New ships are manned in three stages: Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Alpha manning primarily consists of nuclear engineers, who will spend the next few years learning the propulsion systems on the Navy’s newest class of submarine. North Carolina’s Prospective Commanding Officer Commander, Edward L. Herrington, said the initial crew has to be well qualified for its job. “You really need a Sailor with a lot of initiative,” he said. “It takes a Sailor who can respond to new technology and really adapt to a new approach to submarining.
“The Navy screens each and every one of them, and those selected are all top quality Sailors,” he added. “They had to perform well when they went through their training pipeline.”
Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Jeremy Willis graduated from nuclear power school in July and is now attached to PCU North Carolina. While he is one of the newest submariners onboard, he feels even junior Sailors can contribute to the success of his boat.
“We have a different perspective than everyone else, because we’ve never done anything like this before,” Willis said. “So that kind of creates fresh ideas for approaching old traditions.”
It will be about two years before PCU North Carolina is ready to go to sea. In that time, civilians at Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipyard will do most of the work on the boat. Still, the North Carolina crewmembers will be intimately involved with its construction.
Northrop Grumman Virginia-class Submarine Construction Director Bob Meyer said, “With the type of modular construction we’re doing on the Virginia-class submarines, the crew gets an opportunity to come in earlier, and they start owning systems much earlier.”
Herrington said, “Getting here early enough to identify problems is absolutely critical to the success of submarines like North Carolina.”
“It’s amazing to see the crew owning systems when you don’t have the whole ship together,” added Meyer. “They start taking control, and they start helping with construction, because they help us focus on the key systems.”
Northrop Grumman Newport News Submarine Program Vice President Becky Stewart said it is critical that the crew be involved with the development of the new boat. “It’s absolutely a partnership, and we press hard to make sure they’re involved as much as they can be,” she said.
Electronics Technician 1st Class (SS) Dennis Kee agreed that it’s an important partnership. “We’re all on the same team,” he said. “I mean, they get paid to build the ship, we get paid to take it to sea. We have to be there to support them just as they have to be there to support us during the process.”
While construction is underway on North Carolina, Kee has been “training, getting ready for training, sitting in training, taking notes, whatever I have to do. There’s a lot we have to learn so we can eventually take our ship to sea.”
Kee has been on North Carolina since “minus day one.” It is the first time he has been attached to a pre-commissioning unit. He said the attitude in a PCU is the biggest difference he sees in comparison to a commissioned submarine.
“When you’ve been to sea for a while, there’s a climate that’s already instilled in everybody, be it good or bad,” he said. “But here, everyone has a chance to build a good attitude. That’s always a plus.”
Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) William Jones, prospective Chief of the Boat (COB), said the crew’s involvement is more beneficial for the crew than for the boat itself.
“You have to remember that the hull and all the equipment in side is cutting-edge, new stuff,” he said. “So actually getting to see them put together something that no one will ever see again helps in the understanding and qualifications.”
Willis said part of the reason he joined the Submarine Force was so he could “see things that no one will ever see.”
“It’s certainly an awesome opportunity, when you look at a ship that’s this technologically advanced, to be able to come in and from the ground up try to establish ownership,” said Herrington.
“The Virginia-class is really the first submarine that’s built to truly carry out all the missions that submarines are designed to carry out,” he added.
With its innovations and new technology, as well as its first crewmembers’ enthusiasm and talent, the future is nothing but bright for North Carolina.
JOSA Zask is assigned to Commander, Naval Submarine Forces Public Affairs.