A Sonarman's Ears
A Sonarman's Ears
The chief was a submarine sonarman, but his hearing was failing. This became painfully obvious after a while, and the younger sonarmen got into the habit of stopping by the sonar shack frequently to speak to the chief, even when they were off watch. From time to time, one of them heard something over the loudspeaker that demonstrated that the chief was missing something important, something that the chief should have heard through his earphones twenty minutes earlier. The younger sonarman would then tactfully suggest that the chief take a break and go get a cup of coffee. By the time the chief returned, the contact had been analyzed and categorized, and reported to the officer of the deck, with bearing drift information noted in the log.
The executive officer gently broke the news to the chief that he would insist on a hearing test before we went to sea again, and of course the chief failed badly. But you don't get to be chief without being an expert at a few hundred of the handiest loopholes, so the chief applied for conversion from sonarman to electronics technician, a move which entitled him to stay on board until he took the written test. Unfortunately, he could never pass the technical sections of the test. This was a Navy-wide exam, given on the same date worldwide, twice a year, and the chief was entitled to try it three times. So we had to keep him around for more than a year, still a submarine qualified sonarman on paper, while the other sonarmen had to stand all his watches for him.
Finally his loopholes all closed, and we had to ship him out. We wondered what he would find to do for the rest of his Navy career. We even worried whether he would be allowed to re-enlist to reach retirement age. We should not have concerned ourselves.
It turned out that sonarmen on surface ships did not have to be able to hear anything. The acoustic signals in the active sonar systems carried on surface ships were analyzed by the electronics equipment, not by the sonarman's ear. The chief had known this all along. He had simply used delaying tactics to avoid what he considered a demotion from submariner to surface sailor. He thanked us all for our sympathy. Then he went on to a successful tour on a large surface ship, where he probably told them repeatedly that real sonarmen all have submarine experience.