Lessons from New London

BY LT. EMMETT DELATEUR, SC, USN
NAVY SUPPLY CORPS SCHOOL

About seven years ago, I left the Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS) in Athens, Georgia, in a duty van with the rest of my Basic Qualification Course (BQC) class headed to our saltwater trip in Norfolk, Virginia. We were on a 10-hour journey to visit available Navy platforms at Naval Station Norfolk. Our visit would shape preferences prior to a looming billet list and orders reading. As it turned out, most of my classmates already knew exactly what platforms they wanted and only had one real curiosity – what life aboard a submarine was really like.

Through today’s social media outlets, ‘YouTube’ offers virtual tours of Navy surface, aviation, and subsurface platforms and associated operations. The graphic visuals include aircraft carriers, destroyers, and other platforms performing hairpin turns in the open ocean, amphibious vessels launching Harriers from the flight deck, and landing craft air-cushioned vehicles bursting from the well-deck, all set to music that will motivate even the most uninspired. However, ‘YouTube’ maintains an extremely limited number of submarine videos making it virtually impossible to show an interested and prospective submarine supply officer what it is like on a submarine. In an attempt to remedy this shortfall of information, NSCS takes the initiative in coordinating submarine tours and hands-on experiences for each BQC class at nearby Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut.

USS Illinois (SSN 786), commissioned in Groton, is the U.S. Navy’s 13th Virginia-Class attack submarine and the fourth US Navy ship named for the State of Illinois. –photo by MCC Darryl I. Wood

 

Each BQC class is offered a half-day transit to New London with instructors who were previously assigned to submarines. The Groton tours center around the submarine’s supply department and the challenges involved with being the chop. The host ship guides are supply department personnel, officers and enlisted, ready and willing to impart knowledge on the BQC students who could potentially be their future department head. Most initial inquiries from the students focus on material and food storage; however, natural curiosity tends to take over and students often ask questions regarding fitness facilities, communication with family, and other quality-of-life issues which are important as well.

While aboard the submarine, students follow their guides who stop periodically to give a quick explanation of equipment. Each space is explained as having one primary purpose, though some have double or triple purposes in different situations. They soon come to realize there are more spaces on a submarine than originally perceived. On a recent tour, a BQC student inquired, “So, how do you do training here if this is the mess area?” The tour guide responded with a quick, “We only need this space for four hours a day to eat. We have twenty more hours in the day to conduct business here, and we do.” Submarines are versatile. Illustrating how an entire boat has no choice but to do more with less helps BQC students understand that being resourceful is a virtue in the Navy.

BQC class students participated in a submarine tour at Groton. –photo by Lt. Michael Marchese, NSCS

 

Although the half-day Groton tour is not nearly long enough to allow students to witness the submarine supply operation, they are able to walk through a sufficient amount of areas. While visiting the submarine’s galley, students quickly realize that their home kitchen is often larger than the galley on the boat and are awestruck by the amount of production coming from such a confined area. Transiting to the supply office, students are alerted to the fact that they have unknowingly walked past material and food stowage locations. A student asked, “So if the parts are stowed behind a Sailors’ rack, how do you get the parts if there is someone in the rack?” It almost seems like the tour guide was waiting for that question and responds with a smile. “You rack them out,” meaning wake them from their slumber.

Submarine tours can’t just be about the supply department. If there’s going to be a tour of a war machine, there must be some shock and awe. For this, we provide students a tour of the control room which always gets an “oooo” and ahhh” and is a great segue into the other responsibilities of a supply officer. Students handle the knobs, controls, and displays that they will get to manipulate if chosen to serve with a submarine. And then there are the unmistakably iconic submarine periscopes, without question, one of the coolest tools! Students visualize becoming the diving officer of the watch, managing the ship’s ballast and weight, handling orders from the officer of the deck, and coordinating the damage control effort for the submarine. Others will see duty as contact managers, supervising and recommending where to position the ship to prevent collision with other vessels, or even a best stance to effectively attack an enemy ship. Most importantly, it is imperative to remind the students that on all Navy platforms, they will perform the duties of more than just a Supply Corps officer.

Overall, the submarine tours provide a realistic view of life on a submarine and erase misconceptions. Initial submarine operational tours offer incredible benefits for young Supply Corps officers. Coordinating these hands-on experiences assists in relieving the students’ anxiety of the unknown – a positive step in fulfilling fleet requirements for submarine supply officers.

January/February 2018