In two previous issues of this journal, in articles curiously enough named The First Skipper and The Last Skipper, I paid homage to those Commanding Officers who provided the bookends of my seagoing submarine career. In these pieces, I tried to articulate just how important it is for the first skipper to light a fire in the belly of a new submarine officer and for the last skipper to round off the rough edges of that same individual- now his XO. What went unsaid, and what I am now attempting to describe, is the even greater contribution made (for those lucky enough to have had one), by the developmental continuity provided by a primary mentor- someone around to help, advise and train throughout those long years between initial accession and command. I was extraordinarily lucky to have had one of these in the person of Kenneth Monroe Carr.
LCDR Ken Carr was the XO of SCORPION when I reported aboard in the Fall of 1961 – one of the first wave of direct inputs- as the boat was leaving Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) at Electric Boat to become the first nuke in Norfolk. Unlike many of the subsequent XOs I served with as a junior officer, Ken Carr never appeared frazzled and overworked, but always had a grin, a quick wit and great NAUTILUS sea stories, having spent seven years on her as a Plankowner. All of the Wardroom, but particularly Ken Carr, took great pains to bring two boot Ensigns- myself and a USNA classmate- up to speed without the slightest tinge of second-rate citizenship for not having done the then routine dues paying of a year or more on a surface ship before subschool, then a year or more on a diesel boat before nuclear power school. Everything we did and experienced was crafted as a learning experience.
Two events in particular stick in my mind. In addition to being the Sonar Officer and the Supply Officer, I was also the Public Affairs Officer and responsible for answering letters sent to the ship from the general public, enclosing a nice glossy 8″x IO” of the ship running fast on the surface. The commissioning supply of these had just about run out, and I went to the XO and asked what to do. He told me to write a work request to the photo shop on the ORION, our tender in Norfolk, and showed me basically how to do it. I shortly thereafter was back in his office with a work request for 50 pictures. He asked “How many do you need?”, and I said “50 Sir, just like I wrote in the form”. He then said “Well, the photo shop will probably come back to you and tell you they’re very busy, and could you get by with half that number, so if you think you need 50, you’d better ask for 100”. “Yes Sir”, and 1 went off to come back with a new work request for l 00. Ken Carr then grinned, said “I’m going to teach you one more thing- think big!” and added another zero to the requested number. A couple of days later the Chief at the Photo Shop called to ask if I could make do with 500.
In the early 60s the SSBN building boom was in full swing, and about six months into my SCORPION tour, Ken Carr was ordered Another memorable event was when, in accordance with the COs dictum that my classmate and I would be OODs within a month of reporting aboard, I was standing my first OOD watch and was to come to periscope depth at 0600 to copy the broadcast. I was so excited and involved in the process that I didn’t even notice that the XO was kind of inconspicuously hanging around the Control Room – clearly, as I later realized, as a safety observer. When the scope broke and I watched the sun rise after an appropriate look around, my stage whisper comment to no one in particular was “Wow, this is fun!” – after which 1 became aware of the XO’s presence when he replied “When it stops being fun I’m going to get out.”
In the early 60s the SSBN building boom was in full swing, and about six months into my SCORPION tour, Ken Carr was ordered off as the Blue crew XO in the recommissioning crew of JAMES MONROE at Newport News, having been relieved by some no-name called Carlisle Trost, who continued our education in the same gracious manner he is well known for.
In the thirteenth month of our tour, upon returning from our third North Atlantic deployment, both I and my classmate found orders waiting that directed us to report to JAMES MONROE, via instruction at the Bettis Labs, as the Blue and Gold submarine qualified and sea-experienced JOs that all new construction SSBNs were promised. At the end of the Bettis training, the early Winter of ’63 drive from Pittsburgh to Newport News Shipyard in an Austin Healy Sprite was long and cold. On arrival in the evening, after handing my orders to LCDR Ken Carr, again my XO, he dropped what he was doing and took a very tired, hungry and broke L TJG to a local restaurant for a steak dinner.
Ken Carr again took the lead in continuing our professional training- not just on the specifics of submarine equipment and operations, but also about the proper personal attitudes to cultivate and maintain. As the ship was getting ready to go to sea for the first time, some work was being done inside the after group of Main Ballast Tanks which had their flood ports covered over and the vent operators removed for access. Welding sparks had apparently ignited some rags at the bottom of the tank, and the word came over the General Announcing System “Fire in Main Ballast Tank number four”. As the Duty Officer I went to the scene topside, where I was joined by Ken Carr and we watched shipyard firefighters in emergency breathing equipment enter the ballast tank. As we were watching, both COs and the other XO showed up and entered the tank without emergency breathing equipment. The Blue XO and I looked at each other, and Ken Carr said “Well, it’s a hell of a quick way to fleet up”.
JAMES MONROE was the first new construction submarine to go on sea trials after the long hiatus following the loss of THRESHER. Sea trials Alfa were well supervised, as might be expected, with many Naval Reactors and SUBLANT personnel riding. On sea trials Bravo, however, we were essentially without adult supervision, and almost everyone was very much up tight. On the second night out, at 400 feet and I 0 knots with no testing scheduled, the movie was started in the wardroom. Halfway through the first reel, Ken Carr looked over his shoulder at the cluster of speed/depth instrumentation on the bulkhead, threw back his chair and raced out of the wardroom. In a heartbeat or two both COs, the other XO and both Navigators also threw back their chairs and raced out. The movie stopped, the lights came on and the Supply Officer and I, both having just come off watch, looked at each other, decided that whatever the problem was it had plenty of command attention, and continued eating dinner. In a minute or two, Ken Carr came back, sat down and began eating more popcorn. “Where did everyone go?” we asked. With a grin he said “I don’t know about everyone else, but I went to the head”.
Gene Lindsey, the 000, later said that it was rather startling when, shortly into what appeared to be a dull watch, the forward door to the Control Room flew open, and without a word, both COs, the Gold XO and both Navigators looked all around for a few minutes, then left. When they returned to the wardroom, the lights went out, the movie restarted and nothing was said about the interruption- after that, things were markedly less tense.
When the MONROE was up and running well, Ken Carr finally got his orders to Command (he had really wanted to go from SCORPION to pick up THRESHER out of her overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard). It was the recommissioning crew of FLASHER at Electric Boat, and it was to be the third crew ordered in- the first disbanded when the decision was made to lengthen FLASHER, GATO and GREELING by 14 feet, and the second disbanded after THRESHER sank and it was decided to make FLASHER the first fully subsafed submarine.
NAUTILUS had been unique in that it had had no PSA, and now CDR Carr’s mantra was that neither would FLASHER. When the shipyard wanted to shift some work to PSA because ” … it would take 2000 man-hours to accomplish”, Ken Carr’s response (with a grin) was that” .. .if you send a thousand men down to the boat, it’ll be done before lunch” (i.e. try harder!).
When FLASHER got out of the shipyard and headed to Pearl Harbor, she was scheduled for a PSA there. However, returning to port from some local ops one Friday, the Squadron Commander was on the pier and asked CDR Carr if he could be ready to deploy on Monday (most of the other nukes in Pearl were literally worn out from overuse, since we had yet to fully realize that material readiness is a consumable). Ken Carr’s response was, predictably, “I can be ready tomorrow”. We left on Monday, and that would become the first of seven Special Operations in a year and a half period, and FLASHER did indeed avoid a PSA before her first overhaul. In classic Ken Carr fashion, when debriefing COMSUBPAC on this very successful and Pacific ocean-spanning Legion of Merit operation and asked to what he attributed his great success, CDR Carr replied, again with a grin ” … good training, advanced planning, and the fact that the OOD cleared baffles a half hour before I had told him to”.
I served with then CAPT Carr next at the Pentagon, on a medical hold, in a small OPNA V Division dealing with submarine R&D. Again there were many training/learning events, one of which was the salvaging of a program called “The Permit/Plunger Sonar” which had several times failed to make the cut for the Five Year Defense Plan (FYDP). This was done merely changing the name to “The DNA Sonar” (QIMUS, improved Narrow band, Accelerated active search) – the press being full at the time about the achievements of Messrs. Watson and Crick and their Oligonucleotide Acid. Submariners would more quickly recognize the equipment as the BQQ-5 sonar.
When I was later subjected to the adversary proceedings of a formal Medical Board for “Idiopathic Seizure Disorder”, RADM Ken Carr, then senior military aide to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, testified and was asked “If you were ever COMPLAISANT, would you want this officer to command one of your ships?” RADM Carr’s answer was “Him and twelve more like him” – a tribute I didn’t think I deserved, but was grateful for .
Good mentors are far more than just good friends. They have to have come by their mentoring skills by having been mentored themselves- in Ken Carr’s case by such as Admirals Bill Crow and Dennis Wilkinson- and they have to have the ability to see the potential in someone that even that person doesn’t realize exists. The Army might .say “Be all that you can be”, but good submarine mentors make individuals more than they otherwise could have been- VADM Carr was indeed COMPLAISANT when I commanded PARGO a position I never imagined I would achieve when I first met him.
Not only was Kenneth Monroe Carr my XO (twice), my CO, my boss at OPNAV, my Type Commander, and a surrogate father, but he also introduced me to my wife while at Electric Boat and is our youngest son’s Godfather. I certainly hope that the mentoring tradition is still alive and well in today’s Submarine Force- it works wonders.