ARCTIC SEA (NNS) -- A small group of submariners gathered at the Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station (APLIS) to support operations during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2009, a training exercise designed to test the operational capabilities of submarines in an arctic environment.
The officer in tactical command of ICEX is Capt. Greg Ott, the deputy director for operations at Commander, Submarine Force (COMSUBFOR) in Norfolk, Va. Ott's role is to monitor the operational activities of the two participating submarines, USS Annapolis (SSN 760) and USS Helena (SSN 725), and to ensure that all the testing runs smoothly. Assisting him, and specializing in monitoring the weapons testing and approving any changes to the tests that need to be made, are Cmdr. Steve Benke, the force navigator at COMSUBFOR, and Royal Australian Navy Cmdr. Glen Miles, the tactical weapons development officer for Commander, Submarine Force Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC).
"Submariners know that the Arctic is a different environment," said Benke. "But to actually see the performance of a weapon in this environment, and in real time, has been an eye-opening experience."
Lt. Jeff Raunig, from COMSUBPAC; Lt. Chad Gallagher, from COMSUBFOR; Lt. Roger Callahan, from Commander, Submariner Squadron (COMSUBRON) 11; and Royal Navy (RN) Lt. Cmdr. Ian White are the range safety officers (RSO) at APLIS. Their missions are to ensure that Annapolis and Helena safely conduct their operations, which are in close proximity to each other in the unique Arctic environment. The RSOs take four-hour watch shifts so the position is always manned, and the camp can maintain constant communication with the submariners.
The submarines operate within a range that is mapped out on a grid in the command hut. By ensuring that the range is always accurate, the RSOs have reliable situational awareness of where the submariners are at any time. The RSOs are also the first point of contact for the submarines if there is an emergency.
"You have to practice in order to maintain proficiency in any environment," said Gallagher. "Training in the Arctic now gives the Submarine Force a strategic advantage as far as knowledge of the theatre is concerned."
RSOs cannot leave their watch station, so there is always an assistant range safety officer (ARSO) on duty with them. Sonar Technician 1st Class Jose Gutierrez, from the Arctic Submarine Laboratory in San Diego, and Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer Lee Evans are two of the ARSOs who stand duty at ICEX.
They monitor all of the communications at the camp and are always in contact with the helicopter pilots, the airplane pilots, the logistics team in Prudhoe Bay, the two submarines and any field parties that may be operating from the camp. The ARSOs track the manifests, departure and arrival times of each flight, and the members, and departure and arrival times of each field party departing the camp.
"Prioritizing the communications can get tricky because there are so many people that we are managing at one time," said Evans. "We have to control the flow of information and make sure that the right people get the right information."
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Hawkes, undersea medical officer for Naval Submarine Support Center and Lt. Huy Phun, the medical officer for COMSUBRON 11, are the medical officers for APLIS. Phun was on duty for the first half of the camp and turned over with Hawkes for the second half.
"We're mainly here for the divers," said Hawkes. "I'm trained in diving-related casualties, but I can provide medical aid to anyone at the camp who may need it."
The closest hospital to the camp is in Anchorage, Alaska, so if specialized treatment is needed, there are physician's assistants at a clinic in Prudhoe Bay. The medical officers do not regularly see extreme cold-related injuries and were briefed in advance of some of the unique injuries they might see, such as frostbite and lung freezing. Though cold weather injuries and wildlife are a threat, the biggest things to worry about are accidents and cardiac arrest in the extreme temperatures, said Hawkes.
At Prudhoe Bay, which is a 200-nautical mile plane flight, a logistics team keeps track of everything and everyone who travels between the mainland and APLIS. Anyone who is travelling to or from the camp must be in full arctic gear, so they are suited up in the hangar in Prudhoe Bay. Also, all of the food, building supplies and weapons that are being tested must go through Prudhoe Bay and be stored properly to protect them from the cold temperatures.
Electronics Technician Petty Officer 1st Class Douglas Sine, Store Keeper Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Szynaka, and Machinist's Mate Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Adams, all from COMSUBRON 11, are currently part of the logistics team at Prudhoe Bay. They assist in weapons shipping, plane onloading and ensure all travelers are outfitted with the proper gear. Adams was recently selected as COMSUBPAC's 2008 Shore Sailor of the Year.
For more news from Commander, Submarine Force, visit www.navy.mil/local/sublant/.