New SOBC, same as the Old SOBC.
Ah, SOBC. That wonderful vacation in Groton, CT that you've been promised since day one in the nuclear pipeline. The "break" between the nuc world and the boat. Remember hearing about that place? Well it's gone. Kinda. On the first day they show a powerpoint slide that specifically states, "This is NOT a vacation". Also on that first day you sign agreements stating you will not publish information about SOBC in any public forum, i.e. blogs. Hmm. So we keep this very brief and vague.
The new curriculum presents more material, which is more applicable (advanced), in a shorter amount of time than the old curriculum. That's the semi-bad news. The good news is that the stuff you're learning is "applicable", which after going through some of prototypes is a beautiful thing. Also, at this point you've already made it through power school and one of the prototypes and are probably pretty outstanding at memorizing & regurgitating massive amounts of information. What this means is that while yes, the material is more difficult.. no, you shouldn't have a problem with it and you will still have lots of free time on your hands. The trainers you'll do are a good time and I found the lectures pretty interesting. I guess that's all I can say about that.
Your first stop upon arriving at New London Naval Submarine Base is the base hotel, the Groton Chalet. All SOBC students are required to stay at the chalet to satisfy some contract that was drawn up decades ago requiring a minimum occupancy at all times. Supposedly the chalet used to be kind of a dump. I didn't find that to be the case these days. It's a fully operational hotel with daily cleaning service, little plastic key cards, etc. I'm pretty sure they renovated within the last few years.
You'll check into a decent sized room with a queen sized bed, a flat-screen HDTV, a fairly large mini-fridge, microwave, coffee maker, desk, office chair and another stuffed chair. Every room has a DSL connection that was very reliable the entire time I was there. I believe they also have wireless internet that can be accessed from the lobby. Cleaning staff were very friendly but the front desk staff were hit-and-miss. The lobby also has a very large flatscreen TV that is open for guest use. It has a DVD player attached and a bunch of couches/chairs so we'd go up there and put movies on or watch football games.
Trying to eat in the chalet is sort of a pain. Hardly anyone at SOBC ever visited the galley on base. It's a bit of a walk, uniforms are required during the week, and those who did go had nothing good to say about the food. That leaves you with eating out in town, which can get pricey and unhealthy fast, or eating in your room. The chalet doesn't allow any heating devices in the rooms.. foreman grills, hotplates, etc. I brought my foreman anyways and hid it, but to be honest the smell of cooked chicken stuck around in the room for so long that I gave that up pretty fast. I'd still pull it out for grilled cheese sandwiches every now and then. This leaves you with the microwave as your only friend. I ate a lot of soup, cold cuts, and PB&J's. Augmented with some nights out in town, or a trip to the base Subway, and it's not too bad. Check out Paul's Pasta for some solid fresh made pasta, ravioli, lasagna, or a big slice of spaghetti pie. Pretty good.
Just like a normal hotel, the chalet is pretty expensive. You'll be billed every single week of your stay and the bills start to rack up fast. Unless you've got a ton of buffer in your checking account, a credit card is a must in this situation. We put the charges on a card and were able to pay them off prior to interest accrual. I heard the chalet staff threaten to lock a guy out of his room when he was having a hard time coming up with the money (his words: "you're going to be sleeping in your car tonight, son"). Yikes. Supposedly he didn't want to open up a new credit card account with a mortgage approval pending. If you don't have a card, get one.
The Navy, in its infinite wisdom, pays you back thusly: Per diem is paid in lump-sum fashion in staggered amounts. Within a month or so of checking in you will receive 40% of the total, and a couple of weeks later you'll receive the other 40%. Upon completing SOBC and checking in to your *final duty station*, you'll receive the other 20%. The gap between checking in and receiving your first payment is where some people get stuck, like my friend that I mentioned above. Don't let this be you. Supposedly the reason they dole out the money in this fashion is due to the number of SOBC students who would receive 100% of their per diem in the beginning and quickly blow all of it at the local casino, leaving them with nothing. Don't despair, because your per diem includes allowances for food and whatnot, so at the end of the day you stand to make money (particularly single guys who continue to receive BAH! Cha-ching.). You just need to manage it a little bit.
Day to Day
Like I mentioned earlier, if you play your cards right you should have a good bit of free time on your hands (I had a lot). So, what to do with it? Groton gets a pretty bad rap as being "rotten groton", the boring place that no one wants to be stationed at. This is partially true in that there is no bar scene to speak of, so nightlife is sorely lacking. However there are plenty of restaurants, major retailers, and a nice mall in the area... so there's that. As a lame married guy, I liked it and wouldn't mind being PCS'd here.
Working out is a must in my opinion. You've got nothing else to do, so why not spend an hour or two getting fit before you head to the boat and it all goes downhill. There are two gyms on base. The "man gym" and the "wives gym". Pretty self explanatory. Go to the man gym. It's a warehouse-style building with freeweights and treadmills on one end, and 4 or 5 full basketball courts on the other. There's an indoor track upstairs that is something like 9 laps to the mile. There is also a small lap pool on base which has an underwater speaker playing music, which I found pretty cool. Lastly you can hit the pavement and run. The base is essentially one big hill that terminates at the waterfront, so it's not that great to run around. It's great if you want to do some incline running or to hit some stairs, but it's not ideal for racking up the mileage.
Side note: Behind the chalet there is a massive set of stairs which cut through a wooded area leading up to the branch medical. It's about 150 steps and is perfect if you're looking to do a stair workoutFortunately for jogging, a friend recommended this website to me: JogNewLondon.com and we really enjoyed hitting up a lot of those routes. They're all scenic jogs that gradually increase in distance. Our ultimate goal was to do them all.. we made it to about 6 miles. Oh well.
There are a couple casinos nearby, most notable are Mohegan Sun (really close) and Foxwoods. I don't know how they stack up to other major casinos, but they're popular and were a pretty good time when I went once or twice. Plus, think about how much money you could win!!
One nice thing about Groton is its proximity to NYC and Boston. Heading to the city is the thing to do on the weekends, because why not? NYC is about 2 hrs away by GPS, but closer to 3 hrs in reality, with $6 or so in tolls each way. It's the city, so it's almost always worth it.
Read and Drink in your room
You can also read and/or drink in your room. I polished off several books and several six-packs.. not at the same time.
It's pretty hard not to like SOBC at least a little bit. There's really nothing not to like. Some guys complain of boredom. Yep. Enjoy it while you can, because after this lies the boat.