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Submarines and sacrifice: How sailors train for anti-surface warfare

"Our main asset is that you don't know we're there," said Lt. Robert Lafuze.
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Erin on submarine
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Posted at 10:51 PM, May 05, 2023

NORFOLK, Va. — What glides below the surface is built differently; the machinery and the people.

"Our main asset is that you don't know we're there," said Lt. Robert Lafuze, the Information Warfare Officer USS Albany.

On a submarine, there's no sun, windows, or outside communication for months at a time.

"Submarining, it's a lot of work, the guys get really good at what they do, but there's a lot of sacrifice that goes with that. A lot of people don't get to see their firstborn child born, they don't get to see their kid's first bicycle ride — all that stuff for a lot of family guys is hard. So I'd just say, appreciate the fact that people are going without," said Lt. Lafuze.

There's the sacrifice of being away from family and risking their lives.

Petty Officer Drexton Mckenzie Chaves is one of the sailors taking that risk. Currently, he's a Navigation Electronics Technician & Firefighter and Damage Control Instructor.

In part, he oversees training that helps the men and women prepare for deployment. One of the simulators is called the damage control wet trainer, which replicates what would happen if there was a rupture in the submarine.

"It's about two to five minutes before things get out of hand," he said. "[The sailors] get hands-on experience in combating flooding before ever seeing it for the first time in fleet, which is where the situation is a lot more dire and the consequences are a lot more grave."

Fire is also a threat on board. Petty Officer Chaves said dryer fires are the most common.

For protection, sailors wear fire retardant uniforms, and oxygen bottles are spread throughout the submarine.

"The bottle on board a Navy submarine will run you about four or five minutes of fresh air. You can extend that or shorten it depending on your breathing techniques that you're using," he said.

Fine-tuning techniques are critical, so the Navy has a simulator for everything.

WTKR anchor Erin Miller was able to get hands-on training where military members practiced steering and operating the ship's systems. While she learned a lot, she did not scratch the surface, as training to work on a submarine can take up to a year.

Miller was also invited aboard the USS Albany where the crew saw the birthing quarters and torpedoes.

"If there's anything that's a particular threat to the carrier strike group, [the sailors on the submarine] remove it or set it up so the carrier can remove it themselves," Lt. Lafuze said.

The Los Angeles-Class attack submarine is undergoing maintenance now to stay mission ready and is set to deploy later this year.

As of June 2022, "Navy Personnel Command, Submarine and Nuclear Officer Distribution (PERS-42) to remain on Active Duty as an officer for a period of three, four, or five years beyond the date of acceptance. The COSMRB will provided 20,000 dollar annual payments."

Click here to see a Summary of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

This video was edited by Specialty Photojournalist David Agudelo.