By Capt. Dave Welch
Commanding officer, Surface Warfare Officers School Command
Training is a topic of tremendous, common interest across the surface warfare community. Everyone has an opinion regarding the training they’ve received, the best methods to deliver quality instruction and the steps and resources required for future improvements.
As commanding officer of the Surface Warfare Officers School, I am responsible for a significant portion of that training. I am keenly aware that the school must be a good steward of the resources we have been provided and that one of the best methods to garner additional resources is to deliver exceptional training in the courses we have in place. Simply put, if we do an excellent job training, success will be seen in what we deliver to the fleet.
During my tenure here, I have been privileged to oversee the implementation of the continuum of professional training in our officer community. We have similar plans for each of the enlisted rates that we are responsible for training – a subject for another blog entry. Today, surface warfare officers attend Surface Warfare Officers School prior to every milestone tour at sea, from first tour division officer through major command. A significant piece of this effort was the start of the Advanced Division Officer Course for second tour division officers in October 2014, shortly after I arrived in Newport, Rhode Island. Now, the introduction of prospective commanding officer training completes this continuum.
A little less than two years ago Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, tasked the Surface Warfare Officers School to lead an effort with key stakeholders to introduce a reset period of leave and focused training into the “fleet up” model, intended to provide prospective commanding officers (CO) the opportunity to recharge and refocus following their executive officer (XO) tour in preparation for the challenges of command. The result of that effort has been announced by Surface Forces message and codified in the joint type commander instruction for surface force command requirements (COMNAVSURFPAC/COMNAVSURFLANT Instruction 1412.2C). Upon completion of the XO phase of a fleet up assignment, officers are afforded the opportunity for personal leave or temporary duty time and receive focused training to complete their preparation for command. The training is tailored to the individual prospective commanding officer. The prospective CO and his or her immediate supervisor in charge provide inputs and course content is heavily impacted by the projected operational environment of the prospective CO’s command tour. Advanced tactical training delivered by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center and Center for Surface Combat Systems is likewise delivered based upon the theater of operations and the threats the prospective commanding officer will face in command. As resources allow, this training period will expand and deepen, but the initial version already adds value and focus to the prospective commanding officer’s preparation process.
As a result of this change, the Surface Commanders Course has been modified. The course, which was originally 13 weeks in length, has been reduced to 10 weeks. The Senior Officer Shipboard Material Readiness Course, Bridge Resource Management and ship handling portions of the course are unchanged. The ship ride week also remains, but has shifted to the final week of the course to eliminate an extra trip to and from Newport in the middle of the course. The balance of course content is being shifted to include more discussion of executive officer duties and responsibilities to better prepare officers for their assignment as executive officer.
There is still much work to be done to strengthen and enhance officer training in the surface community. The good news: the foundation and structure is in place, the staff is extraordinarily talented and motivated and facilities are being updated to provide modern and comfortable venues. The Surface Warfare Officers School will continue to work closely with type command staffs and resource sponsors, and remain engaged with the fleet to both understand future requirements for training and to receive feedback on training provided to the fleet.