NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Since Commander, Submarine Forces (COMSUBFOR) announced a policy change which would ban smoking below decks aboard all U.S. Navy submarines effective beginning Dec. 31, the efforts by submarine personnel in meeting that goal early has been outstanding.
All levels of submarine force leadership fleet-wide have provided education and training to Sailors since the announcement on April 8, hoping to meet or better the deadline.
"Based on the input from the enlisted leadership, close to 50 percent of our boats have established cessation dates prior to the end of the year deadline, so we are absolutely headed in the right direction," said Cmdr. Mark Bourne, Deputy Force Surgeon at COMSUBFOR. "The senior leadership of the submarine force has done an excellent job communicating to our sailors that the deadline is quickly approaching. We've provided the training as well as the materials to ensure our sailors are successful in making the smoke-free transition."
The change in policy resulted after extensive research revealed the significant exposure to second-hand smoke for all hands within the self-contained environment of submarines at sea.
Once the policy was announced to the fleet, members of the SUBFOR Medical Staff traveled to medical training facilities (MTFs) fleet-wide to train and educate personnel on a Tobacco Cessation Program (TCP) developed by them with guidance and cognizance from the Bureau of Medicine.
Once the staff determined that the MTF personnel were well-versed on all training methods and techniques, they turned the TCP over to them and went into the monitoring mode.
The trained MTF personnel then conducted eight-hour TCP training courses with two tobacco facilitators from each submarine. The submarine facilitators, volunteer non-smokers, are currently conducting weekly TCP training sessions to smokers onboard their submarines. The training program incorporates education techniques and nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine patches and nicotine gum.
However, trained facilitators on each submarine are not part of their medical division.
"The focus of the independent duty corpsman from each submarine will be implementing and monitoring the Tobacco Cessation program," said Master Chief Hospital Corpsman (Submarines) George A. Shelton, COMSUBFOR Force Corpsmen. "From lessons learned in previous efforts in tobacco cessation programs, it has been medical's perspective that the biggest difference makers and best facilitators for these programs are your hard charging first and second class petty officers. These are the Sailors who constantly interact daily with their shipmates on the deckplates while standing watches around the clock."
While the cessation dates for each submarine are set by the commanding officer, the targeted date for each submarine usually aligns itself with other significant events occurring with the boat, such as deployments or upcoming shipyard maintenance periods. Combining shipboard training along with limited smoking hours and smoke-free days established by submarine leadership, has produced some significant successes.
Considering that 40 percent of the submarine force personnel smoke, and 50 percent uses some form of tobacco product, it is a testament to the training and leadership that 21 submarines force-wide are completely smoke-free.
No TCP was more successful than the one onboard the guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727) (Blue), home ported in Bangor, Wash. The smoking lamp was extinguished nearly six months prior to the deadline – at 7:27 a.m. on July 27th. The date and time were chosen by leadership to honor the ship's hull number.
"The TCP helped me to get over the hump of needing a routine after-watch cigarette," said Sonar Technician 2nd Class (Submarines) Joseph Camerlin, a 12-year smoker. "I feel really good about not smoking."
According to the boat's senior enlisted personnel, the command's plan was for the Sailors to quit while deployed, and then return home with a fresh start and plenty of support from their family and friends.
"As a former smoker for more than 10 years, I understand the challenges of quitting smoking," said CMDCM(SS) Victor Smith, Michigan blue crew's command master chief. "It is extremely hard to stop when you are at sea. We want our Sailors to be successful, so we decided to put the smoking lamp out during this mission cycle. The day we extinguished the smoking lamp onboard was a significant event in the lives of our Sailors. I cannot think of a more appropriate day to start a new and healthier life than 727 day."
The blue crew onboard the guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729), home ported in Kings Bay, Ga., had a similar success. The commanding officer and command master chief had announced for several months that the smoking lamp would be extinguished on an underway period, August 15, 2010.
"Not being able to smoke onboard after December 31st will be difficult for some," said CMDCM(SS) Richard Rose, blue crew master chief. "This change will be hard, but will be for the better in the long run. Promoting and building a healthier submarine force is the right thing to do for the Sailors in the Navy today."
For more news from Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic, visit www.navy.mil/local/sublant/.