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Charting new course on junior officer bridge proficiency

21 December 2017

From Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet Public Affairs

Twelve ensigns recently completed a pilot course at Surface Warfare Officer Schools Command designed to enhance their shiphandling skills.

SAN DIEGO - Twelve ensigns completed the first pilot Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) Course at Surface Warfare Officer Schools (SWOS) Command in Newport, R.I., Dec. 15. The course will be refined and informed by feedback received from the students and the fleet in the months ahead.

This initial pilot course was designed to build upon the foundational shiphandling skills students learned at the Basic Division Officer Course. The JOOD course taught them to effectively apply those skills as part of a watch team in the SWOS shiphandling simulators, before reporting to their first ship.

"Working with SWOS, we are developing a JOOD course to provide officers with the confidence to stand watches as well-trained conning officers, JOODs, and shipping officers on the bridges of our warships," said Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces.

The three-week class placed the junior officers in realistic navigation environments they could expect to find themselves in at sea. During the second and third weeks of the course, the ensigns spent two hours in the classroom immediately followed by six hours in simulators each day. The classroom portion incorporated deep dives into case studies from the junior officer perspective, including the two most recent ship collisions and grounding.

"I really appreciated the difficult scenarios," said Ensign Liesl Sylvester, who is reporting to USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108). "Having the opportunity to practice getting out of difficult situations in the simulators after the classroom discussion was one of the best parts of the course."

The course progressively moved students from simple ship evolutions to more complex and stressful maritime scenarios through an extended series of "reps and sets" in the simulators. The ensigns started with instructor-led special evolutions focused on individual conning skills, then transitioned to contact management scenarios in benign conditions with student-led bridge teams. As the officers developed proficiency and confidence, more complex scenarios were introduced - including restricted waters transits, heavy traffic density in reduced visibility, and close quarters collision avoidance.

"The most important aspects of the course were learning how the bridge is supposed to work and understanding the error chain and how to break it," said Ensign Tyrell Burke, who has orders to USS Stockdale (DDG 106). "We know how to get out of a bad situation because we practiced it in the JOOD course."

When providing feedback to the instructors, most of the students said the high volume of "reps and sets" during the scenario-based training was extremely beneficial to their individual professional development and definitely helped them refine teamwork skills.

"I am very pleased with the outcome of the JOOD Pilot Course," said Capt. Scott Robertson, commanding officer, SWOS. "Over the last three weeks, we immersed these twelve ensigns in our shiphandling simulators - gradually taking them from basic to more complex contact management scenarios. We saw an increase in not only ship driving proficiency, but also in the officers' confidence as they developed the individual and team skills to deal with more challenging scenarios."

Course instruction was centered on mitigating the risks and dangers of being at sea by teaching and practicing the six sound shipboard operating principals through the plan, brief, execute and debrief (PBED), and risk management processes.

"While our work here at SWOS is far from done, I'm very optimistic with the results of the JOOD Pilot," said Robertson. "There are certainly things we need to work on to make the final version of this course even more effective. We will follow these 12 ensigns in the Fleet and look for feedback from their commanding officers about their performance on the bridge compared to their contemporaries who did not have the benefit of this new training."

SWOS envisions evolving this into a four-week JOOD pilot course by mid-2018 and JOOD courses being taught in Norfolk and San Diego in the second half of 2018. The long-range goal is to transition to a six-week course that includes the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), as well as Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA) and Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) courses of instruction.

The JOOD course is just one of the initiatives the Surface Warfare community is taking to build more capable mariners following the release of the Comprehensive Review of Surface Force Incidents (CR) last month.

"The JOOD pilot course is a great first step of many to come," said Rowden. "Putting officers in dynamic, simulated environments is a great tool for them to learn from their successes, but more importantly, learn from their mistakes in a training environment."

Taking a holistic approach, the Navy and its Surface Warfare community continue to take decisive actions, as well as moving mid- and long-term initiatives into planning phases for the entire Surface Force. The efforts made today will set the surface warfare community on the right course to address issues identified in the CR and improve the surface fleet for decades to come.

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