Any visitor to one of our nuclear submarines is over.1″”\.. whelmed by the technology and complexity of the ship, is amazed by the compact and cramped spaces, and comes away from the visit with one constant and lasting impression – the extremely high quality of the people serving in submarines. From seaman to captain, submariners come across as articulate professionals and outstanding examples of the quality of the youth in America.
The quality of our submariner today reflects the investment that we have placed in training and qualification. The Submarine Force training programs are the best and are the envy of the rest of the Navy. There is no need to go into the history of the development of our outstanding training, but clearly Admiral Rickover had a significant influence. From the beginning of the Nuclear Power Program, Admiral Rickover placed a great deal of emphasis on individualized training that was carefuJJy structured and based upon mastering the fundamentals of science and mathematics. His penchant for exceJJence has had a dramatic impact on the quality of all training that we conduct in the Submarine Force today, from formalized classroom instruction to shipboard seminars. Involvement of aJJ hands in training, from the Commanding Officer on down, has become standard and is the accepted norm throughout the submarine force.
Our quality enlisted and officer personnel in submarines are the product of the exceptional training programs that have been in effect since the 1950’s, but there is another side to this story. The quality of the input into this magnificent training pipeline must also be considered. aearly, Admiral Rickover concentrated a great deal of his own personal time on this aspect of the problem in his personal interview and selection of officers for nuclear power training. His standards for acceptance of officers were extremely high, and for good reason too, as the nuclear training program was, and still is, an extremely difficult academic challenge. As we entered the 60’s and shifted to the direct input officer, greater emphasis was placed on the academic credentials of the individual in college or the Naval Academy. Engineers and those with majors in hard science were preferred. By the early 70’s, it was clear that USNA and NROTC could not meet the demands of the growing nuclear power program and Recruiting Command was tasked to provide an ever increasing number of officer candidates. By the late 70’s, recruiting had met the challenge with the Nuclear Power Officer Candidate (NUPOC) program and during the 80’s over 40 percent of the officers entering the nuclear power training pipeline were NUPOCs.
Extremely high selection standards were established for the NUPOC program, and once firmly established on the college campuses, this program has been extremely successful. Although the typical NUPOC enters the Navy with considerably less knowledge of Navy tradition and lore than his NROTC or USNA counterparts, this disadvantage is rapidly overcome during the training pipeline, and by the time they reach the fleet, any notions of 90 day wonders have been long forgotten. The quality input of officers to Nuclear Power School has gotten better each year, the academic demands of the training pipeline are more stringent and as a result, the quality of the nuclear trained submarine officer continues to remain high.
What of the enlisted submariner? Have there been parallels in the recruiting and training of enlisted nucs? What about the other ratings in submarines? Are there any special recruiting efforts for enlisted submariners? Just as with the officer, an enormous effort has gone into the recruiting of quality individuals for our enlisted submarine force. The story begins with the beginning of the all-volunteer force in the early 70’s. Navy recruiting, during the draft era, depended largely upon volunteers who were trying to avoid being drafted into the Army, and so they enlisted in the Navy. The Submarine Force received more than its fair share of the quality from these volunteers, particularly the nuclear power program, as many had several years in college or had college degrees, and they saw the nuclear power program as a way of building on this background. This phenomenon was also very evident in all the technical programs in submarines; e.g. sonarmen, fire control technicians, and electronics technicians.
When the draft ended, there was considerable apprehension as to whether the Navy could sustain a strong technological base in the enlisted community. Without a draft forcing more educated men into the Navy, it was not clear that we could man our ever increasing technically sophisticated Navy. Several manpower studies were undertaken. Many of these studies were negative toward our expanding nuclear submarine force. One study in particular questioned our ability to man the rest of the Navy technical ratings given the draw on quality demanded by the Nuclear Power Program. This study was designed to make the case for fewer nuclear ships and submarines since we would be unable to man them. Needless to say, history has borne out the fallacy of this particular study. AJthough the quality manpower pool is not limitless, there are sufficient quality personnel who possess strong technical skills and are interested in joining the Navy.
For the past 20 years, special emphasis has been placed on recruiting for the Nuclear Field Program. In order to promote the Nuclear Field Program, we utilize high quality nuclear trained enlisted submariners who have volunteered for a tour in recruiting. Typically these are First Class Petty Officers or junior Chief Petty Officers with 7 to 10 years of service. Bright and articulate with a great deal of enthusiasm and pride in their Navy, they are assigned as Nuclear Field Coordinators in one of the 41 recruiting districts around the nation. The majority of their time is taken up making presentations to high school chemistry and physics classes. These presentations cover some of the basics of nuclear propulsion plants, dispel the myths concerning nuclear power, and stress the quality and capabilities of our nuclear submarine force. Navy recruiting also administers a Nuclear Field Qualifications Test to potential nuclear field applicants. This test is not an aptitude test, rather it is a test to measure the specific level of knowledge of the candidate in math, physics, and chemistry. This test is the only test authorized by the Department of Defense for individual service use, and is a recognition of the Navy’s specialized requirements for nuclear field recruiting. All other recruit testing is standardized for use by all services.
Only 10 percent of the 18 year old males meet the basic standards for the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program. That is, they are high school graduates medically and morally qualified for the military and achieve a test score in the upper 50 percent of the nation. Of this group, only 20 percent will be able to achieve a qualifying score on the Nuclear Field Qualification Test. Detailed police record checks and the requirement for a drug free background, except for limited experimental use of marijuana, further reduces the qualified market. Only the highest quality individuals are allowed to enlist in the Nuclear Field Program. Those that don’t make the cut on the Nuclear Field Qualification Test, but who meet all the other mental, physical, and moral standards are screened for other submarine programs.
Recruiting generates a great deal of interest concerning the Nuclear Power Program and the Submarine Force among high school juniors and seniors. As a result, the top quality of the individuals that are recruited as high school seniors are placed either in the Nuclear Field Program or in one of the other six year obligator submarine training pipelines. Continued success of these submarine recruiting efforts will depend upon continued positive publicity and image of the submarine force. “Hunt for Red October” had a significant impact on submarine recruiting, but equally important was the Submarine League documentary film “Submarine: Steel Boats, Iron Men.” This film is on video tape and is available in every recruiting station in the country, and it will have a long term positive impact on our submarine recruiting efforts — more so than “Hunt for Red October.”
The quality of our submarine force is refined and polished through well-established and successful training programs, yet, its very existence is guaranteed by our efforts to seek out and accept only the best qualified individuals. Given this high quality of officers and men in the Submarine Force, it goes without saying that we will continue to enjoy the outstanding image that our submarine and nuclear field recruiters portray in high schools, and I am confident that we will continue to enjoy serving with the highest quality enlisted community in the Navy .