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Beware The Wolf
7 September 2008 Pier 8, New London Submarine Base
"Petty Officer Gibson, front and center,"barked Jerry as he and the communications officer, Lieutenant Chandler, stood in front of the operations department, assembled in Seawolf's navigation equipment room. Seawolf was one of the biggest attack submarines in the U.S. Navy, but the ops department was just barely able to squeeze everyone in.
When Jerry called out his name, Gibson stepped up smartly and took the clipboard. IT2 Paul Gibson had been aboard the boat longer than Jerry. He was a little on the pudgy side, a common problem on subs where great food and few opportunities for exercise left their mark. He was twenty-seven, with a wife and a one- year- old son. He took position in front of the assembled sailors and began reading the plan of the day.
"Our underway is now in eight days. Supply chits have to be turned in by tomorrow if Mr. Constantino is supposed to fill them..."
Jerry already knew what the PoD said, and Gibson had everything under control. As he stood, half- listening, Jerry looked over the operations department—his department. That still sounded strange, even after six months on board. Ops department was eighteen men, including Jerry and Lieutenant Chandler.
As the commo, Chandler was in charge of six "information systems technicians,"or "ITs,"although most of the crew still called them radiomen.
And he was responsible for all the boat's communications equipment and encryption gear.
And as operations officer, Jerry was responsible for everyone in the department, including Chandler. Jerry was also Seawolf's navigator, in direct charge of the four quartermasters and six electronics technicians who ran the boat's navigation systems.
His sailors were neatly lined up in three groups, wearing clean working uniforms. Civilians would be impressed by their military bearing and discipline. But Jerry knew he faced a band of rugged individualists who worked together only by choice. And while they worked together well, that didn't come automatically, or even easily.
"Family day is Saturday, with a cookout at the ball field. We're still looking for some people to help with the kids' games, so contact MM2 Stone if you're interested. The ship's ombudsman and the family support network still need email addresses . . ."
Jerry's mind wandered to his own personal "to do"list. However, since he was navigator, operations officer, and senior watch officer, technically it was "lists."Oh. And he was one of three qualified divers on board.
As he mentally went down his tally, he looked down at his watch to check the time. No sweat, he still had fifteen minutes before his meeting with Lieutenant Commander Shimko, the executive officer. He had to go over the voyage plan—again. The crew wouldn't be briefed about their destination until they were under way, but Jerry not only knew where they were going, he had planned out their entire trip in detail.
It was to Seawolf's benefit that the XO was a detail freak, but it didn't make Jerry's life any easier. He was pretty sure he'd dreamed about the north Barents Sea again last night. He'd been cold when he woke up.
Gibson finished reading the PoD and looked expectantly at Jerry. Sensing his cue, Mitchell stepped forward and asked, "Do the chiefs or leading petty officers have anything further to add?"All four men responded in the negative.
"All right, then. Turn to and commence ship's work. Dismissed."As the members of the department queued up to exit through the narrow door into the control room, Jerry saw QM1 Peters waiting for his turn, and caught the quartermaster's eye. He pointed to his watch and then held up five fingers. Peters nodded, understanding. The ship's leading quartermaster would be at the briefing with the XO as well.
Jerry waited patiently to exit the nav equipment space and quickly headed aft to his stateroom. Even though the wardroom was on the same deck, and near his quarters, he'd have to hurry a little if he wanted to be punctual. To save time, he'd already organized the materials he needed to bring the night before, but as he approached his stateroom he saw Lieutenant Chandler waiting with a sheaf of papers in his hand and an earnest expression on his face. "Jerry, here are the last of our school requests, but I need to ask you a few questions . . ."
Jerry cut him off as he stepped into his stateroom. "Sorry, Matt. I'm wearing my navigator hat right now. I've got a voyage planning review in the wardroom with the XO."He dialed his safe and began removing his notes.
"I know, but this will only take a moment, and I have to turn them in this morning,"the comms officer pleaded.
"It'll be morning for some time yet, and I do not want to keep the XO waiting."Closing the safe should have added a note of finality to Jerry's statement.
Chandler wouldn't give up. "I'll just turn them in as is. They're probably fine."
"Not without me seeing them first,"Jerry insisted. That was standard procedure for any paperwork going up the chain of command. And Chandler knew better. When the commo smiled and started to offer Jerry the documents, Jerry repeated, "After the meeting. Find me then,"he said firmly, letting some irritation show. Jerry didn't like mind games. Chandler seemed to think it was the only way to get things done.
Hurrying the few steps to the wardroom, Jerry entered and found QM1 Peters already inside, laying out the charts. Jerry checked them over one last time, carefully comparing them to his own notes. Only after everything appeared in order did he allow himself to get a cup of coffee.
ETC Hudson and Lieutenant Commander Shimko appeared in the door as Jerry was pouring. He offered a cup to the XO, who gratefully accepted one. Peters also had some, but Hudson declined.
Marcus Shimko was second-generation American, born to Andrei and Natalia six years after they'd emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union and now Belarus. He was short, about Jerry's height, but stocky where Jerry was slim. Shimko had already lost a lot of his hair, but what was left was sandy and cut very short. He was all business, an exceptional organizer and a detail hound—the perfect executive officer.
Jerry teased Hudson about "not stooping to drink wardroom coffee"but kept one eye on the XO. When the executive officer sat down, ship's business took over. Jerry picked up his notes while Hudson double-checked the wardroom door, making sure it was locked.
With his laser pointer, Jerry highlighted individual sections of the entire mission on the nautical chart taped to the table. The bright blue and yellow chart was overlaid with black lines showing Seawolf's plotted course, and red Top Secret labels rubber-stamped on each corner.
"Our projected track takes us out of the Block Island Sound, east, and then northeast. I've recommended passing to the west of Iceland, using the Denmark Strait. Once past Iceland, we follow the east coast of Greenland, using shallow water and biologics wherever possible to mask our approach. Assuming an on- time departure on the fifteenth and a speed of advance of sixteen knots, we should arrive at Point Alpha at 1200 Zulu time on the twenty- third."Jerry pointed to the first of a series of x's on the chart.
He'd rehearsed the speech several times, and gotten it off smoothly. Shimko just nodded, inviting Jerry to continue. So far, so good.
"I've marked the known Russian exercise areas and traffic lanes on the chart. They've used these same areas for six years, and there's no indication that they plan to change them. We have two areas to survey, and a total of eighteen sorties with the three UUVs. Based on what little information we have about this part of the Barents, I've chosen sites within each area with potentially good bottom topography and reasonable acoustic conditions, but also a safe route in and out during the survey."
Shimko and Hudson studied the chart closely. Jerry and Peters, having laid out the courses and knowing them by heart, stayed out of the way to give the XO and chief some room.
"How long for each survey?"Shimko asked.
"I'm planning on forty-five hours. The UUVs have a fifty-hour operational endurance with a ten- hour emergency reserve. That gives us about a twenty-five-percent safety margin."
"How many UUVs will we have out at any one time?"
"Technically, XO, there are times during the mission, for about an hour, when all three UUVs will be out. One will be deployed surveying sites, while a second unit is launched and the third waits to be recovered."
"During which Seawolf is tied to one area."
"Yessir. We're only constrained in our ability to maneuver when we're launching or recovering a UUV, which takes no more than half an hour. Once that's done we can maneuver freely, we just have to stay relatively close to the rendezvous point so the UUV can find us again..."
"Never mind,"Shimko interrupted. "The critical issue is being committed to one spot while a UUV is deployed. What if we have to abort a rendezvous to evade a transiting vessel?"
Jerry had an answer. "Sea ice will be starting to form in the area by the time we arrive, so there is little risk of running into fishing traffic or even other merchant ships. The only likely problem would be from Russian warships or submarines, and according to the intel weenies, their training cycle is largely over for the year. There may be some small-scale operations before the ports freeze up, but they just concluded a major exercise period. Our mission plan is to get in, do the surveys, and then get out before they start any last- minute training evolutions."
Shimko was not deflected. "If we have to bug out, we need a plan to rendezvous with the UUV somewhere else."He pointed to an exercise area, outlined in blue and neatly labeled "R-Two."
"Overall, you've got a good approach route into the area, and the route leading from one survey site to the next is along a good path. You also have an emergency recovery location for each site, but it's too close to the site itself. I want two alternate rendezvous locations for each survey site, well away from the box."
"Yessir,"Jerry responded. "For unmanned vehicles, they are pretty smart. If a survey is interrupted, we can give it a new location and tell it to loiter there until we arrive."
"That's fine, but I don't want you hunting all over the chart for a spot when the air is filled with flying excrement. I want it already picked and plotted in calmer times."Jerry nodded his understanding.
Shimko pushed his point. "This is the Russian Navy's playground, even if it is international waters. They're normally touchy about visitors, but since they lost Gepard, they've reached new heights of paranoia—even for Slavs.
"You know, they blame us for Gepard 's loss."Shimko gave Jerry a look that seemed much longer and more intense than a simple glance. Jerry's last boat, Memphis, had been very involved with the Russian sub's demise, but the entire event had been classified, sealed, and was withheld even from the rest of the submarine service. Jerry tried to look innocent.
"We can't assume they won't change their routine,"Shimko continued.
"Maybe they'll patrol in the thickening sea ice for a longer period than we think. The hulls on their surface ships are ice- strengthened."He shrugged, then ordered, "Also, find and plot more than one exit route from each site, and make sure the routes lead to areas with lots of maneuvering room."
"Yessir."Jerry acknowledged the order and checked to make sure that Peters was taking notes.
"Now walk me through it,"Shimko ordered, and Jerry began with Sea-wolf's careful entrance to the Barents Sea. Framed as it was by the Russian coast to the south and Novaya Zemlya on the east, it was easy to understand why the Russians considered it home waters, the same way Americans might view the Gulf of Mexico.
Seawolf would cross the gap from Greenland to Svalbard, under broken sea ice and hopefully bad weather. Svalbard was a cluster of islands under Norwegian control. It usually hugged the southern edge of the North Pole's permanent ice cap. The sub would pass south of the islands, then turn southeast to conceal her approach as much as possible.
Once in the Barents Sea, Seawolf would slow, creeping into areas used by the Russians for fleet training and exercises. These were no more than rectangular shapes drawn on a Rus sian chart, but they were used by the Russian Navy to manage their at- sea training during the Arctic summer.
The U.S. didn't have those charts, of course. Careful observation of Russian exercises by satellites and submarines and other methods had given
U.S. intelligence a pretty good idea of where they were.
American and other Western submarines had prowled those waters for years, watching the Russian Fleet practice their craft, recording signals, sometimes even recovering expended weapons. The Russians watched for outsiders, sometimes finding them, often not. Although the training areas were in international waters and thus theoretically open to anyone, the Russians could make eavesdroppers feel very unwelcome.
Lately Russian antisurveillance measures had become so stringent that it was not only difficult to get close enough to gather any useful intelligence, it had become downright hazardous to anyone making the attempt. And with a shrinking submarine fleet, the U.S. Navy was experiencing difficulties providing comprehensive coverage during the exercise cycle.
So it was time for a new plan. The U.S. would plant acoustic recording devices on the seabed to monitor Rus sian activity. The information could be recovered later by another submarine when the area was quiet. These sensors would gather some of the raw intelligence data that a submarine would normally be tasked to collect. There would be other Western assets that would still be watching, but their observations would be from a safe distance.
Obviously, secrecy was paramount. If the Russians discovered the sensors' existence, they could be easily destroyed or recovered. Besides the embarrassment, and loss of valuable intelligence, the devices used some very sophisticated technology—not the sort the U.S. wanted to share.
Jerry showed the XO how Seawolf would approach each survey site and launch a UUV, an automated underwater robot, to check out the bottom topography and to mea sure the ambient acoustic conditions. Several sites would be examined in each exercise area. The collected data would be used by the bright boys back home to compute the exact sensor locations, which would be planted later.
After examining every yard of their planned path, the XO quizzed Jerry about GPS satellite coverage, deviation from standard sonar conditions, marine life in the area, and the effects of the aurora borealis on communications. Jerry's ready answers pleased Shimko, but earned him a crack about "smartass know- it- all."
"Make those changes I mentioned and we'll brief the Skipper tomorrow at nineteen hundred."
"Aye, aye, XO,"Jerry replied. Shimko finished, "That's all, then."
Jerry turned to help his chief gather up the maps and notes, but Shimko called him aside.
"How's the watch bill coming?"the XO asked.
"It's done,"Jerry answered, "I'll have a smooth copy on your desk this afternoon."
"Fine."Having watched Jerry mentally shift gears, Shimko hit him with the real question. "Who's taking her out?"he asked, in a voice slightly softer than normal conversation.
As se nior watch officer, Jerry not only made up the underway watch bill, he managed the ju nior officers' training. Conning Seawolf when she got under way was an important learning opportunity for a junior member of the wardroom.
"Hayes,"Jerry replied followed by a short pause, "and Palmer. With your permission, sir."
Shimko frowned. "Palmer,"he repeated, working through the idea and not enjoying the implications. "After the hash he made of his last underway, why should I give him another chance?"
Jerry hoped the question was rhetorical. "Because he can't qualify without it,"he replied earnestly. "Because he learns from his mistakes."
"And if he flubs, it's too late to replace him,"Shimko replied acidly. "Seawolf is not just a training aid, and I'm not inclined to risk the boat as we leave for an important mission."
"Lieutenant Palmer would be pleased to answer any questions about underway procedures you wish to ask,"Jerry replied positively.
"Fine. I'll see both of you right after lunch tomorrow."
"Day after tomorrow?"Jerry replied hopefully. "They'll be loading weapons all day today and most of tomorrow."
Shimko sighed. "All right. Day after tomorrow, then."He paused, then said, "You can't carry him forever, Jerry."
"He'll find his feet, sir. He just needs a little more time."
"I hope so, for everyone's sake,"the XO answered as he left the wardroom.
Peters and Hudson had finished collecting all the charts, and Jerry double- checked them as they left to make sure nothing was left behind. Everyone on a nuclear submarine had some sort of security clearance, but it didn't pay to get sloppy with sensitive documents. Although he might have more room in a jail cell, the food was worse.
Chandler was not in his stateroom, or in the comms shack. Jerry hadn't expected the man to be waiting outside the wardroom, but he begrudged the time it would take to find the commo, and he couldn't trust Chandler to find him.
Matthew Lloyd Chandler III was a good officer. The son of a successful submarine admiral, he'd just made lieutenant and seemed destined for higher rank. But as communications officer and Jerry's subordinate on the ship's organizational chart, Chandler seemed to be a drain on his time, not an asset.
He finally found Chandler in the ship's office. When he saw Jerry, the lieutenant spoke first. "I got those questions answered, sir. I should have looked in the manual,"he said humbly, gesturing to a fat notebook on a rack over the yeoman's desk.
Chandler's formality irked Jerry. He did work for Jerry, and it was of course proper to address officers se nior to oneself as "sir,"but naval custom allowed officers who worked together and were separated by one pay grade to use first names. The submarine service was even more informal. And any pretext for formality had been removed two months ago, when Chandler had been promoted from lieutenant j.g. to full lieutenant, the same rank as Jerry.
"Petty Officer Wallace helped me find what I needed."Chandler nodded toward the yeoman, sounding grateful.
Then why didn't you ask him in the first place? Jerry thought, but suppressed the urge to say it. He simply said, "Good. Then are they ready for me?"
"Yessir."Chandler handed over the forms.
Jerry reviewed them on the spot, since their next stop was the ship's office. They were neatly filled out. He took his time, but couldn't decide if he was pleased or irritated to find everything in order.
As Jerry read, the phone in the ship's office buzzed, and Wallace answered. He listened for a moment, then replied, "I'll tell him."Wallace turned to Jerry. "Chief Hudson's looking for you. He's in officers' country."
"I'll meet him there,"Jerry answered. He initialed the forms and handed them to the yeoman.
Chief Hudson was waiting by Jerry's stateroom with a third-class petty officer Jerry didn't recognize. The young sailor nervously came to attention when he saw Jerry, and Mitchell let him stay that way for the moment.
"Lieutenant Mitchell, this is Petty Officer Dennis Rountree,"Hudson reported. "He's just come aboard, fresh from school. Here's his service jacket."
Jerry opened the file and skimmed it quickly. Twenty years old, although he looked about fourteen. Good scores, no disciplinary problems. He'd expected that, but it never hurt to check. "At ease, Petty Officer Rountree."Jerry smiled as he said it, trying to really put the young man at ease. "Welcome aboard. You're coming to a great boat with a handpicked crew. Since you've just been picked as well, you're allowed a few moments to feel proud, before Chief Hudson starts working your tail off. We're getting under way in eight days, and we'll be gone for a while. Are you ready for that? Everything squared away ashore?"
"Yes, sir. I can't wait,"Rountree replied enthusiastically.
Jerry's smile matched the chief's. "Keep that attitude, and you'll do well."Turning to Hudson, he asked, "Did you phone the XO?"
"Yessir, he said to see him when we're done."
It was only a few steps from Jerry's stateroom to the XO's. Jerry knocked twice, lightly, and waited to hear "Come"before turning the knob.
Lieutenant Commander Shimko had the neatest stateroom Jerry had ever seen. Of course, when you live in a space the size of a walk- in closet, neatness is more than just a virtue, but the XO's room was almost pathologically spotless. Shimko's stateroom had two bunks on one side, separated from the opposite bulkhead by a three- foot- wide patch of linoleum deck. That bulkhead held a sink and mirror. Next to that was a closet, and next to that a fold- down desk. A chair in front of the desk took up about a third of the available floor space.
Any open wall space was covered with clipboards or papers taped to the bulkhead. All the papers were taped in exactly the same way, at exactly the same height. The clipboards all hung at the same height as the papers.
Although the stateroom could accommodate two officers, the XO customarily had the stateroom to himself, unless a guest was aboard. Shimko had converted the upper bunk into additional file space, piles of folders and papers arranged with mathematical precision. Even the in and out baskets, full almost to overflowing, managed to look organized.
"XO, sir, this is Electronics Technician Third Class Rountree."Jerry offered the XO his file.
Shimko took it and then offered his hand to the sailor. "Welcome aboard. Any issues or questions so far?"
"No, sir,"Rountree replied quickly.
"Good, let me see if the Captain's free."He stepped down the passageway to a door with Seawolf's seal on it. It showed a snarling wolf's head rising from the blue ocean against a black background. A black banner across the top held the boat's name in red. Another banner under the seal read, "Cave Lupum"—"Beware the Wolf."Underneath the seal, a gleaming brass plaque read "Captain."Jerry could hear music from the captain's stateroom; it was the bugle solo from the skipper's favorite song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."For some strange reason, their captain loved 1930s–1940s- era music. Shimko sighed, rapped once, then cracked the door. "Petty Officer Rountree, sir."
Jerry heard the music stop, and then the captain say, "Good. Show him in, XO,"and then the door opened the rest of the way. The XO stepped back and motioned for the young sailor to step forward. Jerry and Chief Hudson remained at ease, but Rountree snapped to attention.
Commander Thomas Rudel looked more like a bank teller than a sea captain. He wasn't tall, didn't have a barrel chest, and didn't even have a bellowing voice. Jerry had seldom ever heard him raise it, or even speak sharply.
He didn't need to raise it. The crew had learned that Rudel was incredibly smart, eminently practical, and at times very funny. The XO tended toward the more satirical "phortune cookie filosophy,"but Rudel's humor was subtle and dry—you had to listen for it, but it was worth the effort.
"Welcome aboard, Petty Officer Rountree."Rudel sounded genuinely glad to have the young man aboard. "You're joining a great boat with a great crew. ‘Great' means getting the job done, and it means taking care of each other. You can't do one without the other. Everyone in the chain of command, which now includes you, watches out above, below, and to either side for his shipmates . . ."
Jerry didn't mean to tune out the captain's welcome- aboard speech, but he'd heard it several times, including on his own arrival aboard. And he couldn't listen to Rudel's speech without flashing back to his first boat, and his first captain.
Jerry's tour aboard USS Memphis had turned out well, but that was in spite of Commander Lowell Hardy, Memphis's skipper. Where Rudel called on nobler motives, Hardy had ruled by fear. Jerry's first meeting with his first captain was a preemptive ass- chewing that had left Jerry questioning his career choice.
Hardy had compensated for his intimidating manner by micromanaging the entire boat. Any good submariner was detail- oriented, but focused on his own job. Hardy didn't trust anyone's skills or motivation—and the crew had felt it, both the officers and the enlisted men.
Hardy ruled by fear because that's what he felt. His fear of someone else's error ruining his record was transformed by the crew into fear of doing anything without first checking with the captain. It was no way to run any naval vessel, much less a submarine. A fire on board had caused serious damage to Memphis, and the crew's response showed Hardy that there were better ways to lead men.
He'd just started to trust Jerry when they'd been attacked by Rus sian forces . . .
Mitchell snapped back to the present when Commander Rudel finished his speech with his trademark line: "Now go work your tail off."Jerry realized he'd used the same phrase when he welcomed Rountree aboard, but he wasn't worried about copying Rudel's command style.
Hudson and Rountree headed aft. Jerry noted the smile on Rountree's face. The skipper had that effect on people. Excusing himself, Jerry headed forward and down one deck to the torpedo room. He had to find Palmer, and check on the UUVs.
Lieutenant ( j.g.) Jeff Palmer was a weak link in Seawolf's chain of command. It wasn't enough to have intelligence or determination or even a good attitude. Nobody got through the nuclear pipeline and sub school without those abilities, but they weren't enough to get Jeff Palmer qualified.
Every submariner had to "qualify"aboard his boat. It meant knowing every system aboard in detail, not just the equipment you worked with in your own job. In an emergency, if the boat suffered some sort of accident or was damaged in a fight, everyone aboard had to know what to do. The candidate had to be able to draw the air, hydraulic, electrical, and other vital systems from memory. He had to find valves and damage- control equipment while blindfolded. In a real emergency, with the lights out, or the air filled with thick smoke, conditions could be much worse. In addition, the initial response to any casualty also had to be memorized, and understood. And it didn't hurt to have the secondary procedures committed to memory as well.
Both officers and enlisted went through the pro cess. When they qualified, the captain awarded them their "dolphins,"an insignia worn on their shirt. Officers had gold dolphins, enlisted men silver. Like an aviator's wings, they represented a lot of work, and were worn with pride.
Jerry's first qualification, aboard Memphis, had been an ordeal, for many reasons. Still, he'd done it in record time, in a single patrol. Normally, an officer new to subs would take about a year and a half to qualify. Palmer had been at it now for seventeen months, and had run into trouble from the very start.
Part of the qualification process were "murder boards,"oral quizzes by a group of officers on a particu ar topic. Palmer could study the manuals and practice the procedures until they were second nature, but he seized up under any sort of pressure. Too many questions in rapid succession caused him to freeze, or give answers that were obviously wrong. Men who couldn't handle pressure did not belong on a sub.
Palmer was in the torpedo room, along with Torpedoman Chief Johnson, his division chief, and several of the torpedomen. They were loading weapons for the upcoming mission, which on a Seawolf-class sub took quite a while.
The torpedo room on modern U.S. nuclear subs is located aft of the bow, not in it like the old- style WWII boats. The bow on Seawolf was completely taken up by three large sonar arrays, including a monstrously huge sonar "ball,"covered with passive hydrophones. The eight torpedo tubes, four to a side, were mounted in port and starboard nests complete with individual launching system, and angled outward. Modern guided torpedoes were smart enough to turn after they were launched and head for their prey.
Jerry had been torpedo officer on Memphis, and was still impressed by the scale of Seawolf's torpedo armament. His old boat could carry a warload of twenty- six torpedoes and missiles. Seawolf could load fifty, and the racks for them filled a two- story compartment. Seawolf's tubes were bigger as well, thirty inches in diameter instead of twenty- one inches. Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy never developed thirty- inch torpedoes, so the tubes were sleeved to accept the standard twenty- one-inch weapons. The space was crowded with weapons and the machinery to move them, but to Jerry it was as large as a cathedral.
Unusually, daylight and sounds from outside filtered into the space. A loading ramp angled from Seawolf's deck, just aft of the sail, down through two decks into the torpedo room. Because Mark 48 torpedoes are twenty and a half feet long and weigh almost two tons, a special loading tray had been rigged to control their downward journey. Torpedomen handled the massive weapons as if they were made of glass, while Chief Johnson watched their every move. One torpedoman wore a set of sound- powered phones, communicating with the rest of the loading detail above.
Jerry paused in the doorway, taking in the division's progress and deciding if this was a good time to talk to Palmer. He was reluctant to distract men loading explosives, but the jaygee saw him and walked over.
"What's up, Nav?"Palmer's good mood almost gave Jerry another excuse to delay telling him, but it had to be done.
"You're going to conn the boat out when we leave on the fifteenth,"Jerry said simply.
Palmer acted like he'd been shot. "Oh, no."If he hadn't been leaning on a fitting, he might have fallen down. He was obviously remembering his last attempt, which had cost the navy a splintered piling and nearly a crushed sonar dome.
"You need this ticket punched, Jeff."Jerry's tone was firm, but positive.
Jeff Palmer was taller than Jerry, though slim. He seemed to shrink as he reluctantly nodded agreement. "You're right, I have to do this."
"And you'll have to answer questions about underway procedures for the XO day after tomorrow. He'll see you in his stateroom right after lunch."
A pale redhead, Palmer turned white. "He'll grind me up like hamburger! I'll never be able to satisfy him."
"Do you think the XO's going to deliberately trip you up?"
"No, but you know what will happen."
Jerry sighed, but managed to do it on the inside. Palmer had developed a real confidence problem, but Jerry wasn't going to blow sunshine at him. That wasn't his job, and it didn't really help the guy. Still, he needed to be positive.
"Jeff, you know the material, you've proven that to me. If you want to stay in subs, you've got to show the XO you know it, then use it to get Sea-wolf under way safely."
"What if I can't get past the XO?"
"Then I'll have Santana take her out,"Jerry answered flatly. Ensign Santana was the electrical officer, and was also working on his qualification. To himself, Jerry added, "And you'll be off the boat and out of subs the day we get back from patrol."
"Who will be the OOD?"asked Palmer hesitantly.
"Mr. Hayes,"Jerry replied, and then with a slight grin, "And yes, he knows what he's getting into."
"Thanks, Nav. I'm not too popular with my department head right now. And I don't think I could be up on the bridge with him again. At least not right away."
"You're right, he's not happy with your progress,"said Jerry frankly. "And yes, he was upset about your earlier attempt, and not just because he was the OOD. It's his job to push you, Jeff. If Greg Wolfe had given you up as a lost cause, would he have spent all those hours working with you?"
"No, sir,"answered Palmer quietly.
"All right then. Get your act together and show him you are capable of conning a boat on the surface. You know what to do. You just need to muster the intestinal fortitude and do it. Okay?"
"Yes, sir. I will, sir."
"Correct answer, Mr. Palmer,"remarked Jerry. "Now you'd better get back to supervising the weapons loading evolution.""Aye, aye, sir,"Palmer replied with a little more confidence. "And Nav . . . thanks."
Tuesday afternoon USS Seawolf, executive officer's stateroom
When Jeff Palmer knocked on the XO's door and went inside, Jerry stayed in the passageway. The XO had required Jerry to be here, but Palmer would have to answer Shimko's questions alone.
Which was as it should be, Jerry mused. So why was he here at all, he asked himself. Not moral support. The XO had left the door cracked, so Jerry could hear Palmer's performance.
"Mr. Palmer. What will the tides be when we get under way?"
"Ebb tide, sir. Two feet above mean low water, with a two- knot current."
"And the weather?"
"High scattered clouds, light winds from the south, about sixty-five degrees. That's as of this morning according to the NOAA website. I'll check..."
"What rudder and bells will you start with?""Well, sir, last time I used back one- third and twenty—"The XO interrupted Palmer. "I didn't ask for a history lesson, mister.
What rudder and bells would you use this time, if I let you take her out?"
There was a pause, a little longer than Jerry would have liked, and then Palmer said, "The same. Back one-third and twenty-five degrees right rudder."Jerry started to worry. He thought Palmer would last longer before getting rattled, but the XO knew where to apply pressure. Which might be what he wanted Jerry to see.
"What orders are you giving the tug?"
"None yet, sir. I have to get our stern swung out . . ."
"Won't that smash our bow into the pier?"The XO's tone was neutral, with just a tinge of concern. He was challenging Palmer's answers now. Palmer stammered, but he knew the answer. "I have to limit the swing to no more than thirty degrees. There's a tower on the north shore you can use as a mark. As the rudder swings past that point, I tell the tug to start backing . . ."
"The tug's suffered an engineering casualty."Shimko's tone was still flat, but he spoke quickly.
"The tug captain tells you he's suffered a breakdown. His engines are dead. He can't give you any help."
Jerry didn't hear an answer right away, and counted the seconds. He imagined the wheels spinning in Palmer's head, and hoped they were finding traction.
"Put number three line back over, then shift to ahead one-third. Use side force from the screw and pivot on number three to push the bow away from the pier."Palmer sounded tentative. If Jerry heard it, so did the XO.
"But you're using ahead engines. Won't that drive our bow into the pier?"More concern in the XO's tone, mixed with skepticism. He was really leaning on Palmer. Shimko remembered Palmer's first underway as well. He knew Palmer would be worried about the bow.
"I'd only leave it on for a moment, sir. We have some sternway. As soon as our sternway was off . . ."
"But what about the tug? As the bow swings around, won't we hit the tug? We're big enough to cave in his hull."
That was a sucker question. Since the tug was up against Seawolf's side, with fenders rigged, there was no chance of damage. Jerry waited for Palmer's reply. And waited.
"Sir, I'm not sure..."Palmer's voice was more than unsure.
"The tug skipper's on the radio, yelling that he's holding you personally responsible for any damage to his vessel."
Jerry was waiting for Palmer to implode when the door to the captain's stateroom opened and Rudel stepped into the passageway. Jerry stepped back out of the way, and the skipper politely nodded to him as he walked to the XO's stateroom. Knocking on the half- open door, he walked in without waiting for a reply.
Jerry heard him ask lightly, "So XO, what's the situation?"Shimko quickly summarized the scenario and pointedly remarked, "I'm still waiting for Mr. Palmer's answer."After a short pause, he added, "Mr. Palmer is liable for any damage to the tug."
Jerry was tempted to peek inside, but he didn't really need to, and certainly didn't want to be seen. He listened to Rudel ask softly, "Mr. Palmer, do you know the answer to the XO's question?"His question demanded an answer, but at the same time had a positive tone.
After a short pause, Jerry heard Palmer say, "Yes, sir. I do."After another pause, he answered, "There can't be any damage, because he's tight alongside us."
Rudel asked, "But won't he keep our bow from moving out from the pier?"
"No sir, we're so much bigger than the tug, with a much deeper draft, and he's at our pivot point anyway. Then, as soon as our headway's off and we've swung more parallel to the pier, I'd send the lines back over and get us moored again."
"Why would you do that, mister?"The XO's voice was still level. "I thought the idea was to get under way."
"Not with the tug in the way. Besides, he's broken down and we can't leave him adrift in the channel."
"Very good, Mr. Palmer, never abandon a mariner in distress."The cap-tain's praise was followed by a quick "Carry on,"and he stepped out of the XO's stateroom and back to his own. As he passed Jerry, the skipper winked at him, smiling. Jerry felt himself smiling as well. He was sure now Palmer would pass.
Rudel's kind words were the only praise Palmer received. The XO grilled him for another twenty minutes, and there were more trick questions as well as hard ones. Jerry knew the XO wasn't really testing Palmer's knowledge, but his presence of mind, his ability to think under pressure.
Finally, he said, "All right, Mr. Palmer, I'm satisfied that you're able to properly get Seawolf under way next Monday. Continue your preparations. The Navigator and I will review them Monday after quarters."
Jeff Palmer stepped out of the XO's stateroom, pale but smiling. Jerry and Palmer walked some distance away from the XO's stateroom before either spoke. "Compared to that, the underway will be a breeze."Palmer sounded stressed but pleased.
"Just hope you're right, Jeff. Things can get past you before you know you're in trouble."Jerry gestured back toward the XO's stateroom. "In there, you knew you were being asked a question. On the bridge, you'll have to ask yourself the questions, as well as answer them."
Palmer's expression became more serious, but his smile didn't go away completely. "Believe me, sir, I get it. My first underway taught me that. We live in a boat designed to sink, filled with explosives and a nuclear reactor. If we don't stay on our toes, we're screwed."
"Learning from your mistakes is a good thing. But dwelling on them is not,"advised Jerry sternly. "You lost the bubble last time and it's been holding you back. This time you need to stay in control, which means you have to think ahead. We may move slowly, but a submarine on the surface reacts to your helm orders just as slowly—so keep your wits about you and plan accordingly."
"I will, Nav. And this time, I won't screw up."
"Sounds good, Jeff. Let's plan to meet on Friday, you and Mr. Hayes, to do a final review, okay?"
"Yes, sir. I'll inform Will."
"Very well, Mr. Palmer, carry on."
Excerpted from Cold Choices by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson.
Copyright © 2009 by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson.
Published in May 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher