I’m never a very festive person, so I often have trouble looking at Thanksgiving as anything more than a day off and a free pass at gluttony.
This year was different though. I had a new perspective.
Some who have been following the news for the last week or so may know that an Argentine submarine, the A.R.A. San Juan, went missing just over a week ago with 44 men and women onboard.
The spokesman for Argentina’s Navy told reporters that — assuming the boat is on the ocean floor — the crew would have enough oxygen to survive for about a week. As of the publication of this column, they will have been trapped for about 10 days.
When I was stationed on the U.S.S. San Juan, a nuclear fast attack submarine, we casually and ironically joked about being in the exact situation Argentina’s San Juan was in, and we joked about it often. In fact, just prior to my arrival onboard the San Juan, the boat went missing for about two days due to a mistake a junior officer made while trying to send off the daily communication. The poor guy never lived that down.
That’s why my first response upon hearing the news that a submarine with the same name as the one I was on had gone missing was to laugh and say, “Oh boy, some junior officer really messed up on this one.” But it wasn’t long before the gravity of the situation settled in, and I still feel strangely devastated.
It has become hard for me to not imagine myself down there. We trained and ran countless drills on how to deal with this situation, being stuck on the bottom of the sea somewhere, relying on hope. By the time this column comes out, if the sailors of the A.R.A. San Juan haven’t been found, they will have already been incapacitated due to the lack of oxygen and are likely dead.
The nature of being on a submarine is far different than that of any other lifestyle the military offers. Bullets don’t fly overhead and bombs don’t go off around you. But there is a unique and inherent danger in traveling hundreds of feet below the ocean surface. It doesn’t take much more than a small equipment malfunction, coupled with slight operator error to kill a crew, and when I was out to sea, I always took this fact for granted.
Now, in hindsight, I regret that, and I am grateful to be here, on dry land in these beautiful mountains, where I could spend Thanksgiving with my girlfriend and her family.
Although I doubt I’ll ever find a festive spirit lurking somewhere inside me, I promise you I have a new perspective, one which I will not take for granted, and I am thankful for that.