Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Submarine Quartermasters -- My Take

Originally posted by Bubblehead at 0055 20 Apr:

Last weekend, I briefly discussed an article by Lt. Raymond Perry, USN (Ret.) giving his further opinions on the San Francisco grounding. (I discussed a couple of his earlier articles on this subject here and here.) In my first post on this article, I talked a little about Perry's contention that the Joint Duty requirement imposed by the Goldwater-Nichols Act has caused submarine COs to be less proficient submariners. I was going to expand on this by referencing a really dumb GAO report I remember reading that basically said the Navy wouldn't need as many submarine officers if they only did shore duty that related to submarining, but I couldn't find this report at the GAO website, which makes me think it was classified; therefore, I won't discuss it in detail. (It was really idiotic, though -- you'll have to trust me on this.) I don't know about the rest of you, but I personally needed shore duty time to recharge my batteries (even the "shore duty" I spent doing a six-month deployment on an aircraft carrier was necessary from the point of view of my sanity).
Another point Perry brings up seems to have a lot of support within the submarine community, and even more within the "no longer active duty" segment. Excerpts:

"There is a second potential contributing element to the San Francisco collision. The Navy several years ago merged the Quartermaster rating with the Electronics Technician rating as a means of saving money during a period of personnel cutbacks. What did the Submarine Force lose in eliminating this professional set of sailors, and was it worth it?...

"...Updating charts to ensure all applicable Notices to Mariners have been entered is a mundane and never ending but truly vital task. To a Quartermaster, it is a key element of his professional performance. To an Electronics Technician, it might be, at best, another administrative task...

"...A third factor revealed in the probe is the common and expected practice of employing dead-reckoning to show if a ship is standing into danger. The practice is to lay out the ship’s present course and speed for the next few position fix intervals or four hours in the open ocean (See Chapter 7 of “The American Practical Navigator”). This practice presents a visual display of potential danger immediately available to those navigating the ship, if its course and speed are not changed. Quartermasters do this in their sleep as second nature and a core element of their profession. To an Electronics Technician this too would be another administrative task among many.

"Quartermasters know charts and the potential inaccuracies inherent in a chart based on information predating satellite mapping of the world (see
“The Navigator’s Paradox,” DefenseWatch, Feb. 1, 2005). When a Quartermaster sees a series of soundings indicating a shoaling bottom not shown on the chart, it should, and does, set off loud warning bells.
Electronics Technicians are professionals too. They work hard in their chosen field. But each professional field within the Navy operates to different sets of priorities. When the Submarine Force did away with its Quartermaster rating and rolled its responsibilities into another rating, some things that were done instinctively disappeared."

Perry is right in that the Submarine Force merged the QM rate into the Sub ET rate. A lot of submariners, including myself, opposed this move, but not for the reasons Perry states. Many believe that this move eliminated Quartermasters from submarines; nothing could be farther from the truth. In actuality, it was simply an administrative change; the new Quartermasters were those ETs who carried the 14QM Navy Enlisted Classification. They have basically the same schooling that the old quartermasters had, do the same job, and have to complete the same qual cards as before. (Actually, the qual card is more extensive now.) The rating conversion was more of an administrative paper chase than an attempt to save money, although I'm sure that's how the Navy sold it to Congress. The same merger made Navy Interior Communications Specialist and Radionmen into ETs with their own NEC. About the same time, they turned all submariner Torpedomen's Mates into Machinists Mates.

Granted, these new ETs have to have more in-rate knowledge than the old QMs did, but from this submariners point of view, that's a good thing. The 14QMs still do the same things the old QMs did; they still aren't allowed to go out on liberty until their QM work is done; they still plot hand DRs, prepare charts, and put their dicks on the chart table when the ship is going to PD at night (OK, maybe not all of them do that, but at least one of them on my first boat did.)

Here's what I didn't like about the ET rating conversion and QMs: while the junior QMs were not really any different, the senior QM onboard, called the Assistant Navigator (ANAV for short) didn't have to be a 14QM. All sub ET could qualify as ANAV, even if they were a radioman, ICman, or Nav ET guy as their primary job in their earlier tours. Since each boat will only have one senior Sailor on board assigned as ANAV, the quality of this person was probably the most important factor in how good the boat was in the navigation area. Since qualification as ANAV looked really good on any Sub ETs record, I worried that boats might qualify a guy just as he was leaving (the "good-bye kiss") and he'd show up at the next boat as ANAV without that much real-world quartermastering experience.

So is this what happened to the San Francisco? No -- her ANAV was one of the best in the fleet, and had always been a quartermaster. This is another reason why I think the 711 grounding was such a bad roll of the dice; if one of the best QMs in the fleet could have it happen on his watch, the boats with old Radiomen as their ANAV would seemingly be more susceptible to any problems. Bottom line: The ET conversion might not have been a very good idea, but blaming the San Francisco grounding on it is really stretching a point.

At this point I'd normally call Lt. Raymond Perry, USN (Ret.) an asshat, but I've heard through the grapevine that he's in cordial E-mail contact with someone who is hopefully setting him straight, and who says he got an answer from Perry by being polite. So, Ray, if you're out there, I won't call you an asshat in this entry, and if you'd like to defend yourself and your conclusions on this page, just send it in and I'll post it. However, if it displays any asshattish properties, I reserve the right to point that out.

(Edited for spelling and clarity 1014 20 April)


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