By MIDN 2/C Alex Ashley
U.S. Naval Academy
At the conclusion of my sophomore year, I left the U.S. Naval Academy to embark on another summer of training. I had already experienced a training session the previous summer onboard a naval ship and was ready to see what new things this summer had in store. Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) is a program that familiarizes Naval Academy midshipmen about the different service communities the Navy offers prior to commissioning. It allows midshipmen, like myself, to learn and subsequently make an educated decision when deciding in which community we want to serve. This was one of the next summer training experiences I was to embark upon before I began my junior year at USNA.
There is a common perception among Naval Academy midshipmen that the surface warfare week of PROTRAMID is redundant because of the surface cruise that is required for most midshipmen during their pervious summer of training. Coming into a week of surface warfare (officer), or SWO-oriented training, I too thought I’d seen everything it could offer during my cruise last year. However, I can confidently say that by the end of this year’s SWO week my opinion had changed greatly.
The first thing that helped to change my mind was hearing Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, talk about his views and goals for PROTRAMID and his experiences as a SWO during his 34-year career. Of particular interest to me, was his anecdote of leading a major humanitarian aid effort in Africa.
He described pulling into a port and seeing the people in need directly benefit from the ship’s coordination efforts and the profound gratitude that was expressed toward him and his Sailors. His story had a way of reminding me that the Navy prides itself on being there when emergencies occur or when people are in need and that the surface Navy is a large contributor to make things better in the world.
It was at that point that I realized how much opportunity a SWO has to make the world a better place through missions like counter-piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and ensuring freedom of the seas in the uncertain times in which we live.
While Vice Adm. Rowden’s experiences made me look at surface warfare missions with much admiration, I still had lingering anxiety that surface week would be a redundant experience considering last summer’s much longer surface cruise. However, I was impressed by how much this year’s training would build upon last year.
Rather than repeating last year’s grey-hull orientation, we were introduced to platforms and missions that don’t usually come to mind when you think about surface warfare. We saw Riverine squadrons and amphibious landings and weapons demonstrations, we rode amphibious craft to ships, and we witnessed other aspects of surface warfare that midshipmen might’ve not considered prior to their service selections.
Despite the range and rewarding nature of surface warfare missions, the SWOs we encountered said it was not the execution of these missions that was their favorite part of their jobs. Instead, they said it was their shipmates. The opportunity for person-to-person leadership on a daily basis was cited as a major contributor to job satisfaction at every level. To me, this was indicative of an encouraging people-first culture in the surface community.
My mindset coming out of surface warfare week is not the same one I had going into it summer training. It began with the idea that I had already seen everything and no questions left to ask. I instead left feeling more educated and confident to make my service selection when it comes time to next year.