Command of a modem submarine has to be one of the best jobs in the entire Navy. Men don’t join the Navy to be division officers or to qualify as Engineering Officer of the Watch or Officer of the Deck; they join because they want to be in charge. They want to be the man who makes the decisions, who stands on the bridge with the wind whipping through his hair, to be the man other men tum to in time of need, waiting for his guidance that tells them the right thing to do. On a warship this man is the Captain, and if evecy junior officer isn’t looking foiWard to the day he can take command, . watching the Captain’s evecy move, and mentally filing away for future reference the good and not so good things their current Captain does, then they’re not farsighted enough, and probably won’t make good Captains themselves. They need to quickly get their beads out of their short term holes and start looking and planning for their futures.
Submarine command is a great experience, and the submarine officer career path, as it has evolved over the past 37 years of nuclear powered submarines, is ideally suited to train evecy junior officer for command-at-sea. An officer’s first at-sea tour is a learning and qualifying experience. He qualifies as Engineering Officer of the Watch, Diving Officer of the Watch and Officer of the Deck. He learns how to tactically employ and tight his ship, and how to fix it when it breaks. He qualifies in submarines, earning his gold dolphins, qualifies as nuclear engineer, rotates through about three different division officer jobs, and in the process, learns not only bow to be a good division officer, but also what the different department heads do. He may also develop a preference for what department head job he’d like to fill.
At the end of this first tour, which normally lastS about three years, it’s time for shore duty. Nuclear Power School, Prototype, and Submarine School aU need instructors. If an officer wants to go to graduate school, fine, this is the time to do it; and if he doesn’t want to go to the Naval Postgraduate School, he can volunteer for instructor duty at an NROTC unit and earn his Master’s degree on the side. Overseas shore duty? This is the ideal time, because there are jobs for Ueutenants almost everywhere, and if married, his children probably aren’t old enough that he should worry about changing schools. In an increasingly competitive and shrinking Navy, it’s important for junior officers to work closely with their detailers to find the job that’s right for them, and that meets the needs of the Navy.
Shore duty is followed by six months of preparation to return to submarine duty as a department head, at the Submarine Officers Advanced Course. It’s an excellent review of many of the things an officer should have learned during his first tour, with increased emphasis on the tactical employment of the ship. Since submarine department heads are the primary assistants to the Commanding Officer and the senior Officers of the Deck, this course does an outstanding job preparing them for the responsible jobs they’re about to undertake.
The department head tours available to a submarine line officer are Navigator/Operations Officer, Engineer Officer, and Weapons/Combat Systems Officer. The standard career path has traditionally only allowed time for one three year department head tour. Several years ago there was an opportunity for some officers to serve split department head tours, essentially two different department head tours of two years each. There was significant merit in this program because it gave each officer broader experience, but in a smaller Navy, three officers serving 4 years as department heads (12 man years in billet) take up the same billets that could be used by four officers serving 3 year department head tours (the same 12 man years in hillel) A new initiative has been started allowing some officers to serve split department head tours on the same ship, but not exceeding three years total tour length. This will save PCS transfer funds, time, and do away with the requirement to requalify when switching ships. The department head tour, regardless of which department, gives the officer a chance to demonstrate his leadership and organizational skills while supervising three or four divisions and division officers. The department heads interact with the Captain and Executive Officer several times a day, and are actively involved in running the ship. Also, since they are that much closer to the Captain, it gives them a better chance to watch what the Captain does, find out why he makes the decisions he does, and file more lessons learned away for future reference.
After a department head tour each officer has the option of proceeding directly to Executive Officer, and then taking his second shore duty tour, or of taking shore duty and then going as Executive Officer. The advantages of going directly to Executive Officer and then shore duty are: tactical currency right from the start of the officer’s Executive Officer tour, a refreshing two years of shore duty before taking command, and the more responsible shore duty available for senior Lieutenant Commanders or junior Commanders will allow an officer to broaden his horizons prior to going to command.
The Executive Officer tour is an officer’s chance to start running the ship. He is the principal advisor to the Command· ing Officer, the second in command, the ship’s training officer, and he’s responsible for the day to day routine of the ship. Whenever there’s something happening on the ship, he should be at the scene of the action. While getting the ship underway he ought to be topside as a safety observer, or on the bridge with the Captain, getting the right perspective for when he’s in command. H there’s an evolution like weapons loading in progress, he ought to periodically inspect what’s going on, then stop by and share his observations with the Captain. He needs to ensure that the training and other evolutions scheduled in the Plan of the Day actually happen. He gains insight and perspective by consulting with the Captain several times a day, but if he’s always right next to the Captain, be’s probably in the wrong place. Although the Executive Officer is also in charge of the ship’s administration (paperwork), that’s not what he should be spending the majority of his time on. This is his last chance to train for command, and to do that he needs to be out and about on the ship all the time.
As I was walking across the ceremonial brow when I took command of USS PHILADELPHIA (SSN 690) in May 1989, I was amazed that I felt no apprehension whatsoever about taking command: it was the natural culmination of years of training and preparation. I’d served on four other submarines, carefully watching and learning from seven Commanding Officers. I’d bad five different divisions during my junior officer tour, I’d served both as Engineer and Navigator/Cps officer, and bad a very rewarding Executive Officer tour. I’d served on both SSNs and an SSBN, and my shore duty tours bad given me significant insight into international affairs, and into the inner working of the Navy in Washington, DC. The system had worked just the way it was supposed to, and bad produced a confident, competent Commanding Officer.
If command of a modem submarine isn’t the best job in the whole Navy, I’d sure like to know what’s better. The Submarine Force bas developed an outstanding program to train officers for command, and it starts at the beginning of an officer’s fint tour in submarines. If each and every junior officer isn’t looking foiWBrd to the day he can take command, those of us in command, or who have been in command, haven’t done our jobs right. We expect a lot of our junior officers, and we owe it to them to make sure they have the right goal in sight.