On Friday, the 5th of August, CDR Travis Zettel, proudly relieved CDR Wesley Bringham as CO of the USS Bremerton (SSN-698). CAPT Jim Waters, prior Commodore of CSS-4 and CO of the USS Virginia, delivered the address to an esteemed audience, including (CSS-1) Captain Rexrode, members of the Bremerton Navy League, former colleagues, and the crew.
On Monday morning, BREMERTON got underway with her new CO for a scheduled two week underway to support a multinational submarine exercise.
In addition to submarine tracking, the BREMERTON kept busy conducting maintenance, training, running drills and planning for an upcoming Docking Continuous Maintenance Availability (DCMAV). As a reward for all of the hard work, the Badfish squeezed in a swim call (reenlistment training) in the warm waters of the Pacific on the south shores of Oahu, prior to returning to port. – Swim calls are not as frequent as they used to be; compressed operational timelines, fleet requirements, and risk aversion have taken their toll.
CO’s context: For some, swim calls are only folklore; many can go their entire career without ever conducting one. In my 18 years of submarine service (nearly ten years of sea time), I had never even observed a swim call. That was until BREMERTON. Even before taking command, crew members were very interested in my plans and thoughts to conduct a swim call during our last underway prior to entering DCMAV (apparently my predecessor had promised such post deployment that never came to fruition due to material challenges and schedule perturbations). Being my first underway while in command, I was not keen to acquiesce. But because my crew was diligent and unrelenting, I said I would think about it and used the opportunity to do some operational planning training; challenging my team to develop an air tight plan to include, watch bills, training, and ORA (operational risk assessment) and the wardroom happily stepped to. Even with such a plan available to me, weather, seas, and traffic conditions had to be almost perfect to pull off a swim call. In my mind, I did not believe we could pull it off and gave it only a 5% chance of occurrence and went to bed that night with that solace.
At 0530 the next morning, I went to the bridge to assess wind and seas as we headed inbound. As we crossed into the lea of Oahu, wind and seas abated – just as my Assistant Navigator had anticipated and to my surprise, conditions were favorable for a swim call. The Officer of the Deck called down to control for the rifleman to report to the bridge to be stationed as a shark watch (Submariners don’t get a lot of practice shooting on the range, so opinions are divided over whether the expended ammunitions would end up in the shark or in the shark bait. But for those not afraid of sharks or the shark watch, were free to come topside for a swim.)
For most onboard, a swim call is the pinnacle of things to do onboard a submarine while at sea. Jumping from the fairwater planes is now a very unique opportunity for a US submariner (SSBN fairwater planes are too high and most SSNs no longer have them).
For the CO, a swim call is possibly the most terrifying evolution possible. Aside from all of the risks associated with sending personnel topside in the open ocean, there are 50 young excited sailors full of adrenaline looking to blow off some steam. Even with the COB topside attempting to coral the rambunctious sailors, I have never been more on edge then during my first swim call. I must have come across to my sailors as a grumpy old man.
The Badfish is now on the blocks (dry dock) in Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard conducting a shaft replacement. The goal is to be out before Thanksgiving, if not shortly after. Most of the crew is happy to be back in Pearl Harbor for a few months after nearly ten months away in the last twelve. However, I suspect the numbers of those happy to be alongside will quickly dwindle as the weight and pains of a drydock maintenance availability takes hold. I for one look forward to getting out of drydock soonest and do what we submariners do best – run silent, run deep.