OCTOBER 7, 2016, PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) – The dimly lit room glows with a bluish tint. There are people seated at consoles across the room, staring at display screens that show a wide array of information essential to the ship’s tactical mission.
Looking down at the anti-submarine warfare evaluating table in the Combat Information Center (CIC) is a group of Sailors fully engaged in the current operation at hand. In the group are two Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs), who are easily identifiable by the black and red patches on their uniforms. As the training exercise unfolds, the WTIs are observing, mentoring and taking note of everything so they can give detailed training after the scenario on where the crew succeeded and where there is room to grow.
The exercise being monitored in the dark room is called SWATT, or Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training; and two mid-level lieutenants are leading the helm.
Lt. Damon Goodrich-Houska specializes in anti-submarine/anti- surface warfare (ASW/SUW), and Lt. Ben Olivas specializes in integrated air and missile defense (IAMD). Both are WTIs assigned to Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), and they’re entrusted to train the crew of guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) in the Southern California operating area — leading multiple surface warfare events at sea.
“One of the big things that we are doing is getting deep into the PBED (plan, brief, evaluate, debrief) process,” said Goodrich-Houska. “We are leading in-depth debriefs in an environment where the entire watch team is comfortable addressing issues that came up during the exercise. And we are creating an environment where they will continue to do this as they move forward once we depart.”
WTIs do not embark ships to observe exercises, take score, and report a passing or failing grade. Their mission is to teach, lead, and give one-on-one training with Sailors while also testing new tactics — just before a ship goes into its Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX). COMPTUEX is the final exam before a ship’s deployment; however, thanks to the WTIs and SWATT, units now receive an underway mid-term.
Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona’s Lt. Phillip Neff, warfare systems analyst helped the WTIs interpret key information of each SWATT event through video replay that instantly recalls play-by-play, detailing exactly what happened.
“What you think happened during an exercise is often not what occurred, because systems are not always 100 percent accurate; our replays keep the crew honest and depict the story better,” said Neff. “It’s important because Sailors are about to deploy and may face potential threats. They need the best training they can get, and if they don’t know exactly what happened, then they won’t improve.”
Chafee surface warfare officers (SWOs) agreed that a higher level of tactical learning is now available — thanks to the addition of this multifaceted technology and the WTIs’ subject matter expertise.
“This was a big learning experience for us after coming out of the [ship] yards,” said Lt. j.g. Jeremy Jones, anti-submarine warfare officer aboard Chafee. “The best take away [from SWATT] was the renewed focus on tactics, and actually executing them in real time. I particularly liked the in-depth focus of surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare.”
Chafee entered Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in June for routine maintenance repairs and returned to sea in September.
“Bringing back tactics really comes down to ensuring Sailors and combat watch teams aren’t afraid to ask questions during SWATT events,” said Goodrich-Houska.
Goodrich-Houska isn’t the only WTI leading the charge. Thirteen WTIs and more than 20 staffers of SMWDC are underway mentoring combat watch teams aboard guided-missile cruisers USS Princeton (CG 59) and USS Lake Erie (CG 70), USS Shoup (DDG 86), USS Pinckney (DDG 91), and USS Kidd (DDG 100).
“We’re getting faster and smarter with surface warfare tactics because of the WTIs,” said Cmdr. Brian Fremming, commanding officer of Chafee. “All around, those watch stations in CIC are getting a lot more constructive training done, simply because WTIs are there supplying them constructive feedback.”
Even after SWATT adjourns and WTIs depart Chafee, the knowledge and skills that they taught the crew will continue to permeate and maturate throughout the wardroom. WTIs are the surface Navy’s new, systemized force multipliers to support maritime superiority and high velocity learning. And the events they led during the first SWATT will prove essential for the crew during COMPTUEX, deployment and any potential threats underway.