GROTON, Conn. - Standing alone at the bottom of the 37-foot-deep, Pressurized Submarine Escape Trainer (PSET) tank, a Navy instructor patiently waits for his mother to start her ascent to the top.
For Navy Diver 3rd Class Philip Rogers, an instructor at Naval Submarine School (SUBSCOL), the thought of possibly training any member of his own family, yet alone his mother never crossed his mind. However, that is what occurred at the bottom of the PSET tank, Aug. 28.
Past submariners who have trained on the high-risk PSET have memories of it being one of the defining moments in their submarine careers. The same holds true for Chief Yeoman Christina Wetz, a Navy recruiter from San Antonio, Texas, who graduated Yeoman “C” School, Aug. 5, 2019 and is a converted Navy career counselor recruiter who volunteered for the Enlisted Women in Submarines program. Women like Wetz, both officers and enlisted, are contributing to growing and diversifying the Submarine Force.
“I spoke with my son about obtaining a new rating, and he recommended that I look at becoming a yeoman and serve with the Submarine Force, so I decided it was time to retrain for a new adventure,” said Wetz, who served for nine years as a Navy recruiter. Her first Navy rating was as a religious program specialist from 2007 to 2009 and she served as a personnel specialist from 2010 to 2019 at Navy Recruiting District Seattle.
His mother’s service is part of what inspired Rogers to join the Navy.
“My true motivation for joining the Navy was to receive my Navy warfare pin before my mom,” said Rogers, who is in his first tour at SUBSCOL.
“My son pinned my Navy anchors in 2012 and was raised watching (the true-story inspired film) Men of Honor, which I feel created a mix of inspiration for him to join the Navy,” said Wetz.
Wetz has certainly been given fond memories to cherish as her son provided the hands-on training to reaffirm the basic concept of completing the PSET during her time as a student at Basic Enlisted Submarine School (BESS). The seven-week course teaches the basic theory of construction and operation of submarines, including ships systems, organization and damage control. The operationally focused PSET training is one part of the course and introduces basic diving physiology.
“My son and I have always been close. It was amazing to see my son in a work environment and see how professional he and his team were. It takes a certain level of trust to shoot a 37-feet deep tank up to the top of the PSET,” said Wetz. “I felt like the memory I took at the deep part of the PSET tank was that as a mother, you raise your kid to trust you and now I felt I had to put my life in my son’s hands and trust him to keep me safe.”
For Rogers, he realized he had to treat his mom like every other student.
“I had to set aside our relationship and approach her with fresh wide eyes,” he said. “And when it came down to it, she was like every other Sailor. She had the same questions and the same concerns, and she looked the same.”
Wetz was wearing a submarine escape immersion equipment suit as she stepped into the escape trunk located at the deep part of the PSET tank to practice hands-on emergency procedures for a safe and orderly escape from a disabled submarine beneath the ocean waves.
Once a student enters the escape trunk located at the bottom of the PSET, they must respond to the instructor’s commands by reciting their name and signaling that they are okay, before they can be released to the top of the 84,000-gallon PSET.
“After her name, the only thing my mom said to me at the deep part of the escape trainer was, ‘I love you – Hooyah!’ I released her safety device so she could start her journey to the top of the escape trainer,” said Rogers.
Wetz graduated Sept. 27 from BESS and will report to Ohio-class cruise missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728) Blue Crew, Kings Bay, Ga. Rogers, who has served more than two years, plans to reenlist after his tour at SUBSCOL and move on to a diving salvage assignment while following in his mother’s footsteps.
SUBSCOL instructors, like Rogers, are ensuring that Sailors are equipped with the specific skills needed for their job, with the right training at the right time.
“What I learned is that you must treat every student you teach like your family: treat them kindly and without hurriedness, set realistic goals and expectations and be clear about communication – and don’t take past relationships into the deep part of the escape trainer with you. Safety is your first concern; fun is your second. With that attitude, you can coach anyone to complete the escape trainer course,” said Rogers.
Headquartered in Groton, Connecticut, SUBSCOL builds a foundation upon which officers and enlisted personnel are prepared to develop the competence and proficiency in skills necessary to operate and maintain their submarines. In an era of great power competition, a key advantage for the nation and the U.S. Navy is strength undersea.
For many people, the idea of training your mother in emergency shipboard procedures – in this case, escaping from a disabled submarine – may not be their idea of fun. But for Rogers and Wetz, their memories go as deep as the submarine escape trainer itself.