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LT Vanoss paper won The Naval Submarine league Essay Contest for Submarine Officers’ Advanced Class 99070.


“When an abandoned warehouse in Worcester caught fire last Friday, two firefighters entered the building to search for homeless people reportedly still inside. After the two firefighters radioed for help, four others responded. All six men died.” Eric S. Barr, Harvard Crimson, 10 December 1999.

On December 9, 1999 people from around the world came together to celebrate the lives and pay their respects to six heroic firefighters that gave their lives in the service of others. Dignitaries and fellow firefighters attended the service from locations as distant as Australia. Many people made eloquent speeches that day, to include the Mayor of Worcester, the Governor of Massachusetts, Senator Edward Kennedy, and President Bill Clinton. The men were eulogized for their heroism, selflessness and care for their fell ow firemen.

“A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter with 18 Marines aboard crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California Thursday, and 11 of those aboard were rescued within an hour, a Coast Guard spokesman said. Coast Guard LT Eric Carter said the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, based at Camp Pendleton, California, was approaching a landing on the Navy refueling ship PECOS during an exercise when it crashed 25 miles offshore southwest of San Diego.” Reuters, 9 December 1999.

The missing seven Marines were never found alive. Their bodies were eventually recovered, and a small memorial service was held for family, friends, and fellow Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The service was not attended by the Mayor of San Diego, or the Governor of California, nor the President of the United States. No media attended the services CNN, and Fox News did not provide live minute-for-minute coverage of the memorial. The only group of people acknowledging the loss and sacrifice made by those seven men was their fellow Marines and family members.

Are we in the military expendable? Are the lives of firefighters that much more valuable than our own? Is the risking of one’s life in the face of a burning building more of a sacrifice than that made by service members every day in the defense of the country?

With the timing of these two events so close to one another, the corresponding disparity of coverage, and lack of public mourning give pause to reflect on the job and relative respect those of us in the military receive. Many professional journals over the past several years have questioned the military’s inability to recruit, as well as to retain qualified, career-minded individuals. Fire departments across the nation recruit individuals from the same talent pool as the military, and while in some areas they are desperate for volunteers and paid professionals, their need has not reached the nationwide alarm level that military recruiting has over the past five years. I believe that the reason is because we have chosen to turn the recruiting process from one of standards and challenges to one of transactions; because we have trained our Junior Officer Corps to have a keen eye for error in a zero tolerance Navy instead of inspirational leaders; and because we have changed the nature of training from a learning process to a system of rote memorization and error corrections.

The Recruiting Dilemma

We in the Submarine Force are perched on our 100th year of daring the depths of the oceans and are poised on the brink of a promising future. We have the lessons from building and testing the Seawolf class in hand as we design and build the Virginia class to carry us into the next hundred years. We are pushing to expand the lives of eight of our submarines to maintain the Force through the transitional phase. We are considering conversion of four of our Trident class submarines into guided missile submarines, making them the most powerful stealth conventional weapons platform in the world. But what about the people that will man this powerful Submarine Force?

There is a Chinese proverb that says “If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.” We have proven exceptionally good at growing trees, only our trees are made of HY-80 steel. The U.S. Submarine Force is the most powerful and well-trained Force that the world has even seen, but we cannot keep people in the Navy to keep it underway. One of the most recent attempts to remedy this problem is to revamp the training pipeline. Take the sonar technician training pipeline for example-it doesn’t make economic sense 10 spend so much time and money to send someone on his first enlistment to Advanced Sonar Tech School if he is going to get out in a few years. The remedy for this was to make advanced training-which, by the way is training that a sailor can use in the civilian job market-available only after someone reenlisted for a second tour. The problem is that a young adult looking at the opportunities the Navy has to offer sees four or five years of hard work with little formal, marketable training and little or no leadership opportunity until he makes E-6.

It is interesting to note that in a recent interview with Sea Power Magazine, General Jones, Commandant of the Marine Corps, responded to the question about why Marine recruiters are doing so well with “The entire Corps is focused on it, and our recruiters work very hard. We have a band of warriors out there that is tied together from top to bottom, from generals to privates. They consider their mission to be a combat mission, and they prepare like it is one. They have a campaign plan with the same warrior ethic-and they attack, they win, and they succeed.” Marine Corps recruiting is based on bringing in a large amount of recruits for infantry and rifleman positions, then planning on lower first term retention scores to shape the needs of the force.1

By contrast, recent attempts to boost recruiting in the Army and the Navy have involved lowering the entrance requirements by allowing more GED recipients to enlist than before, dramatically increasing the enlistment bonus in the Army, and hiring Spike Lee to direct Navy recruiting videos. The Marine Corps has always had high standards, and they have never lowered them. They tell recruits that they will all be trained to be leaders and riflemen, and they have guaranteed them some form of small unit leadership that they would never have had in the civilian world. In short, Marine recruits are welcomed into an elite brotherhood upon completing boot camp.

It has only been in the past year or so that Navy recruiting commercials and advertisements have gotten back to speaking of travel, responsibility, and leadership. For many years prior, we were buying recruits with offers of bonuses and specialized training that could be used in the civilian world. While the truth may be in the numbers and dollars devoted to recruiting the force structure we need, the reality is that you will only get what you advertise and emphasize. If we advertise bonuses and training, we will get boots-for-hire. If we speak of adventure and leadership, we will recruit career sailors.


In order to guarantee safe operation of a nuclear power plant at sea, the Submarine Force guaranteed Congress that each supervisor and operator would be intensely trained in the theory and operation of nuclear power. To meet this obligation, every new Ensign entering the submarine pipeline receives over a year of intensive

1The Marines, by way of contrast, plan on a first term retention rate of about 14 percent based on Their force structure, which allows them to only keep the best and the brightest for reenlisement and advancement. Because of the relative sizes the Navy and Army must have higher first term retention rates to meet their force structure requirements.

theoretical and operational training. After this time, they are ordered to Submarine School for three months to learn the basics of submarine warfare. Much of this time is spent learning plotting techniques, steering and diving systems, and the art of fire control solution solving. About two weeks are devoted to leadership and divisional responsibilities.

The newly minted submarine officer-in-training has just spent the past year learning everything about nuclear power in a program designed to emphasize rote memorization, programmed logic, and attention to detail. If you tell this Ensign the topic of the class will be the hydraulic system, for the next 40 minutes he will be focused on gleaning every bit of knowledge about the hydraulic system that will help him to pass the test at the end of the week. Any additional knowledge or nuggets of wisdom passed down by the post-JO shore duty instructor by way of sea stories, etc. are learned less well because this student has been molded by the nuclear power pipeline experience. We argue that the student is learning leadership while studying other topics, due to exposure to the instructors and staff of the schools they take. Once again however, the emphasis is not on leadership and therefore the returns on learning how to lead are lower than if leadership were more of an emphasis.

Once this Ensign gets to the boat, he is pushed to qualify on various watchstations, so as to earn their keep. Between watchstanding, qualifications, and learning his way around the boat, even less time gets devoted to the leadership of his division.

On the best boats in the Submarine Force, and the ones with the highest wardroom retention, we notice that the newly reporting officers are mentored, taught, and tested, with an emphasis on honing leadership skills through every step of their qualification process, as well as in watchstanding and administration. [Emphasis added by Editor.] One of the most refreshing and terrifying questions a new division officer can be asked is “What recommendations do you have?” On a majority of the boats out there, however, our questions refer more to what is holding up a report, or how long until the maintenance is done. Our emphasis is on the results of the process, not on the process of leading a division itself.

What sounding board do our young sailors and officers have to test their abilities? Does a sailor that reenlists for the advanced training school magically become a leader once he returns to the fleet? Realistically, first term enlistees have little chance to test their leadership wings. In the meantime, junior officers learn the ropes of how to lead their divisions much the same way as they learned how to harness the nuclear power beast-constant vigilance, and immediate action to correct problems. But, because we rarely look into what causes the problems, their solutions frequently cause more disillusionment.

Real leadership training comes from reflecting on lessons learned and experience. You learn leadership by trying, failing, and finally succeeding at being a leader. Even if we could magically reduce the nuclear training pipeline to three months and spend a year in leadership training, we would not necessarily improve the process. Teaching leadership involves tapping into a person’s natural potential, not memorizing the correct answers for a test. The real question is how to engender the right view of leading sailors in such a short time in the classroom, and how to shift the emphasis from an output oriented process to a process focused on training, growing and gradually developing the future of our Submarine Force.

The Training Process

“The commander must. .. see to it that his subordinates are trained in accordance with the latest requirements. The best form of ‘welfare’ for the troops is first-class training, for this saves unnecessary casualties”. Field Marshall Envin Rommel.

Anyone that has survived the nuclear power training pipeline can relate to the standards for Navy classroom technique. When we first started teaching classes, it soon became apparent that different instructors at different locations were teaching different material for the same course credit. In an effort to standardize training, we issued a common Instructor’s Guide for each course. After establishing a routine monitor program, it became apparent that when asked a question, not all the students were able to hear the question, and sometimes the instructor did not answer the question asked. In response, the Navy decided that anytime an instructor was asked a question, the proper response was to restate the question, answer the questions, and then ask if the person’s question was properly answered.

The net result, of course, is that for every problem noted in the classroom a brand new correction was implemented. Instructors spent less time preparing for class because the Instructor’s Guide contained all the material. With the advent of display programs, such as PowerPoint, classroom learning has become more of a presentation than active engagement of the students in the learning process. The trend in the past few years has been towards more standardization, with training commands making their presentations available on the Internet as a learning resource. It is possible for an instructor today to obtain a presentation off the Web, read through the Instructor’s Guide ten minutes before class and teach the class with minimal preparation. While this is obviously not how instructors prepare for class, the trend is toward less originality and therefore less challenging teaching environments.2


Getting back to our original question of whether or not the lives of firemen are more valuable than the lives of military personnel-it is patently obvious that this is not so. Nor is it true that the Fireman’s Union has a better PR organization. The truth is that we
2While this is an overly simplistic approach to new technology, it points out some interesting weaknesses. PowerPoint and other display programs allow us to rapidly upgrade and reform our training plans to the latest doctrines. But on the other hand, how many times do we as instructors get hamstrung when there are problems with the presentations, or computer? Display programs are an aid and a crutch. The best instructors (that have the most time to prepare as well) know their topic to the point that presentations and slides are not needed, but act as added tools. They have the skills to pass on knowledge to an audience moreefficiently with a marker and whiteboard, than with a hundred slides.

as leaders are, in large part, more concerned with the weapons and machines than with the people who operate them. There are a great many inspirational leaders, motivational teachers and outstanding recruiters in the fleet today that may disagree with this assertion, and on a small, personal scale, they are absolutely right. The problem is at the institutional stage. Historically make military plans based on the last war, rather than the next. In the Gulf War, we proved the superiority of our incredible weapons systems. In a near bloodless war, we created the illusion that the Armed Forces of the Untied States could maintain its superiority as the sole superpower by way of its technological prowess alone. We started down the road of believing our own public relations speeches.

“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow, and of the man who leads, that gains the victory.” General George S. Patton.

The best way to fix the retention problem is to use your assets. Rather than spending more money for enlistment bonuses, hire the hundreds of thousands of men and women already wearing the uniform to talk about what they do. An excellent example of this is the Enlisted HARP Duty option that has recently allowed sailors to return to their hometowns to aid local recruiters while on TAD. Sailors enlist for a reason and they are proud to talk about themselves and the decisions they have made. During a summer cruise from the Naval Academy after my first year, I had my first taste of submarine life. Once I walked off the boat, I had made a decision to dedicate myself toward submarines. I made this decision because of the dedication and motivation of the men that server under the oceans, not because of the technology. A happy sailor is one that is more likely to brag about what he or she does. The argument against sending first term sailors to advanced schools does not make economic sense, but neither does enlisting qualified, intelligent recruits to perform limited tasks because they have not been trained. We should look into guaranteeing advanced schooling to those recruits that will enlist for an initial service of six years. In the business world, when a company begins to lose customers to competitors, the first response is to engage the customer and find out what they would want out of an enlistment. While we cannot throw more money at the recruiting pay tables without help from Congress, we can offer better training, better quality of life, and leadership opportunities.

Leadership opportunities must be an integral part of our operations. It is a crime that we trust a petty officer third class with safe operation of the electrical distribution system of a nuclear power plant, but not with the counseling and teaching responsibilities commensurate with his rank. An E-4 in the Marine Corps is a fire team leader, responsible for the safety, training, and leadership of the personnel under their direction. They respond to administrative and operational chains of command. In the Submarine Force, we have an administrative chain of command in port and for anytime a person is off watch (i.e., maintenance, divisional training, etc.); and an operational chain of command (watchstanding). The best teambuilding I have seen in the Submarine Force is the watch team and the damage control teams. Organizing operational chains of command by firefighting hose teams and watch sections would integrate forward and after sections of the boat into working and supportive teams. Give the junior sailors more chances to work on leadership skills, and enforce chose chains of command.

Finally, we need to take a hard look at training for the sake of training. The Joint Training manual provides us with an integrated approach to meeting all the requirements laid on us as a Force by various organizations. While personnel must be reminded of the baseline standards for Navy Rights and Responsibilities, AIDS and HIV, Sexual Harassment, and other mandatory topics, we have to look at how these topics are taught and integrated into the already busy day of a submarine sailor. Documentation of personnel in attendance and a signed comment sheet provided by the senior member attending training is our current requirement for validation of good training. We further test the quest of training through continual training exams chat become a checkpoint for shipwide examinations. We really should be asking the people being trained for an assessment.

Furthermore. we mandate through the Plan of the Day and Plan of the Week the number of hours and timing of training, as well as where the training will take place. If the training is meant to teach a new topic, can we honestly say that one hour in the cramped conditions of crew’s mess is really productive? If the training is meant to be a review of standards and refresher training in nature, then why do we force people to sit through a reading of requirements that they have already heard? The bottom line is that we need to be more responsive to the needs of the students being trained. An ineffective instructor in a university setting would not continue to be allowed to teach, nor would students want to sign up for the class.

Franz Joseph Strauss once said that “An army cannot be administered, it must be led.” The Navy and specifically the Submarine Force must get back to the roots of leadership. While we operate billion dollar machines, we must remember that our most expensive and important asset is our people. The firefighters in Boston did not mourn the deaths of their compatriots because their lives were more important than our own; they did so because they realized the true value of all lives. We must rededicate ourselves to recruiting quality people by valuing their worth and their needs for training and compensation. We must wean ourselves away from the management of personnel issues, and address the leadership and needs of the men we expect to take with us into battle. And finally we must refocus the quality of our training to see that it meets the needs of the people we intend to train, and that the training is valuable, rather than merely for the purpose of meeting a training requirement. If we do not make the focus of our professional lives the leadership and care of the men that serve with and under us, we will be leading a Navy of robots and uninspired followers, rather than warriors.

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