Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
It Starts Here
Surface Warriors Begin in Great Lakes

More than 7,500 Sailors pass through the doors of Surface Warfare Officers School Command Unit (SWOSU) Great Lakes each year for training in one of more than 30 courses of instruction.

The SWOSU mission is to provide a continuum of professional education and training in support of the surface Navy's requirements that prepare enlisted Sailors to serve at sea.

“Our primary job is to take accession level Sailors and provide them their initial skill training,” said Lt. Cmdr. Preston Marshall, executive officer, SWOSU. “The other half of our mission is our 27 journeyman-level ‘C’ schools where we take fleet returnees, bring them back and give them advanced technical training.

Sailors who enter SWOSU are taught in one of nine rate-earning programs or apprenticeship-level training at ‘A’ Schools, or advanced training at ‘C’ schools, respectively. The bulk of the Sailors who attend SWOSU are recent boot camp graduates. Those Sailors are immediately enrolled in the 30-day Basic Engineering Common Core (BECC) course where the fundamentals of engineering principles and theory are taught.

“We’re providing them just enough training up front so they have a clear understanding of safety, procedural compliance and the basics of their particular rate,” said Cmdr. Dave Dwyer, commanding officer of SWOSU.

“When they go out to the fleet they can work toward (on-the-job training) and watchstander qualifications, and start to hone their skills to the journeyman-level.”

A small percentage of recent boot camp graduates are enrolled in the 19-day Engineering Professional Apprenticeship Career Track (E-PACT) course. Those who complete E-PACT are sent to the fleet as undesignated firemen. Once they select a rate, they will have an opportunity to return and complete their training in Great Lakes.

At each phase of instruction, Sailors are drilled and tested on procedural compliance and the important role that following proper engineering principles has in overall crew safety.

Saving Time, Money

Instruction at SWOSU blends instructor-led training, hands-on application and electronic classroom (ECR) methods. This blended approach allows SWOSU instructors to use the training time most efficiently.


 Personnel Readiness


 Combat Readiness


 Material Readiness


 Heritage & Recognition




“What we’ve found by using this blended learning is, one, we’re saving time,” said Jeff Childress, a retired senior chief and SWOSU deputy director. “Two, we’re increasing knowledge and comprehension. and three, we’re getting the return on the investment because when Sailors get to the fleet they’re capable of actually fulfilling the job.”

The blended training for SWOSU courses is divided into roughly 20 percent traditional instructor-led, 50 percent hands-on laboratories and 30 percent in the ECR.

Once Sailors graduate BECC, they progress to one of eight engineering ‘A’ schools that encompass all surface engineering rates. The surface engineering rates are: Damage Controlman (DC), Engineman (EN), Electrician’s Mate (EM), Gas Turbine Systems Technician-Electrical (GSE), Gas Turbine Systems Technician-Mechanical (GSM), Hull Technician (HT), Machinist’s Mate (MM) and Machinery Repairman (MR).

In addition to engineering rates, SWOSU took ownership of Quartermaster ‘A’ School in October of 2014.

‘A’ schools range in duration from five to 31 days of instruction and allow Sailors more hands-on time with the equipment they will be working with on their first ship.

Apprentice-level damage controlmen receive more training in the 19-day DC ‘A’ School than they did 15 years ago in the original 54-day ‘A’ School. That’s the power of SWOSU’s cutting edge training technology and blended training solution.

“We’re taking a hard look at our ‘A’ schools and seeing what we can do to better align ourselves with future curriculum changes and technology.” Childress said. “Our courses of instruction are short, hard-hitting, and focused not just on gaining knowledge but in attaining skills.”

The training is as in-depth as time allows and serves as an introduction to Navy surface engineering and navigation concepts. This methodology means that initial training at SWOSU focuses more on foundational principles and theories.

There is not enough time to train every Sailor on every individual piece of shipboard equipment but Sailors are trained to standards and fully prepared for their duties once they arrive to their first ship.

“What we’ve found is that retention is better because we are not devoting excess time giving Sailors information that they’re not going to use on their first tour,” Childress said. “We’ve decreased the amount of time they’re here in order to get them to fleet so they’re ready to go to work.”

Once a Sailor finishes ‘A’ school, he or she is the equivalent of an apprentice in a skilled trade profession.

“After completing our course, our Sailors represent the most basic definition of an apprentice. They possess the initial skills that will allow them to continue their training continuum on their first assignment and throughout their career,” Marshall said.

Sailors who complete their rate training at SWOSU can have up to 40 percent of their personnel qualification standards (PQS) complete in basic damage control, quality assurance craftsman, sounding and security watch and maintenance and material management, with an annotated page 13 in their Electronic Service Record detailing each PQS line item. This allows Sailors to leave SWOSU with a leg up on the training they will need to complete once they are on board their ship.

Childress says that a chief petty officer that is getting a Sailor from SWOSU can expect them to know their rate-specific skills when they reach a ship.

“I’ll give you a page 13 that shows you everything they did here,” he said.

Integrating Technology

SWOSU is also increasing the training value of its ‘C’ schools by integrating more technology into the curriculum.

For example, by incorporating advanced interactive 3D technology, Sailors attending EN and GSM ‘C’ Schools in Great Lakes are able to conduct complex maintenance actions including how to disassemble major engine components in half the time of students using traditional instructional methods. They are also able to easily repeat that process in a virtual environment in order to fully understand the machines they are tasked with maintaining. Sailors using new software for these courses can even manipulate the most minuscule pieces of the 3D simulated engine in a way that would take hours and risk breaking a real engine.

“We’re infusing the delivery (of curriculum) with virtual trainers and part task trainers and the ability to do ‘reps and sets’ in a virtual environment before we put them in front of the real equipment,” Childress said. “They get an opportunity to make their mistakes in a virtual world rather than making their mistakes on theactual equipment.”

The extra time spent working on virtual engines is paying dividends when it is time for the Sailors to put their hands on the real equipment.

“Two decades ago, engineering training in Great Lakes was delivered using a wide variety of operational engineering systems – ‘hot plants’ that provided very realistic training. But the use of hot plants became enormously expensive, and despite the realism of the ‘live’ training, there were certain procedures you could not practice on operational equipment because of safety and the potential of damaging the equipment,” Dwyer said. “Additionally, such live training wasn’t scalable. You could only train one student on one watch station with one instructor at a time. The use of high fidelity simulation in engineering training has allowed my team to train dozens of students in a highly realistic, but safe, environment simultaneously.”

According to Marshall, the technology is making training more effective.

“We’re adding a level of efficiency and a level of understanding of the components,” Marshall said. “The blending of that new virtual technology while maintaining the traditional hands on training with static engines and auxiliary equipment makes the whole course more effective. That’s the kind of model that we’re looking to use in our ‘C’ schools.”

Journeyman-level instruction at the ‘C’ school allows Sailors in EN, EM, GSE, GSM, MM and HT rates to return to SWOSU Great Lakes and attend one of the 27 advanced courses.

SWOSU continues to update its curriculum and improve the technology used to deliver that training as the Navy sails toward a continuum of training that will ensure the vision of providing ready, relevant training at the right time throughout the career of a Sailor is being met.

“The whole plan within the SWOS domain is to have sustainable, up to date and continuous training for all of our rates,” Dwyer said. “As an E-1 comes in the Navy, the expectation is that he or she will have training all the way up to master chief, with the training being delivered at the right time of the Sailors career. Thanks to the hard work of a multitude of dedicated Navy instructors, civilians and innovative training programs carried out at Great Lakes and the supporting cast of leaders within the SWOS domain, we are achieving that vision.” Surface Warfare Magazine

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