Friday, March 09, 2012

What is a SWO?

Yes, blogging has been light - I, even as a "semi-retired" guy, get busy now and then and this is a "then" period. On the other hand, light blogging leads me off on merry adventures in thinking about things that I really ought to blog more about. One such topic that popped into my head the other day as I was driving from one meeting to another involved the simple question posed in the headline. It popped in there because of one of those introduction processes we do, where it came up that I had, in fact, served in the Navy. The following conversation ensued:
Them: "Oh, what did you do in the Navy? Were you a lawyer?"

Me: "No, I was a SWO."

Them: Blank look. "A what?"

Me: "A Surface Warfare Officer"

Them: Blank look.

Me: "I drove ships. I was a ship driver."

Them: "You steered ships?"

Me: "Well, . . . not all the time."

Them: "I had a friend whose brother was a Navy pilot. That must be exciting."

Me: "One of my sons is a Navy pilot."

Them: "Oh, is he a Top Gun?"

Me: "Oh! Look, a squirrel!"
So, I was pondering the ease of s simply saying "I was a pilot" or "I was a submariner" or "I was a SEAL" or even "I was a supply officer." Why is being a officer of the surface line so hard to explain? What is a SWO? Something to blog more about, I suppose.


  1. This should be a panel discussion with the JOs at Surface Navy Association next January.

    1. Agreed.
      I think the last movie that had much to do with surface ships was In Harm's Way, though there was an Australian Tv show called Sea Patrol that centered around the crew of a patrol boat. It gets a bit soap operaish, but the parts about what they actually do isn't bad.

      We just don't get the popular media coverage that the other warfare specialties do. We had a running joke on one of my ships that they should make a "Top Sweep" movie about minesweepers.

      I suspect part of it is that the broadness of the spectrum of what 1110s do eludes many people. They find it hard to comprehend that while it is a specialty, the profession is not a narrow specialty.

      As far as using another warfare area as cover goes: I had one colleague when I was teaching that somehow managed to conflate "ship's diver" (my collateral duty on most of my commands) to "SEAL", which required regular correction. The guy simply couldn't understand that the SEALs weren't the only divers in the Navy. ah well.

  2. There are lots of examples of awesome SWO-related activity. You could say:
    - I hunt down pirates when they are at sea
    - I provide ballistic missile defense to Europe
    - I pick up all the Iranian sailors that seem to fall overboard in the Indian Ocean

    Perhaps it's because SWOs do so many things that it is hard to explain.

  3. Anonymous2:06 PM


    Elvis Presley was a mine sweep SWO back before they came out with SWO. I can't recall the name of the movie right off.

    Now that I'm old I tell them I wore the Trident and they wander off blankly wondering how a guy like me could ever be a SEAL. I don't have the heart to tell them that the Command Ashore pin is a little trident.

    1. Actually, it was the aforementioned minesweeper, USS Gallant MSO 489. Before she was turned over to the Chinese a still from the movie hung in the wardroom.

      Elvis played an EOD type in the movie, if memory serves.

  4. Anonymous3:04 PM

    See reruns of "McHale's Navy" excepts SWOs are serious (sometimes).

  5. Anonymous3:17 PM

    I frequently say I'm a delivery man. If they press, I specify: International Maritime Deliveries. The one time someone continued past that level, I replied, "I deliver lethal doses of kinetic energy to those that seek to harm the republic."

    It's no less accurate than "Ship Driver", and I get to have more fun with it.

  6. ...
    Me: "Oh! Look, a squirrel!"
    It is very professional that you have an exit strategy for such instances.

    I do not think that SWO could have a simple answer such as "I was a pilot" or "I was a submariner” as a SWO prety much does what a naval officer performs well since Nelson.

  7. What is a SWO? Why a man who wears SWOverals of course.....

  8. Grandpa Bluewater4:01 PM

    The correct response is "One of the seagoing professional naval officers who are the true inheritors of the mantle of John Paul Jones."

    If they don't get that, ask "And what's your line?"

  9. As I said at Phib's place-the surface community used to be better at explaining themselves. "Surface Line-Mighty Fine" wasn't such a bad slogan. Then again-that was back in the days when being a line officer actually meant something.

    Up Out and Down was kind of hard to understand-and it was especially so once you learned that SWO's eat their young.

    1. Combat Wombat6:48 AM

      Skippy: My experience in the 80's gator fleet was that the phrase was "surface warfare - down and out "

  10. The Usual Suspect4:28 PM

    I think since the title SWO covers so many different areas of responsibility that the SWO needs to explain his/her particular area. This approach may be too practical, but I do believe that it would satisfy most who inquire.

  11. This discussion reminds me of some bar talk from back in my misguided youth. Two friends and I were assigned to schools in Newport, still en route to first ships. At the pub one chilly Friday night, we worked very hard to convince a couple of young ladies that we were space shuttle pilots.
    I can't imagine space shuttle pilots trying to convince young ladies in the bar that they were SWOs.

  12. The Usual Suspect5:16 PM

    He is the life of parties he has never attended.

    If he were to punch you in the face, you’d have to fight off the urge to thank him.

    Sharks have a week dedicated to him.

  13. LT Rusty6:03 PM

    A SWO is ...

    ... defined by the color of his shoes.
    ... paranoid beyond belief
    ... your worst friend and your best enemy.
    ... terrified of anything closer than 10,000 yards.
    ... deadly with a knife.
    ... insanely good at paperwork.
    ... never seasick.
    ... an inveterate self-poisoner by caffeine

    1. LT Rusty - that cracked me up. Well said, Sir!

      Blackshoe (R), and proud of it.

    2. Gary Stringer9:00 AM



  14. What's wrong with, "A SWO is what people think of when you say sailor."?


    1. LT Rusty6:54 PM

      Because we don't wear dixie cups on our heads?

    2. Not even the cute one with the blue stripe the middies wear in the fleet?

    3. LT Rusty10:04 PM

      As a Midshipman out in the fleet, I only ever wore a pisscutter or a ball cap. Never wore a dixie cup one single, solitary time.

  15. ENZ, USN8:00 PM

    I'm an 1160 trying my stab at it, at least the ideal of what I think I should be to become a SWO (and I'll strive for this regardless of what is seen as the standard)...

    A SWO is an Mariner that specializes in the tactical employment of one or more naval ships, the logistics of major operations, representing his country as a diplomatic, and, most importantly, leading and allowing his subordinate sailors to excel.

    Somehow the qualifications of a Naval Officer seems to wrap it up in a very idealistic and unfortunately outdated sense.

    Now what I think SWO has become...

    A SWO has become a individual caring simply about managing his people, appearing competent to his superior, and remaining worrisome and distrustful of his subordinates. Often a SWO is to afraid of ramifications to allow for risk to be taken, unless supervised to a degree that easily mimics acting as a puppeteer.

    1. ENZ, USN8:15 PM

      5 dumb mistakes:

      a Mariner, not an Mariner
      diplomat, not diplomatic
      an individual, not a individual
      superiors, makes more sense than superior
      too afraid, not to afraid

      Next time I'll read it first.

    2. Gary Stringer8:58 AM

      Im sure this happens to me everytime i write something...

  16. Anonymous9:08 PM

    A SWO used to be able to say
    "Anything smaller than 16'' is a toy"
    But now that the Battleships are mothballed,
    We must wait until the new guns can reach 100-200nm...

  17. Anonymous2:42 AM

    Maybe it's because they are simply riding on the crest of the enlisted wave. They really don't navigate, the QM's do. They don't steer the ship, the Helmsmen do. The engineering weenies actually control the turbines.

    So essentially the SWO's study, take boards, and delegate to the Chief's and 1st Class Messes. At least the smart ones.


    1. SWOs fight the ship.

      Chiefs make the ship fight.

    2. Anonymous10:33 AM

      Thats all pretty comical, but i would love to know the number of times that a QM made a bogus recommendation that would ground a ship, i know for me it was at least 4. Two of them by a QMC. Secondly.. Helmsmen steer the ships, not true, helmsmen follow an order from a Conn who follows it from the OOD. Interesting and completely bogus way to break it down, but naievete is bliss in that situation, get an OOD letter(s) and come back and post.

    3. Anonymous3:34 AM

      To Anon above,

      Do your OOD letters read on like a run on sentence to? Smug jerk

  18. Anonymous6:19 AM

    CO of USS BOXER says.. " SWO's Drive em, Steam em, Fight em" simple.. pure... true.

  19. AdversusOmnesDissident8:19 PM

    A SWO is the quintessential Naval Officer. The embodiment of 246 years of maritime warrior tradition. A mariner, engineer, technical expert, fighter, leader and manager packaged in a khaki uniform.

  20. Anonymous7:20 PM

    get real. no combat of an significance since WWII? keep surrounding the community with meaningless attributes while other military elements engage the enemy.

    1. The brownwater folks might beg to differ.

  21. Gee, Anon, maybe that's because we SWO's already "own" the sea - and make it possible for those "other military elements to engage the enemy" without having to fight their way across?

    1. Anonymous10:47 AM

      you make my point. surface usn/swos don't do (underline "do") anything on the sea....they are just there....a presence force...we control the sea by being there. great. when there is action required we are not in the mix. "fight....way across" is the give away...that was WWII..last time relevant.

    2. Anonymous10:11 AM

      So, according to your logic, the only military servicemembers who are relevant are those engaged in combat, or the exchange of fire between our force and an enemy's force. That's very interesting, and unfortunately, completely wrong. Apparently, you've also forgotten the landing at Inchon (Korea),the naval gunfire support missions of Vietnam, Operation Praying Mantis (Iran-Iraq war) as just some of the examples when surface ships DID engage in combat since WWII.