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.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

What Makes A Good COB?

After the great response I got from the readers here about what advice to give a new submarine JO, a Submarine Wife wrote and asked if I could do the same kind of post for what advice we'd give a new Chief of the Boat. This is, to me, a tougher question, since once a submariner is selected to be the COB, I figured his attitudes are probably already pretty much set in HY-80. Then I realized, "Hey, that's not necessarily the case. Just because the COBs you've seen all radiated self-confidence, that doesn't mean that maybe they still are just as scared that they won't do the right thing as you were when you got your orders for XO."

I've had the pleasure of serving with many successful COBs, and a couple who weren't as "good" from the crew's standpoint. That being said, the position of COB is so unique -- there really isn't an equivalent in the rest of the Navy, where the senior enlisted man onboard not only is responsible for the standard Command Master Chief-type duties, but also (normally) stands 3-section watch underway. It could be that the most effective COBs aren't liked by the crew -- you need to see how the boat does overall. I don't think that's the case, but I'm eager to hear other input.

The best COBs I knew were those who stood up for the crew when talking to the CO, and stood up for the CO when talking to the crew. They didn't need to be the CO's hatchet man -- that's what the XO is for -- but they didn't do the boat any favors when they sat around bitching about what the CO and XO were going to do next. The successful COBs worked just as hard as any other Chief, and took it on themselves to be "the man" when it came to standing DOOW. They recognized they were the COB for the whole crew, and not just a coner counterweight to the EDMC (Engineering Dept Master Chief; used to be called the EDEA, or Eng Dept Enlisted Advisor) -- they wouldn't announce "liberty for the crew" on return to homeport while shore power cables were still being attached. They knew their job was to represent the crew, but still took the time to give much needed advice to the officers -- including JOs trying to qualify DOOW. Most importantly, if they saw an Engineer tending to go straight to his Chiefs for expediency instead of going through the Division Officers routinely, he'd sit him down and remind him that this wasn't a good idea. (That was me, in case you were wondering.)

So what do you think? What makes a good COB, and what makes a bad one? Please provide your opinions and anecdotes in the comments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the new COB's, respect is yours to lose.

Good luck to the good few; for the rest, try not to screw it up too bad for everyone else.


11/26/2007 7:44 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first COB was better than just "Good". I'd say he was "GREAT". He was MMCM(SS) Welich, Blue crew, mid-1970s-SSBN634.

I think he was great for two reasons: First, he went to bat for me and won against a jerk of a weapons officer. Second, after 30 years I can still remember what he looked like and how he acted.

He was the best chief and best COB I ever served with. When he moved on, a big part of the strength of the crew left with him.

11/26/2007 11:43 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best COB I ever had was a conversion from the Marines to Nuke ETCM(SS) (Pac Flt Sailor of the Year).

Chief Dietz was a standout all the way around.

Key thing reasonable by evenhanded fair to all. Dedicated to his job both in his division and as COB.

Always believed in enforcement of the highest standards but also willing to grant recognition and rewards to those who met that standard. Always lead people never drove them.

If a slacker emerged he would talk to them to get their head on right rather than jump to the beat em with a stick approach as first option.

Never ever believed in mass punishment for the acts of a few.

Was not in the least bit afraid to take CPO's aside and adjust their attitude if they were on personal ego trips and excessive I am God syndrome.

The man was a master of all his rate required. I swear he could quote RPM's from memory verbatim and also any Instructions etc. Just plain knew his stuff cold.

11/26/2007 1:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This question is vastly more difficult to answer than the JO question, as it is dealing with the near-end of a man's career, rather than the near-beginning.

It would be a truly rare JO that doesn't know that he's still in learning mode after reporting aboard. COBs are pretty much fully formed by the time they take the job...and even if they weren't I'm not sure they'd let on.

Maybe I had a lucky experience, but I can't say that I ever saw a "bad" COB, though you might think otherwise after the following short that is all-at-once funny, serious, and a truly sad loss for the Navy and this MCPO.

One upon a time in 688 newcon, there was a very highly regarded COB who's principal traits included a good sense of humor and never losing his cool. I honestly don't recall that I ever saw him mad. He was a natural leader, and he just never had to go least not in front of a shiny-faced Ensign like myself.

Years later, I was in a position to know that he was without any question on the short list for SUBLANT MCPO.

Here's why he didn't make it (and, yes, this is a "no-sh-tter"):

A certain TM (though the rating doesn't matter) was engaged to be married. In a ritual that had a who-knows kind of history to it, a group of guys, including the top-shelf COB, took it upon themselves in some isolated place aboard "the barge" (a surface ship with no real role but to serve as temporary office quarters), to hunt down said TM to administer a dose of silver nitrate to...ah...certain delicate parts of the TM just before he got married. The net effect of such an application, as many know, is to turn the skin a very dark black, with no other notable side effect.

It all would have ended right there (except for a likely awkward explanation on the wedding night), but for the fact that this TM was not the brightest bulb in the room. On the quest to remove the dye job of his private parts, he used whatever solvent seemed right to him. This included, yes, gasoline.

The good news there is that he didn't set himself on fire. But the bad news is that he produced 2nd-degree chemical burns that required medical attention. The doctors, also not being day-to-day chemists, blamed it all on the silver nitrate...and the directly involved parties. MDs have their own chain of command, can imagine the rest.

The TM healed up. The COB survived in that role, and later went on to distinguish himself in other Squadron roles, etc....and in the fashion which we'd all prefer. this day he may or may not know how much this one error in judgment -- regardless of how it was compounded by some chemical stupidity -- ended his otherwise distinguished career prematurely.

I don't know how much of this true story can serve future COBs in their day-to-day work. But downplaying or outright halting the 'usual' submarine hazing is probably not a bad idea, and allowing for the inability of others to deal with it is probably another lesson learned.

11/26/2007 5:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the opposite side of the coin, the worst COB I ever met was on an S-girl out of Pearl. This MMCM(SS) was a stupid, arrogant brown-noser who didn't give a rats ass about the crew.

He went from COB of a first SSN in the shipyard to COB of a second SSN on the waterfront. His transfer was accompanied by a party on the first boat--after he left--and a dozen roses sent to the second. Universally hated, no one in the crew talked to him when the second boat went on WestPac. The silence was only broken when one of the crew felt that the COB was in the process of a nervous breakdown and took pity on him.

I'm sure that when he transferred off of the second boat, the DOOW was able to adequately compensate for the MMCM's loss by flooding about 200 pounds into negative.

A couple of years later, I saw the MMCM in Groton. But he didn't see me, because I saw him first. Not surprisingly, he was sitting on his butt in front of the Navy Exchange, espousing on subjects about which he knew next to nothing.

Even remembering him enough to write this post sickens me twenty years later.

11/26/2007 6:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


11/26/2007 9:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I rode two boats out of San Diego in the early to mid 90's as a QM for four years. I was 18 yrs old and started in Deck on my first boat... Here's what I can tell you about my COB experience. COB#1 was nuke waste and spent his whole career on 37's, so no surprise he knew everything about them and would quiz ships control party and demean them if the answer wasn't right. Was hated by the entire goat locker. COB#2 and #3 both were Nuc MMCM's that had already completed their EDEA tours and both had 20 years behind them. Best damn leaders I've seen including all of my CO's and XO's. These two men treated everyone equal and were even harder on the nukes some would argue. As an E-4 I played raquetball on Ford Island with COB#3 and got know to him quite a bit. Noticed he didn't talk different to me than he did the old man while at work.. That is leadership.. Not many branches of service do E-4's get to spend time with E-9s off duty. A great COB and even better person. COB#4 was another MMCM and was arrogant, hard to deal with, and again was despised by the CPO mess. I was a
4.0 sailor for my entire career and the XO on my first boat wanted to put an academy package together for me. Here's my point: COB'S, you have more impact on young sailors than you might think.Every action onboard and off you are being observed by the young boys.. 2 of 4 bad COB's were one of the reasons at the time I got out..Being approachable is also another quality you need to have. I got a chance to meet a four star(my boats first XO from the 70's) at the decom ceremony at the base club the night before... ADM. Chiles was more approachable off duty than my two bad COB's were while in liberty ports thousands of miles away from home...

11/26/2007 9:42 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the COBs I've had make me feel like ... meh. They weren't bad for the most part, but they weren't anything near great either.

I know there are good COBs out there, I have a friend who is one, but I've never had one personally.

I guess that you get to a point in your career where instead of fucking up the equipment, they make you a COB so all you can fuck up is the watchbill.

11/26/2007 11:04 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been there twice all I can say is what I found to work out the best was to get the CPO's to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Yes some had to learn how to do that but just like anyone else if you give them a chance to excel they will want to and learn how to. Once you have them engaged you would be surprised how well a boat can function. I found by getting the Chiefs to believe we could as a CPO Quarters take on and show we had the ability to run the boat on a day to day basis it left time for the wardroom to do what they needed to do. The Senior Officers got to train the JO's how to fight a warship and get qualified to become DH's/XO's and CO's. This left me time as the COB to take care of things that normally would get shoved under a rug when I was a young Sailor. Being able to fully engage in issues (personal things Sailors endure) that some would not have been taken care of due to having to do other things because it had to be done. The crew noticed and the boat did extremely well. Sure there were some that didn't care for how things were but you will always have a few of them. I believe Sailors need to remember that there is a reason we are there and that there is some sacrifice required at times to accomplish what needs to be done for what we volunteered for. One of the best things I remember was once we got the routine down for pulling into port the crew got put on liberty (normally within 30 minutes of the brow hitting the deck) because the DCPO and EDPO told me the boat was ready and they were willing to take it for their duty day. Liberty didn't go down until I got told that by them, I then went and put it down on the 1MC.

11/27/2007 6:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a tip for the new COB's: after a week underway and 2 days before picking up squadron riders, don't dictate that everyone onboard needs black socks for the next week while riders are embarked. The crew didn't plan on black socks for the week and probably don't have them. The result might be that some smart-@$$ RM1 writes up a new "directive" that the crew will turn in all black socks to the COB and he will write a "Sock Bill" for the upcoming week. Also, junior guys will probably have to "hot sock" because of the shortage. This directive might get posted throughout the boat. Be careful, there's nothing more fun than embarassing a stupid COB.


11/27/2007 7:42 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

Ah yes, Hammerin' Hank Chiles showed up at the Chiefs club after the Gurnard deactivation and sat with us (former Gurnard sailors under his command.) He sat, released his aide for the night, and ordered the next round for the table. An outstanding leader.
Howard Swain was the best COB I served with for all the best reasons listed above, a none of the bad.


11/27/2007 12:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate ALL comments, I am the wife who asked the question. There are a lot of comments regarding nukes, I just wanted to stipulate my husband is ETCS Forward nav. If that sparks anything additional you'd like to say. Please keep posting guys, you don't know how much it is appreciated, AND will be read by him when he comes back from pac. As far as him being set in his ways at this stage, not so. His ways are still open to new ideas and advice, he doesn't have the attitude he knows everything in life and work, that is just plain stupid and people won't grow professionally and emotionally if they think there is nothing ever to learn again.

Thank you for taking the time to post.

11/27/2007 12:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So long as he's open to new ideas he's already ahead of the game. Don't differentiate between cones and nukes, and don't sugarcoat stuff. If it sucks, just tell us, trust me we can take it.

11/27/2007 7:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tip, after liberty is put down in homeport, don't take pictures of the shore power party hauling cables to the boat as proof the nukes do work.

11/30/2007 2:44 PM


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