Groton — When a computer breaks, a novice can usually tinker with it to fix a basic problem.
But at some point you need a professional, said Master Chief Petty Officer Travis Brummer, and the submarine force has reached that point.
This week at the Naval Submarine School, 16 sailors began learning how to operate and maintain the state-of-the-art computer systems and networks on board submarines. They will be the first sailors formally trained and certified to do so.
"Now the submarine force will get much more effective, trained and certified information systems technicians," said Brummer, the command master chief at the Center for Information Dominance at Corry Station, Fla.
The Navy created a new job, or rate, for submariners in December called Information Systems Technician Submarines, and launched the 19-week Information Systems Technician "A" School at the submarine school as a learning site for the center to train sailors for the job.
Until now, a sailor in another job on a submarine volunteered to work on the computers too.
But that put the sailor at a disadvantage when he had to take tests for his regular job because he spent so much time away from it, said Chief Kevin Dingman, the site director.
And, Dingman said, "technology has grown to the point where you can't do it part-time anymore." There are dedicated information systems technicians on ships that have larger crews and more space.
Brummer and Dingman said they couldn't discuss the cyber warfare aspects of the training but they did say submarines can better defend against security threats with these new information systems technicians on board.
Brummer said he told the sailors their training is important to the Navy and the nation.
"I wanted to address them to let them know I needed them to work very hard and study and take it very seriously," he said.
The "A" School is followed by two other courses, for a total of 11 months of training. The Navy's goal is to eventually graduate 96 students annually. The size of the submarine crews is not expected to change, Brummer said.
On the second day of class, Seaman Caleb Allen, who joined the Navy in December, said the instructor had already "gone over everything that makes a computer tick." The pace of the course, Allen said, is "insane."
"It's really exciting. It's very stimulating," said Allen, 28, of Indiana.
Seaman Recruit Darius Sellers, 18, said working on computers had always been a hobby. He fixed the computer at his church in South Carolina and recorded the sermons. He said he was looking forward to turning his hobby into a career.
"I think it's important. You need someone who can fix all that stuff when things go wrong," he said. "You need constant communications throughout the boat and with the rest of the fleet."
"It's an honor to be the first, to kind of bring in the rate as a whole," he added.