Naval Base Guam. (Aug. 5, 2023): Few Americans will experience the confined life of a Sailor aboard America’s submarines while serving months at sea. In this photo by MC1 Justin Wolpert, a Sailor assigned to the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Annapolis hugs his children during the boat's homecoming celebration after a six-month deployment. Life aboard these undersea warships is one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs in the Navy. Life for these Sailors is quite different, however, than most civilians can imagine.
Theirs is a dark, cramped, windowless world of round the clock shift work on an 18-hour daily schedule. Life aboard is divided into three six-hour periods, sleeping, working, or spending free time. Due to the lack of light on a sub, mariners lose track of time to the point where they only realize it is morning because they are eating breakfast. Because a third of a submarine houses the nuclear reactor, there is not enough room for Sailors to have their own “rack” so they share bunks and sleep in shifts. Space is so precious there are even bunks in the torpedo room.
Free time is spent in the mess halls watching television or working out in the ship’s tiny gym, usually just a few machines, to stay in shape. Submariners have limited contact with home while at sea, limited to emails that are exchanged when their sub surfaces but that is not very often.
You would think the challenge of living in such close quarters for such long voyages would result in a lot of personal tension aboard. To the contrary, there is a deep sense of camaraderie among the “silent service,” a great deal of pride in their vital mission. It takes a certain kind of person to manage the stress of life beneath the waves and crew members respect and are considerate of one another. Every submariner is a volunteer and must pass a series of grueling tests, psychological evaluations, and intensive courses to be eligible for submarine duty.
This sense of shared sacrifice among the Navy’s submarine fleet is one the most rewarding aspects of serving beneath the waves.