Unlike GOPLOB — the mythical "Ghost of PLO Bay" that old hands sometimes use to scare young Sailors new to submarines — the Bull Nuke, as he is commonly called, is quite real. His official title is engineering department master chief, or EDMC for short. The Bull Nuke is the senior nuclear-trained chief petty officer (CPO) on a submarine and the boat's only billeted department leading CPO. As a rule, he is a senior chief or master chief.
Submariners who graduate to this level are the best and brightest the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and the Submarine Force have to offer. A candidate for selection to EDMC must have a proven record of sustained superior performance throughout his career. However, he cannot become an EDMC simply by advancing to senior chief or master chief — a considerable achievement in and of itself. He must complete the challenging EDMC qualification process.
A candidate for EDMC must be recommended by his commanding officer and "checked out" by serving Bull Nukes on approximately 40 topics specific to the job. He must then pass a final qualification board administered by a served Bull Nuke and submarine engineer. Finally, he must submit a request to Naval Reactors and the Nuclear Enlisted Community Managers to be considered for assignment to a submarine as an EDMC. Not until he is approved for assignment and his orders are written can a new Bull Nuke begin one of the most rewarding assignments any professional, military or civilian, can hope to fill.
The official title of a "Bull Nuke" has not always been "EDMC." Originally, the title of the senior nuclear-trained chief petty officer was engineering department enlisted advisor (EDEA). The first EDEA was Master Chief John "JC" Kerr, the Bull Nuke in the commissioning crew of USS Nautilus (SSN 571). The function and duties of the Bull Nuke steadily evolved over the decades since the world's first nuclear submarine. Recognizing that evolution, the Navy defined the position more precisely in the late 1990s and changed the designation to EDMC.
The primary responsibility of the Bull Nuke is to establish and maintain the highest of standards for the safe operation and maintenance of a submarine's nuclear propulsion plant. The successful day-to-day performance of the 40 to 50 personnel assigned to an engineering department depends to a great extent on the character and work ethic of the typical Bull Nuke. As the senior enlisted nuclear-trained operator and the department's most senior chief, he is directly responsible for training and mentoring not only the other engineering CPOs but also the department's junior officers. It is primarily through the mentoring, supervision, and training of supervisory personnel that the Bull Nuke transmits his expectations and standards to the deck plate of a submarine's engine room.
From the first day a young "Nuke" reports to his first submarine, his understanding of how he is to go about performing his operational and technical duties comes as a direct result of his interactions with his division CPOs and the Bull Nuke. In addition, the Bull Nuke serves as one of the main mentors and enforcers of standards under the chief of the boat (COB). In this capacity, his influence extends beyond the engineering department and is felt from bow to screw.
One of the Bull Nuke's most important roles as a trainer responsible for establishing high standards is serving as the engineering department head's principal assistant for the execution and administration of the department training program. As one might expect, the training requirements for the personnel who operate a nuclear propulsion plant are extensive and require significant effort to track and maintain. It is absolutely essential that all nuclear-trained personnel, i.e., all ship's officers and enlisted men assigned to a nuclear division, receive thorough training in every aspect of the propulsion plant, regardless of their rate or specialty.
The department training program encompasses classroom lectures on more than 100 topics pertaining to the safe operation and maintenance of the propulsion plant, a comprehensive drill and evolution program designed to ensure proper watchstander response to submarine and propulsion plant casualties, and a monthly exam program to validate the effectiveness of the training provided. A typical week in port or at sea includes anywhere from ten to 20 hours of classroom training, with multiple sessions to ensure that all personnel are able to attend. When underway, the average week also includes two to three drill periods, plus round-the-clock watch-to-watch evolutions in the propulsion plant to maintain and enhance the proficiency of the engine room watchstanders.
Of course, nothing is ever considered completed aboard a submarine until it is properly documented. Nowhere is this more important than in the training of nuclear operators and technicians. Every element of the training program must be thoroughly documented and subjected to a performance analysis process to ensure the program's effectiveness. A Bull Nuke can expect to devote approximately 20 to 30 hours of his workweek to the supervision and maintenance of the typical engineering department training program.
This is over and above the time that he must commit to his other responsibilities, such as maintaining his presence on the deckplate to ensure the engine room is being properly cleaned and preserved, assisting the COB in developing and executing the ship's weekly plan, attending to any number of personnel issues that occur daily, and attending to the many general administrative tasks that come with being the leading CPO of a department on a submarine—performance evaluations, awards, counseling etc. The average workweek of a Bull Nuke in port can range from 50 to 80 hours and can easily reach 100 hours if major propulsion plant evolutions are in progress.
Most Bull Nukes make the decision early in their careers to aggressively pursue advancement. Here, Master Chief Jerry Pittman (center), the featured speaker at a 2011 Nuclear Power School
graduation, and Gamal Coles, command master chief of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Training Center (NNPTC), share the podium with NNPTC Commanding Officer Capt. Thomas Bailey. (U.S. Navy photo)
Currently, there are a total of 91 Bull Nuke positions in the entire Submarine Force. Most of the Sailors who fill these positions are senior chiefs and master chiefs who are at or beyond their 20-year point in the Navy. Following a shore tour, only about 10 percent of the served Bull Nukes will return for a second EDMC tour. This, and a constant pull by the private sector on these highly trained and experienced nuclear leaders, has increased the average length of the EDMC sea tour beyond the normal three years. Most Bull Nukes now serve 39 to 42 months in the position before being relieved.
The Navy has long since recognized the arduous nature of the position and the value of retaining the type of leadership it requires, and it remains committed to programs designed to improve retention. One example is "sea duty incentive pay." Serving Bull Nukes who agree to extend their current sea tours are eligible for an additional $750.00 per month for every month that they extend past their projected rotation date. This payment is good for six-month to 24-month extensions and is paid up front.
Like me, most Bull Nukes made the decision early in our careers to aggressively pursue advancement and assignment to an EDMC position on a submarine. For me, this was largely due to having been trained and mentored by some of the best Bull Nukes and chief petty officers ever to serve in the Submarine Force. Those deckplate leaders were engaged in the professional and personal lives of every Sailor that served in their departments, and they were overwhelmingly influential on our quality of life and service.
Under these very talented men, I learned that good leadership is an extremely comforting thing to have. My Bull Nukes weren't afraid to stick it out with their departments whatever the situation, and they were constantly on the deckplate training and mentoring. I always knew that they were there to support me; whether that support came as a result of good or bad performance on my part, I could always count on it. This made all the difference in the world.
The potential to have such a dramatic positive affect on the lives of men who do one of the toughest jobs in the world was all the motivation I needed to work as hard as I possibly could to become a Bull Nuke—and to do the very best I could once I was lucky enough to get the job.
Master Chief Grant is currently the Force EDMC
on the staff of Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet.