Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wait, what?

When I was 19 years old, I married a submariner. I moved to Groton, CT, birthplace of the submarine fleet. As I acclimated to my new life, I learned things. Like how the Navy likes impenetrable acronyms to a level that the Army would feel vaguely embarrassed. (Rob's command at the time was NAVSUBSUPFACNLON.) How they frequently misspell things on purpose (Subase New London). How command insigniae have gotten woefully politically correct over the years. How many different pieces of merchandise one can put a dolphin on. How stupid it is to try driving up the street that goes by the galley during morning rush hour, when the Sub school boys are marching to breakfast.

But the biggest thing I learned was that you're not a submariner until you get your dolphins. Your submarine warfare pin, in other words. It's the first thing you do at your first boat, because until then you are a waste of oxygen. (Nub is the slightly-more-PC term, but I heard waste of oxygen a lot more.)

One of the things Rob tried telling me, but I found impossible to appreciate at the time, is that there's a real, substantial difference between sub fleet & surface fleet. I learned that the hard way when we moved to Norfolk.

I learned that the surface fleet doesn't get the sub fleet. At all. There's little recognition that it even exists, to be quite honest, and none whatsoever that Things Are Different There. Shortly after my first daughter was born, I was enjoying a mild freak-out over how in the hell I was going to get word to Rob that he had a child, a daughter. (Thanks for not coming through for me when I needed you, Red Cross!) My nurse said, "Well, his CO will just have him call you when they get the news, you can talk to him." Uh, yeah. Submarines don't have phones unless they're hooked up in port. Near as we could ever tell, Rob was underwater somewhere off the coast of Turkey when Bobbie was born.

The smallness of the command makes certain everybody is up in everybody else's business too. And one of the things you do when you get to a new command is requalify on that boat. But you'll get some help from your guys, whether you want it or not. One of the guys who was on the Boise for a while, James something-or-other (damned if I remember his last name), had come from surface fleet, and he found the transition very hard. I remember Rob telling me around this time that surface fleet has Damage Control teams, a relatively small group of sailors who are trained to, well, control damage. Fire, flooding, what have you. Submariners don't do this. Everyone is DC. You cannot be a submariner if you're not the sort of guy to run toward the disaster instead of away from it. Since I'm naturally this sort of person myself, having everyone aboard part of DC makes sense. It was one of those things poor James had the most trouble with, though. (Honestly, I don't remember if he ever got his dolphins. He switched over to force protection and last I heard was happy as an above-the-water-clam.)

Anyway, I'm getting long-winded as usual. This is a really long story to explain my surprise when I came across this story on Facebook (I'm a fan of the MCPON. I know, mucho geeky, even for me):

Senior Enlisted Sailor Aims to Make Warfare Programs Mandatory for All Ranks

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) (SS/SW) Rick D. West says if a program is available, it should be mandatory for every Sailor.

In both the surface and aviation forces, program regulations state any Sailor, E-5 or above, must be actively working toward attaining his or her primary warfare device. West sees value in expanding that to all ranks and has asked the force and fleet master chiefs to review the programs for expansion.

I swear to you, before this story I did not know that junior enlisted surface sailors aren't routinely working toward their warfare pins.

I also did not expect many surface sailors to flip the fuck out over this (all quotes here are taken from MCPON West's Facebook page, & any emphasis has been added by me):

"It's the First Class' job to hold the E-4 and below accountable. E-5's and above get the extra pressure because the Navy felt they were fit to handle more responsibilites. Encouraging junior Sailors to get their warfare qualifications is the right thing to do, but I don't believe making it mandatory is the answer. We saw aspects of the warfare qualification program go downhill back when CNO ADM Johnson put out that earning a pin would not give you extra points on an advancement exam. Earning a warfare qualification allows hard charging Sailors to break out against their peers. It also becomes a numbers game. If it's mandatory, then the goal for the Sailor is to just get it done vs. really learning how to save his/her ship."

"Making these quals mandatory will draw away from the uniqueness of what it is to be a sailor. One can also surmise that people will just "sign off" the books, and voila - now the deck plates are full of people that really don't know the ins and outs of their ship. Look at some of those E-4 and E-5s that get POOW certified, but constantly goof on the 1MC. Still annoys me."

"Where I agree that the goal should be to have everyone qualified and knowing the in-and-outs of their respective warfare groups I don't believe making it mandatory would be a good thing. It really will take away any uniqueness left about getting a pin. Sailors will not have the pride in accomplishing something that not everyone does."

"I completely agree with both Courtney Dock Abuhl and Christopher Johnson.
The surface community is different then the submarine community. We have rates on the ship that are trained to minimize the damage in the event of a casualty."

(On that note: What happens when your damage control men get taken out?)

Really, I don't know enough about the issue to really weigh in one way or the other. It's just kind of startling to me to learn that not only is the surface warfare pin not a routine part of any surface sailor's first command, but there are sailors out there who think that such a thing being made mandatory would lessen it. What I have seen from the small world of the sub fleet suggests this is not at all the case.

Of course, maybe holding the specter of "If you don't qualify we're kicking your sorry ass to surface fleet" over a man's head is a hell of a motivator. Surface fleet just doesn't have that sort of bogeyman.

1 comment:

Steve said...

This post brings back some memories. My dad retired as a Chief out of COMSUBLANT in Boston back in the 90's. His Dolphins were a VERY big deal. He was also very involved in the Sub Vets organization and most of the folks I've ever met from that group have that same pride of service in the sub fleet, they are a unique breed for sure.