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Marines, sailors get lesson in submarines, aquatic mammals

By 2nd Lt. Kyle Thomas, Public Affairs Officer | | July 22, 2010

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Marines and sailors from Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany toured one of the world’s largest nuclear powers, July 12.

The nuclear power, the USS Maryland, is a Trident class submarine in port at Naval Submarine Bases in Kings Bay, Ga.

“This tour is a part of a professional military education that is meant to give us a broader understanding of how other units and services accomplish the mission,” said Col. Terry V. Williams, commanding officer, MCLB Albany. “This understanding helps us perform our jobs better.”

The tour consisted of numerous sections of USS Maryland, including the berthing area, mess quarters as well as the command deck, torpedo deck and other compartments.

“The unusual aspect of the submarine is that the racks are near the tubes that hold the ballistic missiles,” said Navy Senior Chief Cole D. Alcorn, ship’s diving officer, USS Maryland. “This compartment is called ‘Sherwood Forest’ because all of the tubes look like trees. This is by far the largest portion of the submarine.”

For one sailor on the tour, the trip was a homecoming. Navy Lt. Marvin Albers, deputy resident officer in charge of construction, Navy Facilities Southeast, MCLB Albany, served on the USS Maryland between 2006 and 2008 as the ship’s electronics officer, among other billets.

“What people may or may not know is that when this submarine is loaded up [with nuclear missiles] it is the world’s third largest nuclear power,” Albers said. “When I say that, of course, I am referring to just the submarine itself, not the entire submarine fleet. The first and second would be the United States and Russia, respectively.”

Officers and staff noncommissioned officers also toured the Navy’s Marine Mammal Systems Detachment, which is comprised of aquatic mammal trainers, bottle-nosed dolphins and sea lions trained in interdiction and security operations.

The contractors and aquatic mammals performed a mock demonstration, which consisted of a bottle-nosed dolphin marking a foreign object in the water. This was followed by a California sea lion spotting the mark and retrieving the foreign object.

“It’s a two-part process,” said George Nishimura, lead supervisor, Marine Mammal Systems, Science Applications International Corporation. “The dolphin marks the foreign object which they are trained to spot and then the seal lion executes the second part which is the interdiction.”

The trainers, who are contractors working for SAIC, train the mammals from the time that they are pups to perform security operations in areas like Naval Submarine Bases Kings Bay. The training process for California sea lions, specifically, take between four to five years.

“Navy’s Marine Mammal Systems use dolphins and sea lions to find and mark the location of underwater objects. Dolphins use their technologically unmatched sonar, and sea lions use their sensitive underwater directional hearing and low-light vision to detect objects in the water and on the sea floor. The animals are trained to provide security by patrolling areas and identifying and marking objects for retrieval, including those presenting a danger to personnel,” according to investors.saic.com, SAIC’s official Web site.

“Our primary job is the care of these aquatic mammals, Nishimura said. “If we don’t take good care of them and don’t ensure that we feed them right then they won’t pay attention to us. It’s as simple as that.”

Nishimura, who was also a trainer at Sea World, in Orlando, Fla., says that living conditions of these mammals differ drastically from what many people may expect.

“These mammals have a good bit of freedom. We never keep them pinned up for very long. We let them out into the wild to patrol and they always come back,” Nishimura said. “When they are out there they mainly forge for their own food. You can always tell when they are full because they come back and float on their backs. Of course, when they are back we have veterinarians from the Army to check and make sure that they are staying healthy.”


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