The United States Navy Submarine Force celebrates its 119th birthday on April 11th. I had the chance to talk with Brad Sargent, retired Master Chief Petty Officer, Chief of the Boat for the USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723) and USAA Military Affairs Director about his service and time on submarines.
Why did you volunteer for Submarine service?
Brad Sargent: Actually, I did not set out to volunteer for submarine duty. I graduated high school in 1976 and was interested in electricity and electronics. I visited recruiters for all the services and Navy Submarines offered the most advanced electronics training available. So, I enlisted in the Navy with a guaranteed placement at the Strategic Weapons Navigation Electronics A-School. There I learned to operate and repair the navigation system used to tell submarine launched ballistic missile where they were when launched; so they could hit their target.
What is a Chief of the Boat?
Chief of the Boat, known as the COB, is the Senior Enlisted advisor to a submarine Commanding Officer. He reports only to, and assists the Commanding Officer in issues of quality of life, discipline, training, and morale. He is often the most senior and experienced enlisted person assigned to the submarine. The COB often has more time on submarines than the Commanding Officer.
What is one of the coolest things you ever got to do while on board?
I am driving the submarine in this picture. USS Oklahoma City, SSN-723, conducting an emergency surface drill.
How long were you submerged on average?
I personally have been submerged for over 2 months at one time. That being said there really is no average. Every mission is different and as such submerged time varies greatly. Guinness World Records reports: The longest submerged and unsupported patrol made public is 111 days. There are undoubtedly longer submerged patrols, however they remain classified.
How long can a submarine stay at sea?
Many years! The only limiting factor is how much food we can pack on board. Everything else is self-sustaining:
Nuclear power provides all the energy we need.
We purify sea water to drink, cook and shower.
We split the H2O molecules, dispose of the hydrogen, and store the oxygen to keep air breathable.
Photo: ETCS (SS) Brad Sargent, COB, USS Oklahoma City, SSN-723.
How did your time in the Submarine Force prepare you for a civilian career?
While the advanced electronics training I received would have qualified me for many jobs in defense and technology, the most valuable training and experience I received was in leadership. As COB you must create a CREW out of a diverse, and very young group of Sailors. Getting every Sailor prepared and qualified to FIGHT THE BOAT and successfully complete the mission is critical.
Do women serve on submarines?
Women now serve on submarines. The first woman assigned to a U.S. submarine was in 2010. At first it was officers only. In 2015, the first enlisted woman reported to a submarine.
Why is the submarine force called the Silent Service?
Many believe it is called the “Silent Service” because submarines are so quiet and stealthy. While it is true that submarines are exceptionally quiet and stealthy, allowing them to conduct missions no other service can support, the real reason is because submariners DO NOT talk about what they do. I personally signed a security disclaimer, stating I would not talk about any mission for 75 years.
Do you have a photo of you on board your first submarine?
This photo is me on my first patrol on USS George Bancroft, SSBN-643.
What is your favorite submarine movie?
My favorite submarine movies are WWII movies. The men who served onboard the WWII diesel submarines are true heroes. They accounted for 1,392 Japanese ships sunk, which was 55% of all Japanese tonnage sunk. All this while being less than 2% of Naval personnel. This came at a high price as 52 submarines were lost, and over 4,000 submariners are on Eternal Patrol.
Das Boot, The Enemy Below, and Crash Dive are probably my favorites.
What is your birthday message to your fellow submariners?
Happy Birthday, Shipmates! I am confident that you Have The Watch, and will continue to protect our nation’s security in any mission you may be assigned.
Thanks so much to ETCM (SS) USN (Ret) Brad Sargent for telling us more about his time in the “Silent Service”.
Wishing all the Submariners, past and present, a very happy birthday! Wear your dolphins proud today!
Have you served on a submarine? Which boat?
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