Recollection from David Campbell

By David Campbell

My first ever encounter or experience with ADM RICKOVER happened while I was at prototype SIW in the winter of 1966-67 as a student.  SIW was going through a refueling.  The Core PU had been removed, but instead of installing the SIW early core, they decided to install an S5W Core PU to see if they could use this longer life core in the first generation nuclear submarines.  Part of this task was boring out the SIW reactor vessel to take the new core.  They also wanted to put in a module that would initiate an actual failed fuel element to test the subsequent systemic responses.  I was part of a 24 man training class, 6 per crew assigned to SIW for qualifications. During this time the Reactor vessel was going through the process of metal annealing to remediate the neutron embrittlement from previous power operations.  Additionally, there was a basket taking the place of the power unit in the vessel to recover any metal shavings that may have gotten into the Reactor Coolant piping from the machining operation conducted to resize the vessel to take a S5W Core PU.  The process was significantly behind schedule in part during our short tenure at the site due to the civilian work force not being available to support for various reasons, strike being one of them.  In any case, the ADM had had quite enough of these delays as it was affecting the training pipeline, we could not get critical with steam in the engine room and finish our qualifications and it was delaying the installation of the new PU which was part of a plan to upgrade and entire class of submarines with more effective propulsion plants. So the ADM told Westinghouse he was coming for a visit to address this situation personally.  Needless to say the plant sift POCUSs had the sailors cleaning the hell out of the SIW hull and spaces on a round the clock basis for days before his visit.  The day of “visitation” came, and, if my memory serves me, the ADM met the Westinghouse senior management in the POCUS office which had a large glass viewing window of the hull.  The ADM did not come in-hull but proceeded to address the senior Westinghouse members there poking a finger at them telling them to get the work force back on site by the next morning or he would cancel their M&O contract, bring in Tender Sailors, Naval S/Y personnel to finish the refueling and provide the perimeter security using US Marines, this supposedly included the AIW M&O Contract.  The next morning the  civilian work force showed up at the site ready to work.  Unfortunately for meand my shipmates, it was too late for us.  We were shipped to AIW or S5G to start all over again in the 6 month qualification process.

My first personnel encounter with the ADM took place in late summer 1972.  I had been commissioned a Warrant Officer on June 1st while the USS GUARDFISH SSN-612 was in the middle of a TS-SCI Operation later declassified for a 2000 History Channel TV Special called “100 Years of Silent Service”, involving the trail of a Soviet ECHO II Class SSGN to the SOUTH CHINA SEA.  After the operation, I was ordered to Washington D.C. for my ADMIRAL RICKOVER Interview as I was on that operation in June when these interviews were normally held.  I don’t remember much about getting on the plane in Guam as my shipmates got me totally blitzed and I woke when the plane landed in Hawaii.  On to LA immediately, I stayed overnight with my parents in LA, then the next morning on to DC where I met my wife as she went home when I deployed and we had been separated for 6 months.  A Hurricane had gone through the area the night or day before so there were a lot of trees down and debris.  We had reservations for the Howard Johnsons, but they had over booked so they sent us to the Georgetown Inn.  The next morning a 0530 I was in the rental car trying to find the NAVSEA 08 office buildings which took me a little while.  When I got there there was another WO-1 also waiting to be interviewed, his name was Tom TIDD, and he had been on an SSBN deterrent patrol during the interview cycle.  We were met by the ADMs secretary.  She gave us a paper that said we agreed to provide five years of service if accepted back into the Nuclear Power Program as an officer.  We signed the paper work and awaited the start of the interview.

I was commissioned while on a special operation. I ate breakfast in the Crews Mess and lunch in the Wardroom and moved from EWS / EOOW to Diving Officer of the Watch.  During the meals or time in the Wardroom I was regaled with stories of ADM RICKOVER interviews   Scary, funny, interesting, unusual, whatever the key point was you never knew what to expect.  The officers in particular told me to never volunteer information, never answer more than what was asked. So, a little apprehensive, I awaited my turn.  I expected to go in and basically say I love the nuclear power program, love ADM RICKOVER, and can’t wait to get to my next assignment.  To my surprise, I instead was sent to the office of the head of the Reactor Theory Department, and when I got there he commenced to give me a check out on my knowledge of Reactor Theory.  I was certainly caught off guard and had to immediately spin my brain into check out mode of operations.  And so it began Department Head check-out in all aspect of the operation of a Naval Nuclear Propulsion Plant.  On into late afternoon.  I do not even remember if they fed us.  I did not see TOM TIDD after our initial meeting.  He was obviously on a different interview cycle.  Finally it came time for my interview with the ADM.  The CDR who was in PCO training and my escort brought me into the ADMs office, and it was just as my wardroom mates had described to me.  Never having been in an ADMs office before I had nothing to compare it too.  But when I was ushered into an ADMs office later in my career, there were stark differences.  No carpets, no personal pictures of boats, commands, important events etc, no posh curtains etc.  Linoleum floors, for some reason I remember as checkered.  A standard GSO sheet metal desk no frills and bare of any paperworks of memorabilia.  And the standard Navy and US Flags.  I sat in the as describe straight forward standard GSO chair, front legs shorter than the back?  Maybe I was a little too nervous to notice or remember.  The CDR who brought me in stood next to the ADM who had a file in front of him which he was looking at.  Now at this point I did not believe I would be accepted by the ADM back into his program.  You see early in my tour on GUARADFISH, in fact it was less than a week on board, after the boat arrived  at the  Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula MS.  I believe it was day two or three and the ship had hundreds of yardbirds on board and M-Div. needed to do a A&I to the Steam Generator Sight Glasses and asked for volunteers to go into the Rector Compartment and perform this alteration.  I had never been in a submarine Reactor Compartment as I had just come from Prototype duty as an instructor.  To shorten the story here, there was a secondary to atmosphere leak to the plant, and I was involved mainly because I was the senior petty officer there and an instructor and EWS qualified at the prototype and had to go to Mast.  So I had a Letter of Reprimand in my record.  I was in fact surprised I was selected for Commissioning as a Warrant Officer.  So back to the interview!  I sat there for a few seconds awaiting the first question from the ADM.  He looks up at me and says: “How did you get so far so fast”, his exact words.  You see, I was commissioned a WO 7 years and 3 months after I enlisted.  My first thought was; well ADM because I am “F…..Good”.  Of course that was a very short lived thought, and I remembered do not volunteer information or expound.  So I said” “Worked hard and studied Sir”, and shut up.  He looks up at the CDR standing next to him, and says; “this guys does not have enough experience”.  My first thought then because I felt insulted, why you little white haired ….!  but kept quiet.  The ADM then simply said your dismissed.  My response “Aye Sir”.  Got up and left with the CDR who  took me to a room for my debrief.  I forget who the interviewer was, but it was the how did you enjoy the interview etc.  My basic response was yes I loved the interview, please can I do it again.  

I then left 08 and headed over the BuPers to see my detailer.  He was an LDO Adminin type I think named John Cary and this was a new position for the submarine directorate of BuPers to had a specific LDO/WO detailer community manager.  He ended up having his job 18 years later.  In any case it was somewhere between 18 and 2000.  I came in, he asked how did the interview go.  I said please give me my record, RICKOVER says I don’t have enough experience.  I can go the surface navy and get a billet as Chief Engineer on a gator freighter (ANPHIB SHIP) or Div. Officer on a Destroyer Cruiser or Battleship..  John looks at me amazingly and says: “you ain’t going anywhere.”  The ADMs office just called and said I was accepted back into the Nuclear Submarine Program and I can be a RADCON Officer on a Tender or at an IMA OR I can go back to the boats.  I said; John, send me backto the boats please.  And so I went back to the boats, served on three more, earning my GOLD Submarine Warfare Phin, then my Surface Warfare PHIN while serving as Chief Engineer and XO of an ASR, Squadron Engineer for SUBDEVGRU ONE in San Diego, as well as getting a ship command.  AS it turns out the ADM was basically interviewing Warrants and LDOs for positions in his NRRO Offices and in reality I was pretty Junior.  So the ADMs observation about my experience was the best thing for my service which was truly great for me and in my opinion the Navy.  The ADM may have had some quirks based on stories we all hear, but he, as the father of the Nuclear Navy, did more for the defense of this country than any other ADM that has ever served except maybe Rear Admiral W. F. "Red" Raborn who headed up the Polaris Missile Program.