(Above) Force Master Chief Saunders shares coffee with enlisted Sailors aboard USS Memphis (SSN 691) in January 2011. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Virginia K. Schaefer)
by Force Master Chief Kirk Saunders
Since I assumed my duties as force master chief of the Atlantic Submarine Force on July 30, 2010, I have given speeches at a number of venues, with varying degrees of impact. One of the most significant of these speaking engagements was the opportunity I had to talk to the Naval Submarine League's Annual Symposium in early October 2010 about my thoughts as the Submarine Force's most senior enlisted leader on where we stood at the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 2011.
Now, on the cusp of FY 2012, I would like to update that status report. Most of what I said then continues to hold true, both in terms of the challenges we face and how we're meeting those challenges while maintaining our proud heritage as enlisted submariners. As always, my priority remains the personal and professional development of our Sailors. My thoughts therefore center on what's affecting them and the Submarine Force at the deckplate level.
Good Deckplate Leadership
"Chiefs are visible leaders who set the tone. We know the mission, know our Sailors, and develop them beyond their expectations as a team and as individuals."
I'd like to highlight a couple examples of this type of senior enlisted leadership within our Force:
In the blue crew of USS Wyoming (SSBN 742), Chief of the Boat (COB)
Hayle Bell is the driving force behind
his command's many accomplishments
and continued successes. His passion for
Similarly, in the blue crew of USS Alaska (SSBN 732), COB Eddie Vanmeter is
extremely effective in leading the Chief 's
Quarters and crew through every aspect
of the ship's operations. He continually
There are many more examples of this type of performance and positive impact from our senior enlisted leadership within the Force. These leaders and others like them ensure that the future of our Submarine Force remains bright.
Reducing the Negative Factors
One of our biggest challenges continues to
be keeping a sufficient number of qualified
Sailors in critical ratings on our submarines,
and one of the contributors to this challenge
remains off-duty mishaps and motorcycle
accidents. We had 25 motorcycle mishaps in
FY 10, with half resulting in lost work days
and two resulting in fatalities. We're seeing
a slightly better trend in FY 11, with 15
SUBFOR has aggressively taken motorcycle safety awareness to the fleet. Our efforts continue to track every Sailor riding a motorcycle, ensuring that all riders have successfully completed the proper formal safety course and tracking the dividends of this training. Although motorcycle mishaps will never be completely eliminated, the current measures certainly reduce the likelihood of accidents occurring.
Another challenge is the use of illicit drugs.
We remain committed to random testing
requirements of a minimum of four testing
days per month, with a minimum of 15
percent of the crews being tested monthly.
Although this has proven to be a credible
deterrent, we are up against a new enemy that is
The effects of smoking these substances are very similar to those of smoking marijuana, but their presence is not detectable by urinalysis. These drugs have the same negative effect on safety, operational readiness, and good order and discipline as any other mainstream drug out there. Navy Regions are therefore working with their Armed Services Disciplinary Control Boards to influence local establishments to stop selling these products. Additionally, an aggressive campaign is underway to educate every Sailor and ensure they understand the adverse implications of using such products.
A longstanding challenge not only in the Submarine Force, but throughout the Navy, has been alcohol-related incidents and offenses. FY 10 saw a 45 percent reduction compared to FY 09 in the number of alcohol-related incidents and driving-under-the-influence (DUI) offenses across the Force. This very significant reduction resulted from the initiatives of Submarine Force leadership and our chief petty officers and the emphasis they placed on this problem. We succeeded in maintaining this lower rate of DUIs through the first three quarters of FY 11, and we may even see a slight additional decline in the rate at the end of FY 11.
The campaign against the irresponsible use
of alcohol began with the Force Commander
producing a video that was viewed by every
submarine Sailor outlining the adverse
effects of irresponsible use and highlighting
the necessity for making good decisions and
solid plans before drinking occurred. This
was followed up with the chief petty officers
getting out in front and leading the charge in
reducing occurrences of these events through
education, mentoring and some good, old-fashioned
intrusive leadership. We then
incorporated the use of breathalyzers and
alcohol detection wands into the equation
as a means to educate Sailors on the negative
effects of irresponsible alcohol consumption
In parallel, many commands initiated the formation of DUI prevention teams led by second class petty officers. The DUI prevention teams have a charter to increase awareness of the negative effects of irresponsible alcohol consumption and to promote alternatives, as well as offering alternatives to drinking and driving. These teams have the ear of the command teams, and as the reduction in DUIs clearly shows, they have been very effective. Additionally, a Navy-wide program called CSADD (Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decision-making) is performing functions similar to those of our DUI prevention teams. There are some very active teams out there that have made huge differences in reducing the number of incidents associated with the irresponsible use of alcohol.
Submarine Group Two has a program
called "The Right Spirit" award.
Commands that go one year without a
DUI are presented a pennant to be flown
in recognition of their outstanding achievement.
Developing Our CPOs
In fact, starting in 2010 and continuing into 2011 , we took portions of that course curriculum and folded it into the formal CPO selectee training given during the induction process for our new chief petty officers. This curriculum is designed to get down to the nuts and bolts of what these leaders need in their tool bag to run their work centers on our submarines. The course was designed to mitigate the lower level of experience that many nuclear-trained CPOs are bringing to their first tour as LCPOs because the average age of Sailors making chief has declined. Across the entire Force, this training will help provide the additional technical, managerial, and leadership tools needed for success during the first LCPO tour.
Addressing Personnel Shortfalls in Key Areas
Another personnel concern was our submarine independent-duty corpsmen (IDC) community. The specialized skills provided by these Sailors at sea are extremely critical, but availabilities of Sailors possessing the requisite skills and training are in short supply. Consequently, we have had to extend the rotation dates for some corpsmen serving at sea. However, we are now providing SDIP to IDCs who have been involuntarily extended beyond their projected sea rotation date. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Medicine is working diligently to alleviate the problem by increasing recruitment of IDCs.
The Force also faced shortages of sea-returnee navigation and communication electronics technicians (ETs). This shortage has sometimes resulted in everyone in the division except the chief being first-term Sailors—and the chief himself often the only division member with any maintainer experience whatsoever. To counter the shortage of maintainers in the Force, we recently started sending a portion of the graduating "A" school classes directly to "C" school to become maintainers before reporting to their first submarine.
The leadership and effort applied to retaining the talent we have in the Force is paying off. We remained above the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO)'s benchmark for re-enlistments in Zone A (1-6 years of naval service), Zone B (6-10 years of naval service), and Zone C (10-14 years of naval service) in FY 10. At the end of the third quarter, FY 11 retention numbers in all zones remained well above CNO goals.
One area we've worked particularly hard on is our non-nuclear electronics ratings (ET, ST, FT). We need to keep as many of these Sailors as we can, as these ratings were under-accessed for several years, leading to the shortfalls we're experiencing today. We achieved some success in this area with the help of increased reenlistment bonuses and targeted recruitment by the recruiting command. We have given retaining these Sailors the same priority as retaining our nuclear-trained operators.
Reinforcing Our Culture of Success