Eighteen-hour days and two crews! Those are the first things that come to mind when people ask me what the biggest difference is between being a Supply Officer (SUPPO) aboard a destroyer, and being a “Chop” aboard a submarine.
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Lt. Britta Christianson observes the sub’s control part during large-angle maneuvers.
I was in the middle of a seven-month deployment in the Gulf of Aden aboard USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) when I saw a flash from Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich explaining the Integration of Women on Submarines. Right then, I knew it was for me. I thought, “I got this SUPPO thing down on here, so I might as well try my luck on a submarine.” What I did not know was that while underway, submarines operate on an 18-hour day, and the SSGN/SSBN subs have two crews - both things I had never experienced before.
Being the “Chop” aboard USS Ohio (SSGN 726) (GOLD), I quickly found out that every day is fast and furious. Almost everyone serving aboard a submarine works around the clock, and there is no exception for the Chop. Preparing for deployment is not much different than any other ship, except for the fact that you cannot depend on having port visits or Brief Stops for Personnel (BSP). We bring all the consumables, repair parts, and food we anticipate using while on the deployment.
When we have national tasking, we take up to 60 Special Operation Forces (SOF) with us in addition to our normal crew. I have come to learn that when the SOF personnel aren't off the sub performing their mission, they work out to eat and eat to work out - so food becomes the limiting factor. We usually load out the best we can with the limited space we have for about a three to four-month deployment. We usually convert our walk-in refrigerator into a freezer, which gives us two walk-in freezers enabling us to store a lot more frozen food. The only problem with this is, it leaves only under the counter chill boxes and the main fan room for fresh fruit and vegetable (FF&V) storage. Since we don't have a garden on board, we run out of FF&V rather quickly and resort to canned fruits and vegetables.
The Supply Department aboard a submarine consists of two divisions, S-1 and S-2. S-1 division normally consists of three Logistics Specialists (LS), one Leading Petty Officer (LPO) and two junior Sailors. Having a three-person division makes for long hours for the LSs. They work with every division in attempts to anticipate everything the submarine may need to make it the end of its tasking. S-2 division consists of about eight Culinary Specialists (CS), usually a Chief, a LPO, and six junior CSs. Because of storage limitations, most items are cooked and baked from scratch. The galley operates around the clock providing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midrats for the crew. Along with normal meals, CSs also provide fresh baked bread and goodies for the crew. Something I had to get used to on the sub was that all LSs and senior CSs also stand watch as helm/planesman or Chief of the Watch in addition to their long hours performed in their in-rate duties.
The Ohio is forward-deployed out of Guam and works on an 18-month life cycle. Since one crew cannot be deployed for the whole 18 months, she has two crews. When my crew doesn't have the boat, our counterpart crew has the boat leaving us to Home Port Training Period (HPTP). The rotation is generally, but not always exactly, three months on the boat, and three months off the boat. While in HPTP, we conduct a lot of in-rate training, General Military Training, and practice and evaluation of all of our mission areas in various trainers.
Once underway, the 18-hour days begin. The boat runs on a three-watch rotation, each watch being six hours. Best-case scenario … everyone stands a six-hour watch, works six hours in their off going, and then sleeps six hours in their oncoming. However, the submarine often has a different plan for you. Those six precious hours of sleep everyone holds near and dear to their heart often are quickly eaten up by training, drills, battle stations, working out, or even the simplest thing like showering.
Most Chops support the watch bill by standing watch as Diving Officer of the Watch (DOOW). As DOOW, my job is to ensure that the submarine achieves and maintains ordered depth. Additionally, the DOOW is the supervisor of the Ship's Control Party. This job becomes even more challenging when we have our SOF personnel on board and are conducting Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) operations, which we often are doing on my submarine. DDS operations are conducted at periscope depth and consists of launching and recovering SOF personnel for their mission. The DDS is a removable module that can be attached to the top of our submarine to allow the SOF personnel to easily exit and enter the sub when it is submerged.
Once off watch, I perform all the normal things Supply officers do; inventories, audits, financials, Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) training, ordering, the list goes on and on. Somewhere in between watch, supply stuff, and sleep, the fun begins, drills! Submarines are constantly drilling, whether it’s a fire, flooding, toxic gas, torpedo evasion or even a reactor accident drill. Since manning is so low, it’s all hands on deck - everyone plays an integral part on the sub when these events are going on.
My first underway aboard Ohio was interesting. It was the first time Ohio had females onboard and underway that were part of ship's company, and I was preparing for Supply Management Inspection (SMI) and trying to get qualified as a Submarine Supply Corps Officer! For me it was old hat, being underway with more men than women, but for the submariners it was a totally new experience. The novelty wore off rather quickly, and they welcomed us as part of the crew handed us our qualification cards and told us to get qualified.
Many, many long hours of hard work and dedication from my department paid off - we passed SMI. The many long hours of hard work, studying, and dedication paid off for me too - I got qualified! At the end of the day all “Chops” know that to be a great “Chop” you have to always have that 'one' part that the sub needs right now to stay on mission, you can never have enough ice cream, and they cannot take away the sleep you have already gotten.
By Lt. Britta Christianson, SC, USN; Supply Officer, USS Ohio (SSGN 726)