The first week at Submarine School we took a four-hour test that was intended to be a psychological screening test. Then that afternoon we took another 90-minute test which included many of the same questions. At first I assumed that the second test was simply a routine validation of the first. But when it was over they told us that they were considering dropping the long test in favor of the short one, and they were giving both tests to us to try to validate the short test.
All of us were recent college graduages, and most of us were skilled test-takers, so we were generally unimpressed at the quality of the psychological screening that was done. We had all taken the Navy test in high school, then made it through four-year technical degrees, and this testing was quite flimsy compared to what we thought we should have been run through. Our lives were going to depend the sanity of all 79 other people on the submarine, and we wanted everyone to be carefully examined before they went to sea with just enough knowledge to sink the boat, if the mood struck.
But the healthy aspect of the crew was that most of them were just there to escape the draft. They just wanted to put in their time and get out, alive. They expected shit, they got shit, and they got out. And the career sailors were professionals. As for the one-term enlistees, they were far from suicidal, and that is what kept all those submarines safe for so many years. And all of them were volunteers. This last, the self-selection process, was probably the most reliable screening method that existed, probably far better than any other screening that we had to endure.
We did have several sailors who did not work out, and who were transferred to surface ships. And we had one sailor who managed to get an early discharge for reasons of emotional instability. But his symptoms aboard were simply unexplainable. At no point did anyone feel any reason to fear for his actions. After he was out of the Navy, with more than eighteen months of service but less than the four years of his obligation, and thus exempt from the draft, one of his friends aboard said that it was all an act, a ruse to get a discharge.
The person aboard who was specifically trained to observe other crew members and to make judgments of their emotional stability was our Hospital Corpsman. But he seemed to deal mostly with simple physical ailments, not mental problems.
Twice, once in the Norwegian Sea and once in the Caribbean, we had to airlift off sailors with physical medical problems. Each time, a helicopter lowered a basket-style litter to the after deck, and we disconnected the litter from the cable. We strapped the sailor into the litter, then we waved the helo back for a pickup. A quick connection was made, and the litter flew off, spinning, in an unexpected direction. Then the deck team went below to dry off. In the far north, where the water was 29 degrees F, we all went directly to the engine room to warm up.
The sailor who left us up north was treated aboard the aircraft carrier, and he was waiting for us on the pier when we arrived for our next port visit. The old signalman who flew off delirious in the tropics was taken directly to the nearest hospital, a civilian facility in Nassau. Later he regaled us with lies about the size of the cockroaches in the Bahamian hospital.
In each of these cases, the Hospital Corpsman in our crew served to observe the symptoms, to relay the information to physicians ashore, and to administer the medicines and treatments that were prescribed over the radio by the physicians.
At all other times, his only real function was to cure the sailors of sexually transmitted diseases and then justify the consumption of the medicines as treatment for a bad cold.