Bad News For Groton And The Submarine Base

Word came out this morning that the submarine base at Groton will be closed as part of a nationwide military base realignment. That this is a firmly ‘blue’ state probably didn’t help Connecticut, as those boats are moving to Virginia – a red state.

My first remembrance of Groton is back when I was a college student. I worked part time at WSAR in Fall River, MA, so I would often drive I-95 past the base. There were signs along some of the bridges admonishing drivers not to stop.

That was the height of the cold war. I’m guessing there were few warm and fuzzy warnings, especially to a ‘long hair’ like I was.

I became more conscious of the base when I moved to Connecticut. As the economy of Eastern Connecticut slacked critically (in the pre-casino days), it was the one constant. Submariners were often out to sea for extended periods, but their families were in Connecticut, spending money.

I’ve taken two submarine ‘rides’ from Groton. One was on the USS Providence. I can’t remember the name of the other, except to say it was a Los Angeles class fast attack submarine.

Though I’m not sure of the significance of the words “fast attack,” they sure do sound impressive when used together.

My first trip left the dock on a very foggy morning. Rather than bring the sub down the river in bad conditions, the passengers for this ‘fam trip’ piled onto a tug and were ferried to the ship.

As both slowly moved in sync (to maintain steerage), a gangway was set between the ships. I crossed onto the deck of the sub only to be greeted by a frogman with a sheathed knife on his leg. He was there to rescue anyone who might fall off. Going below was accomplished by climbing into a hatch and down a ladder.

I said this then and I’m sure it’s still true now. The submarine itself didn’t impress me. Well, maybe that’s an oversimplification. It didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would. It wasn’t anywhere near as high tech as I had imagined. That is probably because the procurement procedures at the Defense Department take forever!

I remember looking at a PC being used for some task and thinking, “Wow, I’ve got a much more powerful one at home.”

On the other hand, I was blown away by the officers and crew. The real secret weapon of the US submarine fleet are these people. They were bright and disciplined and well trained to do their job and others as well.

The crew was just as much a positive surprise as the equipment was a disappointment.

It was interesting to talk with the men on board and watch them do what they did. Like every job, I’m sure it gets a little stale after a while. Still, they could tell what they were doing was impressive to others and they seemed to bask in that.

Part of the trip was submerging and sailing through Long Island Sound. People ask if I was scared. I was not. These trips were as gentle as could be.

On the way back to port I got to climb another ladder to the top of the sail. This is not a passage designed for the claustrophobic. It was well worth it. It might very well be the most macho place any human can stand.

Given half a chance, I’d hop on a sub again tomorrow.

Having a major base, like Groton, adds importance to a place. It’s a reason for being. I’m a so scared this closing will be a major disruption to all of our lives here in Connecticut. The economy, especially in Eastern Connecticut, doesn’t deserve to take this hit.

Yes, I’m selfish about this. My opinion has been formed irrespective of the big picture. I hope they can find a way to keep the base open.

Phony Northeast Blackout Image?

Right after 9/11, a photo circulated on the Internet showing a man on the observation deck of the World Trade Center, facing a camera. Behind him, a plane flew directly toward the building. It, of course, was a fake.

In fact, tools like PhotoShop make it incredibly easy to turn the unreal…real. Such is the case with a satellite image making its way across the world, mostly through email. It has been resized and had the levels tweaked a bit, but it’s the same image.

So far, I have gotten this from my father, my friend Howard, loads of viewers and other well meaning people. If it were true, it would be a pretty spectacular shot.

The real photo is actually a montage of a number of satellite images from a Defense Department Weather Satellite (DMSP). In order to get a fully clear view, and cover the whole country, the actual time frame of the image is Oct. 1, 1994, to March 31, 1995.

Few people look at visible satellite imagery at night, because all you can see are city lights… and normally that’s not very helpful.

If you really take a good look at the phony image, it’s done in a ham fisted way. The areas of removed light shouldn’t resemble a black hole, but should be shades of dark gray. After all, there was some illumination from the moon. Also, there were pockets of lights still working, even within the blackout area. And, though wire reports implied otherwise, most of Connecticut was powered up and good to go.

When I first saw the photo, I knew it was wrong because I know the original very well. It’s a classic. But, I also knew this satellite doesn’t see the whole country at once, nor is the whole country ever cloud free.

There are before and after images from the blackout, and they are pretty amazing. Unfortunately, fact isn’t quite as glamorous as fiction.