A USN Exchange Officer provides a synopsis of his experience in Australia on the Staff of the Submarine Headqnarlers and the growth of the USN Enlisted exclzange during his tour.
Preparing for Australia
As my tour as Executive Officer on USS VIRGINIA (SSN 774) was coming to a close, I began to discuss shore duty options with my Detailed. I was prepared to discuss a job in the Pentagon or at the Naval War College, as I had never done a tour in Washington, DC, nor had I completed my JPME requirements. While initial conversations focused on these two principal areas for postbox jobs, one day the conversation took an interesting tum. ‘Well, I do have this job in Australia, if you are interested?’ I was interested, particularly since I had spent some time with a few Australian Prospective Commanding 0fficers during an earlier tour of mine on the UK Submarine Command Course • Perisher. However, I asked if I could have a day to discuss the assignment with my wife, Diane. She still laughs about this. My initial trepidation stemmed from the fact that Australia was extremely far from Groton, CT, far from everything we were familiar with . Additionally, aside from my experience with the RAN officers on Perisher, I knew precious little about Australian submarine operations or the Australian people. Jn communications with my predecessor, CDR Doug Sampson (currently LA JOLLA CO), I learned that the job title was Principal Staff Officer for Operational Preparedness and that it most closely resembled that of an N7 on the Type Commander’s Staff in the USN .
My route to Australia included several intermediate stops in the US. Only then would I start to learn the deep level of cooperation between the USN and RAN. My first stop was in Washington, DC for discussions with the teams from PMS 404 and PMS 425, the Project Managers for the Heavyweight Torpedo and the BYG-1 Fire Control System, respectively. 1 was just beginning to learn about the Armaments Cooperative Program (ACP) and its signifi- cance to both the USN and RAN. The ACP began in 2003 when Australia determined that the Combat System on Collins Class submarines and the Mk 48 Mod 4 torpedo required upgrading to remain competitive in the rapidly developing military, political and economic world of the Western Pacific. With this determination, Australia became full partners with the United States in the current employment and future development of both the B YG-1 Fire Control System and the CBASS torpedo.
The USN has had a Command Screened post-Executive Officer stationed in Australia at the Submarine Headquarters for over 20 years. This job has taken on various roles in the past, but has generally focused on employment of the Mk 48 Mod 4 torpedo. My operational experience in Australia would involve the older Mod 4 torpedo (Active Snake, for those who still remember), as well as Harpoon (I vaguely remembered this from SOBC), all the way through the first ever Mk 48 Mod 7 CBASS SINKEX . In addition to these official duties, my tour included several ceremonial duties as well as significant travel throughout Australia. A long the way I met some interesting people and saw some of the most amazing scenery, all in one extremely rewarding shore duty- all thanks to my Detailer.
At Sea Operations
After arriving in Australia in late February, I relieved two short weeks later in early March. By April I was on travel to Pearl Harbor for discussions on the Submarine Command Course (SCC) for July 2007. sec is held four times a year, twice on each coast of the United States, and features participation from the RAN annually during the July/August convening. During years in which RIMPAC occurs (even years), these operations are conducted in the Hawaiian OPAREAS . On odd years, the USN deploys an SSN to Western Australia to operate with and against a Collins Class submarine, and for the first time in 2007, also against RAN surface warships. Operations in SCC cover the spectrum of submarine capabilities including navigation and Piloting, Inshore operations, special forces evolution, weapons employment, evasion, and tracking, all done during roughly 3 weeks of continuous operations at sea. Through- out all of this, the students arc challenged to work with the submarine crews to develop plans and respond to changing operational requirements in order to safely accomplish their assigned mission. The course provides Prospective Commanding Officers from both the United States and Australia valuable experience in operations on and against well trained nuclear and diesel submarines. This varied perspective provides insight into what a potential adversary on a similarly propelled submarine may be thinking as well as how he may operate, and could provide a significant tactical advantage during time of hostilities. I had the opportunity to be involved in the planning for sec as well as act as the Safety Officer aboard HMAS RANKIN as she participated in SCC later that year in August along with USS BUFFALO (SSN 715). The students arrived in Australia on the 15′ and we were at sea. The students spent half of the time on BUFFALO seeing what it was like to track and shoot against a challenging SSG and the other half on RAN KIN, gaining an appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of an SSG. I remained aboard RANKIN for the duration as the Safety 0fficer as welt as providing for general and assistance in the execution of the OPORD .
In 2008 , RAN participation in SCC immediately followed RIM PAC. During RIM PAC , WALLER was planned to conduct the first CBASS SINKEX- the culmination of roughly five years effort lo bring BYG-1 and CBASS capability into service in the RAN. The target was the ex-USS FLETCH ER (DD 992). On July 16, 2008 CMDR Brett Sampson brought HMAS WALLER to peri- scope depth. A target solution was rapidly and precisely developed while the weapons system was brought to the ready. At the time, STS2(SS) Vincent Campo and STS2(SS) Corey Rothrock were standing watch in the Control Room as Acoustic Warfare Analysts. CMDR Sampson ordered the weapon in tube 4 fired . In only a matter of minutes, the FLETCHER felt the full effect of the weapon, lifting it out of the water and breaking its back. It was only a matter of time- and a short bit of time at that- before the bow rose prominently in the air and the noble vessel slid beneath the waves, appearing to be backing down to her new watery grave. For the firing, I was aboard as the Submarine Headquarters representative and Safety Officer. WALLER also conducted the first RAN submarine Harpoon firing since 2000 on 14 July- another event for which I was aboard. Following completion of RIM PAC , WALLER returned to port to load exercise weapons for participation in the Submarine Command Course. SCC included 23 American submariners and one Australian, LCDR James Lybrand. LCDR Lybrand had recently passed the demanding requirements of the Dutch Perisher Course and was ready to test his highly honed tactical skills with the Americans. The course includes numerous exercise torpedo firings and WALLER was to have her share. Ultimately, WALLER fired numerous exercise weapons at both submarines and surface ships. Upon completion of SCC, I disem- barked WALLER along with the students to attend the debrief the following week and then return to Australia.
In addition to SCC support, I experienced additional underway time aboard Collins Class Submarines in support of weapons certification. In mid-May 2007 , I was underway on HMAS RANKIN, an outstanding boat that I spent many weeks aboard during that first year of the tour. RANKIN was commanded by CMDR Phil Stanford and would later be recognized as the most capable warship in the entire Australian Fleet for 2007 by winning the Gloucester Cup. This underway was in support of her Weapons Certification and lasted about a week. RANKIN still carried the Mod 4 torpedo, so this was my first time at sea firing the Mod 4 since my JO tour. I’ll take a minute to mention something that every US rider notices aboard a Collins Class submarine- more so than the fact that it is small, has women serving onboard, and rolls around a lot on the surface- the meals. The food served at sea in the RAN is fantastic. For lunch and dinner there are three choices of meals, each extremely well prepared. Several US riders- civilian and military- have commented to me that the food served at sea was the best they had ever eaten on any ship . The chefs and they are chefs- will tell you it is the smaller crew that gives them the flexibility to prepare meals this way. I have had everything from fresh grilled barramundi to steak, pasta and chicken and found every meal to be excellent. This conclusion was also strongly supported by the enlisted sailors serving on COLLINS, RANKIN and WALLER- the food onboard an Australian submarine cannot be beat.
In December 2007, I was underway on HMAS WALLER for planned exercise firings. Although December is summertime in Australia, you would not have known it by the sea states we experienced. For the week we were out there, we were not able to shoot a single weapon, despite the fact that the weapons recovery vessel, SEAHORSE Standard, had capably recovered in what was certainly sea state 5 during SCC a few months earlier. These conditions were markedly worse and we returned to port with all weapons we had gotten underway with. Underway and import activities in the early part of 2008 were focused on meeting the requirements for certifying HMAS WALLER to shoot the CBASS torpedo. The effort culminated with WALLER ‘s weapons certification in April. The boat performed safely and well and was another step closer to deploying for RIM PAC 2008, SCC and Exercise LUNGFISH. The WALLER team, including Petty Officers campo and Rothrock, had worked for over a year to bring WALLER out of ASC in Adelaide and return her to full capability as a deplorable asset for the Fleet Commander.
Growth of the Enlisted Exchange
During my tour, I saw the enlisted exchange program grow rapidly. Before I had completed the relief process in Australia and just one week after we had arrived in country, we were joined by the first four enlisted Sonar Technicians who were to undergo training and then assignment to Collins Class submarines. They were STS3(SS) Corey Rothrock, STS2(SS) Evan Butler, STS2(SS) Vincent Campo, and STS2(SS) Kris Davis. All had served on Hawaii based SSNs, all were single, and all were very excited about serving on a diesel submarine and earning their RAN Dolphins. They started right into training with a planned report date to their submarines of April 2007. Petty Officers Butler and Davis reported to HMAS RANKIN (SSG 78) and Petty Officers Campo and Rothrock reported to HMAS WALLER (SSG 75). Both boats had very different and interesting planned operations that would provide memorable experiences for all four of them.
In addition to the first four STS ‘s who had arrived at the beginning of my tour, two additional Sonar Technicians, STS I (SS) Joshua Seward and STS2(SS) Timothy Mays, arrived three months later in June 2007. Like the others, they had served on Pearl Harbor SSNs and were ready to begin qualifications on an Australian diesel submarine. They would complete the same training as the original four and would serve on HMAS COLLINS (SSG 73). April 2008 saw the arrival of a new type of USN sailor for service in Australia- ET2(SS) Patrick Tucker and ET2(SS) Walter Volkmann reported aboard, destined for service on HMAS FARNCOMB (SSG 74). They were both experienced ESM Operators from Pearl and Guam boats. They rapidly completed initial training and reported to FARNCOMB in the shipyard in Adelaide along with the rest of her crew to take delivery of the submarine following an extended maintenance period. In September of 2008, STSC(SS) Craig Werley reported aboard. A very welcome addition, he will fill many significant roles including providing direct leadership and assistance to the growing enlisted community here, expert training assistance at the Australian Submarine Training Center, and assistance in the continued development of the sonar systems carried aboard Collins Class submarines. The next planned addition will be an EHF operator/maintainer to be assigned to HMAS FARNCOMB in October 2008.
My tour also included training- in some cases as the instructor and others as the trainee. In June 2007 I was at the RAN Submarine Escape Training Facility where I received training in pressurized submarine escape in the RAN 20m dive tower. The one-week long course was a requirement as I would be frequently riding RAN submarines. It featured a thorough review of the Guard Book, several hours of classroom instruction, and time in the trainer. The first event in the trainer was a 20m ‘dry run’ where we students were put six at a time into the rccompression chamber and gradu- ally taken to 20m to identify any problems before even attempting any in-water runs. The first two in-water runs were from a depth of I Om where we conducted buoyant ascents. This took place only after we had all satisfactorily demonstrated the correct technique for breathing on the way up. The last two events were 20m pressurized ascents in SEIE suits. The training was outstanding and safety was always clearly the top priority. In May of this year, I taught the Prospective Executive Officers Course weapons.
In addition to my formal duties, I also had the honor of participating in several commemorative ceremonies celebrated annually in Australia. One of these events is ANZAC Day, celebrated on 25 April. Unlike any holiday we have in the US, ANZAC Day is a national holiday that pays tribute to the original ANZACs (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) who left Albany, Western Australia in troop transports bound for the beaches of Gallipoli during World War I. Over the years it has expanded to recognize all those who have served or are currently serving in any branch of the armed forces. All currently serving military personnel arc organized into platoons for marching in the local communities. For my first year, the Submarine headquarters marched in Perth. For my second year, we marched in Frenchman. It was a remarkable experience and one of many in Australia I will never forget. The celebration starts with dawn services around the world- anywhere there arc Australians you will find a dawn service on ANZAC Day. Parades start around 0900 and the bars are generally open at the end of the parade- however, after the Frcmantlc march, we had to wait until 1200 for the bars to open. The rest of the day is spent with friends and colleagues in uniform, sharing a beer and a good time. The uniqueness and spirit of the holiday were put into perspective for me when my wife & I went to the dawn service in Fremantlc in 2008. Service personnel, myself included, always attend in full dress uniform. As we were getting out of our car at 0445, another car parked in front of ours and out poured four young Australians with beers in hand, obviously continuing their ‘socializing’ from the previous evening. As soon as they noticed me in my USN uniform, they approached me, shook my hand, and thanked me for being in the military, while mentioning their love for the US. Then they gently put their beers on the roof of their car and quietly went up the hill to observe the solemn service. Only in Australia.
In May of my first year, I participated in a wreath laying ceremony in Fremantle to commemorate the Battle of the Coral Sea. Australians recognize this battle as a key point in World War II where the Japanese were turned back from a planned invasion of Port Mores by, which was seen as a stepping stone to an invasion of Australia. In the bigger picture it was also a key victory for the Allies, one month before the Battle of Midway, in which the Japanese lost one carrier and another was too badly damaged to participate in their plans for Midway. In addition to laying a wreath, I also had a small speaking part in the ceremony which was accentuated by the backdrop of the BOXER Amphibious Readiness Group sailing from Fremantle harbor following a several day port visit.
Each year, I also participated in a wreath laying ceremony in Albany. During World War II, many US submariners served on boats that were stationed in Australia. After the War, several of these submariners moved back to Australia, homeland of their new brides. Although Memorial Day is a US holiday not observed in Australia, the City of Albany and local submarine veterans conduct a wreath laying on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in honor of the submarine sacrifice during the war and those still on eternal patrol. As the only US submarine officer in Australia, the person occupying my billet provides representation for the Submarine Force and generally makes a few remarks. During my second visit to Albany, we were able to bring along Petty Officers Tucker and Volkmann as the first enlisted sailors to attend the service in many years. In fact, the former mayor of Albany produced an old newspaper clipping of the last time she could recall having sailors at the memorial – it was USS DALLAS during a port visit that provided outstanding representation for the US Submarine Force. Since the trip to Albany provides the opportunity to spend time with a few surviving WWII submariners, I found these experiences to be extremely personally rewarding.
Completing the Tour
The opportunity to travel around beautiful Australia was another benefit of this tour. Over the Christmas holidays my wife and I spent a week in Melbourne and another eight days in Tasmania. After eight years in Groton, CT, it was an unusual experience to be on the beach the day after Christmas while it was degrees out! By mid 2008, we had spent time in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Broome, and all over the south- west of Western Australia. Australia is an absolutely beautiful country and we have enjoyed the people, culture and scenery of every place we have visited.
It was not long before I began to realize just how fast our touring Australia was clicking by. When we had been in country for about 15 months, I started talking to the Detailed about leaving at the 20 month point- much to Diane’s dismay- but I wanted to getinto the Command pipeline and also squeeze in JPM E II. I had completed JPME I through the Air Force correspondence course in February. From the personal perspective, we had really enjoyed our time in Australia. We had decided that for flexibility it would bebest for Diane to take the entire tour off from her job as an engineer with SA IC. The complications of how to deal with her taxes if she worked in Australia combined with the fact that her income would be taxed at 49% made the decision easy. However, the biggest factor was probably her desire to have the freedom to accompany me on business travel as well as plan our personal vacations around Australia.
As I returned to the office in early September 2008, I knew my relief would be on the way. LCDR Paul Varnadore will have the good fortune of serving down as the USN Exchange Office rat the Submarine Headquarters starting in November 2008. In December, Diane and I will depart to start the Command pipeline in January 2009. I am reminded of something Doug Sampson told me upon my arrival: ‘They only send Command Screened guys to Australia, because if they weren’t they probably would not comeback!’ Reflecting on the 20 months I have been here, I can sec why he would say that. The people arc all very friendly, the country ts beautiful, America is held in high regard, we speak (nearly) the same language, and we share an interesting history as of the British Empire- what’s not to love? I still haven’t figured out the Vegemite thing though, but I do enjoy most other local cuisine including kangaroo and crocodile.
As I begin to prepare for turnover, I have to admit I thought my tour was going to be interesting with the varied weapons I would train on and the exercises 1 would participate in- and it has been.However, Paul can look forward to even more growth, with work on certifying the next platform to deploy- HMAS FARNCOMB.He will also get to work with the crew of HMASDECHAINEUX- the first BYG-1 Tl-06 boat for Australia. He will get to participate in two more Submarine Command Courses before he enters the pipeline as well as RIM PAC 20 I 0. He will be at the leading edge of CBASS employment and development- and- he will be living in Australia.