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USS Von Steuben (SSBN 632)

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Selected Boat Pictures:  Picture 1  Picture 2  Picture 3 

Menu (this page):   Boat info   Refit   Patrol   Typical Schedule   Black date in FTB history 

- Boat Info -
USS Von Steuben Patch She was commissioned September 30, 1964. A United States Nuclear Submarine capable of launching 16 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) over 3000 miles. She protected America during the hottest periods of the Cold War.

She was the second ship to be named after Baron von Steuben (1730-1794), a Prussian aristocrat and military officer who served as inspector general and Major general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

During her 30 years she was homeported in three different locations:
(1) Charleston, SC
(2) Rota, Spain
(3) Holy Loch, Scotland

UIM for USS Von Steuben

The Author, Missile Control Center, 1992
The Author
Missile Control Center, 1992
I made 8 patrols on the USS Von Steuben from September 1988 to February 1993. I was a member of the Blue Crew and held the rating of Fire Control Technician (FTB). While I was attached to the VON STEUBEN she was homeported in Charleston, SC but conducted refit operations in Kings Bay, GA and made patrols in the Atlantic Ocean.

MCC Workbench (by 001 Door)
MCC Workbench
(by 001 Door)
The FTB's were responsible for maintaining and operating the missile launching computers (called "Fire Control" by the Navy), maintaining "Alert" missile targeting, and responsible for the security of the weapons and the ship. Our working location on the boat was called Missile Control Center (MCC). There were two people on watch at a time, at sea, and one person during the availability (refit) period. When at sea, the two on watch were the MCC Supervisor and the MCC Technician. During refit you only had the MCC Technician.

VON STEUBEN defended freedom and democracy during the height of the Cold War with her sixteen TRIDENT I missiles. She was one of the last "41 for Freedom" Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines left in the Navy. She completed 86 Strategic Deterrent Patrols in her 30-year lifespan.

Award Ceremony
Award Ceremony (while birthed
along side USS Canopus)
During my 4 ½ years on board VON STEUBEN, I earned:

4 Sea Service Deployment Ribbons (which means I was deployed away from home port for over 90 consecutive days 4 years in a row),
1 Good Conduct Medal (which means I never went to Captains Mast),
1 National Defense Service Medal (for being in the Navy during Persian Gulf War No. 1),
1 Humanitarian Service Medal (for community service during Hurricane Hugo),
1 Expert Pistol Medal (for being a really good shot with a pistol), and
8 citations for superior performance (usually CO letters but I did get a Sub Force and a couple of Submarine Squadron letters).
The Author, Crews Mess
The Author
Crews Mess, 1990

Key Events: Qualified Submarines (1st Patrol) and Missile Control Center (MCC) Supervisor (3rd Patrol) - was a member of the Fire Control Technician Ballistic Missile (FTB) division - meet best friends Carl, Mike, Jay, Rich and Tracy - Lived in Summerville - Survived Hurricane Hugo.

I made some good friends that I have lost contact with, if I meet you in Charleston or Summerville, contact me here.

MCC study desk
MCC study desk.
(Port Side)
Usually where the
MCC Technician
"stood watch".
For those without a naval background: a Fire Control Technician (FTB) is not an expert of putting out fires, although on a submarine all sailors become experts at putting out fires (at least fake fires). An FTB was an expert at repairing, maintaining, and operating a computer system and associated subsystems and equipment used to fire (launch) missiles (or other weapon systems). Our watch station (the normal location where we worked) was Missile Control Center (MCC).

For an FTB, MCC was the center of the universe. This is where all our watches were located, where the majority of the equipment that we operated and maintained was located. The location where we trained, worked, mustered, hung out at, pasted the time at, you know - the center of our universe. Typically there were 6 FTBs per submarine (old boats (41 for freedom), not Ohio-class). The VON STEUBEN was considered a James Madison-class submarine (627 Class) because it was modified during construction to carry the A-3 missile. But by the time I arrived, it was carrying the Trident I (C-4) missile. I remember that the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) we used all stated 616 class SOPs. I guess because we all had the same Weapon System but the time I arrived on board.

- Refit -
Missile Control Center (during refit)
Missile Control Center
(Refit Operations)
During refit (the in-port period where you are readying the boat for sea) we were port and starboard watches (two-section duty).
Missile Control Center (during refit)
Missile Control Center
(Refit Operations)
The only requirement in port is to have one person in MCC at all times (typically, you could use the restroom as needed). The MCC Technician was the only watch requirement for in port. Being 2-section means you had duty (staying on the boat for 24 hours working, cleaning, etc.) every other day, but this was no big deal because most boats were forward deployed, so you never got to go home after work anyway. The reason most FTB divisions were 2-section in-port is because you usually had a new guy that was not qualified any watches and was mess-cranking anyway. (Mess-cranking is where a division gives up a person to the cooks for a month or two for cleaning dishes, tables, and associated mess hall duties.)

Usually one weekend prior to going to sea, we had duty weekends. This meant that on one weekend, one section would take all the duty for 3 days straight. This allowed the other section to have the whole weekend off. We usually left the area and headed from Kingsbay, GA back to Charleston, SC for the weekend. The sections reversed this the following weekend so both sections would have a chance to see their family or girlfriends prior to going to sea for 2-3 months.

Missile Control Center (during patrol)
Missile Control Center
(Patrol Operations)
Patrol for FTBs was usually easier duty than refit. We now could shift into 3-section duty (as soon as you could get your nub qualified or we borrowed a MT from the MT division, and qualified him MCC Technician.).
Starboard side of MCC
Starboard side of MCC
We also shifted into having 2 people on duty at all times. But this did not mean 2 people in MCC at all times. The MCC Supervisor was the senior watch and he was required to stay in MCC (again, you could use the restroom with permission or with a relief). The MCC Technician was the junior watch and would perform any maintenance outside of MCC.

At sea,the boat (and watches) would be on a different schedule than in port. In port, you are on a 24 hour schedule. Which means, the duty day was 24 hours and you usually had a 4 to 6 hour watch. But at sea, we shifted to a 18 hour watch rotation. This means, you typically shift into a 3 section rotation with 2 FTBs on watch at a time. So you have a 6 hour watch, then would have 12 hours off, then repeat, and repeat, and repeat for 2-3 months.

Now it sounds nice to have 12 hours off doesn't it? Well, that usually never happens. The boat is also on a 24 hour schedule -at the same time- as your 18 hour watch schedule.
MCC Console
(Patrol Operations)

So here is a typical Monday schedule:
(Pretent you are in Section 1)

0000 - 0600 Section 1 has the watch (Since this begins at 11:30 pm, I hope you got some sleep before this)
0500 - 0600 Breakfast
0600 - 1200 Section 2 has the watch
0600 - 0630 Off-going section cleanup (can also last for an hour)
0700 - 0800 Departmental training (Yes, you must attend this)
0800 - 0900 Divisional training (this is probably not your division)
0900 - 1000 Divisional training (Yes, you must attend this also)
1100 - 1200 Lunch
MCC Console
(Patrol Operations)
1200 - 1800 Section 3 has the watch
1200 - 1230 Off-going section cleanup
1200 - 1300 Drill brief
1300 - 1600 Drills (Yes, you must participate)
1700 - 1800 Dinner
1800 - 0000 Section 1 has the watch (Yes, this is you again)

1800 - 1830 Off-going section cleanup
1830 - 1900 Drill debrief
1900 - 2000 General Military Training
2000 - 2200 Movie (Crews mess - No not you! You are on watch)
2300 - 0000 Midrats

Missile Control Center (Fire Drill during BSM)
Missile Control Center
(Fire Drill during BSM)
From this typical M-F schedule, you will notice that section 1 had the mid-watch (0000-0600), and then had to attend training in the morning with drills in the afternoon. By 1730, they were back on watch until relieved at 2330 for midrates (midnight rations - underway there is a meal every 6 hours to feed the on-coming and off-going sections). So section 1 got hammered Monday by being awake for 24+ hours. On Tuesday, it will be section 2 and Wednesday section 3. By Thursday, section 1 get the hammer again, and Friday section 2. The weekends are slightly different because there are no drills, but we have a 4-5 hour field day in which all hands clean the boat. Sunday there is nothing scheduled but optional religious services.

(Starboard Side)
So you see that no one actually gets 12 hours off after their 6 hour watch. They get 12 off of watch but then must attend training, participate in drills, get qualified something that they are not qualified, some do college work if time allows, oh yeah, and GET SOME SLEEP! (Not an easy thing to do).

-Black date in FTB History-
On October 1, 1993, All FTBs were involuntarily rate converted to Missile Technician (MT) from Fire Control Technician Ballistic Missile (FTB). This was the end of the FTB rating. Now all MTs (the original MTs and now the ex-FTBs) had to know the Missile subsystems and the Fire Control subsystems. Typically, ex-FTBs were known as the Fire Control System experts and MTs, that were not ex-FTBs, were known as the Missile System experts.

Today, the Missile Technicians really must know both systems because there are no more ex-FTBs left in the Navy (not below the rank of Chief). Sigh...

Rating badge for an FTB2 I remember the good ole days of sitting back in MCC, comfortable chairs, carpeted floors, only one or two people in MCC, piece and quiet, no one bothering you, MCC door always locked shut with only the FTBs knowing the combination...while the MTs where in the Missile Compartment, no privacy, tile floor, always noisy, always someone bothering you...and me thinking to Rating badge for an MT1 myself "Thank God I'm not an MT". I guess the MTs got me back...or God played a cruel game on me. Less than 1 year after leaving USS Von Steuben I was wearing the MT rating badge (and was advanced to First Class) ...Which is a whole other story because now I was a First Class Missile Technician and I knew nothing of the Missile Systems.

Now that I think about it, it is very strange. I was only an FTB for 5 years and spent 13 years as a MT ...and still, I and others still consider ourselves ex-FTBs. Now, today, it has been so long since the USS Von Steuben days and living in Charleston/Summerville...a very long time ago...yet, I wish I could return.

If I meet you in Charleston or Summerville, contact me here.


Copyright 2013 by James Barbe - All Rights Reserved

    "I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
    'I served in the United States Navy.' "
    -President John F. Kennedy on 1 August 1963 at the US Naval Academy