Get to know the routine of a submariner in the Brazilian Navy
By Agência Marinha de Notícias – Brasília, DF
In an interview, Petty Officer and Submariner Agildo Almenaro da Conceição talks about the routine and characteristics of this sub-specialization in the Brazilian Navy, highlighting aspects such as confinement and body spirit. For 23 years in the area, he also recalls remarkable facts of his career.
Petty Officer Agildo, what is the routine like inside a submarine? And how is the internal space distributed?
The submarine is a very confined environment. It doesn’t give us the possibility, as in surface ships, to feel a breeze on our face, to see the sunrise or the sunset. It’s a closed environment, where space is used to the maximum. We try to optimize the spaces, so the beds are very small, the bathrooms on board, the kitchen, the facilities, the housing part and the operational part as well, everything is very restricted. This requires the military to adapt to working in such a place. And our routine on board is very regulated.
We are divided into a group, usually of three military personnel, who work daily in quarters of an hour, on some specific equipment, according to each one’s profession. Generally, we work around three to four hours and we have six to eight hours of rest. This time we use for personal hygiene, for leisure, for rest or for some planned or corrective maintenance that can be done at sea. This is the routine from the beginning to the end of our mission.
What is the coexistence of crew members like in this environment?
I usually say that the coexistence inside the submarine has to be the best possible, because we are in a small, confined environment, where we usually spend a certain amount of days and with the same group. One of our peculiarities, from the most modern sailor to the commander, is that we are very close, since we see each other all the time. This generates a complicity, a feeling of brotherhood. This necessarily makes the crew work like a gear, where everyone has to work in a cohesive way, so that we can have the best fulfillment of the mission.
Unlike what we see in cartoons, a war submarine has no windows. How is navigation done down there?
Many people think that submarines give us the option of having a window to view the seabed, but we don’t have one. When a submarine dives, we don’t really have visual guidance. The guidance is audible. We navigate with our sonars and can hear surface ships, submarines in the sea, biological noises, such as dolphins and whales, and even rain noise. In addition, we also navigate with nautical charts, which is a type of mapping of the sea.
Surface ships also use these nautical charts, where we experience, through a maneuvering wheel, a more precise orientation for navigability. The submarine also has the ability to measure the local depth and this information will give a margin for the depth at which one is going to navigate. We also have the possibility of going up to a depth of 15 meters, which we call the periscopic depth, and placing one of the two periscopes out of the water, so that we can have an external view of the sea surface.
Speaking of depth, how long can a submarine stay submerged?
The question of how long we can stay inside a submarine is very relative. I, in particular, have been submerged for 23 days without returning to the surface. But what will limit this capacity of time submerged are issues such as the amount of fuel, the amount of water and the amount of supplies, of food. I, in particular, stayed these 23 days, but, in more critical situations, in a combat action, it is possible to stay more days on board.
How does the issue of oxygen on board work, especially on these very long voyages?
The submarine is a large, closed steel cylinder that has an oxygen reserve. The military personnel breathe in this atmospheric oxygen in a normal way. This atmospheric air inside the submarine is monitored over a 24-hour period, where we can measure the amount of oxygen and CO2. So, if, at a certain moment, CO² is at a higher stage and oxygen is decreasing, we can go to the 15-meter level, put the snorkel mast and revitalize the air. This way, we get a healthier atmosphere and can go down and continue our navigation. We also take advantage of this snorkeling opportunity to burn the engines and charge our batteries using a generator, so that when we are at a deeper level, we no longer navigate by the engines but by the batteries.
What were the most memorable moments of your career on board a submarine?
As in every profession, I have had some very good moments and some moments of apprehension. One of these moments of apprehension was a flood, in the Submarine “Timbira”, in the garbage ejector, which is an equipment to confine garbage on board. We had a passage of water and, for a medium that is immersed, where water wants to enter at all times, it is not at all pleasant for a submariner to see the water enter in an uncontrolled way on board. We were at 15 meters, we lost a little sustainability, and we could not go up in an emergency, because there were several ships of the Squadron on the surface. Thank God, the flooding was controlled and we were able to ascend to the surface in an orderly manner, and everything went well. There were several good moments, but I highlight two: one was the passage through the Panama Canal.
The Submarine “Timbira” made a commission to Peru, in which we passed through the Panama Canal. This was very remarkable, because it is not very common for a Brazilian submarine to pass through there. We passed through the surface of the canal and, for me, it was gratifying to cut a country through an artificial canal. Another mission that really stood out was one we did in the United States, where we had to pierce the cover of several surface ships that were escorting an aircraft carrier. We had to pass underneath, at a certain distance, and climb to the 15-meter level to take a periscopic photo. Not only did we manage to break through this blockade of escort ships, but we also got very close to the aircraft carrier.
How is the selection and training to be a submariner? As soon as a serviceman joins the Navy can he go straight to a submarine?
No, it doesn’t quite work like that. I entered the Navy through the School of Apprentice Sailors of Ceará. I graduated as a sailor and went to work like everyone else. After I went to do the course to go to the graduation of Corporal and I wanted to sub-specialize in submarines. I’m a maneuvering and repair petty officer, and that year there was an option for maneuvering and repair personnel to volunteer for Submarine School. So I volunteered and took the physical fitness tests, health tests and psychological tests. After successfully passing these tests, I went to the Submarine School, at the Almirante Áttila Monteiro Aché Training and Instruction Center [CIAMA], which is located on Mocanguê Island, in Niterói [RJ], where I took a six-month course, which has a practical part and a theoretical part. If you do well in the course, you’re sent to the navy submarines, where you go through an internship to qualify. If all this is successfully completed, we then begin our operational life on the submarines of the Brazilian Navy.
Is there any psychological testing during the training course or during this training, given the peculiarities of the profession, such as the confined environment?
We do a psychological test beforehand, since we will be working in a confined environment, immersed underwater. After this stage, we take a hyperbaric test at the Submarine School, where we will have contact with the hyperbaric chamber and a simulation of the descent to a certain depth will be carried out. If we pass successfully, we get closer and closer to the possibility of sailing and being part of the crew of a submarine.
How does this hyperbaric chamber work?
We enter the hyperbaric chamber in a group of five to eight soldiers. There is usually a diver accompanying them and a hyperbaric doctor who stays outside to evaluate the behavior of this group of military personnel who are aspiring submariners. Then, this chamber is pressurized, simulating that we are really feeling this pressure, from 10 to 20 meters. If the soldier feels good in the descent simulation, he is able to participate in the next tests. It is small and tight. So, we go in and squat or sit, because there is no possibility to stand. We usually stay in there for 5 to 10 minutes.
How is the safety issue on board, since it is a risky activity? Do you feel afraid?
Like any diving activity, there is an inherent risk in the profession. That fear is there when you get on board. As we work and time goes by, we see it more normally and start not to be so afraid. But the Brazilian Navy has a very strict doctrine, based on safety, which the crews follow to the letter. So we are able to navigate and operate safely with our submarines.
When a submariner is on board, what is the communication like with those outside, especially the family?
Unfortunately, this is something that we differ a lot from other means. In terms of communication, we don’t have a phone signal or internet. Even for security reasons, the submarine sails in a programmed defeat [course] known by the Submarine Force. From time to time, we go to the periscopic quota and place a communication rod in an external way, submerged, but with a communication out of the water, to be able to communicate with the Submarine Force. On these occasions we receive news in a general way, as if it were an extract from a newspaper. But communication with the family, unfortunately, on board does not have. If the family has an emergency, they have to contact the Submarine Force. Then, the Force will see what action to take.
Finally, what tip can you give to those who want to be submariners?
First, to know the activity, because it is very specific, in which we work in a confined way, in which the several days at sea bring an absence of family and communication. So, the tip I give is to try to interact with those who are submariners. Try to know as much as possible about the profession. And, if you choose to be a submariner, welcome to our Force, because, for sure, you will be very happy.
Source: Navy News Agency *** Translated by DEFCONPress FYI Team ***