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The submarine piers at the Norfolk, Virginia Naval Base are about 1200 feet long from foot to head. Before leaving on a submarine patrol or deployment, I always hoped that the boat I was serving on would be out at the far end of the pier, particularly the more deployments I had under my belt. The reason is that, with the boat farther away from the foot of the pier where my wife dropped me off, I had farther to walk, and thus more time for what I term metamorphosis.

This is a process that I believe most submariners must have learned and undergone in some form, though it was not a subject I ever talked about with any of my shipmates.

You see, a submarine is a large metal can submerged in saltwater, filled from one end to the other inside with 480 volts of electrical generators, equipment, and wires, 4500-pound air pressure, 3000-pound hydraulic oil running throughout the interior. There is no place inside the ship where you can get more than a few feet away from these hazards, whether you are eating, sleeping, showering, or working.

Additionally, on the outside of this mental trap is the bottomless {for all intents and purposes) an ocean full of crushing sea pressure continuously trying to get past the two-inch thickness of the ship’s metal skin and drown you. The very air a submariner breathes while the ship is submerged is manufactured by one of your shipmates on watch on the machines splitting water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen (both explosive gasses) at a pressure of 3000 pounds, and other machines to remove hydrogen {generated by the ship’s gigantic battery), carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Some of these ships carried even worse hazards in the form of the most powerful atomic bombs known to mankind-and the farthest you could get from these was less than the length of a football field.

And, of course, I haven’t even mentioned working within mere yards of a very powerful, compact nuclear reactor generating deadly radiation {shielded, of course) and high-pressure steam which was constantly trying to get out of its pipes and steam-cook those inside the engine room.

Those are the hazards that you carry with you while at sea, each minute of each hour of each day. As if all that weren’t enough, you occasionally had to take your ship into areas where there was the possibility of enemy Russian submarines locating you and pointing very large bullets at you, possibly with an itchy finger, depending on the politics of the moment.

While these machines were designed and manufactured to the best engineering standards and technology in the world, they suffered from one unavoidable weakness-like even the world’s best computer, they are only as good as the operator. And that guy was you, and your shipmates.

Most people with a job know that sometimes their everyday home and family life problems occasionally affect their performance at work. This can work both ways-when things at home are very good, work can be an unusually easy breeze. And when things at home go sour, whether problems with the kids, an argument with the wife, or an unexpected or prolonged visit from an in-law, it can be very difficult to focus on the task at hand on the job.

When your job happens to be in the deadly environment of a submerged nuclear submarine, the price for a mistake can be high-the highest. And not only for you but for 130 of your closest friends who were all doing their jobs properly.

For me, leaving home for an extended deployment was always one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life, because of leaving the loved ones behind to handle more than they should have to handle on their own. After all, that’s one of the reasons for getting married; to share the problems and work, right? But the nature of the job required leaving for extended time periods with no ability to telephone home once a week, or even to send off a letter. Completely cut off until the next port visit.

The last week prior to a deployment was particularly difficult because of the clock ticking down to zero hours, when you must leave her and the kids, sometimes for as much as half a year. It was only an item on a calendar a year ago (if you were lucky enough to have that much warning), and thus, easy to put off as something merely unpleasant, like a dentist appointment. But in the final week, it became real. Tension built between you and your wife because neither wanted the separation, but both knew it was unavoidable. And with building tension came minor, occasionally major, arguments that both regretted almost immediately.

Finally, zero-hours arrived, with emotions at their highest. If I was lucky, I was able to hold my tears in check. If I was luckier still, she was too. For if she let go, it was sheer agony for me, for I knew that I, through having chosen this profession, was the cause of her pain. And thus, in such a state, it was time for the final hugs, kisses, and goodbyes, and then turn away from them and walk down the pier. For god’s sake, don’t look back-what if they are waiting there, staring at you with teary eyes saying, “Please don’t go?,. If you did look back and make eye contact, you would have to go through another round of the same painful separation all over again. It would be unbearable. So just walk straight ahead and don’t turn back. Having accomplished such an emotionally charged separation, it was time to look forward to where you were going. It was not looking forward in the sense of looking forward to a vacation, but looking forward into the environment that awaits, your home for the next several months, one which required each man to do his job if all were to survive.

For me, I would not be able to function effectively in such an environment with my emotions in such a shambles from the unwanted separation from loved ones. Accordingly, I somehow developed an ability to undergo a metamorphosis (were you beginning to think we’d never get back to that?) when required. It was not a split personality, though I knew some men who developed that as their tool to cope-one personality at home and a totally different one at sea. For me, I was able, because my survival depended on it, to lock away my family and home life, in a special room in my heart.

I locked them away, and my emotions related to them, so that they could not affect my actions in the new environment. They were by no means forgotten-I knew they were there all the time. I checked in on them from time to time. But they, and the associated emotions, were thoroughly isolated from the outward me. They had no impact on my thinking, emotions, or actions. That is why I say a metamorphosis-a change or evolution in my being, for, before the metamorphosis, my family was always in my thoughts and heart and soul, for better or worse. Before, they were an integral part of me. Now, and until I returned, they would not, could not, be an integral part, but rather more like a cherished possession brought out occasionally to remember fondly in quiet moments when a shipmate was minding the dangers.

I had the walking distance from the car to the brow of the submarine to undergo this transmutation in my soul. As the length of my service in the Submarine Force grew, so did the walking distance required to complete the inner change.

This was my way of dealing with this lifestyle, which has been described by many as an impossible lifestyle for a family to survive. It allowed me to be at my peak most of the time while at sea, at least to the extent that missing the family and home life did not impair my judgment.

A final warning: Having developed the ability to undergo this metamorphosis. there remains the task of reversing the process upon return home. This is perhaps one of the most serious challenges. For me, it was not easy to develop the ability. and once developed, it became difficult to reverse the process and completely open up with the family. I believe today’s submariners need to be very cautious. if they desire to reserve a good home life after submarine service. to ensure a -complete reversal of whatever process they use to prepare themselves for their lives while deployed. Perhaps a simple awareness of the possibilities will be enough to some.


The Navy League of the United States will once again hold the Sea-Air-Space Exposition, the largest of its kind in the world, in Washington, DC. April 11-13, 1995 at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. This year’s event. with the theme Sea Power for the 21st Century, will feature approximately 150 exhibits of defense-related technology, education seminars, and special programs. The 1994 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, held in late March, attracted more than 10,000 attendees.


Richard S. Carson and Associates, Inc.
Member Since 1119192

Richard S. Carson & Associates, Inc. (Carson Associates} is a full-service management consulting firm with more than 15 years of experience in solving complex management, information, functional, and technical problems for Federal Government Agencies and commercial customers. Carson Associates combines contemporary consulting methodologies with a unique blend of high-tech computer services and cost-effective applied technologies.

Drawing upon the talents of 60 professional technical and functional specialists, Carson Associates is focused on four business areas:

Functional Analysis examines operations, develops strategic and tactical plans, and analyzes alternatives to help customers improve and multiply the impact of management decisions on the functioning of their organizations.

Process Improvement documents the activities of an organization and postulates better ways of doing business. Carson Associates conducts economic analysis of proposed changes, provides organization performance measurements against established benchmarks, and automates the flow of work through improved processes.

Data Integration documents information requirements and solutions provide cross·functional standardization for communication and establish access to multiple, independent databases for ad hoc queries by decision support systems.

System Development documents functional requirements develop system designs, and automatically develops code for prototype testing and evaluation.

Carson Associates is currently supporting five major customers: The National Guard Bureau has engaged Carson Associates to conduct business process improvement analyses for procurement and contracting and supply management. The individual process studies were followed by economic analyses that identified the opportunity for more than $350 million in savings. These studies were extended to strategic planning, financial resource allocation, and detailed analyses of roles and missions for various elements of the National Guard.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs uses a Carson Associates managed Executive Information System founded on a unique capability for ad hoc queries to extract information from any combination of 27 distinct and incompatible databases. Carson is leading and integrating process analyses in more than 20 different Reserve functional areas and has provided a basis for evaluating the installation level support required to maintain Army operating forces.

For the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Carson Associates developed and now operates an Integrated Data Analysis Center, importing and integrating Defense-wide planning, manpower, and logistics databases for high-level, complex analyses as force mix alternatives and program readiness impacts. Carson Associates is supporting Army infrastructure reengineering efforts as part of a total Army reshaping process to meet 21st-century challenges of power projection, information age operations, and declining budgets.

The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, supported by Carson Associates, is conducting and integrating process improvements in eight functional areas. These process improvements include changing the business processes, automating workflows, defining information system requirements, and evaluating, selecting, and implementing automated information systems. Using an Enterprise framework, Carson Associates is identifying cross-functional interfaces, standardizing data elements, and integrating common processes across all these A&T functions.

The Continuous Acquisition and Life-Cycle Support (CALS) Initiatives have been supported by Carson Associates since 1986. The company has developed strategic business plans and tactical plans for implementation of the strategy; developed and maintained military standards and implementing instructions, and coordinated weapon system demonstration projects.

Carson Associates has recently initiated a major research and development project to ensure that the company stays at the leading edge of process and information technology. This project uses the core expertise in the integration and application of advanced analytic and development tools, will bring together newly announced commercial products to form a seamless and highly automated toolset for process streamlining, process automation, and automated information support.

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