The leadership aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) have recently created a training program known as “Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) University,” which aims to develop junior officers working towards their SWO qualification.
SWO University began in June, as the ship departed Sasebo, Japan, to participate in Talisman Saber 2017 (TS17), a biennial bilateral exercise held off the coast of Australia meant to strengthen interoperability between the U.S and Australia. The training program brings junior officers together to learn more about the standards of a naval officer and get hands-on experience with several topics ranging from damage control to bridge operations.
The evolutions during TS17 offered the SWO University students realistic and challenging exercise scenarios and the opportunity to gain real-time warfare experience.
“The amphibious operations, the flight plans, the ship-driving that they [SWO University students] get to do in a scenario-based exercise is invaluable,” said Lt. Cmdr. Richard McInnis, Bonhomme Richard’s SWO University program coordinator. “There’s a big difference from ship-driving in a ‘war games’ scenario or in real life to driving in the simulator or just talking about it. So they definitely gain some experience in combat and on the bridge.”
SWO University aims to give participants valuable training and clear direction on their path to qualification.
“In the past, it was up to the junior officers to find their way around and ask questions on what they needed to learn,” said McInnis. “This program guides them in the right direction and gives them plenty of backup if they start to fall short of where they need to be.”
The program is designed to give Bonhomme Richard’s junior officers a place to obtain knowledge about different aspects of the ship, such as damage control, engineering, administration, ship-handling, leadership, maritime warfare and more in a specific context that is relevant to an amphibious assault ship. Each topic is lead by a department head or subject matter expert.
“It is a lot of training with people who are very smart in their particular subject,” said Ensign Kevin Irving, a junior officer aboard Bonhomme Richard. “You get the training first hand and it makes you a little bit better at everything.”
The development of SWO University came from the Navy Command at Sea bibliographies. These documents provide the standards of what is expected of SWOs.
“They [the instructors] are leading based on the Navy’s guidelines and instructions,” said McInnis. “It’s very important for SWOs to train to that. They know what’s expected. It’s in black and white. There’s no changing it.”
The training that junior officers receive includes tactical knowledge of the amphibious assault ship they currently serve aboard, including flight operations, receiving landing craft air cushions (LCACs) and directing ship movements during close-quarters maritime warfare.
“For us it’s a lot about getting the embarked Marines safely ashore, which involves a lot of operating close to shore and in tight spaces,” said Irving. “It’s a lot of time management and managing the space you have to work with. It’s about ship handling and how to get to the certain spots that we need based on what the winds are like, what the seas are like and what sort of operations you have that day.”
Irving said he believes training is vital for any Sailor, regardless of rank, to be prepared to handle any situation.
“This training is important because without the opportunity to test your skills in simulated environments you don’t really have a baseline to go off of if something actually happens,” said Irving. “The more exposure you have to that situation and the more opportunities you have to work through that situation, the more experience you get and you can analyze the differences each time. Working from the bridge, for example, the wind can be different each time. With training, you get an understanding of how winds can be while maneuvering a ship and then you know from experience what you need to do next time.”
SWO University serves to reinforce the culture of training, qualification and standardization instilled in the Sailors serving aboard Bonhomme Richard. Through the training, the junior officers are afforded the opportunity to speak with surface warfare subject matter experts and receive hands-on experience that will strengthen their understanding of the standards that are expected of a SWO.
Bonhomme Richard, flagship of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, is operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to enhance partnerships and be a ready-response force for any type of contingency.
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