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Cmdr. Doug Perry, USS
Pasadena(SSN-752) commanding officer, instructs a group of prospective commanding officers (PCOs) in the proper method of mooring a submarine to the pier at Naval Station Pearl Harbor as part of the Submarine Command Course (SCC) practical exercise. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Luciano Marano

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Luciano Marano

What is the formula for creating submarine executive and commanding officers? It starts with mixing four weeks of intense classroom training with two weeks of at-sea training that pushes the submarine to the maximum extent of its design capabilities. Torpedo exercises, simulated TOMAHAWK strikes, navigation drills, communication evolutions, force protection drills, submarine tracking exercises, and command decision-making situations are all important elements of the formula. While prospective commanding and executive officers can diligently prepare for these inevitable classroom and underway events, the most important factor in the formula’s success is beyond their control — introducing perhaps the most important lesson these future leaders will take with them after the class concludes. No matter how effective a plan or how talented an individual leader, the crew is the necessary, vital factor that ultimately determines the formula’s success.

The Submarine Command Course (SCC) introduces the “people first” tenet of the Submarine Force by forcing students to quickly indoctrinate themselves with multiple crews and work together to perform some of the most demanding evolutions experienced on a submarine. If students are unable to bring together the crew they join in the course, then no amount of individual effort, preparation or talent will allow them to succeed. It is a metric of success that begins day one of the course and carries all the way through to the end of a long career in command.

The course is a critical experience in the pipeline to command of a submarine. Run four times a year and alternated between Atlantic and Pacific training areas, the curriculum is designed to test prospective commanding and executive officers in all of the skills required for successful submarine command. An administrative board of senior Submarine Force officers select candidates to participate in the course based on previous submarining success. The course is by no means routine training. It runs prospective commanders through the gamut of scenarios at sea — all the while being scrutinized not only by their class instructor, but also the officers and crew of their host submarine.

“The students are evaluated through written and practical examinations,” said Capt. John Russ, the prospective commanding officer instructor (PCOI) for Pacific submarines. “The areas of evaluation include leadership, mariner skills, and tactical and technical skill, as well as assessment of self-improvement.”

The personal — yet professional — attitude of the crew is evident at every level, and the Sailors approach each new training scenario as if it were truly the real thing, with all the enthusiasm and motivation they can muster.

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(Left) Junior Sailors from all departments on board contribute to the prospective commanding officer (PCO) exercise, including simulating torpedo firings.
(Right) Cmdr. Brian Davies, prospective commanding officer (PCO), looks through the periscope while acting as duty captain of USS Pasadena(SSN-752) during PCO training operations off the coast of Oahu. Photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Luciano Marano

USS Pasadena (SSN-752) recently hosted a class of four prospective commanding officers (PCOs). In teams of two, the PCOs spent one week onboard Pasadena under the tutelage of Commanding Officer Cmdr. Douglas Perry and Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Nesheim. They practiced intelligence-gathering and surveillance procedures, diving and docking the submarine, maneuvering procedures, and administrative duties that accompany command of a submarine.

“There has always been a form of the Submarine Command Course,” said Capt. James Ransom III, Chief of Staff, Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC). “Essentially, it’s the same course today, though I think the focus of the training does shift.”

“For example, when I went through the course, it was a peacetime Navy, and there was a two-star admiral who sat us all down and said that there was a definite possibility that none of us would shoot a torpedo at another submarine. That’s not the case today, and the training must emphasize those changes.”

“Four courses are run a year,” said Russ. “Two are held here at Pearl Harbor, and the other two are conducted on the east coast, with their underway time taking place off the east coast of Florida at a range near the Bahamas. Though the locations are different, the course of instruction is nearly identical.”

PCOs Cmdr. Dave Minyard and Cmdr. Brian Davies spent the week onboard Pasadena alternating shifts as “duty captain,” acting as the commanding officer under the watchful eye of the actual ship’s CO. The duty captain directed several prospective executive officers (PXOs) and the rest of the crew in successfully running the submarine through the scenarios designed for the course.

“It’s been a few years since they started putting the PXOs through the course, and it’s definitely beneficial,” said Ransom. “As it is now, there are officers who have gone through the course twice, first as PXO, then again as PCO.”

Following their week on Pasadena, Minyard and Davies went on to a new leadership challenge in the next phase of the program, onboard the diesel submarine HMAS Waller (SSG-75) of the Royal Australian Navy. Meanwhile, other members of the SCC class replaced them onboard Pasadena, to embark upon the same exercises their classmates just completed. While diesel submarine assets are not always available to participate as one of the SCC platforms, they certainly add value to the curriculum when available. Many of the United States’ potential adversaries are increasing the capability of their diesel submarine forces as a way to asymmetrically threaten our larger ships. Dedicated training time against and onboard an SSK, in this critical stage of tactical and operational development of our future submarine captains, provides a valuable hedge against an ever-changing future. These officers now gain valuable experience to draw from if they ever encounter diesel submarines in the future.

“Every commanding officer is different, depending on where they grew up and how they were instructed,” said Ransom. “People need that difference. They are each good at different things and focus on different things.”

The ability to focus is an imperative aspect of command at sea. Living with the constant activity, rigorous work schedule, and demanding atmosphere will exhaust anyone eventually. It is up to the CO to maintain a calm mindset and think about the big picture.

“Since there are only two of us on board right now, instead of some other groups with three students, we each get to spend more time training,” said Minyard. “We alternate who is duty captain every 48 hours so we both get time in command.”

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Cmdr. Doug Perry, USS
Pasadena (SSN-752) commanding officer, discusses approach procedures with a junior crew member during the submarine’s transit back to Naval Station Pearl Harbor following several days of prospective commanding officer (PCO) operations. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Luciano Marano

Under Perry’s watchful eye, the duty captain takes control of the submarine and tackles the day’s itinerary of training and tactical exercises.

“I really hope these guys take away from me some of the more fundamental elements of my command philosophy,” said Perry. “High standards are important in this business for success and safety, and you have to enforce them in everything you do.”

The PCOs aren’t the only ones onboard who benefit from the exercises. The entire crew participates in the scenarios, and their hard work is evident in the quality of training.

“The PCOs are working so hard to be the best, and they keep expecting that from us,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Rodman. “Of course we don’t want to let them down, and we always want to show what we can do. Everyone wants to perform.”

Despite the added work demands that PCO training brings, Pasadena’s crew takes it all in stride because they know full well the benefits that come from a well-trained and knowledgeable commanding officer.

“Cmdr. Perry is great because he’s always so excited about what he’s doing, and that keeps us all excited,” said Rodman.

When your entire world is confined beneath the water and shared with over 100 other men, a good boss can make all the difference.

“Good commands make this job fun, even when you are away from your home and family,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jake Winton. “The CO is really enthusiastic … and that makes this a good command. We’re at sea a lot and still have a pretty good retention rate; that really says something about our boat.”

The senior chain of command agrees. “I absolutely believe that a more personal and candid environment makes for a better quality of life, especially onboard a submarine,” said Chief Petty Officer Erick Roberts. “It’s important for the leadership to set that tone: not too friendly, of course, but still relaxed. I know that you get more with honey than with vinegar.”

The personal — yet professional — attitude of the crew is evident at every level, and the Sailors approach each new training scenario as if it were truly the real thing, with all the enthusiasm and motivation they can muster.

Pasadena always looks forward to training the leaders of tomorrow’s submarine force,” said Chief of the Boat (COB) Master Chief Petty Officer Jim Lyle. “It is an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas between the students and our crew.”

“It’s always good to get a fresh look with feedback of what we are doing well and what we need to improve upon, “ said Lyle. “This was my fourth class during my tour as COB.”

The Submarine Command Course remains the only one of its kind in the Navy, a unique right of passage reserved for one of the Navy’s most elite fraternities. “There is no similar course for other communities of the Navy,” said Russ.

Perry remains a staunch supporter of the program. “This is great training to emphasize the basics, and the students don’t even have to go very far from home to do it. All our training is done around the Hawaiian Islands,” said Perry.

Submariner work ethic and professionalism are legendary along the waterfront. “I didn’t even know what the inside of a submarine looked like when I decided I wanted to be in the sub force,” said Minyard. “I had worked with an ex-submariner who told me lots of sea stories, and I really respected him. I knew I wanted to work with the best the Navy had to offer, and that’s the sub guys.”

The PCOs were not to be disappointed. “Pasadena gave me everything I could have asked for in a training environment,” said Cmdr. Brian Davies. “The PCO training regimen is a wonderful program.”
Perry believes that a well-informed and properly motivated crew is the secret to Pasadena’s success.
“Teamwork is key in the sub force,” said Perry. “We have an awesome spirit on this ship because everyone believes in what we’re doing. These guys enjoy being good at what they do.”

It has been said that it’s lonely at the top, and the crown of leadership is reportedly quite heavy. One would never know it to watch Cmdr. Perry interact with his crew. Just as much at ease in the thick of things in the control room as he is joking with the enlisted guys in the crew’s dining area, Perry stands as an excellent example of submarine leadership at its best.

“A CO has got to know how to work with people, from the 18-year-old seaman apprentice to the 43-year-old COB, because you have to be able to lead him too,” said Ransom. “You have to have a certain level of technical expertise, obviously. Even the most inspirational leader who doesn’t know his ship is no good.”

Of course, no man does it all by himself, and Perry is quick to acknowledge the support of Pasadena’s chiefs and officers. “This submarine has an excellent chain of command at every possible level,” said Perry. “No matter the situation, I know we can handle it.”

Perry’s confidence is only reinforced in the submarine’s own motto: “Anytime, Anywhere.” If these PCOs take away the enthusiasm and inspiration of the Pasadena crew, their command tours are destined for success.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Marano is a Public Affairs Mass Communications Specialist for Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific (COMSUBPAC).

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