Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ossifer Training

In an earlier post, I discussed where the Navy gets its officers. This post will discuss post-commissioning schools, with a focus on the 111x/6x community: Surface Warfare Officers or SWOs.

When a young ensign was commissioned into the SWO community, he or she was designated as an 116x. 111 signified "SWO", the "6" was a training designation. Generally, after leave and maybe a short stint on the ship that he or she was going to, the first school was Surface Warfare Officer School Basic- "SWOS Basic" or "Baby SWOS," located in Newport, RI.

The bible for SWOS Basic was the Personnel Qualification Standard (PQS) for Surface Warfare. All PQS has three components: a Theory section, a Systems section and a Watchstation (ie, performance) section. SWOS Basic was 16 weeks long and in those sixteen weeks, the ensigns (and the lieutenant JGs who have washed out of aviation) learned all of the systems and theory part of SWOS PQS. The course was basically everything one needed to know to be a junior officer on a ship, taught at "drink from this here firehose" speed. The goal was to leave SWOS Basic with only the watchstation training to do. That was not an insignificant amount of work, it took 18 months to two years to finish that.

SWO PQS replaced the infamous "JO Journal" from the days when the only surface warfare training was on-the job. SWO PQS also standardized the training as much as possible, but it couldn't completely level the playing field. Ensigns sent to the engineering departments of aircraft carriers would be lucky if they amassed 40 hours of underway time as a fully-qualified Officer of the Deck, something that an OOD on a destroyer would do in five to seven days of routine underway watches. Ensigns who were sent to ships that were about to enter a major overhaul would wind up a year behind the power curve and those sent to a carrier that was entering an overhaul were basically screwed forever.

After SWOS Basic came the specialty schools. The longest pipeline back in the day was the ASW school, which lengthened quite a bit once surface ships became players in the passive ASW sonar game. Some specialty schools covered other topics; the communications and CIC officer schools had a section on administration of classified materials, as those officers generally were in charge of the classified materials system ("CMS") on their ships. (There was a long-standing joke about the annual softball game at Leavenworth Military Prison between former CMS custodians and disbursing officers.)

Depending on what collateral duties the officer was assigned, there could be other schools. Chief among those, back when surface ships were capable of carrying nuclear weapons, was a nuclear weapons admin school. Those going to main engineering jobs usually had to take a seven day boiler water/feed water school; the first two days of which were equivalent to a semester of freshman chemistry without the lab work. Most going to an engineering job also were sent to an advanced firefighting course.

SWO PQS was unique because it was the only officer warfare specialty which was wide open. All it took was obtaining a set of PQS books and anyone could try to complete it. Ambitious officers in both the intelligence (163x) and cryptology (161x) communities would, when on sea duty, try to complete SWO PQS. They did so both because it made them stand out (marking them as "hard chargers") and for the fact that line officers, the ones who were the customers of their specialties, tended to pay more attention to the spooks who were warfare-qualified.

Once the PQS was fully completed, all that was left was an intensive oral exam, given by the CO, XO and the three line department heads (Ops, Weps, CHENG). The general rule was the longer the oral exam, the worse you were doing. If you really knew your shit and they knew that you really knew your shit, you might have your exam scheduled for 1600 in the wardroom, which gave them only an hour to examine you before the cooks had to set up the wardroom for supper. If they thought that there was some serious question as to whether or not you knew your shit, your oral exam would be scheduled for 0800 or 1300.

When that was over and if you did indeed know your shit, your designator was changed to 111x and you got to wear this pin on your uniform.

1 comment:

Jimh. said...

Thanks EBM, as ever, you are a fount of knowldge! And you are always an interesting read.