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Ship’s Assistant Executive Officers

Author: V. Valkov

Ship’s Executive Officer
Deputy Commander for Morale and Welfare
Ship’s Assistant Executive Officer
Ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work


Ship’s Executive Officer

“Frequent absence from the ship by the ship’s Executive Officer is not in line with proper execution of his duty” (Article 191 of the Ship’s Regulations of the Navy)

During my first onboard training as a cadet on the cruiser Murmansk, which proudly remained off the harbor of Severomorsk, we, the cadets, genuinely believed the ship’s Commanding Officer to be a short Captain of the 2nd Rank, who was greeted each morning with a morning state report by that day’s officer of the deck, while the entire crew stood at attention and began the new naval work day with the raising of the flag. And who else besides the Commanding Officer, according to my boyish reasoning, could order to “Raise the flag and the jack!” after which, thousands of eyes would simultaneously follow the enormous white and starry flag, slowly, proudly and confidently climbing up to its proper (according to the docking schedule) place. Later on this same man seemed to be present everywhere – he regulated the ship’s duty and everyday life, greeted representatives of the Headquarters, sorted out cadets’ mess together with the training instructor, inspected the quarters to be in order, gave orders from the deck-bridge during practice and during exercises on the base. How great was my surprise when, two weeks after our arrival, it turned out the all-powerful Captain of the 2nd Rank was the Executive Officer to the cruiser’s Commanding Officer; after an unscheduled major cleaning effort, when the balding boatswain ran feverishly around the deck, testing the cleanliness of the brass pieces with his sleeve, the crew was lined up for a “Major Assembly.” A motorboat appeared, not a dispatch one, but a Commanding Officer’s one, from the left side; the orchestra played “Approach” and a Captain of the 1st Rank, not tall in height and bearing no resemblance to an old sea dog, despite wearing a small but broad beard, climbed up the ladder onto the deck. After delivering a report to the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer together with the commanders of various combat units were called to a meeting, and, couple of hours later, accompanied by a classified documents officer and carrying documents, he left for the Headquarters. The ship was preparing to set sail.

So who is the Executive Officer of the ship? How can you become one?

The Executive Officer of the ship reports to the ship’s Commanding Officer, is the first deputy of the Commanding Officer and the immediate supervisor of the ship’s personnel.

He supervises the everyday activity and functioning of combat units, service units, and command units of the ship. The list of the Executive Officer’s responsibilities is not too different from that of the Commanding Officer’s.



The Executive Officer is responsible for:
  • organizing the ship’s defenses;
  • organizing the combat training;
  • ship’s personnel military discipline training;
  • interaction between various combat units and service units of the ship;
  • organization of duty and internal order of the ship;
  • making sure the ship’s schedules and instructions are correct and kept up to date;
  • personnel accounting, ammunition, small-arms, and other supplies inventory to be up to date;
  • getting the ship ready for combat and campaign;
  • nuclear safety on a ship equipped with nuclear propulsion system.

If the Executive Officer’s position is not included as part of the ship’s personnel, Executive Officer rights and responsibilities pass on to the ship’s Assistant Executive Officer. The duties of an Executive Officer are even more numerous. The Executive Officer must:

a) be aware of the condition of the ship, weaponry, technical equipment, and supplies of all kinds, and maintain them in condition prescribed by the established norms;

b) develop measures for defense of the ship;

c) carry out ship's planning, with participation of the Commanding Officer’s deputies and the assistant executive officers, combat unit commanders and service unit superintendents, present them to the ship's Commanding Officer for approval and supervise compliance;

d) know the theoretical basis behind the ship’s Damage Control (and Survivability), be able to manage its operations and personally train officers in it;

e) make sure the commands and instructions of the ship’s Commanding Officer and the senior supervisors are delivered to the combat units and service units in a timely and proper manner, make sure they are executed, practice collaboration between the combat and service units, direct the everyday activity of the combat units, service units, and command units of the ship.

f) generalize and extend the experience of using the ship's weapons and technical equipment;

g) participate in the selection of candidates for military educational establishments and for contractual military service;

h) prepare officers to stand duty on the ship, as well as stand watch while riding at anchor;

i) carry out daily rounds of the ship, oversee compliance of established routines, the condition of the hull, the premises, arms, ammunition and technical equipment on the ship, paying special attention to compliance with the safety measures against accidents, death or injury of the ship's personnel;

j) oversee the maintenance of the ship’s log and other ship’s documentation;

k) enforce strict adherence by the assistant executive officers and the unit commanders to the safety requirements when carrying out any kind of work;

l) make sure the ship is provided with all the required supplies in a timely manner;

m) organize work for prevention of environmental pollution;

n) instruct the officer of the deck before he starts duty.

The Executive Officer of the ship’s Commanding Officer must be ready to, at any moment, substitute the Commanding Officer of the ship. To do so, he must:

a) obtain access to independent control of the ship during a set time period (this time period depends strongly on the tasks facing the ship and on the ship's Commanding Officer);
b) always be in the know of all the orders and instructions given to the ship's Commanding Officer by the higher command;
c) be aware of all the ship’s Commanding Officer’s official intentions.

All of the listed above applies fully to both the everyday activity and the combat activity. Despite the presence of the ship’s Commanding Officer onboard, it’s the Executive Officer who fully controls the process of preparation of the ship for setting sail.

Before setting sail, the Executive Officer of the ship’s Commanding Officer personally makes sure that:
  • the degaussing gear and other anti-mine devices are switched on;
  • the ship’s supplies are replenished;
  • all the officers, sub-officers, mates and sailors are on board;
  • no unauthorized person is on board.

10 minutes before un-anchoring (mooring buoy or rope) he reports the ship’s readiness for combat and campaign to the ship’s Commanding Officer.

During the campaign he must be aware of everything that concerns the voyage.

In case of a short absence of the ship’s Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer assumes command of the ship concurrently fulfilling his direct duties. In case of a long term absence of the ship’s Commanding Officer, he assumes command of the ship by order of the higher command; this fact is announced by a decree and recorded in the ship’s log.

Every day, at the time established by the ship’s Commanding Officer, the ship’s Executive Officer receives reports on the implementation of the daily plan and on the events of the day from the assistant executive officers, combat unit commanders, and the service units superintendents; he then delivers a summary report to the ship’s Commanding Officer and submits the next day’s plan for approval.

Having received the instructions for the next day from the ship's Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer enters his own instructions into the order book and hands it to the officer of the deck. He familiarizes the ship's Commanding Officer deputies and the assistant executive officers, combat unit commanders and service unit superintendents with the approved plan for the day.

The Commanding Officer’s Executive Officer organizes announcement of the necessary orders and the plan for the next 24 hours in front of the unit formation of the ship’s personnel.

It’s a known fact that the tradition and the Regulations require the Commanding Officer to be the last one to leave the ship (or remain on it till the end). And what about the Executive Officer?

After the decision to leave the ship has been made by the ship’s Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer makes sure the necessary measures to do so are taken. The Executive Officer leaves the ship together with the ship’s Commanding Officer unless the Commanding Officer orders him otherwise.

So it’s not an easy task - being an Executive Officer. And a thankless one. There is a saying in the Fleet that goes: “A good Commanding Officer has a dog for his Executive Officer.” How else can it be? All the blame goes to the Executive Officer, all the rewards – to the Commanding Officer. Family, personal life, health, even sleep - for the Executive Officer, these are at the periphery of priorities, and at the center of his life is the ship and its crew. So many can't stomach it - they break down, fall by the wayside, or simply fall ill… But, any way you slice it, there are no Commanding Officers that haven’t sweated it out as Executive Officers first. Everything comes to him who is patient.

Deputy Commander for Morale and Welfare

There is one position on the ship's staff that can be truly fulfilled only by an exceptionally honest, devoted to the common cause person – a patriot, sociable and open, having professional knowledge and experience in seamanship, and psychology, and culture studies, and political science - in short, a well-rounded personality. In case a situation requires a calculated, clear-cut approach, carefully considered actions, if it’s stressful enough to adversely affect everyone's abilities to act according to the Regulations, the law, to follow one’s conscience - this person will be there. He is always there to relieve stress, clear the air, deflect the “storm.” He is able to hear everyone out, help disentangle a complex personal problem, or intercede for someone or something before the higher command.

No, it’s not the naval chaplain.

It’s the Deputy Commander for Morale and Welfare, the “Commissar” (as in the old days was called a representative of the ardent cohort of Bolsheviks who led them to heroic deeds).

The Deputy Commander for Morale and Welfare reports to the ship’s Commanding Officer, is a direct authority for the ship’s personnel and is responsible for:
  • the character building, military discipline, state of morale and psychological state, and social and political training of the ship’s personnel;
  • the effectiveness of the social and legal rights defense work for the military personnel, their family members, and the civilian personnel.
  • making sure the social and legal, informational, psychological, cultural, and leisure spheres of the ship are developed.

For some reason, there is an opinion that this job is easy and doesn't require special training or special quality of character and soul, if you will. We’ve all heard the saying implying that the only responsibility of the Deputy Commander for Morale and Welfare is empty words. No - for a true Deputy - the whole ship is his responsibility.

The Deputy Commander for Morale and Welfare must:

a) participate in the development of plans for combat training and mobilization readiness of the ship, ensure compliance;

b) organize and carry out character building work with the ship’s personnel, taking into account the national and psychological peculiarities, level of education and religious affiliation of each of the servicemen; cultivate servicemen’s loyalty to the Motherland, to the military duty and to the Military Oath; cultivate high military, moral and psychological values;

c) carry out specific activities for strengthening the military discipline and the law and order, prevention of wrong doing among the personnel, promoting closeness of military groups and compliance with the safety conditions for military service;

d) know the professional, moral, and psychological capacities of each officer, sub-officer, and mate on the ship;

e) participate in studying the military personnel and in raising their professional military qualifications;

f) study the morale, public opinions and servicemen’s psychological state, put together a general moral and psychological characteristic of the ship’s personnel, implement measures for maintaining the climate of healthy morale on the ship;

g) organize and carry out work for ensuring social justice for the servicemen and their family members; know their needs and requirements, take measures for timely resolution of justified complaints and requests, as well as for restoring violated rights;

h) carry out informational sessions for the servicemen about national and international events, life and training and combat activities of the army and the fleet; organize social and political training of the personnel; train ship’s officers to carry out character building work;

i) organize moral and psychological support for the training process, the combat duty (combat service), guard duty, and internal duty;

k) organize interactions and provide practical support for the Officer Assembly active on the ship;

l) maintain connections with the federal and local authorities and public associations of citizens with the goal of solving social problems, personnel character building, developing the military and professional orientation of the young people, and military service propaganda;

m) create conditions for spiritual and cultural development of the servicemen; organize the leisure time of the personnel;

n) control the correct use of technical equipment and recreational property in the process of character building work, and the timeliness of delivery and distribution of periodicals and mail to the personnel;

o) keep an account of criminal acts, incidents, and disciplinary misdemeanors on the ship;

p) deliver a daily report on the state of morale and psychological state of the personnel and on the military discipline on the ship.

A true Deputy becomes one of the Commanding Officer’s advisors and friends; he is capable of, having passed the appropriate test, independently taking on the Commanding Officer’s duty.

Not everyone who has graduated from a higher education school in this profession and stepped onto the deck of the ship becomes a true Deputy. This is an exceptionally complex and a binding position.

Ship’s Assistant Executive Officer

The ship’s crew is a copy of any professional team - one person takes care of the technical side, another is in charge of writing and correspondence, yet another does the planning and makes decisions. There is the director and the top managers, the superintendents of various areas and departments.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer is a position that signifies the beginning of the ship’s officer’s ascent to the summit of the career on the ship, to the Commanding Officer’s chair. This step makes the turn from “specialist” to “manager”, to the top management, final and irreversible – provided that there is the will and the desire to do so.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer reports to the ship’s Commanding Officer and is the direct authority for the personnel of the subordinate units. The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer is responsible for:
  • making sure the crew maintains internal order on the ship and in the quarters (on the tender);
  • combat training, character building, military discipline and the morale and psychological state of the personnel of the subordinate units;
  • organizing the ship’s daily service;
  • maintenance of the sides, upper deck, superstructures, spars, living quarters and common quarters of the ship (or of the shore base or tender);
  • safety of the personnel during work that involves lifting of heavy loads or remaining outside the ship;
  • maintenance and use of the ship’s floating equipment, anchor, towing, and lifting gear; getting it ready for campaign; the storm rail and fastening gear being in working condition and ready for use;
  • training the ship’s crew on being out in the open sea;
  • availability of the naval stores, its inventory, distribution, and proper use;
  • availability of life support equipment (life vests, belts, and floats), completely outfitted; their condition and readiness for use.

Who in a professional team can the ship’s Assistant Executive Officer be compared to? He is the senior accountant, and the head of security, and the cafeteria superintendent, and the chief engineer (supply manager), and the responsible for work safety, and the head of human resources.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer must:

a) supervise work on the ship’s upper deck, superstructures and sides;

b) in concurrence with the combat unit commanders and service unit superintendents, appoint personnel for work outside the ship and oversee its implementation;

c) accommodate the ship’s personnel and the persons temporarily staying onboard;

d) before setting sail, make sure there are no unauthorized persons onboard;

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer has to:

a) organize marine training, march drills, physical training and small-arms training for the ship’s crew; organize shore leave and furlough;

b) head the alternate command post of the ship;

c) supervise the supply corps (in case the position of ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Provisioning is not part of the regular ship’s staff), ship’s camouflaging, and drawing up of daily schedules.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer oversees compliance with all of the ship’s regulations by the personnel. His directions in his sphere of competence must be followed by the ship’s officers, sub-officers, mates, and sailors.

In case of accidents, the Assistant Executive Officer of a surface ship supervises the work on the upper deck, on the superstructures, and on the sides of the ship or follows the directions of the ship’s Commanding Officer. In case it becomes necessary, he can request through the main control room for a damage control party or battle stations personnel to be sent for his disposal.

During the yard repairs, the ship’s Assistant Executive Officer oversees the compliance by the workers with the ship’s regulations and the daily routine, reporting to the ship’s Commanding Officer the need for strengthening the duty or watch if the situation calls for it.

Assistant Executive Officer, together with the Executive Officer, is involved in all of the ship’s business plus the quarters, provisioning, and logistics. The Assistant Executive Officer is the first to arrive on the ship, and the last to leave – from the shore base. In addition, he has to take tests preparing him for command of the ship, for the duty of the ship’s Commanding Officer. His is not an easy job.

Ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work reports to the ship’s Commanding Officer. Directions and instructions of the ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work in questions that lie in his area of competence must be followed by the entire ship’s personnel.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work during peacetime and wartime is responsible for:
  • legal matters of daily and combat activities of the ship;
  • ensuring compliance with the effective legislation of the Russian Federation by the draft orders and other documents that he approves.

If he discovers a violation of the law by a ship’s official, he reports it to the ship’s Commanding Officer for taking the necessary measures for its elimination or prevention.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work must:

a) carry out legal review of draft orders of the ship’s Commanding Officer;

b) participate in the development and implementation of measures for effective use of legal means and for strengthening the military discipline;

c) follow the ship’s Commanding Officer’s instructions, participate in protecting legitimate rights and interests of the ship and of the ship’s servicemen in their official activities;

d) provide legal protection for contractual work, dispute and claims resolution work on the ship;

e) participate in the organization and implementation of the process of study of the effective legislation of the Russian Federation and the International Humanitarian Law standards by the ship’s personnel;

f) keep master copies of orders and directives issued by the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, by his Deputies, by the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, by the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet, and by the ship’s Commanding Officer;

g) carry out legal review of documents submitted to the ship’s Commanding Officer for signature and approval with the goal of writing off material and financial assets in accordance with the applicable procedure;

h) provide legal consultation for questions that arise regarding official activities on the ship;

i) participate in receptions held by the ship’s Commanding Officer or his Deputy for the ship’s servicemen or their family members for discussion of personal matters;

j) prepare yearly reports on the state of legal work on the ship, and after having them reviewed by the ship’s Commanding Officer, submit them to the legal division superintendent of the higher military command;

k) act according to instructions given out by the superior legal divisions regarding special activity matters. Inform the ship’s Commanding Officer of these instructions;

l) know the ship’s design, its physical and operational characteristics, its tactical and routine operation and organization, and the theoretical basis for its damage control (and survivability);

m) organize study of the International Humanitarian Law standards by the ship’s personnel.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work has the right to:

a) request from the ship’s officials certificates of public officer, statement of accounts, contractual documents, and other documents and information necessary to carry out his official duty;

b) present the appropriate commanders (superintendents) with suggestions on how to eliminate violations of the law and on how to hold the appropriate officials accountable;

c) provide professional opinion on legal matters concerning command of the ship;

d) participate in official meetings held by the ship’s Commanding Officer.

During campaign or if located outside the territorial waters of the Russian Federation, ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work provides the ship’s Commanding Officer with legal aid in applying the international law standards. He offers the ship’s Commanding Officer suggestions in matters of mediating incidents of violation of international law and ship’s personnel compliance with legal regulations in regards to maritime space, and interactions with foreign representatives (foreign ships and citizens) in matters of compliance with regulatory legal acts regulating navigational safety, prevention of incidents, and procurement of aid and rescue in the open sea.

During an armed conflict, the ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work fulfills the function of the Advocate General. He advises the ship’s Commanding Officer on applying the 1949 Geneva Convention rules for protection of war victims and on the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions. In addition, he renders assistance to the ship’s officials in the matters of legal regulation of means and methods of naval warfare.

In case of an accident, the ship’s Assistant Executive Officer for Legal Work arrives to the main control room and acts according to the ship’s Commanding Officer directions.

The ship’s Assistant Executive Officers are the top management, the true professional leaders, loyal to the flag and to the officer’s honor, taking the complex and difficult path to the summit of the officer’s career – not for personal glory, but following the call of conscience, for the good of the Fleet and of the Motherland.