What Is Was Like to Be Stationed in Guam on a Submarine Tender in the United States Navy


The first time I had seen Guam, was when the USS PROTEUS was coming back from the Philippines, when we were pulling it, it was beautiful. It looks a lot like Hawaii. I’ve been to Hawaii so many time I don’t remember. There were lots of dolphins, swimming alongside the ship, as we pulled in. Whenever you usually leave the west coast to go out cruising out to sea, and playing war games out in the ocean, you usually stop in Hawaii, to get new store items, as they are called, like milk, produce, meat, and items like that.

Then you usually go out to sea for awhile, and do your business out in the ocean, be it chasing after submarines, or following another ship, or any other duty, the ship might be on, and then before you come back to the United States, by way of Hawaii most of the time, you usually would have to throw all the good food items that might have something wrong with it overboard, and into the ocean.

If you asked me, there was nothing wrong with it. We were just told that no certain kinds of food were allowed back into the United States. So there would be a working party, were maybe 15 guys would unload storage rooms, and refrigerator storage rooms. I remember carrying, still brand new condition cases, of 50 pound onion bags, new cases of heads of lettuce, and just thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe how much good food we are throwing overboard into the ocean. Any fish that were following the ship that day, would have a good meal for sure.”

When you go out to sea, in order to throw away any trash, which means you have to throw it all into the ocean, you have to be at least 50 miles from the coast. When they get 50 miles out to sea, they would sound the notice, that you can now dump trash overboard. Some places might of been holding their trash for a few days, until the ship gets out 50 miles from shore. All items that are thrown into the ocean, need to have holes punched in them, like trash bags, etc, and all items were supposed to be able to sink.

You can sit on the back of the fantail, while cruising across the ocean, and just sit, and smoke a cigarette, and watch all the guys throwing trash away from different departments from the ship. Everything you can think of, would go into the ocean. With over 1,300 guys and 6 lady officers on board, we made a lot of trash. That is about 5,000 meals a day. That is a lot of trash each day.

One time, when I was on the USS NIMITZ, an aircraft carrier, and we were coming back from Washington State, back down the coast to San Diego. As we were coming back, I went to the fantail to watch the back of the Carrier going across the ocean, and I could not believe how much trash a ship with 5,000 people on it can produce.

It is almost like a city dump. Constant lines of traffic, of people throwing trash overboard, and into the ocean, it is really like the ship is constantly taking a crap as it cruises about the ocean. You could sit there for 15 minutes, and watch the weirdest things from the ship, be thrown into the ocean.

One of the funnest times we had for trash time, on the USS PROTEUS ship I was on, was when the guys from the armory, brought out the M16 machine guns, they keep stored in the ships armory, and brought them up on the helo deck. They threw lots of 55 gallon steel drums out into the ocean from some of the repairs shops down below. They all needed to have holes punched into them, so they let everyone go out on deck that wanted to, and just shoot the machine guns, until all the drums sank.

That was a nice Rambo feeling, shooting those 55 gallon drums with machine guns. We were not marines, we did not shoot guns all the time, even thou, the ship had some of the biggest guns in the world on deck, it was not the same. The armory was a fully loaded armory, with just about every type of weapon you would need, in hand to hand combat, or any other shore type activity.

We were in the Navy, not the marines, you don’t really shoot guns that much, you do qualify for certain things, because usually I would carry a 45 whenever I stood the quarter deck watch. Other guys carried 12 gauge shot guns. That’s right, on the ship, if we had a security alert, you were not supposed to move at all, but stand still, and the guys on the security alert force, which was also me at certain times, would grab guns from the armory, and go to our assigned spots. You could not get away, from some of the high security weapons door alive. It was surrounded at all four corners, with guys with guns, unless you were magic, there was no way out of there, if you were the bad guy.

When you are asked about nuclear weapons, you are always supposed to say, I can neither confirm, or deny, nuclear weapons. Some days, when you go to take over your watch, you are told, deadly force is not authorized, and sometimes, you were told, deadly force is authorized. I never had to come across any bad situation while I was in the Navy. It was pretty much party central for me.

I was lucky enough to be in my late teens, and early twenties now, and go to all the countries I had already gotten to go to, see some of the neat things out there. We did have times, where we weren’t always looking for a bar, we did get so see some of the sights. And the best sites, usually, from the travel aspect of the Navy, is when you pull into a country.

Sometimes places like the Philippines, it has so many islands, lots and lots of them. You start seeing small islands with beautiful water, hours before you actually pull into the country. Some of the picture perfect sites, are when you are just a couple of miles off the coast, at day or night time, and the whole country is lit up. Coming into a port, standing outside by the hand rails, watching a war ship, pull into a new, exotic country, for the first time, feels like Christopher Columbus discovering America, it just is such a cool, neat feeling to know you’re going to see another new country again.

When we went down to 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego to shoot for qualifications. I always knew I was a good shot. I knew long ago, to always just aim my gun at the target, and slowly pulled the trigger until the gun went off, and I would usually hit what I was trying.

A lot of guys, jerk, or squeeze the trigger to quick, and it makes their rifle, just move the slightest bit, and then they are off to much down at the target. At our qualifications for standing watch, they told me to stay behind after shooting. They wanted me to take a test for sharp shooter. I could of gotten it, but as soon as they moved the target farther back more, I could not see it any longer.

I had been having a hard time seeing things far away for awhile now, but I never told anyway really. I could not read the road signs on the road any longer. I just drove, because I just knew my my around. If I really wanted to read a sign, I could slightly pull my eye, with my hand, and my vision would come back clear, in the one eye I could read out of, so I did that system for a long time.

Well, later, when I had signed up for a truck driving course, one of the rules, was I had to have good vision, so I was forced to see the eye doctor, and he said I was 20/40 in one eye, and 20/200 in my other eye. I figured it was from me spending several years now in front of computer screens while I was in the Navy. After I finally got glasses, I could not believe how clearly I could see when I put them on. If I would of had glasses when I was shooting for sharp shooter, I would of hit the target for sure I think, because it would not have been blurry any longer.

After leaving the service and opening up a couple of retail stores, I was applying for my concealed weapons permit in San Diego. They have an indoor shooting range, down in the basement of the courthouse, in down town San Diego. I went down there, and took my hand gun with me. The officer on duty, said I needed to shoot 20 rounds into the target at the end of the alley. He said I need to shoot 4 rounds of 5 shots each.

I shot my first 5 shots, and he pulled the target up to us to see how I did. I had all 5 shots in the circle pattern, he looked at me, and said, I know you’ve shot before, you don’t need to shoot any more. And after all that, I got my permit to carry a concealed weapon, after leaving the service, because I owned two retail stores that were cash and carry, and I told them I needed to carry a gun, because I carried large amounts of cash to LA, where I was buying my merchandise for my stores, and it was true.

Well, there was two things you always hear about in the Navy, and most people don’t get to experience it, but I was lucky enough to do each one, one time. Most skippers, or captains of ships, do not like to hold swim call, which means they stop the ship, and let everyone go overboard for a swim in the ocean. But one time, the captain from the USS PROTEUS, stopped the ship, and let the crew go for a swim in the ocean. It was a hot, perfect, beautiful day out for a swim. It was very hot, we were on our way to Guam from the Philippines.

The water was a crystal bright blue and bright green color. You could see down for ever, into the depth, it seemed. They threw over the side of the ship, a bunch of ropes, down towards the water, and over the side of the ship.

They had sharp shooters stationed in several spots, just in case a shark, or something came along. Stationed on the far side, of where we could swim at, was some rescue guys in a small boat. And then, they let about 25 people at a time go over the side, and into the water, and then they would blow a whistle, and everyone had to get out, and the next group got to go.

You were only supposed to go in feet first, and cross your arms, or at least that is what they wanted us to do. Most of the guys did just jump in feet first, I did. It must of been about 25 feet from the water, where we were jumping into the ocean from, and some of the guys did not care, when it was their turn, they did the dive they must of learned from somewhere, but it sure wasn’t me. the ocean is so salty tasting. it is just like taking a bath in salt. It felt good, the water was warm.

We got to swim in the middle of the ocean, on a super hot day, when the water was as exotic and calm looking, as it ever gets. If a shark would of come, you would of seen him coming from pretty far away, as the water was so clear. When someone would go over the side, and into the ocean, you could see them almost clearly, as they went under as far as they could, and then come back up, the water was just so clean, and awesome looking.

The other thing most guys do not get to see, is the myth that, if you are out to sea for longer than 50 days, without going into port, for liberty, you get to have two beers. Well we were approaching our 50th day out to sea, without going into any port, even thou, most of that time, we were following a Russian Aircraft Carrier, where ever it went, we went. Well, an oiler somehow seemed to meet up with us, and we could see them lifting a pallet of beer onto our flight deck. Everyone on the ship started cheering and yelling.

The captain ended up with a bottle of whiskey, and we don’t know who he drank that with, but I did see the bottle, but most of the crew did not know he got whiskey, and we got beer, but that was a tradition, we always heard of, and now it was true. You could get two beers, but you were not allowed to give any away, or sell any. Some of the guys could not believe it, when a few people declined their two beers, after being out to sea, for 50 days in a row.

For most of that 5 days, we watched and followed a Russian aircraft carrier, go where ever it went. We watched it go into some of it’s friendly ports for Russians, like Port a La Vas stock, and we just followed it everywhere. We would be out to sea, and it would come so close to us, it was huge compared to us.

We had 300 or so guys, on a little destroyer, and they had 5,000 or so guys, on this big, huge aircraft carrier, that would get very close to us sometimes. Imagine being out in the middle of the ocean, and opening up a hatch, to the outside deck, and looking up, not to far from you, is a big huge gray ship, overcasting you, and you can see Russian guys on board, looking down at you. It’s just like that movie, called Independence Day, with Will Smith, when the aircraft comes right over you.

We could see all the Russians walking around all over the ship. They would sometimes fly their aircraft so fast, and so low, over the mast of our ship, that each time, if you were out on deck, and you heard one coming, you wondered each time, if one of them was going to be a kamikaze, and just hit the ship, you did not know if a war had just started, and we did not know about it yet, or we would of been the last ones to know, probably?

When we finally pulled into Guam, on the ship, it was like a little exotic paradise island. It was the first place I had been to, that was not the Philippines. It was a lot different than the Philippines. First, there were not very many local girls on the island. There were tons of marines, and sailors, so naturally, there were lots of massage parlors, where a guy could go, and take a load off, if he needed to.

The girls in those places, rotated just like the guys on the ship did. They would be sent to Guam to work, for 6 months or 12 months at a time, and then leave, and other girls would show up, and take their place. The same for all the strip club bars on the island.

There were lots of strip joints around on the island. Even thou the highest speed limit on the island in the 80’s, was 35 miles per hour, since the island was not that big, you could drive around the whole island in about 2 hours. The roads were made out of corral, and when it rained, it would become like a sheet of ice. Corral is very sharp when you pick it up in the ocean.

“How do I know?” I picked a piece of corral rock up, when I was standing knee deep in water, right off the coast of Guam. I just picked it up, and only tossed it a few feet away from me. I looked down, and all my fingers were lightly cut, and bleeding. Nothing to serious, but I was surprised at how easy it cut me all up. The island drags the corral, out of the ocean, and uses it to make it’s road out of. When the roads get wet, they are very dangerous in Guam.

When the ship pulled in, it already had lots of stuff on the pier, that was the property of the ship. The ship had a lot of acres of land that went with it, since the ship had been stationed there for years, and the ship was big, but is was a dinosaur, as far as ships went.

We always did our best work, when we were tied up to a pier or dock. Sometimes, we might have 4 different submarines sitting around us, being worked on, for various reasons. We were a submarine tender, and that meant, our ship was supposed to support the submarines, with food, repairs, medical treatment, you name it. The submarines always came first, if we had it, they got it from us, most of the time.

The ship had its own road, with a laundry mat about 1/2 mile away. The ship also owned a large piece of beach strip, with a recreation office, that you could check out beach items from, all for free. The ship had a lot of large size storage warehouses, that held a lot of supplies for the submarines. There were concession trailers with food, and dry cleaning attendants, and it was neat. The ship owned a lot of property it seemed, and used most all of it for something, it never went to waste.

The first thing that was done, after everyone got back together with their loved ones, when we returned to Guam from the Philippines, was they got to spend that night with them. The younger, unmarried guys, like me, only had getting a beer, and doing our laundry on our minds, pretty much. We didn’t have anyone back in Guam waiting for us. Our home was on the ship. Instead of a soda machine at the laundry mat, it was a beer machine. So most everyone drank beer, while doing their laundry. The weather was also nice in Guam.

The next day of work, was spent unloading the ship, with tons of wicker furniture everyone had bought in the Philippines. The Philippines was famous for great deals on wicker furniture. We had a lot of furniture aboard the ship.

On our ship, they used the torpedo, and missile magazine rooms, for storage, of tons of wicker and rattan furniture. There were tons of it. If you could imagine a furniture store, that was what we had in the torpedo rooms. The cranes that were attached to the ship, were now unloading everything down onto the pier. Some guys said they got really good deals. I had no place, or use for a wicker couch, so I did not buy anything.

One of the main attractions on Guam, was the USO. It was a very large USO building, right on the ocean. Because there was not really that much for younger guys to do, on Guam. And since there was so many military people there, it was large, and had lots of things to do, and offer.

Right after getting to Guam, and checking it out by taxi for the first time. I went to a motorcycle dealership, that was on the island. I bought a brand new motorcycle on payments, threw the bank of Guam. I used that motorcycle all the time in Guam, it was my best friend.

If you were riding in Guam, it might be nice and sunny, and then a large cloud might come, and rain right on you. You would get all wet, and it would last for 5 minutes, and then the cloud would keep on going, and the sun would be out again, and you would dry up quickly. I must of got caught in the rain, in Guam, a million times, it seemed to me.

I got to see a lot of far off places with my motorcycle. I would go to the back of the island where it was supposedly mostly all Guamanian’s, and check out all the waterfalls, and just ride around in the back. Guam had some of the most breath taking waterfalls, and they had a lot of them. Mostly at the night time in Guam, if I did not have duty that night.

I would take whoever from the admin office, who was not on duty either, out into town, because most of the guys, did not have any transportation, and taking the Navy bus, was always a long wait. I would take someone with me, and we would go out into town and drink, and hit the local strip joint circuit Guam had.

One time, me and a guy named David, we were in a bar in Guam, a small bar, and it had some locals from the island inside. We were shooting pool, and David was talking to this one local chick in the bar. Then all of a sudden, I heard him say something to the girl, and a guy came across with a pool stick, and hit him right in the back. I jumped over, and jumped on the guy, and we all started punching and hitting each other. It happened so fast, I did not even know what we were fighting about. I just only seen my friend get hit hard, with a pool stick, and I had to help him out.

Somehow, the fight made it outside, and my motorcycle was parked right there, and I thought someone was going to kick it, and knock it over. We were not winning that fight, there were too many of them. We were basically getting thrown out of the bar, weather we wanted to, or not. Later, we would learn, that, that bar, was a local bar for locals, and they did not really like us Navy guys. I’m sure my friend must of did something, or looked at his girl, I still don’t know.

I would have to say, the Navy helped me out of a tight jam one time. Me and another guy from the office, were out riding my motorcycle, and hitting the strip joints again. Just about everyone in the admin office, and the personnel office, shared the same berthing unit, where we sleep, shower, watch TV, and lounge around.

We were all in the same department. Most all the guys drank, and hit the titty bars on a regular basis, when they got paid. There really was nothing else to do on the island, not like the Philippines. Most guys would just talk about waiting to go back to the Philippines, to their old girlfriends, that would still be back there, when we would go back again in three months.

The USS PROTEUS, usually would go to the Philippines, and stay there for three months, and then back to Guam for three months. It was an older ship. It was a repair ship, and it did a better job of repairing submarines when it was tied up to the pier, and then a couple of subs could come up, and be worked on at the same time.

I’ve been on a lot of submarines, never had to go out in the ocean on one, just always had to go down into them, Usually I would have to go to the XO, or CO’s office, and either get, or give paperwork to them, that needed to be signed. The CO and XO have a million things to sign all the time. We are constantly typing up things that need to be signed, with the CO and XO’s signature, so many times a day.

Even the Captain’s cabin is small, on a submarine. I don’t know how those guys do it, but they do. One thing is for sure. The guys on the subs, get the best food. We used to get steak and lobster tails, every Friday, when the ship was in port. If we were out to sea, not a chance of that. We made sure the subs always had the best food.

Well, back to the Navy helping me out of a jam I got myself into. Me and another guy from the office, were out hitting the bars. We must of had to many drinks that night, because I was driving, and he was on the back, and we crashed the motorcycle. I lost the bike on a curve, and we hit the side of the pavement, and then luckily, slid into the brush. My left hand was all bloody, and torn up, and one of my friends ribs got broken. The police came, and impounded my bike, and took us to the local jail on Guam.

The Navy came and picked us up, As it turned out, the police wanted to press charges against me, because my friend got hurt. A person from the Navy asked him if he wanted me to get any punishment, and he said, “Of course not. We were out together, we were both drunk, and we just crashed.” He was cool about it, he wore a bandage around him, and got better after a little bit.

The local police wanted to still press charges against me. Of the 1,300 guys on board, and 6 lady officers, two of them worked on the ship as attorneys in the legal department. Since the legal department was also part of our department, which was called Executive Department. And our department head, was a Chief Warrant Officer, who was the oldest officer aboard, and he was the meanest. He didn’t take shit from anyone. even if the rule book says an ensign was higher ranking than a chief warrant officer, that was not really true, he was equal to a commander or captain in most people’s eyes aboard the ship. He would regularly throw lieutenants out of the office, and tell them to get the hell out of there, they did not know any better.

Our XO was a really nice guy, and the weird thing about that, was when the XO was on vacation, or gone on temporary assigned duty somewhere, the next guy in charge, was a commander from the dental office. He was the dentist aboard the ship. But he was not an ordinary dentist.

It was known throughout the ship, that he was a touchy, feely, kind of guy. He must of come in the Navy as a lieutenant, because some of the harder jobs to fill, like flight surgeon, dentist, doctor, and whatever else is hard to compete in the civilian sector, got to come in as an 03 pay grade, so those guys usually were commanders and captains pretty quick, just because they were in a job, most professionals would be out in the public sector, making five times the amount of money, the Navy could pay them.

I had to go to the dentist a few times, and he would be the dentist to do the work. He would always touch you, more than he should, I thought, for a dentist, and everyone said he was gay, and he would always be touching his patients.

I always thought it was weird, that a dentist was in charge of the ship, because he was a commander. I always thought of him as the dentist, and thought he would not know much about operating the ship, since he spent most all of his time, in the dental office. Each time I would take papers into his office, with his name in the XO’s spot, to sign stuff, he would not know much of anything, and I wondered how he could be in charge, in time of a war.

One day, one of the enlisted diver’s, who was rumored to be gay also, was standing right at the exit, where you leave the ship. He was waiting for the commander dentist to come out. When the commander came off the ship, they got in the same car, and drove away together.

I just thought to myself, it seems strange, a commander, and temporary Executive Officer, sometimes, just left in civilian clothes, with a 2nd class petty officer. I wondered, where they have to go together, since officers and enlisted are not supposed to fraternize together, I thought to myself. I was just an E2 pay grade at the time, a know body to them.

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Vince Stead


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