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by Lt. Christian Beisel

When I was first asked to take on the job of Groton-area midshipmen coordinator as a collateral duty, I thought back to my own first class midshipmen cruise on USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6). I flew into San Diego, was picked up by the ship and spent five weeks on board, including about two weeks at sea. At the time, I had absolutely no idea of what it took to make the cruise a rewarding experience for each midshipman and to ensure that the community was well represented to the visiting soon-to-be naval officers. Now, it was my turn to make the arrangements, and I soon found out that they had become a bit more complicated since I was a midshipman.

After reading through the Submarine Force directives governing midshipmen operations and the proposed schedule for the summer midshipmen cruises, I realized that today’s midshipmen would not have the same experience that I had. I had five weeks to shadow my running mate (the person assigned to help me understand my shipboard experience) and to experience a wide variety of situations encountered by a division officer. In contrast, today’s midshipmen would have to make a judgment on whether or not to volunteer for submarine service based on less than one week of exposure to the community.

In addition, I soon realized that operational schedule constraints on submarines left a relatively small amount of “ride time” available for midshipmen cruises. Concerned about the limited amount of time the midshipmen would actually spend aboard a submarine, I discussed the situation with the Submarine Force midshipmen coordinator, Lt. Scott Turner. We came to the conclusion that pushing for a short extension to the cruises prior to the underway portion could add value to the experience. The original schedule called for picking up the midshipmen from the airport and taking them directly to the boat the day before getting underway. Instead, we would have them fly in one or two days earlier for additional submarine-related experiences.

To help me brainstorm what these experiences should be, I recruited Ens. Justin Juskiewicz, who was temporarily assigned to Submarine Group TWO before heading to Nuclear Power School. His input was very helpful because he had been on the midshipman side of the process more recently than I had and therefore had a fresher take on what would make the experience useful and enjoyable.

Adding value to midshipmen cruises originating in Groton turned out to be fairly easy with the many resources available in the “submarine capital of the world.” One of the most valuable resources was the Submarine Force Museum and Historic Ship Nautilus. While NROTC programs and the Naval Academy teach naval history as part of their curriculum, the Submarine Force Museum presents the rich history of our community and its heroes in vivid detail that held the interest of some of the midshipmen for hours. As I once heard the commanding officer of an attack submarine say, “There is a long list of heroes in the Submarine Force, and when you join it, you are joining that legacy.”

Another piece of the in-port training I wanted to include for the midshipmen was a visit to the Submarine School. I thought it was important to give the midshipmen a glimpse of this rigorous training environment to show the high standards applied both to future submariners before they head off to the fleet and to submarine crews brushing up on their submarining skills. The Submarine School’s executive officer, Cmdr. Thomas Kraemer, personally led the tour. Highlights that the midshipmen particularly enjoyed were the wet trainer, which simulates various flooding conditions to build the skills of damage control teams; the new dive tower, for learning and practicing submarine escape skills; and the “dive and drive” Ship Control Team Trainer.

Another highlight of the in-port experience was a luncheon with the commander of Submarine Group TWO, Rear Adm. Paul Bushong. Working with Lt. Matt Beach, the Admiral’s flag aide at the time, made the scheduling easy and enabled several groups of midshipmen to share in the experience. The luncheon not only gave the midshipmen the benefit of a flag-level perspective on the submarine community, it also provided a clear demonstration of how much the high-level leadership of the Navy and the Submarine Force values them as the leaders of the future. Judging from how much the midshipmen talked about lunch with Rear Adm. Bushong, it seemed to have made a strong impression.

image caption follows
Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly presents the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement
Medal to Lt. Beisel at Naval Submarine Base New London.
U.S. Navy photo.

The intelligence officer of Submarine Group TWO, Lt. Greg Page, contributed greatly to the in-port training with briefings on various submarine mission areas and orders of battle. Sitting in on the briefings for my own benefit, I was impressed by Lt. Page’s presentation style, which was vigorous and highly professional but at the same time relaxed. His energetic and friendly style prompted many questions from the midshipmen, and I was equally impressed by the quality of their questions.

I coordinated most of the additional in-port time with the midshipmen training officers (MTOs) on the submarines to ensure that the additional time with midshipmen attached would not unduly impact a boat’s in-port schedule. However, not every in-port portion of the cruises went smoothly. For example, having the midshipmen fly in a full two days before a submarine picked them up during a brief stop for personnel (BSP) required some last-minute improvising to make sure I never just left them to waste their time watching television at the Combined Bachelors’ Quarters. A cookout at my home gave me an unexpected and enjoyable opportunity to share my own submarine experiences over burgers and brats. Some of the midshipmen were surprised to see that a submarine officer could have a normal family and home life.

Some of the midshipmen assigned to submarine cruises were clearly not interested in volunteering for submarine service, and it was obviously a greater challenge to keep them interested in the experience. However, meeting that challenge was not a waste of effort. My goal was not so much to win over those particular midshipmen as to present the challenges and benefits that the submarine community offers. I believe that even those who do not choose to volunteer for submarine service can benefit from a better understanding of the submarine community, and that such understanding will facilitate future working relationships between submariners and other Navy communities.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of coordinating midshipmen cruises for the Groton area was developing relationships with the type commander and submarine squadron staffs, with the executive officers and MTOs of submarines, with NROTC and Naval Academy staff, and with my fellow midshipmen coordinators in other areas. I was proud to share my enthusiasm and belief in the midshipmen cruise process.

I think the additional in-port time better prepared the midshipmen for the underway portion of their cruises. Although my role in the 2009 Groton-area midshipmen cruises was small, I hope it had some impact not only on the midshipmen that we hosted but on the process as a whole. Maximizing midshipmen training on submarine cruises is a challenging task due to the brief time available. An additional day or two, if well planned and effectively utilized, can provide a larger cross-section of exposure to the Submarine Force. Although the most valuable training for midshipmen is while underway, their impression of the Submarine Force begins when they arrive at the airport and ends when they are back at the airport waiting to depart.

In today’s environment, the availability of submarines and the time of our future officers are both at a premium, and the Submarine Force must therefore make every minute of the midshipmen cruises as useful and rewarding as possible. It was an honor and a pleasure to help achieve that goal.

Lt. Beisel is currently a student at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.