From Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Public AffairsLast year, U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) learned of two new and exciting opportunities in the Coastal Riverine Force. Junior SWOs on track to successfully complete their second division officer tours were notified of the opportunity to screen for command-at-sea billets serving in one of the Navy’s newest platforms, the Mark VI Patrol Boat. Following in the footsteps of the PT boats of World War II and the Riverines in Vietnam, SWOs now have a cutting edge platform and new opportunities for small unit leadership. Additionally, department heads requesting to screen for command early were notified of an opportunity to be slated to serve as a Mark VI company commander, commanding three of the boats. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) Public Affairs Officer Cmdr. Cate Cook recently sat down with Capt. Stan Chien, commander, Coastal Riverine Group 1, and Lt. Cmdr. Tim Yuhas, the second tour department head and early command SWO detailer at Navy Personnel Command, to learn more about this opportunity in the Coastal Riverine Force.
Q1. Tell us more about this new opportunity and how it came to be.
A1. (Yuhas) In August of last year, Commander Naval Surface Forces announced the first opportunity for post-division officers and post-department heads to screen for command-at-sea billets as Mark VI Patrol Boat commanding officers and company commanders. These billets add to our early command inventory of Patrol Coastal Ships (PCs) and Mine Countermeasure Ships (MCMs) located around the World. The surface warfare community values command at sea – it’s the pinnacle of leadership – and for a talented group of board-screened junior officers they get to command as early as year five of commissioned service. Mark VI Companies are located in Little Creek, Virginia, and San Diego and deploy forward to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet Areas of Responsibility. The Mark VI Patrol Boat commanding officer (lieutenant command) will have a crew of 11 people and be responsible for operating the 84-foot craft. The company commander (lieutenant commander command) will deploy with their three craft and provide operational command and control of the Mark VI as well as provide administrative and materiel support. They can expect to get underway with their company for one to three day patrols as the boats expand the operational reach of the Mark VI.
(Chien) The command position was created because operation of the Mark VI requires dedicated, resourceful leadership to safely maintain and fight these advanced patrol craft. The Mark VI is transforming the Coastal Riverine Force through extended reach and increased combat power. Currently junior officers that are part of the Mark VI crews are very capable of operating the platform, but the command position was created to attract the top performers of the surface community needed to seize the initiative and lead the Mark VI program through the maturation process required to fully integrate into the Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO) Maritime Design.
Q2. Who is eligible?
A2. (Yuhas) This is a tremendous and rewarding opportunity that is open to the best and most fully qualified officers. The screening for lieutenant commander command (Mark VI company commander, PCs, and MCMs) remains unchanged – in fact, the screening board does not define who is screened to which assignment; slating is a function of the officer’s timing, preferences and needs of the Navy.
Division officers who wish to apply for Mark VI Patrol Boat commanding officers must meet the following requirements:
a) Attain formal designation letter as a SWO
b) Serve at least 36 months in a ship
c) Complete at least one deployment
d) Complete Basic Division Officer Course
e) Complete Advanced Division Officer Course (nuclear-qualified officers exempt)
f) Earn their Engineering Officer of the Watch qualification
g) Demonstrate sustained skills in shiphandling and seamanship while assigned to their ship
h) Screen for department head
i) Complete the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command screening
Q3. Some SWOs are unfamiliar with the Mark VI. What can you tell us about this platform?
A3. (Chien) Mark VI patrol boats are the newest platform in Navy Expeditionary Combat Command’s inventory. Eighty-four ft. in length, the Mark VI is a highly capable platform whose primary mission is to provide capability to persistently patrol littoral areas beyond sheltered harbors and bays for the purpose of force protection for friendly and coalition forces and critical infrastructure. Missions include security force assistance, high value unit shipping escort, visit board search and seizure support operations, and theater security cooperation. Crew sizes are small at maximum of 12 personnel, affording an opportunity at small unit leadership not found elsewhere in the Surface Warfare community, coupled with a strong sense of camaraderie. The crew consists of two full watch teams, each with a patrol officer, boat captain, coxswain, engineer/gunner, navigator and communicator/gunner.
Q4. When looking at what might be called the “traditional” career track of a SWO, the opportunity to command a Mark VI comes after a SWO’s second division officer tour at sea – a time when many SWOs are assigned a shore tour. What would you say to an officer who is hesitant to follow their second division officer tour with another tour at sea?
A4. (Chien) This new opportunity is not going to be for everyone – but if you are someone who thrives at sea and in leadership positions, we would consider it a privilege to have you join our team in the Coastal Riverine Force. The platform provides a unique opportunity to experience a small, tight knit community that integrates with other Navy units such as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). Your experience in the “blue water” fleet will contribute significantly to the design of future mission sets realizing the full capability of these outstanding boats.
(Yuhas) Every situation is different – as such, Division Officers approaching the end of their 2nd DIVO tour need to assess their personal and professional goals. From the professional standpoint – you are correct – one can expect to leave their 2nd DIVO tour – spend approximately six months in their training pipeline before reporting to their craft. They will go through workups and should expect to have two deployments over the two year window they will be in Command. Our community has always valued “WUK” – water under the keel – there’s only one way to get WUK and that is at sea! I had a great friend and phenomenal SWO once say to me “Experience comes only after you need it” and it is the truth! You must build your experience base to become – more experienced! Why wouldn’t you want to start that as early as possible? By putting your name in the hat and being screened for early command – whether that is lieutenant or lieutenant commander command – you’ve signaled your intent and so has the Navy by trusting in you to lead our future. As that leader you will ensure our combat readiness and the solemn stewardship of our nation’s most prized possession – its sons and daughters. Who wouldn’t be humbled and honored by such an opportunity?
Q5. What are the professional and personal benefits of requesting to screen for Mark VI Patrol Boat Command? Will this tour make SWOs more competitive than their peers when it comes to future screening and promotion boards?
A5. (Chien) As any SWO knows, look for opportunities to lead early and often if you want to break out from the pack. The Mark VI Patrol Boat commanding officer tours are going to be extremely challenging but rewarding – there is no better place to hone your leadership and shiphandling skills while leading a dedicated team of Sailors than in the Coastal Riverine Force on one of the Navy’s newest platforms. The Surface community has generally rewarded those officers who command early with additional opportunities at the O-5 and O-6 level… and we expect to see the same thing for our Mark VI early command officers.
(Yuhas) When it comes to future promotion and screening boards, PERS-41 is working to ensure precepts are updated to clearly articulate to a board the value of Mark VI Command. We believe that an officer who has been screened by community leadership and successfully completes Command will be very competitive at any screening board. Further it’s worth noting that in a case where an officer screens but is not slated, that officer’s records will be updated with an early command screening code. That officer should also make sure that the words “SCREENED FOR LT COMMAND” are at the top of every FITREP that follows until they are screened for the next higher milestone. There are two reasons why an officer might be screened but not slated: their career timing and billet availability. If this happens it is not considered a negative reflection of that officer’s record, nor is there any indication of non-selection in the officer’s official record. By applying for Early Command, your record will get a hard look by some of our community’s strongest leaders. These are the same people who sit on commander command boards, etc. – it’s a free look to see how you are doing!
Q6. Aside from individual benefits, how will the Surface Warfare Community benefit overall from this initiative?
A6. (Chien) The surface warfare community will see real dividends from this early command opportunity. The junior officers selected to command Mark VI Patrol Boats will have a tremendous opportunity to mature their leadership, tactical and shiphandling skills throughout their tour with the Coastal Riverine Force. As these men and women grow in their Navy careers and advance to positions at sea with more responsibility, the skills they honed in the Mark VI will enhance the operational effectiveness of any ship in which they serve.
Q7. What kind of officer is the Coastal Riverine Force looking for to command its Mark VI patrol boats and companies?
A7. (Chien) For both the company and patrol boat command positions, we’re looking for bold, innovative and tactically-astute officers who are comfortable in positions of great authority and responsibility. The crews are small, so we need officers who can build a cohesive bond with and among the crew. Most importantly, and in keeping with the CNO’s focus upon toughness, we need officers who can fight and win with this incredible new patrol boat. The Coastal Riverine Force is professional group of Sailors with a unique mission spanning a variety of missions not found in any other communities. Coastal Riverine sailors will deploy to various locations throughout the world, in unit sizes ranging from five sailors to over 200, fulfilling the missions of embarked security teams, aircraft security teams, port and maritime infrastructure security, landside security, high value unit escorts and overt unmanned aerial systems surveillance missions.
Q8. What is a typical tour like?
A8. (Chien) Mark VI Patrol Boat tours will be 24 months in lengths and located in Little Creek and San Diego. Mark VI crew members should expect to deploy for seven out of every 18 months to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operations. Deployments to 5th fleet will be to Bahrain where Mark VI’s conduct exercises and operations with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal community and Joint units, provide High Value Unit escorts, maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, littoral patrols, and support to maritime interdiction operations. Deployments to 7th fleet vary significantly from 5th fleet due to the geography of the Pacific. Mark VI deployments initiate from Guam and the main effort will be to expand the range and capabilities of the Patrol Boat to participate in Theater Security Cooperation efforts.
Q9. What does the training pipeline look like for the new Mark VI Patrol Boat Commanding Officer position?
A9. (Yuhas) Slated Mark VI commanding officers can expect to go to the Surface Warfare Officers School for a portion of the Surface Commanders Course (SCC) – take a revised command assessment, attend Command Leadership School at The Naval Leadership and Ethics Center, also in Newport, and then proceed to NECC for follow-on training in order to give them the foundation they need to be successful. For those slated to lieutenant commander command, the pipeline will look much the same as it currently is: senior officer legal, command leadership, SCC, Shipride, TYCOM Indoctrination, command assessment (as needed) and NECC training (as appropriate). The pipeline for Mark VI commanding officers will generally take six months. Company commander training may take a little longer based on course availability.
Q10. If you could go back in time to the days when you were a Lieutenant, would you have pursued the opportunity to command a Mark VI patrol boat? If so, why?
A10. (Chien) Without hesitation. Trailblazers who compete for these positions have the opportunity to join an exclusive club comprised of some the Navy’s most respected leaders who also cut their teeth leading small, fast boats at sea. Just look at President John F. Kennedy and Adm. John D. Bulkeley…no one can deny the legacy they created in their leadership of small boat crews as Navy lieutenants during World War II. This is an incredible opportunity for a young officer and I would have considered it an honor and a privilege to have been given the chance to lead a small boat crew at sea.
(Yuhas) I wish it was available when I was leaving my DIVO tours! Command of a PC was challenging and yet the most rewarding tour I have had in the Navy so far. How awesome would it be to drive and lead a crew of Sailors in today’s version of a PT boat!
Q11. What should a DIVO and SWO do if they’re interested?
A11. (Yuhas) The first step is meeting all the prerequisites we discussed earlier – once you meet them please reach out to me so I can send you some templates for the Command Board that you will need to complete as well as the letters you need to get which will clear your way for the Early Command Board. The board is held semi-annually in June and November. I’m standing by to help get you into command – please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or give me a call and we can talk (901.874.3485)!