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Losing trainees and traditions

Text: RusNavy.com, Timur Gainutdinov
Photo: RusNavy.com, Timur Gainutdinov
Pacific Fleet training unit numbers only 900 trainees instead of 4,000 as it used to be in the past. Some of them will return back to the Civy Street, others plan to stay in the navy just because they've nothing to do at home. However, despite the loss of glorious traditions and dominance of casual contractual servicemen, there are some guys who really dream of becoming man-of-war's men.
…Young sailors are exerting themselves at the drill ground cleared from unexpected spring snow under command of petty officer. They are prospective "flowers and pride" of Pacific Fleet. No irony at all – in their time, even admirals like Kuroyedov, Zakharenko, Chirkov used to trample the drill ground of PF training unit; numerous commanders of ships and subs marched on it at the rise of their career. The whole crew of Guard Red Banner's submarine S-56 which is one of the symbols of Vladivostok were the unit's graduates.

PF training unit is going to turn 72 this year; it was established on October 20, 1938. Everything has been changed – governments, flags and epochs – but future PF mariners' boots clip-clop the drill ground in the same manner. Originated as a training unit for submarine forces, nowadays it basically trains experts for PF surface ships. In olden days about 4,000 trainees used to study there; now only 900 – there are not so many ships in Pacific Fleet and number of submarines has not become larger either. Strength and structure of fleet are changing; command staff is being decreased; training companies and courses have shifted former schools and that implies less officer posts and more civil personnel …

Nonetheless, the St. Andrew's flag is waving over Russia's eastern frontiers and Pacific Fleet needs professionals. Therefore, military unit engaged in training professionals will also be in demand like it has been for 72 years. What does present PF training unit look like? Let us ask those who serve in it.

First stop is library. The quietest place at any military garrison and the best place to talk.

Snr. Lt. Alexander Yuriev

Senior Lieutenant Alexander Yuriev is 7th training company deputy commander for educational work. As for most of Vladivostok locals, naval service was destined for Alexander. However, he preferred fishery institute to military academy. But… one can't escape from fate – having got grade in psychology, he has been putting knowledge to use in the military for 5 years.

"Recently the barracks were perfectly repaired; thank to plastic windows, now the rooms are warm and light", tells Alexander. "Material and technical base has also significantly refreshed, that contributes much to training process. Speaking of personnel, due to introduction of one-year service period intellectual level of draftees has grown; many of them have higher or secondary technical education. They are formed personalities and constitute the top of the company. At present, everybody tries to see service, since one year is not too much and military record card gives good opportunity in employment. Besides, many draftees from the very beginning count on contractual service. It's hard to find a job now, especially in the countryside; a well-heeled contract serviceman can not only make his living but support parents, too. In Siberian village 6,000 rubles received from son is a pretty nice bit of money. So, we have quite good draftees now; having conducted psychological testing, I revealed no 'unreliable' guys among my subordinates. All are tuned to serve fair and square. Our company is large and harmonious collective with good psychological atmosphere. Probably, one of the reasons is that we train communication personnel; certificates issued in the training unit may help our graduates to set up well after service. For example, in a cell company.

Petty Officer 2nd class Andrei Cherepanov

Officer is a boss person. But lion's share in command activities falls on ensign. Their experience and qualification directly affect adaptation rate of young sailors. Petty Officer 2nd class Andrei Cherepanov, 74 training platoon sergeant serves in the unit since 2008. He was drafted from Altai region and posted to Pacific Fleet; in 2009 he signed service contract. Andrei's civil profession is bricklayer, but in his native region this job is not in demand. Andrei have been holding this post for two years now, and seen three "generations" of draftees have been changed. He signed the contract till 2012, although doesn't want to quit it then – service is a good way to help parents.

"Guys from current draft are more service-motivated than the previous ones. So, it's easier to work with them. Again, many guys have civil marine specialties. Although dealing only with rivercraft, those draftees have an idea of naval life. In special training they also feel homey since some of them become familiar with Morse in RDSTO [Russian Defense Sports and Techniques Organization]. By the way, it's not easy to get into our company; communication personnel pass through a special psychological selection, we send request to military enlistment office. We teach how to work with documents, including classified ones. Speaking of human relations, we do not face any specific problems, although sometimes misunderstanding happens. This is connected to separation from home, mom, friends … But this things pass soon – there's nothing impossible in naval service, one can learn everything if he wants. I repeat, current draftees do have this desire".

What do trainees themselves think of beginning of their military career?

Seamen Anatoly Konkov and Artyom Choresko serve in the unit since December 29, 2009. Coastal climate is a novelty for Siberians – at their home frost is stronger but there are no such winds …

Seamen Anatoly Konkov and Artyom Choresko (stands)

Anatoly is from a village in Omsk region. His profession is sports instructor; he graduates from pedagogical college.

"What do I like in the military? Good living conditions, food, interesting profession. Getting over routine was a bit of problem, but I got used. After conscription period I'd like to sign a contract. There's nothing to do at home, job vacancies are only in the city. There I would need to rent a flat plus travel expenses… Not much would remain from the salary. I think contract is an adequate choice. Honestly, I'd love to serve on ships, but that is up to commanders to decide. Profession of signalman is not physically exhausting, although training needs great efforts due to a body of information. Generally, it is harder to study here than in college, but some things come natural. Personally, I'm flattered by the credence to work with classified files. Indeed, it's not easy to get in our company! "

Artyom is from a small town nearby Krasnoyarsk. His profession is jurisprudent; in 2009 he graduated from Krasnoyarsk Law College.

"To me, it's interesting to study here because I had never met my current specialty before. Certainly, it's hard to shift from liberal sciences to technical ones, but teaching level of the unit is very high. I'd like to serve on a small ship to take the sea frequently but not too far. In the long view I'd prefer to return home, find a job and work in my specialty. Desirably, in military procuracy since my service record would contribute to employment".

The training unit deals not only with communications. Native of Tomsk, Seaman Konstantin Bayev had excellently graduated from Tomsk automotive technical school, but it's been the fourth month since he started to obtain new profession of a gunner.

Seaman Konstantin Bayev

"Arms are fascinating! Especially when instructors share their own experience even at theoretical lessons. The training process is formed in interesting manner; there are plenty of charts and models of guns. You can touch everything and look how it works. At first I wanted to be a marine, but when I looked about and got accustomed I said to myself that the Navy's cool too. Now I study artillery system AK-130. These guns are mounted on Guard missile cruiser Varyag and destroyers. They say it's not easy to be posted there. If I can't, no matter – I'll study guns of smaller caliber. Speaking of contract, I haven't thought of this so far. Honestly, I got a job in my native city, but if I fail to work there it's never late to return".

Senior Warrant Officer retired Gennady Potapov

Let us walk through resounding high-ceilinged corridors and talk with those who gave dozens years of life to PF training unit. In the class of mining and sweeping equipment we are met by its administrator – Senior Warrant Officer retired Gennady Potapov. Samples of minesweeps lay along the walls, model of anchored mine is standing behind, desks, charts … Gennady Potapov works in the unit since 1974; he is the first graduate of technicians' school which used to exist in the unit. First five years he held the post of senior instructor/platoon commander, later on – sport instructor; then he exercised functions of the unit's director of physical education. In 2006 he retired, although has not broken connection with the Navy and remained as a civil specialist.

"What can I tell about changes in the unit during my service? There used to be much more trainees – up to 4,500 people. Training facilities for submariners were also better as the unit was originally intended to teach submarine personnel. Basically, we use the same facilities at present, although now we train more surface ships specialists. I'd not tell that it becomes easier to work despite fewer trainees. Formerly we had a perfectly balanced training system, but last three years of reforms crippled that system. We used to live and work following the book; the innovations being currently introduced are not based on any documents. Perhaps, somewhere "above" they are, but haven't reached us yet. So what we're going to do? We're doing what we ought to – training, training, and training again! Navy still needs qualified personnel. A different matter is that one-year service is nothing. A barely graduated young man comes on board the ship and at once sets about packing home; he has time only to look around. On the other hand, military service is a great advantage for many guys as not all of them had adequate nutrition at home; in the Navy they eat well enough meat and butter … That is seen, young draftees are slim and pale and soon they turn into gallant sailors. Some of guys ask at once how to sign a contract or how much a contract serviceman earns. When they hear that 12,000 rubles they say: "I'll stay!" Just because can't gain this money in their native regions".

In the next class we noticed PCs on each desk. The host here is also Senior Warrant Officer retired Sergei Merkushev. He serves in the training unit since graduation from technicians' school in 1979. At first he was a platoon commander, then – company sergeant major for 21 years. Presently, he is administrator of computer cabinet.

Senior Warrant Officer retired Sergei Merkushev

"Comparing the unit in the past and at present, I'd note that the attitude of commanders towards service has significantly changed. All that service enthusiasm has irretrievably gone. People live like on the powder keg and guess either today or tomorrow would be staff reduction… What attitude are you talking about? Everything is unstable – thank God another day's gone. In our times commanders of all levels were willing to display initiative; now anybody won't stir a finger without order. Another matter is notorious one-year service… Soon guys born in 1994-1995 will be called-up; those years are known for demographic decline. So how many youngsters they could enlist? But the most insulting thing is that they'd taken away such important class of specialists like warrant officers. Contract serviceman is a bypasser. Today he signs up, serves three-five years and he's history. WO used to serve tens of years; that is greater experience and another attitude to the military. This was especially seen in recent years when warrants were allowed to become officers. Those who liked could serve perfectly and the eyes were delighted. In my opinion, however, the main problem of the unit today is lack of facilities to train specialists for surface ships. Nowadays, everything is computerized but it's impossible to "touch and feel" those machines you'll work with. All is good with training materials for submariners; all simulators are in perfect conditions. One can see with own eyes how water ballast tank vents are opening, how the tank is filling with water… All is very demonstrable! To train surface mariners, we don't have such visual aids. Not only simulators, we're in need even of new training literature and have to use old manuals".

Museum of PF training unit

…Parquet floor, fretted walls and ceiling – all attributes of architecture named Stalin's Empire style. That is a Museum of PF training unit. Museum attendant Lilia Zhigula with a mighty heave has been protecting her "queendom" from updating repairs. PF Commander Admiral Fedorov helped her saying "Leave this beauty". Definitely, Lilia Zhigula herself is the oldest member of the unit staff. She came here in 1953 as an accountant when the training unit was headed by Capt 1 rank N. Zhimarinsky, the officer of Russian Imperial Navy. We're walking through museum halls and delighted with flags under ceiling – red, white-and-blue with hammer, sickle and star, St. Andrew's. The showpieces could compete with historical museums – here one can spot cast-iron cannon of 18-19 centuries and samples of contemporary arms, models of ships and submarines from medieval Korean turtle-ship to ultramodern USS Sea Wolf. The history of Russian submarine fleet is presented most widely.

Museum attendant Lilia Zhigula

"Traditions of our unit are gradually dying. Previously, guard mounting was accompanied by brass band; now we hear only phonogram. Best trainees were photographed standing at the banner; and what triumphant graduation ceremonies were!.."

Undoubtedly, nobody did more to preserve traditions of the unit than Lilia Zhigula. Thank to her efforts, todays sailors regularly visit the museum, watch documentaries about past and present of Pacific Fleet, and housel to marine romanticism which flavors naval service. And that's right. Indeed, how one could plant love for new profession in people who have never seen the sea? Will those who presently test firmness of drill ground by boots become admirals without love for naval service?