officer. Mabey I will correct my story, when I get a chance.