Almost twenty years ago, after being the recipient of the last Submarine Group Tactical Readiness Exam (TRE) before these exams were turned over to the type commander staff to conduct, our ship was rated below average (BA) in all areas. This was quite a surprise as I will outline further. After taking control of our own training programs, a year later, our ship won the Battle Efficiency ‘E’ for COMSUBRON 20. The sea story follows.
After relieving command of the SSBN in off crew, we prepared for the next deployment, Patrol 3. We were to have a TRE and reviewing the previous year’s exam results, several areas were rated BA. I reviewed the training plan already in place and it seemed to properly address the deficient areas. Off crew training was monitored and appeared effective. The team trainers conducted at Trident Training Facility (TTF) were rated by the instructors as effective and each of the various groups were rated excellent. It seemed we were ready. After the exchange of command, the refit was unremarkable and patrol was awaiting. The first half of the patrol was full, conducting a four missile FCET and a CNO project. We essentially had a couple of weeks of underway training to make the final touches on TRE preparations. The two-day TRE was a disaster, and we obviously were not ready. The out brief was painful, and the senior inspector rated the ship below average across the board. We were lucky not to have been given a failing grade. Back to the drawing board.
As we prepared for the off crew training period, I met with the Executive Officer (XO), Chief of the Boat (COB), and Department Heads to develop a plan. How could we have been so unprepared if the TTF had glowing reports of our operational readiness? How could our own training be so ineffective? No matter … we had to fix it. I told the XO we had to start with the officers. If we were monitoring the training and it was so ineffective, we had to raise the standards. I told the COB that the chiefs were going to run the ship and the officers were going to get trained, be the experts, and think more tactically. We scheduled officer training for an hour every morning prior the normal training day. We went back to the basics, reviewing every NWP and operational directions, and conducting symptomatic seminars on every conceivable area, concentrating on those where we were rated deficient. It took a week of seminars just to get to periscope depth. The division and department training plans were tailored. Long-range training plans were put together with short-range plans that had metrics to determine if the goals were met. At the end of the off crew, each division leading petty officer had to present the results of their training to the Commanding Officer, and justify whether they had met their goals or not. They then presented their next quarter’s short range training plan and goals. These first sessions were painful, but instructive to each division.
Each department training plan was made to include the team trainers at TTF. We would not accept the standard training that the TTF’s proposed. Each department head and division officer who was responsible for the cognizant team trainers developed their team trainer plan and goals with the TTF instructors. The trainer sessions were tailored to achieve the specific goals in our plan. I consulted the Group and Squadron counterparts, and had them do the monitoring and critiquing of our final exams. These experts were much closer to knowing the proper standards than the TTF instructors. The Group and Squadron feedback was unvarnished and we achieved the standards we had set in our goals.
The next hurdle was the operational training schedule. Every checkout interview I conducted, the departing sailor complained about too much training and not enough time to get rest and be effective. I told the COB to put together an integrated project team and come up with a training schedule that met all our training requirements (e.g. officer training, drills, department training, divisional training, and of course, field day), but one that the crew could live with and had buy in. The crew’s main complaint was that they didn’t get enough sleep and couldn’t effectively train. The schedule that the IPT came up with worked. The main element was that the morning watch did not have any all hands evolution’s or drills. The mid watch personnel could get several hours of sleep. The morning watch was devoted to modular training that would support the week’s goals, whether it be a certain area of propulsion plant drills or operational areas from the TRE. Nothing was conducted that would sound the general alarm or cause IMC announcements. If this was afire week, the morning was devoted to evolution’s like running fire hoses to every possible area of the ship. If it was a flooding week, we took submersible pumps to each bilge to make sure we could actually pump them out. If the training goals for that week were more propulsion plant oriented, we did monitored instrumentation calibrations or equipment startup or shutdowns to ensure proper performance and knowledge of the evolution. The XO, COB, and chiefs conducted this modular training that supported the drills that would be conducted later.
Next came the drills. We woke up the previous mid watch personnel who were the drill monitors, observers, and safety personnel and we briefed the afternoon’s drills prior to lunch. That way we could start the drill set immediately after lunch without waiting for a space to clear so we could brief the drill package. We ran two sets of drills with the next two watch sections (three hour shifts). They were critiqued before the evening watch, and the deficient areas were briefed or put in the night orders for reading prior the next day’s drills. If the modular training needed modification due to the critique comments, that was incorporated into the next morning’ s evolutions. Evening was devoted to officer training and/or a movie. We retained this cycle to meet drill conduct schedules, divisional and department training, and officer seminars. The only day the mid watch personnel didn’t get to sleep on the morning watch was Saturday morning for field day. Saturday afternoon was usually a large all hands drill or two, but not the whole afternoon. The midwatch personnel were able to get some sleep prior to having to take the watch that evening. Sunday was a day of rest except for the audits that the XO and I would conduct on various areas. It must have been effective from a crew standpoint, because after the training schedule change, no complaints were made during checkout interviews.
The cycle of short range training plans that implemented the long range training plans and incorporated the lessons learned from the last training period continued. The accountability of the LPO’s for their training goals was key. We knew what we had to work on and we made the plans and schedules execute the plans. Putting the chief petty officers in charge of running the ship and making the officers the experts in tactics and operations was absolutely necessary.
Sea stories like fairy tales should have a happy ending. The ship was rated above average on the next TRE, won several department awards, nominated for the Omaha trophy, won the COMSUBLANT Bottom Gun award for torpedo proficiency, and was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E”. The end.