USS L. Mendel Rivers (SSN-686)
Homeport: Charleston, SC
February 1976 – April 1977
Upon graduation from SINS school, I received orders to report to the USS L. Mendel Rivers SSN-686 in Charleston, SC. Even though the Rivers was a SINS MK 3 MOD 6 boat (vice MK 3 MOD 4), I assured my detailer that I could handle it. I moved the family into a rented house in Summerville and then later into Navy quarters in Hunley Park. I reported aboard in early February of 1976. Shortly after reporting aboard, the boat departed on a six month MED cruise. This turned out good for me, as I was able to devote all my spare time working on my submarine qualifications. I ended up qualifying and receiving my dolphins in just a little over 5 months. It was frustrating at times trying to get some of my qualification signatures, as several of the sub-qualified lower rated individuals took great pleasure making an E7 sweat and work his butt off for a signature. I took my test, oral board, and walk through while moored in La Maddalena, Sardinia. In tradition, I drank the potent brew, that covered my dolphins, and caught them in my teeth – at the local CPO club. I also bore the bruises that came with pinning on one’s dolphins. A great tradition that I’m sure has been watered down, along with many other traditions, by the changing times.
I thought I knew what a clean ship was . . . .
I thought, before arriving on the L. Mendel Rivers, that I knew what the definition of cleanliness was in the U.S. Navy. Well, I was in for a rude awakening. Shortly after reporting on board, I was paired up with the CO on a Material Zone inspection. Our zone assignment was the aft engine room. As we proceeded along, I would turn around at times and the CO would be gone! And then, I would see these feet sticking out from under some piece of equipment and he would be crawling and reaching back as far as he physically could, trying to find any little speck of dirt, oil, grease, etc. I swear those decks were clean enough to eat off! I also learned more later after the CO tore up one of my spaces (a periscope well) in another inspection. It was an eye opener for me as I had always classified myself as a stickler on cleanliness.
The L. Mendel Rivers Exiting The Cooper River & Into Open Sea
Always checking your actions . . . .
Another thing that I had to learn on submarines, versus surface ships (targets as they’re called on subs), was getting used to someone always looking over your shoulder and/or double checking your actions. At first, I took offense to it – before I learned why. I was in charge of the mooring functions on the boat (forward), when entering or leaving port. On one particular occasion, after leaving port, I supervised the stowing of all mooring lines in the storage lockers provided in the hull. After going below, I was asked if all storage lockers latches were secured, and I said “yes.” I was asked once again and I said “look, when I say something is done, it is done.” Well, they took my word for it and shortly after submerging it became apparent that I was a little remiss in my duties. One of the latches came loose on one of the line lockers and gave us a noise signature through the water – a definite no no. Everytime the CO would see me, he would give me that ah-sh** look! After that incident, I checked each latch myself and never questioned anyone looking over my shoulder again!
Deployments can get boring . . . .
This deployment took place during the pet rock craze, and one of the chiefs took one along on the cruise. He took that rock with him everywhere: to chow, on watch, everywhere. A few of us chiefs got together and decided to kidnap the rock. We finally succeeded in getting our hands on it when he was sound asleep. We left a note saying “if you want to see your rock alive again, you’ll leave one dozen cookies in a brown paper bag in a specific location.” He never came up with the cookies, so we pulverized the rock and spread it out on his rack. He was upset at us the rest of the cruise. Then there was the time I pinned this one Senior Chief’s collar devices upside down (he really prided himself in his military appearance). It just so happened this Admiral was visiting that day and commented to the Senior Chief “having trouble dressing yourself today senior chief?” He was livid! He got me back later though. You can see we were hard up for entertainment.
The L. Mendel Rivers At Sea
Tour of the Isle of Capri . . . .
While in port in Naples, Italy we (about 5-6 chiefs and myself) went on a tour of the Isle of Capri. The coxswain (a fellow chief) of an Admiral’s barge offered to take us. It seems that the Admiral had offered the use of his barge to the officers, but they had declined. We got a case of steaks out of the mess, bought some beer and charcoal and headed out. Our first stop was the famous Blue Grotto, on the Isle of Capri. We dropped anchor and hired a tour guide, and his small boat, to take us to the grotto. He oared us into the cave, which was very scenic – especially the clear crystal blue water with all its light reflections. It seems a couple Chiefs already had a little too much beer and dove overboard and had a race back to the barge. The tour guide had a fit and all the other tourists thought we were a little nuts. After walking around ashore for a while, we took the barge for a tour around the island. we stopped in one quiet cove, barbequed some steaks and drank some beer. Several Chiefs wanted to swim, and we didn’t bring along any swim gear, so you can imagine what we swam in. Anyway, a foreign correspondent (for some foreign magazine) came along while we were swimming. She was doing a photo shoot and story on Capri. She was laughing a lot and took several pictures of us inebriated sailors – so, I guess we ended up in some magazine somewhere.
Tours of Pompeii, Florence, and Pisa, Italy . . . .
I also went on a tour of Pompeii and and Mount Vesuvius, during our port visit in Naples. The tour of Pompeii was extremely interesting, and since we were all males, we got the X-rated tour. They showed us several porno statue collections (that the rich collected) and a couple houses of ill-repute (each had a painting of their particular speciality above each cubicle). But, the tour of the whole town was pretty impressive – seeing the chariot ruts worn in the stone pavement and many of the engineering feats performed by the Roman population was amazing. Later, during a port visit in La Spezia Italy, I went on a tour of Florence, and the town of Pisa . In the town of Pisa, I went up into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I didn’t stay long at the top though, as it was raining slightly and they only had a flimsy railing around the edge. In fact an american female teenager tourist had slipped under the railing and fell off the tower (just a week or so before) and was killed. Our country’s OSHA would have a field day in this place! Also, the angle that it is leaning is really exaggerated at the top – it seems like it is leaning at almost 45-degrees! Then, the churches and all the artwork in Florence (especially anything done by Michelangleo) was simply awesome.
Taken while on watch in the Control Room.
New Skipper . . . .
Soon after our return from the Med, we got a new skipper (CDR Jones). This skipper, soon after diving, would take the Conn and do severe angles and dangles for about 30-minutes. Then, he would get on the 1mc and say “now rig the ship for sea!” And, there would be crap all over the place. We soon learned to really rig for sea prior to getting underway. Ironically, our battery became severely damaged during one of these episodes and we required a Tiger Team to replace several cells.
The L. Mendel Rivers Running On The Surface
I held several positions . . . .
I held several collateral duties while on board. In addition to being the Chief ET (forward), I was the Command 3-M Coordinator and the Mediterranean Publications Officer when deployed. I also volunteered to be the Command United Way Campaign Manager. My goal here was not so much accumulating all the donations that I could get (although I was trying to be the best in the squadron), but more so on total participation. My goal was 100% participation. Well, thanks to one stubborn individual (one of my fellow CPO’s by the way – wouldn’t contribute one penny) we didn’t make it. We came in second in the squadron, we were narrowly beat out by the Sun Fish (both in participation and total contributions).
ET Gang . . . .
I had an excellent ET gang on board, but I probably wasn’t their favorite Chief. I was pretty hard on them, at times, when it came to critiquing their work on repairing equipment. I thought at the time that they were at times too ready to settle for mediocre performance vice getting the piece of equipment back to peak performance, where I thought it should be. Looking back, my expectations may have been a little too harsh. Also, being a boot on submarines, I started off standing Navigation watches before I became submarine qualified and a qualified Chief-of-the-Watch on the BCP (Ballast Control Panel). While standing Nav watches, I kept the space clean and deck swept, but I wouldn’t get down on my hands and knees and scrub the deck at the end of the watch. I think that was always a sore point with my gang as this was required of them at the end of each watch. But, hey I felt as a CPO I had to have at least one privilege!
My first experience with an EBA . . . .
I remember my first experience with the emergency breathing apparatus mask (EBA), during a drill shortly after getting underway my first time. I was teamed up with another CPO and we had to go from all the way forward to the reactor compartment using this emergency breathing system. Each EBA had a connector to use for connecting into an air manifold (these were located throughout the overhead), as well as an auxiliary connection by which a buddy could connect into your EBA or you into his. You could therefore move along in a buddy system (with one or more personnel connected together), going from manifold-to-manifold proceeding the length of the boat if need be. Well, this other CPO and I proceeded aft, using the buddy system with me plugged into his EBA. We proceeded along with him plugging into an air manifold, both of us grabbing a gulp of air, unplugging from the manifold and proceeding aft. Well, the CPO I was teamed up with, I swear must have had king-sized lungs because I would just barely get some small amount of air into my lungs and he would be unplugging and heading for the next manifold! And, he wouldn’t necessarily stop at the next manifold connection, he would skip a couple, trying to go as far as he could. Well, I wasn’t getting much air and I was about to suck the face shield right out of that mask! I finally jerked on the hose (connecting my EBA to his) so hard that I pulled him off his feet! I disconnected from him and immediately plugged into the nearest manifold and gasped for air! Later, we (along with several other chiefs) had a good laugh about it. Afterwards, I came up with the name “smother-f***ers” to describe these types of drills!
Making CWO & transfering . . . .
During our Med deployment, I applied for the Warrant Officer program. A couple of months after arriving back in the states, I found out that I was selected. I was picked up on a surface designator, which meant that I would be going back to the surface Navy. Submarine duty was good for me, but it wasn’t something that I desired to continue in. I volunteered for submarine duty, I believe, a little too late in my career. It would have been better, I think, to have gone into submarine duty straight out of boot camp and therefore received my training from the ground up. I don’t regret volunteering for submarine service because it was a great learning experience for me. But, if you like not being home much, not breathing fresh air, cramped quarters, long hours (7-day work weeks underway), standing underway watches 6 on and 6 off (on rare occasions, 6 on and 12 off), and trying to fit your normal job and several collateral duties in between, sleeping in short cat naps and continually being awakened for all-hands lectures, then submarines are for you. I loved these guys for their camaraderie, dedication to their jobs, and their looking out for their own (and families) mentality. It’s an extremely dedicated and very professional group of unselfish individuals, and they earn every bit of extra pay they get. But, I was craving the return to fresh air and more space, so I only applied for a surface designator. I also said to my detailer “I don’t care what ship you put me on just get me back on the West Coast!”
My wife’s opinion . . . .
This tour of duty is the only one that my wife jumps back at me every time I say something bad about the Charleston area. She always retorts “how would you know, you were never home!” What little time I was at home, I disliked the humid weather, the bugs (especially the little no-see’ms that I called flying teeth), fire ants, etc., and I wanted to get back on the West Coast. I received orders to the USS Chicago in San Diego.
The USS L. Mendel Rivers SSN-686 was commissioned 2/75 and decommissioned 5/01.
This picture is of me and several crew members receiving letters of appreciation for jobs well done during the past deployment. I also received another letter of appreciation later
for my job as the United Way Campaign Chairman.
The L. Mendel Rivers Moored in Naples, Italy.
Also, The catapillar under my nose was my pathetic attempt at growing a mustache.
The L. Mendel Rivers Alongside Sub Tender in La Maddalena, Sardinia
La Spezia, Italy
Chief Warrant Officer W-2 (Electronics Technician)
History of the USS L. Mendel Rivers (SSN-686)
Radio Call Sign: November – November – Tango – Sierra
Class: Sturgeon Displacement: 4229 tons (surf.), 4762 tons (subm.)Length: 302′, Beam: 31.8′, Draft 28′ 8″ Depth limit: 1,300′ Speed: Surfaced 15 kts, Submerged 25 kts Complement: 12 officers – 95 enlisted men Armament: four 21″ torpedo tubes amidships aft of bow, MK 48 Torpedoes, UUM-44A SUBROC, UGM-84A/C Harpoon, MK 57 deep water mines, MK 60 CAPTOR mines Combat Sensors: Radar, BPS-14/15 surface search, Sonars, BQQ-5 multi-function bow mounted, BQR-7 passive in submarines with BQQ-2, BQS-12 active 7, TB-16 or TB-23 towed array Navigation System: SINS MK3 MOD6 EW Systems: WLQ-4(V), WLR-4(V), WLR-9
Propulsion System: one S5W nuclear reactor, two steam turbines, one propeller, 15,000 shp
1975: On Feb. 1, the USS L. Mendel Rivers SSN-686 is commissioned . She was built by the Newport News Shipyard and Dry dock Company. She was the second-to-last of the Sturgeon-class submarines commissioned and is the last of the class to be inactivated. The ship was named for the South Carolina congressman who served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in the 89th, 90th and 91st Congresses. Congressman Rivers was an outspoken advocate of nuclear propulsion for submarines and aircraft carriers.
1976: The USS L. Mendel Rivers SSN-686 departed on her first 6-month Mediterranean Deployment. During this deployment she had port calls in La Maddalena, Sardinia and Naples, Italy. She was also the recipient of the Hook’em Award.
1991: USS L. Mendel Rivers (SSN 686) modified to carry a Dry Deck Shelter DDS. In this configuration she is primarily tasked with the covert insertion of special forces troops from an attached Dry Deck Shelter (DDS). The Dry Deck Shelter is a submersible launch hanger with a hyperbolic chamber that attaches to the ship’s Weapon Shipping Hatch. The DDS provides the most tactically practical means of SEAL delivery due to its size, capabilities, and location on the ship.
1998: USS L. Mendel Rivers (SSN-686) served as Special Operations platform, as part of two Aircraft Carrier Groups in the Persian Gulf. Homeport of Norfolk, Virginia. Crew of 107. Sturgeon Class sub.
2000: The USS L. Mendel Rivers SSN-686 departs Norfolk, VA to begin the final voyage of her 25-year career. She was to proceed to the Arctic Circle and operate beneath the polar ice cap. She punched through the ice cap during this trip. Several weeks later, she surfaced in the Straits of Juan de Fuca and piloted into Victoria, British Columbia for a port call.
2001: In May, she was deactivated in Bremerton, WA. During her active duty, she completed two Arctic deployments, eight North Atlantic deployments and eight Mediterranean deployments.
The L. Mendel Rivers at the North Pole (on her final voyage prior to decommissioning).
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