HNSA Crest with photos of visitors at the ships.

ROLES OF VETERANS AND CURATORS

Bill Parker, 20+ year submarine veteran, 10+ year museum volunteer
April 2011

[Ed. Note: This was a posting on one of the submarine bulletin boards after some sniping back and forth between submarine veterans and museum curators. The editor is sure that the surface ship community will resonate with its message as well. Editor's explanitory notes are in [Ed. ] brackets.


In response to the post regarding "Security and professionals"... Who is the most professional? sand crabs [Ed. person stationed ashore], or the folks who were actually at sea with and used all of this equipment....?

You raise a highly controversial point -- valid, to be sure, but controversial none-the-less. I'm one of many subvets who is very involved with a museum/memorial submarine, so maybe I can paint some pieces of the picture from both perspectives ...

There are significant differences between operating a combat-ready submarine and operating a museum submarine. While that point is obvious, it is often lost in all of the horse---- and gunsmoke that fills the air.

Because of those mission differences, there are differing viewpoints on just about everything associated with the museum boat venture.

Clearly, folks on either side of that chasm between professional curators and subvets are thoroughly dedicated to keeping a museum boat viable and alive. That is one of the more essential points of commonality.

But, like the operating submarine with an OPTAR (if that is what the Navy still calls it, otherwise "operating budget,") the museum boat also has a budget. Some non-profit has budget responsibility in the latter case, we the taxpayers in the former.

One significant difference past the existence of an operating budget, however, is how overhead expenses are funded.

In the museum scenario, just like the operating Navy scenario, there are certain expenses that are necessary even though the people aren't armed with crescent hammers, screwdrivers, and coffee from the galley.

The CNO [Ed. Chief of Naval Operations], for example, does not drive a ship or fly an airplane but he (or maybe someday, she) is still necessary to the orderly conduct of Navy business.

Museum boats have staff with responsibilities that are not tied directly to maintaining the boat, explaining the intricacies of an air expulsion head, or wowing visitors with NTINS-ers [Ed. Now This Is No S***] --

Those overhead-funded positions include raising funding, accounting, general administration, public relations, risk management, planning, and a myriad of other responsibilities.

Many of those same responsibilities exist in the operating Navy as well -- but the typical subvet never sees, let alone, deals with those expenses.

Thus, it never occurs to some of us that those expenses are both necessary - and very real. They are just paid for a bit more visibly in the museum boat setting than they appeared to be when we were out punching holes in the ocean.

Another significant difference between an operational submarine and a museum boat is the underlying reason for conservation, repair, and restoration.

Operationally, that motive is necessary in order to maintain readiness for any mission that the boat may be assigned. That means use bubble gum and bailing wire if necessary, just get the damn job done.

In the museum environment, the mission is not to conduct submarine warfare or surveillance operations - rather, that mission is to preserve history and interpret (i.e. tell the story) to the general public.

Preserving a beautiful piece of our submarine history in the form of a museum boat has entirely different objectives from sailing in harm's way to take the battle to the enemy -

The "enemy" to a museum boat is not being depth charged, torpedoed, or caught on the surface and getting bombed or strafed.

Instead, a museum boat's enemy consists of abuse, mistreatment, mismanagement, neglect - some or all of which occurs because of funding limitations, p---- poor management, or both.

Funding requirements in order to keep a museum boat open to the public are rarely, if ever, met by admission revenue. Funding needed for drydocking and basic maintenance is heavily dependent upon donations of goods and services. Big-time donations.

Ticket booth revenue doesn't begin to cover those expenses.

The blunt fact of life is that deferring expensive repairs and restoration work on a museum boat because of a lack of funding winds up costing much more than inflation. In the operational scenario, those matters might be postponed for a short while but they cannot be allowed to fester for years.

Why? Because deterioration continues, often at an accelerated rate while funds are being raised. Every museum boat faces this challenge. Some are better at meeting it than others.

Eventually, there is a "tipping point" where recovery becomes incredibly expensive and, therefore far less probable.

Putting on my subvet hat here, I'll state that even though subvets cherish our museum boats, some tend to view the boat as their exclusive clubhouse and playground. They demonstrate a total lack of understanding of what is actually required in order to keep that museum edifice alive. Their checkbooks aren't on the line, so they don't give such matters a thought.

I've seen antipathy develop between subvets and NQP [Ed. Non Qual Pukes, derisive term for anyone aboard a submarine that have not yet qualified to wear submarine insignia] curators that finally breaks into open warfare.

Some subvets dislike - or even refuse to accept - non-submariners having a say about their submarine. "After all, I'm the one who took this pigboat to sea, not you ..."

What subvets sometime fail to realize (or accept) is that curators share exactly the same dedication and zeal --

Unfortunately, differences between operating a warfighting weapons system and a museum boat are often ignored by both parties.

Curators, on the other hand, often develop a resentment toward subvets because of the demeaning "you are a NQP" attitude that they encounter or the utter disregard for sound curatorial practices involving a beautiful piece of historic fabric for the mere sake of "getting the job done."

They hurl accusations that, in essence, are at least partially correct - and the subvets then get their skivvies all wadded up and retaliate in kind.

Anyone who has been around this BBS for a while can recall exactly that sort of mutually disrespectful - and destructive - little drama playing out right here.

Some of the combatants still post here on occasion. Fortunately, rhetoric is a bit calmer now and frustrations, legitimate or not, don't wind up in print like they used to. That alone is progress.

Earning dolphins [Ed. after qualification on a submarine] of either - or both - metallic colors [Ed. officer or enlisted], whether on a kiddie cruise [Ed. Short enlistment that expires the day before your 21st birthday], reserve duty, or a full 20+ year career does not in and of itself qualify any individual to attend to the business of operating a museum boat.

On becoming a museum boat, the new mission is no longer to find and sink enemy shipping -- it is to preserve and interpret a beautiful part of our Navy's history for future generations.

There are professionals who are educated and experienced in such matters. True, they need some of us old DBF [Ed. Diesel Boat Forever] farts in order to offer authenticity, restore, and safely operate everything from the pantry toaster to the engines - and we old farts need the professionals to manage the business of being a museum boat.

Said somewhat differently, a museum boat will benefit when both kinds of professionals -- operators and curators - work together. To promote supremacy of either end of that teeter-totter is not only short-sighted, it is just plain dumb.

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