The end of an Era

Not all change is progress... (Ben Franklin)

Some personal thoughts...
An "era" is defined as: "a period of time of a distinctive character - an extended time measured in years from a defining event until such character changes or ceases to exist". From the perspective of a young sailor becoming a part of the history of Submarine Tenders some 65 or 70 years along that "historical time line" -- it seemed like it had "always been". Similarly when I started TenderTale some 25 years later- there was no reason to suspect that it wouldn't also "always be". Needless to say - to now realize that we - those of us here and now - are seeing the end of the dedicated fully U. S. Navy manned and operated submarine tenders - is a shock that brings sadness, and a cause for concern.

From our perspective - the "marriage" of submarine and tender has a long history of being a solution that just plain worked - and being practical - many of us are quite comfortable with the idea of "...if it ain't broke - don't fix it"; and the way many of us see it - is that the Navy's most recent "fix" to the tender issue - (i.e. turning the ships over to the MSC) is more likely to "brake" than fix. Many of us anticipate problems- and we're already seeing some signs of those...

Of course - there are always two (at least) sides to each issue - the US Navy has a perspective as well - we do understand that changes in political realities and technical and practical advances all combine to create an ever changing mission for the US Navy - one that is certainly monumental in both scope and complexity. While we may not agree with the Navy's conclusions and actions, there is no doubt that change is a reality none of us can avoid.

I'm certain that there are those that think I'm being premature - and perhaps a bit alarmist - but I beg to disagree. This is just the latest "step" by the US Navy to "rid" itself of all auxiliaries. Here is the evidense - as I - and others - see it:

First - the sudden and "out of character" disposal of a very large number of auxiliaries. The very large reductions in the number of U. S. Navy auxiliary ships just after WWII and Viet Nam were explainable - so not alarming - particularly in light the fact that auxiliary ship strength remained fairly constant between 1978 and 1993. However - in just four years (1994 - 1997) the U. S. Navy shed more than half it's Auxiliary fleet (113 to 52) - and of those remaining - are actually "operated" by other organizations such as research ships by Universities, etc. - or as in one case - held by a foreign government: (USS Pueblo is still an active U. S. Navy ship). I found that "reduction" alarming and came to suspect that the Navy was making a conscious and concerted effort to rid itself of most - if not all - of it's auxiliary ships. By 1999 - not only were others taking "notice" - but some were speaking out publicly about. One such voice was none other than Admiral Al Konetzni - when he publicly spoke out about the levels of both submarines and tenders. His public comments were all the more shocking coming not just from a prominent officer in the (usually) Silent Service - but from none other than COMSUBPAC (you can read the complete interview here: Midweek Magazine.

There are NO reapair ships left (ARs); there are NO destroyer tenders left (ADs), and finally - the last two submarine tenders have been "turned over" to MSC. Is this "just" the US Navy's "doing"? Hardly - many studies (principaly starting in 1990) have urged the Navy to turn it's auxiliaries over to MSC (here is one such report from the GAO - 1997). So it seems the Navy is but one "conspiriator" in the "civilianization" of the Auxiliary Fleet. In many respects - particularly regarding supply ships - I agree - MSC does a fine job of getting supplies to the fleet. But where I (and many others) part company - is the idea that a Submarine Tender is "just" a supply ship. There are many, many weapons and tactical systems aboard submarines (and surface ships, for that matter) that "supply" just isn't enough. "Swap it out" is fine for some things - but there are "system" issues that require more than a module swapper. Or am I that old - have all those "specialties" that we were so highly trained for - become obsolete and irrelevant? Time will tell....

However - it appears that "the Navy" has realized this issue as well - as they intend to keep a "technical crew" on board these MSC ships as well... Some of us - who study history - see issue here too. Issues between "hybrid crews" go all the way back to World War II - when Navy Gun Crews were placed on Merchant Men - there were issues between them - and the Merchant Marines.

the idea that the Navy would "get rid" of those in roughly ten years never occurred to me. We had even hoped that at least one or two of the inactive ships (USS Simon Lake, USS McKee or USS L. Y. Spear) would be put back in service at New London to help with the situation there. Not a chance. Spear has already been recycled (mid 2011); with Lake and McKee listed as "disposal as soon as possible".

This then became a wake-up call: if the history, legacy, etc. of these ships were to be preserved - it appeared that someone "else" had to do it. Work on TenderTale - as it appears today - rather than just "my story"- began with that "motivation"

Even more troubling was the fact that many of the ship's histories, facts and statistics were missing - or in some cases such as Sperry's birthplace - wrong. Equally disturbing it became apparent that "official Navy" didn't seem to have any interest in or about these old - (or in some cases - relatively new) ships - because as efforts were made to get some of the errors, omissions, etc. corrected - those efforts were often ignored by Navy officials - or when forced into some sort of action - those officials displayed attitudes ranging from indifference to outright hostility.

That brings us to the most recent US Navy action - turning over USS Emory S. Land and USS Frank Cable to the Military Sealift Command - which closes that "era" of United States Submarines being tended by fully US Navy manned and operated tenders has come to a close.

This has repercussions beyond the obvious, as well. As there are now only a handfull of U.S. Navy Sailors doing any ship-born tending work - the total number of Tender Sailors is diminishing quickly - as there isn't a constant "renewal" of a several thousand tender sailors every few years. For those few sailors attached to one of the MSC ships - the experience certainly isn't the same as for so many dedicated tender sailors before them. As the number of traditional Tender sailors dwindles - there are fewer people interested in TenderTale and fewer yet willing and able to help with TenderTale. These days contributions of histories and sea stories come far and few between - few people volunteer to work on various areas - so work on them has slowed to a crawl. Sherry and I will continue to work on TenderTale - to finish those areas such as Above and Beyond, etc. where tales still need to be told. As always - any help would be greatly appreciated.The US Navy Submarine Tender story will get told - it's worth preserving - even as that part of "the Silent Service" so many of us once knew - fades into history.

One approach we're trying - is to work with Facebook - to provide a more direct and interactive "place" to provide news, comments and views. An intitial small trial went pretty well - so we will expand that effort as time allows.

We'll provide more details of "the end" as time allows - and of course as "things" develop...
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