Interview: Adm. Jon Greenert, US Chief of Naval Operations

On Feb. 24, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed the fiscal 2015 budget proposal to Congress ahead of its March 4 submission. For the Navy, the proposal recommended maintaining the carrier fleet at 11 ships, but it did not fund the refueling of the carrier George Washington. It also recommended capping the Littoral Combat Ship program at 32 hulls, 20 less than planned. In the existing fleet, 11 of the Navy’s 22 Ticonderoga-class cruisers would be sidelined until funds are available to modernize them. The proposal also said that if sequestration continues after 2016, another six ships would need to be laid up and the carrier variant of the F-35 joint strike fighter would be delayed by two years.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert spoke to Defense News reporters and editors the day after the budget preview.

Q. The fiscal 2015 budget preview puts as many as 14 ships in lay-up. How will this work, and how much money could you save doing it?

A. At any given time, you would have 12 ships in lay-up. Because when you talk about the three LSDs [dock landing ships], which would give you 14 [11 cruisers plus three LSDs], two of those would always be operational as the process works. So there are 22 cruisers today. And as you know, by congressional direction we are employing them all. And we will continue to do that. Our plan, our proposal, would meet the ‘14 budget requirements to do that. Simply put, you would take the most modern and effective and keep them operational. Because we need 11 air defense combatants. We will take the most modern, and I do not mean newest, I mean, most modernized, take the remaining 11 and put them in a preparation to be modernized.

There is a category, it is a mobilization category. And then when the industrial base and when the ship is lined up and we have the money to [modernize it], put it back into the fleet.

When you look at LSDs, it is a similar process. We will not propose to start that in [2015]. [In 2016], you would take one of the LSDs out in a similar sequence so you have two of those three always operational. We modernized that LSD. We would want to take the one needing the midlife upgrade in first, get it upgraded and then follow on with the others.

Q. With the current reductions that you are seeing, can you give us an outlook on how that might affect exercises, workups, flying hours, steaming days, things of that nature?

A. There is a backlog from the [2013] issues that we have talked about before. We have got to follow very closely on, particularly in the aircraft maintenance, to get that backlog down. We have got to capture a few availabilities that did not get all the way done, make sure we pick them up when they come back around. You have to have the right capacity in the shipyard. We have that in the budget to make sure we have the right man-years for our public shipyards, and make sure we are in sync with our private shipyards.

Q. The Navy proposed eliminating an aircraft carrier in the budget, which did not happen. What were you protecting? What were you gaining back if you were able to eliminate one strike group, and how does that fit into your requirements needs?

A. Well, number one, you have got to figure out how to balance the budget with the resources you have. What is the situation on the sea-based strategic deterrent? Now, how do I get the most presence worldwide with the most capability in day to day, so that we are influencing where we need to respond very quickly, be where it matters, when it matters, all of that. And then, what if there are contingencies — where are we and how do we respond?

Carriers are very expensive to maintain. You get certain periods when you are either building one or overhauling one. You put large sums of money in or you do not. So to balance the budget, you look for when are those periods, what is your shipbuilding plan where you put large sums of money in, so you understand that. And how would using that as an offset or not using that as an offset, what would that impact the rest of the Navy when you look at what else is available to provide that offset? That was the balance that I used to come forward, and I felt that at those times, with those monies, with that top line, that was an appropriate proposal.

Q. Can you tie that to anything specific? Can you say that if we do not have to support a strike group that means I can continue to support the level of something else that I want to support?

A. As I was walking through my priorities, I would have [to ensure] a viable industrial base. In other words, I want to have competition at every ship type possible. And you cannot have big gaps in your industrial base. You have got to keep the asymmetrical capabilities. And then you lay out the presence. You say with this lesser number of carrier strike groups, here is the presence I can deliver. Here is the risk associated for contingencies. We did not have time to run through all the plans and do war games [on] every single one. Those models take several, several months to run and get out. So we laid out the timing, how much time would it take to get there with 10 versus 11, with nine versus 10. These are the things we go through. But we felt that we could provide reasonable presence, if you will, adequate presence, for what we understood when compared with the other consequences of having a carrier, not having a carrier.

Q. For the Littoral Combat Ship program, what are you doing to keep that program going in the face of what is happening in Washington?

A. Well, we have, I think, a fairly deliberate path. This tenor and all this kind of business and opinions and all this kind of stuff that you laid out, I have seen this before and so have you. And then we talk about it. We bring more people down upon it. We bring people out to Singapore, etc., and the tone and the tenor tends to change. We have 32 ships and they have got to be delivered right and they have got to do the best they can. And so, that is where I am headed. When you look at the details and you look at the memo the secretary presented, it says hey, show me what the results are. We have got a lot of things going on.

Now the Congress has asked for some reports. There are some reports coming out. I want to see all this. And I do not mind that at all. Good, let us bring all these together in a coherent, clear, written in English report that says this is what the ship does. And if in the end we do not like, for example, the survivability design that was put in it originally, through the [Joint Requirements Oversight Council] process, fully approved by all the requirements and we have already agreed to build 32 just like this, we can change course on that.

But we ought to understand that this has been through the proper process. It needs a missile, we all know that. So we are moving on. And the other piece is the lethality. I know and I have talked to you about the need to get lethality for this, no problem. So let us see what we can do. Is it a next flight? Well, Mr. Secretary, here is what we can do with the next flight or the one we have today. And this is what a totally new design might look like. So we will make an informed decision to move ahead.

In the end, I need small surface combatants. The Navy needs small surface combatants. Twenty years ago ... we had 350 ships, about 40 of them were small surface combatants. We have about 20 today. Twenty years ago, I had about the same number, requisite number of subs, large surface combatants, carriers, and not literal numbers, but I say requisite for what we needed, and support ships. But at 350-ship Navy. But we are short on small surface combatants. There is no question.

Q. If the F-35C is delayed by two years, what are the ramifications?

A. It will not affect IOC [initial operating capability]. In other words, for me IOC is right. I have got the software package onboard. It works, which means it can employ all the weapons that I employ on [an F/A-18E/F] Super Hornet and it can land on a carrier, it can fit on a carrier, it can go down the elevator, come into the hangar bay, and you can do maintenance on it. It can be as good as a Super Hornet.

Q. Are you happy with the tire issue now?

A. I am happy with the progress. We have got a test still coming up, but they tell me, I listen to them, and what they tell me I am OK with.

Q. A year ago, it was one of your top concerns.

A. Yes it was because in my head, when I see [hull, mechanical, electrical] stuff, I say we can fix this. We kind of always have. When I see zeroes and ones are lining up, I am not so sure. So yes, I know what you mean. But so far yes, I think it will be OK based on what I see. But it is a matter of capacity and then how quickly do we now move those squadrons into the air wings. But IOC for us is you are ready to deploy with — we say a squadron, but the exact numbers are not fully defined. I have got to have the 3F software. Once you have got that, you can ramp it up pretty fast. If I have the software and the airplane, some number can embed in an air wing and go to sea, I can ramp up from there.

Q. Anytime anyone talks about a delay in F-35, it begs the question of whether the Hornet line cranks up again to fill any kind of gap that might be created by delay.

A. No, we have run those numbers through that sort of impact on the strike fire inventory. We can manage.

Mabus: Ohio-Replacement Funding Should Be A National Debate

Despite indications that such discussions have gone nowhere, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus last week argued that there should be a national debate about funding the Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine outside of the Navy's shipbuilding budget. "I think that we need to have a debate -- this is a national mission," Mabus said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington Feb. 28. "We have the most survivable part of the triad. It's a crucial capability that we have. We've got to make sure that we have it. But it is a national mission and to degrade the rest of Navy missions -- I think that is a debate, not only in Congress, but also with the American people -- how should that be paid for?"

Mabus noted that the rest of the Navy's shipbuilding budget would suffer greatly, once the Ohio-class replacement program construction kicks off.

"I think this is a debate that, between now and 2019, which is now inside the five-year defense budget, it will be in [fiscal year 2015], that we need to have because we build these, and we will build these and we will build these -- it's not an 'if' we're going to build these. But if the money to build these comes out of Navy shipbuilding, comes out of procurement, it will take at least half, every year, of all our shipbuilding dollars," Mabus explained.

"It will devastate the rest of Navy shipbuilding -- and I'm talking in the late 2020s and 2030s. It will devastate submarine building, in terms of the attack submarines, surface ships, every kind of ship that we build," he added.

Last month, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told Inside the Navy that the Navy continues to face a potential $2 billion increase to its long-range ship construction budget associated with the challenge of funding the enormous cost of the Ohio-class replacement program.

"One of the challenges that we stare at very squarely is the period during which we're going to be constructing the Ohio-replacement submarines. And so the first submarine is a 2021 procurement and that will go all the way through the 2020s through the early '30s. That is such a singularly unique and high cost platform that without some increase to our shipbuilding topline that the rest of the shipbuilding program will suffer in terms of numbers," Stackley explained.

Stackley initially laid out this potential need to raise the shipbuilding topline at a Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee hearing in May 2013.

In the same hearing, Stackley told lawmakers that talks at the Pentagon to provide supplementary funding to the Ohio-class replacement from other parts of the federal budget, as Mabus suggested again last week, "have not progressed."

Seven Sailors Injured, Two Officers Missing In Submarine INS Sindhuratna Mishap

Seven sailors are believed to have suffered serious injuries and two officers remain "unaccounted for" in an accident early on Wednesday on board Russian-built submarine, INS Sindhuratna, putting Indian Navy's dismal safety record under further scrutiny and underlining its inability to maintain its dwindling kilo-class fleet.

The mishap took place 50 km off the Mumbai coast while the boat was on a routing training exercise. A navy officer said the sailors became unconscious after smoke started to fill the boat and were airlifted to a naval hospital in Mumbai. Fire in one of the battery compartments, triggered by a short circuit, could have caused the accident, a source said. "The deputy electrical officer (a lieutenant commander) and the watch keeping officer (a lieutenant) are missing. Compartments get sealed automatically when the fire-fighting system kicks in," the source said.

Senior navy officials, including Commodore Commanding Submarines (West), were on board the submarine when the accident took place. The submarine had undergone a refit at the naval dockyard in Mumbai barely two months ago, raising serious questions about the quality of upgrade it underwent.

The accident has taken the navy's mishap tally to 11 since INS Sindhurakshak, also a kilo-class boat, blew up and sank at a Mumbai harbour last August, killing all 18 men on board.
The navy has ordered a board of inquiry and the submarine's commanding officer is likely to be relieved of duties. This is the third accident involving the navy's kilo-class (Type 877 EKM) boats in less than six months. INS Sindhughosh had hit the seabed last month, prompting the navy to order a probe.
Incidentally, one sailor was killed and another two injured in an explosion on board INS Sindhurakshak when the warship was docked in Visakhapatnam in February 2010.
The kilo-class boats have been involved in accidents at a time when the navy is grappling with fast deteriorating underwater force levels. Its submarine fleet is currently "in a highly precarious state." The INS Sindhurakshak accident occurred barely six months after the 2,300-tonne warship was overhauled at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Russia at a cost of more than Rs. 815 crore.
A baffled parliamentary panel had last week asked the navy to explain how could INS Sindhurakshak explode and sink within months of undergoing the costly upgrade.
Even as China is scaling up its underwater capabilities swiftly, the Indian Navy's submarine force levels would be at its lowest in history by 2015, as first reported by HT last April.
The navy will be left with barely six submarines, as it begins phasing out the Russian kilo-class and German HDW Type 209 submarines next year. The "viable strength" of its submarine arm is even less, factoring in the operational availability of the boats. China operates about 45 submarines, including two ballistic missile ones. It is planning to construct 15 additional Yuan-class attack submarines, based on German diesel engine purchases.

The Yuan-class boats could be equipped with air-independent propulsion systems to recharge their batteries without having to surface for more than three weeks, a capability currently unavailable with the Indian Navy. In what is extremely worrying for the navy, the size of India's submarine fleet will roughly be the same as that of the Pakistani navy in less than two years.

Six Scorpene submarines are currently being built at the Mazagon Dock Ltd in Mumbai with technology from French firm DCNS under a Rs. 23,562-crore project codenamed P-75. But the first of these boats will not be ready before 2016-17. The Sindhuratna is one in a series of 10 Sindhughosh-class submarines bought from the erstwhile Soviet Union in the mid 1980s. Defence minister AK Antony has acknowledged limitations in the country's ability to deploy its entire submarine fleet. The Sindhuratna accident comes weeks after Antony asked the navy to clean up its act, saying he wasn't satisfied with the force's functioning. He had directed the navy to "strictly follow" standard operating procedures to combat preventable accidents that have tarnished the force’s reputation.

The defence ministry may ask the navy to carry out a "safety stand-down," a designated time for crews to focus on safety-related matters and training to deal with the daunting challenge of reducing mishaps. The navy's failure to keep its main harbour channel navigable in Mumbai may have risked operations and may also led to some of the recent accidents involving ships running aground, as first reported by HT on February 2. An unreasonable delay in awarding a crucial dredging contract to keep the approach to the naval base clear had raised serious concerns about safe passage of boats in the shallow waters.

After the INS Sindhurakshak accident, Antony had asked the navy brass to "optimally operate" the country's assets and ensure these were not "frittered away."

The navy surely needs to take that advice seriously. The chief of navy's Mumbai-based elite western fleet was last month summoned and asked to explain a series of recent mishaps involving warships that have blemished the navy's safety record under his watch.

In a rare action against an officer of his rank, Rear Admiral Anil Chawla, who heads the crucial naval formation, was summoned by the Western Naval Command chief Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha and made to report in a ceremonial uniform, called "dress No. 2" in naval parlance, which signifies displeasure on part of his superiors, as first reported by HT on January 29. The captains of three frontline warships have been stripped of their positions in less than two months, with the navy blaming them for disturbing lapses that led to accidents under their command.

Also, India's largest and most-expensive warship, the INS Vikramaditya, faced embarrassing glitches during its home-bound voyage from the north Russian shipyard of Sevmash to the Karwar naval base in Karnataka, causing jitters in the defence ministry. The $2.33 billion ( Rs. 13,980 crore) aircraft carrier, bought second-hand from Russia and delivered five years behind schedule, reportedly suffered a boiler breakdown during its 42-day journey. The vessel has a history of boiler problems with 2012 sea trials failing due to a design problem in the ship's boilers.

Navy to Gauge Interest Among Female Sailors in Serving on Subs

Enlisted women may join crews starting in 2016 The Navy will soon ask every female sailor whether she is interested in joining the submarine force, and the answers will help shape the strategy for bringing enlisted women aboard subs.

The task force that is figuring out the best way to integrate enlisted women into the submarine force expects to receive the results of the anonymous survey this summer.

"The ability to attract, recruit and retain quality female sailors is essential to the success of integration. It will also be a big challenge," Lt. Timothy Hawkins, spokesman for the task force, said in a statement. Enlisted women could begin serving aboard submarines in 2016.

About two-thirds of Navy ships have mixed-gender crews. The task force is consulting with senior leaders in the Navy communities where women have served on ships and at aircraft squadrons, to understand their experiences and incorporate their lessons into the planning, Hawkins said.

Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor, the commander of the submarine force, approved the task force's timeline for completing a series of studies and the areas of study for nine working groups on Feb. 10, Hawkins said in the statement. Hawkins described the group's "Plan of Actions and Milestones" as "the plan to build the plan."

One group is responsible for gauging how many enlisted women will want to serve aboard submarines. Other working groups are looking at ship configuration, what submarines to integrate, or what modifications will be required and when; sailor rate conversion, or what specific rates, or jobs, the submarine force will use to bring current female sailors into the submarine force; and recruiting development and accession planning, or whether any changes are needed in the recruiting practices and policies or in how the training a sailor completes before reporting to a submarine is structured, Hawkins said. Another group will use the findings to craft the initial plan.

Soon, the remaining groups will look to validate that there is a viable career path for all rates and pay grades, study retention issues, and write the final plan with input from across the fleet, Hawkins said. Each group is led by a subject matter expert and includes 10 to 20 participants from commands across the Navy.

The Navy lifted its ban on women serving aboard submarines in 2010 and started assigning female officers first to the larger, ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines. Female officers will begin reporting to attack submarines by January 2015, and, as the next step, the Navy is considering enlisted women for sub duty.

Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry, the commander of Submarine Group Two in Groton, leads the 60-person task force. He was not available to comment. Perry has said that the biggest challenge the task force faces is figuring out how women can have a successful career in the submarine force - which often entails going to sea for long periods of time - and a family as well, and that while the standards people must meet to be a submariner will continue to be gender-neutral, it may not be wise not to acknowledge that the life/work balance is fundamentally different for a woman than it is for a man.

A detailed implementation plan is due to the Chief of Naval Operations by March 2015. Hawkins said the task force's work is on track, and there will be briefings for top Navy leaders so they can decide what action to take by early 2015.

Catching Z's at Sea is Getting Easier for Sailors

For sailors aboard deployed Navy ships, little sleep has long come with the territory.

It's partly a function of the job: A ship at sea is an around-the-clock operation. On top of drills, meetings and daily work, most sailors must also stand watch - on the bridge, in engine rooms, in front of screens in darkened operations centers - on schedules that give little regard to the body's circadian rhythm. One day a sailor might be on watch all morning, and the next all night. It's partly culture, too: Among sailors, the ability to push on for months at a time with little sleep and no days off is seen as a badge of honor.

Aboard more and more ships, though, that is changing. Rather than seeing it as a point of pride, Navy officials are working to recast fatigue as an unnecessary risk that causes costly mistakes, and some commanding officers are taking significant steps to help their sailors get more and better sleep.

Most notably, an increasing number are scheduling watch shifts that align with the body's 24-hour clock and allow sailors to sleep at the same time each day - a big change from the way the service has long operated. "It's a paradigm shift," said John Cordle, a recently retired Navy captain who has been championing better sleep for sailors for years. "And it's catching on."

The destroyer Truxtun, which left Norfolk on Saturday with the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, tried a circadian-based schedule while training this summer and decided to keep it for the deployment.

Said the ship's senior watch officer, Lt. Kori Levy-Minzie, "It's noticeable that people are more alert and less tired." The key difference is that traditional watch schedules ignore the body's circadian rhythm. Among the most common rotations, for example, is what the Navy calls the "five and dime." Watch standers are on duty for five hours, then have 10 hours to sleep, exercise and take care of other work. Their watch shifts always begin at different times. One day, their chance to sleep might start at 5 a.m., and the next at 8 p.m.

That keeps the body constantly confused, which makes it harder to fall asleep, said Nita Shattuck, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who has studied crew rest aboard numerous ships. "Even though they can be very fatigued, their bodies just aren't ready to sleep," Shattuck said.

With circadian-based schedules, she said, "the quality of the sleep is superior. They're getting more benefits from it." Shattuck spent a month aboard the Norfolk-based destroyer Jason Dunham while it was deployed in 2012. A portion of the crew used a traditional schedule while others used an alternative - three-hour watches before nine hours off - that gave them a long block for rest at the same time each day. Sailors used wrist monitors and smart phones to track their sleep and reaction times.

An analysis showed that those on the alternative rotation were more alert. Shattuck considers the three-on, nine-off schedule to be the best for crew rest. It's the same one the Truxtun is using. Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Flowers said she likes it. As a sonar technician, she spends her watch shifts tracking nearby vessels, whales and dolphins. "Staring at a display for hours - you have to stay attentive," she said. "This makes it easier."

Said Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Lettow, a boatswain's mate: "Now I have time to get things done other than try to sleep." Critics of the change have knocked it as another example of the military going soft. But proponents disagree. "This is just the opposite," Shattuck said. "It's about performance. It's about building crew endurance and making them stronger." Research has shown long-lasting consequences among civilian workers with inconsistent and overnight shifts, she said, and many private employers have come to understand the value of a well-rested workforce.

So has the Coast Guard, and even Navy aviators are required to sleep a minimum number of hours before flying. Among sailors who man and oversee ships, rest has been a low priority.

In May, though, two top admirals in charge of the Navy's surface ships issued a message to the fleet endorsing watch schedules designed to give sailors more sleep. "The aviation community has long embraced the concept of crew rest as a foundation for safe operations," said Vice Adm. Tom Copeman and Rear Adm. David Thomas. "It has a place in the surface force as well."

Safety and effectiveness are the biggest reasons sailors need better sleep, they said, noting that fatigue has played a role in ship groundings and collisions. In a January 2013 article in the U.S. Naval Institute magazine Proceedings, Cordle wrote that too little rest was cited as a factor in nearly 80 percent of Navy mishaps.

Cordle saw other benefits, too - namely improved morale - when he tried the three-on, nine-off schedule as commanding officer of the Norfolk-based destroyer San Jacinto in 2010. Sailors were less stressed, and they found more time to exercise, he said. He has trumpeted circadian schedules since. "Working and sleeping the same hours each day paid huge dividends," he wrote in Proceedings. As for sleeplessness as a badge of honor, he wrote, "it does not have to be that way."

Cmdr. Seth Burton, skipper of the Norfolk-based submarine Scranton, said he's become a believer, too.

On a seven-month deployment that ended last month, Scranton watch standers were on for eight hours and then off for eight - a big shift from the six-hour rotations that submariners are used to. "It was the best-rested crew I've ever seen," Burton said. He had to get special permission to use the schedule because submariners were limited by policy to six-hour watches. That recently changed, and Burton said other subs have made the transition.

But he and others warn that starting such schedules isn't like flipping a switch, and it doesn't work for every vessel. On the San Jacinto and the Truxtun, meal times had to be extended, and meetings and announcements were restricted to day hours. The ships even did away with the long-standing tradition of morning reveille and evening taps. "It's a whole program," Cordle said. "You have to tweak the entire ship's routine."

Kinks must be ironed out, and extra watch standers must be trained to cover additional shifts that turn over more often. And some vessels simply don't have enough qualified personnel to allow all watch standers a circadian routine with long blocks of time for rest.

The Navy is working to boost staffing on ships after years of downsizing, which officials acknowledge added to sailors' fatigue. As much as supporters want to see circadian schedules spread, few think the practice should be mandated from the top; rather, most say it should stay a choice made ship by ship.

U.S. Navy Commander Relieved of Duty At Port Canaveral

The commander of the Naval Ordnance Test Unit at Port Canaveral has been relieved of duty for allowing two strip clubs to sponsor a military-related golf tournament last year. Capt. John P. Heatherington was relieved of duty today by Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, Director, Strategic Systems Programs, according to a press release from the Navy.

Heatherington took command of the NOTU, where hundreds of military and civilian workers conduct vital testing of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, in 2011. John Daniels, a spokesman for SSP in Washington, D.C., said command staff at NOTU erred in planning a golf tournament held last year to benefit the annual Submarine Birthday Ball. They solicited money from a local government contractor, which in some cases can be allowed, however, Daniels said the way the command staff did so was improper.

That wasn't all.

"They solicited money from a couple organizations in the local area that are in the adult entertainment industry," he said. "Those type of organizations just don't reflect positively on the Navy or (Department of Defense)." Daniels would not name the businesses, pointing out they did nothing wrong.

Heatherington was removed from duty because he was involved in the planning process and did nothing to stop his staff. "As the commanding officer he should have known better, but he failed to take action (when) people in his command who were going out and doing this," Daniels said.

Capt. Kevin R. Brenton, deputy director for SSP, has assumed duties as commanding officer. A permanent relief will report later this year. Heatherington's reassignment is pending, but he will be removed from NOTU, Daniels said. Other members of the NOTU who were involved in the stripper sponsorship scandal will also face consequences.

"The command as a whole will receive refresher ethics training," Daniels said in an email to FLORIDA TODAY. "Those that were directly involved in this incident will be held appropriately accountable - ranging from informal verbal counseling to written reprimand." NOTU's senior enlisted leader, Master Chief Petty Officer Eric Spindle, was also relieved of his duties for his involvement. Command Master Chief (SS) Victor Smith, SSP CMC, has assumed duties as senior enlisted leader for NOTU.

Groton-based Navy Master Chief Saves Life

When Master Chief Information Systems Technician (Submarines) Richard Okrasinski heard a radio call he didn’t think twice. A man whose car had flipped over in a crash and landed upside-down in a pond needed help. So Okrasinski acted immediately. He was headed to his home in Moosup, a small community in Plainfield, Conn., 30 minutes north of Naval Submarine Base New London where Okrasinski is stationed. As a member of the Submarine Technical Support Center, he troubleshoots information systems aboard Groton-based attack submarines.

But on the afternoon of Feb. 4, with temperatures below freezing and wearing only his new kicks, jeans and a sweatshirt, Okrasinski drove to the scene and jumped in the icy pond.

Fortunately, the Owego, N.Y.-native is a trained rescue diver for Moosup’s volunteer fire department in his off time. So responding to the rescue call wasn’t out of the ordinary, except for the fact that he didn’t have his rescue gear. He didn’t have an ice-water rescue suit; no ropes or floats; no diving gear…just guts.

According to local news reports, the crash occurred at 3:46 p.m. on Moosup Pond Road. A vehicle driven by a 50-year-old man struck a guardrail, went airborne and landed into a frozen body of water. The car was submerged up to its wheel wells. Okrasinski, 38, was on a road within a mile of the accident when the rescue call came on his firefighter radio channel. When he arrived at the scene, a witness told him at least one person was trapped in the overturned vehicle.

Okrasinski radioed to other firefighters and the Plainfield Police Department for additional help, and then headed in the water. The man trapped in the vehicle had only a three-inch air pocket. Okrasinski estimates the pond was four-feet deep. Plainfield police officers arrived seconds after Okrasinski jumped into the pond. One of the officers handed Okrasinski a sledgehammer to break the vehicle’s passenger-side window since the doors were locked. He sustained minor cuts to his left hand from the broken glass and also received treatment for hypothermia. But in the end, the driver was safely rescued.

Asked if he’d do it again, Okrasinski said, “I wouldn’t even think twice about it.” Selfless service seems to be a family legacy. His parents are both volunteer firefighters in his hometown. His younger sister is too. But why has he personally chosen to volunteer? “I’m a big fan of pay it forward,” he said. “If I can help you out, you might be able to help someone else. And life gets better for everyone.”

Okrasinski’s been paying it forward as a volunteer firefighter for 22 years, even before enlisting in the Navy in July 1994. He spends 10 hours of free time each week on firefighting duties. He trains, maintains his equipment, and responds to calls. In the last 12 months alone, Okrasinski says he’s been dispatched more than 100 times to respond to calls.

Over the course of a 20-year Navy career, Okrasinski has deployed 10 times to every major body of water overseas while assigned to USS Parche (SSN 683), USS Albuquerque (SSN 706) and USS Toledo (SSN 769). Although he deployed to a much shallower body of water that cold afternoon, his impact was no less tremendous. He helped save a life.

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