OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - The first two hand-selected U.S. Navy Submarine Forces (SUBFOR) nuclear engineer-qualified submarine officers began serving multi-year tours with Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) units in March as part of a Navy-Air Force nuclear officer exchange program.
The recently-implemented program, called Striker Trident, was designed to promote an expanded view of U.S. Strategic Command’s (USSTRATCOM) strategic deterrence and global strike missions.
U.S. Navy Lt. Randall Hangartner, of the USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), Kings Bay, Georgia, is on a two-year assignment with USSTRATCOM’s Task Force 214, located at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming.
“The first officers selected for this program are of the highest caliber from their respective communities,” he said. “I am proud to be counted among them.”
Hangartner said he applied for the program because he wanted to challenge himself and operate outside of his comfort zone.
“Submarines and nuclear power have been my life for almost 18 years,” he said. “It is great to work with a different community and learn something completely different. At the same time, my experiences and knowledge are still applicable and valuable here at TF-214.”
U.S. Navy Lt. Mitchel Normand, who previously served on the USS Alaska (SSBN 732), stationed at Kings Bay, Georgia, is the other Navy officer selected for the initial Striker Trident exchange. He is currently assigned to AFGSC headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
Normand said he made Striker Trident his top assignment preference as soon as he heard about the program because he saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I enjoyed the strategic mission while on the USS Alaska and was always curious about the Air Force contribution,” he said. “It is quite an honor to know that the Navy has this much confidence in me to be one of the first people in this position.”
Normand works in AFGSC’s ICBM operations cell and will transfer to the strategic bomber branch after a year. When his time in the exchange program is complete, he will have firsthand experience in all three legs of the nation’s nuclear triad.
Like Normand, Hangartner said he will have acquired real-world experience and professional development in a variety of areas when he departs TF-214. Since arriving at the command, he has been involved in several projects at the action officer level, including an ICBM test launch and various events in direct support of U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, TF-214 (also known as 20th Air Force) commander.
By fully immersing officers into the day-to-day operations of different legs within the nuclear triad, AFGSC and SUBFOR are on the right path to developing “truly joint” nuclear officers, according to Hangartner.
Both he and Normand said they believe USSTRATCOM, the Navy and Air Force, and the individuals selected for the program will benefit from the innovative Striker Trident program.
“We’re gaining a unique level of exposure and diverse experience not previously possible within the different branches of the nuclear enterprise,” Hangartner said.
Normand agreed, adding that “commanders will have much more confidence in the decision-making abilities of officers when they have gone through some of the firsthand experiences that Striker Trident officers have.
“I believe that USSTRATCOM will see the benefits in several years when the officers who are in the program now are eligible for leadership positions within the command,” he said.
Both Hangartner and Normand said their integration into the Air Force’s unique culture and operating environments have been fairly smooth, and their new units have welcomed them with open arms.
They also described some of the surprises and lessons learned along the way:
“One of the first things I learned about the Air Force is that traditions and culture have just as much to do with success as rules and regulations, if not more,” Hangartner said. “What surprised me most was the significant effort being put forth -- through the Force Improvement Program (FIP) -- to improve the conditions in which missileers operate.”
The FIP, which began in 2014, is an aggressive, action-oriented Air Force effort with the goal of making rapid and substantial changes to the ICBM mission. The program was designed from the ground up as a field-level initiative to draw on the experiences of airmen at all levels by allowing them to provide open and honest feedback to their leadership through emails and confidential surveys.
Normand said he was surprised by the similarities between the Air Force and Navy. He specifically noted that, like his peers in the submarine community, “everyone here is professional, but also has a sense of humor.
“It is great to see just how much detail and attention all the Airmen give to the weapons and the mission. Just like the Navy, they take pride in their work,” he said.
Normand did, however, point out one distinct difference between ballistic missile submarine and ICBM operations:
“The distance to the missile silos surprised me,” he admitted. “Being on a submarine, we live right next to the weapons; but the men and women working in the missile field drive many hours just to get to their workplace every day. It gives me great appreciation for the work they do.”
Being the first participants in the new, high-profile exchange program has presented unique challenges and opportunities for Normand and Hangartner; and both said they would recommend the program to their peers.
“Striker Trident has been everything I expected and more,” Hangartner said. “My experience so far has been rich with information and exposure; and I would encourage any career-oriented officer to apply for this billet!”