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(Above) Three women have qualified to wear dolphins (from left to right): Capt. Mary Townsend-Manning (ret.), Capt. Geraldine Louise Olson (ret.) and Cmdr. Darlene Kay Grasdock. Photos courtesy of Capt. Mary Townsend-Manning (ret.), Capt. Geraldine Louise Olson (ret.) and Cmdr. Darlene Kay Grasdock.

by Bethany Rohrer

The Navy Engineering Duty (ED) Officer Community provides the Navy with experienced naval engineers that ensure our Naval and joint forces operate and fight with the most capable platforms possible. They are involved with the design, acquisition, construction, repair, maintenance, conversion, overhaul, and disposal of ships, submarines, aircraft carriers and the systems on those platforms. In this community are three women who have completed the required qualifications to wear the submarine gold dolphins. While the ED Submarine Warfare Qualification is different than an Unrestricted Submarine Line Officer, the lengthy, rigorous qualification process completed by Capt. (ret) Mary Townsend-Manning, Capt. (ret.) Geraldine Louise Olson, and Cmdr. Darlene Kay Grasdock to earn the dolphins is an admirable achievement.

These three dolphin wearers recently spoke to UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine about their qualification process and career impact.

Can you tell us about your career in the Navy prior to qualifying for your Dolphins?

Townsend-Manning: I joined the Navy as an Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) and went straight into that sub-specialty. I initially applied for the dolphin program in October, 1980, but it took about 15 years for me to actually get permission to do the program and get qualified.

My first tour of duty in the Navy was as a quality assurance officer. I supervised repairs on amphibious ships and smaller ships. During that tour I went to the Engineering Officer Basics School where the commanding officer of the school told me that if I wanted a really challenging career I should move into submarine repair.

Following my first tour, I requested assignment on a submarine tender. In the interim, I had applied for the Engineering Duty Officer Dolphin Program. There was one problem—the program wasn’t open to women at the time. I was told that if it should, or when it did, become open to women, they would let me know. It wasn’t until years later, after I submitted my second application, that the idea of allowing women into the program was reconsidered. I was a lieutenant commander when I actually got my dolphins put on.

Photo, caption to follow
Cmdr. D. Grasdock completed some of her training on USS Annapolis (SSN-760).
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon A. Teeples.

Grasdock: During my senior year in college, I interviewed for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program at Naval Reactors in Washington D.C. The director at that time, Adm. Bruce DeMars, accepted me into the program to be an instructor. I served my initial tour as a Nuclear Power School instructor. In a later assignment I was an instructor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the U.S. Naval Academy. Capt. Rick Rubel (then Director, Division of Engineering and Weapons) was an Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) who recommended that I apply for the EDO program. After being accepted into the program, I applied for the EDO Dolphin Program and was accepted.

Following my tour at the Naval Academy, I was assigned to Supervisor of Shipbuilding (SUPSHIP) Groton, Conn. As the ship coordinator for USS Virginia (SSN-774), I was responsible for oversight of shipyard construction and testing for the first ship of the class. I served as the liaison between ship’s force, General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation, and various government agencies and vendors to ensure resolution of technical and production issues.

Olson: I was commissioned as a general unrestricted line officer upon graduation in 1982 from the Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. My engineering degree allowed me to be involved with ship maintenance, which is not very common as a general unrestricted line officer. I was stationed at TRIDENT Refit Facility (TRF), Bangor, Wash. as a division officer in the Repair Department and then was stationed on a floating drydock (surface) as the Executive Officer. Upon completion of my tour on the drydock, I was selected for a designator change to Engineering Duty Officer. I attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. with a follow on tour at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard (PHNS). I applied for the EDO Dolphin Program while at PHNS and was transferred to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) via the submarine school to complete my dolphin qualifications.

What about the Submarine Force focused your interest?

Townsend-Manning: I think the reputation of high integrity and the mental challenge of working with the Submarine Force piqued my interest. I thought the complexity of the jobs to be done would be really interesting work. Submariners are the top part of the Navy to be in, the most elite part of the Navy, and so I wanted to be part of that club.

Grasdock: While serving as an instructor in Orlando, Fla., I quickly realized that Naval Reactors was a unique and exclusive organization. That organization, and their role in the Submarine Force, is what piqued my interest. In particular, the foundational tenants, people who are intelligent, hard working, meticulous, and strive for technical excellence, are what piqued my interest. In my opinion, Naval Reactors and the Submarine Force are the epitome of excellence.

Olson: While stationed at TRIDENT Refit Facility (TRF) Bangor, I was fortunate to work for Capt. Ed Whitehead, who was the Repair Officer and an EDO. He encouraged me to transfer to the Engineering Duty Officer community. While at Bangor, he also encouraged me to ride the TRIDENT submarines for bay trials to get an understanding for how the crew operates and trains and to understand the important role TRF plays in maintaining an elite submarine force.

The EDO Dolphin Program was also a warfare qualification that would enhance my career opportunities. When I was commissioned, the opportunity to obtain a surface or air qualification was limited in comparison to what is currently available. For the women in my graduating class, there were five billets for Surface Warfare Officers. The ships available were the aircraft trainer [USS Lexington (CV-16)] or tenders. The restrictions on placing women on combatants were still in place at that time and the positions available were few.

Can you please describe how you were able to qualify given the limited opportunities to be underway on a submarine?

Townsend-Manning: The majority of the requirements for EDO Dolphin Program are schools, journals, shipyard experience—things that can be done shore side. I completed many of the qualifications along my career path leading up to entry into the program. The remaining qualifications required temporary assignment to a submarine to finish. One of the requirements was to go through a refit with a TRIDENT submarine to learn how the submarine crew conducted maintenance. My experience started on USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735) just as the submarine was going into a training and refit period. During that time, I became part of the crew and participated in the refit and training. I also spent a lot of time in the trainers. I owe a debt of gratitude to the crew members on Pennsylvania who graciously sacrificed their time for the extra training to support my qualifications. Having only 6 or 7 days underway prior to that time, I needed to get enough practical experience driving the submarine so that the commanding officer would be confident enough to qualify me.

Photo with caption to follow
Capt. M. Townsend-Manning (ret.) completed some of her training with the crew of USS Pennsylvania(SSBN-735).
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Otsen.

Grasdock: Limited underway time on a submarine certainly made qualifications a challenge; however, there are three areas I attribute to helping me overcome this.

One, my engineering background. That is, the undergraduate engineering degree, training and experience I received as an instructor at Nuclear Power School, the education I received as a student working on my master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and the experience I received teaching at the Naval Academy formed the foundation for my qualifications.

Two, synthetic training and simulation. The Submarine Force has invested significant resources into various training systems, both at Submarine School and onboard submarines. These trainers were instrumental to my qualification process, especially the Ship Control Operator Trainer when I was working on my Diving Officer of the Watch qualifications.

Three, the men of the Submarine Force. After graduating from the Submarine Officer Basic Course, while stationed at SUPSHIP Groton, I studied hard, but I also received qualification support from numerous Sailors. Not only Sailors at the Submarine School who helped me at the trainers, but the various Sailors attached to ships and squadrons. For example, the officers and crew of the USS Annapolis (SSN-760) allowed me to train with them during some of their in port training events. Additionally, the staff of Submarine Squadrons TWO, FOUR, and TWELVE helped me obtain qualification checkouts and also helped me schedule in port and at sea training time. Finally, I qualified Diving Officer of the Watch during an underway period with the officers and crew of the USS Alexandria (SSN-757). Their support of my qualifications was second to none.

I could go on and on about this third area, but my point is, the people, not the technology, of the Submarine Force were the key to my success. They are intelligent, hard working, and talented professionals.

My qualifications took about 3.5 years for both EDO, the first qualification, and EDO dolphin, the second qualification. Although that is an average time for an EDO to qualify dolphins, it is long compared to the Submarine dolphin qualification which is 12 to 18 months. That does not mean the EDO dolphin qualification is harder; it is just different and therefore has a different timeline.

Olson: When I was stationed at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS), my leadership knew I was in the program and were very supportive of my efforts. I met with the chief of staff at the submarine group and the submarine squadron. I explained the program and the connection that EDO’s have with both construction and maintenance in the Submarine Force. The TRIDENT submarines at Bangor would routinely carry riders from the group and squadron while conducting at sea refresher training. My proposal was to go to sea during those periods for the purposes of my qualifications.

When I wanted to arrange for a ride on a submarine, I would go down to the waterfront and talk to the commanding officer and executive officer to explain what I was doing and why, and get their support in being put on the watchbill as an under instruction watch. I always had the support from each of the crews that I worked with and their professionalism was unsurpassed.

Since the at sea time was limited, I was able to arrange with the TRF to accompany some of the crews utilizing the trainers, most often the dive trainer. The trainers at that time frequently operated 24 hours-a-day. As such, I could work at the shipyard during the day and in the evenings I was able accompany the submarine crews and train with them. This after hours training routine had follow on benefits when I did go to sea, some members of the crew had already met me and were aware of and supportive of what I was doing.

What made you decide to get dolphins as your warfare qualification?

Townsend-Manning: I originally decided to get my dolphins because I wanted a career in submarine repair and maintenance. That remained my primary reason to continue pursuing the dolphins because if I didn’t have them, as I found out, my career with submarines would not have been as fulfilling.
Grasdock: People. I want to work with men and women who build and operate submarines. True, I knew I would never be a crewmember, but I also knew that I would have the opportunity to serve in various other capacities on submarines. In the time since I qualified, I have been to sea on submarines three times.

Olson: As I stated previously, the EDO Dolphin Program allowed me an opportunity to complete a warfare qualification. When I started the qualification process, since I had previously worked at TRF Bangor and was familiar with the submarines, I did not anticipate some of the challenges I would have at the onset.

Photo with caption to follow
Cmdr. D. Grasdock currently works in new construction submarines with the Virginia-class
and was involved with
New Mexico(SSN-779). Photo by John Whalen.

During this time, the Navy was also downsizing both the fleet and the shore infrastructure. The non-nuclear shipyards were being closed and the non-nuclear tenders were being decommissioned. Obtaining a submarine qualification would allow a greater opportunity of senior positions—while a sub, carrier or surface qualified EDO can compete for some positions, there are other EDO positions that require submarine qualifications.

To address serving on a submarine, the EDO dolphin qualification is not intended to replace or substitute for a line officer submarine qualification. The EDO dolphins signify knowledge of the engineering design principles of a submarine and the specific maintenance requirements of a submarine to the EDO dolphin candidate.

How has qualifying and wearing Dolphins affected your career?

Townsend-Manning: I had been allowed to do a lot of submarine related tours before, but after I earned my dolphins I was able to qualify to be a submarine repair officer, which would not have been possible without dolphins. I went to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for a tour and became the project superintendant for decommissioning Los Angeles-class submarines—a position I could not have had without my dolphins. I also was sent to Washington, D.C., as the SUBSAFE officer-in-charge of the submarine safety and quality program of the Navy, and I couldn’t have done that without dolphins. There’s certain credibility with wearing dolphins. If you’re dealing with other submariners, the warfare pin is a very visual reminder that you are part of the community.

Olson: After I qualified, my follow on tour was in the N4 Maintenance and Material Office at Commander, Submarine Force Pacific (SUBPAC). To receive those orders, I had to be qualified in submarines. The gold dolphins continued to be an asset when I transferred from SUBPAC to OPNAV N431, Surface and Submarine Readiness.

Grasdock: Following my tour at SUPSHIP Groton, I served at NAVSEA [Naval Sea Systems Command] in Washington D.C. in PMS 392, which was the Strategic and Attack Submarine Program Office. As the private shipyard availability manager, I managed various maintenance and modernization work for submarines undergoing availabilities at Electric Boat and Newport News.

Today, I work new construction submarines for the Virginia-class at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News. I am the Project Officer for SUPSHIP Newport News and the Program Manager’s representative to PMS 450, which is the Virginia-class Program Office.

Last year, SUPSHIP Newport News delivered USS North Carolina (SSN-777) to the Navy and later this year, we will deliver New Mexico (SSN-779). As you can imagine, delivering a ship to the Fleet is rewarding for the shipbuilders, crew and submarine acquisition team. I am honored to work with everyone who builds these ships and delivers them to the Navy.

Yes, wearing dolphins has affected my career. I work with submarine programs and people on a daily basis, and wearing dolphins has had a positive impact on my career in this environment. Just like the warfare pins worn by other Sailors, it is a sign of professionalism, knowledge and credibility.

Bethany Rohrer is an analyst with Alion Science and Technology.