Recently, Navy Chief Marty Noe took us on a dive into the ‘colorful’ world of submariner terminology, and as a result we were flooded with emails and comments with readers wanting more or wanting to contribute. So let’s take an even deeper dive into the world of submariner lingo, with more wacky submarine terms from Foxtrot Alpha readers who have been there and done that.
Ahead Flank Cavitate: As in “let’s get the fuck out of here.” That command is given and engineering is to bring the screw to full turns without regard to cavitation (creating noisy bubbles in the sea).
Baffles: The blind spot behind a submarine where enemy subs can hide.
Balls To Four Watch: Midnight to four AM watch. When at shore, watches are 4 hours as opposed to 6 while at sea. Balls to four is the worst watch because you work all day, maybe get to hit the rack at 10pm, racked out at 11pm so you’re ready to start turning over the balls to four watch at 11:30. Turnover is supposed to be an intensive debrief from the off going to the oncoming watch on the previous watch’s activities, but most of the time it’s “look! Air in the banks, shit in the tanks, water all around. I had it, now you got it.” You get off four hours later and hit the rack but have to be back for muster at 6am. It makes for a tough night.
Battle Chop: Supply officers (or “chops”) are asked to do an awful lot, and are typically buried in supply officers’ work. On those rare occasions that a chop shows interest in the tactical aspects of the boat, the other junior officers enthusiastically christen him “Battle Chop.” This usually lasts about three days before the chop gets busy/loses interest, from which point on the term is used sarcastically.
Battlestations Torpedo/Battlestations Missile - Two separate watch conditions on Tridents meaning you may have different roles. During torpedo, the crew fights another threat. During missile, the crew launches missiles.
Biologics - Animal life picked up on sonar, like chatty dolphins, beautiful whale-song or those loud “boing” creatures off Hawaii that deafen the sonar system.
“A bitching sailor is a happy sailor”: Often repeated cliché, especially beloved by Chief Petty Officers. Sailors tend to disagree. Beneath the profanity, there’s an element of truth here. Sailors who are complaining have some investment in how things should be. To complain about something, you have to think about it, at least a little. Plus, submarining is such hard work that complaining is a natural and expected response; in fact, it quickly becomes competitive. It’s when sailors go quiet that you should really worry. See “law of conservation of happiness” below.
Boomer: A ballistic missile submarine. The other major type is fast attack submarines (sorry, there’s no catchy term for them). The differences are in design and mission. Fast attack subs are lean and mean; they go to interesting places, collect intel, hunt enemy subs and ships, and are active players in naval affairs. Boomers are much bigger on account of being designed to carry nuclear missiles. Their job is to find a hole in the ocean and pray they don’t get told to launch.
Broach: If the hull of the submarine breaks the surface of the water when it’s supposed to be submerged the ship is said to be “broached.” This is a big deal because now you’re visible at a time you’re trying to be sneaky. This happens most frequently while trying to stay at periscope depth. When it does, someone has to announce it. If the diving officer/pilot calls the broach, he’s calling out himself. It’s the submarine equivalent of “my bad.” When the periscope operator notices it first, it becomes a code term meaning, “ship’s control party, get your shit together!” As such it also get’s used as a general term for fucking up.
Burn a Flick: Watch a movie. In this case, what’s interesting isn’t the words but the subtext, which is, “I choose to blow two hours watching a movie I don’t even like because I’ve got that kind of time.” Inspires reactions ranging from envy to loathing. Even now that many sailors can watch movies in their racks, some sailors watch them on the crew’s mess as a form of conspicuous consumption.
Bullgeorge: by Navy tradition, the most-junior ensign is called “George” while the most senior is called “the Bull.” In the submarine force, it takes so long for junior officers to get to the boat (two six month schools, a ten week school, at least two moves and general administrative friction) that most arrive as lieutenants junior grade. When you only have one ensign, as many wardrooms do, by tradition he is both “the Bull” and “George”, or “Bullgeorge.” Note: this title has no practical meaning.
Bremelos or Grotopotamus: Okay, this one’s not very nice, but it refers to the less-than attractive women that live near a sub base. In Bremerton, we had Bremelos. In Groton, we had Grotopotami but I assume each base had their own name. The thing is, it didn’t matter to most because hey, it’s a girl. (Editor’s note: I’m sure they had their own names for the random sailors on base, many of whom weren’t prizes themselves.)
Brokedick – Anything that does not work. “that pump has been brokedick for a week.” I have no idea the origin of this one except submariners default to vulgar terms whenever possible.
Channel Fever - Headed back to port through the channel after a long cruise. The few days you can’t sleep because you are so excited to be home. Single guys could make a killing on home coming too because we could charge top dollar to take someone’s duty so they could get some booty.
Chasing the Bubble: Tthe bubble” is the air bubble in the middle of a level that tells the angle of the boat. Even though we use digital inclinometers these days, the balance of the boat is still “the bubble”. If the diving officer/pilot is “chasing the bubble”, it means he’s trying to get the ship to a level angle or he’s not succeeding.
Clean Sweep: In World War II, submarines that were able to destroy an entire convoy (either alone or as part of a wolfpack) were said to have scored a “clean sweep.” They showed off by mounting an upside-down broom on the sail during their transit home. Modern-day submariners sometimes do the same thing, but since the convoy-sinking business is a little slow these days, some crews will do this on return from deployment if they accomplish all of their tasks, or just avoid major catastrophe.
Check Valve: A selfish crew member that only thinks of himself. A check valve is a plumbing component that only allows fluid to flow one way. Great for sewer systems, bad for attitudes on a boat.
The Cone/Coners: derisive terms that nukes use to refer to the forward end of the boat and the people who work there. There is no parallel term for coners referring to nukes (mainly having to do with the back of the ship); generally, coners view being a nuke as an insult enough. Also, coner and nuke are enlisted-only terms. Officers are involved in both ends of the boat, and so don’t really belong in either group. That is one thing both nukes and coners can agree on.
Death Cow (also referred to as KLIM and Plastic Cow): Nonfat dry milk the crew is forced to drink when fresh milk runs out after about two weeks at sea. Drinkable only if ice-cold. Worthless in coffee. Only thing less palatable on a long underway transit is plastic (i.e. powdered) eggs.
Deck and the Conn - The Officer of the Deck would normally have two roles. “The Deck” usually means they’re in charge of the boat’s operations and all other watch stations report to them. “The Conn” meant they were in command of the boat’s movements and gave orders to the diving officer of the watch, the helmsman and the quartermaster. “LT Johnson has the deck and the conn” is the normal command but the captain, Nav, or XO could take the conn at anytime, meaning they control the navigation while Johnson controls the operations.
Digit – Or sometimes digit dog. Most sailors are level headed about the job. It’s a good job, they want to move up in rank and have a high regard for duty. But then there are the Digits who love the Navy. It a matter of religion for them. They are painful to deal with because there decision making lacks logic. They are first to berate you for complaining. These guys are in the Navy for life because they love the Navy obsessively.
Dolphins: Common term for the Submarine Warfare qualification pin. As any submariner will obnoxiously point out, the sub pin was the first of its kind, even though many Navy communities now boast some sort of pin. Having your dolphins makes a huge difference in how you’re treated. Without them, you’re a nub, an airbreather, an annoyance at best and a liability at worst. With them, well, you still might be all those things, but now you’re family. You’ve learned a lot, you’ve studied and drilled and passed your qual board, and you’ve convinced people that you belong. And once you have them, you’ve got ‘em forever. It pretty much takes a direct order from the President to take someone’s dolphins away, and even then the yeomen will insist on the order in writing and in triplicate.
Family Gram - A 50 word message from the select people back at home. At the beginning of a cruise, you get like 6 family grams to hand out to family, wives, etc. to send you when underway. The radiomen read them all when they come in. Really steamy ones from girlfriends or wives were posted on a bulkhead. Sad or upsetting ones were sometimes held until the end of the cruise. You don’t want anyone going all German Wings on a nuclear ballistic submarine.
Fish - Torpedoes.
FLOB or “Free Loading Oxygen Breather:” Some worthless shipmate, either a new person not qualified to stand a watch yet, or a rider.
Fox Tail – Small hand held broom. 99% of the sweeping on the entire ship is done with little hand held brooms.
Halfway Night: A special occasion celebrated (you guessed it) halfway through a sub’s mission. More common among boomer crews, who have the luxury of a predictable schedule. Less common for fast attack boats on a mission, since having one is like daring fate to extend your deployment. Sometimes fun and games occur to celebrate the occasion. These could includes creative games like EAB races. EABs are masks with air hoses. You have to get from the galley, slap a torpedo tube at the forward part of the boat, touch the throttleman in the engine room, and make it back. The shortest time wins. You can see that these hoses must be plugged in at certain stations located all over the ship. So it’s unplug, hold breath run until you start seeing spots, and plug back in. Each time you plug in you lose time and the air doesn’t exactly rush into the mask so you have to pull hard. You look pretty funny with your mask getting sucked against your face.
Hamsters: pre-packaged chicken cordon bleu. If you’ve ever seen one, it makes sense as they’re the right size, the right shape, the right color, and they have guts. Very common midrats fare.
Hazing: Nothing is more entertaining than playing with the new guys. It’s actually an important process in testing the mental metal of a new submariner. After being plunged into a alien environment, new guys will do anything you tell them. Sending a new guy on a wild goose chase by exploiting ignorance of the plethora of Navy vernacular, is high entertainment. The new guy is sent to someone to ask to borrow something that does not exist. The “someone” recognizes the ruse and agrees but only after “new guy” goes and gets something from someone else, and on and on. Depending how gullible you can have “new guy” going for days.
It starts like this; Seaman Jones is told to go back aft and ask the engineer on duty for 100 feet of gig line. The engineer on duty tells him OK but only if he first goes and gets three gallons of bulk head remover from the Auxiliary Electrician Forward. The AEF says sure but only if he comes back with an air sample from the missile deck and hands the poor soul a plastic garbage bag. New guy comes back with bag inflated with air from the MC but then is told he needs help, could he run up to control and get permission to blow the DCA. An officer watches a new guy walk up and ask permission to blow the DCA. The DCA is a person, not a piece of equipment.
· 100’ gig line – the lining up on one’s shirt, pants flap, and belt.
· Bulk head remover – Bulk head is a wall. There is no remover.
· Air sample – machines or hand held devices are used for air samples. Not giant plastic bags.
· The DCA – an officer on every cruise is appointed in Damage Control Assistant.
· Machinist punch – this is a game finisher because, well, the new guy gets punched.
Laundry Queen: new guys (aka NUBs) that can’t do anything else yet, are sometimes put in charge of washing everyone’s clothes. Typically, we would wash our own unless we had a queen.
Law of Conservation of Happiness: Once a submarine’s hatches shut, the amount of happiness onboard is fixed. Happiness cannot be created nor destroyed. The only way to add to your own happiness is to take it from someone else. (This is what happens when you take nukes to sea and they get bored: you get crap like this.)
Mail Buoy: Get the nub dressed up in foul weather gear, life jacket, safety harness and a boat hook and stationed to go through the mid-ship hatch to retrieve the buoy with the ship’s mail. Let him wait until someone finally takes pity and explains that there is no such form of mail delivery.
Make a hole!: Tell a crowd to get out of the way. Depending on the activity, some spaces can get very crowded and if you are getting blocked while dealing with an urgent issue (or if you are high enough rank that you lost your patience for this kind of inconvenience a long time ago) you yell “make a hole!” and people get out of your way.
Midnight Cowboy: Typically, shipboard watches are allocated in three sections, where you spend six hours on watch and twelve off, for an eighteen hour day. (Don’t be fooled: those twelve hours are when you get the rest of your work done.) Sometimes, when there are enough officers to go around, the captain will pick the junior officer he trusts the most and make him the Midnight Cowboy. The midnight cowboy will take the midwatch, from midnight to 0600, night after night, breaking the normal eighteen hour day cycle.
Being the midnight cowboy means taking on a lot of responsibility. The midwatch is the only timeframe where the captain lets himself sleep, so the midwatch cowboy needs to be someone who can handle most anything himself but still knows when he needs to wake the captain up.
There are people who will tell you that being the midnight cowboy is a good deal. Those people are lying. Being the midwatch cowboy means being up for all the drills, meetings, training events, and exercises that happen during the daytime and the worst watch of the four, night after night. Midnight cowboy is not a good deal. There are no good deals. Also, Santa Claus isn’t real, Snape killed Dumbledore, and your mother never loved you.
Nuclear Waste: There are sailors and officers out there that attempt to go through the nuclear power training program and no matter how hard they try they just can’t hack it. There’s no shame in this, or at least not much. The Navy knows the program is hard, it’s hard by design, and so people who fail out of nuke school aren’t necessarily done with the Navy. If they were honestly trying, the Navy lets them go to some other community or occupation. The only lasting black mark is to be referred to, forever after, as nuclear waste.
Nukes: enlisted sailors who work on the subs’ nuclear power plant. Depending upon the boat, they may or may not be mortal enemies with the coners.
“Nuke it out:” to make something more complicated than it needs to be. Used to describe someone else rather than yourself. Snark or sneer optional. Also applies if the subject is being overly literal or legalistic. Example: a gaggle of junior officers tried to compute how long it would take one of our number to punch every citizen of country X in the face. We did research on this. We built mathematical models and everything. We nuked it out something fierce. Be warned: the people this term slams the best are also the most likely to take it as a compliment.
Nukes vs Coners – Nukes are the electricians and mechanics that work in the engine room have been through special training that the rest don’t go through. Coners (cone- ers. you know, because they work at the front or cone part of the boat) are everyone else. This creates natural enmity or ‘us vs them’ attitudes. There are lots of pranks that occur as a result.
1MC Conditioning: The 1MC is the primary shipboard announcing circuit. There’s nothing particularly special about this, as all Navy ships have such. What’s different is how the 1MC is treated. It is drilled into submariners from a very early stage to shut up when the 1MC is going. The result of this is that a submariner will occasionally go to a supermarket or big box retailer, hear someone speak over the store’s speakers, and instinctively shut up until the announcement is over, regardless of volume or relevance. Then they’ll swear when they realize what they’ve just done. It’s a hoot.
O2 Bleed: The boat replenishes oxygen from tanks charged by separating the hydrogen from the oxygen in water. Some captains usually kept the O2 level low to minimize fire risk. There are few stations throughout the boat for discharging O2 and if you needed a pick-me-up you could stand near the ports and get oxygenated.
Part Time Sailor: One of a family of derogatory terms that submariners use about other submariners. Boomers have two crews, only one of which “owns” the boat at any given time. If the boat is at sea and the other crew has the boat, guess what? That means you’re not on it! Fast attack submariners scoff at Boomer Submariners with terms like “part-time sailor.” Fast attack submariners, they say, have a more relevant mission, endure worse conditions and are generally more hardcore. Boomer submariners reply that fast attack submariners are transparently jealous of boomers’ enhanced creature comforts, like a predictable schedule, no hot-racking, and luxury items like soda machines. Both sides are correct.
“Permission to burn a flick:” Boats used to go underway with a small collection of DVDs but movies could not be started without the Chief of the Watch’s permission. The COW would not give permission until the off going watch had cleaned their sections. When all sections were cleaned, someone would call the COW on a sound powered phone and ‘request permission to burn a flick’.
Phantom Shitter: A legend involving someone who would shit in a trash bag, put it in the Trash Disposal Unit and cause a catastrophe.
Poopy Suits: The blue coveralls worn while underway.
Portable Air Sample: Taking a portable air sample is a legitimate damage control exercise using a machine that is like a small vacuum cleaner, drawing a specific volume of air through a HEPA filter, then you measure the radiation emitted by the contamination captured on the filter paper. The New York Police Department has automated versions of these located in Penn Station and other key locations. Everyone needs to take a portable air sample as part of their sub quals. Always an enjoyable site to see ‘coners’ running around the engine room with a huge trash bag, trying to get it inflated as much as possible, sealing it, and then carrying it forward to the Chief of the Watch to announce they had taking a ‘portable air sample’ (see Hazing).
Pucks: Fried chicken patties. Pucks would often show up if mid-rats (leftovers) ran out. Delicious to some, horrific to others.
Puka: Allegedly adopted from the Hawaiian word for “hole.” Puka is a hiding place or stash. You’d think that, space being at such a premium on a sub, there would be no good hiding places. On the contrary, a sub is an industrial environment. People need to be able to get to every valve, panel, and piece of gear. A sub may look like a tube on the outside, but on the inside it’s like a honeycomb, with many nooks, crannies, hideaways, and caches. Subs are so horribly crowded because none of those Pukas fit people. Puka can also be used as a verb, e.g. “Puka that shit before chief gets back here.”
The Quack: Affectionate name for the boat’s corpsman. These guys had the most slack job of the crew and the officer of the deck occasionally joke about having someone go flip the Quack over in his rack. These guys had a huge responsibility though and even though they were lacking a medical degree, they were the only form of health care aboard and might be called to perform anything from emergency surgery to tooth extraction if need be.
Quals: This is a new guy’s life. A non-qual is a lower life form not allowed the privileges of the other crew. Non-quals will sometimes experience people stepping in front of them in the chow line, getting kicked out of mess before a movie, pulled out of their rack to go study, etc. As a new submariner, you have a year to complete your qual card and get your dolphins or the Navy reserves the right to boot your NUB rear end to the surface fleet, and no one wants that! Losing a qual card is devastating so you will sometimes see NUBs with tethers from their card to their body. Getting a check out (or having someone grill you on a subject so they can sign that portion of the qual card off) can be brutal. “Ok shipmate, you want to get signed off on the brine pump? I am a molecule of water. Describe and draw a oneline diagram of every system I pass through until finally cooling the reactor.” Getting those dolphins is the most important thing in your life.
Rack: term for a bed that is also your primary storage locker and only marginally larger than the average coffin. No, really: there’s enough space for your head and the overhead light to coexist, but only if you don’t plan on sitting up.
Rack Burn: Look, you have to sneak naps in when you can but it was obvious to everyone when you came back from your nap with a giant red mark on your cheek from falling asleep on your face or imprints of the things on your face. There are certain times you do not want to get caught sleeping; drills, watch, etc
Rack Hound: You don’t get much sleep unless and if you found out someone was getting more sleep than others, they were harassed. The Navy promised to give us at least 4 hours a sleep each night. This seldom happened.
Rambo: Poncho liner. Best blanket you can get on board. These things are gold. Called Rambo because they are camouflage.
Ramen, Fish, and Feet: The unique odor of a submarine. The atmosphere control equipment onboard will keep the air breathable, but it doesn’t have to keep it smelling nice. Instantly recognizable to anyone who’s sniffed it before. And, of course, it seeps into all the clothes you wear and bring onboard. Homecoming from at-sea time is wonderful, but you lose some of the romance when your significant other feels the need to blast you with body spray before embracing you.
Rig for ultra-quiet: Most of the cruise is spent on severe sleep deprivation (I was up for almost 3 days on during a tactical readiness exam) but every once and a while the captain calls for ultra-quiet. All non-personnel not on watch must be in your racks. They even shut off the water heater and reactor cooling pumps (didn’t know you could do that and keep the reactor running!).
“The rudder’s right:” Subs don’t like being on the surface (See “surface transit” below). When a sub is on the surface, some amount of its rudder is out of the water. The rudder is what you use to turn—meaning that a sub on the surface goes from turning like a fighter jet to turning like a 747. A little paranoia caused by this lack of maneuverability is a healthy response. One of the ways to do this is for the periscope operator, when he hears a turn announced, to swing the scope around and take a look at the physical rudder as it sticks out of the water. When he sees the rudder turning, he announces “rudder’s right!” (or left as the case may be) to help confirm the boat’s turning as it should.
On a boat I was on there was a junior officer who, when the boat went to sea, was very fresh and shiny new—which meant he was borderline useless. The crew did, however, get him trained on the periscope before the underway started. They hammered him especially hard on rudder calls. One day during the underway the boat was at periscope depth. Ship’s control party was having a devil of a time keeping from broaching. At one point, they did broach, but they were in denial, because they thought they could catch it. The officer of the deck tried to help them out by ordering a big turn—at which point the junior officer, bless his heart, swung the scope around and faithfully reported, “Rudder’s right!” There was silence for a moment before the pilot sheepishly admitted, “the ship is broached!”
The Run, Jump, and Puke: Hey it’s the military and you are expected to maintain a physically fit body per the Navy standards. Everyone gets physical readiness test periodically but it seemed like ours always hit days after getting back to port since you can’t execute them whilst at sea. Most everyone is out of shape from living in a tube for months on end but failing those suck. So you push your body to the point of breaking to pass. Like me, many hurl but it beats getting put on the program for failing!
Salty: General Navy term used to refer to how much someone has been at sea. In theory, more is better. When used to describe a third party, this term is often reverential; when used to someone’s face, it’s nearly always sarcastic.
Sea Story: Any story at least loosely Navy-related, especially those that demonstrate that the speaker is heavier, saltier, and more sexually appealing than his listeners. The joke goes, “what’s the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale? A fairy tale begins ‘once upon a time’ and a sea story begins ‘this one’s a real no-shitter…” Unfortunately for submariners, we have three kinds of sea stories. The first is too technical or specific for non-submariners to find funny. The second is the stories we can’t talk about. That leaves, “so we were pulling into this one port…”
Shit Floats/Floater/Skimmer: Pejorative for a surface sailor
Short: Someone with very little time left on the boat. AKA Shortest Nuke On Board.
Spun Up: Getting frustrated. When you pack a bunch of guys in an environment with no women we lose certain social graces. Combine that with boredom, and people devolve fast. People start with anyone they can get a reaction out of, to try and get them spun up. Because what is more entertaining that watching someone go off? The environment is rough for young kids especially ones from quiet rural towns. They show up all polite and smiles but after a single cruise they are as jaded as the rest. You hit on all the usual areas until they find that sensitive spot and then hold on for the pile up! Squeamish about homosexuality and you will have guys winking at you. Miss your girl and all you will hear is how she is probably sleeping with your best friend.
“The ship is underway:” Yeah, okay, this term has plenty of applicability outside the submarine force. Every submarine I’ve been on, however, has used a particular, exuberant, Shatner-esque cadence, “the SHIP is UN-der-WAY!” The other side of the coin, “The ship is moored,” is usually mumbled and barely intelligible. As an aside, submarines are usually referred to as “boats.” The technical difference is that a boat is something that is launched from a ship, and at one point submarines were. These days the term is held on to as a point of pride and distinction. However, it is still “the ship is underway.” Because of course it is.
Skimmer: a scornful term for any surface ship but particularly surface warships, which no true submariner respects or fears. Submarine versus surface ship is anything but a fair fight, and submariners would have it no other way. Skimmer can also be used to describe surface sailors, with at least as much contempt.
Surface Transit: Words every submariner dreads. If you compare the subs of, say, World War II to modern subs, you’ll notice a big difference in their hull shapes. The old ones have the V-shape that surface ships have, while modern ones have rounded hulls like a stretched football. That’s a meaningful design choice. The old fleet boats were surface ships that just happened to be able to submerge. Modern subs are designed for maximum submerged performance but, unfortunately, still have to surface sometimes. That rounded hull, which works so beautifully while underwater, means that the boat rolls in the sea like you wouldn’t believe. If there’s any choppiness in the water, if there are waves of any real size, the sub’s rolling like crazy, with predictable effects on the crew’s collective stomachs. This is one reason why submarines prefer to travel (or “transit”) underwater. Sometimes, though, that just can’t happen. Sometimes you have to go from point A to point B on the surface. When that’s the plan, the corpsman breaks open his Dramamine supplies, and watchstanders strategically place barf bags while they await the inevitable.
The SS Ustafish (sounds like ‘used to fish’): The name of someone’s last boat. For some reason, every once in a while you get a new “shipmate” who is always talking about how they did things better on their old boat. This is annoying as hell. We call it talking about the ustafish in place of the old boat name... Because no one cares what the name is. “On my old boat…” “Hey shipmate, guess where you are not.”
Sweep The Baffles: Term used to describe the turning of the sub to allow sonar to look at the area behind boat that would be shielded by the sub itself. We would normally give nubs on the boat a broom and ask them to sweep the baffles.
Swim Call: Captain sees warm 80 degree water temperature on the sensor and surfaces the boat about 80 miles off the coast of Hawaii. On the 1MC, he announces Swim Call. An increasingly rare occasion due to its inherent risk. The thing to be aware is the boat is still moving forward very slowly because the screw (propeller) must remain moving or it will damage the shaft seals. If you were swimming off the missile deck and didn’t pay attention, the boat might just cruise away very slowly, requiring you to swim your out-of-shape-submariner-body booty off to catch up.
Targets: The Navy has two types of war ships, submarines and targets. The mission of a submarine is to remain hidden from all vessels, including other Navy ships and subs are very effective at that despite all of the surface fleets ASW equipment. There is a sense of elitism when you are a submariner.
TDU – Trash Disposal Unit. All trash is compacted (another classic NUB job) into cylinders and ejected out of the bottom of the boat. This is a very interesting process. The TDU is a ram and piston system. You place a metal sleeve in the unit, stuff the trash in, and compact it. If it happens to have a bunch of low density material it will be too light and might float, giving away the boat’s position so special round weights (TCU weights) are used to weight it down. Operating the TDU is tricky because of what might be in the trash. Cardboard is brutal because if it gets between the piston and cylinder, it could bind the unit up for the remainder of the cruise. Sometime there are bolts that can shred the TDU sleeve. Sometime there is fecal matter from some jerk who could not get a relief to use the head while on watch. It was basically like working inside a garbage truck all day.
Three-Bean Salad: Submarines can stay at sea for long periods of time. They make their own water, they make their own air, they have fuel to burn, all they need from external sources is parts and food. If nothing’s breaking, then food is the only limiter. Before they go on mission they’ll load food into every nook and cranny. If things are really interesting, then they’ll push even those supplies to the limit. What I’m saying is, if you’re eating three-bean salad, either you’ve been out for an extra special long time or your Chop is about to get keelhauled.
Topside Olympics: Bouncing coffee cups off the rubber tile coatings to see if you could catch it on the rebound.
Voodoo Chicken: Burnt on the outside, frozen in the middle. You see, cook logic works like this: if the instructions call for 200 degrees for two hours, then you should be able to cook at 400 for one hour. When they get behind, they start making stuff up.
Vulcan Death Watches: Some brutal combination of six and four hour watches. These tend to be very grueling periods, hence the “death watches” part of the name. There is no reason for the “Vulcan” part of the name. Some things don’t have to make sense.
Wardroom Gentleman: Near the end of a junior officer’s orders, he starts shedding duties like a snake shedding its skin. It would be bad if he were to leave without carefully handing his programs over to others, since those others would have to figure things out on the fly and wouldn’t be able to ask him how he did them. The consequence of this is that there comes a point when his only remaining responsibility is not to die before your transfer date. It is then that he is known as the Wardroom Gentleman.
Whale Pee: Oceanic condition where temperature and salinity spike suddenly and drop just as quick. The only explanation is, we just cruised through whale pee. Monitoring temp and salinity is crucial for controlling acoustics.
The XO’s Door: The Executive Officer is the number two on board. This means two things. First, that he has to do all the things the captain doesn’t want to do, and second, that he’s still not the boss. Shortly before an XO transfers, it is tradition for the crew to pull a prank on him involving the door to his stateroom. This is hugely significant because the XO and the captain are the only people onboard who don’t have to share their rooms. So the fact that the XO has a door in the first place is a big luxury. The pranks that ensue can take any number of forms, from “tagging” the door so the XO can’t legally open it to removing the door from its hinges and hiding it somewhere. It’s all done in good fun, as is the retaliation the XO inflicts upon the pranksters once the jig is up. The strange thing is that XOs seem to genuinely enjoy these shenanigans. It says volumes about the XO job that dealing with pranksters taking his door is more relaxing than what he puts up with on a regular basis.
Zarf: A cup holder. No idea why it’s called a Zarf and not a cup holder.
A special thanks to “SHZA” and all the other submariners who contributed to this list. If you have additional terms, or are in a different branch of the armed services and want to contribute, please email me at the link below, with “TERMS” in the subject field.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.
Photos via US Navy/DoD