Getting my fish pinned on by Downing with Pendergrass
Getting my fish pinned on by Downing with Pendergrass

Today is an important day for me in my Navy  career because now I am finally qualified in submarines. It’s hard to explain the significance of this event because to Nukes, it’s not significant in the same way as it is to most of the guys who work up forward. But it’s also hard to explain to normal people reading this blog too, because what does qualified in submarines really mean? And what does it mean to people who are on surface ships? (I’m not sure about the second one.)

So, first I should try to explain what it means to normal people not tied up with the Navy. Getting your submarine warfare pin is an additional item you wear on your uniform, and it signifies a tradition in which submarine sailors learn and qualify themselves to perform damage control and to be able to understand all the systems on board and how they work together. After completing a number of “check outs” on these topics, and completing an oral board, you become “qualified in submarines” and get to wear this pin on your uniform (or patch, if you’re wearing Navy Working Uniform, i.e., the camo uniform, or the coveralls, i.e. the “poopy suit” that we wear out to sea). You also have a little ceremony in which you get to pick a quote to be read from a WWII deck log. And then you go about your business doing other job specific qualifications.

Now, that’s a description of what they are, but not what they mean. To the submarine force, they represent that you are a qualified body, no longer a “nub” (new useless body or similar connotation). It means that in a casualty, I can be trusted to do my best to save lives. But it also means that I can now watch movies in crew’s mess and I don’t have to carry around a notebook and pretend to be studying when I’m up forward. It means that, hopefully, I will get less shit and finally seem like one of the crew.

In terms of Nukes, it means a little less probably. After all, we’ve been called a nub from the moment we got to nuke school (that was 2011!). We’ve been used to it and we get called it even after passing A school, Power School, and becoming a qualified nuclear operator in Prototype school. Then, we show up to the boat and people who’ve been in the Navy less than a year and know nothing about what we’ve been through will say nub like we are fresh out of boot camp. I can imagine it’s especially annoying for the Prototype staff pick ups, who end up spending an extra two or three years teaching as a qualified instructor before hitting the fleet. On top of that, our qualifications for the nuclear side of things are incredibly intensive and stressful — so warfare qualifications often seem like a minor thing to us.

All this said, it was good to get done with this. Downing pinned me and Barfuss read — the same goes for Pendergrass. I think it’s amazing and very fortunate that Pendergrass has been with me since the first day of boot camp. He’s been with me through that, A school, Power School, most of prototype and ELT school, and now here on the USS Hawaii. We even managed to finish our qualifications at roughly the same time. Together we’ve had a lot of good times and cold beers. We’ve kept each other sane and supported each other though shitty situations and life events. It’s pretty rare to have a true friend, and even more rare to have one with you all through your time in the Navy. I don’t take that for granted.

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