Memorial Day - May 21st, 2021
I served aboard the USS Nathan Hale (SSBN 623), a Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine from 1985-86 as a MT (Missile Technician). During late January of 1986 we were off the coast of Florida participating in Training Exercises. Most of the exercise involved members of the various departments aboard the Submarine, along the lines of proficiency requirements. This included various training revolutions such as maneuvering, Torpedo launches, etc.
The last event was scheduled to include a mini-war game scenario, where our Submarine was to seek out numerous surface ships while those ships were to search and detect us sneaking below. For a couple of days we roamed around outside the designated grid preparing for the transition into the War Game zone. We went into that infamous "Silent Running" mode, where all methods to avoid detection was minimized, such as shutting down unneeded equipment, restricting personal movement within the Sub, not flushing the commode, sandwiches only from the Cook, etc, all in an attempt to reduce our noise signature during the exercise.
Early in the morning on the 28th of January, 1986, we quietly proceeded into the assigned grid to seek out and electronically destroy our designated targets skipping across the surface. We had been in a communications blackout for obvious reasons to avoid giving away our position to those pesky surface ships. For a day and a half, I recall, we had traveled through the war zone, zigzagging this way and that in search of our prey. WE FOUND NOTHING!
Word leaked down from the Submarines bridge that the Captain was livid! Why had we not detected a single participating vessel?
Then, without warning, we surfaced. Then, just as quickly we plunged under the surface once again and exited the area. My impression was that for 3 extra weeks we went about our patrol with little information about why we had suddenly "given up" the chase. Then, we pulled back into port, and that is when we were told...
Almost to the moment we had entered the grid to the War Zone Games, the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded not too far from our location, and all the surface ships had been immediately tasked to assist in rescue and search operations.
This short Tribute, on this Memorial Day, is to the Crew of the Shuttle Challenger, STS-51-L. May we remember those whose adventure was tragically cut short.
Click on the Shuttle Image to view an Article on NASA's Website
"Remembering Challenger and Her Crew"
© Copyright 2021 Steven C. Gardner