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Submarine Instructor Duty

by William Kenny

The best instructors are those who like what they do, know how important their skills are, work hard to keep those skills up to date, and enjoy applying them. Students taught by people like that don't just learn a specialty; they learn to take pleasure and pride in their abilities, and they eventually pass their enthusiasm on to others.

Good instructors have never been more important for the Submarine Force. Not only is there more for students to learn in the first place, there's more for everyone to relearn as technology evolves at an increasing rate across the fleet, making current knowledge obsolete faster.

Even how we learn is changing— onboard, online, and in the classroom. The deployment of computer-based training, the rise of distance learning and the emergence of blended learning solutions have altered the role of the instructor and expanded the instructor's responsibilities. The skill set needed to shape the professional and personal development of today's submarine Sailor has never been greater, and it will continue to grow as training techniques and submarine systems keep advancing.

So why should a highly skilled Sailor assigned to a submarine seek instructor duty as the next shore assignment? There are many reasons, personal as well as professional, but among the best are self-improvement and professional advancement.

Chief Petty Officer Bryan Miller, a missile technician assigned to the Trident Training Facility in Bangor, Wash., is the leading chief petty officer (LCPO) for the Strategic Systems Training Department. Chief Miller was the Naval Personnel Development Command's 2005 Instructor of the Year and the Submarine Learning Center (SLC)'s senior enlisted instructor for 2009. But his original motivation for becoming an instructor was a desire to better himself.

"I originally chose instructor duty for the opportunity to qualify as a master training specialist and to improve my chances for advancement to chief petty officer," Miller explains. "Also, the set schedule at a training command allowed me to pursue my bachelor's degree through evening and weekend classes."

More than half a decade later, Miller recalls learning something important about himself as well—how much he enjoyed teaching other Sailors. "I discovered a genuine affection for instructing that surprised me. It can be very challenging, but the opportunity to set a Sailor on the right path is something I would encourage anyone looking at shore duty options to consider."

Petty Officer First Class Scott Dean, a sonar instructor at the Naval Submarine School in Groton, Conn., looked forward to an eventual schoolhouse assignment during his five years aboard USS Connecticut (SSN 22).

"I knew from the time I was a student in sonar apprentice training that I wanted to be an instructor," Dean says with a smile. "I've always thought about the possibility of being a teacher. The most challenging aspect is working with students and their pre/post-Navy issues, but the most satisfying part is seeing a student's life or situation bettered because of my influence."

Miller opted to become a missile technician when he entered the Submarine Force, a choice he's never regretted during 20 years of active duty. He welcomed the opportunities that come with instructor duty, even when opportunities mount up to the point that they seem more like challenges and might, he concedes, be called by other names as well.

"The most challenging aspect of a training command is the ever-changing needs of the fleet," he says. "Instructors are required to perform so many more functions than during my first assignment, and the fleet needs every ounce we can give [the students]. Keeping ahead of their requirements and ensuring we prepare them before their deployments presents some difficult challenges at times."

Miller adds that the challenges aren't confined to the classroom. "Manning and individual augmentee (IA) assignments are also concerns. As a supervisor, I am always looking to improve the quality of life for my Sailors, and this is the foundation for meeting that desire. We not only need to meet the required manning levels, we need the right Sailors for instructor duty as well. We set the standard."

Glen A. Kline, the command master chief at the Naval Submarine School, the largest fleet functional school in the Navy, helps manage a staff that delivers instruction ranging from the training of Sailors in Basic Enlisted Submarine School through complex advanced tactical training—not to mention 24/7 support for emerging waterfront exigencies. Kline knows that the demands on an instructor are heavy, but that they are balanced by opportunities for personal growth and professional development.

"The greatest benefit to our [instructors] is the opportunity to improve their skills as a trainer and Sailor mentor," he says. "When a Sailor returns to sea duty following his first shore tour, he is charged with training junior Sailors in his division, department and ship. What better place to perfect those training skills than at a submarine training command such as Naval Submarine School?"

"The instructor also gains invaluable 'Sailorization' skills as he assists junior Sailors in solving everyday, and sometimes complex, life problems," Kline adds. "And the Submarine Force benefits by taking a Sailor with fresh skills in operation and maintenance of the latest equipment, technology and tactics in the Fleet and putting him in a position to transfer that knowledge to those Sailors who are relieving his peers."

image caption follows

Missile Technician (Submarines) Chief Petty Officer Bryan Miller works up-close and personal to explain his training topic. (Photo by Kristine Tibbs)

Dean, the sonar instructor in Groton, appreciates instructor duty as a learning experience: "I've learned a lot about teaching and mentoring, but still feel like I've just started—I still make a lot of mistakes. So much goes into being a successful teacher/mentor/instructor, with the most important thing being to always remember to put the student first. I have to constantly remind myself of this. I hope to become better at this every day."

Miller, the Bangor-based LCPO, shares this ambition, adding, "I'm on my way to where I'd like to be. Instructor duty has definitely provided me with career and personal milestones, but I continually find something that amazes me or humbles me and makes me realize that there's always something more out there that I should be striving for. My tours as an instructor provided me with the confidence in my ability to one day reach my destination."

Command Master Chief Kline sees a career continuum that joins, rather than separates, sea and shore duty when a Sailor serves as an instructor. "Sea and shore duties are obviously different, but the common bond between them in a career is the necessity to maintain sustained superior performance in all you do. Like sea duty, qualifications are also an integral part of instructor duty."

"At Naval Submarine School, for instance, each of our Sailors assigned to an instructor billet is actively completing master training specialist qualifications, just like their counterparts at sea are completing senior in-rate and ship qualifications. The biggest difference between the duty types is that shore duty provides a more stable schedule to complete other life goals like earning an associate, bachelor's or higher degree; volunteering in the community; or simply spending more time with family and loved ones."

Dean sees another parallel as well: "Having a solid team of instructors and chiefs behind you as you teach is huge. Just like on the boat, you cannot do it yourself—it's too much. You need good people within your command to help you carry the load and get the job done."

"The overriding concern is always how prepared Sailors are when they rotate," Miller adds. "What a Sailor accomplishes on sea duty prior to rotation to shore is essential to his career preparation, while shore duty accomplishments complement a Sailor's preparation for his return to sea duty. The 'grind' is different, but no less stressful on a Sailor, regardless of assignment."

Kline suggests that instructor duty, like the training it supports, has cycles and rhythms, but neither a start nor a finish. "Operations and fleet requirements drive training. Of course, when there is a new piece of equipment introduced in the fleet, we develop and teach the applicable operator, tactics and maintenance courses."

"The [SLC] schoolhouses are constantly reviewing their courses for accuracy and relevance and making recommendations for curriculum changes as well as listening to our [fleet] customer to identify broad and specific areas of improvement."

The instructor is the critical component in the continuous improvement of knowledge and execution from the classroom to the wardroom. Good instructors move the fleet forward not just by training their students, but by "lighting a fire," as Yeats put it—instilling Submarine Sailors with the spirit and drive to achieve outstanding results.

As Miller notes, "My assignments as an instructor have provided me with a strong desire to improve Fleet training and to look forward to future assignments that will afford me the platform to do just that!"

William Kenny is the public affairs officer of the Submarine Learning Center.


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