In the Nuclear Program you are going to make some very close friends. This kind of thing always happens when people are all forced to endure the same crappy deal together. There is no other way to say it than that the Nuclear Pipeline really sucks. If you are an enlisted Nuke, your entire career will suck. Period. Boot camp will suck. Nuclear Field A School will suck. Nuclear Power School will suck big harry butt. Nuclear Prototype will suck giant dog butt. Getting qualified and standing watch for the rest of your career will suck slimy, hairy, sweaty, fat, butt! Welcome to the program, and I don’t imagine it’s much better as an officer.
Your friends will make it bearable. One day, you will be deep in the suck, once again getting crapped on by your “leadership,” and you’ll be surrounded by some of the best people you will ever work with and somehow realize you are actually having a good time.
Some people will surprise you with how much better they can make your life. Some of your friends will selflessly help you for no reason other than you need help. These are some of my greatest memories of the Nuclear Program.
The Dash For Cash
Kris Genschmer was one of those guys. This guy could make you laugh all day long. We were friends, I think, because we were two non-goofy, non-nerdish dudes who were absolutely surrounded by the goofiest nerdiest bunch of aspiring Nukes that ever walked the face of the earth. I don’t think me and Kris could have been any more different and unlike each other. We had jack crap in common, except we could make each other laugh. The Navy in general will bring people into your life that you would never have hung out with in any other situation. I don’t think Kris and I would have been friends if we met in any other point in our lives, but we were thrown into this dork prison / goofy bastard cesspool that is Nuclear Field A School and we had to survive.
One thing that pissed me off about Kris was that he loved to make fun of people, and sometimes he would make fun of me. He had an amazing talent for finding stuff that was funny about people and bringing it to light. And the part that pissed me off was that even when he made fun of you, you had to laugh because it was so true and so funny. Nothing pisses me off more than laughing about myself. I mean, can you imagine how stupid it is when Kris is making fun of you, and not only is everyone else laughing at you, but it’s so damn funny that you are actually laughing at you?
Anyway, in the Nuclear Field most Nukes advance in rank faster than the rest of the Navy. Once you finish your first school, you are automatically promoted to E4, even though you have only been in the Navy for less than a year. But before you get that promotion, you have to pass a physical fitness test. This is commonly referred to as “the Dash for Cash,” because part of this physical fitness test involves a timed 1.5 mile run.
I hate running. There are few things on earth I hate more than running. I’m more of a “lift weights” kind of guy. The night before the Dash for Cash I had a monster leg workout.
That was a bad idea.
The next day my legs cramped up during the 1.5 mile run. I fell behind and was in serious danger of not passing the 1.5 mile run in the required time limit…and not getting promoted to E4. Well, just as I’m on the ground crawling on hands and knees, still about ¼ mile from the finish line, I see Kris Genschmer cross the finish line, turn around, and run back towards me.
He came back, picked me up off the ground, and forced me to run the rest of the way. That was some cool gangsta go Navy stuff there brotha. I would not have been promoted to E4 without old Genschmer coming back to save my butt. It’s people like this that make the Nuclear program bearable.
Anybody Want A Cheeseburger?
I had another friend named Joe (that’s not his real name, but I’ll use Joe because I don’t think he wants this story getting out).
I met Joe when I reported to the USS John C. Stennis in Reactor Controls Division. Joe was one of the older more senior guys and I was friends with him because he was extremely likable. He was also one heck of a really good fighter…mainly because he had what I like to call “old man strength.”
Joe was one of those guys who didn’t take no crap from nobody and he became somewhat of a legend on our ship because of the story I’m about to tell you.
During this time our ship was ported in Norfolk Virginia (Norfolk sucks and I hope you are/were never stationed there). The Navy has some kind of deal with McDonald’s that says there has to be a McDonald’s within 3 steps of every U. S. Navy port or base. Consequently, there was a McDonald’s on base just about 3 steps away from our ship. I should now tell you that there is a small rivalry between the Nuclear Navy and the regular navy, or what we call the “conventional” navy. Well Joe and a couple other Nukes just happened to be at McDonald’s (about 3 steps away from our ship), when some “conventionals” started running off at the mouth. It was at this time that they started getting testy with Joe and the other Nukes that he was hanging out with. They started a little static and then Joe knocked out all three of them. Then he stole their cheeseburgers and said, “anybody want a cheeseburger” a la Menace II Society, then he walked back on the ship like nothing happened.
Suffice it to say, Joe was a cool dude.
That happened before I was qualified Reactor Operator and I was just a NUB, so I latched on to Joe when I started all my quals. I finally did get qualified and once I was Nuclear Reactor Operator, Joe was my Reactor Technician. Generally, the Reactor Technician is the most senior Reactor Controls Division guy on watch. Whenever there is an emergency or complex evolution, the Reactor Technician is supposed to go stand behind the Reactor Operator and help out in any way he can. Kind of like big brother coming to save your butt.
On one of my first watches after getting qualified Reactor Operator we were doing some complex testing that required the ship to operate at full reactor power. Because of this testing, the Engineering Operating Space had a ton of people in it. All of my leadership was there along with several other people (too many chiefs if you ask me). Reactor Controls Division officer was there, the Reactor Controls Assistant was there (which was kind of a made up position of authority that nobody really knew what this guy’s job was), and worst of all, the Reactor Controls Master Chief was there (whose job was usually to drink coffee and mess things up).
During this test we were operating at max power and then a main feed pump kicks on and increases the demand on the reactor causing just about every warning and alarm on the reactor panel to start blinking. I couldn’t acknowledge the alarms and warnings fast enough. Every time I acknowledged something a new alarm was going off.
Then every single person in a khaki uniform was yelling for me to do various different actions.
Well, everyone except the Engineering Officer of the Watch, he decided to ride this one out (just kidding, he was just trying to figure out what was going on before issuing any orders, and he was probably hoping that I would figure it out before he had to issue any orders). I had Joe behind me, and he did a good job of just being the Reactor Technician and not taking over or giving me any bad advice. It was difficult to process all the information I was receiving. I had just about every single alarm and warning going off and I had about 8 different people yelling at me. I specifically remember the Reactor Controls Master Chief yelling, “DON’T SCRAM, DON’T SCRAM.”
Maybe a better Reactor Operator could have instantly analyzed all the input and taken the correct immediate actions and prevented the need to put the poles in the hole. But I like to think that there is not good or bad operators, only trained and untrained. So I fell back on my training and announced that I was going to scram. I could still hear the Master Chief yelling at the top of his lungs as I turned the switch, “DON’T SCRAM, DON’T SCRAM!”
What a moron. The best part was that all the khaki (except my EOOW…he always had my back) were trying to say I did the wrong thing. But Joe, sat down next to me and said, “Hey man, let’s talk this out…here’s what indications you had, here’s what actions you took…here’s why you took those actions.”
He could tell that they were on a witch hunt and already trying to shift blame (someone has to always take the blame). Shortly after that, I was relieved of my watch and taken to a debriefing so that they could blame the whole thing on me. But since Joe had already prepped me, they couldn’t say anything except I did the right thing. Then the Master Chief pulled me aside (where nobody could hear) and told me I did the right thing and it took a good operator to know to ignore all those other guys who were shouting out wrong answers.
I have always been thankful to Joe for that moment. He could have turned his back on me and ran for cover just like everyone else, but he decided to help me out. I got so many great deals after that because Joe made me look like a superstar during that real casualty. The truth is, I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just decided to put the reactor in the safest condition possible and I probably defaulted to the most conservative action. But because Joe debriefed me before they could relieve me, everyone thought I was a genius. I never forgot that moment of kindness. People like Joe made all the crap you had to eat in the Nuke Program bearable.