|The COB is an integral part of the
chain-of-command on Navy submarines, and his position is defined
in the Commander Naval Submarine Force Instruction (COMNAVSUBFORINST)
1306 as the senior enlisted leader responsible and accountable for
the performance of the submarine to which he is attached.
“The COB is responsible for
the performance of the ship, just like the captain,” said
Atlantic Submarine Force Master Chief Don Kultti.
That’s what Kultti expects from
his COBs. They answer directly to the commanding officer, with a
particular responsibility for representing the needs of the
Sailors and their families. They are also relied on to provide
senior enlisted guidance on all facets of operating and
maintaining the submarine. “That’s why we need to make sure
our absolute top-performing personnel are selected,” Kultti
said. It has never been easy to become a COB, and it’s not
getting any easier.
The COB holds a very important
position that requires a careful selection process to ensure the
right person fills the job. Kultti has taken it upon himself to
make sure the Navy is doing all it can to provide the best
candidates and select the right people.
It was the need to retain senior
enlisted people in a smaller submarine force that stimulated
Kultti to revise the COB program with the new COMNAVSUBFORINST
1306. “As our force grew smaller, the opportunities for people
to remain were significantly fewer,” said Kultti. “Our older
COB program couldn’t accommodate the future of the force.”
Revising the program affected two
equally important aspects: the role of the COB, and the COB
selection process. Kultti noted that there was no definitive
guidance in the past for COBs, or for people aspiring to be COBs.
Master Chief Petty Officer William “Bubba” Jones said he
noticed this deficiency even before he became COB of USS Albany
(SSN-753) in 1997.
“Early on, making COB pretty much
depended on being a ‘good-ol-boy,’” he said. “They’d say
‘he’s a good guy’, fill out the paperwork, sign it, and he
was a COB. We really needed a change from the buddy system. Now,
we’ve progressed into actually having an instruction. We have to
live by the letter of the law.”
Kultti said structure was the
missing link. “We lacked structure in the selection and
assignment criteria for chiefs of the boat,” he explained. “We
needed to develop something that measures individual capability.”
Kultti aims to improve the program continually, beginning with the
road to becoming a COB. “There is no universally recognized path
to become a COB,” said Kultti. “But we need to provide some
direction early in each Sailor’s career.”
Although only submarine-qualified
senior and master chief petty officers are eligible, Kultti said
the time for Sailors to start thinking about becoming a COB is
during their first tour. “There’s no reason Sailors shouldn’t
aspire to become a COB when they step on their first submarine,”
he said. “We need people with that aspiration.”
|ETCM(SS) Rob Danielson, Chief of the Boat, USS
Oklahoma City (SSN-723), addresses the crew after morning quarters.
Jones said although he didn’t
make the decision to become a COB until later in his career, he
had aspirations of becoming a COB since his first submarine tour.
“It goes back to my first submarine,” Jones explained. “I
was intrigued by the COB. Anytime he spoke, things happened. I was
in awe.” Jones went on to say he made the decision to pursue
becoming a COB when he was a petty officer first class.
“It’s never too early to focus
on becoming a COB,” Kultti said.
“After all, the COB is a product of experience.” He explained
that a COB’s authority, based on experience earned through years
in the fleet, differs from that of the CO. “Commanding officers
are primarily the product of investing in an individual. Chiefs of
the boat are primarily the product of experience,” he noted.
Submarine Support Squadron Unit Command Master Chief Bob Krzywdzinski said his experience was key when he was the COB of USS Pasadena
(SSN-752) from 1997 to 2000. “You’ve got experience,” he said. “That’s probably your biggest advantage; what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard.”
To gain the right experience, young Sailors need to make big decisions early, Kultti added. “Our young Sailors need to expose themselves to situational duty,” he said. “We need to channel them to those duties to develop the right leadership. That’s how we get the best people for the job when their time comes.”
When their time does come, Kultti said he hopes these Sailors will be ready to accept the COB position with the right motivation. “It’s an important thing to want to be a COB for the right reasons,” he said. “The purpose is not to enhance a person’s individual professional development. Rather, the primary purpose of the COB is to enhance the readiness and professional development of the entire submarine and the men that are assigned to it.”
Jones echoed this sentiment. “You don’t become a COB to make master chief,” he explained. “You’ll probably make master chief if you’re a COB, but that can’t be your reason for wanting
| “We have to be very careful whom we select; we don’t want to send someone down there that’s not going to get it done.
It’s a tough job, very tough. We owe it to the Navy to make sure these people are okay for the job.”
||MMCM(SS) Kevin Kesterson, Chief
of the Boat of the Norfolk-based
Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN-708).
Anyone willing to accept this responsibility must first face a selection board, chaired by a SUBRON command master chief, before they get to be called a COB. At a minimum, the board includes the parent squadron command master chief, a post-tour COB, and the serving COB.
As a command master chief, Krzywdzinski sits regularly on the selection board. “We have to be very careful whom we select,” he said. “We don’t want to send someone down there that’s not going to get it done. It’s a tough job, very tough. We owe it to the Navy to make sure these people are okay for the job.”
He said the board is looking for the complete package in a candidate, but different assets stand out to different board members. “Professionalism really stands
out to me,” he said. “I want to know he has that quality.”
Being selected as a COB is just the beginning: in fact, it’s barely the beginning.
Jones recalls his transition after being selected to be a COB. “Even after getting selected, you have only a limited idea of what being a COB will be like,” he said,
but the true impact really doesn’t come until you get to the boat and walk on board.”
The first thing a new COB may do when he checks onboard is to meet his new CO. The COB is not only responsible to the CO, however, but also to the crew.
“When you are senior leadership, your job is to protect blue shirts; do what is right for the junior Sailors,” said Jones. “Your reward is the success of the Sailor.”
“We rely on the COB to voice our needs to the CO,” said one enlisted submariner, Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Ackwith. “The COB has to put up with all our whining and complaining, and figure out what to do about it.” Ackwith explained why the COB is a necessary liaison between the enlisted crew and the CO. “We know the COB has been in our shoes – he’s gone through everything we go through. Not all officers really understand enlisted life like that.”
Krzywdzinski said a good COB has to continually reassure his Sailors that he knows what it’s like to work in their shoes.
“You can’t just hang out in the goat locker all the time,” he explained. “You’ve got to think of the guy in the engine room lower level standing machinery watch. If he thinks that all you do is legislate from the chiefs’ quarters, then he’s also thinking, ‘How can this guy be in touch with what I’m dealing with on a day-to-day basis.’ It’s important that you as the COB are constantly going through the boat.”
As is important as it is for a COB to keep his Sailors motivated,
it’s not easy,
noted Jones. “The biggest challenge is keeping Sailors motivated even doing the mundane things,” he said. “Even basic submarining in port can be a big problem without motivation.”
But even though the COB’s job is difficult and challenging,
he enjoys the leadership responsibilities, he continued. “Any COB that tells you they don’t enjoy the
leadership role or the power to fix things...” Jones smirked, “... they’re lying.
That’s part of the high about becoming a COB. Being a COB is the greatest job in the world.”
Anyone hoping to become a COB shouldn’t expect an easy trail. In port or underway, a COB’s job never eases. Long hours, blood, sweat, pressure, and daily stresses claw at the nerves of a COB, but
as Krzywdzinski said with half a grin, “It’s the hardest job I’ve
JO3 Keller is a Navy Journalist assigned to COMNAVSUBFOR Public Affairs.
COB Brings the “Submarine Warrior”
Message to the Deck Plates
Want to find the
chief of the boat (COB) aboard the fast-attack USS Hampton
(SSN-767)? Visit the crew’s mess during mealtime. He’s
the guy helping fill glasses of water and fetching salads.
Wait long enough and you’ll see him grab a rag and wipe
down a table or two. Then, head up to the control room
during a set of drills, including an emergency blow; he’s
right there to offer a pat on the back – or a gruff
admonishment – to a junior Sailor. Check him out in the
torpedo room an hour later and listen in on his
step-by-step instructions for firing a water slug to test
the torpedo tubes.
There’s an independent duty corpsman
onboard this ship, but if you want to take the temperature
of the crew, ask the COB. He’ll tell you how the guys on
board are handling the grueling inter-deployment training
schedule, the lack of fresh milk and vegetables, or
whether a new movie is enough to take the edge off a long,
rough day at sea. No one is more qualified to offer an
opinion from the deck plates – and that’s where he’s
FTCM(SS) Monty Pyburn doesn’t think that’s
anything special, just his job. The 23-year veteran of the
Submarine Force listened to VADM John Grossenbacher,
Commander Naval Submarine Force, during the latter’s
address to the fleet’s senior enlisted leaders in
Norfolk, and although Hampton’s COB thought he knew what
to expect, there was definitely something new. The admiral
urged a “return to the warrior mentality” as the key
to bringing about the transformations required in the
silent service for fighting the war on terrorism.
need to take care of our ships and Sailors the way we’re
meant to do,” the master chief said. “But we’ve let
our guard down. We need to police our own house.” What
that means is following the guide VADM Grossenbacher
outlined – a concept he calls “Battle Rhythm.” This
philosophy calls for each Sailor in a position of
leadership to make it routine to be a submarine warrior,
not just some goal a crew strives to reach.
taking a look at our weekly plans and deciding that no
matter what the week holds for us, we’re going to be
training, running drills, keeping up our combat tactics,
and keeping our damage control skills sharp,” Master
Chief Pyburn said. While routine maintenance and earning
qualifications are important, they’re not what drive the
fleet. Everything we do will be aimed at creating and
sharpening submarine warriors. If this sounds like back to
basics and a return to old-fashioned Navy values, it is
– and more.
“The way we do this job means a lot to me,”
the COB explained from his seat in the chief’s lounge, a
husky voice and heavy gray bags under his eyes indicating
too many long hours getting the job done and not enough
hours getting sleep. “We provide a service to keep the
homeland safe. If we go out there looking and acting like
idiots, well, what does that mean? But if we go out there
with a lot of pride, and through our appearance show we
believe we’re the best in the world, people will take
pride in us.”
|USS Hampton (SSN-767) Chief
of the Boat FTCM(SS) Monty Pyburn
works alongside his fellow crewmembers.
Why do Sailors like Master Chief Pyburn
spend years away from the comforts of home? Is it for the
pride they see in the eyes of their fellow Americans? You
can be sure of that. But Hampton’s COB, who said he
wanted the job since first putting on his khakis and
entering the chief’s mess onboard USS Jefferson City
(SSN-759), has another reason for doing what he does. The
most fulfilling part of the job, he says, is “bringing
the new kids aboard, getting them trained up and teaching
them the ropes, hopefully to see them become chiefs and
eventually go on to become
out a specific second class petty officer as an example of
a young Sailor with a great attitude and unlimited
potential. After some misdirected energy was realigned,
says Master Chief Pyburn, “What he produces is worthy of
an E-6 crow.” On the other hand, “one part of the job
no COB likes is the discipline.” Correction and
punishment must be handled carefully; a ham-handed
approach could crush a Sailor’s spirit and hurt
How effective, then, is the
COB at handling such difficult issues? What effect does
this gruff master chief have on the crew of this
fast-attack submarine? Just as an ancient general observed
that if you wanted to know him, you needed to know his
troops, so the influence of a COB on his ship is best
observed on the deck plates. There, the joking comes
easily, not forced. There’s a friendly camaraderie, an
eagerness to explain the job to a visitor, and a
comfortable, professional acceptance of impossibly long
hours, even on this three-week trip off the Virginia
In response to his being asked what he believes the
crew thinks of him, the COB responded thoughtfully. “I
think most of the crew,” he replied, “would say I am
pretty stern when it comes to certain things, such as
keeping stuff picked up, general cleanliness, and
presenting themselves to the public.” But more
significantly, he noted, “I would hope they feel
comfortable to come to me first if they have a problem. As
far as pride and professionalism, you couldn’t meet a
better group of people in the Sub Force.”
JOC Foutch is a Military
Editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.