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(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
Our Chief Petty Officer Mission, Vision and Guiding Principles describing deckplate leadership has not changed:

"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
his job, his dedication to his crew, and his dedication to mission accomplishment make all those around him better Sailors. His leadership and mentorship has resulted in Wyoming's successfully completing every major examination since he reported aboard. His infectious enthusiasm, coupled with his trademark "Cowboy Up" attitude, has spread throughout the crew and is directly responsible for its widely recognized superb morale.

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
develops unique and motivating methods to accomplish the command's mission. His drive, talent, and vision make him the ideal chief of the boat and a superb representative of our Submarine Force chief petty officers.

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
Sound policies and programs can help our senior enlisted leaders reduce negative factors that affect Sailor's performance and advancement.

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
motorcycle mishaps at the end of the third quarter, including one fatality.

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
unfortunately easy for Sailors to come by. The use of "designer" drugs is becoming more prevalent
throughout the uniformed services, and the Submarine Force is no exception. These drugs, which go by names such as "spice," "K2," "dreams," "blaze," and now "bath salts," can be purchased in many smoke shops and novelty stores throughout the country.

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
and to deter irresponsible use.

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.
Last fall, five submarines under Group Two's responsibility were flying this pennant; as of the end of June 2011, 12 submarines had exceeded a year without a DUI. Force-wide, 31 submarine crews had
gone more than one year without a DUI. One of those crews—USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) (Blue)—had not had a DUI for more than three years.

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Photo by Lt. Ed Early
 

Developing Our CPOs
The investment of time and resources in developing our chief petty officers for successful assignments in key leadership positions is producing great results. The leadership continuums developed to enhance the success chances of our nuclear leading chief petty officers (LCPOs) and engineering department master chiefs (EDMCs) have proven to be extremely effective.

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
We've been working hard to correct some rating-specific and position-specific inventory concerns in the Force. One area of concern has been EDMCs. As a lever to produce more Sailors qualified as EDMCs, it became mandatory, beginning with the most recent senior chief selection board, for nuclear-trained Sailors to complete this qualification in order to promote to senior chief petty officer. We also authorized sea-duty incentive pay (SDIP) for currently serving or qualified EDMCs as an incentive for them to continue doing this essential job at sea.

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.

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(Left) Safety and effectiveness require deep expertise and integrity on the deckplate. The torpedo room weapon team of USS Albany (SSN 753) prepares to receive a torpedo Aug. 10. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Todd A. Schaffer) (Right) The undersea force relies on skilled and engaged warriors: a Sailor stands topside watch in September on USS Newport News (SSN 750). (U.S. Navy photo)

Reinforcing Our Culture of Success
We continue to hold Submarine Cultural Workshops throughout the Force. These workshops are designed to help commanding officers achieve operational excellence by giving them an in-depth look at the foundation of communication within their ship, both up and down the chain of command, as well as integrity and trust among their crew. We have gathered valuable lessons learned from these visits, and we share these lessons with our Submarine Officer Advanced Course (SOAC) students, prospective commanding officers and prospective squadron commanders (commodores) to increase their awareness as they enter their new leadership positions.

Each year, our Force experiences unplanned losses of talented personnel. In fact, in FY 10 alone, we lost over 450 Sailors from the Force prior to their expected transfer date. Much time and money had been invested in these Sailors, whose training, knowledge and capabilities made them valued members of our team. We therefore put a great deal of emphasis on preventing unplanned losses in FY 11, but as we entered the fourth quarter, the numbers were unfortunately only slightly lower than those we saw at the same point in FY 10.

While many of these losses were not preventable, other losses are. The programs we have in place to assist the Sailor in transitioning to his first submarine, integrating into the crew and the submarine lifestyle, and perceiving a clear path for success and advancement are referred to as "Brilliant on the Basics." Execution of these basic programs is essential to ensure our Sailors don't make bad decisions in both their personal and professional lives that lead them beyond the point of no return.

Submarine Force leadership has paid careful attention to ensuring that efforts from sponsorship and indoctrination programs to career development boards, mentorship, active ombudsman involvement, and recognition programs are all being properly administered. Our goal is to make sure that each and every Sailor knows we want them to succeed and we value their talent, skill and dedication. We are committed to continuing our efforts to ensure the well-being, professional success and family support of our submariners. By doing so, we will get more of these shipmates and their families to make the choice to "Stay Navy."

Chaplain programs have become a large part of our effort to prevent unplanned losses. These programs are designed to prevent poor decisions by our Sailors and to better educate our mid-level and senior leadership in how to deal with and lead today's Sailors.

Three programs are currently in use. The "Sea Legs" program is a resiliency-building effort that emphasizes, among other principles, "growing through adversity" and "embracing challenges." This program speaks the language of our Sailors and provides the necessary principles for growth and development during their initial sea tour. It has become a standard part of the initial indoctrination process for all newly reporting first-term Sailors. "Sea Power" is a program for Zone B and C Sailors that increases their awareness of the leadership skills needed to create a positive work environment and reinforces their leadership fundamentals. "Sea Leader," our newest program, is targeted at reinforcing leadership fundamentals within the command teams and senior leadership.

Achieving Excellence in Every Endeavor
I'm proud to say that our Sailors are not only doing great work day in and day out on the deckplates of our submarines, but are also performing vital roles on the ground in hotspots around the world. Submariners are in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Guantanamo Bay. As we entered the last quarter of FY 11, we had 196 Force submariners with boots on the ground throughout these locations, 85 from Atlantic Fleet and 111 from Pacific Fleet. Of these Sailors, 85 percent volunteered for their assignment. In fact, one of our young submariners, from Naval Submarine Support Facility New London, has already done two individual augmentee tours in his short Navy career.

Our Sailors are incredible, and they're doing well, and it is our chief petty officers that continue to lead the charge and make the positive difference throughout the Force. As we continue to leverage advances in technology and look toward the future of our Force, we remain focused on our number one resource — a resource that has been the single most important factor in the successful history of our great Submarine Force — our Sailors.

 

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