Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

CO Of USS Helena Relieved For Cause

Navy Times reported last night that CDR William A. Schwalm was relieved as CO of USS Helena (SSN 725) for "loss of confidence". Excerpts from the article:
(Commodore) Jaenichen made his decision based on “just a pattern of performance over time that was consistently not meeting the standards” expected of a commanding officer, Myrick said. The captain lost confidence “in his ability to maintain the Helena crew’s proficiency and level of readiness.”
Schwalm had assumed command of Helena on June 9 and led the submarine on a two-month deployment to the U.S. Southern Command region. He has been temporarily reassigned to a position at Naval Mine and Anti-submarine Warfare Command in San Diego, Myrick said.
Jaenichen assigned Cmdr. Daryl L. Caudle, his deputy at the submarine squadron, as the temporary commander of Helena until a permanent skipper is named. Caudle most recently had command of the fast-attack boat, Jefferson City.
Schwalm, a native of Petersburg, Mich., who was commissioned into the Navy in 1987, has served on five submarines, including the fast-attack submarine Philadelphia, where he served as the executive officer, according to his official biography. His other submarine assignments include the Daniel Webster, Sea Devil and Alabama.
The official Navy press release is here. I knew Bill Schwalm as a fellow Shift Eng and later Materials Officer at NPTU Charleston. He was always very professional; I'm sorry to see him lose his command.

Update 2312 20 May: Navy Times reports that five Navy COs have been fired in the last five weeks. Looks like a bad trend.

38 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Over the past few years, it seems the removal for cause of SSN skippers is far higher than for boomer skippers (whom we rarely hear about for other reasons).

Opportunities for some improvement certainly appears possible for SSN commands. While boomer skippers outrank their SSN counterparts and benefit from greater personal experience, they also benefit from greater overall wardroom experience.

Additionally, alternation of B&G sea periods equates to a proprtionately lowered risk of screwup opportunities during common risk evolutions, as well as relatively quiescent morale factors.

Some would probably like to see more O-6s commanding SSNs on a regular basis, but it simply won't happen. Politically, the career risks for arduous SSN commands are simply too high. So, what other improvement opportunities are available for consideration?
- Crestwell

5/17/2007 12:58 AM

 
Blogger Bubblehead said...

While boomer COs used to be O-6s, over the last 15 years or so, all submarine commands except newcon have been for O-5s. I have two friends who recently took command of crews on Ohio-class boats who were fairly junior CDRs. There isn't an experience difference anymore.

5/17/2007 6:04 AM

 
Blogger Skippy-san said...

There has to be something else here. Based on what he said a few things seem to raise their head:

1) Somebody got something out about the command climate.

2) They failed something from an inspection standpoint.

3) The squadron had a spy on the boat

4) There was some external conduct thing that they are not talking about.

Just my .02

5/17/2007 6:25 AM

 
Blogger bothenook said...

after getting out of the navy, i went to work as a nuclear shift test engineer at Mare Island. i dealt with many many J.O.'s on a daily basis, and their dept heads and the CO's on a slightly less regular basis. i've now known 2 officers i worked with that were relieved of their commands. in both instances, i could have saved the navy a crapload of money had they listened to a lowly GS-13. give me a couple of major plant evolutions, and i could usually tell if the dude was going to hack it or not. and not JUST from a professional point of view either. you get to know how someone ticks when you are together for an extended period of time with a high stress evolution going on, and having the whole world looking over your shoulder (like hot and cold running Naval Reactors reps).

5/17/2007 8:52 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The post-conversion OHIO class SSGNs are now being commanded by O-6s as a Major Command - similar to how the SSBNs were managed until about 1994.

5/17/2007 8:56 AM

 
Anonymous Francis K. KEOUGH said...

I confess, all I know about submarines is what I saw from watching "The Silent Service" on TV when I was in 6th grade. My son is in the Navy, though, (CTI1 / Misawa, Japan) so I'm kinda interested in this.

That being said, from reading CDR Schwalm's bio it would appear to me that he's a reasonably competent individual. Are the positions he held responsible ones or just "time fillers" ? Were his awards and decorations reflective of genuine performance and achievement or were they "gimme's" and "attaboys" merely handed out by fellow Officers ? Were they appropriate to (or greater or lesser than) where he was in rank and career ? (My son has explained to me where he is in relation to other enlisted personnel in relation to rank / time in service / MOS. It's probably somewhat similar for Officers.)

Is this an example of the Captain; being responsible for everything under his command, taking the lump for mis-performance on the part of others under his command; or is this something directly attributable to the Captain and hisown performance ?

I'm a retired Police Sergeant. Sometimes the CHief beat me up for stuff guys on my shift did, and sometimes the CHief beat me for stuff I did. Obviously, Command at Sea is much more critical; I expect nothing less than the best.
If the CDR was not competent to hold command; then how did he get as far is he did ? Is there Political Correctness, or something, going on here ?

Is there an undercurrent here that only you sub guys know about ?

I ask out of curiosity and would like to know. Please use small words, you know how us non-Navy types are. Thank you !

5/17/2007 9:35 AM

 
Blogger midwatchcowboy said...

I agree with Skippy. "Loss of confidence" are codewords. The CO either did something wrong that the crew would know/learn about to remove his perceived authority, or the command climate he created/allowed was not productive and squadron believe couldn't be fixed.

5/17/2007 9:41 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The key is "lost confidence in his ability to maintain the Helena crew’s proficiency and level of readiness." What this means is that the HELENA probably did not do well on any or all of the numerous opportunities for outside agents to observe the crew in operation (TRE, ORSE, POMCERT, BSA, squadron rides, etc). Further, the Commodore probably decided that the CO was not only unlikely to be able to fix the problem, but maybe even part of it by the way he set the standards on the ship.

Just speculation - I have no knowledge of any details, but reading between the lines is a hobby of mine.

5/17/2007 9:59 AM

 
Blogger Trickish Knave said...

Perhaps the nuke mentality just doesn't belong that high up in command. They are more concerned with numbers and procedures than with human capitol.

I remember quite clearly when I was on the L.A. in 2001 when CDR Jenkins was relieved of command. "Loss of confidence" barely scrathces the surface.

5/17/2007 12:59 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i served with him on the Philly when he was an XO (hard job) and he was a stand up guy there has to be something more political or he failed a few inspections.......just my opinion

-----Evil

5/17/2007 5:18 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is not a post about the skipper of the Helena, but the man who had him removed:

As someone who personally served with now Commodore Jaenichen, I can tell you that back in the early 90's when he was my Eng, he was quick to blame others for any percieved fault that may reflect on him. He was quick to point fingers and even quicker to try and start damage control. Even when it turned out to be nothing, he would blow things up to justify his actions.

Yes, you can say I am not a fan of his. It was officers like him that led me to leave a job that I loved.

5/18/2007 8:24 AM

 
Blogger Chap said...

A couple of things from my viewpoint:

--I learned about ten years ago that good and capable and certified people doing the best job they can are also able to fail. In my department head tour I saw people I thought were better'n'me fail in a job that I thought I did pretty well in. So it's not necessarily what you see in the biography, or whether you thought the guy was good when you knew him socially.
--I'd secure the blast on the ISIC without more information. I've been in a staff weenie job or two, with a really close look at how it works, and one thing I noticed was that the guy in charge can't fire someone without the concurrence of his boss--and the most deviation you'd get on that one is a special case where the subordinate commander is very forceful or has a lot of credibility and goes off on a tear. But firing a guy doesn't feel good; it doesn't feel like success to his peers, so there's systemic tendency to not fire a guy. (It also means that sometimes the firing signal comes emphatically from levels above the ISIC.)
--On the other hand if you don't fire a guy at the right time you kill people. I've seen that, too. Also, if a CO can't maintain the confidence of the guy who's responsibility for his actions, that ain't an upcheck if you know what I mean.

So all I personally can conclude now is "don't know enough", "man, sucks for the boat", and "man, sucks for the guy".

5/18/2007 8:24 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Keough. If this and so many other CO's are unfit for command, what is the process problem at Navy Personnel Command in screening and detailing them for command? Who else has slipped through? What did squadron do to mentor and assist the boat before the CO was fired? Who is looking beyond the failures onboard Helena so that we can progress beyond ending careers and operating ships proficiently?

5/18/2007 11:49 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that Bill got relieved of his command; I served with Bill on Alabama (Blue) and at Stratcom and he is the consumate professional. Always calm under fire, he was always a guy to look up to.

Agree with previous post that even adverse things happen to good people. Regardless, he's still a friend, a good father, and a good Naval Officer - that is something that they cannot take away from him.

One thought for folks to consider - I am of belief that you cannot just arbitrarily assign "qualified" people into any situation and expect the same result. For example, I have served with COs that would not succeed if the command they inherited was already running well (they were better at fixing). Conversely, I have served with COs that would not succeed too well in commands that require fixing. People (including Officers) come in different shapes and people skillsets so the bureau must be judicious in their detailing of screened Commanding Officers.

5/19/2007 10:08 AM

 
Blogger STRATWEPS said...

Anyone who has served with CDR Schwalm will tell you that he is a good Naval Officer. I too served with him on the BAMA and during that time I always knew he would get his own command, he is that good.

This is the only Naval Officer who I told that when he became a Commanding Officer I would be his Chief of the Boat. That is the level of my faith in his ability to lead and I stand firm on this.

Another thought for you folks to consider - Why does a Naval Officer with such a successful career get command of a nuclear submarine, only to lose it a year later?

1. It used to be that a Commanding Officer only got fired for running aground, hitting another vessel, or getting someone killed. Times have changed.

2. A big emphasis is being placed on crew inspections, now so more than ever (TRE, ORSE, BSA, POMCERT, ....and the list goes on). If a "crew's proficiency and level of readiness" is Below Average or Unsatisfactory, then it must be the Commanding Officer's fault. That's the way it works.

3. A Commanding Officer can only yell and scream so much at his crew. What ultimately makes him successful are his Officers and a good Chiefs Quarters.

4. My last SSN tour in Pearl Harbor showed me some alarming trends in the fleet. Of the 25 men in my department, only four were fleet returnees (three of them were Chiefs). Newly reporting personnel had no sea experience and the training they received prior to reporting was minimal due to budgetary cutbacks. We too "lacked proficiency and level of readiness".

5. To improve, we increased our training time, ran more drills, performed more monitored evolutions and walk throughs. When the day was done, we then fixed our gear. We improved alright, but at a cost.

6. Alcohol related incidents went from zero over a years period to 2-3 a month. Attrition, domestic violence, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, mental breakdowns, men throwing in the white towel all increased as well.

7. Ultimately, what this boils down to is the submarine community is being asked to do more with less. We are expected to be knowledgeable and proficient without the resources to do so. The Helena is not the only crew that is lacking in proficiency and level of readiness.

Personally, this is just the tip of the iceberg. More good men will suffer CDR Schwalm's fate through no fault of their own.

5/20/2007 2:05 AM

 
Anonymous Mel said...

This is my very first blogg entry.
I felt it was important to express my opinion as so many people before me have.

I am not in the millitary, nor have I ever been married to a millitary person ( I was engaged once to a guy in the Army and wasted 3 of my 6 years with him while her served, but that doesn't compare to actually being a spouse of a millitary person).

Anyway.... have any of you taking the time to state your opinion on such a private matter in such a public forum thought about what you say affects the wife and children of William Schwalm? I hope that all future blogger's do.

I'm in Toledo, Ohio and I know the family very well and when I was told about the situation I was shocked and clearly surprised at the Commodore's decisison to remove Mr. Schwalm. And then when I was told about this blogg and everything that people were writing I was even more surprised.

Those of us who know the family and Mr. Schwalm are the only people who can and/or should make any comment on the situation, but I truly believe it should not be put in writing in such a public forum.

As my mom told me as a little girl, " If you don't have something nice to say about a person you shouldn't say it." And that isn't more fitting than it is here, in the blogg community.

To the Schwalm family.... you know who I am! Keep you chin high, smile and just say "Thank you."
We love you!!!! Remember: everything happens for a reason and when one door closes another door will open. :)

5/20/2007 10:15 AM

 
Anonymous Reactor Rick said...

I don't know Bill Schwalm. But I worked for Chip Jaenichen when he was the OIC of the MTS-635 and I was one of the (civilian) Supervisors of In-Hull Training. Chip was a demanding person, but basically fair. There were times when I am sure he wanted to choke me senseless, but usually it was mutual.

That being said, I advise a wait and see position. There is probably a story here that we don't even have an inkling about.

5/20/2007 2:47 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been on USS San Francisco when she ran aground, I can personally tell you that all it takes is one bad day at sea to ruin the career of an otherwise stellar Naval Officer.

5/20/2007 11:48 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I served with Cmdr Schwalm. I left the day he announced he was stepping down/being relived. We were when I left a very very junior crew. We did get a below average on ORSE. However There were a lot of personel issues. DUI's, nukes misbehaving back aft on watch, while the reactor is critical. We had a chief get relived for QA issues. It was a snowball of things that some of us who had been on there for a while saw coming. I can tell you I dont think there was a person on the crew that didnt respect him and like him. He was a good capt and just got a bad wrap from a few bad eggs. You cant blame everything on a CO. He was a competent CO that I would trust with my life anyday. Sometimes you just have a bad crew with bad attitudes. No matter how you try they just wanna be "against the man" I feel for Cmdr Schwalm. I wish him well in is future.

5/23/2007 8:03 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

711 and 750 are costing a literal fortune in $$ and credibility.

The brass have created new criteria for firing a Submarine Skipper.

The traditional smoking guns for relief (i.e Grounding, Collision, Personal behavior) are a thing of the past.

This business of keeping the job of "Command" has gotten a whole lot tougher!

Best of luck to all of them and kudo's for taking on the job in the first place.

It's becoming clear to me that somebody is making it clear to the brass, that the next Sub Wreck will result in a Flag Relief

5/29/2007 6:58 PM

 
Blogger Helena725 said...

I am a plank-owner on the USS Helena SSN-725 and served under 3 Captains on her... So many comments, where do I start... The bottom line is the Captain is the "God" so to speak of his vessel while at sea... and yes he is completely responsible for the boat, it's actions and the crew... He is the Heart and the crew is the soul... Being a captain, he has no excuses for why he was relieved... Lack of confidence says it all... his CO and or his crew had that, and either or both cases he failed as a CO... Yes he might have been a stand up guy and yes he might have been a great XO, but that does not make him a captain and true leader... I had XOs that were great XOs (personnel department heads) but many I would not like to see as a captain... Usually the Engineer, Weps or Nav was a true leader and knew the boat but the XO was a political position and like I said, usually took care of personnel issues and not a second in command so to speak. Politics sometimes makes COs of boats, first CO of PCU Helena and commissioning CO (shipyard captain) of USS Helena (Tommy Tumor). He drove the crew in the dirt and ruined many good sailors ( chiefs and blueshirts alike) and had no clue why... We had our first ORSE and they (ORSE Team) made him take us back into port because the crew was beat and tired... I bet that is not in his performance report... Our second CO, Comannder Voelker was a true Submarine commander... he belived that the Helena was a true man-of-war and commanded his ship and crew that way... In his days the Helena was a boat that you really didn't want to run across. Her crew was proud to serve her in those days. It is too bad that the recent CO was put into a position he was not fit for but there is no excuse for bringing dishonor on the USS Helena and her crew... she is a "fine and worthy ship" and deserves the likes of RADM George E. Voelker
and the likes of sub commanders of the past (Mush Mortin ETC)...

6/29/2007 10:51 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CDR Schwalm was my first XO back on Philly. Great guy - high standards, great people skills, and technically proficient. He really made a fine XO.

That said, I have no idea if his managerial abilities as an XO translated well to the challenges of CO-level leadership, but I really had hoped that they would. The SSN fleet is in need of guys like him. I know more sailors that stayed in the navy because of him and CDR Casciano (Philly's skipper during Schwalm's days as XO) then from any other boat I've been on.

7/02/2007 12:37 PM

 
Blogger Helena725 said...

That being said Anonymous... then you should know that a fast attack has no room for someone that is in a position, to be in that position. I have seen many great guys leave the submarine force in one form or another... They were great guys and I could not hold anything against them but they found themselves in a position they were not fit for...

7/02/2007 10:31 PM

 
Blogger Helena725 said...

That being said Anonymous... then you should know that a fast attack has no room for someone that is in a position, to be in that position. I have seen many great guys leave the submarine force in one form or another... They were great guys and I could not hold anything against them but they found themselves in a position they were not fit for... Unfortunate, but that is what makes the submarine force different from most forces (Navy Seals are probably the exception). He either allowed himself to bring dishonor on the USS Helena or allowed himself to be put into a position to do the same... There is no excuse for either nor will the sea forgive a transgress for any reason... the bottom is a cold and lonely place and you have to have a captain that will put your advisories there and not you…

7/02/2007 10:35 PM

 
Blogger Helena725 said...

Well… I was hoping to hear some more posts from all… long story but a SSBN an a SSN Captain is two different animals even in today’s post cold war so to speak. SSBNs at best are half time sailors but their CO’s have the challenge to keep their crew together for 52 days of nothing so to speak and that is really not easy. A SSN CO is in the middle of “it” and seeks out “it” all the time and has to be able to put all of “theirs” on the bottom at any moment… boomers, skimmers and any other threat to the US before “they” can do the same… I was an FTG(SS) and always will be although I am a GS-12 (bootheneck) for the Air Force now (the shame)… I love what I do but god how I wish it was the Navy still… you could always do the right thing for the right reason there but I still do the same but it is hard sometimes in the Air-force. Back to being an FTG(SS) and my point… if and or when ( I can neither confirm or deny) my job would or could have been to turn cities in to parking lots (Tomahawk) and put their skimmers and subs (boomers) on the bottom before “they” could do the same to any US ship or city, I carried the same weight of my ultimate actions as anybody on a SSBN and more to a point and like my fellow SSBN shipmates, I would do my duty and job with out question. Rank of a sub CO is not the point… SSBNs were a “deep draft” (11 ft more) vessel for requirement but a now SSGN converted SSBN is no comparison of a SSBN CO… totally different ship and mission although the hull and plant is the same…

7/12/2007 11:23 PM

 
Blogger MM2/3/fn/fa/SS said...

I served on the Helena during Cdr Schwalm's short stay. It was not his fault that things happened the way they did, but we really did all know it was coming. There is no morale on that boat. they punish those who strive for the most.
I came across this blog and couldnt help but to share my story to some of those who want to listen and may unerstand how terribe the situation is down there.
We did do bad on some inspections, but our workdays boatwide were extremely unreasonable. the entire crew was tired and worn down. my average day last from 0700 to 2200 or later. we were in 3-4 duty sections depending on how many people were willing to stand 6-hour mid watches and still get no rest the next day.
Alcohol was a major issue also. when i was assigned there, the barracks were worse than any cheap bar you could fall into. being the "root cause" of drinking in the barracks, i was punished for partying in the barracks. We got out of hand that night, but a paygrade and 30 days in CCU (which was a break from work i might add). seriously.
I am now separated as a Fireman Apprentice. I made MM2 about 2 months before my sep date. I love the crew there....there;s a lot of good people, but things arent right. my reason for separation was disrespect to a senior petty officer, i think if you ask anyone on that boat who knows me and served with me that is not the fate a JSOQ, EP sailor recieves. How do you make rank from E-1 to E-5 in less than 3 years, but lose it all in less than 4 months time? The USS helena...thats how.
But really i think there is a bigger problem at large here. 6 CO's in 6 weeks? WTF. it starts at the top and drizzles down.
I jsut had to share i dont know if it made a difference to anyone or not, but if you have any Q's feel free to email me at ineed_a_name@yahoo.com

9/25/2007 10:58 PM

 
Anonymous Framed Nuke said...

As to the comment about screening potential CO's; I know of a letter signed by the Commodore to a higher up that stated the CO, XO, EDMC, COB on a certain submarine that I served on were all rated below standards. They were allowed to take command but were relieved early as well. The fact is once you screen for XO there are the exact same number of CO billets available so XO's must become CO's or someone must command multiple boats in series.
Until we have enough quality XO's we will be lacking in CO quality.

10/23/2007 10:54 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with the post concerning Captain Chip Jaenichan. As a former CO of his said... with the fitreps that I gave him he is lucky to have made it to Commander let alone Command. I was shocked to hear that he is a Squadron Commander. He was always quick to blame and wore his jealously of others on his sleeve. I found him to be barely competent and he would stab you in the back in a heatbeat. He is the reason that more than one individual that I know left the submarine force. When the submarine elite promote and put individuals like Jaenichan in leadership positons they must pay the price. Political butt kissers like Chip are destroying the submarine force. There are no warriors left only politicians. With the relief of the Hampton CO, perhaps they should take a look at Chip Jaenichan's performance... less than a year in Squadron Command (a squadron of roughly 5 submarines!) and he has relieved 2 Commanding Officers for cause. He is batting .400!!!

10/27/2007 11:19 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who is intimately involved in this situation I will offer the following:
Jared- the boat is doing much better. No alcohol related incidents since yours (196 days ago). A gang not only doesn't work past 1700 (except for the occassional urgent repair), they get day after duty. All watches forward and aft are 4 section or better. Got our silver dolphon flag back a couple months ago. The whole ship is doing better all around.
As for CDR Schwalm- no one cared more about this ship or this crew than he did. Unfortunately it boiled down to the fact that he was just the wrong person for that job at the wrong time. Any other period in the life of this ship he may have succeeded, just not at that time. He was a terrific guy who I'd be happy to serve with again. As for the Commodore, he did what he had to do. In hind sight, there was no other choice.
Good luck to all of you.

10/30/2007 3:56 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I'm a little slow getting here, but I stumbled across this little gem of a blog surfing around today. I served under CDR Schwalm on HELENA, but left before him. An earlier post was correct, our morale was in the shitter, no doubt. I wouldn't consider myself long in the tooth, but I am competent at what I do. I only hope I never am asked to step into the situation that CDR Schwalm stepped into. I'll give you a few things to think about, but am not going to pretend that my opinion is of material importance. Just put this in your pipe and smoke it, as they say...

Food for thought:
1. The man had command less than a year. How much can you change a crew and ship in one year? How did the ship run before he got there?

2. Surely the XO could have helped bridge some gaps, since the CO was new to the place. I wonder when the XO reported to the boat.

3. Ok, just maybe the XO couldn't do it all by himself, surely the rest of the wardroom was a sea going lot with plenty of experience amongst them. How long had the department heads and JO's been on board?

4. Someone said something about QA and other inspection related issues (eg, a below average ORSE). How long had the ENG and EDMC been around? HaHaHaHa, holy shit, that is a great question. I don't have enough fingers to count the number of Engineers I worked for on that boat.

5. Chief's Quarters. The last door on the right. This is where the really salty bastards live. What were they up to? Was their performance on an upward, or downward trend?

6. How about the boys in blue? See previous post about being a junior crew. Somebody said we had the worst retention rate in the fleet. I don't know about all that, but I know it wasn't good. I wonder how long that trend had been going?

7. Command at sea is the ultimate responsibility. It just is, it is in the definition of the word. Anyone who has gone to sea should have some sense of that.

Ok, so I didn't keep my opinion completely out of it. Just before I left it almost pained me to go to work, as it did many of my shipmates. We each had our reasons for not wanting to be there, but as for myself, each day I carried my share of the load, stood my watch, and did what I could to improve HELENA and be a good shipmate. The man who tried the hardest to improve the ship and the best shipmate we could have asked for was the Old Man. But then, see #7 above.

Fair winds and following seas, Captain, it was a pleasure serving with you.

2/01/2008 2:14 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this after I googled "CDR William Schwalm". I was trying to get in touch with him. I have not spoken with him since just before he took command of the Helena. Looks like the bungling boobs of the Navy brass have ruined another good guys carreer.

I knew Bill when I was a MM on the USS Daniel Webster (later to become the MTS 626). He was my division officer and later my Shift Engineer. He was and still is one of two or three Naval Officers I will always look up to. So much so, that I requested, then LT Schwalm, to re-enlist me. I still have the polaroid. He later convinced me to become an Officer and wrote a very glowing recommendation for me, which I am sure got me selected.

The "New Navy" wants people that rule by fear and intimidation, The "Higher Ups" want pricks to hammer the crews day in and day out. Bill was was never that guy nor will he ever be that guy. Bill.....DON'T EVER BE THAT GUY!!!

I recently got out after 17 years because the Navy wanted me to be that guy as well. I could not and would not do it. The Submarine Navy is lost. They no longer have a meaningful mission. All they care about are ORSE's, TRE's and etc.....They no longer care about doing a meaningful job for the country. They only care about congressional funding. While chasing power and the all mighty dollar, the sub force is ruining good competent men.

2/17/2008 3:51 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I have to say is:
Training. The Navy and DoD have been cutting that funding for years along all aspects of the fleet. Techs that used to get to the boat prepared to do their job now haven't a clue. I am a nuke and I could see the corner-cutting very early on when I got to my ship. It is ridiculous that there is only ONE sub platform with a prototype training facility. Submarines are the TIP of the spear. The TIP, did I say the TIP? I shouldn't have to teach a guy his whole job at that point. Most nukes weren't really worth a crap for up to 2 years after arriving to the boat. And with less training we have more problems, that means more BS paper to deal with to protect ourselves from our inattention to detail with training. Did i mention training? With less training and more people taking more time to fix the people with less training you have less time to do your real job and therefore the people who can do their job get screwed and unhappy. Those people will not stay in, in fact many of my friends from the ship hated it so much they intentionally did things to leave. This is a viscious cycle and I hope to god it doesn't end with plant problems or something else with far-reaching consequences. But if it does, it will be the sailors fault, not the clowns who robbed him of his training.

9/19/2008 11:18 AM

 
Anonymous I Survived The Helena said...

This topic is dead, but I just stumbled across it, thought I would put in my 2 cents. I served on this boat from 03 to 07. I have seen the boat at its best, and then it slowly progressed to its very worst. I never realized until I read through this blog the big picture. Basically, the commodore was a giant douche trying to progress through the ranks by making others look bad. It all makes so much sense now. Schwalm took over a boat that was equivalent to the country the next president will be taking over, a country with the highest deficit ever, an unpopular war, financial crisis.. Shwalm took over a boat that had zero moral, zero re-enlistments for the past year, somebody getting off the boat almost every week for a reason other than regular transfer reasons (drugs, talk of suicide, anit-depressants, etc etc...) basically the worst boat on the Pacific, and he was completly set up for failure by the previous command. I am by no means claiming to know the entire picture here, but I will tell you exactly what I saw. I had the COB, and the NODEA tell me informally in the smoke pit, when Schwalm took command, that "this is how the navy should be." Everthing was getting back to normal.. Schwalm was the best thing that could've happened to the Helena (had the circumstances been a little better). The last 2 years with the prior CO had been absolute hell... he instilled a fear into everyone E6 and above... it's hard to explain... but it boiled down to everyone was working double overtime, standing 3-4 section duty standing all sorts of silly watches, trying your hardest to get some work done overnight so you can go home before 1800 the next day, only to be held on the boat until 2200 to attend training, or another public CO's mast etc, etc... there was always a reason. And to make it worse, people were literally getting phased off that boat every week, for every possible reason. Be it someone showing their genitals in manuevering, or someone getting caught urinating in the engine room funnels on watch during a inspection, or someone inheriting Grandpas fortune and all of a sudden wants to commit suicide, or someone disrespecting a senior petty officer, (absolute GARBAGE!!!!) there were right around 100 people in the 4 years I've been on board that either threw in the towel, or got fired... any reason other than a normal transfer or completion of obligated service. Hell, we even had a JO shoot himself in the shoulder in a phantom gun fight in an attempt to get himself off the boat!!!! Google "helena shooting guam" Point is, everybody was getting off this boat. Fully qualified guys that were supporting the watch-bill. So for the rest of us honest men just wanting to fulfill our contracts, it made life miserable. Guys were being denied leave, terminal leave, guys were standing port and starboard watches, frequently going to a 3 section watchbill, or if we were 4 section, sister section support. Guys were working on the boat sun-up to sun-down... even on pac in a LIBERTY port. We had a nuke chief go UA in Singapore, after he was stuck working on the boat without going out at all, to the point he eventually just lost it.
Point being, Schwalm took command of a boat that was already down the crapper. Many qualified guys had dissapeared, and all that were left were junior disgruntled sailors who were forced to qualify quickly to support the watchbill. No wonder we were failing inspections. We had no good leadership. The boat had had who knows how many engineers, countless ANAV's, and the list goes on. To add to it, one of the engineers who got FIRED by the previous CO, later came back to be the navigator under the new CO, or maybe Caudle... it all fades together. At any rate, the BIGGEST DOUCHE I HAVE EVER WORKED WITH, Z*****R... was a direct reflection to the boat being in as bad of shape as it was. And Schwalm was expected to fix all these sore attitudes, fix the Helena, but he had no chance, everybody was broken beyond repair at that point. There was not a sailor on board that served in a different command that didn't say "this is not the navy, things aren't really like this." But for those of us on our first sea going command, this was all we knew.... 90 hour work weeks, 3 section duty, an ongoing "screw someone else to make me look better" attitude up and down the chain of command. The commadore had Schwalm recall his holiday/end of deployment stand-down sailors to sit on the boat and get reprimanded for 6 hours because 1 individual got a dwi... so all these negative attitudes continued on into Schwalms command, and in no way possible in the year that he was on board in his circumstances it could have been fixed. I will never forget quarters on the pier when Schwalm made his announcement about being no longer in command. Everyone was dead silent with disbelief, yet no one was surprised that it had happened. In my opinion, he was completly set up for failure by his predecessor, and the few "bad eggs" we had on board. (The sailor off our boat doing burnouts and doughnuts in the base parking garage in the middle of the day... on the day of the commodore change of command didn't help much) (oh ya, did I mention we had one of the biggest hazing incidents on board with our prior CO.. mostly involved with the dude doing doughnuts... should've got rid of him a LOOONG time ago) Commander Schwalm was a good man, a good captain, and a victim of being on the wrong boat at the wrong time. Had he been on the boat a few years earlier I would have been proud to re-state the enlistment oath, and continue on to do 20+ years of service doing one of the coolest jobs ever. My opinion of the Navy (as was most everybodys on the boat) was long since ruined before Schwalm ever stepped onboard, and I feel genuinely bad for him under his circumstances, as he could've been the "Battle E" captain of the year on any other boat. His getting fired further reinforced my already rock solid decision to get out of the Navy, as it is NOT the Navy or submarine force it used to be, from the stories I heard from my Grandpa to the stories I heard from salt-ass chiefs. I have even seen it, in my short 4 years the transformation from "submariners take care of their own" attitude to the misery I described above.

10/27/2008 12:02 AM

 
Blogger Helena725 said...

Anonymous... or any-mouse... I am FTG1(SS) Michael Brown Plank owner, shellback, order of the ditch and golden dragon on just the USS Helena... If you are or if you expect your opinion to count then I call out the any-mouse... I served under 3 captains.... SSN COs are not political but what you do, the only godsend in today’s world... They have no room to make mistakes... USS SanaLOOL-LOOL...( gee (San Fran with Hono's bow)I am sorry but I let my boat and crew hit a sea mount golly gee not my fault as a CO... and gee sorry a killed a submariner in the process... Our new Pres Elect or politics apart.. If you were a true submariner first being a submariner is a higher serving in life...: You know me but who are you, I call you out... I say "submarines once" what is your reply???? The only true commander of the Helena has some stars, the other 2 are retired (thank god for our country)...

12/02/2008 8:23 PM

 
Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

Let me just say that I now know personally the kind of command climate Bill Schwalm inherited. I would also like to know why the man responsible is apparently still held in high regard by submarine force flag officers. Anyone reading this and talking to his people knows he is toxic.

Fair winds Bill.

3/04/2009 8:10 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I reported to the Helena just over six months ago and I can definitely relate to the terrible moral that can ruin a command. It still is unbearable two years afterward. I can only imagine the type of command inherited. The only way to stop this is to lighten up. We may have a bad reputation, but it will only get worse as more pressure falls on us. My last boat was the same way. You have a few problems and the spot light begins to shine. The added attention brings more faults into view which only causes more attention. It is an endless cycle of turmoil until either another boat screws up or the crew begins the downward spiral of suicide (see USS Nebraska circa 2004) It sucks. Please help by giving bad boats some leniency

5/12/2009 10:54 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add my 2 cents even though I'm very late getting in on the discussion. I served on the Helena from 2000 to 2004. I had 3 CO's during this time. Everybody seems to be flamming CDR Wright as the cause of the crews loss of moral. I just wanted to say that yes, Wright was a major pain, but it was our("the blueshirts") opinion that CDR Birtch was driving moral into the gutter. Back aft, we all saw this was coming in 2003! The command was relentless. We all put in stupid hours for meaningless things back then. We thought moral and retention couldn't get much worse back then. I guess we were wrong. I'm sorry for what the crew went through at that time. I'm sorry to hear that a good skipper lost his command.

8/07/2010 12:43 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

During WW II the CO of another USS Helena (CL50), light cruiser, was relieved by Adm "Bull" Halsey for failing to pick up survivors of another US ship sunk by Japanese. Despite all this, she was known as the "fightin'est ship in the US Navy". She was sunk at Guadalcanal in 1943.

6/22/2011 12:52 PM

 

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