With shrinking budgets and caps on military spending, its important to remember that submarines represent one of the most survivable elements in modern sea warfare. The increasing flexibility to meet emerging threats as well as long established threats adds value to this resource.
Make no mistake: the threats from external forces will not go away anytime soon. In many cases, it is increasing. Desiring peace without the will to preserve it ensures that there will be no peace at all. These platforms provide us with the way to preserve that peace and ensure our freedoms for a long time to come.
Years ago I belonged to a very bureaucratic organization that had multiple “business units” performing many of the same tasks on a global level. I was a member of five of these units and made some observations about how each performed. All had the exact same mission and vision statements. All had the exact same set of rules and guidelines. All were equally resourced. Yet, of the five, only one exceeded everyone’s expectation and had the highest level of engagement of any of them.
The USS San Francisco SSN 711 was a 688 class nuclear submarine and I still model it today when I work with organizations. Leadership was a key to preparing the framework for engagement but only as something that allowed engagement to occur. This was not an easy life by any means and the technical bureaucracy could be maddening. Deployments were frequent and often arduous and the unexpected nature of the assignments added to the complexity. What made this boat different form the other four was the steady and consistent encouragement from leadership for all hands to be as engaged as they wanted to be. That engagement led to opportunities and rewards that were both real and meaningful.
For some, NAVY was an acronym for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself”. I felt that sharply on my first two submarines and it showed in the lackluster performance and achievements of the boats and their crews. Don’t get me wrong. Both boats had storied histories and had achieved many things in their earlier years. The thing that seemed to be lacking during my tours on them was the leadership and sense of ownership. I rarely felt inspired to do much more than the minimum in many cases and while there were isolated pockets of excellence, it was not the norm.
To be fair… even on the San Francisco there were some guys on board who only engaged as much as they were required. But a larger share of the crew did more and contributed more than what seemed to have been in place on other similar units. I have kept track of that particular crew for over thirty years and most went on to have amazing careers in both the Navy and the civilian world. We had a large group go on to become commissioned officers and a significant number of us enjoyed full careers. Leadership must lay the foundations for engagement, but it is the people who are in that system that have to find the inner drive and determination to succeed. This symbiotic relationship was a key driver to our success on the 711 boat.
If organizations really want to capture the benefits of having an engaged workforce, the leaders must be passionate about creating a culture where engagement is valued and rewarded in a meaningful way. Without that passion, mandated engagement is nothing more than mandatory fun that was often the case on many Navy submarines. Mandatory fun was always short lived, mocked by the crew, and rarely ever gained any real results.
There was a change of command in San Diego California on January 24, 2014 onboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711). Cdr. Eric Severseike turned over command to Cdr. Jeff Juergens during the ceremony held at Naval Base Point Loma. Congratulations to Commander Severseike for a successful tour and best wishes to Commander Juergens as the 711 enters the next phase of her career,
There is something that bonds men to their ship besides the fact that they are assigned by an order from some higher command to sail on her. Your fate is tied to the ships fate in both peacetime and war. How well you operate her and how well she responds to the demands made on her will ultimately assure your mutual survival or mutual destruction. Every warship built since the beginning of time has been purpose built to respond to the known threats and perceived challenges that she may face while on the oceans that range the face of the earth.
As a young boy, I developed an early interest in ships and particularly warships. I earned money cutting grass and as fast as I earned it, I spent it on building a world class fleet in my basement. In the early sixties, Revell was king of the models and the cardboard boxes filled with parts were regularly brought into my subterranean shipyard on Duncan Station Road.
From their Web Page: “Since 1945, Revell has been the leader in plastic model kits. Our designers are passionate about scale model authenticity and model building. Choose from our huge selection of accurately detailed cars, trucks, ships, aircraft, spacecraft plus much more and say “I Made That!””
Sure, I built a number of cars, planes and spacecraft, but by the time I was fifteen, my brothers and I had amassed a fleet that was absolutely incredible. In our fleet, the Arizona still proudly led the way as part of a battleship Navy that could withstand any attack from. New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina were all lined up in perfect battle formation to challenge ships they never saw; the Mighty Bismarck, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the Battle Cruiser Graf Spee were joined by the Monster ship Yamato to stare down the American and British Fleets.
We had World War 2 carriers (Hornet, Wasp and Yorktown) alongside the most modern and fearful ships of our day: The USS Enterprise, bristling with F4 Phantoms and Corsairs. Destroyers screened the vulnerable carriers and supply ships. One of those was a model of the ship my Dad had sailed on during his trip home from the Philippines. We even had a couple of JFK’s PT boats and a gunboat or two from the Vietnam era.
Like most kids, I had a healthy curiosity about submarines too. That meant that we had to have a couple of U-boats and Gato class submarines lurking near the field of battle. But I did not have a nuclear submarine in the fleet until the very end. I’m not sure why but I suppose it was probably due to the lack of availability. It wasn’t until just about the time I discovered girls that our local toy store finally had a model of the USS George Washington. It folded open so that you could see the insides and even had a firing missile tube (launched by a small spring that needed to be inserted).
Sadly, by the time this one came along, I was weary from the meticulous assembly, gluing, and painting that were required for the many ships that came before her. Also, I discovered that my new found interest with girls was all consuming and the fleet went into mothballs except for the times my younger brother Tom still put them to sea. Even Tom eventually lost interest since his war gaming did not require actual ship models and planes. The basement became a graveyard of sorts and when I joined the Navy in 1972, the entire fleet suffered a catastrophe of epic proportions in July when Hurricane Agnes roared up the middle of the country. The water backed up through the drainage system and floated the hapless fleet into history, damaged by the muddy water and mold.
My first boat was the real USS George Washington and I was surprised to find that the interior didn’t match the model we had in our collection at all. I also found that the GW was already starting to show the signs of continuous operations on a boat that was put together in kind of a hurry. She had leaks were there shouldn’t have been leaks, much of the equipment was already out of date with the newer technologies and things broke a lot. Let’s just say that as a young submarine mechanic, I got a lot of chances to practice my skills and figure out a way to fix things that lacked spare parts.
Me second boat was the Halibut and she was ending her service life when I arrived. Again, many hours doing tasks that were not what I thought I would be doing during my early days of dreaming about being a sailor on the seven seas.
The in the early days of 1980, I got a chance to actually build a real submarine. I had requested the Ohio Class boats but my detailer wisely knew that I would be better off on a boat that had just been launched and was rapidly taking shape as the newest Fast Attack Submarine in the Navy’s quickly growing Cold War arsenal. (Actually, I am pretty sure the guy was just filling holes and really had no idea of the favor he had just done for me).
When I arrived, the crew was still pretty small. Launched in the fall of 1979, she was in the water but still pretty bare inside. The big stuff was in of course since hull cuts are never a good idea if you can avoid them. But the ventilation, piping and electrical systems were not completed. There were holes where the galley and crews berthing would eventually be. Our days were filled with fire watches, training and more training. We studied diagrams and quickly became subject matter experts in systems that were not quite ready for business.
While the people from the Newport News shipyard worked very hard assemble our boat, others were in line behind us. They built the boat but we built the crew. Hundreds of hours watching and learning helped prepare us for the day we would sign the papers to take over this new weapon. Slowly over the course of the next sixteen months, we added machinist mates, electronics technicians, sonar men, radiomen, yeomen and many others as the shipyard finished the installation and testing of the equipment we would need. The work was hard and exacting but as the ship came together so did the crew.
For me this was a unique experience. My other commands were places I came to almost after the fact and fitting in was not easy. But being on board a new commissioning vessel is an experience unlike any other I had before or since.
Newport News builds an awesome submarine. I have been able to see their work up close a number of times since the SSN 711 days but I can assure you that the country gets a good product for their investment. Just as important though were the Officers, Chiefs, Petty Officers and non-rates who poured their hearts and souls into that boat. I had no fear the first time we submerged the ship. Everything that could be done to ensure the physical safety of the crew had been done with meticulous attention to detail. Everything we could do to prepare ourselves as a crew had also been attended to with exacting purpose. I knew that Randy Simpson would do well on the planes and Nick Dalebout would perform his duties well. Bill Phelps inspired confidence and our DCA knew how to manage any casualty that we would face. We had the best torpedomen, radiomen, sonar operators and nuclear trained technicians that existed in any boat. Our Captain was a standup guy (still is) and I thank you Al Marshall for leading us to a successful start.
The San Francisco has had many miles under her keel in the ensuing thirty plus years. Some of those miles have been harder than anyone could have imagined when we built her. We have lost a few shipmates (tragically) along the way. But the ship that holds my heart still sails.
I wish the new Captain the best in his tour. I wish continued good fortune to my shipmates who now man the watch. There will be a few of us in San Francisco in September of this year and I will proudly toast the boat that represents one of the finer parts of my life. I have been blessed with many things in my life but one of the proudest moments of all comes when I can point to the USS San Francisco SSN 711 and with great honor say: We made that.
The link below will take you to an amazing story about a submarine crew doing something pretty amazing. Having sailed in a few typhoons myself, I can assure you that being anywhere near the surface in a boat is not desirable.
A recurring question most boat sailors hear most has to do with what it’s like to live on a submarine.
If you think about it, purposely going underwater for months at a time isn’t exactly what you learn about in schools when it comes to life.
The Navy has an interesting link up right now called “Life on a sub”
“Rest assured, it’s not all work and no play aboard a Navy Sub. There is some downtime that can be beneficial to team building and personal rejuvenation. And it’s important to take advantage of it when you can. Here’s how a typical day breaks down:
From watching movies to playing games, socializing to exercising, your time away from work can be as exciting or relaxing as you want it to be.”
I read yesterday that there is now a new task force to speed up the process of putting women on subs. I wish them luck. From my few years experience on one of the first integrated surface ships, I saw a lot of interesting things. Apparently it works well on many ships now so it was only a matter of time.
“Now where exactly will the Waves quarters be Admiral?”
As for this old boy, I am just glad not to have to deal with the additional pressure of being under the ocean’s surface for three months a few feet away from someone who I am not supposed to develop any feelings for (or worse). Because we all know that twenty year old boys and girls never ever ever fall in love (lust).
I am very grateful for my company’s generosity with it’s funds.
Thanks Dyno Nobel and IPL. A lot of people’s lives are a little better because you cared.
Modern electronic devices, the speed at which most people live their lives, and cultural challenges in a shrinking global economy provide daily examples of the problems we increasingly face in effectively communicating with each other.
Studying the problem has been a large part of my work for years. Whether it was on a submarine, a ship or in a shop, communications are at the heart of most conflict and loss of efficiency. Since we are all taught basic communications skills from the time we are young children, why does this end up being such a problem?
When we simplify the way we approach communication and look at the basics behind it, we can improve our won understanding and help others. There are three parts:
Without effective communication, they become someone else’s dinner. In many of our own personal situations, that is probably also true but not so much on as grand of a scale. The duck instinctively or by training knows how the communication cycle works. They hear a certain type of call and intuitively know how to respond. Whether it’s a meal call, a come back call, a danger call or a mating call, the duck doesn’t need to do much interpretation. It responds to the appropriate signal (most times with a call of its own – feedback)
Through a much more aggressive adaptation and evolution, we have added many parts to the puzzle. the following is an example of how communication occurs in an uncluttered world:
Source: Duck 1 thinks it is time for feeding
Encoding: Duck 1 issues the appropriate call and the message is shared in a way that Duck 2 should hear it
Decoding: Duck 2 recognizes the call and adds value to it (Food Time). A response is sent as feedback (“Okay, I’ll be right there”) and the sending duck knows that communication is complete.
If for some reason Duck 1 does not get a response, chances are it will continue to signal until it is satisfied all efforts to communicate are complete.
The things it has learned, what it instinctively knows as a duck, experiences that have happened and the environment all make up how the duck knows to send and receive messages. Assuming the receiving duck has a similar field of experience, they probably communicate with ease and little frustration. Life isn’t always that simple though as illustrated in the following diagram:
These screens are unintentional in most cases but result from the various experiences and interpretations of the sender and the receiver. They can change the scope or purpose of the message and result in miscommunication and confusion. As stated earlier, this can be fatal to a duck so simplification is always the rule of thumb.
The first two pictures assume that the ducks are communicating on a lovely sunny day with only the sounds of a babbling brook quietly playing in the background. If only life were so simple. More often than not, it actually looks like this:
The noise comes in many forms. Other ducks using the same airspace to communicate, other birds and animals, noise pollution of all kinds including people, planes, cars, highways, factory noise and on and on. Internal noise from conflict, prejudices, biases, emotions, lack of trust, lack of training, fear of failure, fear of success and on and on. Even with the duck’s close held need for survival, they are bombarded with all of the same environmental issues that people are. Ducks just seem to have a more focused ability to screen the noise out.
Eliminate as much of the clutter as you can and keep your communications simple. Anticipate that there may be perceptional screens and noise that will hinder your communications.
Practice active listening. Listen more than you talk. Provide feedback but not every few seconds. Keep the conversation focused. Make sure your delivery speed is appropriate to the message, vary your tone and volume. Remember that there is a difference between hearing and listening.
You own the responsibility for effective communications and have to assume it will take some work even with the best of circumstances. Check for understanding and offer clarification. Don’t ignore others concerns or signs of confusion. Body language becomes like another set of “ears” to review how well the message is understood. It can also be true that in sending, your own body language is key to presenting your message.
Our survival is linked to the way we communicate. You have a choice to make when it comes to something even this simple. Hopefully seeing this illustrated in a way that the ducks would approve can help you improve your own skills. Now let’s get quacking!
The Royal Order of the Duck had its beginnings in the late 1900’s in a hospital near Detroit Michigan. Several locals found a wounded duck and helped to nurse him back to health. As the duck continued his travels, he found others who were similarly afflicted and he started to try and share the lessons he had learned along the way.
As of today, there are only four people who are officially listed as members of the Royal Order of the Duck (the list is purposely kept secret). The stories shared here are meant to spread the message of hope and remind people that sometimes you have to act like a duck and let the world’s stuff just roll off your back.
In about two hours, I will be leading the first of three training sessions for part of a group of 3800 students in Hershey PA. We are going to focus on communications and leadership. The title:
Needless to say, even thought I served on five submarines and two large surface commands facing the rugged ocean and the forces of the Soviet Union, I am a bit humbled and slightly intimidated going in front of a group of young students. If you never hear from me again, please send a note to my widow.
Purpose of the Future Business Leaders of America:
FBLA-PBL provides innovative leadership development programs to bring business and education together in a positive working relationship. Participation in FBLA-PBL can have a direct impact on the direction and success of a young person’s career. Millions of students have learned through active membership in FBLA-PBL about the world of business and what is expected of them in the workplace. Organizational goals include:
Well, time to go offer an animal sacrifice. Have a great week and do something good for someone. They may not appreciate it, but you will be honoring someone that did something along the way that helped you.
My business web site went live today!
I will still continue to add stories and commentary to the Lean Submariner but the website bobmacpherson-speaker.info is my way to satisfy my passion for business process improvement, training services, and speaking.
Check it out if you get the chance. In the next few days, I will be talking about how ship’s are named…