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Torpedomen aboard the USS Seawolf sleep near their weapons, like the Tomahawk missile to the right.

Torpedomen aboard the USS Seawolf sleep near their weapons, like the Tomahawk missile to the right. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Petty Officer 3rd Class Chad Kahl never suffered from a lack of open space while growing up in North Dakota.

When he told friends and family there that he had volunteered to live aboard a 350-foot-long metal tube underneath hundreds of feet of water, they thought he was crazy.

Kahl had done his homework on the submarine lifestyle. But as he prepared to get under way for the first time, he wondered if his friends may have had a point.

“I think everyone that goes doesn’t really know what they’re getting into,” said Kahl of the USS Seawolf. “I had never been underneath water before. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Levi Barr examines one of the USS Seawolf’s torpedo tubes. The tubes can accommodate MK-48 torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Levi Barr examines one of the USS Seawolf’s torpedo tubes. The tubes can accommodate MK-48 torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Donovan displays the Dunkin’ Donuts on his left bicep. “It got me a free cup of coffee,” said Donovan, who helps maintain the USS Seawolf’s nuclear reactor.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Donovan displays the Dunkin’ Donuts on his left bicep. “It got me a free cup of coffee,” said Donovan, who helps maintain the USS Seawolf’s nuclear reactor. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Chief Petty Officer James Walters ends up on the serving end of a chocolate-covered cherry from Chief Petty Officer Chad Messerly in the chief’s lounge aboard the USS Seawolf. Submariners engage in healthy doses of horseplay to cope with the stress of serving in close proximity for long periods. “We all just pick on each other, almost like little kids,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelvin Stennis. “But the switch to getting serious for a submariner is amazingly fast.”

Chief Petty Officer James Walters ends up on the serving end of a chocolate-covered cherry from Chief Petty Officer Chad Messerly in the chief’s lounge aboard the USS Seawolf. Submariners engage in healthy doses of horseplay to cope with the stress of serving in close proximity for long periods. “We all just pick on each other, almost like little kids,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelvin Stennis. “But the switch to getting serious for a submariner is amazingly fast.” (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Panciera, left, and petty officers second class Bryan Schartel and Kevin Beckstrand don their Emergency Air Breathing masks during a drill aboard the USS Seawolf on May 4. The connecting valves above them are located throughout the submarine, just in case the boat rapidly loses oxygen.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Panciera, left, and petty officers second class Bryan Schartel and Kevin Beckstrand don their Emergency Air Breathing masks during a drill aboard the USS Seawolf on May 4. The connecting valves above them are located throughout the submarine, just in case the boat rapidly loses oxygen. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Like most sub school graduates, Kahl adapted to his surroundings

.However, not everyone is made for sub duty, says Lt. Robert Lovern, a doctor with a psychiatry background and Submarine Group Seven’s undersea medical officer.

Claustrophobia, stress, unusual working conditions and lack of privacy can all lead prospective submariners right back out of the hatch.

.“What gets people is the confinement and the inability to escape,” Lovern said.

All sailors who volunteer for sub duty complete a screening questionnaire at Naval Submarine School in Groton, Conn

.If any red flags pop up, they are interviewed by medical personnel.

“When I got to my first submarine, I was very claustrophobic, very nervous, very timid,” said 21-year sub veteran and Seawolf Chief of the Boat Jared Hofer of Freeman, S.D. “I used to have nightmares of the boat doing things where we didn’t come back. Obviously I survived. [Now] I feel safer on a submarine than I do on the surface.”

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