In the early ’60s, the Navy added a doctor to the complement of nuclear submarines. To implement the assignment of the doctors, the Submarine Medical Research Unit, at the Sub Base, New London, was assigned the responsibility for the training and indoctrination of young doctors in the nuances of onboard submarine medicine.
As Flotilla Commander, I bad certain operational and administrative responsibilities for the off-crew and commissioning crew training. I felt that the assignment of a doctor to a submarine, while desirable, would not fully employ the talents of the medical officers. The crews were always given thorough medical exams before each patrol. Statistics indicated that the probability of emergency medical attention was rather remote. Experience to date indicated that the young doctors, being very active, would become involved in non-medical evolutions, such as radar, sonar and other aspects of submarine operations to keep them from becoming bored.
As a result of the above, the suggestion was made to the CO of the Submarine Medical Research Unit, that each doctor be assigned a submarine related medical research project. The only requirement was that the Flotilla Commander review the outline of the proposed research project. The Commander of the Submarine Medical Research Unit was enthusiastic and the program was off and running.
Before long, it became apparent that the majority of the proposed research projects were based on the psychiatrist’s assumption that the close confines of a submarine over the long periods of the patrols, combined with the continual stress brought on by the inherent dangers of submarine operations, guaranteed that some of the crew members would crack under the mental strain. To counter this assumption, it was pointed out that all crew members were volunteers, received extra pay, were highly respected by their peers and served in a very prestigious organization within the Navy. As a result, such projects were replaced by some more creative ones which addressed other types of submarine medical problems.
One project which was particularly creative, involved the use of frogs. The young doctor sponsoring this project had determined that the esophagus of the frog was in many ways similar to that of the human being. He pointed out that the closed environment of the submarine bad resulted in exposing the crew to many minor internal and pulmonary infections which involved the esophagus. He proposed to establish small families of frogs in various compartments and compare their well being during the course of the patrol, while closely monitoring the condition of the air and environment of the particular compartment to see if there was any correlation. The experiment met with great enthusiasm by the crew as the individual frogs were named and their activities closely observed by the occupants of the particular compartment.
I would like to report that the research project resulted in scientific findings of great value to the Submarine Force related to the care and feeding of submariners. Unfortunately, no such research findings resulted. However, the crew proclaimed that the frog experiment was a great success, if not from a medical point of view, but certainly as a morale booster during an uneventful patrol. The crew, in closely observing their particular stable of frogs, determined that there were those frogs who seemed to be able to move faster and jump further than others. Shortly, challenges were offered to other compartment’s stables of frogs for jumping and racing contests. Bets were made and the Frog Olympics took off running and jumping.
Whether or not any profound conclusions resulted from the frog caper is not known, nor was the validity of the original assumption that the frog’s esophagus was similar to that of the submariner’s firmly established. However, as far as the crew was concerned, the frog caper was a great jumping success.