Sunday, January 18, 2009

Admiral Rickover and the Chief of the Boat

Admiral Hyman Rickover was one of the most dedicated and driven individuals that ever served in the United States Navy. He felt it was his duty to personally inspect every nuclear powered ship or shore unit that provided any nuclear evolution for those ships. He interviewed every officer that was assigned as a Nuclear Engineer to those same ships and commands. The stories of those interviews were quite unique, and were common throughout the Nuclear Navy. He periodically visited Naval Commands that fell under or even near his realm of authority. He gave the personnel of the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Training Center, Charleston, SC a brief talk in the early 1970’s and the first thing he said was “The Officer that graduated from the Naval Academy is the scourge of the Navy” and he went on to say how bad the shipyards were in nuclear overhaul and required nuclear maintenance. I was stunned and I do not even remember what else he said of significance. I had heard for years how tough, abrasive and demanding he was but this really surprised me.

Much to my surprise and delight, Admiral Rickover was two totally different people, as I found when I was required by my Executive Officer to escort the Admiral below for his inspection of the USS Tecumseh (SSBN 628) during an Operational Reactor Safeguard Exam (ORSE). The Admiral and his inspection party came below through the after hatch, went through the Missile Compartment and by the Crews Mess, I announced “Attention on Deck’ as we entered the Missile Compartment and the Admiral said “ That is not necessary COB we have working Sailors here”. The CPO Quarters is adjacent to the Crew Mess and the Admiral told his inspection party to go to the Ward Room, he wanted to go in Chiefs Quarters. He knocked on the door before I could get to it and then removed his hat and entered, he asked if he could have this seat right next to the door, which he probably knew was my seat, I said “Yes Admiral, is there anything else I can get for you?” He said” No COB I’m fine for awhile”. He made all of us feel at ease almost instantaneously and begin asking the Chiefs questions, which were varied and friendly. He must have spent at least 15 minutes just asking questions and making comments, it was all quite relaxing and I was relieved that all the Chiefs presented the example they should. When Admiral Rickover was ready to leave Chiefs Quarters he said something about “Getting to the business he came for and that the Ward Room was probably having fits by now”. When I opened the door to let the Admiral exit Chiefs Quarters I looked down the passage way and saw the Executive Officer standing at the Wardroom door, and looking just a little anxious as I led the Admiral in that direction. The Executive Officer told me later that the Admiral was quite pleased with the Chiefs of the Tecumseh. That made me feel very good.

The inspection took more than a day and when Admiral Rickover prepared to depart the Tecumseh he said “COB can you give me your foul weather jacket you are about my size and with COB printed on the back people will pay more attention to me.” I gladly gave him my foul weather jacket and I never got it back, but that was alright too. We passed the ORSE with a good grade.

The Nuclear Powered Navy has a good record, they the got off to the right start with Admiral Rickover’s leadership, they have continued that record for well over half a century and I expect the record will continue to be excellent. I am not aware of the leadership that drives the program today, but I certainly hope that it remains to be filled with the topnotch people that have guided it in the past.

Very Respectfully,
COB, USS Tecumseh

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out: for another personal view of the Admiral