Jeff Schogol, Navy Times
6 September 2015
Air Force Capt. Jessica Tiffany is learning firsthand about the Navy's role in the nuclear triad. Stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, she is taking part in a three-year exchange with Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic.
"It's really great to see the different processes that the Navy uses that we can, hopefully, bring some of those back to the Air Force," she said in an interview.
Tiffany was selected by U.S. Strategic Command's Striker Trident program, which allows missileers and bubbleheads to trade places and get a better understanding of how each other's services operate.
"The Air Force has recently been doing a lot with the Force Improvement Program in Air Force Global Strike Command, and a lot of those grassroots ideas of delegating to the lower level I can see here in the Navy," Tiffany said.
The Striker Trident program was created in 2014 as part of the Air Force's efforts to improve morale in the nuclear force, which was reeling from an investigation of missileers were cheating on a monthly proficiency exam.
At the time, Global Strike Command looked at how "insular" missileer's career path was and what cross-flow opportunities there are in other communities, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, deputy commander at STRATCOM and former head of Global Strike Command.
"We also got feedback from the FIP [Force Improvement Program] team that they wanted more opportunity to do something else in the nuclear enterprise, so this was both top-down and bottom-up initiative," Wilson said in a Sept. 4 statement to Air Force Times. "Since the concept was already underway, we were able to execute and implement quickly."
Air Force Maj. Tracy Prey, who is the Global Strike Command liaison for the program, said the program is designed to do is to "cross-pollinate" - "to give our Navy junior officers and our Air Force company-grade officers an opportunity to share some of their nuclear deterrence policies, operations and procedures so they can glean best practices between the two services."
The military has learned that joint environments are conducive for creative thinking, said Adm. Cecil Haney, head of STRATCOM.
"The exposure to our sister services really brings about the strength of each service's culture," Haney said in an interview. "As a result, I think, when you combine more
than one service, you get more novel approaches and ideas."
Air Force to Navy
Four airmen were selected to take part in the staff officer exchange, which began in the summer of 2014.
Tiffany has helped run exercises for ballistic missile submarines - just as she ran exercises as a missile combat crew commander at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.
At some point in her exchange, Tiffany will go underway on a boomer, schedule permitting, she said. That experience is one reason why she volunteered for the exchange.
"Not very many people get to go onto a nuclear submarine, especially the Air Force," she said.
Tiffany constantly asks questions about Navy processes, which are slightly different from what she is used to in the Air Force.
While she got some immersion in Navy terminology before her start, she has had a lot of on-the-job training in Navyspeak, she said.
"Somebody will be saying something - maybe it's an acronym that I didn't know - it's like: 'Hold on; Air Force; can you guys slow down, explain?'" Tiffany said.
She has also translated Air Force missile terminology for her Navy counterparts, she said.
"I think that the experience for my time out here will help me see different approaches to doing things - more leadership styles, which is something I'm always looking at," Tiffany said.
Navy to Air Force
During his time with intercontinental ballistic missile forces at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Navy Lt. Mitchel Normand has been struck by the similarities between how the two services approach the nuclear mission.
"The way a submariner and an ICBM officer think are almost identical," Normand said in a Sept. 2 email to Air Force Times. "We are very adherent to following procedures verbatim and question the reason for everything we do."
However, the services have different concepts of what responsibilities individual airmen and sailors should have, he said.
"I do find that the submariner is a jack of all trades having to do maintenance, operations, security and damage control," Normand said. "The Air Force makes experts for each of those fields. But again, the differences I see in all aspects of work are generally for a reason."
Normand said he learned about aircraft before arriving at Barksdale, but that did not adequately prepare him for missile operations.
"I think the Air Force guys here studied more Navy terminology to make me feel comfortable ... telling me where things like the coffee mess were located," he said.
Normand arrived in March after serving aboard the ballistic missile submarine Alaska. He said he has always been interested in the nuclear mission and wanted to see how the other services approached it.
"Working with the Air Force has blown many of the negative stereotypes out of my mind," Normand said. "Everyone I have met has been a hard worker that takes pride in what they do. It was great to go the missile fields and experience the hours of driving that have to be done every day just to start work. Just doing that gives me appreciation for the work they do."
How it works
When the Air Force selects which airmen it wants to spend time with the Navy, Prey sends them on temporary duty assignments to help bolster their knowledge of the nuclear enterprise, he said.
That includes a five-day Defense Threat Reeducation Agency course that offers an overview of the Air Force's nuclear policies and operations and visits to Energy Department facilities, such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico or the Sandia National Laboratories in Washington, D.C.
"We'll also bring them here to Air Force Global Strike Command headquarters [at Barksdale] for a senior leader perspectives briefing, so the senior leaders in Global Strike Command can give them an understanding and an expectation for working in the joint environment and what the senior leaders are hoping for them to glean from that intern position," Prey said.
Striker Trident is a staff officer program, so it is not meant to teach sailors how to launch ICBMs or airmen how to drive submarines, he said.
"Our real goal is for them [airmen] to get some SLBM [submarine launch ballistic missile] understanding and how they do their SLBM operations," Prey said.
After the airmen and sailors are finished with the exchange, STRATCOM plans to send them to jobs where they can "properly leverage the experience that they've garnered," he said.
"Eventually, these officers are going to go work for the Joint Staff or STRATCOM, and they are going to work in that joint environment, and the better prepared they are to understand the other two legs of the triad and how they run nuclear options, the better nuclear and better joint officers they are going to be," Prey said.
Having submariners and missileers learn from each other is an important way to give STRATCOM officers an overall picture of how deterrence works, Haney said.
"The intercontinental ballistic missiles are designed to be our responsive portion of the triad such that we have folks on that are in communications on a continuous basis 24/7," he said. "The ballistic missile submarines are the most survivable portion of the triad. So consequently, there are different attributes and considerations for both."
By exposing STRATCOM personnel to other parts of the nuclear triad, Haney hopes they get a better understanding of how important deterrence is, especially amid current tensions with Russia and North Korea, he said.
"What we've been doing for the last 70 years and what we continue to do is to ensure that no adversary can think that they can escalate their way out of a failed conflict
into extreme circumstances, and that's what this nuclear deterrent force is all about," Haney said.
"When you look at some of the behaviors that are occurring today in the international community, whether it's Kim Jong Un in North Korea, whether it's Putin and some of the things he's saying about his nuclear arsenal, the long-range strategic aircraft flights . it's very important that we have the readiness right and we continue to work on