Nobody Asked Me, But…A New SWO Billet in the Carrier

By Lieutenant Jim Stavridis, U. S. Navy

Having a SWO exec would immediately improve the training program for the junior officers in the ship's company in all areas of surface warfare qualification. Currently, most training programs for the neophyte shiphandlers are run by the navigator, a 1310 officer. The senior SWO is simply too tied into his plant on a minute-to-minute basis to really run the SWO training program. The presence of a post-command tour commander, particularly one who has recently qualified a wardroom full of JOs in shiphandling and surface warfare, would be a strong voice on board. This would help retention among the surface warfare officers coming through the carrier for their initial tours, and would improve their performance down the line as they rolled to other surface vessels on their split-tours. The SWO pin that they earned in the CY would receive a boost in prestige when compared with the pins earned on the other surface ships Navy-wide. The executive officer would be able to personally supervise the training of the JOs on the bridge and in CIC, with assistance from some of the other senior SWOs, including the first lieutenant and the communications officer.

Another major benefit of having a senior, highly regarded surface warfare officer on board (in addition to the engineer officer) would be the change in perception that would hopefully be engendered toward the CY tour for the SWO. Like them or not, the carriers form the basis of the U. S. naval strategy for at least the next decade. That they are regarded as a non-career-enhancing tour for "black-shoes" is a true detriment to the readiness of the carriers. When I was initially billeted to the CY, even under the Carrier Readiness Improvement Program (CRIP), the reaction from my fellow destroyermen was, "Who in hell did you torque off?" Indeed, an indication of how the carrier tour is regarded in the SWO community is the great lengths the CRIP goes to in order to demonstrate that the CV tour will not hurt a SWO. The Carrier Readiness Improvement Program is working and is making inroads in this negative perception of the CY tour; having a SWO XO would help this effort tremendously.

Many more front-running surface warfare officers would take tours in a CY if they believed there was a very senior SWO who would be from their community and understand their problems. It is a demanding situation to suddenly place a SWO amidst 400 aviators, offer him training from an aviator navigator, then expect him to roll off the CV as a highly motivated surface warfare officer. Of three top-performing SWO lieutenants (junior grade) in my CV, I watched one change his designator to 1360 and depart for flight school; one submit for the Navy Law Program; and the third tender his resignation. The presence of a surface warfare executive officer could present a strong, positive SWO model and strengthen retention.

Finally, the question of experience in a job as executive officer should be raised. An officer who has been a ship's company division officer, a ship's company department head, a ship's company exec, and commanding officer of a ship seems to have excellent credentials for the job of executive officer of a ship with a complement numbering in the thousands. To the argument that the XO of a carrier should have flight experience, I suggest that if the CO of that CV needs to call on the flight experience of a senior O-5, he already has at least 15 1310s at his disposal with post-squadron command experience—and he has but one extremely busy chief engineer-1110, assuming his engineer isn't an engineering duty officer, as is the case in several carriers.

Naturally, if the XO is to be a SWO, the billet must be made appealing to the type of front-running, post-command tour commander who would fill it. Giving the billet high visibility at promotion boards and ensuring that it becomes a heavy credit in terms of selection to a major command (CO, DeSron, and perhaps BB) would be the way to accomplish that. In addition, the challenge of managing 5,000 men and being the leader of the surface community in the CVs would be a tremendous inducement in and of itself. The experience gained and the cross-community contacts made in the CV XO tour would be truly invaluable for a senior SWO moving upward in the Navy. The solid, inside grounding that the 1110-XO would receive from the center of the CV battle group would serve him in good stead in all his downstream assignments.

To those who believe that the XO of a carrier should be an aviator because a carrier is the aviators' ship, I submit that Navy ships belong to all of us, and we should fill each billet in each ship with the best-qualified officer available.

 

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