BIG Al, the Sailors' Pal, is Rear Adm. Albert H. Konetzni Jr., a 1966 U.S. Naval Academy graduate. He commands the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force.
Admiral sees need
for more subs
On his very first day as a midshipman at the academy in 1962 he was singled out for a goof, brought to the attention of the entire midshipman corps and labeled a "Zero." It was added that the last "Zero" lasted only five days before bilging out.
The nickname of Zero hung, but he did, too. He finally was re-labeled "Big Al, The Middie's Pal," when he came back to Annapolis in 1984 as deputy commandant. He was determined no midshipman would be embarrassed as he had been.
From there it was an easy transition to becoming "Big Al, the Sailors' Pal" as he moved up the ladder in assignments that had him in the Atlantic sub force, the Pentagon and at Yokosuka just before assignment last year to his office at Pearl Harbor with sub piers all around him.
He wishes more subs could be at those piers and has mounted a strong campaign to urge more.
Because of our shrunken sub fleet, he says, sailors must spend too much time on forward deployment, often submerged for 60 to 80 days at a time.
"Forward" means off potential trouble spots like North Korea.
These tours last 18 months. He sees six or 12 months as preferable from a morale standpoint.
Some of "forward" duty is port time at places like Yokosuka, but that's still away from wives and family for the 50 percent of sailors who are married.
Submariners are specially selected to be have stable temperaments and don't go bonkers when confined along with 149 others to a long steel tube for more than two months without surfacing.
They have high morale. Pacific fleet re-enlistments are good but Big Al would like to see them even higher to avoid the long training recruits must undergo before they join the fleet.
More home port time is essential in his view.
PacSubForce has published a classy color magazine of 28 pages called "Patrol" available on the Internet at http://www.csp.navy.mil. It makes Admiral Konetzni's case with charts, graphs, figures and text. He calls its story "the Good, the Bad and the Ugly" of the U.S. submarine force today.
THE Good is that we are doing great with what we have.
The Bad is that we are so overloaded we have missed or had to turn down critical obligations.
The Ugly is that we are still downsizing to the point we will either have to operate our subs at an unsustainable rate or increasingly miss national security obligations.
Today's U.S. fleet has 57 attack subs, scheduled to drop to 50. A study puts the minimum need at 60 to 62.
The fleet also has 18 Trident class subs, the hidden, submerged "avenging angels" that could fire nuclear missiles at an enemy who attacked the U.S. The Tridents are programmed to drop to 14.
Both lower numbers, he says, were adopted arbitrarily in an overall defense cutback and not supported by any study, as are the numbers he seeks.
"Big Al" truly is big -- 6 foot 3 inches and broad-shouldered. But he says he fits just fine into submarines, even the confining pre-nuclear World War II Bowfin at Pearl Harbor's Submarine Museum. He just has to stoop a bit more going through some doors than others do.
A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.