What is it like to be a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy?


New Member
Apr 21, 2017

I have done my research on surface warfare but I haven't really got a lot of details about what it is truly like to be a SWO. If any current or former SWOs can teach me about what you do, that would be great.

You may have already done this... search 'Surface Warfare Officer' on YouTube. I can't speak to the quality or accuracy of the videos you find but they are out there.
Your latest post says you want to attend West Point. SWO is one of the choices associated with USNA.
Not a SWO, but my 3 room mates were. Also lots of friends in that community.

It's a lot of time at sea. Early on focus is on getting qualified. So learning all the things required to sit for your SWO pin and get your OOD qualification. OOD allows you to run the ship unsupervised. Essentially it means the CO has the confidence that you can run and lead the ship while they are asleep. You will also have watches and a department to run. While underway sleep is short. For those who love being at sea they love every minute of it. For others who hate it... not a fun time. Most fall in between. Travel the world and have great port stops. As a JO you could be the DCA, communications officer, deck officer, be a boarding officer for a team that searches other ships. With the recent incident of the USS Fitzgerald you can see the importance of shiphandling and damage control, constant items in the life of a SWO.

SWOs used to go to Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS) before reporting to ships and then a Divison course after. Now they go straight to a ship and then return to SWOS for schools as needed. It has changed slightly since I graduated in terms of tours on ships. Usually you will spend 2-3 years in a sea tour cycle and then go to a shore tour. For most who stay in after their initial commitment and complete a sea tour they would then go back as a LT to a ship as a Dept Head. Shore tours can vary depending on needs of the Navy, what you want to do and career profession. It could be a tour at the Pentagon, post graduate school, teaching at SWOs, or a million other options.

I have done my research on surface warfare but I haven't really got a lot of details about what it is truly like to be a SWO. If any current or former SWOs can teach me about what you do, that would be great.


I know nothing firsthand, but from what I've read SWO spend a lot of time at sea, have long work hours & have low retention (re-enlistment) rates. Thus, there are always plenty of openings at Naval OCS in Newport for SWOs.

Of course, this is all from non-official sources, i.e. blogs, Reddit, etc. so take it with a grain of salt.
SWOs now have two standard 24 month division officer tours before a three year shore tour and department head school. Your time for your first tour does not start until you finish the eight-week Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC). There are other special career paths (fleet-up, WTI), but that is the standard and most common path.

Your first tour is focused on attaining your SWO qualification. This consists of qualifying Division Officer (DIVO) Afloat, Maintenance and Material Management (3M), Small Boat Officer (Boat-O), Basic and Advanced Damage Control (DC), Anti-Terrorism Tactical Watch Officer (ATTWO), SWO Engineering, CIC Watch Officer (CICWO), and Officer of the Deck (OOD) In-port and Underway. Once you attain this stack of qualifications (each with their own PQS and boarding process), you will be up for a final SWO qualification board that encompasses all aspects.

Common first tour division officer jobs include Network Security Officer (CC DIV), Strike Officer (CM DIV), Ordnance Officer/Gunnery Officer (CG DIV), CIC Officer (OI DIV), Electronic Warfare Officer (OT DIV), First Lieutenant (OD DIV), Auxiliaries Officer (EA DIV), and Electrical Officer (EE DIV).

Common second tour division officer jobs include Fire Control Officer (CF DIV), Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer (CA DIV), Damage Control Assistant (ER DIV), Navigator (NN DIV), Anti-Terrorism Officer (no division, all hands contribute to force protection), and Training Officer (no division--sometimes a few TAD personnel). It is also possible to spend a second tour at a Destroyer Squadron staff as a staff COMMO or ASWO.

See the following for detailed explanation: http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/ddg77/Pages/departments.aspx

Due to stacked manning on most ships (a necessity due to JO attrition in the SWO community), many first tours will also be "assistants" to second tour or LDO/CWO division officers, e.g. CE DIVO (assistant to Electronics Maintenance Officer), Main Propulsion Officer (assistant to Main Propulsion Assistant), Repair Officer (assistant to DCA). Much of the shipboard organization is standardized per instructions like the Ship's Organization and Regulations Manual (SORM), but CO's may make additions as necessary.

Common collateral duties include Communications Security Management System Custodian (CMS Custodian), Repair Locker Officer, VBSS Boarding Officer, Public Affairs Officer, Legal Officer, Administrative Officer, Wardroom Officer, and MWR Representative. It is very common for JOs to have a couple of collaterals on top of their "day job." Some of these collaterals (COMSEC, Legal, and VBSS especially) can be a very big time sink.

With a division and a few collaterals on top of qualification requirements and eight hours of bridge watch a day, it can quickly become overwhelming for a new JO. Hence the long hours and lack of sleep.

This is from the perspective of a DDG. I suspect CGs are similar, but I have no idea how things work on LPD/LCC/LHD. It is not common for first tour SWOs to end up on CVNs.
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