When the team reaches the glowing ball of fire, the team leader yells out, telling the nozzle man to engage the class alpha fire. (This is a fire that consists of wood, trash - anything that leaves ash behind.) Steam billows over the Sailors as the
flames begin to diminish. Once the fire is out, the leader calls to his team: "Class alpha fire out. Set re-flash watch," ordering a Sailor to remain near the extinguished fire with a charged hose, ensuring no new fire breaks out.
Fortunately, this scenario isn't real. It's one of many courses Sailors undergo at Surface Warfare Officer's School (SWOS). In fact, from the time a Sailor first sets foot aboard a ship to when a commanding officer prepares for his or her first command,
all Sailors will have attended SWOS, continuing their advancement in the knowledge of naval surface warfare.
Established in 1961, SWOS sets a standard for Sailors from across the globe, and is responsible for teaching every Sailor aboard a naval vessel. Today, SWOS offers different types of training facilities wherever they are needed around the world, from
navigation refresher courses in Yokosuka, Japan, to basic damage control trainer classes in Rota, Spain.
"While we do concentrate on having officer training here in Newport, Rhode Island, and enlisted engineering and navigation schools in Great Lakes [Illinois], all the other additional areas of training are farmed out to fleet concentration areas because that's where the fleet is," said Capt. Scott Robertson, SWOS commanding officer . "We want to make it easier for Sailors to get at SWOS and to able to provide feedback. We very much view a critical function of SWOS as being in touch with what's going on in the fleet, and we can't do that if we are not where the fleet is."
By gathering the information Sailors need to know, SWOS has been able to set a baseline that incorporates training from E1 all the way to O6.
"It's extremely beneficial ... because it gives you a standard. It gives you a baseline, so no matter when you come back [to] SWOS, you know what to expect," said Lt. Ryan Murtha, a littoral combat ship instructor at SWOS in Newport. "Because when you go out to the fleet onto a ship, you may have Sailor X from a different command that does it completely differently from Sailor Y that got a different background. So by having SWOS lay that baseline, it allows the fleet to be better prepared and allows it to sync up a lot easier."
During SWOS courses, Sailors gain confidence by repeating various simulators and trainers in safe and controlled settings, avoiding damage to equipment and personnel. By allowing Sailors to recreate environments in the simulator, trainers said, they will be better prepared.
"When I was a student here ... we were in a simulation environment where we were in low visibility conditions, expected to go high speeds. One year later, deployed on USS Fort Worth (LSC 3), we were in a very similar situation," said Lt. James Arterberry, a littoral combat ship instructor. "We were going thirty knots in the Sulu Sea off the coast of the Philippines with low visibilities, and I had that confidence as a watch stander to know how to drive the ship safely because I had seen it before in the simulator."
The need for these simulators and trainers proved necessary when USS Mason (DDG 87) was attacked by cruise missiles in the Red Sea, according to instructors. Sailors defended themselves and their ship, relying in part on knowledge and experience gained in SWOS courses. That ability to keep a ship operational and tactically lethal is crucial, they explained.
"The days of us not really have any near peer out there are behind us," said Robertson. "So it's absolutely critical that we have credibility behind our deterrence, and to have deterrence truly be effective, we need to make sure we are putting ships to sea that have well-trained crews on them that will go out and be able to perform whatever mission is called upon them. Whether it's sea control or presence, they have to be ready. And Surface Warfare Officers School plays an absolutely critical role in that mission, so that's why I tell my students and my staff, 'Armor up: We got to be ready.'"