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ICEX 2011 was the first to use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and interactive blogging. Jeff Gosstt, the exercise director, published a series of posts on Navy Live, the official blog of the U.S. Navy. The following excerpts from those posts provide a glimpse of the submarines and submariners engaged in this interesting and demanding exercise. Readers can find all of the posts from ICEX 2011 on the original blog at http://navylive.dodlive.mil.


by Jeff Gossett

Blogging from Ground Zero
From left to right, Submarine Squadron Eleven Sailors Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Oyarzabal, Petty Officer 2nd Class Manual Reynoso, Petty Officer 3rd Class Philip Dicataldo, Petty Officer 2nd Class Harold Brown, and Petty Officer 3rd Class David Watson. U.S. Navy photo.

March 15 — The Submarines Are Here!
"At about 3:30 this morning, USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) called on the underwater telephone to say that she'd arrived. We spent a couple pre-dawn hours ensuring that her tracking range was working. At dawn, Randy Ray, our camp officer-in-charge, and a team took off in the helicopter to find a place for the boat to surface. He found a nice open-water feature about five miles northeast of camp. We relayed its position to New Hampshire.

"Just after New Hampshire headed off to its surfacing location ('Water Works'), USS Connecticut (SSN 22) called in to announce her arrival—a day early. We checked out her tracking range system and then had her run a predetermined pattern to determine the limits of the range.

"Meanwhile, New Hampshire had surfaced at Water Works and moored to a nearby floe. They stayed moored a brief time to exchange riders. She was doing different testing on the trip up to the camp than she will here at the camp and needed a different group of people onboard to support it.

"Their time on the surface was highlighted by a visit from their squadron commander, Capt. Mike Bernacchi. Capt. Bernacchi is familiar to many of us here at the camp—he commanded USS Alexandria (SSN 757) when it operated at our 2007 camp.

"Once New Hampshire dove, both boats settled in for a night of surveying the underwater ice conditions near the camp to help prepare for the start of their testing….

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USS New Hampshire(SSN 778) at "Water Works." U.S. Navy Photo.

In a later post, Gossett described the surfacing of Connecticut (SSN 22) the following day:
"Connecticut surfaced on Wednesday [the day after New Hampshire arrived] to exchange riders. She did a great job of positioning in the feature we selected (what we call 'Marvin Gardens'). While New Hampshire surfaced through slush and moored alongside a thicker floe, Connecticut busted through two and a half feet of ice. We were then left with the problem of clearing the ice from the deck to allow her to open her hatch. Nick Michel-Hart, Keith Magness, and Paul Aguilar from APL/UW attacked the ice with chainsaws, picks, crowbars, and shovels to burrow down through 30 inches of ice in about an hour. One more example of how almost everything has to be done differently in the Arctic."

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From left to right, Capt. Mike Bernacchi, Commander, Submarine Squadron Four, on top of the ice camp's command hut, flanked by Lt. Cmdr. Koepp, his ops officer, and Bruno, the camp mascot. U.S. Navy photo.

March 20—Complex Operations at ICEX
"We've been busy. Friday, we had a group of media arrive at the camp—a reporter and a photographer from the Reuters news service; two freelance photographers; and a Navy media specialist. They spent all day and Friday night at the camp learning about and documenting life at an ice camp…

"Then Saturday, they were joined by a delegation of 12 VIPs headed by the Secretary of the Navy and including the Under Secretary of Defense and three congressmen. Together, they watched Connecticut break through the ice again at Marvin Gardens. The VIP delegation boarded Connecticut for the night,
while the reporters embarked aboard New Hampshire.

"This was a complex operation requiring our support teams' traveling to both surfacing sites, getting our visitors to Marvin Gardens, transporting the reporters to Water Works to board the New Hampshire, then getting all of our people home, along with 18 Sailors from the boats who we hosted overnight to help make room onboard. The helicopter crew flew almost non-stop to move all of these pieces around the Arctic chessboard and to complete it all before sunset grounded them for the night. And at the end of an exhausting day, we had 18 curious Sailors at APLIS wanting to know everything about camp life.

"Then, today, we did it all over again in reverse. The Sailors are back onboard their submarines, and
our visitors are headed home, all taking with them the memories of an Arctic adventure and a new appreciation for the work the Navy is doing here in the North.

"Both of the submarines are submerged again and continuing with our testing program."

March 21—The Water Works Team
"In the last post, it mentioned that the ice camp sends teams to support the submarines' surfacing. What are these teams, and why are they required?

"First, I'll talk about Randy Ray's 'Water Works Team' that supports New Hampshire's open-water surfacing. Although New Hampshire is capable of finding open water herself, it is much quicker to do that from a helicopter than the narrow field of view from the submarine's upward-looking sensors. Open-water features large enough to fit a submarine into are scarce—so scarce that it took our helo search party an hour to find one on Saturday.

"With a good site located, the team passes the location and description of the feature to the command hut, where it is relayed to New Hampshire, and she heads that direction. Our team lowers an acoustic beacon into the water to help New Hampshire home on their location and an underwater telephone so they can talk directly to each other.

"New Hampshire is then guided into Water Works, hovers beneath the feature, and gracefully ascends to the surface. But simply having New Hampshire on the surface is not enough to exchange people and equipment between the submarine and 'shore.' To do that, New Hampshire has to moor to the ice floe.
While she maneuvers into a mooring position, the Water Works team augers (drills) holes into the ice and drops metal pipes into the hole. When New Hampshire is alongside, they toss their mooring lines to our party, who attach the lines to the mooring pipes.

"With the mooring complete, we can swing a brow from the ice to the ship, allowing people to get on
and off. But the party can't just pack up and come back to the camp at this point. They have to stay on station until the submarine is ready to dive so that they can remove the brow and cast off the mooring lines. So when I talk about surfacing New Hampshire, that means a long cold day on the ice for some of our dedicated ice camp personnel."

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New Hampshirecrewmen toss a line "ashore." U.S. Navy photo.

March 22—The "Marvin Gardens Team" Clears the Ice
"In the last post, I talked about our Water Works team. We also have a 'Marvin Gardens team' for Connecticut's through-ice surfacing. What is different about this team?

"Picking the right place for a submarine to surface through the ice (Marvin Gardens) is a balance between several factors. It has to be big enough for the submarine to fit in with a little bit of elbow room. It needs to be thick enough for people to walk on safely, but thin enough that we can clear the ice from the hatch in a reasonable amount of time.

"Before Connecticut arrived, we identified two good surfacing sites for her. The best—Marvin Gardens 2—was over a mile long, a quarter mile wide, and about two feet thick. Connecticut used that for her first four surfacings. But, by Monday, the continued ice growth in that area made the ice almost three feet thick, so we found a thinner area—Marvin Gardens 3.

"When Connecticut is going to surface, Hector Castillo's Marvin Gardens team goes out ahead of time to prepare the area. In addition to the homing beacon and underwater telephone, their most important tool is a shovel. For this Arctic mission, Arctic Submarine Laboratory equipped Connecticut with an upward-looking underwater camera. By shoveling a mark in the snow, the Marvin Gardens Party can designate exactly where in the feature they should surface. This mark is normally a simple 'X,' but on Monday, we used a '22,' reflecting Connecticut's designation as SSN 22.

"After Connecticut breaks through the ice, the ice clearing team from APL/UW removes the ice from above their deck hatch. So, with the deck covered with ice, how do we know where the hatch is? Simple—before the boat sailed, we took a string and measured the distance from the aft end of the sail to the center of the hatch. Works every time. Very often in the Arctic, the low-tech solution is the best solution."

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Clearing ice from Connecticut's hatch. U.S. Navy photo.

March 25—Your Questions About ICEX Answered
"One of the advantages of posting and linking these posts on social media is that the readers have an opportunity to ask questions on topics that I haven't thought to discuss. This post will answer some of those questions.

"We had several questions from readers whose fathers are serving on the submarines.…

"Q. One asks whether their father's duties as a machinist mate would be different while he is operating at the ice camp.

"A. Not really. The machinery operates the same here as it does anywhere. Your father is still standing the same watches and carrying out the same tasks.

"Q. Another asks a related question about how cold it is in the submarine now, and whether their father is able to stay warm.

"A. Don't worry. Your father is nice and warm. The submarine is at the same temperature as in any other ocean—boats normally keep their thermostat at about 72 degrees and can overcome any outside or seawater temperature.

"Q. Another daughter asks whether it is scary.

"A. Not scary at all. I've been under the ice on submarines over 20 times and don't remember any of the crewmen ever being afraid. When your father comes home, he will probably use words like 'exciting,' or 'adventure,' or 'once in a lifetime,' but not 'scary.'

"Q. The same daughter asks how hard the ice is that New Hampshire is surfacing through, and whether it is difficult to break through.

"A. For this exercise, New Hampshire is only surfacing through either open water or slush. The thickest they will surface through is about the same as a snow cone or a Slurpee. Connecticut is surfacing through 2-3 feet of ice. This is about as hard as a sheet of sidewalk concrete. Given that Connecticut weighs several thousand tons, is as big as a 10-story building, and has a specially strengthened sail, these breakthroughs are not difficult at all."

March 28—ICEX Is Nearing the End
"Only one day to go until the camp ends. There are a couple more tests we need to do. Both boats need to do a final surfacing to swap out their riders for the post-camp events, then we all go our separate ways. Only problem is that we're totally engulfed in fog & snow. We can't get the planes out to the camp from Prudhoe Bay, and we can't fly the helo to the submarines. So we're stuck here. Doesn't look like the boats will be leaving here on schedule, and we at the camp may be a little late getting home.

"Many times, I've found that you can't always do what you want up here—you can only do what the Arctic allows you to do….

"Of course, ten minutes after I wrote those words this morning, the skies suddenly cleared, and we were back in business. That just helps reinforce the point I was making above about working in the Arctic….

"…It's been hard work in an extremely harsh and unpredictable environment.

"But everyone here has loved the experience."

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