Photo and Article by MIDN 4/C Edward Natkin
On Saturday, April 23, midshipmen from five Boston schools had the opportunity to visit the USS Hartford, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine homeported in Groton, CT. The Hartford is an improved Los Angeles Class boat that recently returned from ICEX 2016, where she and her crew breached the polar ice cap several times and practiced conducting operations in the far north. Despite an early wake up on a Saturday, the midshipmen in attendance were excited to learn more about the submarine community and take advantage of the rare (and for most of their classmates nonexistent) opportunity to get an intimate tour of an active US Navy submarine. Following their time aboard the Hartford, the midshipmen also visited the Submarine Force Museum and the USS Nautilus museum submarine.
Midshipmen were split into two groups for the tour in order to navigate the narrow passageways and small compartments onboard the Hartford. The tours were led by two Second Class Petty Officers, both of whom were extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the Hartford and her various systems. In the Hartford’s control center midshipmen heard from the Duty Officer, a lieutenant junior grade who spoke about the roles and responsibilities of a junior officer onboard a submarine. As they worked their way through the boat, midshipmen spoke with sailors from various rates and ranks about their areas of expertise and the systems they operate. One thing stressed by everyone onboard was the tight-knit community atmosphere and the high level of trust that all sailors and officers on the boat must have in one another. Interestingly, on submarines there are no dedicated damage control men or firefighters. If there is an emergency, everyone onboard has a responsibility, from the XO who serves as the incident commander to the cook who doubles as a paramedic.
Upon entering the wardroom the midshipmen and unit staff were fortunate to be greeted by the Hartford’s new XO. The XO asked the midshipmen about their career interests within the Navy and did his best to sell them on the submarine force. Specifically he cited the higher pay, opportunities to pursue advanced degrees, and the exciting (though secretive) missions and deployments. He then answered questions from the midshipmen on topics ranging from the ongoing integration of the submarine force to the challenges of raising a family as a sub officer.
Following the tour of the Hartford, midshipmen visited the Submarine Force Museum and walked through the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The museum was very interesting, but after having almost unfettered access to the Hartford, the audio-guided tour of the Nautilus couldn’t really compare. However, it was remarkable to see how much has changed, and how much hasn’t, since the early days of nuclear power. On the whole, the day was highly successful, with the midshipmen learning a tremendous deal about the culture, operations, and history of the Navy’s “silent service”.