Navy Engineers, Who’s the Best?

U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Steven King (Released) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s time again to open up the email bag and answer one of your questions in such a way that you will actually be less knowledgeable when we’re done.

Today’s question comes from Patrick in San Diego.  He writes, “Who are your most and least favorite engineers onboard a ship and why?”

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and assume that Patrick is an engineer, because, until something breaks, only engineers care about engineers.  This can be seen on the chart below:

This is a tough question to answer simply.  There are many different kinds of engineers and different platforms in which they work.  Before I answer this question, we must first look at the engineers as a whole.

I should make a clarification for any civilian or Air Force readers.  When I say engineer, I am not referring to scientific professionals who design and build equipment.  We have them in the Navy too, but they are called EDOs or engineering duty officers.  EDOs are a fun bunch, the type of people who would consider an evening solving equations as a wild night.  Engineers, in Navy parlance, are mechanics, electricians, and plumbers/fire fighters (yep we group these two together).

Typically called snipes, engineers can be divided into two camps:  pit snipes and fresh air snipes.  Pit snipes are the engine technicians (ENs, MMs, and GSMs).  Fresh air snipes are the electricians (EM, GSE) and repair types (DC, HT).

Pit snipes keep the engines running (you know, those things that move the ship) and spend most of their time in the engine room (the pit).  These guys are responsible for pretty much every piece of mechanical equipment aboard.  They are rarely seen topside, and never without a rag, ear plugs, and a generous coating of grease.  You don’t want to make the pit snipes angry.  They have the ability to turn off the a/c or water to your berthing compartment.

Fresh air snipes are a little different.  Their time in the engine room is limited to routine maintenance and catastrophic events (like an ATG visit).  They spend most of their time topside in the fresh air.  They’re like day-walker vampires.  They work in the daylight like topsiders (non-engineers) but make no mistake about it, given the chance they will suck out your blood and then cut your unauthorized electrical cable.

In addition to pit snipes and fresh air snipes there are a few unique engineers I should note.  Sailors who work in the nuclear field are also technically engineers.  They are normally found on submarines, aircraft carriers, and in comic book stores playing Dungeons and Dragons.  These are some of the smartest, if socially awkward, sailors you will ever meet.  Their generous enlistment bonuses also make them some of the best paid in the Navy.

The machinery repairmen are also a unique breed.  One of the smallest ratings, MRs are capable of fabricating anything required to repair any equipment.  In this role they are incredibly underutilized in the fleet, mostly engraving signs and placards or duplicating keys.  They are technically fresh air snipes, but they are the freshest of all the fresh air snipes, barely engineers.  I have always had a soft spot for them, since QMs (my rating) don’t really fit in anywhere either.

And let’s not forget the ICs.  Interior communication electricians are the ship’s telephone repairmen.  They are also engineers.  Except that they are not.  Or are they?  Nobody can keep these guys straight.  ICs started out as engineers since they work with electricity like the EMs, but as their gear got much more technologically advanced they began to morph into an electronics technician who fixes phones.  Several years back the Navy officially moved ICs from the engineering community to combat systems.  So that solved that problem, except that on older ships the ICs continued to work with and considered themselves engineers.  In the end I have no idea how they should be classified and am just going to move on.

So which engineer is my favorite, as Patrick asks?  That’s really a tough one.  Personally I have had many friends who are engineers.  On the subject of specific engineering ratings my affection level tends to be in relation to how much I need their skills at a particular moment.

Obviously this can vary quite a bit, depending on the day (or even the minute).  Thinking back the engineer I needed the most it would probably be the electricians.  On the rare occurrences that I had to tag out electrical equipment, they did it for me.  Also, they may have saved my life on several occasions when I was messing with equipment I shouldn’t have been touching.

But I can’t just say that electricians are my favorites.  Mostly because it might offend the other engineers who all have access to large hammers and wrenches and who also know how to hide a body.  So I’d just like to say that all engineering ratings are my favorite.

Unfortunately, Patrick also asked for my least favorite engineer.  Again, this is tough, because of the wrench and hammer thing.  So I’m going to have to go with the nuclear technicians.  I’ll just have to hope that none of their World of Warcraft talent can be used in the real world.  I’m sure that may break their hearts but their $140,000 bonus will console them.

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