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Dave Henry Dave Henry
Dave Henry
(back to Life on a Submarine)

There is a certain romanticism in the independence of submarining that was very appealing, and without any false modesty, I have to say generally the quality of people you work with in the submarine force is significantly higher than just about any other endeavor that I have ever been involved with, either in military or civilian life. The professionalism of everybody from the guy straight out of sub school to the Captain, you generally get a level of professionalism and dedication that you just don't see other places. I'm sure you have heard the old saying that with any sort of management activity you spend 90 percent of your time with 10 percent of your people; that the 10 percent who are troublemakers will take up most of your time. You just don't have that in the submarine business.

I have heard some people describe it as almost a gentleness between shipmates on board a submarine, and a lot of that has to do with the close proximity. When your living space in square feet is basically the size of a three-bedroom house, and you've got about 120 guys jammed in there, you develop a certain amount of consideration and civility, or you just don't survive. The crew works as a single entity, and you do what you need to do as part of that entity.

An example that comes to mind is during one patrol, we had an alarm go off, which indicated a possible problem in one of the compartments. I was at the watertight door getting ready to enter into the compartment, where there could have been this potentially very dangerous, possibly even deadly situation. I was already getting ready to enter before it really crossed my mind that, yes, there might be something dangerous in there. Maybe this is a little extreme, but it's similar to a white blood cell: When it detects something bad in your body, it attacks it and eats it without any consideration of the long-term effect on itself.

Among submariners, there is a common understanding from uncommon circumstances. You know where these people are coming from. The fact that they have proven themselves on board submarines is a mark that these people, at least in my mind, warrant respect, consideration, and trust. They've earned it.

One of my least favorite aspects of life on submarines was the complete detachment from the world at times. I was underwater when the Tiananmen Square massacre happened. I was underwater when the Berlin Wall fell. I was underwater when Panama was invaded. You get some news broadcasts, little snippets, but I had no idea of the enormity of these events until two months after they had happened. I came back and I realized, wow, I really missed that whole thing.

There is a real detachment, and I think that is part of what drives the camaraderie. It is impossible to have a lot of the standard social interactions and commitments that most people have. I used to be somewhat of a musician, but in the situation I was in, it would have been impossible for me to have been in a band with anybody other than people from the same submarine. You can't say, "Gee, I'm going away for three months. You guys can't play any gigs while I'm away." You can't do community theater, because you can't say, "Well, I'll be there for the performance on Saturday night, unless of course I get a phone call, and we have to go to sea." You can't have those kinds of social commitments, because your life really does belong to that boat.

—Dave Henry performed four deterrent patrols aboard the USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658) from 1987 to 1990, participated in the new construction, outfitting, sea trials, and commissioning of the USS Jefferson City (SSN-759) from 1990 to 1992, and worked with Submarine Group SEVEN in Yokosuka, Japan from 1992 to 1995. He is currently a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve and lives in Tennessee with his wife Yuka and new baby daughter.

Continue: Patrick Householder

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