by U.S. Strategic Command Public Affairs
10/8/2015 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Through
the Striker Trident nuclear officer exchange program, four
hand-selected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) officers,
assigned to various Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) units, are
broadening their horizons by serving multi-year tours with U.S. Navy
Submarine Forces (SUBFOR) ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) units.
The recently-implemented program enables Navy and Air Force
nuclear-qualified officers to gain an expanded view of the nuclear
triad, as well as each leg's respective role in U.S. Strategic Command's
(USSTRATCOM) strategic deterrence mission. The four Air Force officers
selected for the initial exchange are gaining first-hand experience with
SSBNs, the most survivable leg of the nation's strategic forces.
"It is a great honor to be selected in the first group of participants
in this program," said Air Force Capt. Patrick McAfee, who is serving a
three-year assignment as a strategic targeting assistant in the
strategic forces, nuclear weapons and force protection directorate at
Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC) at Joint Base
Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. COMSUBPAC is also designated as
USSTRATCOM's Task Force 134.
"After serving in ICBM operations and maintenance at two missile wings, I
was interested in broadening my knowledge of strategic operations," he
said. "I have already benefitted from learning about the complementary
roles of ICBMs and SSBNs."
Before entering the exchange program in November, 2014, McAfee was
assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.
He credits his father's service in the U.S. Navy for his eagerness to
apply for the program and learn about SSBN and Navy operations, saying
"it seemed like a great opportunity to join my Air Force experience with
my Navy roots."
Air Force Capt. John Mayer said his time with a Navy unit has reinforced
his appreciation for the importance of teamwork. In December, 2014, he
began a two-year assignment as an assistant strategic targeting officer
in the strategic forces directorate at Commander, Submarine Force, U.S.
Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT) in Norfolk, Virginia. COMSUBLANT is also
designated as USSTRATCOM's Task Force 144.
After leaving 20th Air Force headquarters at F.E. Warren Air Force Base,
Wyoming, Mayer immediately noticed the close proximity in which SSBN
crew members work.
"When you put more than one hundred men and women in a submarine
underwater, in dangerous conditions with a challenging mission, good
leaders can't help but build good teams," he said. "With everyone's
safety dependent on the competence of their shipmates, a lot of good
He went on to describe the operations of an ICBM crew, which often differ greatly from those in the SSBN community.
"An ICBM team might be composed of one missile combat crew member
talking to a team chief 20 miles away and a missile maintenance
operations center controller a hundred miles away; but they will likely
never meet face to face," he said.
Air Force Capt. Cody daMota left the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air
Force Base, North Dakota, to serve his three years of "sea time" as an
assistant nuclear weapons surety officer in COMSUBPAC headquarters'
strategic forces, nuclear weapons and force protection directorate. He
arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in May and said the program
has already enabled him to see the mission through a wider lens.
"As young [company-grade officers/junior officers], we have a pretty
narrow perspective on nuclear operations that is pretty much limited to
what we do in our day-to-day jobs," he said. "This program has already
significantly broadened my perspective."
He also predicted that participants - present and future - will benefit
from the experience and bring new ideas back to their respective wings
and submarine groups, strengthening the deterrence force.
"I believe this program will provide an increased level of knowledge and
appreciation for the bigger strategic picture and how everyone fits
into it," he said. "This in turn will lead to higher job satisfaction
and increased morale."
Capt. daMota described his selection for the initial Striker Trident
exchange as "a great honor," while acknowledging the responsibility that
comes with the unique opportunity.
"We are breaking new ground in this assignment and charting a course for
our successors," he said. "Our work here will set the tone for many
years to come."
Like Capt. Mayer, Air Force Capt. Jessica Tiffany is serving as an
assistant strategic targeting officer in the strategic forces
directorate at COMSUBLANT in Norfolk, Virginia. She started her
three-year Striker Trident exchange in May, after serving with the 341st
Missile Wing, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.
She said that she saw a "new and unique" opportunity to serve in a joint
nuclear environment and decided to apply for Striker Trident. She also
noted how the program provides participants a "fresh look" at how their
counterparts conduct deterrence operations and said she hopes "to have
some impact on the program for future Striker Trident members, where I
can help make the program better."
"There are plenty of reasons a service does things one way or another,"
she said. "Sometimes the answer is 'because we've always done it this
way' and with the changes to the nuclear enterprise, we (the Air Force
and Navy) can make improvements to better accomplish USSTRATCOM's
Capt. Tiffany's experience was also featured in a recent Air Force Times article, which can be viewed at http://www.airforcetimes.com/story/military/careers/2015/09/06/exchange-allows-missileers-and-submariners-switch-services/71632792/.
The four participants in the initial Striker Trident exchange program
shared their thoughts on the experience, lessons learned through the
program, and provided advice for officers who may be interested in
What has surprised you most about the experience, Navy culture or the SSBN mission?
CAPT DAMOTA: Although there are
obvious, significant differences between the SSBN and ICBM missions, it
has surprised me how much common ground we have as a force with regards
to the challenges, stresses and victories we perceive.
CAPT MAYER: Every career field demands amazing
proficiency at difficult tasks from very junior members. You get used to
your job though, and forget how impressive it may be to an outsider.
Having no familiarity with submarine operations, I was truly blown away
by the performances I saw underway. Very young sailors, enlisted and
officers alike, do unbelievably challenging things that affect the
entire crew's safety and an incredibly valuable national asset. They do
it under pressure every day, and they do it very well.
CAPT MCAFEE: I have been impressed by the complexity of
SSBN operations. While ICBM operations can be complex in their own
right, SSBN operations are infinitely more so. At [USSTRATCOM's] TF-134,
we manage eight units that independently move through a large portion
of the Pacific Ocean plus all of the associated support facilities and
organizations. Just the sheer scale of the operating area and the fact
that the units are mobile complicates the equation immensely.
Additionally, communications, supplies, materiel condition, parts
availability and humanitarian issues all significantly impact
operations. From what I have seen, the Navy does an excellent job of
handling the interplay between these challenges while meeting mission
CAPT TIFFANY:Although this may seem obvious, one of the
biggest adjustments I've had to wrap my head around is the number of
layers that go into the SSBN strategic mission because they operate in a
moving environment. SSBN crews not only have to concentrate on
strategic mission procedures, but also on keeping a large metal tube
undetected in a vast ocean without hitting anything.
What is the most significant take away from your Striker Trident experience?
CAPT DAMOTA: My most significant take away has been my
exposure to different ways of thinking and approaching problem solving.
After being in any career field for a period of time, I believe that
thinking becomes somewhat homogenized, so it is very healthy that
individuals be exposed to diverse experiences and thought processes. The
Striker Trident program is unequivocally accomplishing this.
CAPT MAYER: I will definitely take away a better
perspective of how ICBMs, or any other individual mission area, plays
just one role in the bigger picture. In career fields like ICBM
operations, it is easy for a junior officer to forget that there is more
to the Air Force than ICBMs, and more to the DoD than the Air Force.
CAPT MCAFEE: My greatest take away will be an in-depth
understanding of big picture SSBN operations and issues that affect the
joint force. I've been exposed to many complexities that the fleet deals
with on a daily basis, including scheduling challenges, changes and
conflicts, exercise requirements, inspection requirements, materiel
problems, nuclear weapons surety and security issues. All of these
subjects significantly affect how the Navy meets USSTRATCOM requirements
and mirror the issues that affect the Air Force in the ICBM fields. By
acquiring a working knowledge of these subjects in two of the three legs
of the triad, I believe that I will be an asset in my future
assignments. There are few Air Force or Navy officers that have this
first-hand experience in two areas of strategic operations, and the
Striker Trident program will pay dividends in the future for the nuclear
enterprise as a whole.
CAPT TIFFANY: There is always something to learn. I am
constantly asking questions about similarities and differences between
ICBM and SSBN procedures and asking "why" a lot. The more I learn, the
more questions I have. I'd like to think I'm getting a better idea of
how the triad works together to accomplish nuclear deterrence. I look
forward to the next few years.
What advice do you have for those interested in the Striker Trident program?
CAPT DAMOTA: I absolutely love this program, so my
advice would be to go for it. When I initially applied, there was no one
who had been in the Striker Trident program, so I basically applied
blind because of my interest in the SSBN mission. Now, there are four
USAF and two USN personnel already in the position.
CAPT MAYER: It is a great opportunity that you will not regret applying for!
CAPT MCAFEE: I personally think it is a great
opportunity, but it may not be for everyone. Each officer serving in the
Striker Trident program is more than willing to share our experiences
with anyone who might be interested.
CAPT TIFFANY: Try to gain as much experience in
different positions wherever you are stationed. I think it is important
to get as much "big picture" experience as you can so you gain a better
understanding of how the nuclear enterprise works as a whole, instead of
just one aspect of it. This has been a great learning experience so
far, so I think anyone who is interested should apply.
One of nine DoD unified combatant commands, USSTRATCOM has global
strategic missions, assigned through the Unified Command Plan, which
include strategic deterrence; space operations; cyberspace operations;
joint electronic warfare; global strike; missile defense; intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance; combating weapons of mass destruction;
and analysis and targeting.