Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Worst Teaching Job in the Surface Navy

That was being an instructor at Department Head School.

Department Head School, in Newport, RI, was a 20 week school for senior lieutenants. It was the only school in the surface navy that was considered to be a permanent change of duty station for the students, which meant that the Navy moved the families. (All other schools were temporary duty; the students stayed in the BOQ and the families stayed home.) Department Head School, formerly known as Destroyer School, was even longer in the 1970s, but then they stopped teaching everyone calculus, Morse code and semaphore signals.

Much of the school was the Tactical Action Officer course, where the students had to learn everything about the US and Soviet navy's warships. You had to know the difference between a Brooke and Garcia FF and a Krivak and a Kashin, as well as all of the weapon systems in both navies. It was important stuff, for as a TAO, you wouldn't have the time to look it up in a book when you got the word that a flock of Badgers were inbound or someone had detected a Vampire. There were lessons in ASW, AAW, ASUW, landing force operations, navigation refreshers and basic engineering concepts.

Once everyone had their orders, the classes would split into job specifics: Operations, Weapons, Steam Engineering, Diesel Engineering and Gas-Turbine Engineering. Most of the steam engineers-to-be also went to Philadelphia for advanced fire-fighting and to the Great Lakes Training Center for "hot-plant" classes (they had working engineering plants in buildings, the engine shafts drove huge water brakes). Diesel and twidget gas-turbine engineers had their own hot plants, though I've forgotten where they were located.

What made the school the worst to teach is no matter what subject the particular class was about, there was almost always one student in the classroom who was certain to know far more about the subject than the instructor. There was always one student who had lived that subject as a division officer for two or three years. And if the instructor was way off base on the material, he or she could expect to get hammered.

One time, a chief petty officer was teaching a class on corrosion control and when he turned to cathodic protection systems, he said the purpose of cathodic protection was "to keep the cathods off the ship." One student warned him that he could expect to see that answer on test papers, but the chief stuck to it. And sure enough, out of the 25 students in the class, 22 gave that answer on the exam. The chief had to give them all credit and the commander who ran the instruction staff had a cow over it.


Jimh. said...

I always hated the student who asked questions that would be answered in the professor's next sentence or asked questions that had no bearing on the subject at all.

I know what a badger is, but I've always wanted to see a bear.

PhysioProf said...

That cathode story is fucking hilarious!!

Jon said...

I'll never forget, as a nuke EM, going to a refrigerant school, where they taught us everything we never really wanted to know about refrigerant systems.

Here I was, an electrician, in a class with a bunch of mechanics and one ET (my buddy, actually), and we kept asking questions about things that none of the mechanics were asking. I think the instructor was ready to have a cow over us.

In the end, however, it was the wire-biters and twidgets that scored the highest on the exam.

chaoticsynapticactivity said...

I was one of those boneheads in DH school and then in PXO. First time, the guy teaching Harpoon hadn't been a Missile Officer, and then been in a school house teaching Harpoon. As PXO, I had been the guy who taught Pre-Comm Combat Systems Operational Team Training, PCO/PXO/PCSO FFG-7 for two years...then later was heading to an FFG as XO. The instructor was a great guy....who had never been on an FFG. He dinged me for one point on the final, because he said his boss wouldn't believe someone could ace their test.