By Fleet Master Chief April Beldo
Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education (MPT&E) Fleet Master Chief
Jan. 16, 2016, was an amazing day. In fact, it was one of the most memorable days of my life and my 32-year naval career. Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Adm. Bill Moran and I had the opportunity to get underway aboard USS Mississippi (SSN 782) to develop a deeper appreciation for the operational and training environment submariners work in, and to get a pulse of the community at a critical time.
I wasn’t absolutely sure what to expect before going underway, but I knew one thing for sure – a submarine is its own world. No television, no Facebook, no NFL playoff games, no texting, no Instagram. The ship is a mobile 130-person city-at-sea that makes its own water, oxygen and electricity. Every member of the crew plays a vital role – from the cooks to the sonar technicians to the reactor operators. Each person is important, and there is no room for dead weight.
Last month, Mississippi made history by becoming the first Virginia-class submarine in the Pacific to have women stationed aboard the ship. What an opportunity for the crew – a chance to make history and the submarine force even better.
After the ship secured the maneuvering watch leaving Pearl Harbor, I was invited up to the ship’s bridge approximately 30 feet above the water as we headed south from Oahu. I climbed some 50 steps straight up the ship’s ladder to the highest point on the submarine. I’m not afraid of heights, but looking directly beneath me as I approached the top, my mortality suddenly became real. What awaited me there, however, was extraordinary… beautiful blue Pacific waves breaking over the ship’s bow just in front of us.
After breathing in the ocean sea-breeze for a while, I climbed down the ladder back inside the submarine’s protective bulkheads to meet the ship’s crew. As I walked around, I noticed there were stickers affixed to many of the doors. “Silence is Victory” they said. Besides fire, noise is one of the submarine’s biggest enemies. Too loud, and a submarine’s position is exposed making the silent and unseen service suddenly become visible.
“The officer of the deck has shifted his watch below decks,” a voice said over the submarine’s speaker. The crew cheered. “Isn’t this your first time to submerge,” the captain asked one of the newly reported women aboard the ship. “Yes sir,” she said. Her new career was just starting.
“Dive, dive, dive,” the voice said an hour later. The crew was laser-focused and several people began making reports to the ship’s pilot. This is one of the most crucial evolutions a submarine will ever do. One mistake and flooding becomes an immediate reality. But the ship submerged deep with no problems. Everyone was happy to be below the surface and back in their element once again. Those who serve aboard submarines are a special type of person. They are focused on the mission and have a calling unlike any others.
26 hours and 45 minutes after embarking Mississippi, we departed the submarine and arrived back in Pearl Harbor. I’ll never forget this day as long as I live, and am excited to keep a watchful eye on this ship and its crew well into the future.
Hooyah Mississippi… and see you in the Fleet.