2013 ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM
NAVAL SUBMARINE LEAGUE
24 OCTOBER 2013
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. I would add to the rating discussion that we’re having here that I am the offspring of a sonar man. My brother entered the Navy and became a sonar tech and I entered the Navy and became a Radioman … then a Chief of the Boat, CMC, and Force Master Chief. In my family, we call that evolution. As my counter part said, he has been doing this for awhile. This is not his first rodeo. This is, my first rodeo and I’ve got to tell you, I feel like a seaman that just stumbled in to the wardroom to give a report during a Department Head meeting with every chief and the skipper in there. This is unbelievable. I am generally not nervous during public speaking but to speak in front of this crowd and to represent the enlisted Submarine Force of the Atlantic is just awe inspiring.
Can we bring up the slides for me? I get to provide my perspective here today so this is the world according to me. I will try to show you some facts and some figures but I am glad that Cash (SUBPAC FORCM) covered some retention and attrition statistics saving me from having to field that hard question. I am going to talk about that just a little bit, after I thank the Sub League for inviting me here to speak and for everything that they do.
I want to point out two things that are special that the Naval Submarine League does. First, the speaking program that I observed when I was at Submarine School as a CMC there about six or seven years ago. That interaction between the Sub League and the sailors is extremely important, linking our past to our present and always discussing that great legacy and our responsibility to continue that legacy; very, very important. The other huge contributor is toward our Sailor of the Year Program. That is not just the Submarine League. That is the Navy League as well and I know there are some members here, and I say thank you on behalf of the Chiefs who would have to foot that bill out of pocket. We appreciate all the support that you provide in recognizing and taking care of our Sailors. The gist of my discussion is to talk about the State of the Union in the enlisted force. To do that I need to do a small scene setter for you. We need to dial back about three years ago. Our retention stats were not off-Navy norms, but we were seeing some unplanned losses that were much higher than we desired.
As a good deficiency-based organization, we decided to really dig into that and figure out what was driving higher than desired attrition in zone A and unplanned loss. Coincident with that, we were also at the bottom point of a manning issue due to some accession problems created almost ten years ago. We saw the bottom about two and a half to three years ago with manning levels really in the toilet. Where fit and fill were not as described here today. We were really hurting. We were in the 80% range and robbing Peter to pay Paul trying to man up crews to get out on deployment. I am here to report and to follow up with you, that we’ve corrected a lot of that. Our fit and fill numbers are steadily improving. Every submarine on the waterfront is better manned and now we are able to start building depth on the bench at our shore commands so that we have the support and the ability to react to unplanned loss. We are much better, and much healthier. But we learned a lot when we went and really dug in to find out what does drive attrition and unplanned loss. Unfortunately, no new lessons learned here. It turns out that, as I am sure many of you know, that the driving factor is simply command climate. Perhaps also our attitude toward initial accession sailors. I think command leadership school was on to this before us. Many of you, not too many, might have gone through a model where we sent command leadership school out to boot camp for a very specific purpose. They wanted you to see first hand the kinds of Sailors that were entering the Navy today. You saw a very powerful ceremony out there where they would receive their Navy ball cap, and they were reduced to tears when they received that ball cap. Well, that changes your whole paradigm when you then see them arriving on your ship.
We have something even better than that. We have Naval Submarine School. I have started to call it the fountain of youth for old crusty Master Chiefs. In fact, MCPON West made it a frequent destination when he needed a battery charge. You’ve got to come to Sub School on a Thursday afternoon. You’ve got to watch all of the classes fall out in the afternoon. About 1400 they start to make formations and march down Hospital Hill. Each class in each school building starting to dismiss and come out and join the procession, arriving at Dealey Center for GMT. Every Thursday, where the CMC and other speakers get an opportunity to have a very intimate conversation with the most enthusiastic group of 19 to 24 year olds you are ever going to meet in your life. Some people would look at that as a problem. How do you manage a thousand 19 to 24 year olds? Very carefully, I would say. I can’t take us all there. I wish I could teleport you. It would fill your heart with pride to see these Sailors actually doing it, but I did the next best thing. I sent word to the Sub School CMC last week and said I want live footage next Thursday. Get me some video of the sailors marching down to GMT with the Sailor’s Creed in Dealey Center. I went ahead and had our staff splice and edit it. Let’s roll “A Trip to Sub School” for you here. (Ed. Note: FORCM showed a film clip which met with broad audience approval).
Hoo-yah. So there are a couple of things you can draw from that. Just the sheer numbers of sailors that we have going through the school shows we are still working to fix that accession problem that we had. It also shows the energy, the enthusiasm. The part that you can’t see in the video is that they are ready to chew their own arm off to get out to the submarine and qualify-every single one. Even watching that you may still be skeptical and you may say, “Well, they can march. We’ll give them that. They’ve got a little bit of hoo-yah but are they going to be a good Submarine Sailor? Are they respectful?” Much has been made about this current generation. We tend to do that. We label each generation. We have the Greatest Generation. We had the Baby Boomers after the Greatest Generation. We had Generation Next. I think that was my generation, perhaps the forgotten generation. We have no claim to fame necessarily. Then you have this Generation … is it generation X-Box, which you just saw in action. Is it a generation of children with over developed thumbs from game controllers?
In our study of unplanned loss, climate, and those kinds of things, we started to latch on that there was this subtle undertone of Generational Warfare that was going on. We all do this to some extent. Remember the slogan “Diesel boats forever”? That is not necessarily a negative thing. That emotes pride but you know those boat sailors always looked down their nose at the modem nuclear Navy; 637 Tough, 594 Tough (all depicted on slide). Deployed 364 out of 365 days a year, always gone … You do know that your parents walked uphill to school both ways at least they told you that. It probably rained every day of their adult life. There was never enough food to go around. Nobody will ever be as good as you were in your own mind. That is some of the slightly negative side of this generational warfare. The positive side is that we look at those generations before us and we understand our responsibility to carry forth this great legacy and so do those young sailors at sub school. That is the powerful side of it.
What we have to do as leaders, and what we’ve been working on, is bracketing that and getting the right level of Generational Warfare, the positive side so that we are looking to our heroes and the last generation for inspiration. We are trying to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy (assuming that this current generation is no good). 1 confess that I can remember using the phrase “is Sub School a pump or a filter?… out of frustration when I had a particularly challenging Sailor in front of me one day. But then when I went to work at sub school shortly thereafter as the CMC, it all came back to me …. the problem was me and my attitude toward these new Sailors. It turns out that they are incredible young Americans. They’re eye-watering. So I think that is where we are really turning the corner right now in retaining Sailors on that first tour. We are doing a fantastic job. This journey does not end at Sub school. Let’s look at them when they reach the fleet.
I sent a few of the CMCs of the groups and squadrons a special assignment. I called Master Chief Garvin down in King’s Bay, and I called Master Chief Wohlgemuth at Squadron 12 in Connecticut. I basically told them that 1 need you to leave your building and go to the waterfront with a camera, find a COB and have him point out a hot running Sailor .. Not a cell phone camera. You don’t want to get in trouble. Don’t go in the engine room or do anything stupid. I want you to go validate for me that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a high quality Sailor. To use a fishing analogy; if you were out fishing in this lake with our people, the fish would jump in the boat. You wouldn’t even have to get the line wet. So I sent them on this special assignment.
So Master Chief Garvin, in about 20 minutes, had gone and shot these two head shots on the left. They look like mug shots, I understand, but it just validates my point. It gives me an opportunity to talk about some of these amazing young sailors that we have. CS3 Smith there on USS WYOMING. It was actually one of the very first Sailors that he ran into in the Off Crew Building (next door to the Group Building down in Kings Bay). Pulled him aside, talked to him for a few seconds. Here are the quotes he forwarded … “Found out this sailor joined in 2011. He’s from Woodbridge, Virginia. Now he’s a Galley Watch Captain. He’s been Bluejacket of the Quarter twice, Bluejacket of the Year this year. This sailor had a great attitude. It made me younger just talking to him. His COB said he always has a smile. Crew says says he has an infectious personality, has a great sense of humor. Loves the Navy. A future chief. I would have this guy on the Flagstaff in a heartbeat. Everyone said .. . “he makes the mess decks run.” So that’s what his shipmates had said about him.
So the man next to him, ETI Goodwin is a NAY-ET, Odessa, Texas. Joined in ’05. He’s the NA V-ET LPO. He’s qualified Diving Officer of the Watch, Chief of the Watch, Duty Chief. Came to the ship as a seaman … now he is a first class. He’s a qualified ANA V onboard that ship. He is their best Duty Chief Petty Officer on the boat, bar none, as told by his leadership. Not only a leader in the first class mess but on board the ship period. He’s on USS ALASKA.
The next sailor on the other side, Petty Officer Puddy, USS PROVIDENCE, Torpedo Division, Assistant Leading Petty Officer. Also qualified Chief of the Watch. Expert administrator. He was involved in the Sea Robin testing … planning upkeeps … doing things that I couldn’t even dream of doing as a Second Class Petty Officer. Again, just an amazing, phenomenal sailor. So, they’re everywhere. Like being in this room, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a retired admiral. Next year I’m going to bring a dead cat.
So every year, I go through a very humbling process, or at least I have for about the last ten or twelve years; that’s the Sailor of the Year Competition where we try to determine the best of the best. I say it’s a humbling experience because every year, the results are exactly the same for all the Master Chiefs that sit those boards. I’m embarrassed by what I was not doing when I was a Third Class or a Second Class, much like the NAV-ET that I just briefed. When I was a Radioman Second Class, I was looking for the bar. These guys are out pursuing off-duty education. They’re EMTs and firefighters in their off-time. They’re raising families. They’re qualified things I couldn’t even dream of.
This line-up right here was last year’s group from the TYCOM competition. Petty Officer Scott on the far left. He’s a Yeoman, SSBN out of Kings Bay, and he was probably their number two dive onboard the ship. As a Yeoman, are you kidding me? EM2 Walters there, the second guy. A sailor working at Trident Refit Facility. Of his own volition, pursued a Cat-3 Crane Operator’s License and was helping out the command. Also pursuing a degree. Yeary, an ELT, the next gentleman. MMl. Actually an EMT. Has a degree. He was an Engineering Watch Supervisor, one of the best on the ship.
Haywood, an ACINT specialist trainee working in the sound booth in the lab up in Groton. A Sonar Supervisor. A Mission Supe. Amazing guy. MM 1 Cox was our Sublant Sailor of the Year last year. He was off the USS MONTPELIER and to this day, anytime that I run into Fleet Master Chief Clarke, he wants to talk to me about this Sailor. He just can’t stop. He will find me in a room, say, “I remember meeting … (Petty Officer Cox … and I am thinking…. I know you’ve told me like 75 times. The guy is amazing. It gets locked into your brain after you’ve met some of these Sailors.
Radsminsky is an A-Gang 2nd Class. He is the leading Petty Officer in his division. I mentioned that little manning trough that we went through. We had a few divisions with almost no fleet returnees. Many divisions with Second Class LPOs and they absolutely kicked ass. This last guy, on the end there, STS-I Zirk, left the Marine Corps after nine years. For some strange reason, joined the Navy to be a Submarine Sailor. In the Marine Corps, he was a heavy machine gunner. He just made Chief this year as did three of the other sailors in the picture and you want to talk about a PT monster. He brought some Marine PT to the Chief Selects down in Kings Bay this year. Just a phenomenal sailor. They’re everywhere.
Next Slide … So I heard this quote .. . even today (“Chiefs are too young” is displayed on slide). In fact there are two things that Admiral Padgett said that I want to comment on now that I remember. My first comment is that I thought I was the only one who felt dumber the farther I’ve gone in the Navy … ( can appreciate that sir because I do feel like I should know more … sometimes I feel like I don’t know anything anymore. The second was, “The Chiefs are too young.” This is everywhere. This is so prevalent as a sound bite that we actually went and studied this at Sublant with the N1 Shop. This is a strong fleet perception. It shows up on surveys all the time. Captains are pounding the table, “this Chiefs Quarters is too young.” I think it is parallax error. Have you guys looked in the mirror lately? I don’t think we’re getting younger. I think you’re- never mind.
Average time to make Chief in ‘O 1 turns out was about 12 years. Average time to make Chief in 2013 – the same. So I was going to do a graph, but I thought that would be insulting because it would be a straight line. (At the bottom of the slide, it said “A myth debunked.” I had to explain to somebody what debunked meant recently … . Cash (SUBPAC FORCM), it means not true and we’ve proved it.
Next slide displays picture of very young looking Chief.
Ok, so I get where this comes from. MTC Bates, Kings Bay off the ALASKA. I get it…he looks like he’s 12. That’s a little unnerving if you’re in command. This guy shows up on your quarterdeck and your thinking … you’ve got to be kidding me. We can’t get there from here. Where’s your mom? Is she coming? Do you have a permission slip to be here kind of thing?
What you don’t see in here is what the Kings Bay MT community says. He’s one of the premier and pre-eminent experts in Strategic Weapons Systems. In fact, he’s selected to be SWS Department Master Chief, which is a new position much like an EDMC onboard the ship, selected as a chief ahead of other senior chiefs to go to work with a troubled division. Amazing.
Next. Oh, by the way … this guy here is an eight year chief. He’s got a whole nine years under his belt now. This is Chief Jedwabney. I know him personally from Groton because he made Chief just a few years ago and went to sea onboard USS TOLEDO where he is just crushing it right now. He’s qualified everything. He’s one of the best. The Command Jeans on him. They depend on him. He’s getting it all right, all the time. He is an amazing Sailor. So let’s not discriminate based on age. That’s my pitch.
So you might ask, all right, I’m trying to sell you here that your beloved Submarine Force is in good hands. We’ve got some amazing people but does it look and feel the same? Are submariners the same today as they were then? Do we have the same cultural values? So I’m going to show you a short clip here, and I want you to pay attention to what the Sailor says. This is not a new clip. It’s a couple of years old. We pulled it off a NAVY dot Mil site. The PA shop had showed me this video as were working this presentation and during my first view l told them to cut it. .. it didn’t go with the theme I was presenting or the story I am trying to tell. But then it dawned on me as I listened to what he said and I realized that this fits in exactly. We trimmed it down to just this short sound bite. Roll. Ed. Note: FORCM showed a clip of a young submarine Sailor speaking.
So I have never spoken to that man. I didn’t tell him those things. He didn’t grow up on submarines that I grew up on. He hasn’t served at a command but with me somehow we arrived at the same set of values; that it’s about technical competence, that it’s about good moral fiber, and it really doesn’t matter what you look like or where you came from. It’s what you can do on board the submarine. That is what we esteem as submariners. They are creative. They are driven. They have a strong work ethic and nothing has changed. Those attributes are intact; tenacity, integrity, teamwork. It’s all there. It’s palpable. You can feel it. I think he illustrated that point very well.
So you might say, well, of course these guys are qualified all these things. You must have lowered the bar. It must be really easy to qualify Dive these days. Absolutely not. In fact, we have just embarked on a Navy-wide initiative to reduce administrative distractions. It turns out we’ve never found a training requirement we didn’t like or an admin requirement to go with it. It’s very distracting. There is a lot. We ask a lot of these Sailors that are down there. Have you heard the expression, “Liberty is a mission”? I don’t think many of you had to put up with that. As long as you made it back to the boat in one piece, ten fingers, ten toes, we were good. Station the maneuvering watch. Now, we breathalize you. The requirements and the bar have only gone up for personal behavior, for expertise, technical competence, the complexity of the systems continues to increase. It is tough. We haven’t added much to the technical training in quite some time. In fact, we’ve kind of watered some of it down. We’re looking at all of that right now to try to shore it up. My point to you is that the bar is still high. It is not that we lowered the bar. These Sailors are getting over the bar. They are leaping over the bar. We should probably move the bar or else we may let our guard down.
I thank you for the opportunity to come and speak to you today. Hopefully, I’ll be invited back next year. Thank you.