Nine years ago I was stationed on the USS Louisiana SSBN-743 Gold. At that point in my naval career I was a young Petty Officer Third Class. I had a wife and a little two year old baby girl. We all lived happily in Kingsbay, GA and life was, for the most part, good.
As with all SSBN submarines, we were on a set rotation with another crew (the Blue crew). We would have the boat for a set number of days and then we would give the boat to them and vice versa. Sometime in early August of 2001 the blue crew arrived home safe and sound. It was our turn to fix the things that had broken, paint the boat, conduct scheduled maintenance, load the food and our clothing and head out on patrol.
The primary mission of an SSBN submarine is strategic deterrence. That sounds like a daunting task I know and at times it can be. We worked hard, but we played hard too. During that time in 2001 the Louisiana was commanded by Commander D. G. Ruff, one of the finest submarine commanders I have ever had the pleasure of serving under. He was fair, funny and had the type personality that made people want to serve him. Under his command the Louisiana excelled. We won numerous awards and was even given the Battle Efficiency award.
So as time approached for us to get underway in late August the entire crew was ready. We weren’t always ready to get underway, but we sure were ready to stop painting and doing all that maintenance though. We kissed our wives and our children and climbed down the hatch and into that steel tube we would call home for the next ninety or so days. We had no idea that this patrol would be very different from those before.
As I sat by the fathometer in the control room I can still hear the sound of the ships whistle sounding as the Control Room Sup announces that the “ship is underway”. And so it begins…
We get into our routine of being on shift for six hours and being off for twelve hours. Some of us sleep during those 12, some watch movies, some work on qualifications and some fix things that have broken, but all of us, at some point, train. Training is a vital part of the submarine navy and that is what we were doing on September 11th, 2001.
It was around 1300 or 1400 Zulu when we received a message from our boss, the Commanding Officer of the Atlantic Submarine Fleet. The message was something about the World Trade Center being bombed or having bomb threats made against it. Either way, the message was hard to understand, but training ended and proverbial crap hit the fan. This patrol was not Just Another Patrol.
We were ordered to load torpedo’s and do a number of other things that I can’t get into. As the hours went by and by listening to an AM radio station that the Radioman piped through the ship we found out what had happened. It seemed that some selfish SOB’s had taken some planes hostage and crashed them into the WTC. Sleep did not occur for many hours as we all listened in horror of what was happening to our families back home. Some crew members had family in New York. Our form Executive Officer was station at the Pentagon and the list goes on. The worst part was that we couldn’t “see” what happened. All we could do was to listen to the reports and imagine what was going on. We couldn’t call our wives or hold our children.
It was an intense patrol. We performed well and I have never in my life been more proud to be a submarine sailor as I was during that patrol.
We arrived back to a different Kingsbay. 100% vehicle checks were in place. No outside visitors could come on base. It was total ciaos.
That underway changed everyone in some way or another. For me, I became a little more resolute.
I continue to serve my country as a Navy Reservist and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come.
Where were you on September 11th, 2001? Do you have a story?