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SEAL Blog. STANDBY TO LOCK OUT SWIMMERS.

Saturday February 09th 2008 - 10:53 AM EST
Added by: Don Shipley



I’ve been COLDDDD so many times it’s hard to say what the worst time was.
But scary cold had to be in a Submarine Trunk in Hawaii. At 60 feet and
warm water, I locked out swimmers from the trunk, closed the side door, and
was draining the flooded coffin alone to get another group of guys for the
next cycle. It wouldn’t drain. We had a problem...

The water wasn’t all that cold,  I was in a tee-shirt and shorts. But
prolonged exposure to it was a problem and I was forced to wait chin deep.
As the clock ticked away, I began to jackhammer. When they finally got me
out, I was a hypothermic mess and one of my coldest experiences was in
beautiful Hawaiian waters.

Doing Submarine Training was never any SEALs favorite training, but was
often some of the most challenging and dangerous we did.  Subs are small,
everything on them is for something and somebody, except SEALs. There were
just two places we could go for anything, the Mess Decks to eat and once
finished eating you’d quickly leave so other guys could eat, and the Forward
Torpedo Room where we lived.

The Torpedo Room was where we spent our time and the Torpedoes were our
beds. I don’t know how many Torpedoes I’ve slept on, but it’s a lot and
never comfortable, always cramped with our gear and a platoon of SEALs
who’d spend most time just looking at each other and trading friendly
insults to pass time.

When time came to leave the Sub, by a few different methods, we’d start
moving at high speed and much focus as getting off the Sub, and back on,
were the worst parts of any mission. Any departure off a Sub underway was a
test of what’s best inside you. Many things could and did go wrong. There
were always a few demons on a Sub trip just waiting to strike.

We had three ways of getting off a Sub. Lockout, Drydeck, and Sailplane
Launch.

Lockouts were the most "Hairy" and the ones we normally did. With the Sub
submerged at 60 feet, we’d climb into the Escape Trunk and pack it full of
SEALs and equipment.

The term Claustrophobic doesn’t do justice to the confines of the small
trunk. About 5 feet across and less than 6 feet high the round coffin is
filled with pipes, valves and gages. Comfortably holding 3 guys, we’d stuff,
pack and jam it almost needing a shoehorn to get guys in and a crowbar to
get them out with as many guys as we could get. Tanks on our backs, a boat
engine or other gear, space and movement inside was as restricted as a
straight jacket.

Getting all the gear out was time consuming, very time consuming, so some
smart guy invents a Torpedo for our gear. Compartments open on the side of
this thing and we pack if full of all our gear. We stuffed it very carefully.

When we locked out the swimmers and all of us are on the surface, the Sub
fires the Torpedo that rises a short distance away with all our gear for the
mission. When we open the thing it has compacted our gear into a tight,
neat, mashed gob at the back from the force and destroyed most of our gear.

We didn’t try it twice.

Normally, as SEALs, we practice during the day to work out any kinks and
do it for real at night.  I locked out a group of swimmers during the
daytime once and the next time I’d do it and "Lock Out" myself would be at
night as I was more experienced than the other guys.

Over the intercom I was told to shut and dog the side door and I’d have to
swim up a round hole type of tube about six feet long that the Sub loaded
the Torpedoes through and the guys locked out from.
Knowing I’d not get a chance to see the monster Sub gliding through the
clear water during the daytime, I took a deep breath and decided I’d have a
look outside quickly, see how the swimmers were doing, and shut the hatch.

I guess now I should mention that I had never worked on this configuration
of Sub before, it was a different class than I was used to.
I responded back through the intercom "Shut and Dog the Side Door Aye" and
with a deep breath I swam up the tunnel.

I was sitting at the opening with half my body outside and facing forward
just looking a this monster gliding through the clear Caribbean waters like
a dog hanging out a car window when I felt something hit me in the small of
my back.
I turned to see what it was and discovered it was the hatch that had hit
me. I remember thinking "That’s Strange" and it quickly hit me again.

As it hit me a third time in rapid succession, I quickly realized the
hatch was being pumped shut by the Sub and I was about to become a drowned
Hood Ornament and not the way I wanted to leave this world.

Moving at a speed I never knew I could, I blew out every bubble of air in
my lungs and made my large frame a small one squeezing and scraping myself
through what little space was left and somehow slid into the trunk with my
arms above my head and my eyes, I’m sure, as big as dinner plates.

No fool like an old fool and what a dumb ass was all I was thinking.  You
Idiot...

It was about as close as I’d ever come to eating the "Big One."

That type of Sub pumps shut the side door from inside. All my dumb ass had
to do was Dog the hatch after it was closed.  What a Knucklehead!

We "Locked Out" off Puerto Rico once. My buddy opens the escape trunk
hatch and slides back to us with some bad news. Using the intercom inside,
he reports that there is a HUGE shark gliding under the Sail Plane enjoying
the shade from it. We’re told to ignore it and continue. He replies NO, this
ain’t some little Dog Shark we’re talking about!
The Sub Captain does some fancy maneuvers and we finally lose the Shark
and proceed with the lockout.

That night my buddy is bringing the trunk down after we locked out. With
the side hatch secured, he begins draining the trunk and notices he isn’t
alone. The glow of the red lights attracted a shark who was swimming circles
until the trunk drained. He opened the lower hatch and dropped the shark to
the guys below. Not a huge shark, but not very comforting either...

A SEAL  inside would control the flooding of the trunk and the pressure.
With the lower hatch shut and sealed after we entered, we’d "undog" (turn to
the open position)  the side door. This did nothing as the sea water
pressure held it closed. To open it after undoging, we had to flood the
trunk with water to our chins and add air pressure in the trunk to greater
than the sea water pressure outside holding it shut.  When the pressure was
greater, the trunk door would pop open and we could leave the trunk

As swimmers would leave the trunk into the dark ocean, the work began.
Assent lines stored in deck lockers were pulled out and deployed to the
surface with a buoy. Gear would be snapped on the lines and hauled to the
surface. The hatch would be closed,  the trunk drained and pressure reduced.
The cycle would go on with more SEALs in the trunk and continued until
everyone was on the surface and in the boats.

With the boats secured to the buoy and being towed by the Sub, the big
danger was excursions by the Sub hitting a pocket of fresh water or anything
else that caused her to slide deep. It happened during one trip and pulled
the boat under so fast there was no time to react. With one SEAL tangled by
lines in the boat, he was pulled under and drowned. Two other Badasses on
the surface dove down a long way chasing the moving Sub and cut him loose.
He was revived on the surface and saved. They were awarded Lifesaving Medals
for Heroism.

After the mission, the cycle was done in reverse. Breath holding in most
cases, diving down to the dim red glow of the hatch, we’d swim in until we
were all safely back aboard.

Dry decks were harder physically as all the gear and boats were below and
had to be pulled through small hatches to the deck above.

As the Sub surfaced, the hatch was opened and a steady stream of SEALs and
equipment were brought up. This exposed the Sub to radar, ships and
aircraft, and had to be done as quickly as we could. I launched a platoon
and four gear filled boats once in under 15 minutes. Very impressive...

A Sail Plane Launch was much the same except done on the Sails. Moving
gear and guys through the tower, we’d get all set and the Sub would submerge
under us. Very cool, and off we’d go.

We’d usually be "Snagged" by the Sub to recover the boats. A line would be
pulled between the boats and a IR light would mark us. The sub would surface
the Tower only and aim for the center of the line snagging the boats and
pulling us together over its aft deck and surfacing the Sub leaving us high
and dry on it’s deck. Very cool and kinda spooky seeing the black tower
appear on a black night.

Whatever the case, getting off and on a Sub was challenging. Locking out
at night, hitting a beach and assaulting a target was tough work. Finding
the Sub again on a dark night, being exhausted, cold and mentally drained
and getting back on-board was as hard a nights work as you’ll ever do.

Clean the gear, prep for another mission that night, get some hot chow,
and soundly sleep on a Torpedo filled with high explosives.  

The Navy shouldn’t even have to pay us for the Honor of being a SEAL.





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