The Silver Dolphin Issue
Point of View No. 015
Posted by Mark B. Hertensteiner, MIDN 1/C, USNR on October 29, 1997

In Reply to:

Meaningless Dolphins-Navy Times posted by Ron Martini on October 22, 1997

Fellow Submariners-

Many of you may scoff at a Midshipman's including himself in that category, but I'm posting to say that I could not be prouder of any title which could be given to me.

During the summer of 1996, I reported to the USS OHIO (GOLD) for my summer cruise. I was not fortunate to be on board for six weeks. However, while on board I determined that I wanted to earn silver dolphins. I was not handed a qual book as soon as I got on board, nor was I told that pursuing Quals was something that I should be doing. I was told that if I wanted to work on Quals, I could.

Most crew members thought that I couldn't do it, but they proved to be wrong. So while I was on board, I decided that working towards qualifying was more important than sleep, and I started checking out SSM after SSM. I got to know the A-gang very well as they helped me learn system after system. And I can honestly say that, whether I made it through the qual book or not, the pursuit of silver dolphins was by far the most rewarding experience, both personally and professionally, in the little time I have spent with the active duty Navy to date.

It forced me to put myself in the shoes of an enlisted crew member (I was on the watch bill, standing watch at Helms/Planes). I knew everybody on the boat, since I had to move from division to division in order to learn every system on the boat. I would say that I became a much more integral member of the crew, as much as any midshipman can in that amount of time, than my fellow Mids on board.

And I loved it. Not to mention the professional knowledge I gained, that will be an invaluable asset when I finally am assigned to a boat after I am commissioned. Now I don't mean to discredit those who say that dolphins mean the same to Midshipmen as they do to enlisted. How can they, when the time period over which they are earned is so different. What I am stating is that silver dolphins represent the same amount of work, the same achievement, regardless of what uniform they are on. I have just as much disdain for anyone who let anyone give them 'meaningless dolphins,' because these are the people who are hurting everyone.

If I didn't know something, I learned it. I remember at my final qual board, the chief who was sitting the board remarked, "Wow, you know a lot more than I expected you to know as a Midshipman." I protested that I should know no more and no less than any enlisted receiving their dolphins, if they decided to award me mine.

Only by keeping the same standard of achievement, irregardless of time spent getting there, can we keep the true meaning of what it means to wear silver dolphins. I am more proud of the dolphins on my left breast than I am of any other achievement I have made while in the Navy. If those dolphins had been handed to me without my having to put the work in, I could not be proud of them. It's the work, the achievement, that I'm proud of.

And yes, I do think that differences exist between Midshipmen and Enlisted pursuing their quals. First, Mids don't have as many duties on board. All the mids on board participated in many of these, field day, etc, but still we do not have division responsibilities, etc.

Second, as a full time student at MIT, my 'job' for the past few years has been to learn as much as I can as fast as I can. I've been training to learn in a fast, high stress environment. As a result, I know how to effectively learn a large amount of information in a small amount of time. This contributed a great deal to my being able to qualify.

Not to say that Enlisted do not know how to learn, but I eat sleep and breathe systems similar to those on board a sub as a Chemical Engineering major.

This brings me to another point-it was also extremely valuable to see everything that goes into qualifying. I feel that when I am an officer, I will be able to empathize with the members of my division who are working on quals much more than if I had not qualified, and will be able to better help them as a result. I've known ever since I joined NROTC that I wanted to serve in the submarine force, and I considered earning my dolphins an investment of time and energy that would allow me to be a better officer once I hit the fleet, and I strongly believe this will be the case.

At any rate, I understand where many of you are coming from, and I appreciate that. Mindless awarding of dolphins hurts everybody. I coveted those dolphins as much as anyone, just not for so long a time.

Be mindful of what a Midshipman says when you ask him where he got his dolphins. My response is always, "I "earned" them while on summer cruise." I worked damn hard to earn the right to wear the mark of a submariner. If you doubt it, ask any crew member of USS OHIO (GOLD) about the kid from MIT with the long last name.

Respectfully submitted,
Mark B. Hertensteiner, MIDN 1/C, USNR, MIT NROTC 

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