A very, very long time ago, in Bangor, Washington, aboard USS Michigan, I participated in at least six “stores loads.” Probably more because at least twice we broke our patrols into two parts, once for a Follow-On Test (a four missile test launch) and the second time because we broke the submarine.
What happens is that all the “Junior” enlisted sailors, say Petty Officer Second Class (me) and below, that aren’t on watch, form a line from the pier to the storerooms aboard ship. The worst place to be is in the hatch because then the boxes are going vertical instead of horizontal. But otherwise, the line has a Sailor handing a box to the next guy who is facing him and then he passes it on to the next guy who is facing him and so on until the box goes from the pier to the proper storeroom. On occasion there aren’t enough guys and each box is carried by a sailor from the pier to the hatch, which is okay at high tide and best at mid tide. It absolutely sucks at low tide when the pier is suddenly 10-15 feet above the deck and you have to carry the box down the gangway. This can lead to funny moments, like when one sailor (not me) stumbled coming down the gangway and in best vaudeville fashion continued to stumble down the way, hit the deck at full speed, crossed the deck and hit the safety line on the far side. He then slowly leaned out over the edge leaning on the line), came to a stop, and gently eased back up as the line took in the slack.
He then looked at the rest of us – who in best sailor fashion were just watching – and said, “Whew, that was close.” He was carrying a box of grape juice, of which he had not let go, even when hanging over the edge of the ship (remember, submarines don’t have wide decks or full safety lines, just a line). We applauded him, agreed to a man that if it had been me the box would have be ejected overboard, and decided that something special must be done with the grape juice since it had come so close to not making the patrol. All I can tell you is that it involved fermentation experiments.
On my very first stores load, I was still a young and unqualified submariner who didn’t really understand the hierarchy of things. Boxes of pistachios were moving forward – I was in the 3rd Level Berthing area – and every fifth box or so would get chucked into one of the enlisted berthing rooms. I thought that people were just messing with me, so I went into the bunkroom to get it, where I discovered the second most ingenious system ever invented for getting our hands on the pistachios without having to go through the Officers Mess.* Quickly I realized what was really happening and made my way back to my place in line, and eagerly looked forward to the day when I could enjoy the pistachios as well. By the by, this was back when pistachios were all painted red with the dye that made your hands, lips and tongue look like you were a street walker offering a very special service if you get my drift.
Anyway, pistachios were a big deal when it came to stores load aboard USS Michigan SSBN-727(G).
All this comes to mind because on my way out of work yesterday somebody asked me whether or not I was enjoying myself or not? Before I could even think about it, I said that it was just like stores load days back on the submarine, which always makes me happy to think about the greatest days and job of my life – at least pre-Ben. The person who asked had asked me was somewhat taken aback since most “new” people are pretty tired and worn out by the end of the day. But I was smiling and happy to talk Navy.