Presentation at the Naval Submarine League’s Ninth Annual Symposium, June 1991 by Captain Skip Bowman I t is indeed an honor and a pleasure to bring you good news about the most precious resource in the Submarine Force, our people. Intelligent, carefully selected and dedicated, the men and women who man and support our submarines and tenders, will be the most significant factor in the continued success of the Submarine Force, as well as that of the Navy.
Things have changed pretty dramatically over the past few years. Plans laid in the 80’s to provide a modicum of selectivity for CO, XO, and Department Head assignments are coming to fruition just as reductions in force structure are taking us from some 180 crews in the mid-eighties to about 130 crews in the mid-nineties.
As you remember, back in the 60’s and 70’s, the number of submarines increased faster than we could bring people into the program. As a result, Department Head tour lengths and CO/XO tour lengths were in excess of three and four years respectively. Back-to-hack sea tours were the norm and little opportunity for shore duty existed. This climate set the stage for spiraling downward retention, a snowball effect as each officer who left exacerbated the situation for those who stayed. Every officer was needed to fill follow-on sea billets.
Then in December 1980 — the Renaissance. Submariners saw a huge pay raise with significant increases in basic pay, a new continuous submarine pay, variable housing allowance and other special bonus incentives. I was the XO detailer during this time. The pay changes mattered. On road trips I was careful not to suggest that submariners could be bought, but it sure looked like we could be rented for a few years longer. As more and more quality guys stayed in, the submarine career path improved for officers and enlisted, and the spiraling downward retention was halted. More people went ashore. Sea tours were shortened. Overall Submarine Force morale improved and retention was on the upswing.
Furthermore, with improved retention, we were now able to place the right people in the right places such as in NROTC units, the Naval Academy, and in Recruiting Commands, and our officer recruiting improved. The retention snowball began rolling the other direction.
The combination of these factors allowed us to put into place selectivity plans for the late 80’s and 90’s based on a force of around 100 attack boats and 40 strategic submarines.
However, the sweeping political changes in Europe and the political and fiScal pressures here at home to reduce spending are requiring the Navy to reshape its force structure and the way we do business. Instead of 100 attack submarines and 40 strategic submarines, we are streamlining our force to current plans of about 80 attack submarines and 18 TRIDENTs. If we contrast where we are heading today with the projections merely 2 years ago, there is an obvious effect on Commander command opportunity. The force downsizing is providing us with command selectivity somewhat earlier than we had planned and is providing us with needed selectivity down to the Department Head level.
Our officer recruiting goals have traditionally been based on recruiting enough Ensigns to meet Department Head requirements nine years later when the Ensigns have grown into Lieutenant Commanders. These goals also, therefore, had to consider the expected officer retention from commissioning day to the 9 year point.
In September 1979, just prior to the Renaissance that we just discussed, submarine officer retention was hovering around 29% overall. Our officer recruiting goals through the 80’s were based on an assumed improvement in retention to 35%. I am delighted to report to you that even that 35% grossly underestimated the actual officer retention which has reached an historic high of 49%.
Enlisted retention is also healthy and is predicted to stay that way. 1991 first term nuclear retention is 48 percent, compared to 21 percent in 1978.
I attribute this improved retention to a better operating tempo for our submarines, an improved quality of life for our sailors, and a leadership that puts the welfare of our people and their families first. Furthermore, continued strong support for incentive programs such as submarine pay, selective reenlistment bonus, and nuclear officer incentive pays have supported retaining our quality people. Our people know that we are taking care of them, they are happy, and they are staying in.
Throughout these 80’s, submarine officer community planners had been wringing their hands, lamenting “Woe is me, we’re not making goal and we’ll never get the sea tour lengths and sea-shore rotation down to something reasonable – much less will we have sufficient folks to provide needed selectivity at the CO, XO, and Department Head levels.”
Aha! With perfect 20-20 hindsight, and now cranking in the greatly improved retention with the smaller submarine force size, the actual goals for the years shown would have been much smaller – and in fact we actually hove been making goals, and then some, for the past 9 years.
This delta between the actual officer accessions and the revised goal, accounting for unexpectedly high retention and the declining submarine force size, represents officers recruited in excess of planned selectivity and sea tour length reduction. We clearly can establish tour lengths now exactly where we want them and choose the very best to continue on to command. That’s good news– great news in fact- and that’s where we are today.
Before departing the topic of omccr recruiting, I’m also proud to report that we’re continuing to bring in the cream of the crop — these future submarine leaders are extremely attractive to the civilian community and yet we are still able to bring them in. Of note, the average SAT scores for new submarine Ensigns for this year was 1260. This SAT performance ranks our newest officers with the student bodies of the top national universities as reported in the 1991 survey of American colleges and universities conducted by U.S. NEWS and WORLD REPORT.
We are also meeting or exceeding recruiting goals for our submarine white hats. Nearly all enlisted submarine personnel have completed high school with sound math and science backgrounds. Many have also completed numerous college courses or have even earned college degrees. We are taking advantage of the changes in submarine force structure to. be as selective as possible in who we bring in as nuclear submariners.
No longer, now, is every warm body required to march lockstep to Department Head, XO and CO. No more back-to-hack sea tours with no hope for a breather. No more 4 1/2 year Department Head tour and 4 year XO tours. While we still have manning shortfalls ashore on the staffs and in training commands, we have sufficient officers to fully man our sea billets and be selective in whom we send.
All of this says that we now have selection flexibility to send only the best of the qualified officers to Department Head, Executive Officer, or Commanding Officer. Command and Executive Officer screening boards, composed of senior submariners, began actually screening submariners to select the best 3 years ago. This year we had our first ever Department Head screening board. All of these screening boards select officers based on their potential for future service based on an officer’s documented performance record.
In future years there will be more officers who will not screen to be Executive Officer or Commanding Officer. Remembering that we stopped recruiting the General Submarine Officers in 1985, we will stlll need these officers who do not screen to fill the billets that the senior dieseVGeneral Submarine Officers used to fill. We have developed a viable career path for these talented officers to utilize their services until they are eligible for retirement.
As we get leaner and meaner, our submariners are standing out more and more from the crowd. Our officers are successful and are recognized for their success. Our promotion opportunity when compared to other communities is better. When we assign these officers outside the submarine community, such as to Joint Duty, their reputation, professionalism and performance on the job result in requests for another submariner when it is time to rotate that officer from that command.
On the enlisted side, our submarine sailors lead the pack in selection to First Class Petty Officer and Chief Petty Officer and get there earlier than their contemporaries. Ashore, these submariners enjoy the same reputation as the officers.
For the submarine career path for officers today, we have tour lengths right where we want them and are enjoying increased opportunity for shore duty. Our Commander Command and Major Command opportunity is higher than any other unrestricted line community. Our officers are being assigned to diverse and career broadening assignments. Today we have 106 submariners at Post Graduate School, 4 submariners pursuing Olmstead Scholarship Program degrees, and 5 officers involved in the MIT Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Twenty-eight percent of all submariners before the last XO screening board had masters degrees. Submariners are assigned to Carrier and Cruiser/Destroyer Group Staffs, to overseas and Washington Joint Duty assignments, and in the Material Acquisition field. At the same time, we are sending top people to the assignments we traditionally have filled, such as Instructors, to Submarine Staffs, and in the Nuclear Propulsion Program.
The quality of the enlisted personnel manning our submarines is the best ever experienced by the community. Ashore, our submariners fill key instructor billets at Nuclear Power School, Prototype and Submarine School, as well as vital billets in our Tenders. Submarine expertise is highly sought in recruiting and other special programs.
Now I want to tell you some more about the type of people we are bringing in and the demands we place upon them. In the officer class of 1991, just finishing the Naval Academy and college and enroute to Nuclear Power School, we have an amazing assortment of people.
I already told you their SAT scores– but that’s expected of Nucs. Equally important, we have officers who were varsity team leaders for their universities in Football, Baseball, Wrestling, Lacrosse, Gymnastics, Track and Crew.
Besides being leaders in Midshipmen organizations at the Naval Academy or at NROTC Units, they were leaders at their universities in various clubs, societies, and in fraternities. They received awards for their outstanding performance and for their participation in the community. They were Little League coaches, involved in Boy Scouts of America and helped out with the Special Olympics Program.
These new officers are great guys, not geeks who only studied to get good grades. They earned top grades, because they wouldn’t have been accepted into our business otherwise, but they were active as well. In all respects, these guys are super – you would be proud to go to sea with every single one. The same high quality individuals join the enlisted ranks of our submarine force. Just last month I had the opportunity to address the graduating enlisted and officer classes and their families at the Navy Nuclear Power School. After my talk, the mother of one of the graduating students approached me and asked what she could do to prepare her 7 year old now so be can become part of this program when he finishes high school.
This type of question highlights the superior reputation our community enjoys and the true patriotism felt by our young people. I looked these kids in the eyes and shook every one of their hands. These guys are ready to hit it. They’re excited and fired up.
After completing the training pipeline, they go onboard our submarines and excel. MMl(SS) Mark Spoon, Leading Auxiliarmen on USS TUNNY, typifies our high quality submarine sailors. Last month he was recognized as the Pacific Fleet Sailor of the Year. Closer to home, in Washington, ETl(SS) Richard Vandermark, recently attached to USS BERG ALL and currently assigned as the Assistant Submarine Enlisted Community Manager, was selected as this year’s OPNAV Sailor of the Year.
These guys know they face a tough road. The submarine officer qualification process has not become any easier. From the day he steps into the classroom at Nuclear Power School until he completes his command tour, our new submariner is subjected to the fire hose treatment with which you are all familiar, but which acts to teach us to think quickly and decisively when all is not going according to Hoyle. For the officers and nuclear rating enlisteds it begins with:
- Nuclear Power School: Six months of concentrated study, equivalent to a Masters Degree in Nuclear Engineering, covering theoretical reactor principles. Subjects include: Calculus, Physics, Heat Transfer, Electrical Engineering, Material Science, Reactor Operations and Reactor Plant Systems. Truly a difficult and concentrated, but necessary program. Then,
- Prototype Training: Six months of hands-on training on an operating land based reactor. Here, our officer and enlisted personnel learn those watchstanding principles and routines which will serve them well as they report to their ships. Then for the officers,
- Submarine Officer Basic Course: A streamlined version of what you and I went through, with 13 weeks of study in Submarine Basics, concentrating on extensive use of the Diving Trainer and Attack Center. And it doesn’t stop when he reports to his first submarine. Usually he will begin with qualification as
- Engineering Officer of the Watch: A repeat of what he did at Prototype but on the ship’s specific plant and in less time. Then qualification in,
- Submarines: To include demonstrating expertise as Diving Officer of the Deck surfaced and submerged. At about the two year point onboard, our now Lieutenant tackles
- Engineer Officer Qualification: An in depth review of nuclear principles culminating with a two day exam at Naval Reactors which includes a four hour written exam and three oral interviews. This qualification certifies that the officer has the technical knowledge to serve as Chief Engineer on a nuclear powered warship. And finally for junior officers assigned to our strategic missile boats, qualification on
- Strategic Weapons Systems: A new breed of cat for the Nucs. With the shifting to an all nuclear wardroom, this qualification prepares our guys for assignment as Strategic Weapons Officer, that job that in the past was expertly and professionaJiy filled by our General Submarine Officers, and is now being fiJied by nuclear trained officers.
These rigorous requirements are in addition to his watchstanding and Division Officer requirements, as weJI as many hours a week of continuing training. On the enlisted side, things have not changed much since you were there. Submarine sailors are still getting checked out on every ship system, completing watchstation practical factors at sea and as always, striving toward the award of the coveted Silver Dolphins.
As you can see, we still demand a lot from our people. These capable, highly trained warriors complete these requirements enthusiastically and are ready to take on challenging missions that we could only dream about. The Submarine Force has taken on new roles and missions across the spectrum from monitored peace to full war, including special warfare team insertion, search and rescue of downed aircrews, strike warfare (both land and ship), offensive mining, and drug interdiction.
Thirteen of our attack submarines were on station in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, providing a significant array of multi-mission capabilities to operational battle group commanders. Prior to and during hostilities, eight attack submarines were involved in surveillance and reconnaissance operations. They also escorted and provided indication and warning for the carrier battle groups as they transited to the Persian Gulf arena. Throughout the entire operation, submariners provided invaluable intelligence in support of the United Nations embargo of Iraq. After hostilities began, an additional five submarines operated under the tactical command of Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Two of these submarines, USS PITI’SBURGH commanded by Chip Griffiths and USS LOUISVILLE skippered by Frank Stewart, conducted submarine launched cruise missile attacks against Iraq. These missions resulted in the first submarine missiles being launched in war in the history of the Submarine Force.
Today, 28 of our attack submarines are on station in support of national objectives around the world and arc providing their broad range of capabilities to operational commanders. Our strategic submarines have completed over 2900 patrols in executing the most successful military mission in our nation’s history. Today, over 15 strategic submarine crews are on patrol.
All of these guys, attack boat sailors and strategic submariners, come and go, day after day, month after month without hoopla or fanfare – without CNN interviews with wives and children over missed birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, and funerals. Submariners have helped keep the real peace for the last 30 years – we have to remember this deterrent force when anyone speaks of the downfall of the Soviet System in Eastern Europe. Let me refer to a letter sent to COMSUBPAC nearly SO years ago:
We, who sutvived WW/1 and were privileged to rejoin our loved ones at home, salute those gallant officers and men of our submarines, both those who returned home with us and those who lost their lives in that long stmggle. We shall never forget that it was our submariners that held the lines against the enemy while our fleet replaced losses and repaired wounds.
C. W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral USN
Our heritage has depended on continuing to select gallant officers and men for the Submarine Force. I am here today to tell you that the officers and men of today’s Submarine Force continue to serve in the proud tradition of the gallant men in World War Two. They continue to serve with pride and determination.