LM _______________________________________ ST. NORBERT OC

‘Aye Aye Sir!’ Taking a Dive On a Los Angeles Class Submarine

 

The USS Pasadena (SSN 752) is a Los Angeles class nuclear submarine based in San Diego.

 

BY THE IRISHMAN • JULY 14, 2020

Creation, movement, and illumination are, in a mysterious way, as integrated as gases, solids, and liquids. A common denominator is a measure of permeability to a certain extent – to a border, just like light and darkness, and perhaps beyond.

The President appointed  State Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Norwalk)to the Board of Visitorsof the United States Military Academy at West Point. “Bob,” as I call him, is a good friend of mine – a shipmate so to speak.

Not long ago, Bob shared his story about flying out to an aircraft carrier, experiencing the landing, spending time with the captain and crew, learning about the United States Navy, and taking off. “Bob,” I said, “the next time you get an invitation like that, please be kind enough to ask if you can take your lawyer along.” Unbeknownst to me, he did.

Months later, Bob called and instructed me to “check your email.” He sent a United States Navy Submarine Squadron ElevenWaiver and Release of Liability form along with another Photography and Video Release form, plus a detailed questionnaire.

Harkening is different from beckoning.

As a child, Jules Vernetook me onboard the Nautilus with Captain Nemo, Captain Arronax, Ned Land and others in a fascinating voyage beneath the waves to a new world teeming with life extending from the Indian to Pacific Oceans. Robert Louis Stevenson also allowed me to live alongside the Swiss Family Robinson, and to combat pirates in Treasure Island. These books encouraged adventure, liberated imagination, and set the standards.

As a young man, I flew back and forth to Hawaii repeatedly to visit family with friends, and spent time onboard the Blue Hawaii with Captains Rope Nelson and Pat Nelson, and Kaimiaina, the first mate. A boat with a long history of landing world-class marlins, and a crew capable of gaffing, if encountered, the perpetually evasive narwhal.

As an adult, after dipping my toes into the waters of the Cannibal Islands (Fiji), and stepping onto Taveuni and Qamea, hours upon hours of reading followed revisiting Mutiny on the Bounty, consuming and appreciating Man Against the Sea, as well as studying the art of Polynesian navigation, Portuguese and Spanish exploration, Dutch and English competition, the routes of Abel Tasman, the incomparable voyages of Captain James Cook, and that of his ships: the HMS Endeavor, HMS Resolution, and HMS Adventure.

Interestingly, the effect of theTreaty of Tordesillas1494 was erased by the transit of Venus.

Few things, if any, are as fun as reading British Admiralty charts, and as profitable as gathering a glimpse into the sublime history revealed in the roll out.

Famous captains and ships’ names all sound: Captain Samuel Wallis and the Dolphin; La Perouse and the Coquille; Jules Dumont d’Urville and L’Astrolabe; and, the most honorable Louise De Bougainville and the La Boudeuse.

Little did the Senator know, nor anyone else for that matter, that shadows stand steadfast in the light upon the waters as soft winds off an age-old sea promise counsel to man.

Books like The Scents of Eden and the Island of the Day Before, richly rewarding on their own merit, suddenly appeared to have been so much more captivating, so much more important, and so much more intriguing.

Before my very eyes, in one of a million e-mails, sat an invitation – oblique, quiet, and nearly hidden – opaque in form – yet active and as dense as heavy metal: an invitation which, all things considered, could have been intercepted as “junk” in this world of diminutive communications. For lack of a better description, in respect of salvation, I shall refer to this e-mail as a second call.

My father was Irish, and my Mother Welsh. My father’s family hailed from Boston. My mother’s side – post World War II immigrants from Lancashire. She raised me. My mother taught me how to deal with disappointment – cheerfully, hopefully, and incomparably.

United States’ submarines have dynamic schedules, and they are subject to deployment on a moment’s notice “anytime, anywhere.” The invitation, due to operational commitments, was canceled and the embarkation postponed. Better, I thought, than being disqualified for cause.

Four months later, after excitement gave way to complacence, and recalcitrance yielded once again to the mundane, another email arrived. This time – short notice. Hardly time to reflect adequately.

Back in 5th grade, in Mr. McNeely’s class at Roosevelt Elementary School in Glendora, my good friend, Alan Simpson, and I used to fashion construction paper into British Admiralty bicorns and then run amuck on the playground in a state of bliss awarding merits and issuing demerits relentlessly. We knew the ranks from seamen to Admiral, from private to General, and from airman to Astronaut. We knew what it meant to earn your stripes, and we promoted one another with incredible dispatch.

Alan Simpson was the youngest Rear Admiral in the Royal British States Navy, having attained his appointment at the age of ten, even though his hat never really fit, and his knickers were a bit too long.

Some things stick with you forever. Mr. McNeely once said to me, “You know, David, I think you are going to be a lawyer.” I said, “I know.”

I think someone has to get to kids soon, to direct, to encourage, and to guide.

The system is not at fault, and neither are our parents. Perhaps the biggest fault rests with our educators, our teachers, our baby sitters. A great majority of them seem to object to endeavors, pass their time without resolution, and, worst of all, discourage real adventure. A few are uniquely aware of their inestimable influence and their most honored roles, but most are quite candidly duly employed like putty, patching great works in place. Parents work for free. Teachers are paid, and the work ethic has decayed to such an extent that inspiration has virtually disappeared in most, yet not all.

God in heaven only knows how I got through Citrus College (thanks to Professor Keith Shirey and Doctor Robert Haugh), the University of Southern California (Jack Quinn, Esq. and Anthony Rossi, Esq.), and Pepperdine Law School (Miles Flint, Esq.). I had no money. Never did, never have. I had to work all the way through, and still do.

When the Senator and I left for San Diego, the anticipation was balanced, fair and reasonable. Coincidentally, we met a few pilots and learned about the Air Law Institute. We met the proud mother of an aviator, and soon headed yonder. After a few drinks and a pleasing meal, we made our way back to the hotel.

Seven hours later, we were headed to the Naval Base at Point Loma. The Senator  mentioned that we would be seeing the United States military at its very best. Approaching the entrance at 5:45 a.m., Navy Security (handling formidable weaponry) greeted us at the gate, and tasked us to an adjacent parking lot.

The display of arms was a wee bit disconcerting, and waiting in an adjacent parking lot for an escort was indeed both a little and a great relief. Not that I realized, at the time, that the Tommy guns were nothing compared to the torpedoes, Tomahawks, and other missives dead ahead.

As an individual, the most common thoughts are those of creativity and survival. In a group, with honest team leadership, shared goals are utilitarian in nature. Cities, school districts, counties, states and the like operate on principals of serving the public interest. Never in my life, justified on the basis of national defense and interests, had I collided with the war machine or contemplated the ubiquity of theoretical and applied mechanics.

After a few other guests arrived prior to daylight, and our escorts appeared with smiles as delightful as the noonday sun, I knew that we were in for a treat.

Ron was a lifer. Derrick lost and found. Lieutenant Ryan De Vera, a man in command doing exactly what he should be doing with his life – greeting, handling, shepherding people with unparalleled equinimity – the PIO (public information officer), a true gentleman, capable of shepherding wolves.

Ron reminded me of everyone’s uncle on the planet. He had a great disposition for so early in the morning, truly a “hail fellow, well met.” He had seen more ports that people, and his presence was reassuring. As for Derrick, he was just happy to be alive and proud, serving and working with the United States Navy as a photographer. From my point of few, he had been out of high school for just under eleven minutes, and you could see and tell that he relished in his assignment and the companionship, facing his destiny coupled with a new and strong sense of identity, now under development and improvement in the comfortable and protective arms of his Uncle Sam. These guys were sailors without a boat. I knew the feeling well, and I knew and understood them.

To quote Milton,“Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound of waters issued from a cave and spread into a liquid plain as pure as the expanse of heaven.”

We were introduced to a few other guests, hailing from Berkeley, Stanford, Virginia and Florida (physicists, I reckoned), along with a couple of other naval officers on assignment or acting as escorts. My sword remained sheathed, especially in the presence of a formidable contingent of two women, one cloaked, it seemed, behind an impenetrable veil of secrecy.

We all set out onto the pier, moving along in harmony as softly as the morning light invades the space of day. Each step with expectation, each survey with amazement – in the midst of a fully militarized zone. The introductions continued, the shaking of hands, the exchange of pleasantries, the smiles and laughs, and the wonders. Where was the ship? Who was she?

The hills of Tijuana covered the rising sun, yet minutes later the USS Pasadena, SSN 752, a Los Angeles class nuclear submarine, as black as night in the fresh daylight moved along the face of the waters assuredly and peacefully, alarmingly and yet so calmly.

Harkening is reflective. Beckoning has a pull. Alighting onto the deck of the submarine was like every single dream and poem in my entire life had been formed and inspired for these twenty-five steps before the hatch, almost as if Henry Dana and I were boarding together. The Senator  was the first man down. His honors. I was next up.

The Book of Jonahis short and sweet. He is swallowed up in the Leviathan. What of Ninevah? “Behemoth” is a great word. “Abiogenesis”is amongst the best.

“Welcome Aboard the USS Pasadena.” For those in the know, Glendora is his little brother. Compared to the San Gabriel Valley, this was definitely another world. T’was the first time I had every experienced the gracious hospitality of the United States Navy and the Submarine Force – more on that imminently.

Down the hatch and straight into the crew’s mess room, galley and storage. We waited for the others. They arrived equally as pleased, some already displaying hints of claustrophobia, and exhibiting anxiety over the inevitability of motion sickness. “Submariners are accustomed to this environment.” The theme was just like an old Pullman car heading down the track, “comfort and safety,” in a bold, new world.

 

State Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Norwalk) going “down the hatch” of the USS Pasadena.

 

 

The Irishman, a.k.a., David Kenney, joined Sen. Archuleta inside the Los Angeles class submarine.

 

The Chronology of Commanding Officers, a resounding list of distinguished gentlemen, was displayed on a door to a nearby room, and echoed in an informational pamphlet. Kenneth S. Douglas,a graduate of the United States Naval Academy (Aerospace Engineering), with an M.S. from Columbia University (Engineering Mechanics), is the current Commander Officer of the USS Pasadena (SSN 752) bolstered by the most competent support of his Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Jared Smith, and the length, breadth and depth of experience of their Chief of the Boat, Matthew Kwiecinski.

Lt. Commander Smith, in an astonishing pastoral tone, explained the detail, furthered introductions, and completed the welcome aboard. He introduced new officers, as well as other Chiefs of the Boat. He divided the guests into Alpha, Bravo and Charley groups, tasked two officers and Chief Charles Vincent. Croissants and coffee were available, subject to the warning “You kill it, you fill it.” Virtually all of these guys were in the gifted class. All in all, this was just so bloody cool.

The physicists move forward to the Captain’s wardroom. I believe she moved with Bravo, her presence diminishing as a precursor to disappearance.

Chief Charles Vincent had Charlie, and we could not be happier. The Chief of the Boat, Matthew, and Charles were confidants – able, bright, and trustworthy. The rest of the crew was so young – the average age cast in the middle of the twenties. COB and Charles had earned their “Dolphins” and enjoyed their station. They were quite accomplished, in their mid-30s, and sharp as tacks. The Captain and XO issued orders, and these guys ran the boat, flawlessly.

The first Pasadena was a cargo ship originally named the War Beacon (1918), and the second Pasadena, CL 65, participated in several important naval campaigns in the Pacific Theatre during WW II, including bombarding the beaches of Iwo Jima, and striking positions on Okinawa and Kyushu, earning five battle stars. (Fn 1).

The USS Pasadena (SSN 752)is the third vessel and the first submarine so named in the United States Navy, designed for anti-submarine and strike warfare. (FN 2) The nuclear power plant provides unlimited endurance, augments agility, and produces incredible speed. To put it mildly, the Captain, officers, and crew are very highly trained and the submarine is extraordinarily versatile.

Dolphins separate the men from the boys. They are earned, displayed on a patch over the left breast, and the respect is evident. A nuclear submarine contains huge compartments for the engine and reactor. The rest of the interior includes the duty room next to the hatch, the control room and attack center underneath the con tower, a battery compartment and crew bunks in the torpedo room (static and primed), the sonar room, and additional officer’s berths en route to the water room, and elsewhere. The sub also has 12 vertical launch tubes for Tomahawk missiles, amongst other variants.

Rooms, hallways, and stairs, are designed to accommodate the economy of movement and to effectuate the immediacy of control. Every single individual knows, and executes, duties and responsibilities expeditiously. The guys with Dolphins appear to know everything, everywhere. The cooks were extraordinarily competent.

Strangely enough, entering the torpedo room required a step over a threshold. For the life of me, I cannot remember the sign on the door – I just knew I wanted it more than any other sign I had ever seen. Signs are everywhere, including those prohibiting “classified discussions” even amongst the tightly knit crew.

The control room and attack center was mighty impressive. “Secret” on virtually every screen. Orders issued, “sonar con, aye.” Bright, young men manning stations, tracking contacts, managing depth, speed, direction, and operations. All performing in accordance with strict guidelines and within all of the parameters -immaculately.

 

Sen. Archuleta in the control room.

 

From the wardroom, at periscope depth, you could monitor the checks and cross-checks, listen to the orders, watch the “deck awash” and witness the descent into the abyss. “Dive, dive!” The Claxton grinding, followed by “dive, dive.” We were two football fields beneath the surface in no time, and set for angles and dangles, as well as ascents.

As a skateboarder, I was no stranger to the balance and counterbalance, and I believe I had a really good sense of the speed, although failing the calculus of time and depth. This was like being in a 911 in second gear. Sea-wolves, I was told, are faster. The USS Pasadena is a fast attack submarine – no doubt about that…none. These babies move, and their top speed is annihilation.

On the surface, things are a little different. More sway, more pitch, more shift, some yaw. So you have to get shackled up. Yep, if you are going to head to the bridge, you have to be suited up, climb two ladders, pass a few hatches, and head 17 feet into the heavens to stand on the top of the conning tower, tethered to a hook, while at sea.

My life behind me, and Point Loma in the distance: the platform was incredibly familiar as if atop the largest skateboard, largest surfboard, I had ever been on. The whole experience, incredibly exhilarating and extraordinarily humbling, was suddenly funny.

Of all the people in the world, what the heck was I doing on the bridge of the USS Pasadena, a Los Angeles class, fast attack nuclear submarine, off the coast of Southern California in the middle of the day with winter fading and spring just over the horizon scheming to arrive?

“Poetics,” thought I.

In Contact, Jodie Foster says, “they should have sent a poet.” Brian Wilson, in the song “Trader,” sings of the “force without power.”

As I disembarked, I reached out to Chief Petty Officer, Charles Vincent, and shook his hand with vigor and thanked him wholeheartedly. He had no idea how much. In that moment, I harkened back to my youth, recognized the gift of my challenging career as a lawyer, and for the first time sincerely regretted not recognizing the honor of attempting to become an officer in the United States Navy.

 

The “crew” of the USS Pasadena after their indoctrination into a submariner’s life.

 

My Dad served in the Navy. My Mom thought the world of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a Naval Officer, and Martin Luther King. She loved their words.

To the United States Navy, even though I was not rescued from the noise of many waters, nor from the mighty waves of the sea, the sincerest gratitude conceivable – very, very impressive – and never a more grateful guest.

To the 14 and 15 year olds in the United States of America, consider this challenge: She works on nuclear reactors “with bashful wings ascending, fading in the firmament, beyond imagination, past all visions, thoughts, and dreams.”

Might I add, “though the blessing vanishes, staying as a memory, revealing expectations, eyes toward heaven, ears the sea.”

She reappeared. “Sonar con, aye.”

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