Morale: The Mystery Of The Inattentive Chief


April 6, 2012:  The U.S. Navy recently removed the senior chief petty officer (NCO) of the submarine USS Florida. The senior chief, or "chief of the boat", was relieved from his job for not doing anything (like stopping it or reporting it to his superiors) about several incidents of hazing among the crew. The exact nature of the hazing was not revealed, but it usually ranges from impromptu ceremonies to celebrate promotions, that involve some rough treatment for the sailor being so honored, to nastier stuff against those who want no part of it. Hazing sometimes consists of some sailors ganging up on another individual with harassment of various sorts. This stuff is not very pleasant and NCOs are supposed to stop it. Submarine crews are small (under 150 men) and everybody knows everybody. Any out-of-control hazing that is ignored by the chiefs and officers is bad for the entire crew.

The senior chief on any warship is supposed to keep an eye on crew performance and morale but the job is particularly critical on a submarine, which is why the senior chief gets called the "chief of the boat" and encouraged to pay careful attention to whatever happens on "his" boat. That said, relationships among the dozen or so senior chiefs on a submarine can become complex, given the nature of these crews. Standards for submarine service are very high; all of the crew volunteered for submarine duty and has to pass extensive and difficult training. Then you put all the sailors together for up to six months at a time on a sub that does not surface until it returns to its home port. It's a tough job but it's rare for a chief of the boat to be relieved. It does happen, and there's probably an interesting story behind this incident.

The USS Florida is one of four Ohio class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) converted to cruise missile submarines (SSGN). The USS Florida and the other three SSGNs entered service over the last six years and last year, for the first time, one of them (the USS Florida) fired its missiles in combat. The Florida fired over 90 cruise missiles at targets in Libya in March, 2011. Each of these Ohio class boats carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and provides space for 66 commandos (usually SEALs) and their equipment. These 16,000 ton subs have a crew of 15 officers and 140 sailors.



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