“D, D, what?”
“DDS,” I said.
“Dude is that some sort of sick joke? I mean being at SDVs is bad enough, now they’re stickin you in something that sounds like you’re going to the dentist. One root canal comin up, no anesthetic please!” said my friend from SEAL Team Four.
“Its cool man, it’s not as bad as it sounds,” I said.
“Yeah, you keep tellin’ yourself that. I’ll call you when I get back from blowin shit up down in Panama and tell you what it’s like to be a real Team guy,” My friend said.
I was kind of envious, Panama sounded cool. I’d never been there. It was the mid 1980’s; the War on Drugs was in full effect. I was headed back down to Puerto Rico (PR) with my first platoon at SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two (SDVT-2). It was a Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) platoon. I’d made it through BUD/S, Airborne School, SDV School, and Advanced Operator Training and now I was going to be a chamber operator. A glorified hard hat diver, no offense to Navy divers. But, I wanted to be in an SDV platoon. I was disappointed. I would be turning valves, watching pressure gauges and launching SDVs off the back of submarines. I was told it was an important job. To me it sounded like the furthest thing from being a Team guy, from being an operator.
The first DDS had been used out on the west coast. SDV Team One was bringing its DDS out to the east coast. The west coasters were going to meet us in PR and teach us how to run it. At the time there wasn’t much of a SEAL compound in PR. A couple buildings out on a small point over looking Puerca Bay (Bahia de Puerca) just down the road from the Chiefs club on Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. There was a small office, a very small gym (one universal machine), an armory, a locker room and a supply room. The largest part of the mini compound was the open air bar and game room (this was a long time ago). We were told it was the first chiefs club or the old officers club or something like that.
zrack stretcher for the Master Chief that was in charge of getting the place set up, I never found one. The Master Chief laughed a lot, called me a dumb ass a few times then told me to go find forty feet of gig line. I never found that either.
The USS Cavalla (SSN 684) was a Sturgeon class, fast attack submarine that had been retro fitted to handle the DDS, one of the first. The DDS at first glance looked like a blood fat leach stuck on the submarines back. I think many submariners would think it an appropriate analogy in more ways than one. The DDS was made up of three pressure chambers or spheres. The transfer chamber or trunk at the middle was the access between the sub and the DDS. Forward was a recompression chamber for medical emergencies. To the aft was the hangar. The hangar was large enough to house an SDV. The whole thing was cover with heavy duty fiber glass panels to make it hydrodynamic. The DDS was simple in its design and inception.
Everyone in the platoon would have to be qualified on all the chambers. I am not sure how long the SDVT-1 guys had been DDS operators but they seemed to know what they were doing. Several of the Team One guys had been Navy divers before they became Frogmen. They new how to run a chamber. They also knew the dangers of not running one correctly. We learned about the accident on the Grayback. We learned about how quickly a fire can spark and spread in a recompression chamber. All very scary stuff. I may not have been ecstatic about being in a DDS platoon but I knew I couldn’t half ass it. This was serious.
“Ok so there are some basic things you have to do, some things you should do, then there are some things that make spending the next eight hours in this six foot wide sphere easier. One of the first things you must do is regularly check on the chamber operator,” said the Team One guy teaching me how to operate the trunk.
I was listening intently, ready to do whatever he told me. I moved to a position where I could look through the porthole in the chamber door. The porthole was set for some one about four inches taller that me. I stood up on a pipe fitting and craned my neck to look in.
“Ah shit!” I said. I recoiled like a snake from the porthole as the Team One guy burst into laughter. The chamber operator, another Team One guy was completely naked with his crotch staring me in the face as I looked into the chamber. Unfortunately I’ve never quite rid my mind of that image. That was the end of the excitement. For the next several hours I stared at the walls, made a few comms checks and talked briefly with the Team One guy. The Team One guy had a book to read, I would never forget to bring a book into the trunk or the chamber again.
I liked being the hangar operator. The hangar was where all the action happened. As the hangar operator you were only up to your waste in the water, like the trunk. You could still read a book when times were slow and you were the one who opened the hangar door. In the Caribbean the visibility in the water could be as far as a hundred feet. Even at fifty or seventy feet below the surface the sun shown as bright as it did on the surface. When the hangar door cracked open and the first light beamed in it was like opening a door to another world, a Star Gate.
The door its self was an amazing feat of engineering. Letting water rush into a submarine is a very bad thing. There were submariners that did not like the idea of the DDS because it meant non-submariners were in control of opening and closing portals to the sub. Portals which large amounts of water could flow through. Nevertheless, the hangar door was impressive. It weighed thousands of pounds, ran on hydraulics and was locked down by a couple dozen four inch thick bolts. It resemble a round vault door. It took several minutes for it to open and close and was dangerous. The doors response time was slow. If someone or something put themselves between the door and hanger as it closed, it would be anybodies guess if the hangar operator could stop it in time. We lost a few regulators on long hoses and a couple limbs (minor appendages only) to the hangar door.
My first platoon may not have been what I wanted but it turned out be the one I needed. I learned a lot about being an SDVer from my time as a DDS operator. SDVs prior to the development of the DDS had been launched one of two ways, either from a sled towed behind a Sea Fox or off the side of ship. I am not sure who invented the sled but most guys thought it was a cruel joke. The sled resembled a backwards grain shovel. It had a series of padded runners for the SDV to be strapped down to and a couple pontoons to keep the sled from flipping completely over. The whole rig was connected to a diesel spewing Vietnam era coastal patrol boat called a Sea Fox. If the SDV pilot and navigator didn’t upchuck from the wave action hitting the sled the diesel fumes usually did the job. Launching an SDV from an amphibious ship was a test of patience, mostly for the hull (HT) and electronics (ET) technicians assigned to maintain a platoons SDVs. I once watched an HT start to cry as he watched waves smash our SDV into the side of the ship. He wept as parts of the SDV fell into the ocean and sank. It was a sad sight. I only need to experience each of the those launch methods once to know the DDS was a good thing. The DDS was an important advancement in technology even if it did resemble a leach.
Later in my SDV career, when I was an SDV operator I would sit patiently in the SDV as the DDS operators did their work. I knew intimately what it took to launch an SDV. I knew how many things could go wrong and would go wrong. I knew how hard DDS operators worked to make the launch and recovery process transparent to the SDV operators. I eventually became qualified on all the chambers as well as a deck operator (the guys that handle and launch the SDV on the deck of the sub). I did three platoons, three overseas deployments as a DDS operator.
My buddy from Team Four called me when he got back from Panama.
“So how was it, getting your teeth pulled?” he asked.
“Ib was funbed I tink I mm goin’ to lub it,” I mumbled.
He laughed, called me a jerk then hung up on me.
Real Team guys are such prima donnas.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting our Veteran Editorial by becoming a SOFREP subscriber. Click here to get 3 months of full ad-free access for only $1