A boomer, or ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), is a submarine with two crews that take turns taking the boat to sea. Sailors switch between “off crew” when their crew does not “own” the boat and being the crew that “owns” the boat. “Owning” the boat means your sailor’s crew works on the submarine and is in charge of all the duty, maintenance, etc. just like typical fast attack life. “Off crew” time is when the crew focuses on maintaining skills and typically working closer to normal business hours in a building instead of a submarine. There is a time between off crew and owning the boat called “refit”. It’s a maintenance period where both crews are involved (written about here). SSBNs are only located in Kings Bay, GA and Bangor, WA.
My sailor’s first sea tour was on a fast attack, so this is coming from the perspective of going from fast attack to boomer life. Here are five things to know about a boomer tour:
Sea time is a patrol, not a deployment
Sea time on a boomer is labeled as a “patrol” instead if a “deployment.” It was obvious I came from fast attack world because I called sea time “underways” or “deployments.” When your sailor returns from their first patrol they receive a “boomer” pin and each subsequent patrol they receive a star to put on the pin to count the number of patrols they have completed.
Communication is different
I have learned overtime after speaking with a variety of different significant others that the level of email you receive is greatly dependent on your sailor. Email with a submarine is very submarine and underway specific. The biggest change for me was not having those port call phone calls and video chats every so often to break up the sea time. Boomers do typically go to sea for shorter overall periods of time than fast attacks, however I would say there are no guarantees as patrol extensions are common.
Schedules are very unpredictable
The schedule is garbage. The comings and goings both planned and unplanned are difficult for all. In the old days when Boomers were new they had a very specific and set schedule that was rarely deviated from. As submarines age they require significantly more maintenance both planned and unplanned, which has dramatically changed the predictability of any schedule. Now , having experienced both of these types if submarines, I will say a bonus of boomer life is substantially fewer duty days overall.
Access to the boat
Access to lower base is quite difficult for civilians for security reasons. Dependents cannot go down to lower base unaccompanied on boomers. There is substantially more planning involved in visiting a boomer than my experience with visiting a fast attack. Of course COVID has changed visitor policies throughout the fleet.
Homecoming is not pier-side
Boomer homecoming is done on upper base where the sailors are bussed up from the boat to meet their families. The biggest difference is the fanfare of a fast attack homecoming, where families are able to be on the pier to watch them pull in. Waiting for your sailor on upper base made the boomer homecoming feel a bit anticlimacti, but any homecoming is a WONDERFUL thing as there’s nothing like welcoming your sailor home! Obviously COVID has changed the way in which homecoming functions based on surges, the base, and the Command.
Bonus tip! Send your sailor with cards, envelopes, and stamps. There are often a few times a patrol people come and go from the submarine for various reasons. Your sailor can ask one of those people to pop a card in the mail. I did not know this for my sailor’s first patrol and was so excited when I remember for the next one and received mail from him!
What else would you have liked to have known prior to switching from fast attack to boomer?