'If they fail here, it doesn’t cost anything': Stress inoculation key to Naval training when seconds count

stress inoculation
Posted at 6:02 PM, May 05, 2023

NORFOLK, Va. — Standing behind a gun mounted on the back of the boat, you can hear the rumble of the motor as it revs up to go across the rocking waves. Everyone stands at the ready when a call across the radio points out another boat quickly approaching.

“They have to make a quick determination whether friendly or not,” said Lieutenant Commander Tommy Getty.

Getty is a training officer for Maritime Expeditionary Squadron Group 2 in Norfolk, Virginia. He said the sailors train on the SeaArk boats to protect high-value units going into ports.

This time the sailors manning the guns are surrounded by four floor-to-ceiling screens where the virtual scenario plays out.

“If they fail here, it doesn’t cost anything,” Getty said. “I reset the program.”

He said the system allows for what he calls “stress inoculation” so that when a real-world scenario plays out they are ready to respond in the appropriate manner. It’s one of many virtual training simulators where sailors can get their feet wet without the hazards of actual deployments.

Other simulators are meant to take you thousands of feet underwater and at the helm of a submarine. The Los Angeles and Virginia Class submarine simulators replicate what the sailors will encounter on the real submarine to create a plug-and-play training environment.

“The full movement platform it’s important,” said Lieutenant Commander Matthew Campbell, executive officer of the Submarine Learning Facility Norfolk.

When sailors make the simulator dive the entire simulator moves giving you the true sensation of the dive and teaches you to pull back at the right to glide the submarine into the correct dive position.

“We continually work on changing our scenarios with what they see in the real world,” Campbell said.

Senior Chief Machinist Mate Austin Gilbert said through training they can create muscle memory so when ordered to go to a certain degree dive they can do it instinctively, which helps with the response.

“The good thing about this trainer, the things that are more dangerous underway we can insert those casualties in here,” said Gilbert.

He added that some mistakes on the simulator would be deadly in the real world and that is why weekly training is necessary for some to be proficient for the fleet.

At another section of the Submarine Learning Facility, they’re purposefully flooding a room and sending sailors inside.

“It’s definitely a high precedence to make sure that everybody on board knows how to do this so we can save our shipmates' lives and save the submarine so we can keep fighting the mission,” said Petty Officer First Class Drexton McKenziechaves.

The flooding simulator replicates leaking pipes that can include larger water intakes from the ocean water outside. He says every sailor who will deploy on a submarine must go through the training to ensure they can help respond when necessary to keep the submarine from filling up with water.

The damage controlman on the submarine and the ships are the key responders to both water leaks and fires on board.

“When you’re underway you don’t have a fire department that you can all emergency service, we are the emergency services,” said Lieutenant Junior Grade Seth Carter.

When the call comes out with a fire on board sailors have 12 minutes from the time of the call to get completely outfitted in fire protection gear and to the hazard itself.

The fire simulator allows the damage controlman to be familiar with the fire response. The dark room can replicate flashovers and more allowing those training to feel the intense heat they could face.

“Vast majority of incidents it requires securing the power and the fire goes out,” said Campbell.

While you may think about doing laundry on board a submarine or ship could be dangerous lint is an issue just like it is at home. In fact, while touring the submarine USS New Hampshire we were told when the washer and dryer are operating a sailor must stand guard to ensure there are no fires.

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