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Prototype in South Carolina

I'm starting this blog post off with a disclaimer: this was my experience as a Navy spouse as my husband went through prototype, another school in the nuclear Navy officer pipeline-- not his point of view, but mine. These are my thoughts and words, not his.

My husband is prior enlisted. When he went through prototype this time around, he had already gone through prototype before {as enlisted}; he had already been on a submarine; he had been in the Navy for 10 years. He went through the STA-21 program {more blog posts on that under "Military Resources"} and is going back through the pipeline as an officer. I felt his prior experience would work to his advantage in prototype and at least give him more time with our family than he had while in power school {read the "Power school" blog post}.

Students in prototype are on rotating shift work. The shifts are roughly these times, depending on which boat you get on and various other factors:
  • Days {day shift or first shift}: 7 am to 7 pm
  • Swings {swing shift or second shift}: 12 pm to 12 am
  • Mids {mid shift or third shift}: 8 pm to 8 am
*Note on shift hours: you need to add about an hour before and after these shifts because often they have to go in that much earlier and stay that much later for trainings and turning things over to the next shift.

As of right now, there are two prototypes, prototype in upstate New York and prototype in South Carolina. We went through prototype in South Carolina and I do not know how true all of this rings for upstate New York.

In South Carolina, there are two operational submarines {called boats} used for prototype. After the first 7 weeks of prototype, the classes are divided between the 2 boats. Even though the students are in one class, the submarines operate independently of each other and the training for the students on one submarine does not affect the training for the students on the other submarine. What I mean is, if the submarine you are on assigned to breaks down {as it did for us}, you do not get to go train on the other submarine until yours is operational again. While we were there and our boat was shut down, the students on the other boat kept moving forward and graduated on time while our graduation date was pushed back to graduate with the class behind us.

The first 7 weeks of prototype operate on a Monday through Friday day shift. After the first 7 weeks, rotating shift work starts. The shifts last 7 days and are 12 hour shifts. Here is how the schedule works:
  • 7 days of days
  • 2 days off
  • 4 days of training {"T-week," which has the same hours as day shift}
  • 4 days off
  • 7 days of swings
  • 2 days off
  • 7 days of mids
  • 2 days off
When shift work starts after the first 7 weeks of prototype, each of the students get assigned to a crew. Whatever shift your crew is on is the crew you will start shift work in on week 8. Some students actually started on day shift. We started shift work on swings.

The nice thing about shift work is that once it starts, you can mark your calendar from week 7 of prototype {you find out your crew around week 6 or week 7 and the shifts you are on around then} all the way to the graduation date. Because that's your schedule. And the first 7 weeks of prototype are days, so you can plan on that too. I liked that much better than the uncertainty of the study schedule in power school and felt like I saw my husband far more in prototype than I did in power school.

The first 7 weeks of prototype had to be 12 hour shifts. He spoke to his advisor and, after the first 2 weeks of prototype, he was allowed to come in early so he could leave early. With 4 children, arriving home shortly after 7 pm-- the busy hour of baths, pajamas, and stories before their 8 pm bedtime-- was crazy and chaotic. For the first 2 weeks of prototype, he came home to roughly 45 minutes to an hour of epic meltdowns. Over tired and excited children glad to see Daddy, tired from their day and resisting bedtime, to be bathed and put in bed by a hungry and exhausted Daddy. When he could go in earlier for his 12 hour shift, it was much better; he started going in between 5 am and 6 am. Even getting home at 6 pm gave him time to change and eat before the bedtime hour started. My husband wanted to help with the bedtime hour on those shifts because that was his only interaction with the children during day shift; on days he left before they woke up.


My husband's prior experience did work to our advantage in prototype; he spent most of the shifts on reduced hours. If students are a certain distance ahead of the curve in prototype, they are awarded reduced hours, which, depending on how far ahead of the curve they are, are either 8 or 10 hour shifts. Reduced hours made shift work far more bearable. On day shift, I asked him to be home by 6 pm, for the reasons stated above. On mid shift, he would leave for work after the kids went to bed at 8 pm. Most of the time he would go in at 10 pm, but, if he was really busy at work, he would go in at 9 pm. I loved mid shift. He would sleep in our guest room during the day, which was removed from the rest of the house, and sleep pretty much "work hours," 9 to 5, wake up in time for dinner, play with the children and then put them to bed, and then he and I would have time to curl up on the couch and watch a show together.

Swing shift was my least favorite shift. There was no good time to go in for swing shift. If he did reduced hours and went in at 2 pm, our whole morning routine was thrown off because we were hanging around the house until he woke up around 10 am and then we would hang around with him until he went in to work at 2 pm, which was about the time our toddlers went down to nap, which forced us to linger around the house even longer. It threw off the rhythm to our day. Swing shift kept him away on the busiest part of the day {evening hours} that was only made harder because our whole routine was thrown off by that awkward morning lingering {4 children off schedule = disaster}. He tried doing reduced hours to see us more, but eventually I told him that the reduced hours just made it harder. He used swing shift to work and stay ahead of the curve. The only nice thing about swing shift is that I used swings to schedule all our doctors appointments. I would schedule them around 10 or 11 am, after he woke up, and he would go in on reduced hours. We always tried to be home when he woke up on swing shift so the children could see him.

This is when we were exceptionally glad we homeschooled and had the flexibility to adjust our hours to be home with Daddy. If you look at the schedule, there are off days in there. Many of them aren't actually off days, but days to help transition your sleep schedule. Here is a breakdown of the sleep schedule on shiftwork:

Days:
It was hard not to look at days as a day shift, "Oh, yay! He's working regular hours and I will see him regular hours!" No. When he was on days, he had just come off mids so he was tired and grouchy. He went to bed at roughly the same time as the children and sometimes staying awake all the way until 8 pm was a struggle. There were times where he went in the boys' room to read them a story and I found him asleep on a twin bed with the boys climbing all over him.

2 day {The 2 days off in between days and T-week}:
This was our weekend. More often than not in fell on a weekday. Since we homeschooled, I never did school with our kids on these days, weekend or weekday. We usually ended up doing errands or put-off projects on these days, which I think is what most people do on these days, but parents with 4 kids definitely do on these days. These are the days that were either filled with car maintenance, doctors appointments that we worried would be too long to squeeze in before swing shift, and various other house projects. Rarely did we not have something along those lines on a 2 day. I do think that is normal with family life, though.

T-Week:
This is training week for the staff so the students had to go find other section's staff for their qualifications. This didn't affect me at all, as the spouse. During T-week, his sleep schedule was almost normal for a "regular" day shift.

4-day:
4-days were lovely! Mostly because swings come next and so he started really trying to stay up in the evenings. These are the nights of movie watching, no school days {homeschooling, remember?}, and playing outside {South Carolina, remember?}. Again, generally we had something going on {we have 4 kids}, but they were still something to look forward to and very much enjoyed, far more than the 2 day, which always felt like an awkward weekend...in the middle of the week.

Swings:
The weird thing about swing shift is that he was almost the most "normal" sleep-wise. He was most alert, most rested on swings, but we saw him the least. He only had to stay at work until midnight and then he came home and went to sleep, at least, the first part of each swing shift. The last part of swing shift is totally awkward. He starts trying to stay up later in preparation for mids, so he his rising time is later: 8 am, 9 am, 10 am... 10:30 am... and that time between the time he rises and the time he leaves for work shrinks... and he gets home after we are all in bed. I will also add, in my Navy wife experience, all bad things happen on swing shift. This is the shift that you will get a migraine; you will forget your ID at home and thus cannot get back on base; your children will all get sick; your best friend will have distant relatives in town and so cannot come over each evening to calm your nerves. This kind of stuff only happens on swing shift.

Swings to mids rotation:
These are the off days in between swings and mids. When I first saw these on the calendar I thought, "Aw, how lovely to have all these off days built in our calendar!" Nope. These are basically sleep days. The crews usually meet up in the middle of the night to help each other stay awake, such as meeting up for pizza or to play basketball. I never went to any of these because 1. I am not a bat, awake all night, and 2. We always have kids sleeping at home. I do know that some significant others did go with their military members to these get-togethers, but as the parent watching the children, I never did. During the day on these rotations, he slept. In the evening on these rotations, he was tired.

Mids:
Since he put in so much work at the end of swings and the swings to mids rotation, he was fairly prepared for mids each time. My husband has a gift for falling asleep. I am not saying that sarcastically. I do think it is a gift as a submariner. He can sleep just about anytime, anywhere. He had no problems sleeping during the day and no problems sleeping in our guest room with the children home. As the parent awake with the 4 children making noise as he slept, I did worry they were waking him or that he wasn't getting good rest. However, he always assured me they were fine. I started trusting this and letting the kids live their lives as normal. I said it before, but I loved mid shift. I looked forward to putting the kids to bed each evening and our time together to watch a movie and hang out without him being tired. When he left for work at 10 pm, this was the time that I was heading to bed anyways and so I didn't really think of this as time away from him. I didn't like sleeping alone and sleeping alone bothered me far more in the past. Living on base with 4 children, a cat, and a dog in the house, across the street from my best friend and her husband {who was on a different shift than us}, helped me feel far less alone. I did miss falling asleep next to him and one mid shift I made the error of reading a scary book, but, in general, I slept fine. I do know that mid shift wasn't his favorite for his sleep schedule, but he did enjoy our time together and the time with the kids. He came home just as the children were waking up and spent all evening with us.

Mids to days rotation:
These days and the first part of days were enough to make me doubt each time if I really loved mid shift as much as I thought I did. Man, these were tired, grouchy days for him. He would try to stay awake as long as possible, but it was impossible, even with the children distracting him. He was so tired. I tried to leave him alone as much as possible on these days, no planning anything that could wait.

"Thanks," you say, "for the sleep schedule. But what is prototype? How do you pass it?" I'm not even going to pretend that I understand exactly how the system works to get qualified at prototype. Here is a very simplified version of the process:
  • You do computer check outs to see if you are prepared enough to monopolize an instructor's time for an actual check out where you can get signatures for your "qual card" {qualification card, which is actually a ginormous book requiring upwards of 650 signatures}.
  • You must complete all the computer check outs.
  • You must get all the signatures.
  • There are verbal check outs with the instructors and then there are check outs where you have to stand watch.
  • There are smaller watch standing check outs and bigger watch standing check outs. If you are in charge of the watch, you are the Engineering Officer of the Watch {EOOW}. That is a Big Deal and deserves a special dinner the first time you stand it.
  • You have to take a comprehensive exam which takes about 8 hours to complete. This is a Pretty Big Deal and also demands a special dinner after you pass.
  • To graduate prototype, you have to stand a watch board and, the very last thing, the oral board. These are Even Bigger Deals and sometimes people fail them. They get about 2 more tries if they fail them. These deserve Big Celebrations after they are passed.
  • After all that, your crew goes out to a celebratory dinner together in which everyone takes a cab home.
Besides the sleep schedule and the check out process, there is the boat schedule to contend with. When he started prototype, we thought with his prior experience that he would be qualified quickly. I briefly mentioned before that each class gets divided between the 2 boats. Our class had a January graduation date. Our boat broke and our grad date floated around for a long while before finally being pushed back to join the class behind us for the March grad date. The people in our class on the other boat did graduate in January and went to the February SOBC class. Since our grad date was pushed back to March, now he is in the April SOBC class. The boat schedule is frustrating. I especially disliked that when a boat is shut down, you can't get quals on the other operational boat. You are just stuck sitting around doing what you can until your boat gets running again. Prototype is supposed to be 24 weeks long and it took us 32 weeks due to the boat we were on. Not only did he not qualify as quickly as we thought it would take, but he stood rotating shiftwork 8 weeks after his projected grad date.

Around the time you start rotating shiftwork, week 8, you put in your Dream Sheet, which ranks your duty station options and boat types 1 through 10. Around week 20, 4 weeks before graduation if your crew is on schedule, you get orders with your duty assignment {read my blog post, "Submarine officer's JO tour dream sheet" for more information on duty station options, etc.}. Some people have already gone through SOBC and will report to their boats immediately after graduation; some, like us, have SOBC after prototype and report to their boat after SOBC. When our boat shut down and our grad date got pushed back, the orders for our class were taken away and reissued. It was such an uncertain time. We had to cancel a house hunting trip we had planned over one of his 4 days; I ended up flying out to our next duty station to go house hunting without him because he can't take time off in prototype. It was a mess. It was made messier because we didn't know what his grad date was, what SOBC class he would be in, if our orders would stay the same. I got our house ready in January to pack out early February. Then our orders changed and we ended up packing out in March. I am glad that is all over.

Prototype, to me, started out far better than power school. I loved the reduced hours. I loved knowing exactly when he would be home and what his schedule was for the next couple weeks. I loved the 4 day weekends and being able to schedule doctors appointments when he would be home to watch the children. However--big however-- by the time it was over, I was over prototype. I hated the uncertainty at the end. Are we moving now? We had written and cut orders that changed. Are we going to the same boat? Same state? What SOBC class will he be in? When can we go house hunting? How much longer will he have rotating shiftwork? I had anticipated rotating shiftwork until-- at the latest-- his grad date in January, not all the way until March. I didn't ever quite grasp how the system worked to get signatures and what you were supposed to do when your boat was shut down and so, to me, it often felt disjointed or that nagging feeling of, "Surely there is a better way!" {Perhaps that is my mom-of-4 organizational skills kicking in, attempting to find the quickest and easiest system.}

I often had that feeling in prototype that I was being impatient, that boat life is harder than this. That I needed to take a deep breath and enjoy him being home. Our last boat was a fast attack submarine and that life was so up and down, in and out, nothing but uncertainty--never being able to count on him being home, always having my plans cancelled. Needing him, needing a day with a him, a night with him, a moment with him-- preferably when it could be us, not us where he is tired with gray circles under his eyes and I'm frazzled, but us how we are in my mind, how we were. And when I compared prototype to boat life, I felt guilty. Boat life was so so so much harder. I knew I had it better in prototype, yet I struggled so much with the desire for this ever changing grad date, the tedious rotating shiftwork, the endless move preparations {with 4 children underfoot!} to be over... I thought of the loneliness and isolation of boat life, not being able to tell my family boat movements. And, yet, I was impatient. It was one of those times as a Navy wife where the grass is greener and yet you know it is not. You know the next thing isn't better than the current thing, and still you long for a change. I'm terrified to get back on a submarine, now with 4 children instead of 1 like last time. I'm sure when he leaves on that first underway I am going to cry thinking about warm South Carolina afternoons where he was working on a project in our garage and our children were riding bikes around the driveway while I sat and drank sweet tea watching our life march forward...

Comments

Jocelyn Stewart said…
Having shifts can help add some predictability to your life, at least for awhile, especially when it often seems the only constant is change.

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