The Four Kinds of Submarine Deployments

Deployments are not just a Navy thing.  All branches of the military have their deployments and I know that they all have their obstacles and hardships.  But I don’t have personal experience with the other branches. I can only write about what I know of this subject. And what I know is submarine deployments. Specifically fast attack submarines on the east coast. During the big-hair and even-bigger shoulder pads years from 1980-2000.

A fast boat’s deployment schedule would be written out as far as a year or more in advance however, something as trifling as the wind changing direction would cause it to change and believe me when I tell you, the change was always, always, always, worse than what the original schedule had been.  And?  I can assure you that the original schedule was going to suck all the joy out of your otherwise happy life. Or at least give it a good try.

Deployments: Submarine Style.

Submarine Deployments can be categorized by the length of time that the boat will be gone. Here they are, in order of time, but not necessarily the magnitude of suck.

  1. Weekly Ops
  2. Less than 3 months
  3. 3 to 6 months
  4. Greater than 6 months.

They can also be categorized by what actually happened before, during, and after each run. Here I have listed four possible conditions but in actuality there were a lot more.

Prepare To Embrace The Suck. 

  1. The “What The Suck ?” Deployment:  Your husband comes home with the great news “We are going to spend the month of May in port”!  Yea!  Huzzah!  Only to find out that it won’t be the home port but a port half the globe away.  Boo.
  2. The “Unexpected Suck” Deployment: The boat is changing piers (akin to moving cars around in your driveway) and 94 days later you see your husband again.  My husband always kept his locker on the boat packed for a 6-month Med Run. He was never caught unprepared by a ‘Unexpected Suck’ deployment.  He always had his Snickers and clean socks.
  3. The “Back-To-Back and Sucking” Deployment:  When your husband’s boat has to go back to sea to cover the deployment schedule for  another sub due to their sloppy and negligent maintenance. Yep, the other crew are punished for breaking their boat by being left at home while your husband’s boat deploys after one week in port, after being gone for 5 months.    And the saddest kind of all;
  4. The “This Sucks So Much That I Died Inside” Deployment: Dear Sailor, My lawyer will meet you on the pier if you ever come home again. I quit you. I quit us.

Back in the Olden Days we didn’t have the communication options that are available today.  When my husband kissed me good-bye at the end of the pier that was the last time I would see his face until he came back home.  It was the last time I would hear his voice until the boat pulled into a port somewhere in the world and he could place a call from a pay phone.  Cell phones had not been invented yet.  No one had an internet machine in the family room because they didn’t exist.  Texting?  Nope.  Face-To-Face? Not gonna happen.  That whole pesky no cell phones thing just keeps rearing its ugly head.

If the deployment was scheduled to be longer than 4 months (if I remember correctly) then we would be issued Family Grams. Each sailor would be given one Family Gram per month of deployment so a four-month run would get him four Family Grams. Family Gram’s were limited to 40 words that had to include the sailors first and last name and the senders first name, so actually it was 37 words. Thirty-seven words to let your sailor know that all was well.  And you would want to keep it G rated as the message would be sent via radio to the submarine after anyone and everyone at Squadron who felt the need to read it had read it.  Also, the radioman on the sub would be the first person to receive the message so he would know what it said as well.  G-rated was best for everyone involved.

I think that we may have been more prepared for all the crazy because we had a two-year, long-distance engagement while he was going through boot camp and various electronics schools and nuclear power school.  We were married just five days before he checked into his final school that was six months long. We already knew what it was like to miss each other so much that it hurt.  We already knew what it was like to miss holidays and birthdays together.  Maybe we hardened our selves while we were still in relatively safe places.  Me, still living at home and he, living in the barracks.

Being alone and being lonesome are two different things and I think that we figured out the difference before we were married.  Maybe that is why we managed to get through so many deployments without losing our minds and our marriage.  Letters and phone calls are all we had to keep the saddest of all deployment types (no. 4 on the list up there ^^^) from happening.  That and we aren’t quitters.

Here comes some bitter…

In a 20 year career my husband logged almost 17 years of sea duty.  Seventeen years of being attached to commands that were not Monday – Friday, that were not 9am-5PM, that did not get holidays or weekends off.  Seventeen years of what the Navy considered to be arduous duty.  Most fast attack sailors will run up 8-10 years of sea duty over the course of a 20 year career. And while we begged for a command out of San Diego, his entire career was spent on the east coast.  Needs of the Navy, Baby.

I slept alone for 17 years so you and your husband can safely sleep together.

You are so very very welcome.  Because deployments.  They all suck.


About Pattie

I live in the Mid-Atlantic with my husband of 35+years. His 20 year career in the Navy serving on submarines was a struggle at times which led me to start this blog. Sometimes writing about how crappy things were can help lessen the bitterness of the memories. When writing doesn't help there is always wine. You can write to me at


The Four Kinds of Submarine Deployments — 17 Comments

  1. Wow. This is a life I can’t even imagine. It’s a testament to your strength, and most importantly, to your love for each other. I thank you both, so much, for your service.

  2. I’m amazed at what hardships military families go through and still remain strong. My husband moved away for 4 months before our kids and I could join him. Those nights were so long, the days were busy, but with my kids sleeping I felt every single one of those solo moments. I’m so happy that you and your husband made it through those dark times.
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  3. What a tough life. My hat is off to you, Pattie and to your husband, not only for the defense of our country but for serving as a shining example of loyalty and perseverance in Marriage. We all ought to think about the two of you before we bitch and moan about the petty issues that are cropping up in our marriages. I love your line: Being alone and being lonesome are two different things . . . . Thank you for sharing this, Pattie! xoxo
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    • Ashley, xoxo
      There were times when it was tough. Looking back I can hardly believe that is has been 14 years since we retired! <--See how I said 'we' retired?! 🙂 Thank you always for your kind words and for reading! Pattie

  4. God, I remember family grams. I will never forget the patrol where we had this young nub ET who was totally freaking out about not getting a family gram from his girlfriend. I sat him down and told him that I also had not gotten one in some time and I don’t let it get to me because there is not a damn thing I can do about it out here. As you know, family grams weren’t the most reliable thing in the world. None the less, that young nub ET made it through patrol and came home to the open arms of his girlfriend. He thanked me. Me?? When I got topside I looked out to the pier and said, “Mom, Dad, what are you doing here?” You know the rest…..
    It was a tough life and you guys deserve as much happiness as you can get for the rest of your lives.

    • Dawgz,
      I always hated when the #4 kind of deployment happened. I wish it had not happened to you but, you did get the awesome Harry because of it. And Harry’s lovely trainer, too! So you are getting your happiness too and we are both super glad and can not wait to see you in May!

      As for Family Grams…I hated those things but I sent them out. All 37 words at a time!

      • You are correct. That was a difficult time but it is all part of the body of work that makes us what we are today. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it all the same as that is what has gotten me to where I am and I absolutely love life. Funny, today is my anniversary with Carol and I simply couldn’t imagine not having her in my life. It is as though we have always been together.

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