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MEETING THE FITNESS NEEDS OF THE SUBMARINE SAILOR

The ability of a warship to carry out its missions is directly related to the capability of her crew to stand alert watches, to properly react to unexpected circumstances, and to demonstrate these traits on a daily basis — on long deployments. This is certainly true on a submarine. Every watch on an underway submarine plays an important part in meeting the mission of the submarine. With dwindling acoustic advantage and faster torpedoes, a mental or physical lapse of even one crew member on watch during wartime might spell disaster for the submarine. Even in peacetime missions, the rigors of a three-section watch biJI combined with the many training, administrative, and maintenance duties of a submarine crew make it tough to stand a proper watch.

It is generally accepted that human beings function with more stamina, efficiency, and accuracy in a demanding environment if they are in good physical condition. Recognizing this, a submarine watch stander performs better at his station if he keeps his body in the same good working order as he keeps his mind. Thus, one would expect the submarine force to maintain the highest standards for physical fitness. Submariners after all, claim to be an elite group of highly trained professionals — a claim that is valid, only if we maintain both our minds and bodies in the best condition possible.

However, if one were to examine the individuals who make up our submarine force today, it would be discovered that this could not be further from the truth. One of the first things noticed on a quick personnel inspection is the large number of overweight sailors– with “pot bellies,” popular among even the youngest crew members. The crew as a whole seems to suffer from too little exercise and too many runs to the ice cream machine. What seems absurd is that many of these sailors, both enlisted and officers report aboard their first submarine in this condition. All have passed the minimum Navy standards for body fat and physical fitness, but the standards are anything but rigid and are not a true minimum for physical fitness. For example: one must go 1.5 miles in 15 minutes – that’s only six miles per hour, little more than walking speed. Also, if one’s neck is proportionately as fat as his waistline, he will measure less than the 22% body fat minimum. In f~ct, the records of the Submarine Command’s Fitness Coordinator show that few submarine crew members score in the “excellent” or “outstanding’ categories while far too many only meet the minimum standards for a “satisfactory.”

A “fitness” inspection of the submarine force also reveals a large number of sailors who smoke. During underways, cigarette smoke literally permeates the air — tasking the scrubbers and burners, and making it uncomfortable for nonsmokers. In the close confines of a submarine, cigarettes affect the health not only of the smoker but also the crew members who work around smokers. The public is aware that ¬∑cigarette smoking is a health hazard, but it still continues to remain a health problem among sailors. Of course, many of the smokers onboard submarines already had the habit before they reported aboard — while some acquired it during their basic training.

Despite relatively low physical fitness standards, submarine crews have for years been conducting successful peacetime submarine deployments without crew members failing physically.

Yet are we prepared for the physical efforts that will be required to fight a modem submarine battle? We have put too much emphasis on the mental aspects of submarine warfare and have probably underestimated the physical demands. It should be recalled that in World War IT, submarine attacks often required the crew to stay awake for many hours and exhaustion resulted in many fighting problems. Also that only the superb fitness of a few crew members was instrumental in “saving the boat” during battle. Today, submarine warfare is undergoing a transition in which the expected time between enemy detection and torpedo firing is becoming shorter and shorter. Submarine warfare is beginning to take on characteristics similar to “dog fighting” in air battles. Should war break out, SSNs could be found in melee warfare – in which quick reaction, concentrated effort and putting the weapon on target first should determine the survivor. Murphy’s Law indicates that such a battle would occur at the end of a long and stressful watch. The submarine crew most physically and mentally alert should hold a distinct edge. (It should be recalled moreover how Frank Leahy, the football coach at Notre Dame during the 1940s said “Fatigue makes cowards out of all of us.”)

Certainly damage control efforts greatly tax a submarine crew’s physical reactions and endurance and may be critical in determining the ultimate survivor in sub against sub engagements.

The Navy has done little to physically prepare the submarine sailor for a transition to war. With a work day that is already too full in port, there is not a regimented, commandsupported daily physical fitness program for all hands onboard submarines, and the physical readiness of the sailor at sea is scarcely considered when designing U.S. submarines or preparing them for long underways. The crew must fend for itself to stay physically fil Submarine training and operations however are far better oriented to provide mental fitness.

To help solve the physical readiness problem, following basic training, with new recruits filtered through one or more service schools before . entering the fleet, physical fitness programs in each one of these schools could help ensure submariners with improved physical readiness. Such programs should establish better physical standards and educate submariners to maintain these standards. (A physical fitness session could easily be added at the beginning or at the end of the daily classroom schedule.) The fitness program should include an education on maintaining oneself in good physical condition during both underway and in port periods. Being especially tough on new recruits during the service school period should establish good habits and high physical standards before a recruit ever reaches his first submarine. Submarine officers might also be expected to establish nothing less than the highest personal standards for physical fitness and to actively set the example for the rest of the crew.

To follow through on this program, fitness equipment including stationary bicycles and rowing machines should be added to the list of required equipment onboard all submarines. At present, it takes a few crew members who are fitness enthusiasts to purchase their own equipment and get permission from the Commanding Officer to carry such equipment on board. Most portable exercise machines can be easily stored for quick use. During an underway period, fifteen to twenty minutes of rowing on a portable rowing machine or pedaling on a stationary bike along with several rounds of push-ups and sit-ups is all that would be required to maintain a good standard of physical fitness, if done on a daily basis. Skipping an occasional meal should also help keep a crew member slim and more fit.

The submarine force is being short changed by not maintaining high standards of physical readiness for her submarine officers and men. There is thus a need to take positive steps to correct the crew’s physical deficiencies.

Lieutenant W. J. Flynn, USN

Naval Submarine League

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