17 March 2007

Position:  73-06N/145-43W

Temperature:  -10ºF


Happy St. Patrick’s Day from APLIS.  Weather today was the opposite from yesterday.  Started out a cold clear morning but an overcast developed in the early afternoon.


Overnight, the boats started into their first Tactical Development test.  This is a series of tests designed to evaluate performance of new sonars and other systems on both of the submarines.  It’s the reason we have set up the camp and will take up the majority of our test time.


We have a round-the-clock watch team providing tracking range information for the submarines and coordinating all the tests/events.  Like everything else we’re doing here, our watches reflect the international military-civilian flavor of APLIS.  The Range Safety Officers continuously monitor the submarines’ location to assist them with their operations and ensure that everything is safe.  This watch is manned by LtCdr Stuart Capes, the Royal Navy Submarine Force navigator; LCDR Paul Acquavella, the Senior watch Officer at the Pacific Submarine Force headquarters; LCDR Mike Johnson, the Operations Officer at Submarine Development Squadron Five; and LT Jeff St. George, a Watch Officer at the Atlantic Submarine Force Headquarters.  Assisting them on watch are Senior Chief Bissonette, from Arctic Submarine Laboratory; Petty Officer Darren Davies, from the Royal Navy’s Maritime Warfare Centre; and Tim Ayers from Arctic Submarine Laboratory.


RSOs - Mike Johnson, Jeff St George, & Stuart Capes


These watches hold down the fort in our Command Hut - the communication center of APLIS.  We can talk to the submerged submarines by underwater voice and using the ACOMMS system; when they’re surfaced by radio.  We also communicate with the airplanes, the helicopter, and field parties by radio.  We also have Iridium telephone link with the our Prudhoe Bay logistics bases and other places ashore.  Sometimes it seems that we’re talking on all of these circuits at the same time but our watch teams handle everything with calm professionalism.


First thing this morning, we broke off from testing to have ALEXANDRIA surface again.  The reason for this was to embark today’s VIP party.  This group was hosted by Comander Naval Submarine Force, Vice Admiral John Donnelly and included Navy Secretary Donald Winter; Congressman John Culberson from Texas; Congressman Rick Larsen from Washington; Ms. Sid Ashworth, the Defense advisor to Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska; and Rear Admiral David Cooke, head of the Royal Navy submarine force.


Early in the afternoon, the VIP party departed Prudhoe Bay and headed for APLIS.  But as they were on their way here, the fog started to set in, reducing visibility ad making any landing a bit tricky.  Pilot Shawn Shoultys, who’s been flying into APLIS for over a week, was familiar with our layout.   He brought his plane down on our icy runway then helped talked the second Cessna in as well.  After a brief tour of the camp, it was time to send the VIPs out to ALEX but, by this time, the freezing fog had set in so badly that the helicopter couldn’t take off.  Unfazed, the VIPs had a great time experiencing camp life.  The Secretary and VADM Donnelly even took their turns at mining ice to help keep us in drinking water.


VADM Donnelly (Commander, Submarine Force) Mining Ice


After about on hour of being stranded at APLIS, the weather cleared enough for the helo pilot to make it out to ALEX by hugging the ground.  We set the VIPs off to ALEX where they will get to spend the night under the ice before surfacing tomorrow and returning to Washington.


It was an interesting experience all around.  The weather disrupted our schedule but, in typical APLIS style, everybody came through safe and happy.  A lot of credit to our pilots who came through for us in tough circumstances.


Jeff Gossett

Arctic Submarine Laboratory