Shortly after I relieved as COMSUBDIV 41 in Charleston in early 1971, CDR AI Baciocco, who was COMSUBDIV 42, approached me with a proposal. One of my commanding officers, CDR Happy Hohenstein, CO, REMORA, was about to be detached and had orders to be the first of a new breed – a Submarine Liaison Officer (SLO) on a carrier group staff. AI suggested that competent as Happy might be as CO of a Guppy m, there were probably a few things he didn’t know about SSNs and the 637 Class in particular. AI asked if I objected to him offering Happy a chance to go out in a 637 for a few days and be shown how they operated and what they could bring to the direct support role. I was delighted, but wondered at the time why this wasn’t a submarine force initiative rather than the product of one very perceptive submarine officer’s mind.
Time passed, and in May, 1972 I reported as COMSUBPAC N3 after a tour as COMSUBGRU 7 Chief Staff Officer. During the early part of that tour and while at SUBGRU 7, I had spent some time thinking about the SLO positions and their occupants. The slots were being filled with post-command diesel officers. Therein lay a problem. While serving as OP-313 (Submarine Manpower and Training) prior to the DivCom assignment, it became clear to me that the submarine forces were facing two submarine officer shortage problems. The paramount one was the great nuclear trained officer exodus in progress in 1969-1970 when they were bailing out at the rate of one a day. Less obvious was the impending shortage of diesel officers as they recognized that they had little future in a force that was becoming more and more nuclear. All were good men but most could see little professional challenge or opportunity ahead. Many were looking for a viable future outside the submarine service. Flag rank was entirely out of reach, and the rank of Captain getting less achievable. A few managed to transition back to surface ships. Others decided upon early retirement.
This group was the source of SLOs in the early 1970s. They had a lot in common. They were all post diesel COs, all had good records, a few might have seiVed in a SSBN as navigator or weapons officer, but none had SSN operational experience.
Unless someone as farsighted as Al Baciocco was standing in the wings, they all lacked any knowledge of 637 Class opera-tions. However, they were essentially being cast adrift by the submarine service with no training provided by either force for the submarine support role, no formal ties, and no assurance (except perhaps the odd detailer letter) that their new jobs were going to advance their careers in any way. Oh yes, one more thing – the new job was almost assured to provide them a lot of deployed time. These then were the submarine force’s repre-sentatives for better or worse. Their position can be summa-rized in the plaintive words of the orphan waif standing outside the main gate with his hand out, crying, “No mama, no papa, no PX.”
It seemed to me that the submarine forces were assuming a great deal when they sent these men off to be the only submari-ners whom most carrier group admirals would deal with on a day to day basis. It assumed a state of knowledge that didn’t exist and a loyalty that was shaky. That didn’t seem like a good recipe for success for the new SSN direct support role. I recalled Ars initiative and discussed the problem with the SUBPAC N2, CAPT Joe Logan. He agreed that something needed to be done. His tactical analysis section put together a program to train prospective SLOs in direct support operations. COMSUBPAC then convinced BUPERS that all new Pacific Fleet SLOs should be ordered for about a week’s TAD at COMSUBPAC headquarters for indoctrination prior to reporting to the new Group command. Each was given a several day theoretical introduction to the SSN in the direct support role, a short underway period in a 637, and provided a small library of submarine tactical publications and the assur-ance that updates would be provided in a timely fashion.
In addition, the N2 division under Joe Logan and later under Jack Nunnelly, hosted an annual SLO conference with COM-SUBP AC footing the travel costs. These conferences brought Pacific Fleet SLOs together to learn new techniques, to exchange ideas, and to make recommendations. There was no question that they were valued members of the Pacific subma-rine community – the time, effort, and dollars spent in talking with them was proof positive. Although there was no way to measure the success of that program in a quantitative manner, there was also no doubt in my mind that submarine support operations in the Pacific were greatly improved thereby.
Recently I had a chance to observe a carrier group staff during a major exercise, and spent some time talking with the submarine officer assigned. He, of course, is nuclear power trained as are aU SLOs these days, so that is no longer a problem. Direct support is gone as a buzz word and support submarine is in. He had attended the Fleet Tactical Command-ers Course given by TACI’RAGRULANT, and that helped him adjust to the operational routine of a carrier group staff underway. However, when I asked about any submarine force indoctrination or continuing interest in SLO activities, I drew a blank. There seems to be none, just as there are no annual conferences with the SLOs to discuss submarine support matters, no submarine tactical publications provided, and, incidentally, apparently no contact not initiated by the individual SLO. He noted that despite being in a submarine port, he only found out about the last Submarine Birthday BaU by accident. Why did I think I was listening to the familiar orphan’s plea?
The demise of the USSR has left all the services scrambling to justify their future structure and forces. This is singularly true for the submarine service which had been largely, and correctly, focused on the ASW role. V ADM Roger Bacon, ACNO for Undersea Warfare, is quoted in various interviews talking about possible uses for submarines outside the usual ASW role. Essentially the submarine service is now in the same position it was when I graduated from Submarine School in the mid 1950s – looking for a mission(s). One of the best sources of information and ideas about how modern SSNs can be factored into fleet operations is the set of SLOs assigned to carrier and cruiser/destroyer group staffs. It is in the interest of the submarine forces to ensure that they feel very much part of the submarine community, and that there is formal, ongoing discussion with them regarding possible new submarine roles in fleet operations, as well as fine tuning others already being tackled Tile submarine forces need to ensure that each of them is educated in the details of all submarine capabilities, and not take for granted that they are all knowledgeable. For instance, how many SLOs are familiar with the use of SSNs in support of Special Operations Forces (Seals and Green Berets)? How many are experts in submarine TLAM and Harpoon employment?
It appears that it’s time again for the submarine forces to adopt some orphans! They might even give some thought to future assignments for these fleet experienced submarine officers, so that they can continue to make an input to serious thinking about submarine roles.