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Are stories of the SWO community valid?

Duc'-guy25

Well-Known Member
pilot
I am hard pressed to think of any officer specialty in any branch of the US military that is given as little initial training as SWOs in the Navy, period. Especially a 'warfare' specialty. Makes me wonder, what training do Coast Guard 'SWOs' (Cuttermen?) go through before reporting to their ships?
I think it varies a lot on how they were commissioned. My first roommate at school ended up going to the CGA after our 4/C year, and he had a pretty good grasp on the whole ship thing before he reported to his first command. Granted, its probably similar to the USNA guys where they are receiving a decent amount of maritime training while in school. I know while he was a cadet there he spent pretty much every summer on a buoy tender or cutter. His degree was in naval arch though so that might have helped... I do know they sent him to school for his DIVO job (DCA) almost immediately after reporting though before starting their patrol. I know they put a decent amount of emphasis on basic sea going knowledge. I can't imagine a guy walking off the street into USCG OCS knows that much, but their OCS and direct commission programs are pretty competitive to get into.... guys at my school were always desperately trying to get into the MARGRAD program which only offered a handful of slots a year. I'll poke around though and see if I can find anything out about the training for their surface guys, now I'm more curious.
 

swerdna

Active Member
None
Contributor
This is in no way meant to be SWO bashing my SWO amigos, as misguided as you are I still very much enjoy working with you dudes. Keep in mind this is just my view from where I'm sitting.

This is kind of one of the key things you have to remember about the SWO community....It's the only URL community that doesn't require any real training before you show up to your job... Essentially you have a kid fresh out of college that has pretty much never been on a ship and kind of thrusted into the situation. Not their fault, but at some point in time I would really like to see big navy decide to give brand new ensigns better training before they show up to the job. I honestly think a year long SWO school prior to reporting to an afloat command would dramatically improve shipboard operations in the surface fleet. I've seen the curriculum at Baby SWOS, and honestly, there is a lot of room for improvement. I've talked this over with a lot of JO's and a lot have agreed they wish they understood the basics of shipboard operations prior to reporting, because Baby SWOS barely skims the surface. (I had a 6 month ensign tell me about his 3 months of sea time once including his 2 months of MIDN cruise, wasted the beer in my mouth when I started laughing)

All in all, operating a ship isn't a particularly hard thing to do, however it does require a lot of knowledge and a lot of work to do it well. Given the tools, I really believe the JO's would be far more of an asset to their command (and less eating of the young would occur). There should be a point where if a DIVO is walking around during the day checking up on his guys he can actually understand what they are doing and be able to advise them on it. Granted a lot of this come with experience (thank god for CPO's), but the concept that the JO should be in his space doing paperwork, not being involved in evolutions, not understanding how an evolution works is absolutely ludicrous. If we saw the JO's leading more at the deck plate level I think there would be a lot better moral, and some ships do this and it's clearly evident.
There was a time when a SWO went to SWOS for 6 months, but someone decided that training was irrelevant and did away with it. Many people now realize that it was a mistake and so we have the Basic Division Officers Course (BDOC), which I believe is 6 weeks long. Most people seem to agree with needing a much longer course, but the Navy is a bureaucracy and nothing will change overnight. Not to mention all of the funding and manpower that would have to go into such a change.

The other issue is that it's really not fair to compare flying to shipdriving. The bridge operates as a team, and as a new JO you're basically a student of the OOD, who hopefully is teaching you something while you're on watch, as opposed to bullshitting for 3 or 4 hours. Driving a ship is a lot like driving a car backwards on ice.

As for evolutions, I don't know why you'd ever want a JO making all of the decisions or being in control during a special evolution. They simply don't have the experience or know-how to complete them without supervision. Would you let a 15 year-old drive on the freeway the day he got his learner's permit? Foreign navies operate like us too, except some are even more extreme. Often it's the CO who is OOD and CONN during special evolutions, the others just kind of watch.
 

Duc'-guy25

Well-Known Member
pilot
There was a time when a SWO went to SWOS for 6 months, but someone decided that training was irrelevant and did away with it. Many people now realize that it was a mistake and so we have the Basic Division Officers Course (BDOC), which I believe is 6 weeks long. Most people seem to agree with needing a much longer course, but the Navy is a bureaucracy and nothing will change overnight. Not to mention all of the funding and manpower that would have to go into such a change.
My understanding fo SWOS was it was done after your first DIVO tour, but you would know better than I. Once again, part of the surface community, but not a surface warfare guy. I would hardly call my community a "warfare" community... all I know how to do is operate a ship and shoot small arms.

The other issue is that it's really not fair to compare flying to shipdriving. The bridge operates as a team, and as a new JO you're basically a student of the OOD, who hopefully is teaching you something while you're on watch, as opposed to bullshitting for 3 or 4 hours. Driving a ship is a lot like driving a car backwards on ice.
Yea I find flying a Cessna more challenging than driving a ship. Like I said there really isn't anything that hard about it. It's basic physics, once you understand the relationship between the pivot point, center of resistance (specifically how those two things move around), center of gravity, center of buoyancy, center of thrust, side force, asymmetric flow over the rudder, shallow water effects, effects of trim, and what its not hard, you just have do decide how to apply the force you need. Most USS ships are pretty easy to drive, you can walk a DDG and CG of the pier, and if you mess up you have 80000 shaft horsepower to fix the mistake. There's nothing hard about any type of navigation, if you didn't learn speedxtime=distance in the 5th grade then you shouldn't be in charge of anything.

As for evolutions, I don't know why you'd ever want a JO making all of the decisions or being in control during a special evolution. They simply don't have the experience or know-how to complete them without supervision. Would you let a 15 year-old drive on the freeway the day he got his learner's permit? Foreign navies operate like us too, except some are even more extreme. Often it's the CO who is OOD and CONN during special evolutions, the others just kind of watch.
Kind of the point I'm trying to make. Isn't this the point of being an officer? There should be less of a gap of know-how when they show up to the boat, I know its unpractical and impossible to say they should be an expert. A 1st LT should know how to tie a bowline, the basics of preventative maintenance, and rig a CONREP on the receiving side. An assistant propulsion officer should know how to rebuild a pump and take apart a rising stem valve. A GunnO should know how clean the MK45's. I'm not saying they should be doing themselves all the time or even frequently on a regular basis, but they should be able to tell if someone is doing it right and I do believe there is a time where you need to be involved with the guys and demonstrate know how, its part of leading at sea. I think here is were the Marines got the "lead from the front" mentality correct.

As far as foreign navies, a lot of them operate smaller ships with smaller crews. There was research done a few years ago comparing USN shipboard operations to their foreign counterparts, one thing noted was foreign navies usually have their officer divide into either a deck or engineering speciality. The engineering forfeit the opportunity to command a ship at sea though. Thats also the way it typical works on merchant ships as well, the Captain or the 1/O is usually conning, the navigator is usually shooting bearings and doing a 3 or 6 minute plot, and the junior deck officer is there to supervise the lookout and the helmsman. Thats alls subject to change depending on the Captain, if you can show you're not a idiot the old man will often let the nav or junior deck officer drive during evolutions.

Like I said, I'm not saying this to put down the SWO community or say they're incompetent (generally you guys have always been pretty professional IMO), I'm rooting for you guys, these are just ideas that I, as a JO and in my limited experience, think the community could benefit from. The SWOs would know better than I how feasible these are though.
 
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Spekkio

He bowls overhand.
As for evolutions, I don't know why you'd ever want a JO making all of the decisions or being in control during a special evolution...
This is everything anyone needs to know about the SWO community and its attitude toward JOs.

I will counter with this: Why would you ever want to take the DHs/XO/CO out of their roles as senior supervisors and make them operate a level lower than they ought to? Who's providing backup to the CO if he's the one giving all of the commands during a special evolution?

The times where an evolution is so sensitive that it requires the CO to be directly controlling the situation should be extremely rare. If the CO is regularly controlling a ship's evolutions, it's solely due to a failure to train the wardroom to be up to the task - which may pervade into training pipelines not preparing new officers for their responsibilities.

As for initial training: It would not be insurmountable to set up an in-depth TRACOM to teach newly commissioned SWOs the basics. I attended prototype for 6 mo and SOBC for 6 mo, both of which included team watchstanding with real, breathing people. If you don't already have them, the Navy is capable of making simulators for shipdriving and the instructors can fill in whatever pertinent data you need from the watchteam... which really shouldn't be all that much if you are training on the basics of conning a ship, gauging distance, gauging relative motion, and learning to point the bow away from the general direction of buoys and ships.

I don't think anyone would expect that a new Ensign can instantly show up and be handed an OOD letter. What they are asking for is SWOs to be taught the basics so that they aren't completely behind the curve from day 1... things like rules of the road, how to manage a PMS program, and basic knowledge of ship's systems don't require a whole watchteam to teach.

The current system you guys have is modeled after the 1800s where 16 year old midshipmen would spend years learning on-the-job, then apply for a commission when he was deemed ready.
 

Spekkio

He bowls overhand.
Kind of the point I'm trying to make. Isn't this the point of being an officer? There should be less of a gap of know-how when they show up to the boat, I know its unpractical and impossible to say they should be an expert. A 1st LT should know how to tie a bowline, the basics of preventative maintenance, and rig a CONREP on the receiving side. An assistant propulsion officer should know how to rebuild a pump and take apart a rising stem valve. A GunnO should know how clean the MK45's. I'm not saying they should be doing themselves all the time or even frequently on a regular basis, but they should be able to tell if someone is doing it right and I do believe there is a time where you need to be involved with the guys and demonstrate know how, its part of leading at sea. I think here is were the Marines got the "lead from the front" mentality correct.
You lost me here. As a nuke, I'll be the first to say that expert knowledge of ship's systems is one of the most important things for someone to learn as a JO. However, the stuff you mention is way too in the weeds. What a JO needs to be able to do is brief his bosses about the problem, its effect on ship's operations, the solution, and who's working it when something breaks. The part about developing the solution is where the JO should be working with the Chief and getting into whatever tech manuals apply. But learning to disassemble a valve? Pretty much a waste of time.
 

Duc'-guy25

Well-Known Member
pilot
Yea I think here is where I start to part off on the normal Naval Officer line of thought... My edujmacation was fairly hands on and this probably a result of that. I agree its one of our first responsibilities to be an expert in ship's systems, but its also to be a leader and to me to be able to demonstrate knowledge to the enlisted guys that you know what they're doing and dealing with is a big thing. Should we be turning wrenches and splicing line, no probably not and I usually never get that hands on. The only time I'll get that hands on is if I see someone struggling or know a better way of doing something and I'll demonstrate it to them. That's just me, I know its not typical and frowned upon, but that's just my style.
 

wink

VS NFO. Blue and Gold Officer
None
Super Moderator
Contributor
There was a time when a SWO went to SWOS for 6 months, but someone decided that training was irrelevant and did away with it..
True. And back then OCS SWOs came form a dedicated surface OCS at Newport. The avaitors had AOCS. Up in Newport, as I recall, they operated YPs like USNA still does. That gave them at least some point of reference for ship handling before they showed up for 6 months of SWOS where they got additional training on YPs.
As for evolutions, I don't know why you'd ever want a JO making all of the decisions or being in control during a special evolution. They simply don't have the experience or know-how to complete them without supervision. Would you let a 15 year-old drive on the freeway the day he got his learner's permit? .../
Then maybe twenty something JO SWOs shouldn't be restricted to a learners permit. Now I'll give you a F-18 or SH-60 isn't a DDG in terms of bucks let alone national asset. But really, in NAVAIR we send LTJGs out with real weapons and release authority. JOs lead multiship strikes all the time. That is a lot of hate and destruction with a fraction of the supervision a SWO gets as a JO. So yeah, a LT strike lead could screw the pooch and really make the news if not alter foreign policy as a result. Is trading paint during an unrep with a baby SWO at the conn that different? In the 70s and 80s JOs flew with nukes. How is that different from letting a JO run CIC during an ASW extorp mission or even a live Standard missile shoot? I really respect SWOs. It is the real Navy. But it pains me to see how it is when it could be so much more.
 

BigRed389

Registered User
None
Yea I think here is where I start to part off on the normal Naval Officer line of thought... My edujmacation was fairly hands on and this probably a result of that. I agree its one of our first responsibilities to be an expert in ship's systems, but its also to be a leader and to me to be able to demonstrate knowledge to the enlisted guys that you know what they're doing and dealing with is a big thing. Should we be turning wrenches and splicing line, no probably not and I usually never get that hands on. The only time I'll get that hands on is if I see someone struggling or know a better way of doing something and I'll demonstrate it to them. That's just me, I know its not typical and frowned upon, but that's just my style.
This pretty much doesn't work for the vast majority of branches or community, especially in the more technical/specialized stuff.

At no point will a non prior JO really have the knowledge base necessary to be able to provide a hands on "better way" to do shit.

You should at least get to the point where you have an idea when something looks stupid and wrong. Doesn't mean you have to fix it yourself.

True. And back then OCS SWOs came form a dedicated surface OCS at Newport. The avaitors had AOCS. Up in Newport, as I recall, they operated YPs like USNA still does. That gave them at least some point of reference for ship handling before they showed up for 6 months of SWOS where they got additional training on YPs.
Then maybe twenty something JO SWOs shouldn't be restricted to a learners permit. Now I'll give you a F-18 or SH-60 isn't a DDG in terms of bucks let alone national asset. But really, in NAVAIR we send LTJGs out with real weapons and release authority. JOs lead multiship strikes all the time. That is a lot of hate and destruction with a fraction of the supervision a SWO gets as a JO. So yeah, a LT strike lead could screw the pooch and really make the news if not alter foreign policy as a result. Is trading paint during an unrep with a baby SWO at the conn that different? In the 70s and 80s JOs flew with nukes. How is that different from letting a JO run CIC during an ASW extorp mission or even a live Standard missile shoot? I really respect SWOs. It is the real Navy. But it pains me to see how it is when it could be so much more.
That's the ideal. From what I saw it, was roughly 50/50 whether or not you were going to have your hand shoved up your ass and run like a puppet or treated like an adult.

Doing ASW stuff, CIC was pretty much my show as an ENS/LTJG. Whether that was due to confidence in me or simple lack of interest in Awfully Slow Warfare, I can't really say. And TAO's (senior LT's) should be running CIC events...that's what they're supposed to be trained to.
In real world situations, I would always expect Mom and Dad to show up...the question is whether they let it play out to train like we fight, or try to take the reins and change course midstream.
 

azguy

Well-Known Member
None
This is everything anyone needs to know about the SWO community and its attitude toward JOs.

I will counter with this: Why would you ever want to take the DHs/XO/CO out of their roles as senior supervisors and make them operate a level lower than they ought to? Who's providing backup to the CO if he's the one giving all of the commands during a special evolution?
In 4 years on ships, I saw the CO actually take "the conn" one time and it's because he was practicing his man overboard skillz. Don't take one comment from a dude on the interweb and assume it is a universal truth. From what I know about subs, I think SWO JOs get much more opportunity to drive than our bubblehead counterparts.

The cool thing about SWO, to me, is that early leadership. Whether leading a VBSS team like I did, or running ASW for the ship, like BigRed, there are many specialized schools we go to in order to learn to do a specific job. A DDG has a sh-load of firepower and sensor capability to support the Air/SUW/ASW/Strike-TLAM/ISR warfare areas that you can't send a kid to school for 2 years to become proficient at it all, like you can for a pilot. SWOs work into being experts at that stuff over the course of years.

The place to focus for new SWOs is ship driving. Honestly, as fun as that is, it's very very easy, compared to landing an aircraft on a ship. I think that sending an ENS to school for 6 months just to learn to drive the ship would be overkill- in 6 months, I could teach a mildly retarded Ape to park a DDG or bring it alongside on oiler. There needs to be something though, and I think the 2-3 month BDOC, which has evolved a lot in the last few years, is helping a lot.
 

azguy

Well-Known Member
None
An assistant propulsion officer should know how to rebuild a pump and take apart a rising stem valve. A GunnO should know how clean the MK45's. I'm not saying they should be doing themselves all the time or even frequently on a regular basis, but they should be able to tell if someone is doing it right and I do believe there is a time where you need to be involved with the guys and demonstrate know how, its part of leading at sea. I think here is were the Marines got the "lead from the front" mentality correct.
This is the difference between being on a warship and a merchant ship (with a small fraction the crew size). There is no way a SWO should need to know how to rebuild a pump or clean the 5" gun. Just like a pilot doesn't need to know how to tear out and rebuild the engine on his F-18. If you're a merchant officer on a tiny crew, yes I can see the utility and I understand why you guys are trained that way. The same logic doesn't apply when we have whole divisions of guys to do that type of specific maintenance- it has nothing to do with "leading from the front."
 

Duc'-guy25

Well-Known Member
pilot
At no point will a non prior JO really have the knowledge base necessary to be able to provide a hands on "better way" to do shit.
Like I said, this is where I part paths. These are just things that I think have helped me with the limited interaction I have had with the community, sir.

You should at least get to the point where you have an idea when something looks stupid and wrong. Doesn't mean you have to fix it yourself.
Thats exactly what I'm getting at. I just really believe brand new butter bars would benefit from a longer course than 6 weeks of Baby SWOS through talking both with guys I went to school with and guys who commissioned through the ROTC and OCS routes. I think it would greatly increase their confidence and knowledge and ultimately produce better SWOs.

I really respect SWOs. It is the real Navy. But it pains me to see how it is when it could be so much more.
100% Behind that one.

One thing I think detracts from the morale of the wardroom on some of the surface ships is the guys that never wanted to be SWOs and didn't get picked up for the warfare they planned on. There is nothing worse than working with a bunch of guys who don't take pride in their work. I'm not saying everyone that didn't get picked up for their number 1 is bitter, but there is definitely a lot of guys out there that just want to get their SWO life over with just because they have no interest in the job.
 

Duc'-guy25

Well-Known Member
pilot
Just like a pilot doesn't need to know how to tear out and rebuild the engine on his F-18. If you're a merchant officer on a tiny crew, yes I can see the utility and I understand why you guys are trained that way. The same logic doesn't apply when we have whole divisions of guys to do that type of specific maintenance- it has nothing to do with "leading from the front."
That's a good point, and as I said you guys with the the water wings understand it better than I, these are just things that have stuck out to me over the past couple of years. I worked in a different mindset so my view is a bit different. Not saying you guys are wrong, just things I have thought have helped. There are a lot of times on the USNS types where officers have to pitch in and have to know the stuff the guys down on deck know as well as our officer specific knowledge. However, we're not operating a billion dollar weapons system like you guys and we don't have a real warfare skill set to develop and although I would say I have a pretty good understanding of the engineering side of the house for a mate, I am in no way an expert. I'm just here to drive the ship.
 
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Uncle Fester

Robot Pimp
None
Super Moderator
Contributor
I did SWOS back in the "six-ish months before your first ship" days. It was, oh, maybe 1/3 seamanship and shiphandling, 1/3 engineering, and 1/3 admin silliness.

If I could design the 'new SWO' track, I would have SWOS be a four-month course before reporting aboard and have it focus exclusively on sailor skills - shiphandling, seamanship, engineering, and nautical knowledge. That's what really needs to be taught, because you're taking dudes in off the street that are still struggling with the whole port-starboard thing. Lots of time in the simulator or underway on YPs or similar. And here's the real important part - if guys aren't meeting standards, they get kicked the fuck out. I saw people who were rolling through their sixth or seventh class at Newport because they kept flunking tests. Goes without saying no one was getting graded or evaluated on their shiphandling. There needs to be a sense of esprit de corps if the Shoe side is ever going to get better, and it has to start with a sense that what you do is professionally challenging and that knowing the basics of your profession and doing it well are valued.

SWOs are ship drivers and fighters...or at least, they're supposed to be. You should at least be able to drive the damn ship competently. And yes, to the point where the Captain can hand off conning alongside to one of the DHs and JOs and he should just sit in his chair, being captain-y.

Then send them to their first ship for 12-18 months and don't give them any divvo duties. Their focus should be on qualifications and learning what's what around the boat. Assign them to a second-tour divvo as a running mate/mentor/whatever. It's a probationary period...at the end of that 12-18 months, they should be fully qualified and pinned, or let go with a non-attain. Then they roll to another boat for a 24-month tour and then and only then do they really need to start worrying about Divvo bullshit. I really would like to see the community shift their focus from being bureaucrats afloat to professional, tactically-minded mariners.
 

wink

VS NFO. Blue and Gold Officer
None
Super Moderator
Contributor
And here's the real important part - if guys aren't meeting standards, they get kicked the fuck out. I saw people who were rolling through their sixth or seventh class at Newport because they kept flunking tests. Goes without saying no one was getting graded or evaluated on their shiphandling. There needs to be a sense of esprit de corps if the Shoe side is ever going to get better, and it has to start with a sense that what you do is professionally challenging and that knowing the basics of your profession and doing it well are valued...

SWOs are ship drivers and fighters...or at least, they're supposed to be...

It's a probationary period...at the end of that 12-18 months, they should be fully qualified and pinned, or let go with a non-attain...
Totally on target. I remember those days when a pulse got you SWO and no one was sent packing. I knew some good SWOs. They were embarrassed for their community and frustrated for having to take up the slack for the dirt balls. Made a hard job harder. In the past few years SWO, through OCS anyway, is just about as competitive as aviation. The surface community should be getting some very good raw talent. If nothing has demonstratively changed from the bad 'ol days of 30 OARs and 2.4 gpa recreation majors then it is SWOdom itself that is blowing an opportunity to create an entirely new officer corps with pride and a fighting spirit. Sure, lots of ROTC and USNA guys are taking SWO just to get through their commitment as quickly as possible. Some couldn't get anything else on merit. But if aviation can let guys go and waive their commitment then the surface line can afford to attrite guys then ring up NRC a say they need several dozen more OCS grads to SWO. Maybe they couldn't afford to do that when we had a 600 ship Navy and were holding back the commie hoard. Now they can.
 

CAMike

Well-Known Member
None
Contributor
I did SWOS back in the "six-ish months before your first ship" days. It was, oh, maybe 1/3 seamanship and shiphandling, 1/3 engineering, and 1/3 admin silliness.

If I could design the 'new SWO' track, I would have SWOS be a four-month course before reporting aboard and have it focus exclusively on sailor skills - shiphandling, seamanship, engineering, and nautical knowledge. That's what really needs to be taught, because you're taking dudes in off the street that are still struggling with the whole port-starboard thing. Lots of time in the simulator or underway on YPs or similar. And here's the real important part - if guys aren't meeting standards, they get kicked the fuck out. I saw people who were rolling through their sixth or seventh class at Newport because they kept flunking tests. Goes without saying no one was getting graded or evaluated on their shiphandling. There needs to be a sense of esprit de corps if the Shoe side is ever going to get better, and it has to start with a sense that what you do is professionally challenging and that knowing the basics of your profession and doing it well are valued.

SWOs are ship drivers and fighters...or at least, they're supposed to be. You should at least be able to drive the damn ship competently. And yes, to the point where the Captain can hand off conning alongside to one of the DHs and JOs and he should just sit in his chair, being captain-y.

Then send them to their first ship for 12-18 months and don't give them any divvo duties. Their focus should be on qualifications and learning what's what around the boat. Assign them to a second-tour divvo as a running mate/mentor/whatever. It's a probationary period...at the end of that 12-18 months, they should be fully qualified and pinned, or let go with a non-attain. Then they roll to another boat for a 24-month tour and then and only then do they really need to start worrying about Divvo bullshit. I really would like to see the community shift their focus from being bureaucrats afloat to professional, tactically-minded mariners.

Agreed. We had a Dept Head that had incredibly poor ship handling skills. In fact for a while I thought we was deliberately trying to be stupid to get off the watch bill! ALL HANDS would joke about it before he had the watch, all the way down to mess cranks. But we were so short on qualified OOD's the CO put him on the watch bill to avoid being in OOD port/stbd all cruise. He had a 5 knot mind driving a 30 knot ship. As impossible as it seems, it really happened.
 
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