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.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

USS Hampton: "The Easy Button"

VADM John Donnelly, who as COMNAVSUBFOR has administrative responsibility for all submarines, made some comments regarding the recent problems aboard USS Hampton (SSN 767) that made me think the Submarine Force is taking the right approach to this. Excerpts:
Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly said Thursday that he is trying to determine whether the alleged misconduct on the USS Hampton is an isolated incident.
“I do not have any indications now of a forcewide problem, certainly not of the magnitude that we have there,” said Donnelly, commander of the Submarine Force. “But I am asking those questions, and we're looking very hard at this.” ...
...“We have a group of individuals, not a single individual, but a group who were working together, and they compromised their integrity,” Donnelly said. “I think they were pushing the easy button, perhaps to avoid the pain of long hours and hard work.”
A chief petty officer in the squadron's staff noticed irregularities in the records during a routine engineering check, Donnelly said...
...“We're looking very, very carefully at the root causes of what happened on the Hampton, and the investigation is still ongoing, so it's a little early for me to draw conclusions there,” Donnelly said. “I expect we'll wrap it up in the very near future.”
The easiest thing for the Sub Force to do in this case is decide that the problem was completely confined to the Hampton and not look into real root causes. And by "root causes", I don't mean limiting it to integrity; I mean looking deeper and asking the hard questions like, "Why would an entire division decide to avoid the 'long hours and hard work' on this particular requirement?" They should maybe look into whether whatever checks were skipped can perhaps be done in a less time-consuming way, or checked less often, or if maybe there's a smarter way to put together a system of having supervisors periodically monitor these checks than what we're doing now -- something that lends itself to being less paperwork-intensive and more deckplate-focused. Of course, doing that would involve making Naval Reactors admit they have not been doing it the best way up until now, and that's a longshot. Still, I can always hope...

Update 0951 03 Nov: More on VADM Donnelly's remarks at the Navy Times.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope the CPO on the squadron staff got more than an atta-boy for finding this problem.

11/02/2007 10:39 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMO, the root cause of the Hampton incident is the direction that the Naval Nuclear Power Program has been taking over the last ten or so years.

As with all branched of the military, the NNPP has been having problems meeting manning requirements. While throwing huge SRB checks at sailors helps somewhat, the need to trim attrition of replacement operators has driven Nuclear Power School and the Prototypes to lower their standards quite dramatically. It's not uncommon for a student, that truly has no business in the aft end of a submarine, to get "pushed through" the qual. process merely to minimize that magic attrition number. "Pumps not Filters" is a phrase that almost every Sea-Returnee Instructor is well aware of.

There is no work ethic or level of pride in one's work, let alone integrity and I wouldn't be surprised in the least to find out that this is not an isolated incident.

Until the NNPP decides to return their expectations to what they were in the late 80s and early 90s, the attitude that seems to have infected USS Hampton's RL-Div will continue.

11/02/2007 10:43 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

After hearing about this incident through my chain of command, some other rumors about factors that may have contributed to this came forward. While I agree that part of this problem is the continual lowering of standards in the pipeline, there were some other factors.

From what I understand, the commanding officer of the Hampton led in a sort of "lead by fear" manner. Rumors were that he was nearly unapproachable at most times and that many of the junior officers and enlisted were afraid to deal with him. In addition, I've heard that it was impossible to get permission from the captain to get anything done after he left for the day. With such a harsh command climate, a temptation to take the easy way out may have been there in front of these guys.

Don't get me wrong, I think that what they did was horribly wrong, but I think they can't take the entirety of the blame. Maybe the command climate like this exists on other boats (I know that it does), and maybe the navy should be looking a little harder at how this "lead by fear" mentality is affecting the sailors who work in this environment if they wish to prevent future incidents like this.

On a side note, I fully agree that the navy needs to up the standards in the NNPP pipeline. I have seen many guys (some who are still currently fully qualified and standing SRO) who should never have been given the opportunity to step foot in an engineroom because they are dangerous. I think however that this is not all of the problem. Part of this problem is a loss of experienced operators. The navy is having a very hard time retaining personnel because the job isn't the same as it used to be. Tridents don't have port calls other than homeports anymore, offcrews aren't an offcrew, undermanned divisions, EXTREMELY long working hours, and dwindling shore duty opportunities are all causes for this.

If they navy wants to keep Hampton type incidents from happening, they need to find the root cause and not just throw out higher bonuses and make themselves feel better by "pumping" more guys through the pipeline. Just my two cents though....

11/02/2007 11:51 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if NR is still hiring recrecreation majors to head up the chemistry department?

11/02/2007 6:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the previous comments on the change in the pipeline that frankly has made nuclear power in the Navy become a less safe thing. This truly is a shame too, because if we ever have an incident in the safest nuclear power program, this will shut down nuclear power potential for America, in my opinion, forever... The root cause to all of this is the EXTREMELY long hours especially for ELT’s who often are filling positions in two divisions instead of merely one and completely useless sampling requirements that could be at a minimum lengthened so the ELT holds a higher standard on what he has to do. I have been in the Navy for the last 10 years and served as both a LELT and a RCT (shipyard) and frankly all of the ELT’s are looking for ways out whether that is a program to leave RL01 or just leaving the Navy and this in addition to the extremely large reenlistment bonuses is keeping a lower grade of personnel that have no business being in the Aft part of the boat. As LELT I had to deal with this on several occasions and counsel individuals on this exact issue and it was a difficult thing to do especially when your chain of command is pushing you the other way to keep him in!! Majorities of the good ELT’s I have kept in touch with over the years have been picked up for other programs or have shifted over to the civilian side as RCT’s including me. The hours are too too long; the division is usually undermanned and under qualified pushing the ones who know what they are doing to take up the slack of others, and over pressured by the chain of command to keep those numbers up regardless of the consequences. I hope that they get to the root cause of this and I am happy that they are actually looking into it and not just slapping the hands of those that they caught. Just my ranting though….

11/03/2007 6:44 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The standards need to be raised across the board and up and down the chain.

When I went through the pipeline in the mid-90's, we still had the 40% attrition rate - NFAS was the pump, NPS was the filter, and prototype was the check valve. It's sad to see how that has changed.

During my time as an ELT on the Boat, we noticed fresh guys coming out of training were either not a bright technically or were discipline problems - talking back, not following orders, etc - and this applied both forward and aft of the RC.

We had a Nuke MM who asked me and a buddy to explain to him how a bearing worked. We had an unqualified E-4 nub ET talk back to the ENG in front of the whole RC Division. We had forward guys who were sitting the sticks who would rather go out in town, get high, pop on a drug test and get out on a DD than do their job (the CO got so pissed he put people in the brig on bread and water . . . we all were like "they still do that?").

Point being - it's the system and it's the people, and until the powers-that-be recognize that and raise the standards, nothing's getting fixed. Recruiting, training, the Fleet, and retention efforts - all need an overhaul.

Don't think this stuff doesn't percolate out into the civilian world - I've worked as a power plant operator in both gas turbines and at a BWR - we had guys at both who had no business being there as well, but just because they were ex-Nukes they made the cut - guys who couldn't show up to shift on time, guys who were drunk on shift (gas turbines only . . .), guys who strutted around like they were God's gift but didn't have sense enough to pour piss out of a boot. . . so the civilian industry needs a wake up, too, to realize they're not getting the cream-of-the-crop anymore, either. Something worse than TMI or Davis-Besse is just around the bend unless something changes . . .

11/03/2007 8:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anyone thinks that the current submarine force leadership is going to change anything as a result of this "investigation" you need to stop eating those shrooms! VADM Donnelly is only concerned about keeping his image clean enough to put on a fourth star, and RADM Walsh (COMSUBPAC) is doing the same for his third star. They have surrounded themselves with yes men (the current SUBFOR staff is littered with officers who previously served under Donnelly) who tell them what they want to hear, and produce data that the four stars want to hear. This is the same reason that the standards in Nuke School and Prototype have fallen so much, the submarine force leadership wanted to solve the manning issues so they got a bunch of yes men to turn the filter into a pump. Don't hold your breath waiting for things to change, you'll just turn blue and then pass out.

anonymous PCO

11/03/2007 9:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say that after hearing the comments on this post it has me quite concerned about the Navy I signed up for. I'm a recently commissioned ENS in the sub-nuc pipeline waiting on NPS to start up in January.

What you all have said is quite a stark contrast from everything I have heard from officers/sailors/chiefs in the past. Is this change in standards something recent that has come about or is it something that has been around a while and just never mentioned?

On a final note, as a very enthusiastic submariner prospect, I hope that the NPS "pump" can still produce capable and knowledgeable personnel from people such as myself who are willing to learn to do things the right way.

11/03/2007 10:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I graduated class 9604 and only did my 6. Did they ever get rid of the age cap for enlisted Nuke recruits (It was 24 y.o. when I joined)? They could open themselves up to more qualified personel if they did. From the civilian side, the job market for engineers and physical science majors seems a little tight right now. I don't think damage has been done to NNPS's reputation to the point where a nuke NEC wouldn't look good on a resume.

11/03/2007 10:52 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've spent a good amount of time here very appropriately bashing NR's backward ways (and they are), and added fuel to the fire that today's submarine admiralty from my year-group are not the pick of the litter (and they are not). But let me take a moment to add some balanced perspective for the new guys that are just now entering the world of naval nuclear propulsion.

First, welcome to the future. There is no doubt at all that the future for nuclear power in particular looks quite bright. The convergence of limited oil supplies and the blaming of global warming on increased CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption point toward one thing: more, and safer, nuclear power plants being built. Lots more. That the trend has already shifted may be noted by the fact that new nuclear power plants are now on order for the first time in 30 years.

That's only the first reason to welcome you to the future, but the second will require both patience and a long-term view, even on your part. And it is this: while the nuclear-powered submarine is vital defense platform, its apogee in terms of service to the nation lies more in the future than in the present.

Nations exist whose military establishments and policies are on a direct collision course with the U.S. In terms of nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered submarines, these include an old adversary, Russia, as well as a new one, China. God willing, diplomacy may win out. But diplomacy alone has rarely resolved powerful conflicts of interest. You'll be the torch bearers when those days come, and we all -- including us older, Cold War bubblehead folk -- owe you our gratitude for dealing with what is yet to come.

As to right now, in the present state of affairs, you've heard plenty here as to issues with the current leadership at Naval Reactors (NR) and today's submarine admiralty. Despite whatever shortcomings they very definitely do have (and some of which they might even have the guts to admit to), know that the U.S. submarine force is nothing if not capable of learning from its mistakes and becoming stronger. Its willingness to air out these issues is one of the ways it becomes stronger.

It is also instructive to keep a special sort of theory of relativity in mind: how we're doing relative to the bad guys.

As but one example, here, and here you'll see how the U.S. deals with its nuclear waste from submarines, and here you'll see how the ex-Soviet Union deals with its nuclear waste from submarines (current Google Maps satellite photo of Russian naval base in the vicinity of Петропавловск, Petropavlovsk, Russia). You'll not find a more clear and public example of the fact that you are indeed working for the good side of the force.

If you go the distance, you may well not only find that you're working for one of the most highly-achieved organizations on the planet, but that these world-reknown high standards actually come from you, not someplace in Crystal City, Norfolk or Pearl Harbor.

Own your successes, and own your problems, and you'll never have an "integrity issue" with anyone...least of all us old submariners. You'll just have our thanks.

Good luck, and God bless.

11/03/2007 12:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been interesting to watch the comments of "anonymous PCO" over the last week or so particularly as he bashes CSL and CSP. I think I finally figured out why he is so bitter...

He doesn't like the ship he's been assigned to command.

For anonymous PCO, I've met a few officers who meet your profile. I could sum that up as the "Professional Victim".

I bet, that at every turn when someone or something uncovered one of your personal shortcomings, your first and only instinct was to say, "if it hadn't been for (fill in the blank) this wouldn't have happened."

It must really suck to be you.

As a submarine CO, I never worried about who I received on my ship or what others were doing on their flag staffs. I was happy just to be IN COMMAND and I worked hard to meet both my expectations and those of my crew. Sometimes I fell short and my crew wasn't shy about telling me so. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Anonymous PCO, I pity your future crew at the first moment they come and tell you they've made a big mistake on your ship. I can imagine now how you will fly off the handle and immediately blame Naval Reactors or Admiral Donnelly for their mistake.

I can tell you now that if you continue with your current attitude you can mark your calendar for a DFC in the next two years for a horrible command climate and probably worse crew performance.

Do us all a favor and ring the bell...

Served CO

11/03/2007 6:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a retired Command Master Chief. I qualified in submarines on a diesel boat. I'm also qualified on every SSN I rode. I am an ACINT SPECIALIST. When I entered the program we had 12 warm bodies. Each of us was doing double and in some caqses tripple duty. 60+ deployed, maybe 15 or 20 days home and off again for another 60+. I never saw the peach blossoms bloom, nor did I see the leaves turn color.

I only mention this because I'm tired of the whinning I'm hearing.
I see a different service than the one I was in. You guys have some of the most modern eguipment in the world. But you still run into fishing boats. If you don't see something being done, get it done. If you don't know how to do it, ask someone. And quit complaining about the many hours,civillans work hard too.

The Submarine Service is on a slippery slope downward and it's up to those on the boats today to do something about it.

I asked a friend the other day if the quality of our sailors is droping. He said it's not like when you and I went to sea. He put the problem where it probably belongs....On Management....That means the chiefs too. Damn it if your boat isn't safe stand on the pier and wave good bye. Just make sure you have your ducks in line.

I visited the Sub Base at Groton last month. Obviously we couldn't go down to the lower base. The upper base looks like shit. Many of the jobs that were done by sailors are done by civillan's that have no vested interest or pride in the base (I blame Management). The base Command Master Chief got an earfull from me. All he could say was go f*&^ yourself. On the other hand I visited the Sub Base at San Diego and was really impressed.

The Submarine Service has the best of the best--boats and people. Why don't they start acting like it.

If you think I'm being harsh tuff, I've been there and do that.

The one thing that scares me is that I fear this attitude is fleet wide, not just on boats.

Look at our counter parts down under. They are having a tough time manning their boats. They do good work though, sunk a bunch of our guys in the Battle Group during RIMPAC 2006.

Remember "There are only Submarines and Targets."

11/03/2007 9:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember when I was a fresh young nuke about 20 years ago. There were always guys that had been around longer saying that the quality of people was always getting worse.

"Back in my day, we didnt get big SRB checks...Back in my day, 99.5% of the people failed out of nuke school...Back in my day...blah blah blah."

Old nukes always criticize the way things are done now. I also remember reading about incident reports for things like skin contamination and loss of all AC casualties that almost never occur anymore.

I remember always having to battle the "sleazy" tag that is always attached to ELT's. Where did that come from? I guess maybe some of the older and better nukes must have been sleazy too, or that reputation would never have come about. I remember, when I checked on my first boat, being told by senior ELT's in my division: "It's only ink!" It was their way of telling me that documentation counted more than anything else.

As a LELT, I had tremendous influence over the junior people in my division. I scared the daylights out of them their first day aboard by telling them that if they so much as logged a swipe that they didnt take, they were going to mast and I would be there to kick there tail as they were walking off the brow on their way to a skimmer.

After they learned that I was serious about integrity, I lightened up, but each time I transferred, the junior ELT's all told me they remembered that first speech I gave them when they checked on board.

Since I didn't watch every little thing they did, I can't swear they were 100% honest all the time, but honesty never came up as an issue with my division. I don't think that the nuclear power navy is in crisis at all. I think this boat just had a terrible command climate. These sorts of things always seem to come in cycles.

11/03/2007 10:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It wasn't always a bad command climate to be honest. Sometimes it was great. They just didn't do their job. Thats it. No pussyfooting around it, no making excuses. They lied on logs and got caught. As far as our Co goes, its a true shame they did that to him. Sure he wasnt as great of a CO as our previous one but he did try.

11/04/2007 5:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thread. It is all about the climate. If you have to wonder why some commands get all the great people, the answer is within. 10% will always be great, 10% will struggle, and 80% will swing depending on leadership.

I have seen steady improvement in sailor quality, performance, and senior leadership since bubblehead and I served together. Although we all like to look back and discuss the bear we had to kill on the way to school when we were kids, the quality of reporting Sailors has never been better.

Workload is dropping, allowing more time on what matters.

I am offended by those who sit back in the easy chair of retirement and lob stones at the men in the ring. The job we do has never been easy, and has never been without risk.

The Man in the Ring

11/04/2007 8:55 AM

Blogger Straight_Talk_CDR said...

Dear "served CO",

First, thanks for serving your country in one of the most challenging jobs on the planet. Although, I agree with some of your comments directed at the anonymous PCO (who must be a peer of mine), I am compelled to agree with him that the current submarine force leadership is the worst I have seen in my career. I got my first choice (third flight 688) and was a first look screener for command so I have no complaints.

However, when Donnelly stands up in a public forum and says that "he is trying to determine whether the alleged misconduct on the USS Hampton is an isolated incident" this is a BLATANT lie. He knows this is not an isolated incident but a known chronic problem that NR has been trying to resolve for some time now.

When I went through the PCO pipeline at NR recently, they talked to us on numerous occasions about integrity problems in RL division including falsification of logs (albeit on the secondary side). We all knew this was a problem. When Donnelly stands up and claims no knowledge of these other incidents, it demonstrates his true character and intent. He doesn't want any "stink" on him because it will affect his chances at a fourth star. If the public knew that chronic problems existed in this area and Donnelly failed to correct them then he would be the one accountable....and we don't want Flags to be accountable now do we.

One other thing, Donnelly said “I think they were pushing the easy button, perhaps to avoid the pain of long hours and hard work.” If he really thinks that our Sailors are not working hard and long hours, he is completely disconnected from our force. Does he really think this? The old flag officer adage – blame the boats and crew while accepting no accountability yourself. His Chief of Staff and protégé, McLaughlin is just as bad. These guys are terrible and need to go and that is the straight scoop.

11/04/2007 2:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"When I went through the PCO pipeline at NR recently, they talked to us on numerous occasions about integrity problems in RL division including falsification of logs (albeit on the secondary side)".

I wonder, did they talk about their integrity problems? Probably not!!!

11/04/2007 3:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When NR speaks of "integrity problems" in the nuclear propulsion program, then -- wherever these problems exist -- they are speaking 100% of their own integrity problems.

I'll say it again: all and any problems within the nuclear propulsion program are NR's problems. They don't get to cherry pick the good stuff -- the accolades for past technical achievements -- and deny the bad stuff. It's all their problem to solve, and any integrity problems within the program are their integrity problems.

Similarly, any finger-pointing claims of a "culture of criminals" or of people "pushing the easy buttons" are nothing more than "a defense mechanism in which one attributes to others one’s own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or/and emotions"...i.e., psychological projection. The first one to point the finger is the always the culprit.

What's really going on from a leadership perspective is becoming as clear as glass.

11/04/2007 6:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The worst part of this incident is that it deflects attention and resources from the sumbarine force's primary missions: delivering combat power to the combatant commander in wartime and meeting intelligence and theater security cooperation requirements in peacetime.

If the leadership on a particular sub spends its primary effort conducting an interminable amount of audits or spotchecks to ensure that required chemistry sampling or the daily EKMS destruct occurs, then tactical skills deteriorate or are never generated, leaving the submarine less mission capable.

This is what the submarine force leadership should concentrate upon: ensuring that a ship operates safely with the smallest amount of required resources. If the amount of tasks and workload of any particular division are minimized so as to be reasonable (while still safe), then the sailors will be less likely to violate their integrity by falsifying logs.

11/05/2007 12:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious. What would some of you COs (past and current)do on you sub if:

1. You had a free hand from above.
2. You still had the same full plate comming at you from above, but you were not concerned with your future career and only did what you thought was right.

To give an example, quite a few years ago a surface ship (target if you will) skipper reported his ship not ready for sea because of the severe undermanning in the engineering department. It made the Navy Times. Not that making the Navy Times is proof anything being right or wrong, that just the way I found out about it.

Supposedly that is a career ender for any CO. As I remember, the Navy found engineers for him and his ship deployed with him in command. Don't know what his career did in the long run, though. Just throwing this out as an example.

To all who have contributed to this discussion on this blog: thanks.

11/05/2007 8:37 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time to play name that admiral.

Who made the following statement...?

"My program is unique in the military service in this respect: You know the expression 'from the womb to the tomb'; my organization is responsible for initiating the idea for a project; for doing the research, and the development; designing and building the equipment that goes into the ships; for the operations of the ship; for the selection of the officers and men who man the ship; for their education and training. In short, I am responsible for the ship throughout its life -- from the very beginning to the very end."

Multiple choice answer:

(1) Vice Admiral John J. Donnelly

(2) Admiral Kirkland H. Donald

(3) Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

(4) The Admirals Club

11/05/2007 11:01 AM

Blogger Robert Schumacher said...

I'll weigh in, though I'm not a CO or officer. I'm recently out (July), and still write for Navy Times (I did a piece on one possible root cause of issues like this, though I'll be the first to say it is NOT an excuse).

The nuclear Navy has bought this one with a combination of lower pipeline standards and a "if it looks bad it will kill the career" mentality. What CO is going to do what the skimmer CO did and tell the truth about how bad things are? Not if he's interested in moving on beyond command. What squadron really, really polices it's boats and finds (and FIXES) the issues? No, they want to look good, too. The sloppy, corner-cutting mentality is being driven from the top ("just get it done"), because no one wants to admit that readiness isn't anywhere near what it should be...and why? We get a low quality product from the pipeline, we get much less in numbers than we should, and we get more and more in the way of trivial time-wasting junk heaped at us, and now the brass wonders "why would anyone be cutting corners?".

At least when you insisted on a truly top-notch nuke out of the pipeline, then usually when faced with these scenarios they were well trained/indoctrinated enough to do the right thing, tough though it may be. But when you push doing "more with less" (less manning and less quality of manpower), and when you make near-perfection the promotion standard (woe betide the guy who actually raises up a problem, because he's ruining the "image"), you're going to get this sort of thing.

Rickover had it right, and our program has drifted away so far from his ideal it's not even funny. There is no substitute for the truth, whole and unvarnished, from ALL levels (up to and including those with stars on the shoulder boards). Denial is one thing Rickover railed against, insisting we see it as it is, not how we want it to be. And along with this, while lack of time/rushed schedules are not an excuse, they are an aggravating factor that the leadership could mitigate, if they were really interested in fixing problems.

Bottom line...nukes should do the right thing even when it's as tough as ascending Mt. Everest...but on the other hand, there is no reason why we have to make it Mt. Everest, either.

11/06/2007 11:54 AM

Blogger EmanT2 said...

Come on people! Has anything really changed? When we were all baby nukes (blue shirts and officers), we were told that our generation was the worst sailors ever, fortunately we were able to lose that label when the next generation came along. (Hmmm, seems like real life?) That is how baby nukes are taught "fear of failure" and the "guilty conscience". Nothing has changed. I spent 8 years in the best damn Navy in the world in the 80's. And you know what it was the best damn Navy in the world before me and it still is the best damn Navy in the world. You can't have the best Navy without having the best sailors, no matter what generation you belong to.

I was a LELT for several years and not once did I ever get positive feedback from my CO, when things went right, but I definitely received feedback when they weren't. I guess one would think, I really sucked at my job. Ironically, less than a year after I got out (I am now a hated yard bird), my ex-CO saw me as he was walking down the pier with his new Engineer and shook my hand and made a point to tell his Eng, that they needed a LELT that was as good as I was when I served under him??? The shame of it all is he most likely did have a LELT that was every bit as good as I was serving for them already.

I will say this again. The Hampton problem started off as an RPPO problem. Those that understand RL Division will understand were the lack of stuff could prevent one from doing their job and the last time I checked Wal Mart hasn't built a Supply Store in the Pacific.

From there the choices for the "root cause" are:

The entire division decided to protect one of their own and kept it all to themselves (yet they told the CRA about it? and who knows if that decision wasn't known at a higher level). Now lets analyze the root cause for this option. I would ask my old time Chief from way back, aren't shipmates supposed to have each other's back? These guys aren't stupid, they understand the relative importance of their decision and the relative risk, not only to themselves but the plant, as well. The negative effects would be even greater to the CO, if he was to send a message and have to reroute to the nearest Wal Mart (or believe it or not, he probably would have received a waiver for the analysis). However, most likely the fast track to some stars would have been slowed down drastically. It is not unreasonable to believe that it was just the RL Division that knew of the problem, but it is not unreasonable to believe that the entire chain of command knew.

Now how do I tie all this together? One way or another a decision was made to protect one of their own. Yeah, they screwed up and they have rightfully been "rewarded" for their decisions. However, this doesn't spell the end of the world or even Nuclear powered submarines. The guys operating our boats today are no different then you and I were when we were their age, with the exception that they have ten times more repsonsibilities piled on them because of the mistakes, we (collectively) made in the past. And the sailor of tomorrow will have even more responsibilities because of our mistakes and the current generations mistakes.

There is, obviously, a risk involved in teaching all nukes that they are allowed (and required) to use their knowledge to question authority. Do you want it any other way?

11/06/2007 12:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, you hit the nail on the head.

Rickover had it right, and our program has drifted away so far from his ideal it's not even funny. There is no substitute for the truth, whole and unvarnished, from ALL levels (up to and including those with stars on the shoulder boards). Denial is one thing Rickover railed against, insisting we see it as it is, not how we want it to be.

The mentality of denial and "Me First" is the biggest reason I got out after just 6yrs. I saw too many "little issues" just get swept under the rug in the name of "the boat MUST GO TO SEA".

Whenever I tried to suggest a reasonable solution to an issue instead of just ignoring it, all I ever got was a bunch of crap. This turned me completely off to re-enlisting. If I couldn't do my job the way I was trained and to my own standard of integrity, then I didn't want to be a part of it.

Someone over in the comments section of the other post over here: near the bottom is a list of the 13 rules for a good division. I attempted most of those while I was acting LPO when my Chief was on leave, and it damn near got me sent to Mast. If my Chief, or Div-O had read and followed at least some of those rules, I might have stayed.

11/06/2007 5:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the biggest problems with leadership in a nuc division is a failure to understand what “being in charge” really means. Rickover said it best:

“Efficiency isn’t the objective, effectiveness is.
Don’t confuse effectiveness with efficiency. I’m convinced that the only way to be effective, to make a difference in the real world, is to put ten times as much effort into everything as anyone else thinks is reasonable. It doesn’t leave any time for golf or cocktails, but it gets things done.”

Being a good leader means you’re going to have to put in ten times the effort as anyone else in your division – mainly in planning, organizing, and running interference between your guys and the zeroes. I promise you, put in that effort, and you’ll get things your way. It may not happen overnight, but it happens.

11/07/2007 8:05 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect to all of the prior submariners who served in the cold war era who have posted thus far, you are all wrong to assume that things haven’t changed since your years of illustrious service. After serving four long tours at NR prototypes intermittently over the past two decades, I believe that I am as definitively qualified as anyone else on this blog to comment on the quality of nuclear operators entering the fleet today. There has indeed been a reduction in the quality of operators that the prototypes are churning out. In 1996 or 1997, during my second tour at prototype, ADM Bowman issued what I will now classify as an infamous policy speech to the staff instructors at NPTU and the newly minted NPS in Charleston. During it, he compared the nuclear propulsion plant pipeline to a factory and rightfully stated that the then current cumulative attrition rate - ~50% from boot-camp thru prototype – would have been unacceptable in any other industry. As a result, the program took on the farcical long term goal of reducing the overall attrition rate without relaxing the criteria for graduation and/or changing its entrance requirements. Literally within months, the culture at the prototypes started to change. Everyone started throwing around grand ideas about how we could train better, be more effective, teach more efficiently, work with problem students, etc. Attrition became a dirty metric. No longer were some students just plain unsuitable for the program. The fault now began to lie solely with the instructors. It was their fault that the student was so unprepared. They had obviously failed to properly train an otherwise fully qualified student. Pressure began to mount first upon the SITs, and eventually upon the remainder of the staff to “help get the student through.” The Enlisted staff caught on quickly. Failing a student who deserved it, was no longer simply just a justifiable grade delivered for poor performance. It was a black eye for the crew, and more work for them personally. They would inevitably be tasked with preparing and often even administering the student’s remedial program. What’s more, eventually, even truly abhorrent performance was no longer merit for removal from the program. Waivers began to be granted for everything. Multiple final watch and oral boards that had been extremely rare before began to be granted in almost every single class. Fast forward to today’s prototype where 1 or 2% attrition is common and contrast it with the prototype of the past. In many ways it is more efficient. But it is remarkably less EFFECTIVE. There are still outstanding students passing through its doors on the way to the fleet, but so are students so far below par that Rickover should be crying in his grave. Today, another Admiral heads Naval Reactors and he has an entirely different complaint about the very same prototypes. They don’t meet his vision, They far fall below his theoretical, all-elusive “gold standard.” Ideas are flying about once again. Theories abound. But no one seems to want to address the fact that all of these same staff instructors returning from the fleet that so suddenly and obviously fail to meet the standards are the program are all the product of the very same pipeline from recent years past. The problem has come full circle and NR is reaping what Bowman sowed. In a Navy in which the detailers continue to reward the top performing nukes with billets at A-school and powerschool, is it any wonder that the same problem students that we failed to vet in the late 1990s have found their way back to prototype? I mean seriously. As cliché as it is, the program truly has become “a pump.” It has been years since it has operated with any effective filter. As it turns out NR could not have its cake and eat it to. Cost saving driven cuts in attrition have come at a price. The day-to-day decisions made throughout the organization to meet unrealistic demands and “polish the numbers” have come at a real price in performance at sea. Regardless of how much more efficient we think we have become, the bottom line is that the product we are pushing out is of a lower quality. Computer aided checkouts and more classroom instruction have proven no substitute for basic intelligence, integrity, and drive.

Incidentally, it is my opinion that this basic problem has been especially compounded in the ranks of ELTS. As others have pointed out previously, there have always been “shady” ELTs. And the program has always been, at least in part partly complicit and aware of this fact. At least they have been in every waterfront away from Washington D.C. that I have been to. But ELTS haven’t always been so stupid. That is to say there was a time when there weren’t any stupid ELTs. Also in the late 1990s, another policy decision was quietly made that I believe was also equally misguided as the first. Prior to its implementation, ELT-Ts were only selected from the top performing mechanics in the nuclear pipeline. I believe this was an appropriate policy considering the significantly more abstract concepts, stringent standards, and political sensitivity of the ELT’s job relative to a “straight-stick MM.” However, in ~1997, - purportedly due to concern for the drain of talent from the machinery division ranks - the policy was altered to require a distribution of ELT-Ts from the entire spectrum of performance. Since then ELT-Ts have been selected from the top, the middle, and the bottom of their respective classes. Talk to any ELT that was around at the time, or even just glance back a few posts, the effects were immediate and obvious. Is it any wonder that now the program has more problems with ELT performance than ever? Is it any wonder that we now detail MMC ELTs to the boats to fill the LELT role that was previously almost always successfully filled by an average ELT first class? It isn’t any wonder to me. But what do I know? I am really just an old ELT, and I have never served in D.C.

11/08/2007 7:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

New CO, New Attitude. New Hampton

11/08/2007 9:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Old ELT has hit the nail on the head. I also remember the shift to make ELTs out of a cross-section of MMs. And look what we have now. ELT Chiefs on SSNs.

Grumpy Old LDO

11/09/2007 12:14 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Old ELT has got it correct – although I’m not sure it’s the whole story. I went through in the late 80’s and early 90’s as an ELT and can certainly understand the why the quality within the community has diminished. The whole pump vs. filter concept has been around for awhile, but it appears from the posts above that the objectives of the program have changed a bit. The legacy of Rickover should never let “cost cutting” and “efficiency” enter into the manning equation. You either have it or you don’t. Lowering the standards shouldn’t be accepted at any level.

What I suspect is that the brass from above would NEVER EVER admit that the quality has gone down. Further, I also suspect that the brass would also never admit that the policies and directives they are promulgating would have any sort of negative impact on the quality of the nukes in the pipeline. I suspect the party line would be that the new policies and directives calling for decreased attrition and better efficiencies are simply “additional challenges” which must be addressed by the instructors in the pipeline.

As a former staff pick up, I can tell you [as old ELT] was eluding to, that what happens is that rather than work twice as hard to get these rocks qualified – the system is breaking down. Students are getting “horsed” to a greater degree, getting additional chances and are not earning the NEC. Being a nuke is simply not rewarding enough in the day to day grind of it all to do as a job unless you demonstrate that you really want to do it. One way you demonstrate your desire to be a nuke is to put out and deal with the adversity of the qualification process. When you yank the adversity away, you get people in the fleet who don’t have any equity in the job. Those without any equity simply don’t care as much. Why do you think they make MD’s spend 4 years in medical school and 5-10 years as a peon resident before they can get board certified? Answer: the people who train doctors think that doctors should earn the privilege and should demonstrate through hard work a desire to do the job.

One last comment – I am a real estate attorney now and I am finding the same issues present in new lawyers as well. So it is not confined to just nukes, rather it is generational in my view. New lawyers simply don’t have the desire to work long hours and do the things that the folks who have gone before them have done to get where they are. New lawyers want the big bucks right now and don’t want to burn the midnight oil to get it. They see the partners with the nice houses, etc. and want it immediately. They don’t understand that behind every $250k salary is 20 years of toil and trouble. New lawyers frequently cut corner or want someone to show them how to do it – as opposed to figuring it out for themselves. They were typically subsidized through grad school [mommy/daddy paid for it]. Again – new lawyers typically don’t have any equity in the field. Bottom line – the latest generation has some issues that we have created for them. These people are going to be caring for you in your golden years – or more appropriately these people are going to be on watch when you are sleeping in your rack on your command master chief tour. Scary.

11/09/2007 12:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the cross-section well. I went to prototype in 1998. At MARF, I qualified early, never failing a test in NPS/NFAS, and I think I graduated prototype like in the top 5 of all mechanics. They send me to ELT school, with two obviously under qualified women, and coming out of ELT school I graduated in the middle (but my GPA improved every step of the way). I figured out, even though no one ever said so, that they were looking to meet some sort of quota for women.

My RL div had a good cross-section of ELTs when I arrived on the boat, but as they began to transition out, their replacements sucked. They couldn't understand what was important, and what wasn't. Their big picture concept was defunct.

So I was the last of the "good" ELTs to hit the boat. Shortly after I was fully qualified (E-5, ERS), we got a new LELT, and I was the senior 2nd, after 1 year. Now I had this division of morons, with a LELT who was not a good manager. The entire division (with the exception of me) was dink. My roommate was an e-5 in M div, and on his "standby days" he was home at noon, and on my day afters, I didn't get home until 6pm. Not really fair.

Shortly their after the 1st class got fired, and they put me in charge. Sad to say, at 22 years old, I wasn't ready to do that job. I should have been the fully qualified 1st term nuke, who gets his work assignments, finishes them, then heads home without regard to time. Instead, I got a division with a fired 1st class, and 4 dink nubs. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. The term "Set up for failure" comes to mind.

The problem was that I was trained like the ELTs before me. Look at this closely, that's ok to ignore, are we really ever going to find any contamination in shaft alley?, etc. The ELTs after me were obtuse, and just didn't get it. Combine that with this new, analysis, and what you get is a poor work center, full of people who know that there are 2190 days in a 6 year enlistment, and they count down every day until they can escape. Couple that with this fact:
sea pay + sub pay + propay - COMRATS (when assigned as anything on shore duty) < $100.00, then what's the utility of the job?

I can't imagine ever recommending the NNPP/submarine/USNAVY to anyone. I treasure a few, isolated moments that I had with certain people, but the overall experience of no-sleep/janitor/painter/"body" definitely makes this a job better suited to a monkey. Not only that, but the "ELTs" at Diablo Canyon (a PG&E reactor in San Louis Obispo,CA) who make $40 bucks an hour, plus benefits, plus time and a half and annual bonuses/stock-options/401K Plans make the Navy seem like a bad deal. Even if you add up $300K in SRB (tax free), and $75K/yr for 20 years, plus the retirement, it's a loosing situation. And that's going the chem/radcon route, not the Aux Operator->Reactor Operator->Senior Reactor Operator route; SRO at a commercial nuke = $300K /yr easy!

11/09/2007 12:58 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to be the voice of dissent, but none of the problems discussed in the previous posts are new, or even unique to the nuclear navy. They are par for the course and overcoming them is part of your job if you are in charge, however you got the job. I will tell you two things my first chief told me:

(1) If you expected to earn as much as a civilian does for doing the same job, someone lied to you. Service in any branch of the military is a sacrifice even in the best of times. There’s a reason they will take an 18 year old, with nothing to his name but the questionable education provided by our public school system, and train them from the ground up to be one of the world’s best nuclear power plant operators. You may not get paid like a civilian, but you’re getting training and experience that put you at the front of the line when you do enter the civilian workforce. Joining the Navy for the pay is like going to prison for the food.

(2) Yes, you will get people right out of school who don’t know crap, are unmotivated and basically worthless. That’s WHY we call them “NUBs”. Of course they don’t know squat – nuc school (and prototype) train them to think and behave like nucs, and that’s about it. It’s your job (and that of the division) to finish their training and make them useful. A good sea dad is a MUST, as is not letting them get pounded into the deck for the sin of being new. It’s a huge investment of time and effort, but the payoff is a shipmate who ultimately makes YOUR job easier.

11/09/2007 2:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Served CO,

I'm sorry to inform you that your analysis of my situation is completely wrong. I am headed to a great SSN with a great schedule. I will spend no major time in the yards, and will not have to endure a change of homeport. Unfortunately, many of my peers will have to tackle those challenges.

It is interesting to see that because I expressed a great deal of doubt about the sincerety and capabilities of the current submarine force leadership that you immediately labeled me as a "professional victim." My statements about our current leaders are based on my personal observations and those of my peers as we discuss the current state of affairs in the force.

Your pity for my future crew, while comical, is not needed. Just because I think the current leadership of the force couldn't lead there way out of a paper bag and I feel the submarine force will be paying the price for decades to come doesn't mean that hold those who men who serve on submarines in the highest esteem. The sacrifices that they and their families make everyday deserve nothing less than my full committment to them. I will do all that is within my power to help them achieve their goals. Whether they stay in the Navy or get out. Oh, and I'm pretty sure I know how to take bad news. But I'll keep you in mind everytime I recieve some bad news.

You mistake my desire to leave a failing business (the submarine force thinks of itself as a business enterprise these days) with a malcontent who accepts no responsibility for his actions. My life is dedicated to the service of my God, my family, and my Country. But I am not stupid enough to stay in an organization where only "yes men" make the cut to the elite leadership positions. I am not stupid enough to stay in an organization where you must ALWAYS do more with less. I am not stupid enough to stay in an organization where the leadership does not care about the men and women who make so many sacrifices to serve and protect their country. My desire to get out of this doomed organization does lot lessen my commitment to those men and women.

However, being a served CO, you either are in line for, are serving in, or have served in Major Command. I think your conclusion about me because I have serious doubt about our current leadership speaks volumes about you. Maybe you need to look in the mirror, maybe you will see much of the poor leadership traits that our current leadership possess. Read what Straight Talk Commander said about the submarine leadership, there are many of us PCOs and COs who see the hypocrisy in our leaders. I can only hope, for the sake of the men in my crew, that you will never be my Commodore. Oh, and if you are a served CO that didn't screen for major command, you must have fallen "short" more than you think and your crew didn't always let you know about it.

Anonymous PCO

11/09/2007 2:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went through the nuke pipeline (enlisted side) in 1992 and you could see the problems coming, at least from NR's point of view. My enlisted class had an insane level of attrition - 66% from start of NFAS to the end of NPS (very few at NPTU attritted - a medical or two). You could tell by the way that certain disciplinary actions (like DUI) were handled that, by the tail end, NR was concerned. While that was an extreme (and seemed to shock the staff in general) there were a couple years of very high levels of attrition in the training pipeline along with a lot of head scratching as to why.

Instead of fixing some of the more bizarre aspects of the training regime, particularly at NFAS, NR went another way entirely and said (not unreasonably) that lots of potentially qualifiable nukes were being "wasted" at great cost. Cost to the program and, frankly, cost to the kids who signed up for nuke power and ended up guarding a gate somewhere. NR has always had a better grip on the officer side of the pipeline (better input controls, for one thing) and decided to twist the wrong knob, then showed the normal lack of proper feedback loop.

The training issues were not the cause of the Hampton issue, but they made things a lot worse, I think. Where would one expect to see such problems expressed first? ROs and ELTs - the specialities requiring the most attention to detail and intellectual acumen (I can say that as I was neither - I went from knuckle-dragger to O-ganger).

To the person who was concerned about ELT selection being spread across the intellectual spectrum - in NR's defense they made the same change many years ago with ETs (before my time) and that change didn't seem to haunt them. From my understanding, ET's used to be chosen from the top of the enlisted classes (NFQT, ASVAB), and the MM's were rocks. That was changed to a normed distribution (although with a few weird corner cases)

11/10/2007 6:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We could also look at drug testing in the modern Navy. Zero tolerance = tell on someone else, then head to the next boat.

I seem to recall that the boat took every opportunity to not make someone do a UA. From the "he's not on board right now," to the "we're on WESTPAC so no," the boat never really wanted to check.

Funny story-- we had a cook who missed movement in Pattaya Beach. Sent a crew out looking to no avail. He gets picked up a week later by a carrier. Did they send this cook to mast? No. They let him reenlist about a month later. They just made him 16 hrs a day clean the ER for the remainder of the WESTPAC.

An the whole "liberty risk" program seems pretty sketch too. Keeps people who should (and shouldn't) go to mast out of mast to keep the reenlistment rate high.

The program is broken. I predict that if the current climate stays the same, we loose a submarine or have a major "fragging" incident on a submarine in the next 5 years. People mean too much to the program, and they just don't care about the people.

11/10/2007 7:19 PM

Blogger Robert Schumacher said...

The issue with changing ET selection has backfired, actually. Have to disagree with you there.

I'm an ET nuke (well, was...just got out in July, was in for 16 years) and the problems in RC Divisions have been mounting for years. When I took over the division on my second boat back in '01 I inheireted a disaster I thought was nearly impossible in the program...I discovered in record reviews a week or so after relieving the ETC there that the division a) did not know how do do maintenance, b) covered up their shortcomings to a near criminal level, c) and when I pulled the string I found it extended to operations as well. After some probing along the waterfront I found that in the preceding several years RC Divisions had become a major problem for squadrons...and it was basic stuff, severe lack of knowledge, lack of integrity, lack of questioning attitude, and a major case of pushing the "easy button". These guys had talked themselves out of following the RPM on a certain annual alignment of a certain nuclear instrument for 4 years...4 YEARS...because they supposedly didn't understand that RPM requirement overrode tech manual requirements (the tech manual gave an out to doing part of the procedure if no equipment in the specific channel had been replaced, but the RPM quite clearly directed performing the steps...can't get too much more specific, but it required pulling a certain cable with a source attached...).

In the same review, on the same day, I found another major problem, only with a different range of the same instruments, the ones used at sea. Failed detector that was not detected because the last steps of the procedure were not done (over 3 months and several hundred hours of operation later). Two critiques (with painful NR questioning) in as many days.

Those were just the biggies. Believe me, there was more. From the example of the "old timers" on my first boat in new construction (they had much higher standards), to what I was finding was common on the waterfront, I was shocked. Yes, we all know that no one does 100% of things 100% right 100% of the time, but these guys didn't even understand where they went wrong. And it was not isolated to that boat...not by a long shot.

I think the fact that the "big news" item here was with ELTs is only by luck. The ROs are not far behind in being far behind the standards of old.

I once pissed off COMSUBPAC during a Q&A when he was riding my second boat...I mentioned that standards and the quality of the pipeline had dropped noticeably, and it was causing problems in the fleet, that we did not have the luxury of training these guys from scratch (that was the pipeline's job). He bristled at the notion, and started bringing up manning. I countered that I'd rather be 50% manned with quality, high standards sailors than 100% manned with what the pipeline was turning out (on average) at the time. Let's just say I wasn't COMSUBPAC's favorite ET1(SS)...

11/10/2007 10:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, it sounds like you hung in there a bit longer than I did, but you probably got out for the same reasons. What was your NNPS/NPTU class? I was 9201/MTU-635. You describe most of the things I saw for my 6, that caused me to say good bye from the Navy and move to a different field (Manufacturing Electronics now).

11/11/2007 7:52 AM

Blogger Robert Schumacher said...

I started in 9203, finished in 9205 (mid-nuke school break for medical reasons). First prototype class through MTS-626 (we did out-hull with 635, then split off). Sounds like we were almost classmates...

11/11/2007 8:09 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, was your class one of the last ones to stand watches in the big blue trailers? Rumor was that when the 626 came on line they were going to take the trailers down to Norfolk to use as a shore based refresher trainer.

11/11/2007 6:04 PM

Blogger Robert Schumacher said...

I think so...we were on a barge for a while too, then into the new building for the month or so before I left.

You realize you are asking ancient history here...I'm lucky I can remember dinner last night :)

11/11/2007 8:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the elephant in the room no one is mentioning with regard to lowering standards and pipeline training.

The stark reality is there is a shrinking pool of civilians to draw from. The baby boom generation has given way to lower birth rates and lower numbers of people.

With an all volunteer force this means that for those that do choose to join and choose to enlist for 6 years they have to looked at as almost irreplaceable just from a demographic standpoint.

Add that to the overwhelming empirical evidence that the better more in-depth training means that sailors at the end of their enlistments become lucrative targets for civilian hiring because these sailors have security clearances and have specialized quality training...then you begin to see why training is dumbed down and they go to great lengths not to attrite people. Pure raw and ugly numbers of a dwindling supply of available prospective manpower.

I am not defending what is happening but I have seen it fir a long time. I was both an enlisted and an officer nuc submariner. When I was an ET they still had "B" schools if you reenlisted which lasted over a year and were beyond college level and were meant to make you well versed in every aspect of electronics...problem was industry actively sought and paid good money for B school grads and the number of B school grads leaving at the end of their enlistments was astronomical...the Navy's return on investment didn't support keeping B schools so away they went. From a business and retention perspective It hink you can see why they did it....but this model continues even today and explains much of the "why" for many things regarding training and retention.

With brutal deployment schedules, an unpopular conflict there has to be a lot worry about how submarines will continue to be manned at strength.

Perhaps you think that you would rather be half manned with quality but in the end port and starboard watches, medical attrition makes that untenable as a long term solution

11/12/2007 10:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is actually no need for anyone to get their shorts in a knot over U.S. population trends and manning submarines.

First, despite the peaking of baby boomers, our nation's population as shown here is growing. We're over 300 million now, and according to the Census Bureau the 400 millionth person is likely to arrive in 2043.

Second, we have roughly half the submarine force that we had at the peak in the late '80s, with the Reagan-era goal of 100 SSNs now reduced to a goal of 55.

Third, some relief in terms of the pool of qualified young men comes from the fact that a good number of Navy and military billets are filled these days by an increasing percentage of women.

Of any and all problems the submarine force is facing, running low on total numbers in the U.S. "people tank" just isn't one of them.

11/12/2007 11:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Total population is not the story or at least is just a part of the story.

Because we are living longer there is quite a slice of the total population that is in age brackets not eligible for service. From 2000-2006 looks like the ranks of over 60 rose over 10% while total population was less than a 10% increase.

Now on the up side for the near future is the almost certain down turn the economy is going to experience.

11/12/2007 1:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again ... you cannot contribute the root causes on HAMPTON to the leadership of CSL and CSP ... but simply to leadership of the CO and his Chief's mess ... irrespective of the environment.

While the current crop of Admirals may be no Al Konetznis, they are well meanings guys trying to recover from the post-Greeneville piling on that took us down this road. Blame Adm G and Adm P first if you like ... but first look in the mirror because we can all make a difference on these things.

Yes ... there is LARGE room for improvement.

But with the increase in Va build rate and initiatives to reduce admin burden ... things are looking up.

I have to agree with served CO ... that PCO and straight-talk should just RING the bell.

You are either a VICTIM or part of the solution.

Every submariner should spend a day on the ground -- outside the wire -- in Iraq or Afgnaistan and you would realize:

1. It ain't ALL that bad.
2. I used to thing the Navy/Sub Force had problems ... we don't ... we have some minor issues. The ARMY has problems ... we treat our Sailors great comparatively ... trust me on this.
3. Uncompromising high standards ... save lives. I know and we should be thankful for ours.

PCO ... if you are not part of solution and the future resign NOW ... because there are plenty who would give their left arm to be in your position to LEAD.

Constructive critism is fine and important ... your disruptive personal attacks on the leadership will get US no where.

Lead ... follow ... or get the f--k out of the way.

Another PCO

11/15/2007 7:52 AM

Blogger Robert Schumacher said...

First off, please stop making the "serve a day in Iraq" statements...we do a different job, it's an apples to oranges comparison. It steamed me when COBs and EDMCs made it. We aren't ground troops, we don't (nor will we likely ever) have it that bad.

Second, while the main blame lies with the Hampton's command, have you looked at sub force CO reliefs? Haven't seen numbers like this since WWII. Overall the Navy is just as bad, if not worse. And you say it's just a problem at the "bottom" of the chain?


ALL levels share responsibility for the condition of the sub force and the nuke program. The policies of particularly ADM Bowman (who cared more about numbers on paper than actual quality (in both the training pipeline, and shipboard training). And he (as many others) cared more about how pretty and clean the engineroom was than in how we actually operated. Priorities have been screwed up in the program for years, the training pipeline has deteriorated (remember having to actually take notes...not anymore, they give you notes with blanks to fill in). I work with two former NNPS/NPTU instructors in my current job, and I spent years in the fleet myself, and we all saw how the "pump vs. filter" mentality produced increasingly worse and worse nukes in the fleet.

Why? Priorities. It's more important to push more bodies through the pipeline than make sure they are up to standards. It's often more important to the COB/EDMC that the bilges are clean than it is for the maintenance to be done ("you can start that at 1630, after cleanup"). It's more important to "look good" than to find and fix the hard problems (that might affect someone's career). It's more important to have a veneer of quality and high standards than to actually do the work of having that quality and those high standards, and that has come from the top, especially in recent holders of 08's office.

One of the best fixes would be to return the pipeline to the draconian nightmare that it was...and I'm serious. It should strike fear into the hearts of young nukes when they enter should be the toughest thing they have ever done or will ever do in their lives, intellectually and academically speaking. If it results in 50% be it, those guys didn't belong in the fleet as nukes in the first place (with some VERY narrow exceptions). It should take a lot of effort for most to make it through, and there should be no multiple failures allowed through the system (no failing A school, then being boarded through, then failing power school, then being boarded through, etc).

And, as I wrote in my Navy Times article, we need to set the at-sea priorities aright. We nukes are on the boat to operate and maintain the power plant. Not to be the DAPA, the CCC, not to be the shipyard's paint team, not to be the ship's security force, not the janatorial service. Yes, we have to maintain our spaces clean, yes we have to do the "sailor stuff", but it's becoming more and more common to see our actual job be pushed to the back burner for bullshit admin/training/other requirements that have little to do with the job. About half (or more) of the "death by PowerPoint" training could be more effectively done on the deckplates (OJT), but bean-counters like Bowman insisted on their pound of classroom training at the expense of actual hands-on learning.

GMT...most of it is a waste of time for not only nukes but all sailors. 75% or more could just be scrapped.

We pay shipyards to work on the ship, is it too much to expect that they clean up after themselves and that they actually paint the damn thing (like we pay them to do, but end up doing for them more often than not)?

There are a host of other issues I could rage on, but most of them can be strung up to leadership. On those ships where the higher-ups let the Chiefs/Firsts run the day-to-day business and let the LPO's train as they see the need (and apply it as needed, i.e., hands on if necessary, classroom as necessary), where the "management" keeps the big picture in view and provides oversight (not micromanagement), where the job is the #1 priority (not cleaning, not training, not administrivia)...that's where you have success. And unfortunately that's a rarity in the fleet. And the same idea applies up the much as many boats have their priorities screwed up, so does 08, fleet, force, and squadron quite often. And their screwed up priorities drive the screwed up priorities on the ships.

And too often the COs are too concerned about their career/fitrep to stand up and say "no, I'm going to run my ship my way".

My last CO was a stand up type...and he practiced the above style and pushed it down the entire chain. It worked, and would work even better with better sailors out of the pipeline and less pressure on screwed up priorities from above.

11/15/2007 8:39 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


There are quite a few of us submariners serving and leading -- outside the wire in the Middle East -- and more will follow.

As one who thought the sub force had major issues ... my perspective has completely changed.

Bottom line up front: We are the best ... most operationally proficient ... safest operating ... submarine force in the world. We are building new subs we will need for the coming fight ... and it is coming and it will be tougher than Iraq or Afghanistan under water.

We still have the most incredible people by any standard. And deck plate leadership is stilling the determining factor in the performance of any ship.

That is not to ignore our higher level problems -- I have been amongst the most vocal critics -- but to think that a PCO is concerned about CSL/CSP policies which really DO NOT actually impact a boat 1/10th of what his leadership will simply baffles me.

Our challenge is too many of this generation are interested "in pressing the easy button" and balk at hard nosed leadership. And too many of todays leader's don't have the courage to really lead (they coddle instead with poor results), to demand a tight ship where HAMPTON-like nonsense is never even a thought, to demand that JOs and Chiefs do their job and set unrelenting standards and they then fail to let results carry the crew to higher state of morale. Taking care of your people means ensuring they are trained and ready first ... the rest later.

CO Hampton may have failed but I promise you the Chiefs and Officers failed him ... that is a cradinal sin for those who wear this uniform.

Another PCO

11/15/2007 11:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another PCO,

Do you actually believe that HAMPTON's CO and XO were victims of the junior leaders below them? Do you believe they didn't instill a culture where lying was considered more acceptable than admitting failure? Do you believe that the worst lies from their deployment happened in the Engine Room?

The reason many of us believe our top leadership is weak is because our top leaders shy away from the ugly truth. I am shocked when I hear submarine Admirals discuss HAMPTON as a weakness in mid-level leadership, when THEY KNOW DARNED WELL that there is evidence that the CO and XO mave have knowingly submitted fraudulent documents.

Our top leaders seem too eager to classify ugly traces as anomalies and then put them squarely in our baffles, as though that makes the problem source disappear. Despite numerous incidents over the past few years, rarely have I heard any senior leader give serious, public discourse considering the possibility that failures could be due to ill-considered policies or performance shortcomings at shore commands. Like many of my peers, I find it inconceivable that human beings could be so fallible when assigned to ships yet beyond reproach once they work directly for Admirals. There seems to be a gentlemen's agreement not to consider that NR, OPNAV or the TYCOMs could make mistakes. THAT is why there is a crisis of faith in leadership amongst our mid-grade officers.

Somewhere along the way the Sub Force seems to have lost its heading reference. HAMPTON was host to a culture of lying - was that culture limited to the ship? What cultivated it? How might factors external to the ship have contributed? How can we steer well clear of similar hazards in the future? These questions deserve to be asked and discussed openly and frankly at every submarine command, not simply dismissed in a cloud of blame for easily-replaced junior personnel.

11/16/2007 6:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more thing:

"Pushing the 'Easy Button'" better describes VADM Donnelly's public characterization of this episode than the incident itself.

11/16/2007 6:21 PM

Blogger Straight_Talk_CDR said...

Dear “another PCO” or should I say “one of VADM Donnelly’s minions”

I completely disagree that no accountability lies with our senior leaders. Just as the CO is responsible for the actions of his crew, VADM Donnelly is responsible for his force – and what happened on Hampton is a manifestation of a force wide problem. I pity Bill Houston – a good man who will be micromanaged into insanity over the next 30 months.
The CO has to function within the framework, system and policy that his seniors set for him. That policy results in unexecutable requirements coupled with a constant fear of getting fired at our first mistake.

If it “aint all that bad”, then why did 8 submarine commanders submit their retirement requests while in “the best job in the Navy” within the past 12 months?

If the Army has it so bad then why is their retention rate 3 times better than that of our Junior Officers?

Why is it that more Junior Officers are choosing to resign directly from their sea tours than at any time in our recent history. (ask N133 for the data)

How many Army COs are getting fired? Very few in comparison to the voluminous number of CO/PCOs in the submarine force. We dispose of our people at the first opportunity. We do a lot of things right but we have never gotten the “people piece” right. We treat our people terribly.

We have minor problems?: Then why do 70% of our Junior officers chose to resign forgoing a Masters Degree that is paid for while receiving a 100K/yr salary? As you say “anybody would jump at the opportunity” it looks like they are jumping but in the wrong direction. The real question is why do any of them stay?

If things are so great in the subforce, then why are PCOs expressing their displeasure in this blog?

Why? Because things have changed. I am not ringing the bell. I will do what I came to do (command a submarine) and then punch. I really have no other choice since I am so close to retirement. My experience as a SSBN XO and watching how much misery my COs and my commodore endured, solidified in my mind that there is a much better life outside the submarine force that is both meaningful and provides a better balance between my personal life and my professional ambitions. The commercial nuclear power industry is in a renaissance and the opportunities are enormous for people with our capabilities and experience.

…and if you want me to get the “f—k out of the way” (to use your supremely mentoring terminology): who is going to replace me? over weight squadron Deputy who is half as capable? There is a reason why I screened on my first look and these guys didn’t.

This is not about bashing our leadership, it is about straight talk. If the submarine force leadership doesn’t want to hear it, then perhaps this is the very reason why the problems on Hampton occurred. We need to do some serious self reflection. The bottom line: The current Norfolk leadership is terrible (I don’t’ have an opinion about Walsh). I grew up under Admiral Chiles….that was real leadership!...and that is the straight talk.

11/16/2007 9:40 PM

Blogger Straight_Talk_CDR said...

Dear “another PCO” or should I say “one of VADM Donnelly’s minions”

I completely disagree that no accountability lies with our senior leaders. Just as the CO is responsible for the actions of his crew, VADM Donnelly is responsible for his force – and what happened on Hampton is a manifestation of a force wide problem. I pity Bill Houston – a good man who will be micromanaged into insanity over the next 30 months.
The CO has to function within the framework, system and policy that his seniors set for him. That policy results in unexecutable requirements coupled with a constant fear of getting fired at our first mistake.

If it “aint all that bad”, then why did 8 submarine commanders submit their retirement requests while in “the best job in the Navy” within the past 12 months?

If the Army has it so bad then why is their retention rate 3 times better than that of our Junior Officers?

Why is it that more Junior Officers are choosing to resign directly from their sea tours than at any time in our recent history. (ask N133 for the data)

How many Army COs are getting fired? Very few in comparison to the voluminous number of CO/PCOs in the submarine force. We dispose of our people at the first opportunity. We do a lot of things right but we have never gotten the “people piece” right. We treat our people terribly.

We have minor problems?: Then why do 70% of our Junior officers chose to resign forgoing a Masters Degree that is paid for while receiving a 100K/yr salary? As you say “anybody would jump at the opportunity” it looks like they are jumping but in the wrong direction. The real question is why do any of them stay?

If things are so great in the subforce, then why are PCOs expressing their displeasure in this blog?

Why? Because things have changed. I am not ringing the bell. I will do what I came to do (command a submarine) and then punch. I really have no other choice since I am so close to retirement. My experience as a SSBN XO and watching how much misery my COs and my commodore endured, solidified in my mind that there is a much better life outside the submarine force that is both meaningful and provides a better balance between my personal life and my professional ambitions. The commercial nuclear power industry is in a renaissance and the opportunities are enormous for people with our capabilities and experience.

…and if you want me to get the “f—k out of the way” (to use your supremely mentoring terminology): who is going to replace me? over weight squadron Deputy who is half as capable? There is a reason why I screened on my first look and these guys didn’t.

This is not about bashing our leadership, it is about straight talk. If the submarine force leadership doesn’t want to hear it, then perhaps this is the very reason why the problems on Hampton occurred. We need to do some serious self reflection. The bottom line: The current Norfolk leadership is terrible (I don’t’ have an opinion about Walsh). I grew up under Admiral Chiles….that was real leadership!...and that is the straight talk.

11/16/2007 9:41 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am certainly nobody's minion and I grew up under and close to Adm K, who is pretty damn close with Admiral Chiles.

Adm K would tell you that it is your leadership and your influence that truly matters NOT all these other things.

I have clearly stated that we have issues that need to be resolved but I, for one, do not beleive the sky is falling and I do not believe that the senior leadership, however good or bad, is the MOST culpable in Hampton.

I am living with the Army on the ground in a war zone ... the conditions for Soldiers are horrific ... with regard to treatment of people and JO retention. Not even on the same planet as the Sub Force. Choose to believe what you want.

My last point is ... as a CO you can make the greater difference not the Admiralty.

Since you are a "first-look" super-star (as you point out) you can do EVEN more.

I am one who just feels fortunate to have the opportunity to command and I know plenty of SS guys who are terrific and capable ready to take my place ... irrespective of their waist line.

So, I can name five guys ... right now ... who are ready, willing, and able ... so don't worry my friend ... the sub force make out without you.

Loyalty up and loyalty down is a concept you need I recommend you get in touch with ... if you are going to command. But what do I know.

Good luck and going sinker.

11/17/2007 7:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Straight talk CDR, you are on the mark again! Another PCO's statement that the policies set by the admiralty don't affect the force is ludicrous. While it is true that the greatest influence on day to day life on a boat comes from the chiefs quarters, the policies of the TYCOM hugely impact every aspect of the force. Decisions such as mandating certain required training, to implementing the new Submarine Operations Manual and Continuing Training Manual, to changing homeports from LANT to PAC have HUGE impacts on each boat. At least half of the PCO's I know are in our corner and have serious doubts about the submarine force leadership and the direction it is headed. Like you, I will lead my crew and give 100% to my crew, they deserve nothing less. But many of us (PCOs) have not had any loyalty "down the chain" for quite some time and we will not blindly follow our leaders "over the cliff." When the admiralty stops worrying about their next star and starts making decisions to help the force and it's great people, I'll start showing some loyalty back.

11/17/2007 7:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LMAO at "loyalty up and loyalty down" being used as defense of SUBFOR leadership. Maybe we just have different definitions of loyalty - here is mine:

Hard, honest, capable and willing work is the only loyalty your superiors need. Not patronizing them by holding them to a lower standard than you hold your own men. In turn, establishing clear goals, putting them in position to meet those goals, and recognizing a job well done is the loyalty your men expect from you. Not pressuring them to report good results no matter what the facts are, and claiming any glory for yourself while blaming your men whenever the organization falls short.

Guess which brand of loyalty I have experienced at submarine commands, and which I've seen elsewhere in the Navy and on Joint tours?

Focusing attention where things are going well helps you look good, but doesn't allow you to get better. The Submarine Force has grown arrogant and narcissistic; we need to get over the infatuation with how good we'd like to think we are and start concentrating on where we must improve. Lamenting that junior guys let us down is neither entirely true (yes, some let us down - but that ignores the root causes and dooms us to more of the same) nor productive.

When was the last time someone messed up, stood up and admitted it before anyone else even noticed, was given the chance to fix it, fixed it, and went on to have a successful career in the sub force? THAT is a significant factor in the widespread integrity issues many of us see every day, but are only rarely acknowledged officially. The refusal to admit there is a larger problem is a second major factor in developing the culture of lying found on HAMPTON (and to some extent on many more submarines operating today). VADM Donnelly should be leading change to correct these problems, not insulting his Force by describing real, hard problems we face every day as a simple case of a few individuals choosing the easy way out of a problem.

11/17/2007 8:54 AM


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