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Feeling Tired?

Well, then let’s change the subject. Let me tell you about how I transferred out of the sub service. That’s a lot of fun. That’ll pick up your spirits for sure.

Remember when I wanted to get into the sub service and was told that in order to do this I would have to maintain a strict diet representing the four basic food groups, all of which were shit - and that I would have to maintain this diet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Well, eight and a half years later when I first got the notion of leaving sea duty for a job on hard soil, I was informed that I would have to eat shit all over again, and that they would watch me eating, and evaluate me, and if I did a good enough job of it, if I displayed proper table manners during each meal, then they would see about making the necessary recommendations to the upper-level command....

It’s no wonder our navy is so chewed-up. People are eating and eating and eating - trying desperately and shamelessly to get out. And then there are those rare specimens, like me, who actually manage to eat shit twice: first, to get onto the submarine fleet - and then to get back off.

My decision to eat my way out once and for all came to me unexpectedly one day. We were standing at a Victory Day parade, in formation, and some of our local higher-ups were making speeches on the grandstand. I stood there and looked up at them and thought, “Geez, Sanya, who are you serving with?” And I made the decision to transfer.

Holidays like this are the best time to count us. I mean military men, that is. Nobody’s ever made a serious attempt to count us. But on holidays, there we are in line...all of us. Just take a look at the country from above and you’ll see that we’re all standing right there in perfect formation. Go ahead and count. Why bother? Just start counting...and when you’re finished, then you’ll understand why.

I went to the personnel office the next day. I went there and announced that as of tomorrow I had every intention of being transferred.

“Is that so?” the personnel chief perked up. “And where to, exactly?”

I answered that it wasn’t my job to know where to - the specifics were his responsibility. Then I said that instead of asking me questions, he should just shake my hand, apologize for the fact that I haven’t been promoted beyond Captain Third Rank, and with utmost reverence for my years of military service offer me a place where I will be free to perform my patriotic duty from nine in the morning to five at night - with an hour-long break for lunch. A whole five days per week.

“This is all very interesting,” he said. “It’s just a shame that you haven’t seen how we transfer officers around here.”

“Yes, I have,” I said. “You don’t.”

“That’s exactly right,” he said. “You understand, after all. It’s just a mystery to me where you get all these notions about ‘utmost reverence’ and ‘shaking your hand’... There are eight thousand officers in the Northern Fleet who have already done their tour of duty. And all of them are eligible for a transfer. Eight thousand! You’ll be the eight thousand and first...”

And here I lost my cool. I told the swamp toad that I had no reason to doubt the existence of his eight thousand officers and that if they continued to transfer officers at the rate they do now - one per year - then it would take at least eight thousand years...and if they transferred one per day, and if it were done by people like him, then it would take about seven thousand....

We parted on bad terms that day, with me slamming the door.

Of course the country can’t do with a mere twenty submarines. No, it has to have two hundred...or, better yet, two thousand. And they should float there in the seven seas like dumplings in a bowl of cold soup. Never mind that they can barely move. Or that they limp all over the world like wounded beasts: we’ve got so many of them that all we have to do is start them up all at once and they’ll roar so loud that the yanks won’t know what to do from all the noise. And while they’re standing there covering their ears, we’ll creep right up to them and just when they least expect it....wipe out everything this side of the Rockies....

But why is it that these boats - our boats - roar like wounded beasts? Because they can’t help it, that’s why! Our boats can’t help roaring like wounded beasts because the people who made them are even more wounded.

We all are. There’s not a single one among us who is healthy. The only thing that sets us apart from each other is the degree of our wound: lightly wounded or seriously wounded - and the higher up you go, the more seriously and deeply it festers.

That’s why people fear us. We are made strong by our wounded unpredictability, our spontaneity. Like the swagger of a drunken giant.

But in order for all this shit to get past the pier there has to be a sailor sitting inside it. And the longer that sailor sits, the better. Just lock him up for ten calendar years, and let him rot there. Which is exactly what we do. And when this shit starts to sink, it’ll be us out there saving it with our bare hands.

As if to say: “Here we are! The only navy in the world that specializes in rescuing shit....”

But, then, we seem to have gotten off the subject at hand; in our delvings into the nature of shit we seemed to have gotten away from the original shit in question: the personnel chief. Before leaving, he’d explained to me that in order to qualify for a transfer you have to have at least ten years on board (“and you barely have eight”). Only then will anybody talk to you. Only then can you submit a petition to Command about including you in the official Transferee Order. But the Order shows its face only one time a year, in December, and that means that you actually serve eleven years, not to mention the fact that for various reasons (and here the son-of-a-bitch smiled) people may not wind up in the list...which means twelve years. And plus, you’re physically healthy and that’s no grounds for a transfer. Now if you were sick...if you were sick, you might be lucky enough to have contracted one of the formally-admissible diseases, for example brain cancer, but to receive this kind of diagnosis you’ll have to have a spinal tap (“and you wouldn’t believe how painful that is”) in one of the clinics in Magadan. Oh, and did you know that an officer himself doesn’t choose his new assignment, and you may end up being transferred to the low-rent district of Siberia?....

At this moment I felt like strangling him...but I still hadn’t asked about the Naval Academy.

“The Academy? Of course that’s an option. But, you see, you’ve already missed the cut for this year. You’ll have to come back next year in order to apply for the year after that.”

I looked at his throat even more attentively. Then I remembered that I hadn’t asked about adjutant’s service.

“Adjutant service? Possible, but not likely. So don’t get your hopes up.”

To make a long story short, I looked at him and said, “Take care, swamp toad,” and slammed the door as I left.

It took me three years to get a transfer out of sea duty.

During those three years I tried everything imaginable: to go to the Academy, to Adjunctura, to become a teaching chemist or a division commander. I called different offices, ran from place to place, filled in forms, took medical exam after medical exam. I mailed out my biographical information...and received it when it was returned to me. I re-typed applications. I compiled lists of distant relatives and called to double-check their mothers’ maiden names.... At some point it became too much. Right in formation I broke down. Without realizing what I was doing I proceeded to string together one of the longest collections of four-letter interjections ever recorded by modern man, each of which described a particular act, or emotion, or part of the body in all its graphic glory - for good measure, throwing in some five-letter interjections as well. I don’t know how long the sentence lasted. Eventually, though, I must have stopped.

A long silence ensued. The whole company stood captivated by my speech.

Finally, the voice of my Second-in-command spoke up:

“So you want out, do you? Well, why didn’t you just say so?!”

Someone let out a stifled laugh. Then another. Soon everybody was laughing: officers and sailors - my entire crew. And me too. After that I felt better for some reason, and for the first time I truly believed that I was leaving.

The order arrived in July. It had taken three months to go from Moscow to Severodvinsk, ten days longer than Jules Vernes’ much-celebrated trip around the world...

“Captain Third Rank Mikhailov!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Front and center!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Listen up, men! Today Captain Third Rank Mikhailov is leaving us. He served more than ten years as our Chief of Chemical Services. He had twelve patrols...” He’s leaving us...as if I were dying or something. Which, I guess, is about right: once you’ve left you might as well be dead.

“And now...according to tradition...he’s going to say goodbye to us...”

I walked from one side of the line to the other, shook hands and smiled. My fellow sailors embraced me, clapped me on the shoulder, and emparted: “Take care of yourself, Sanya.” And I did. I took care.

And then what?

And then straight to Leningrad: wide streets, traffic lights, to work by bus, twelve duties per year, “nine-to-five”, two days off per week, and on the weekend....time with my family. My family. My family.

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