Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force Fall 2003 U.S. Submarines… Because Stealth Matters Cover of Fall 2003 Issue
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Undersea Warfare 2002 CHINFO Merit Award
Midshipmen Dive into the Submarine Force
by LT Kyung “KC” Choi and JOC(SW/AW) Mark O. Piggott, USN
photos by SK2 Gabriel Rincon

It’s normal for a ballistic missile submarine to take time out of its patrol assignments for training and education. It’s rare, though, when that training is for the Navy’s future officers.

Recently, a total of over 200 midshipmen from the United States Naval Academy and the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (NROTC) went onboard USS Nebraska (SSBN-739), a Trident II
ballistic-missile submarine, during a series of orientation cruises. This was part of their Summer Service Orientation Program, where midshipmen visit a variety of commands, including air, surface, and Marine Corps units.

“This is an excellent way for midshipmen and NROTC students to experience submarine operations,” said CDR Christian N. Haugen, Nebraska’s Commanding Officer. “It helped me decide on becoming a part of the submarine community when I was a midshipman,” added Haugen, 42, a native of Northfield, Minnesota and a 1984 graduate of the Naval Academy.

Braving stormy seas on a tugboat, succeeding groups of midshipmen transferred onboard Nebraska from the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. Some of the mids were surprised by their first impressions of life onboard a ballistic missile submarine.

“They try to make the standard of living aboard submarines a lot higher,” said MIDN Jessica M. Graham, 21, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

One aspect of life aboard a submarine that caught the midshipmen off guard was their sleeping quarters. Each nine-man berthing unit on Nebraska is nestled among the 24 missile tubes. “Sleeping next to the largest firepower ever built is quite amazing,” said MIDN James H. Bond, 22, a native of Orlando, Florida.

“It really blows your mind when you think that you are hundreds of feet below the water, sleeping between missile tubes,” added MIDN Graham. “The responsibility that comes with being a part of such a force is very exciting and very scary at the same time.”

The hands-on experience showed the midshipmen some of the unique challenges faced by the submarine community. The moment they stepped onboard, they received an intensive indoctrination on the layout of the ship and key safety issues. Subsequently, to help them gain a real appreciation of the operational significance of the “Boomer” force, the midshipmen and NROTC students observed every aspect of the ship’s operations, from propulsion to weapons.

“This is our chance to show them what we do in the submarine community,” said EMCM(SS) Michael P. Stefurak, 42, Nebraska’s Chief of the Boat. “This isn’t something we get to do very often. The moment the midshipmen come aboard, they immediately become a part of the ship’s crew,” he added. “We open all aspects of the boat to them, so they can choose to engage in as many activities as they want.”

CDR Haugen challenged the midshipmen to focus on Nebraska’s Sailors for the two days they would be onboard. “I want you to watch and listen to our Sailors,” he said. “They are the ones you’ll be leading in the future.”

"What I've noticed is the change these future officers go through as they see how motivated, professional, and intelligent our crew is and realize the complexity of working with nuclear power."
Photo caption follows
MIDN Julian Clark receives training on the proper use of an Oxygen Breathing Apparatus (OBA) during a fire drill onboard USS Nebraska. Clark and other midshipmen from the Naval Academy were onboard Nebraska as part of their Summer Service Orientation Program.

Most of the midshipmen took his advice. “From the seamen to the CO, the entire crew was extremely knowledgeable,” said MIDN Jeffrey T. Chewning, 20, a native of Germantown, Maryland. “Everybody knows their job and performs their duty in an outstanding manner.”

“The crew is very close, almost like a family,” added MIDN Christiana M. Floeck, 20, a native of Charlotte Hall, Maryland. “The Sailors I came in contact with were very intelligent and, for the most part, really liked their jobs.”

That’s how it was for LTJG David R. Hummell, 26, Nebraska’s Communications Officer and Midshipmen Coordinator, when he visited a submarine for the very first time. “The quality of the crew – the enlisted Sailors you get to work with on submarines – that’s why I chose this community,” said. Hummell, a native of Roswell, Georgia, is a 2000 graduate of the Naval Academy. He was responsible for making sure that the visiting midshipmen had the most valuable experience possible on Nebraska.

“What I’ve noticed is the change these future officers go through as they see how motivated, professional, and intelligent our crew is and realize the complexity of working with nuclear power,” CDR Haugen remarked.

During their two days on Nebraska, midshipmen performed a variety of duties and enjoyed a total submarine experience. Under the careful instruction of Nebraska’s crew, they manned the helm, stern planes, and dive stations and served as chief of the watch during maneuvering drills. Additionally, they participated in a fire drill that included donning fire-fighting ensembles and Emergency Air Breathing (EAB) masks while manning crucial watch stations. “We want to maximize the training value of their time onboard,” LTJG Hummell said, “making sure everyone is where they are suppose to be during every evolution.”

One watch was particularly memorable to MIDN Chewning. “I was up on the bridge at about 0200,” he recalled. “Dolphins surfaced off the port bow and rode the bow wave for about 20 minutes. It was an incredible sight.”

For several weeks, Nebraska gave these groups of midshipmen a first-hand look at the submarine community. It’s quite possible that in the future, some of them will return to Nebraska as members of the crew.

LT Choi and JOC Piggott serve in the Public Affairs Office for Commander, Submarine Forces Atlantic.