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, June 27, 2012

Failing Well Enhances Character Development

Guest post from CDR Scott D. Waddle, USN (Ret.), originally posted on the TSSBP Facebook page, reposted here with his permission:

Life isn’t fair. There will always be someone who is smarter, stronger and better than you. Your best effort will sometimes fall short and never be good enough no matter how hard you try. It seems the only equalizer in life is death. Even in death the path some follow to get there doesn’t seem fair. So why even try if failure is certain? The resilience of the human spirit is what makes us unique and separates us from the rest of the creatures on earth. When faced with failure we basically have three choices: withdraw and quit, waffle and do nothing, or try and figure out what went wrong, learn from it and try again until we succeed. Learning to fail well provides an opportunity to push beyond barriers once thought to be impenetrable and a chance to develop ones character.
I envy toddlers (children ages one to four) and ankle biters (think pre K). When kids play and begin to socialize with their peers, they have an uncanny ability to embrace setbacks, cast them aside and try again with greater vigor and determination until they achieve success. They are fearless and know no boundaries or limits. The fear of failing does not register with them.
 Playing is a vital part of a child’s life and an opportunity for them to socialize experiment and try new things. As children mature and they become more self aware, the consequences of their failures and how they deal with setbacks shapes their behavior and character.
 When I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981 I was unable follow in the footsteps of my dad, an Air Force pilot, because I didn’t have 20/20 uncorrected vision. I chose the submarine service instead and embarked on what would be an incredible twenty year journey. Getting to command was not easy. Competition was fierce and opportunity for failure was high. Success was primarily achieved by balancing risk versus the gain. If you were too cavalier or risk averse the chances of getting to command became more difficult.
 Early in my command of the GREENEVILLE, during one of my weekly meetings with my squadron commander, I learned some of my fellow commanding officers were experiencing high turnover and attrition. The same problem existed on my boat which I attributed to command climate. In my boat’s case it was a matter of stopping the verbal abuse and hostility that existed on board. As the Captain when I demonstrated that I cared for the professional development of my crew, their personal and family well being I won their confidence and trust. The hostility ceased and the crew worked as a team. In the end my crew would be the best recruiters, pulling talent from across the globe.
 Some of my crew members were disenchanted and simply hated their job. My challenge was to help them understand the importance of their contribution to the boat’s operations, the team and mission success. Often it wasn’t easy trying to convince an 18 year old, who was scrubbing out urinals and toilets, doing some other crewmember’s laundry or peeling potatoes how their efforts were contributing to protecting our nation from the bad guys. I worked hard at it and in the end was successful.
 Other captains were giving up on sailors and kicking them out of the Navy at an alarming rate. When I shared with them my success stories they responded, “Too much effort. It’s easier to give them the boot.” Disappointed with the response I asked my squadron commander and his boss Rear Admiral Al Konetzni the Commander Submarine Pacific to transfer the hard case sailors from other boats to my command. Over a two year period 29 careers were salvaged. Those that had suffered defeat and chronic failure blossomed and succeeded on the GREENEVILLE. My crew and I embraced these sailors and found the right fit for them onboard. We knew each person was of value but they needed encouragement and guidance to succeed. Once they learned how to fail well, success for them just took a little more effort on their part. While working with these sailors I would learn that for a sailor to respect their leaders they had to first respect themselves.
 Leadership success aside; in command, the rules were simple. Don’t run your ship aground. Don’t hit anything. Don’t kill anybody (unless it is the enemy) and keep the core covered (think reactor safety). I violated two of the rules on 9 February 2001 and on 1 October 2001 was invited to leave the Navy.
 At age 41 on February 9th 2001 while in command of the submarine USS GREENEVILLE (SSN 772), an improved LOS ANGELES Class Fast Attack Submarine operating off the coast of my home port Pearl Harbor, I experienced a life changing event. That Friday afternoon with civilian visitors on board I ordered an emergency surface maneuver that caused my submarine to collide with a Japanese fisheries training vessel the Ehime Maru killing nine civilians. The accident took the lives of four seventeen year old students, two instructors and three crew members.
 After two years in command I was comfortable and confident in my ability to lead my crew. We had achieved unprecedented success up until the day of our collision. After the accident, the two week long Court of Inquiry would document the details that contributed to the cause of the accident. I was found guilty of dereliction of duty and intentionally hazarding my vessel. The actions I took that day I thought at the time were prudent. I was wrong. That’s usually the case with hindsight being 20/20.
 The accident had a dramatic impact on my life, my crew and the family members who lost loved ones. My personal failure caused significant emotional and physical stress. Despite the strong desire to preserve my personal and professional reputation, by trying to place blame elsewhere, I chose to keep my integrity and character intact. I took responsibility for my actions and the actions of my crew.
 I ended up losing the job I loved the most because of arrogance and the belief that accidents happened to other ships and not to us. My crew was extremely talented. We backed each other up. I thought we were better than those that had bitten the big bullet. Unfortunately that arrogance exists today in commands across the military and in board rooms around the globe. The challenge is to recognize the flaw and ferret it out. Nothing in my training provided me with a formal procedure or instruction as to what to do if I “fell on my sword”. All I had to go by were leadership classes at the Academy. In the operational fleet there were incident and mishap reports as well as case studies that documented collisions, groundings, equipment damage, personnel injury and loss of life. In the fleet most of the resources were part of a continuing training program that required periodic review. Learning how to balance the risk was a skill acquired through personal failure and observing others fail. I learned early in my career that it was less painful to learn from someone else’s mistakes. One of my old captains used to say, “If the heat’s on you it ain’t on me. Remember Waddle to keep the spot light off you and on the other guy.”
 Had I not learned to “fail well” early in life the choices I made following the incident most likely would have been different. Thoughts of placing blame elsewhere and trying to dodge the bullet were instinctive but I pushed the thoughts aside. The reason I chose to take the moral high ground was simple. It was the right thing to do. In command accountability and responsibility is absolute. The same holds true in the corporate arena. It is sad that most leaders that experience failure of this magnitude do not fail well. They spend their efforts covering their rear end.
 Some of the role models I had growing up were my parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, bosses and scout masters. Each offered encouragement when I failed and sometimes provided a reality check when my goals were too lofty or unrealistic. As I matured success was measured in small incremental steps. The failures served to humble me and teach me humility as well as perseverance. Over time I would learn what my strengths and weaknesses were. Dealing with weakness is tough but a necessity. I learned to shore up areas that warranted work and supplement my weakness by recruiting those who were strong in areas where I was not and openly acknowledging my weakness. The process built trust and respect with those I worked with. Eleven years later I still reflect on what could have happened or would have happened if only the accident not occurred. Most of us have had our “There by the grace of GOD go I moments.” You might call them something else. In my post Navy career I am a public speaker, executive coach and consultant. The audiences I speak before and customers are leaders who have experienced success in the past but for the first time in their lives are facing failure. The challenge for most of them is they have not learned how to fail well. My job is to help people get back on track and move forward.
 I challenge you to look in the mirror and candidly determine if you fail well. If you do not fail well find a mentor and learn how to. If you do fail well help others learn the skill. Your character development will only suffer if you chose the easy path by waffling, doing nothing or giving up.
 Many successful leaders have learned to fail well. A few of them are Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Sir James Dyson and Steve Jobs. Take a few minutes and search for Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech. You won’t be disappointed. At some point, you will fail. Don’t give up. Fail well!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Submarine News Items And The "Great Qual Card Of Life"

Here are a few stories about submarines and Submariners in the news:

1) Iran says they're starting design work on a nuclear submarine they could build themselves. I think that's a great idea, and they should spend a significant portion of their defense budget for the next several years making a noisy version of a November-class submarine.

2) The cause of the firing of the COB (or "top enlisted officer" according to the AP) on USS Florida (SSGN 728)(Gold) has been revealed following an FOIA request, according to this Navy Times article.

3) The first female submarine officer to get her dolphins got lots of attention from the national media and an article on the Navy website. I'm always glad to see articles highlighting positive achievements from Submariners (one of which LT Christianson now is, beyond any doubt), and I hope the Navy chooses to continue to publish stories about newly-qualified Submariners -- regardless of gender.

Speaking of finishing up one's qual card, I always enjoyed my first Engineer's concept of the "Great Qual Card of Life", as in "Sure, you messed up, but that's just another sig in the Great Qual Card of Life". I've got some decent prac facs signed off (Become a Father, Visit Another Continent, Take a Crazy Cab Ride in Korea), but I still have some left that I'd like to finish off before I head off to the Final Qual Board in the Sky. What signature in the Great Qual Card of Life are you most glad you got signed off?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Discussion Items

While I'm off doing politics stuff, here are a couple of items for people to discuss if they feel like it.

1) The CRS updated their white paper on the Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) program.  While they won't do it (because the Navy's manufacturing partners would lose out on lots of R&D money, and Congress wouldn't allow that), I think we already have a perfect option for the next SSBN -- base it on the Seawolf hull. It already has an almost Ohio-diameter hull, we've proven we can put a module in the middle of one, and it's plenty quiet. The main problem would be that our SSBNs would be faster then our Virginia-class SSNs, and I can't see the Navy going for that.

2) The CNO came out with a new program with standards for selecting COs as a CYA reaction to all the recent problems. From the letter, it appears that not much will change for the Submarine Force, unless the ridiculous Department Head 360 Review the skimmers are going to pilot gets adopted fleet-wide. If so, we'll get a bunch of Engineers getting the opportunity to talk to a "certified counselor", probably about their "feelings". Normally, I'd worry that the pussification of the CO pool could put us at risk in a wartime scenario, but I think our technical superiority will remain in place for the next 20 years or so that will allow us to overcome that; by that time, the pendulum should have swung enough that society will understand once again that sometimes you need a man with a tattoo on his dick to do the dirty work of commanding a warship at sea. (Sometimes, that man might even be a woman, as long as she knows what's needed to kill the enemy and sink his ships. Because, in the final analysis, that's our job, not "talking it out" with "certified counselors".)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

USS Wyoming And An Osprey

From the Submarine Group TEN Facebook page, this is just completely cool:

From the caption: "A V-22 Osprey from Air Force Special Operations Command performs a proof of concept for personnel evactuation from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) June 6. Wyoming is currently at sea performing routine operations."

Have you ever been part of a "proof of concept" operation? Closest I did was being on the target of the first attempted OPEVAL of the Mk 50 torpedo, where "The Kennedy Maneuver" gained fame as a successful evasion technique against the weapon; I'm convinced (based on no real evidence) that this failure led to the cancellation of the program and replacement by the Mk 54.

Fun With RadCon!

For some reason, I started thinking about RadCon as I was driving home from work last night to start my weekend. What Nuke (Nuc? What is the right spelling anyway?) doesn't smile when they remember things like:

1) An ELT showing you his open hand and saying "1500", clapping his hands together and saying "750", then brushing his hands on his shirt and saying "Less than".
2) SWIMS: "Smile, Walk away, Ignore it, Make up a story, Stick by your story"
3) The abuse the ELT would take when "walking the dog" in the forward compartment.
4) The sheer panic of a young SDO touring topside after dinner and seeing the recently-qualified duty ELT being held by a rope and harness over the side by some NUB while doing the periodic swipe of the "special" spot and being absolutely covered with the seaweed that was growing around said "special" hull spot, and wondering how in the hell he's going to deal with the potentially-contaminated seaweed all over the potentially-contaminated ELT.

What RadCon stories make you grin uncontrollably when you think about them? Here's my favorite.

Friday, June 01, 2012

"I Knew Him When"

I was excited to see the news that RMDL Frederick Roegge had relieved RMDL (or was he recently promoted to RADM? His official biography page still shows him as a 1-star -- the Navy doesn't make figuring out the correct rank name abbreviations for O-7s and O-8s very easy) James Foggo III as Commander of SUBGRU 8/CTF 69. As a blogger, I'm really hoping that RMDL Roegge moves to give CSG 8 at least a rudimentary online presence; they're the only Submarine Group without a Facebook page, for example.

Admiral Roegge is the first (and probably only) of my former COs to make flag, so I'm excited to see him in his first submarine-specific Flag command. He wasn't my favorite CO (I didn't like his decision not to give me leave for a week to drive my family cross-country in preparation for my upcoming transfer during a BATREP when my relief had already been on board for 6 weeks or so) but had I earned a chance to command a submarine, I would most likely have used more of his command style than any of my other COs. Of all my Commanding Officers, he was definitely the most deserving of flag selection, IMHO.

So which Admirals did you know before they earned their flags?