Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prospective Leaders Complete Underway Portion of Training

By Steve Vanderwerff, Naval Education and Training Command Public Affairs

NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) -- More than 30 prospective commanding officers (PCOs) and prospective executive officers (PXOs) attending the Senior Officer Ship Material Readiness Course (SOSMRC) completed the ship ride portion of the course Oct 22.

The afloat training followed the classroom section taught at Naval Education and Training Command's Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) in Newport, R.I.

The class of 36 officers traveled to Norfolk, Va., San Diego, and Mayport, Fla. to get underway for a week on ships corresponding to their ultimate assignment.

They rode aboard guided-missile destroyers and frigates, amphibious ships, mine countermeasures ships and coastal patrol craft.

The week provided the future commanding officers time to go to sea in ships similar to the ones they will command, in order to hone their readiness assessment skills.

While on board, the engineering and material readiness curriculum taught at SWOS was re-enforced by SOSMRC instructors by having the students practically apply what they learned in the classroom.

"During ship ride week the students are provided opportunities to see ship spaces and systems whose operations were previously taught during the classroom phase," said Capt. Randy Lovell, SOSMRC deputy director. "The instructor-led ship ride included observing routine procedures such as pre-underway checks, equipment startup and operations, maintenance and system testing, material assessments, interaction with the ship's company, and a host of other evolutions and training events.

"The particular events will vary from ship to ship since each host ship will be executing different phases of the deployment cycle. Many PCOs will have been away from the fleet for several years prior to returning to take command of their ship. And while they have had previous at sea experience in other roles on board a ship, each PCO needs to prepare to assume their most important role at sea," said Lovell.

SOSMRC is five weeks long, divided into roughly three phases. The first phase is a common core, addressing topics applicable to all ship classes.

The second is a specialty phase where specific systems and ship operations for the particular ship type are covered. During the specialty phase guest speakers cover current fleet material readiness issues, along with a two-day fleet maintenance process course. The students are instructed on systems and equipment that are identical to the ship type they will command.

The capstone event occurs the last week of class. Ship ride week is coordinated between the east and west coast and, where possible, all prospective commanding officers are assigned a ship ride on a ship identical to the one they will eventually command.

There are occasional exceptions, where a student is assigned to command a ship in class that does not have sufficient numbers, such as either the new littoral combat ship design or an older steam design.

In those cases, the student is assigned to a ship as near as possible to make the training as meaningful as possible. The ship board experience is supervised by SWOS instructors who have previously served as a commanding officer, executive officer or chief engineer.

"The curriculum is approximately seventy percent classroom instruction and thirty percent hands-on training," said Lovell. "During the classroom phase students also have sessions in the engineering plant simulators, along with several static displays used during classroom training. The majority of hands-on training occurs during the week of ship ride.

"We revised several lessons based on student feedback and desires. Feedback from type commanders and squadron commanders has also led to some changes as we endeavor to improve instruction in those areas where the fleet needs improvement.

"For example, valve maintenance and repair had been a recent challenge in several ship material assessments, so we revised our lectures on valves and piping to address these issues," said Lovell.

SOSMRC provides an opportunity for the PCO to sharpen their skills in operation, maintenance and assessment prior to returning to sea and taking command.

According the SWOS leadership, it is one of the enablers to assist PCOs in being successful during their sea command tours, and ensure the ships they will command are always ready to sail into harms way.

"Our national and naval strategy for self defense of our country depends on maintaining a capable and flexible naval fleet," said Capt. Jefferey Davis, SWOS executive officer. "These naval vessels are composed of technologically advanced systems to meet our current defense needs. A capable ship is a valuable capital asset which requires sustained material readiness if the ship hull, engineering and weapons systems are to last the expected lifetime of the given ship.

Davis said that without a well-funded and properly executed program for maintaining a ship's material readiness, the life of a ship would be shortened and never meet its expected service life.

"Our Navy must, on average, get thirty or more service years out of all new ships," said Davis. "This life cycle expectation requires each ship's crew, along with supporting shore establishments, to maintain superior material readiness."

SOSMRC is an updated version of a 13-week course that was offered in the 1980s and 90s. The reduction in maintenance sustainment and upkeep several years ago resulted in the early decommissioning of some naval assets.

Their material condition had reached a point where it was not cost effective to restore them to as-built conditions. Some of these ships were at approximately twenty years of service.

"SOSMRC is just a small part of restoring a sustained approach to maintaining fleet material readiness," Davis said. "The ability of a ship's force to assess their material readiness, maintain what equipment is within their ability to maintain, and to understand how to work with the maintenance community to execute a minimum thirty-year program, is critical to achieving the Navy's goal of 313 ships."

Davis said that without superior material readiness ships will not be able to execute the nation's tasking up to and past thirty plus years of service.

He said without proper material readiness, life expectancy drops quickly.

The first SOSMRC Class convened earlier this year in January. SOSMRC hosts approximately 140 students a year.

"This course is having a positive impact on the material readiness and quality of operations in the fleet," Lovell said. "While this is only the fourth SOSMRC class, ships are beginning to be led by individuals who attended the training. The course provides a refresher on some key engineering and maintenance principles while providing a much needed boost for those officers whose previous ship assignments did not afford them the opportunities to develop material assessment and maintenance skills required at the XO and CO level."

Lovell said each prospective commanding officer and executive officer directly benefits from the course.

"On a larger scale, the fleet is the ultimate benefactor since future commanding officers are better able to maintain the fleet asset entrusted to their care," said Lovell. "Over thirty years there will be at least 15 different commanding officers. It is important to the long term interest of the fleet that each commanding officer is able to do his part in maintaining his assigned ship's material condition."

To attend the course, students have to have earned their surface warfare office pin, completed at-sea department head tours and command qualifications, and have been screened for command.

Following their ship ride week, they return to SWOS to complete their Prospective Commanding Officer course.

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