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Three Months on Board a Trident Nuclear Submarine

Douglas Waller has written an interesting chronicle of a portion of a USS NEBRASKA (SSBN739) strategic patrol in the Atlantic. Seen primarily through the eyes of its CO, Commander David Volonino, and the Chief of the Boat (COB), MCPO David Weller, it pays close attention to the relationship between the two, and between them and the remainder of the 162 man crew. The author interviewed 106 crewmembers over the course of a month in port and three weeks at sea. The only person not given his proper due is the ship’s Executive Officer.

Big Red covers every aspect of a strategic submarine’s operations, including the difficult egress from its home port and its return [early SSBN home port were on the open sea-later ones were “up the river” in the Southeast US].

One of the more interesting threads sewn in the course of the book is the background of many of the crew-how they got from Anytown, USA to USS NEBRASKA.

The author rightfully spends a significant section of Big Red on strategic missile release procedures-from receipt of an exercise presidential release order to the simulated release of the SSBNs Trident missiles. After all, as Mr. Waller points out-when a Trident submarine goes to sea, it becomes the sixth largest “nuclear power” in the world.

This reviewer takes exception to two passages in Big Red. One, “during the cold war, a Trident would never have dared to sail into a confined ocean like the Mediterranean” is anethma to an old Med SSBN hand. We routinely made Polaris/Poseidon patrols in the Med for years. There was seldom much boredom during a Med run.

The other is more personal. To quote “The (boomer) couples who stayed together … probably shouldn’t have been married. Certainly they shouldn’t have kids.” I find this an affront to my wife and to the thousands of other fine boomer wives who successfully raised many thousands of kids.

Big Red should prove a good read for the general public and the non-submarine military. For old time boomer sailors, it informs them of the changes that have occurred and an answer for the question “Grandpa, what did you do out there?

Douglas Waller is the congressional correspondent for Time magazine. Earlier in his career he had worked for Newsweek and been a congressional staffer. He has published two other books on military matters.


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