"Strong for Service Still"
officer entered the Mahan Hall theater and walked quickly to the front of
the room. Noise that had been
the din of conversation before his arrival became a crescendo of shuffling
feet as the students rose to attention.
Setting his briefcase and a coffee mug down on the table behind the
podium, he turned and, hands on hips, uttered a simple command.
Beginning to walk from one side of the room
to the other, Nelson continued. "I
won't bore you with a history lesson -- you have already
received so many.
I'm also sure
you have these words memorized: 'I
wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I
intend to go in harm's way.' When
John Paul Jones wrote those words, he could not have envisioned a Navy
with a strike force that travels under the water.
Gentlemen, I submit to you that submarines are the epitome of the
fast ships he was demanding. You
will be part of a ship's complement that can deliver the fight to the
enemy at high speed, and virtually undetected.
Captain Jones would be amazed by the advancements
if he were to return today -- but he would
be excited at the possibilities. Indulge
me as I take a little time to bring you up to speed on submarine design
As he spent a few minutes highlighting the
current status of the Navy's submarine force Nelson’s lecture style
began to manifest itself, and many of the midshipmen leaned forward to
catch every word. He was
gratified to see Crane and Morton paying rapt attention, their
eyes on his.
He took another drink from the famous
coffee mug. He didn’t know
it was famous, didn’t know that his students had decided there had to be
“something in that coffee.” An
enterprising scholar had contrived to sample the drink once, when the
captain had stepped out of his classroom.
To his obvious disappointment the Mid had proclaimed it "clean
as a whistle."
Nelson stopped pacing and moved back to
stand once again in front of the podium, using the time to formulate his
thoughts and make ready to drive home some final, important points.
"You want career development?
You will be at the forefront of engineering improvements that
others will marvel at and envy. You want excitement? For
those captivated by the implications of the old adage, you will indeed see
the world from a unique vantage point.
"There are some that will think I am
advocating a complete change in battle strategy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course, submarines will never replace our present battle groups.
However, submarines are the fast ships that ensure the seas are
kept clear for our forces to maneuver.
To the enemy, we are real threats.
Make no mistake about it.
"Now, the Navy can be a cruel
mistress. She will mock you,
anger you, hurt you in inestimable ways and worse yet, embarrass you.
You will also find in her a seductive siren that will call you back
to herself time after time. You will find this to be especially true on a submarine,
where vessel and crew are intimately connected.
Speaking of that crew, the enlisted men under your care are your
most precious resource. They
will look to you for guidance and leadership.
You will have much at stake, and your decisions will be crucial.
Make them correctly, and you will live to fight another day.
"Finally, lest you think that once
aboard, you will never see blue sky again -- nothing will prepare you for
the view from the bridge of a submarine.
Picture it, if you will. You
are only a few feet above the water, jacket collar turned up against the clean salt air, watching the bow of your boat as
she cleaves her way through the waves.
Lookouts sweep the horizon, alert for contacts on the surface and
above, while sonar operators listen and watch for threats from below.
Danger cannot be hidden from you.
You are truly master of all you survey."
He allowed that to sink in for a few
seconds, and then said, "Thank you for your attention, gentlemen.
and again, he stared at the top row, "has any questions, my door is
always open. Dismissed."
Someone in the back began applauding, and
the rest of the audience soon joined in.
Captain Nelson acknowledged the applause with a little wave while
putting his notes away.
Crane and Morton remained in their seats as
the other students filed out of the room.
"Lee, why do I get the feeling that
was meant for us?"
"Probably because it was.
It's what we thought about in the beginning, and then kinda got
away from. Advanced
engineering... and nuclear power! Groton
is sounding a lot more attractive than it did a few minutes ago. It would be good to try it together,
Chip, what d'you say?"
"I think we better have that talk with
* * * *
From the back door the Deputy Commandant
emerged, arm extended, and the two officers shook hands.
"Well, Harry, mission accomplished?"
Captain Nelson looked up at the two young
men deep in conversation with each other.
"Possibly, Gene, possibly.
I just hope I was able to pull it off."
"I wouldn’t put anything past you,
Harry. Tenacity is your
middle name, after all."
He chuckled at his little joke while Nelson
tried to look amused.
It was a reputation that he admitted, was not wholly unwarranted.
Tenacity was required in his search for the best officers in the Navy to
command his beloved pigboats. If
men like Crane and Morton choose the Silent Service, well, one couldn't
argue with success.
Turning aside, the captain picked up his
mug and raised it to his lips, drinking deeply.
The coffee was tepid, but that didn't matter. Talking made you thirsty.
He’d give it a couple of days, and then go down to the counseling
offices. If all was well,
that bottle of fine bourbon he’d been saving for a special occasion
would be broken out on Service Assignment Night.
It would be a good time for a toast to the future.
gouge - in Naval Academy speak, this is the real deal, the straight
skinny, in other words, the whole truth and nothing but
Firsties - slang for a First Class Midshipman, the equivalent of a Senior
in their last year of college
The title is from William Cowper's monumental work,
The Task, Book II, The Timepiece, line 702.
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