Insider thoughts on the submarine safety standdownBeing on the crew of a sub, I got to take part in the safety standdown today (being in overhaul, ours was somewhat of a different agenda than the operational guys).
I can't delve into boat-specific issues, of course, but I got the impression that the VCNO (Subs) and the SubLant and SubPac commanders, as well as all in the upper chains, are really ready to listen to us in the blue shirts. At least I hope I'm right in that assessment.
One of the big issues my fellow PO1's and I brought up to our CO was how our time is so committed that we (and our CPO's, and our junior sailors) have somewhat less than 30% of our "workday" time to actually devote to our jobs. We have had an ever-increasing mandate of admin, training, and externally directed requirements that have eaten big chunks out of our day. I gave the example of a nuke in an overhaul situation, where the training requirements laid out by NavSea 08 put us in 6-10 hours of classroom training per week, with another 1-3 hours a week taking continuing training exams. That doesn't even count the time spend preparing the training and writing/grading exams. That is just 7-13 hours total per week in a chair getting either "death by PowerPoint" or a sore hand from multiple exams. I, for example, weekly attend 4 hours of Engineering Department training, 2 hours of Divisional training, and 2 hours of EOOW/EWS training, plus at least 2 hours of exam time. That's 10 hours per week. An ELT qualifies EWS gets 2 more hours a week (in addition to their Divisional training they are required to attend M-Division training) and one more divisional exam. That's nearly 25% of the theoretical "work week" just spent on your butt doing training. And it doesn't count GMT, training preparation, exam preparation/grading, and the myriad of reports and other admin that come with the job (especially for supervisors). The point we wanted to drive home is that as you move up the food chain to LPO, LCPO, Division Officer, Department Head, and up, there is more and more training and admin taking you away from deckplate supervision, on-the-job training, mentoring, and the things that were very likely missing that caused the 13 "tier I" events in the past 6 years.
I sat down and calculated up a typical inport (shipyard) schedule once, and discovered that I get somewhere around 30% or less of the work week with my division. Yes, about 70% of the time is "hardwired" such that my personnel aren't available to me as an LPO to do our jobs. And it wasn't just the nukes echoing this point...it was across the board, forward and aft (to varying degrees).
My opinion; many of the issues contributing to the problems the submarine force has faced in recent years is the decreased time we have to actually focus on the jobs we are put on the boat to do. Every incident adds more training, more admin, more time on inspections. There's less unencumbered "CO discretionary time" (time at sea not committed to some external requirement). There is less time for the sailor to actually work for his LPO. There is less time for the LPO/LCPO to actually be the LPO/LCPO. And the junior sailors don't just magically train, mentor, and perform without deckplate leadership.
The best thing the submarine force leadership could do...take a big knife and hack out about 30-40% or more of the admin, training, and inspection requirements. We on the boats know our jobs; LET US DO THEM. Let us go to sea in local op areas without some squadron rider that we have to show off for, mandate less on-your-ass "death by PowerPoint" training and let us at the LPO level train on what we see as our divisional needs, and TDU the non-essential admin and "check the box" paperwork. Give us back our time to do our jobs, and we'll keep the OOD's and EOOW's out of trouble out there.
I know I got long-winded, but this is an issue I have seen get worse and worse in my 16 years in submarines; the metric shows that throwing more training and checklists at the boats when there are incidents doesn't work. Following the 2001 incidents with Greeneville and subsequent major mishaps there was more admin and training mandated following each critique, yet each year (save 2004) since the number of major mishaps has actually risen. We've lost sight of the forest for killing all the trees for paper for the admin.
This problem seems, to my observation, plague the Navy as a whole to varying degrees. There was a time when the mission was the #1 priority, and if it didn't support the mission or the sailor accomplishing the mission it wasn't important...and was thus deep-sixed. Now we have the same missions, and the same number (or more) of them, and fewer ships/subs/sailors to do them with. If any time was the right time to trim the fat and get back to mission essentials, it is now.
'nuff said, I shall now step down from my soapbox
Technorati Tags: Submarines, Safety, Leadership
Crossposted at The Online Magazine Formerly Known As Rob's Blog