The Silent Service: The Beginning of a Tradition for a Hampton Family

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The Beginning of a Tradition for a Hampton Family

By Paul Snyder

Atlantic News, Tuesday, August 13, 1996

[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News.]
HORIZONS -- Bob Griffin and his son Brett survey the waters of the Atlantic from North Beach in Hampton. Brett spends most of his days under the waves, as he serves onboard the USS Hampton, which visited the Seacoast at the beginning of August.
[Atlantic News Photo by Paul Snyder]

HAMPTON -- "The thing that interested me about the submarine is that it's classified as the second most technically advanced vessel in the world — the first is the space shuttle." This statement was made by Brett Griffin, Electronic Technician, 3rd Class, and crew-member of the USS Hampton -- SSN 767, the fast-attack nuclear sub which recently paid a five-day visit to the Seacoast after a long stay in the Mediterranean Sea. Brett said that this explains one of the basic reasons he followed in his father's footsteps and became a submariner.

Brett, who is the son of Bob and Karyn Griffin of North Beach in Hampton, joined the US Navy in November 1993, volunteering for the submarine service. He and his parents have lived in Hampton since 1983. Upon graduating from Winnacunnet High School, Brett felt he wasn't ready for college. He wanted to do something other than immediately locking himself into a 4-year curricular commitment without knowing what he wanted to do with his life. And so, since his dad had served aboard fast-attack subs almost a generation earlier and, also, because he was fascinated with the challenge of what life aboard such a vessel could offer, he made his commitment to the US Navy and to the submarine service. It was a good decision.

In 1968 Bob Griffin felt he was about to be drafted into the military service, with the likelihood of ending up in the Vietnam "boonies." So, he enlisted in the US Navy and volunteered for nuclear submarine service duty. (Two weeks after he was inducted into the Navy, he received his draft notice!)

As Bob and Brett both said, joining the Navy doesn't automatically get you into the submarine service. For this, you must volunteer because it's considered a "hazardous duty" service, requiring special physical and psychological abilities. Both father and son took their basic "boot" camp training in Orlando, Florida. Bob was there when it first opened and Brett was there twenty-five years later, when it was about to close. After boot camp, each of them was tested for their special aptitudes and skills, aside from their suitability to be submariners.

Their next schooling took place at the long-established Submariners School in New London, Connecticut. Bob's skills led him to become a Machinist Mate in nuclear propulsion, while Brett's led him to the electronic operations of the boat. As Bob said, "I worked in the middle to the 'aft' of the boat, while Brett worked up front." After training, Bob was assigned to a 637-class attack sub, the USS Lapon. The first time he went down the hatch he thought, "This is small!" But it took him only one day to acclimate to the small and narrow spaces of the sub.

Twenty-five years later when Brett went to the school in New London, the training was about the same as his dad's -- basically, learning the overall operation of just how a sub works, how to escape (if necessary), and what to do in case of flood and/or fire emergencies -- the latter in particular. A fire aboard a vessel can quickly reach 600--770 degrees Fahrenheit -- or even 1300 degrees if not brought under immediate control.

"At sub school they train you to do the job you're going to do," Bob said. And the training never ends. It continues long after you're aboard your assigned boat.

Brett "lucked out." Since he was at the top of his class, with the highest grades, he was given first choice of three 688-class attack subs. One of them was the USS Hampton. He applied and made the cut, got his berth and went to sea. Brett said that the Navy tries to get you the job assignment you'd like to have. It doesn't always work out, but they do try.

After a little over five months, Brett was able to qualify and earn his "Twin Dolphins."You must face the muster," his dad said. Once aboard, you've got to learn your job, the jobs of the shipmates in your division. the jobs of your superiors and their superiors -- as well as jobs in other divisions on the boat. The more you and your shipmates know, the better it is for all concerned (especially when it comes to a matter of survival!). You're given about 18 months to two years to qualify; if you don't, you're out of the service -- and out of the Navy!

To the submariner, life under the surface of the sea is really not difficult to assimilate. You're so busy doing your job and getting into the routine of ship-board life -- with 18-hour days (6 hours on -- and 12 hours off-duty) that it's not difficult to adjust -- Even when you come ashore, reverting back to the 24-hour routine is easy. (Although one CPO aboard the USS Hampton said, "Well, I sleep a lot.")

A sub runs quietly. Bob Griffin said the house they live in at North Beach "makes more noise than any sub." In fact, subs make little or no noise, especially when "rigged" for silent running.

A nuclear sub can remain at sea for twenty to thirty years. They come back to port for two reasons: first, for the crew, and second for food and supplies. Equipment onboard manufacturers the sub's own atmosphere and water.

Biodegradable products are compacted into weighted cylindrical containers and are flushed out from the bottom of the boat. Human waste is also processed and flushed out accordingly. The recylables are flattened, folded, and tied for pick-up once the boat is back in port.

As for off-time on the boat, the various messes have books, games, audio and video tapes to pass the time. The six cooks prepare very good and tasty meals which follow a specific menu regimen; for example, cold-cuts on Wednesday, hamburgers on Friday, pizza on Saturday, and steak on Sunday. (No one made mention of Monday and Tuesday!)

Unlike the Trident submarines, such as the USS Maine, where two crews, named Blue and Gold, alternate about every two to three months, the fast-attack subs have only one steady crew. Time at sea is generally shorter and the missions or assignments vary except for the overall basic mission of a sub like the Hampton. Bob says the way he sees it, in case of war, the fast-attack sub is there to protect the larger ballistic missile subs so they can do their job of launching a retaliation attack. And, Brett adds, "to keep the sea lanes open." He feels that should war occur, it will be fought by subs and aircraft. Most armed and manned surface ships will be obsolete. He also feels that in such a hostile situation, subs will be the "safest place" to be.

Brett also sees a growing use of fast-attack subs in the war against drugs. Some subs are used in cooperation with the US Coast Guard -- spotting, observing and photographing smuggling activities at sea.

After eight years Bob Griffin left the US Navy and the Submarine Service as a Chief Petty Officer, working in nuclear propulsion. He used his skills in this field to enter private industry where he has become successful. And yes, from time to time, Bob says he misses the Navy and the Submarine Service.

As for Brett, he has thoughts of getting his commission by taking a Navy-sponsored four-year college course which includes ROTC classes. Upon graduation, he will receive his Ensign's stripes and go back to active duty.

Concluding my interview with Bob and Brett, I had a good feeling. These two men are not the stereotypical servicemen one sees in old movies or on TV, entertaining though they may be. They are, indeed, two men who "do the job" to the best of their ability, collect their salary -- and return home.

SEEING THE TOWN -- Crew Members of the USS Hampton make a stop by the Lane Memorial Library on their way by trolley to do some community service at the Tuck Museum. Pictured above (L-R): Don Covey, Bryan Johnson, Richard Overkamp, Douglas Roller, Jeremy Gilliam and Anthoni Rajotte.
[Atlantic News Photo by Tim Turcotte]
IN PORT -- The USS Hampton sits at dock at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
[Atlantic News Photo by Paul Snyder]

A Letter from the USS Hampton

To the great citizens of Hampton:

It was an honor and a pleasure to spend a long weekend in the fine town of Hampton, New Hampshire. Everyone went out of their way to make me and my crew feel special and welcome. "USS Hampton" Day 1996" was a tremendous experience for all of us. Please accept our heartfelt thanks for making our visit somethinig we will fondly remember for a long, long time!

There were many highlights during the visit: the Community Lobster Feast and Clambake; the Softball Challenge Games; homestyle cook-outs; the American Legion reception; commemorative pens and Christmas ornaments; and the many events in Hampton Beach made the trip a tremendous success. It was also our pleasure to tour more than 4000 Hampton guests on the boat. We are proud to have you all on board "Team Hampton!"

We look forward to future opportunities to strengthen the relationship we share with Hampton, NH, our namesake city to the North. If any of you should visit Norfolk [Virgnia] in your travels, be sure to give us a call and stop by for a visit. We would be honored to see you.

C.L. Stathos
Commander, United States Navy
Commanding Officer

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