What is life like inside one of America's Trident submarines, as it "projects power" for the only superpower in a turbulent world?by John Podhoretz / October 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
On a brilliant August morning on a waterway west of Seattle off Puget Sound, I find myself deep inside the USS Ohio, the oldest (18 years) of America’s Trident submarines. The Ohio is armed with two dozen long-range nuclear missiles, each capable of killing millions of people. The 18 Tridents make up the sea leg of America’s “strategic triad”-its sea, air and land-based nuclear defences.
I am on a six-hour ceremonial cruise about 60 feet under the surface of Hook Canal with three dozen other civilians and the Ohio’s 154-man crew. We will spend our time romping about this ship, whose cramped, windowless, perpetually bright interior was a state secret until the end of the cold war. We will listen to tapes of whale song recorded by the guys in the sonar room, fire off “water slugs” from the torpedo compartments, and look through the periscope. We will enrich the coffers of the Pentagon by promiscuously purchasing USS Ohio mugs and caps.
And in a few hours the submarine will surface and we visitors will stand on its topside-the length of two football fields. We will climb aboard a tug and watch as the Ohio again sinks below the water-there to stay, somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean, in a location known only to its captain, until October.
But for now, I am shooting the breeze with five of the chief petty officers, the senior enlisted men on the boat, in their makeshift lounge. While the captain and officers tend to the mission, the chiefs go about the minute-to-minute business of making the boat go, manning the weapons and the engines. They are the hands-on guys, all of them self-made, having risen through the ranks. And they have the quiet assurance and private amusement of people who know how to do what they do better than anyone else on earth.
“Two months is a long time to be cooped up together,” I say. “What do you do if two of your men get into a fight?” (There are no women on submarines in the US Navy.)
“You break it up,” one of the chiefs says. “You get between them, tell your guy to cool down while somebody else says the same thing to the other guy.”
“It doesn’t happen very often,” says another. “When people get less than six hours’ sleep, they start to be grouchy. Like before an…