top of page

Electrician's Mate Second Class (SS) Paul Schmidt

Electrical Division, USS Bergall (SSN-667)

A stocky country boy lowers his head as he walked down the passageway, getting back into his section of the boat after a brief slumber. He passes their store of coffee, stowed away beside boxes of Copenhagen. Returning to E-DIV, he got his tools ready to maintain anything he and the rest of his crew needed to stay alive, which was just about everything from the nuclear reactor all the way down to the toaster.

Paul Robert Schmidt Esq. was born on June 3rd, 1967 in Virginia but grew up in California, Wyoming, and Montana working part time as both his school’s bus driver and at a nearby Lakota Sioux reservation clinic. He graduated from Worland Senior High School in Worland, Wyoming in 1985 before attending Montana State University in Bozeman for a year. Following his stint as a MSU Bobcat, he moved out to California to live with relatives on the golden coast working as a food runner at the famed Spenger’s Food Grotto.

In 1988, he enlisted into the US Navy in Oakland, California, beginning a six-year career that would take him to both sides of America, Europe, and the Arctic. Schmidt went into the navy as an Electricians Mate attending boot camp at Recruit Training Station Great Lakes, Illinois (or RTS Great Mistakes as some sailors call it) before A-School at the United States Naval Nuclear Power School in Orlando, Florida. Here he learned the basics to nuclear energy such as reactor principles, thermodynamics, and hydraulics. 

He was a good test taker and after a few “Mando-40” sessions studying the course material, he graduated 138 in his class of nearly 500. From here he was transferred to the Naval Power Training Unit in Idaho Falls, Idaho to train on the base’s S5W nuclear power plant. After completing some of the toughest programs the United States military had to offer he was put into the submarine fleet and joined the USS Bergall (SSN-667) which had just been reassigned to Norfolk, Virginia. The USS Bergall was a Sturgeon-class fast attack submarine built by General Dynamic in New London, Connecticut. The Sturgeon-class was the workhorse of the American subsurface fleet with a length of 292 feet, beam of 32 feet, and draft of just under 29 feet. She was equipped with a S5W Nuclear Power Plant, a fifth-generation reactor that was the pride of America’s nuclear fleet.

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

July 1990 – June 1991

Arriving to the Bergall, then Electricians Mate 3rd Class (EM3) was assigned to the boat’s Electrical Division, or E-DIV as it was referred to as. Immediately, he proved himself as a hard worker and attentive sailor. He was, according to the commanding officer of the USS Bergall, an “excellent sailor and technician aboard the vessel.” At that time, she was on a workup to be deployed to the Arctic. Many evaluations and training events like Special Warfare Operations and Tactical Readiness Evaluations, and Selected Restriction Readiness Evaluations were on the docket while the Bergall was in drydock.

EM3 Schmidt demonstrated himself with the utmost professionalism and dedication to his post. As the E-DIV Repair Parts Petty Officer (RPPO) he always maintained an ample supply of spare parts and was directly responsible for the success of the boat’s SRA. He also became qualified in many roles aboard the Bergall as well as earning his ‘Dolphins.’ EM3 Schmidt qualified as an electrical operator, charging electrician, shutdown reactor operator, and also became certified in basic engineering. His dolphins were awarded on August 23rd, 1990 by Commander Michael “Smiling Mike” Riordan and given to him in the standard navy way: pinned on in blood. The badge was punched into his chest by his peers and shipmates, symbolizing the brotherhood submariners share.

July 1991 – March 1992

Rough seas and lots of work laid in store for the Bergall and EM3 Schmidt, as well as a lot of reward too. For instance, EM3 Schmidt was promoted to Electricians Mate 2nd Class (EM2) on July 4th, 1991. The USS Bergall made two deployments in this timeframe, the first between June 10th – August 5th, 1991 and the second between January 8th – March 31st, 1992. These deployments were referred to as ‘arctic runs’ by sailors as they traveled north in the Atlantic Ocean to reach the Arctic Sea and the polar ice cap.
EM2 Schmidt stood watch as the electricity operator while on the two runs and the shutdown reactor operator in-port. Along with acting as the E-DIV RPPO, he also became the Hazardous Material Petty Officer, Mercury Controls Petty Officer, and stood as a throttleman from time to time. The Mercury Controls Petty Officer was in charge of monitoring mercury levels in the boat which was used in all lightbulbs aboard as well as restricting any mercury-containing contraband like vintage thermometers and giving educational lectures on the dangers of mercury. Throttlemen were a vital part of the boat’s inner workings, getting the ship to turn to exactly what the commanding officer ordered and to keep the boat’s speed steady.

During these two arctic runs, the Bergall suffered damage to multiple subsystems, requiring intensive repairs to be made. Regardless of the time of day, EM2 Schmidt responded to nearly every emergency. He played a vital role in repairing the main condensate pump variable speed controller, which kept adequate oxygen supplied to the entire boat. He also helped to repair the diesel generator voltage regulator and the trim and drain pump. EM2 Schmidt repaired all of these while at-sea, which allowed the USS Bergall to successfully complete its missions under the polar ice cap. For his efforts, he received a meritorious citation from the commander of the 6th Submarine Fleet.

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

April 1992 – March 1993

More responsibility and another arctic run earned EM2 Schmidt more accolades and showed his true grit as a sailor. Sent north between October 20th, 1992 – March 8th, 1993 EM2 Schmidt distinguished himself as a first-rate technician, repairing the USS Bergall’s oxygen generator cell. Had he not been able to repair it, they would have had to return to port. In a conversation with CDR Riordan, he explained that EM2 Schmidt had to replace the cell without vendor support due to Department of Defense spending cuts following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Due to his expertise in the oxygen generator system, he was named as the oxygen generator technician.

He earned the Navy Expeditionary Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, Battle Efficiency Ribbon, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, a letter of commendation, and qualified as the E-DIV quality inspector as during this leg of his service. His citation applauded his ingenuity in stressful conditions and for his quick work on the USS Bergall’s oxygen generator cell.

April 1993 – January 1994

As his term of service came to an end, EM2 Schmidt continued to help his crewmates in the dockyards and aboard the boat. He trained junior sailors to take up various positions in E-DIV as well as proved vital to the timely replacement of a pressurizer heater. On his off hours, he studied remotely at Regents University earning an Associates Degree in Science. Around this time, EM2 Schmidt had met a local waitress and the love of his life, Audra, and were married in December of 1993, a month before he was discharged from the navy. They settled into a condo near the beach, ready to take on the challenges of post-military life and years of blissful marriage.

Sea Stories from the Nuclear Navy

Sailors are notorious for having great stories from their time upon the seven seas and EM2 Schmidt was no different. The first is when during a patrol, they had to surface and evacuate a crewman. One of the sailors aboard the Bergall, a cook from the American Deep South, was in hysterics due to the passing of the family matriarch. He was escorted off of the Bergall in a Scandinavian fjord and brought back to land via rubber dinghies.

While docked in England, EM2 Schmidt and other members of the boat’s E-DIV were ashore working on shore cables. Shore cables were used by the navy to allow the safe shutdown of a ship’s reactor. He scrounged and demanded he and his fellow ‘nukes’ be given jackets due to the cold and rainy conditions of England. They received old army jackets, fresh from storage and of 1950s vintage. He took that jacket when he left the navy.

Another item taken was a Model 636 3/8” drill. Aboard the Bergall, many crewmen belonged to the Tool of the Day Club, an organization which prided itself on the pilfering of government supplies to square up what they felt was owed to them. During a period of time in the shipyard before an arctic run, EM2 Schmidt was inspecting a portion of the ship’s systems when he found that the Reactor Controls Division (RC-DIV) had left the large drill unguarded in an unlocked locker. Thinking to himself ‘I don’t trust them with this nor should they have this,’ he took the drill and stuffed it into his seabag, taking the holy grail of his large collection of tools. Along with the drill, he also took sockets, screwdrivers, ratchets, calipers, and anything else a sailor could get their hands on.

The last story deals with the unspoken rule of ‘never touch another man’s towel.’ When returning from his shift in the reactor room, EM2 Schmidt prepared to catch a quick shower, getting his soap and towel. He was stumped though as he realized the only towel he had was missing. Enraged by the theft, he begins to holler in the berthing, demanding the towel returned. When no one offered it then, he took a monkey wrench and began to slam it against any metal surface he could, demanding it back. A friend, jumping in to stop the rampage and took EM2 Schmidt to help him repair something to cool off. When he came back, his towel was returned, folded neatly on his bunk.

February 1994 – Today

Following his time in the navy, EM2 Schmidt took up many jobs and did many things. He worked as a sandpaper maker in Virginia Beach, worked for Dell in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and worked in a dingy marina. He graduated from Old Dominion University in 1998 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology before attending the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary. He commuted every day while working a job out of the classroom, preparing for a new career to support his growing family.

Passing the Virginia State Bar exam in 2000, he went to work initially at Stackhouse, Smith, & Nexson before going to Poole, Brooke, & Plumblee where he has found rewarding yet demanding work for nearly 20 years. Besides becoming an accomplished attorney Paul Schmidt has a long history of serving his community. He has been a member of the Environmental Law Section of the Virginia State Bar, Administrative Law Section of the Virginia State Bar, Norfolk & Portsmouth Bar Association, Environmental Law Institute, and the Virginia Waste Management Board. Beyond this, he also was the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Board for the City of Virginia Beach.

He now lives on a quiet quarter acre about 16 feet above sea level, grilling, enjoying his fire pit, and watching the English Soccer league.



bottom of page