Michael Melia, Associated Press
26 May 2015
HARTFORD, Conn. — A psychiatrist with lengthy service aboard submarines, Navy Capt. Steven Wechsler for the past three years has led a little-known medical research laboratory in Groton, where teams of scientists work to better understand the wellness of sailors serving in the undersea fleet.
As the command changes Tuesday he said he is most proud of research that has led to changes he believes will improve conditions for sailors such as a new sleep schedule and the introduction of lightbulbs intended to mimic the frequency of daylight.
"We have some brilliant people devoted to their jobs and improving the lives of the sailors," Wechsler said in an interview.
Command of the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory is shifting from Wechsler to his executive officer, Capt. Frederick Yeo, at a ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.
In the sleep study, researchers at the lab found that submariners, who traditionally have begun a new workday every 18 hours, showed less fatigue on a 24-hour schedule. The Navy has since endorsed the new schedule for crews across the fleet to adopt when possible.
The lab also has been developing tools to assess how well crews perform as teams. On submarines, where crews have to rely on sensors to know where they are going, Wechsler said the tools can show how many inputs crews can handle and how well they are being processed.
The military lab is staffed by psychologists, audiologists, physicians, physiologists, engineers, divers, and others. It developed the psychological screening test for prospective submariners and it has used its hyperbaric chambers to develop widely used diving decompression tables.
In the future, Wechsler says he envisions the lab improving on the psychological screening and reviewing the language of tests taken by submariners for words that may no longer carry their intended meaning, among other projects.
Wechsler, who went back to school to become a physician after 13 years in the submarine force, is staying in Groton for his next posting: He is launching a mental health program that will provide preventive care for submarine sailors who may be dealing with stress or symptoms of depression.