Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force. Winter 2004 U.S. Submarines... Because Stealth Matters Cover for Winter 2004
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EM3 Mark Quarles checks for a proper face seal on his Oxygen Breathing Apparatus (OBA)

Wake-up Call

It’s 1830 and two Sailors in distinctive red shirts arrive at a rack in berthing to deliver a special wake-up call. One slowly pulls back the curtain and says, “Petty Officer Quarles, you need to get up. It’s time for your SNAPSHOT board.”

EM3 Mark Quarles has been waiting for this moment since he arrived onboard shortly after the boat’s last patrol. Like many who have gone before him, he has worked hard to prepare himself for his final qualification board. Months of study, checkouts, and walk-throughs have readied him to prove that he has the required knowledge of the ship’s systems and damage control procedures and the ability to function under stress. When this evening is over – and if he has passed his SNAPSHOT board – he will exchange the red dolphins that he has worn since starting his final walk-throughs two weeks ago for his silver dolphins.

Snapshot of Success
by LCDR Tom Monroe, USN, and CMDCM Dave Lynch, USN, with the assistance of JO2 Mary Popejoy, USN
Photos by Brian Nokell, Submarine Base Bangor, WA Visual Information

Preparations for this four-hour board require substantial personal efforts from many more crewmembers than just Petty Officer Quarles. Each set of silver dolphins earned onboard USS Alaska (SSBN-732) (G) represents an incredible amount of work by both the individual and his shipmates, who devote countless hours to check-outs and instruction, plus setting the stage for the board itself. Each event on every board is formally reviewed and approved by the Chief of the Boat, the Executive Officer, and the Commanding Officer and is designed to test for the same basic skills.

With the approved plan for Petty Officer Quarles’ board in hand, the SNAPSHOT Team has already met after dinner with their team leader, ETC(SS) Troy Harrel, and formally briefed the sequence of events, safety considerations, and basic skills the Sailor will be expected to prove in each event. There is no doubt that qualifying submariners this way involves a great deal more effort by the ship, but the pay-off in ship-wide esprit d’ corps and damage control readiness is incredible in comparison with the way submarine qualification boards are normally done with only a formal interview.

The SNAPSHOT Board Begins

Petty Officer Quarles is now dressed and makes his way to Damage Control Aft in Machinery-Two Upper Level. His board begins with an introduction that emphasizes how Quarles will become part of a heritage of heroes who have offered their very lives to save their ship, their shipmates, and the mission. The six members of the SNAPSHOT Team – dressed in their red tee-shirts, blue and khaki utility pants, and black boots – will serve as both his evaluators and his peers in carrying out tasks he directs.

The introduction picks up: “On 4 April 1924, the Medal of Honor was awarded to TM2(SS) Henry Breault for the following acts of heroism, quick thinking, and self-sacrifice. These acts have served as symbols of what is best in submarining… If you succeed in all areas of the test, you will be awarded your dolphins and join the fraternity of submariners. Let’s begin!”

The crackle of the 1MC is heard throughout the ship announcing, “There is a ship’s qualification board in progress. Disregard all 4MC announcements until further notice.” A few minutes later, the Executive Officer is not surprised when he hears the speaker next to his desk come alive with Petty Officer Quarles’ voice saying, “Emergency report, emergency report. Injured man in Engineroom Upper Level.” The board is underway.

The concept for this crucible event grew out of the Navy recruit-training graduation exercise known as “Battlestations,” where each recruit works with his team to complete a series of drills over a very long night to demonstrate hands-on what they have learned. When CMDCM Dave Lynch came onboard as Chief of the Boat, he recalled his tour as the Recruit Division Commander for the first group of recruits to participate in Battlestations and set out to create the same experience onboard Alaska. Book knowledge is necessary, but without the ability to apply it under stress, it’s not worth much to us out here at sea, so he inspired a core group of superior Sailors to take the idea and turn it into reality. Making up this team were STSC(SS) Chris Shanklin, MM1(SS) Jeremy Bennett, MM1(SS) Tom Madden, MM2(SS) Nick Wallace, MT2(SS) Ken Ekhart, YN2(SS) Jon Simons, STS2(SS) Alex Dudder, MM2(SS) Mark Pearson, MM2(SS) Eric Stanton, MM1(SS) Justin Buckman, ET2(SS) Tommy Erikson, MT2(SS) Nate Capps, and STS2(SS) Chris Juroshek.

So far, 47 Alaska Sailors have completed a SNAPSHOT qualification during two strategic deterrent patrols – MM3(SS) Brian Haug was the first, and MT3(SS) Kelvin Coleman was the most recent. Because of all the hard work that goes into the preparations, there is a natural desire to see everyone get through, but in fact some will not make the grade – a disappointment for all concerned. To date, 17 boards have been failed, however in all but one case, we were able to provide detailed feedback and develop a plan for qualifiers to get through on a subsequent attempt.

Photo caption follows Photo caption follows
(left) MM3 Williams fights a simulated fire (identified by the red lights) in the three-inch launcher space.

(above) MM2 Wallace monitors MM3 Williams’ fire-fighting skills.

Getting Down to Business

EM3 Quarles comes down the ladder, turns into the Machinery Room, and sees a small “fire”. He makes a deliberate 4MC announcement from the scene: “Emergency report, emergency report. Fire in Machinery- One. Fire in the external hydraulic plant.” He puts the handset down and races for the nearest fire extinguisher, securing the external hydraulic plant in the process. One of the SNAPSHOT team members prevents him from actually discharging it but provides him a simulation that the carbon dioxide is being applied to the fire, even as it grows out of control, with smoke assumed to be filling the compartment. The Sailor pulls an Emergency Air Breathing (EAB) mask from the nearest locker, plugs in, and continues to fight the fire with another extinguisher. However, when a fire on a submarine grows beyond the capability of a couple of fire extinguishers, it is time to start fighting it with water. Quarles directs several of the facilitators to take out and pressurize the fire hose while he, as the man-in-charge, makes a full damage control report to Damage Control Central on the 4MC. Now there’s a new problem – only a trickle of water comes out of the hose. Quickly inspecting it, he deduces that that the nozzle is clogged. After showing the facilitator – who feigns ignorance – how to clear the nozzle, he continues to lead the attack on the fire, and it “goes out.”

Next, Quarles is sent to Missile Compartment Third Level to monitor atmospheres with portable equipment and then back up two levels to Machinery-Two Upper Level, where Damage Control Aft is located. “Petty Officer Quarles, don a fire-fighting ensemble and an OBA [oxygen breathing apparatus] and conduct a search of the forward compartment with a NFTI (Navy Firefighters Thermal Imager),” directs one of the SNAPSHOT Team members. Quarles suits up quickly, signaling that he had completed the final step of lighting off his OBA by tapping on his face shield with the cotter pin from the canister and testing his new atmosphere. A fresh canister is expended for each board.

Without a knock, the wardroom door bursts open, interrupting a qualification board for Diving Officer of the Watch. Petty Officer Quarles, encased in his OBA and bearing the thermal imager, is conducting the search. He looks around and then backs out. With his hand on the D-ring on the back of the OBA, ETC Harrel carefully tends the Sailor for safety while he navigates the ship looking only through the NFTI. Entering the Torpedo Room, Quarles sees a warm figure lying on the deck, motionless. He quickly checks on his shipmate and then calls for help from the Emergency Medical Assistance Team on the nearest 4MC. He is then sent back to DC Aft to remove the heavy gear. The board is going well, and this opportunity to cool off and get dry is most welcome – but it doesn’t last… “Rig a portable submersible pump in Missile Compartment Lower Level”… then, “Combat a flooding casualty in the Torpedo Room.” And after that follows Quarles’ knowledge interview in the Officer Study.

The Knowledge Interview

The 1MC barks the following an-nouncement: “Ship’s qualification board is complete. Regard all 4MCs.” Our candidate has completed most of the practical part of his board and moves on to the academic portion. The corresponding announcement last evening came one hour earlier – because that Sailor’s board ended abruptly when he made too many errors and didn’t quite meet the standard. (But he’ll do his re-board in about two weeks and do well.)

A submarine-qualified officer is required to certify the knowledge level of each enlisted Sailor before he can earn his dolphins. Normally, onboard Alaska Gold, two junior officers or a department head sit on each board. Tonight, the Weapons Officer and two senior enlisted submariners wait patiently for EM3 Quarles to arrive in the Officer Study for his interview. Having just applied a bandit patch – successfully – to a ruptured, flooding pipe in the Torpedo Room bilge, he is very wet and very tired, but he’s been provided a towel to dry off with as he gets ready to demonstrate his knowledge of the ship’s systems and damage control procedures.

Quickly getting down to business, the interview team first probes his knowledge of the trim and drain systems by asking him to draw the system diagram and then answer a battery of questions. How would you pump forward trim if the trim pump failed? What is the purpose of the priming pump and header? How do you pressurize the fire main? This portion of SNAPSHOT sounds like a conventional qualification board, but now, the Sailor’s physical and emotional fatigue adds another dimension of stress.

The interview begins at 2130 and will last about 45 minutes. During this time, the SNAPSHOT Team caucuses and reviews how Quarles has done on each event. Not surprisingly, some went better than others, but was he able to perform under stress? How much help did he need to get through? Did he find all the injured men? Was he able to pump the bilge in the Missile Compartment with the portable submersible pump? All things considered, it’s clear that EM3 Quarles has done very well so far. If he sustains the knowledge interview, the team leader will begin passing the word that there will be a dolphin presentation in the Crew’s Mess at 2300.

Photo caption below
Photo caption below
MT3 Coleman rings the bell at the successful completion of his SNAPSHOT board.

MT3 Cuthbertson removes his dolphins from the “fishtank,” at the completion of his board.

Photos by MM1 Tom Madden, USS Alaska

Taking charge

Some of the things that we see during these boards are amazing. When stressed and a bit confused, Sailors do things like plugging EAB hoses into their own “buddy” connection – we call this recirculating, and it doesn’t work – or trying to connect a non-collapsible hose to the submersible pump without first removing the foot valve that is screwed on at the bottom of the pump.

But stress can also bring out the best in people. At some point during the board, they really “get into” the scenario and do whatever is required to survive and get the job done. The most dramatic performance was by ET3 Jason Smith in rigging a submersible pump, when he took charge of the COB and other SNAPSHOT facilitators by directing, “You guys come with me!” The ability of these junior Sailors to take charge and lead casualty actions has been an unexpected but very welcome result of the SNAPSHOT boards.

As expected, EM3 Quarles passes his knowledge interview easily and is taken to the Sonar Equipment Space, where he demonstrates how to operate a main ballast tank vent manually, following each step of the procedure methodically while supervised by MM1 Madden. Following procedures to the letter is the standard for all operations onboard a submarine, and no less is expected here.

The next task: “Execute a submarine escape from the Mid-Logistics Escape Trunk. Petty Officer Capps will be egressing with you and you will need to lead him through it.” The ship is at 190 feet going 10 knots, and since actually flooding down the trunk and leaving the ship would be considered going a bit too far, most of the procedures are simulated. Both men enter the trunk through the lower hatch with their buoyant “Steinke” hoods and walk through each step of the evolution. By the time they are done, both are glad to leave the cold damp and dim light of this tiny unheated space.

One more hurdle remains – the EAB walk, where Quarles must traverse every compartment of the submarine, plugging himself into many of the hundreds of air connections throughout the ship. Everyone who’s done this knows that it’s an exhausting exercise, but making it to this point also means that the board is nearly over.

Awarding the Dolphins

Tired, sweaty, emotional, and fired up by adrenaline, Petty Officer Quarles pushes into the Crew’s Mess, pulls the EAB from his face, and vigorously rings the bell on the aft bulkhead signifying that his board is now complete. Immediately and without any order given, all officers and crew come to attention in honor of the Navy’s newest submariner. Flanked by the Chief of the Boat, Quarles opens a hinged shadowbox, known as the “fishtank,” and carefully removes a set of dolphins engraved with his name and the date. He proceeds forward to where the Captain is waiting and hands him the insignia. The Executive Officer then recalls an episode from
submarine history by reading a passage from Theodore Roscoe’s United States Submarine Operations in World War II about USS Wahoo (SS-238), commanded by CDR Dick O’Kane. Wahoo single-handedly sank nine ships in 10 days of action, including one engagement in which the 20-mm machine guns jammed in a close-range surface attack, and the crew finished off a 100-ton trawler with a crate of “Molotov Cocktails” presented to the them by U.S. Marines on Midway.

Alaska’s Captain, CDR David Solms, unpins the red dolphins and sets them aside. He likens Petty Officer Quarles’ efforts in completing his qualification to those of the determined and resourceful crew of the Wahoo, and as he pins on the dolphins, the 1MC crackles to life again, “Electrician’s Mate Third Class Mark Quarles, qualified in submarines.” Two blasts of the diving alarm provide a biting exclamation point to the announcement. Before ending, EM3(SS) Quarles takes a moment to thank all those who led and encouraged him in completing his qualifications. He has now fully earned the right to be called a submariner, and each member of the crew, some wearing dolphins, some not, congratulates him personally.

As for the battered and beaten-up red dolphins, they go to another Sailor just now starting final walk-throughs. He puts them on proudly, knowing that they’ve served as a badge of courage for many shipmates before him.

LCDR Monroe and CMDCM Lynch are Executive Officer and Chief of the Boat, respectively, onboard Alaska. LCDR Monroe is also a previous Military Editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.