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*Nuke School, Part III (Prototype)

Originally posted by Jake Gallagher on July 6, 2008 at 11:18am


 Sorry it's been so long since I've posted, I was on a "business trip," if you know what I mean.

My last blog about the Nuclear Training Pipeline will be about my favorite part, prototype. I had a lot of fun there and really enjoyed my six months in Saratoga Springs.


I went to the S8G New York prototype, which was located in Ballston Spa, NY. It's generally a rural area, with a lot of farmland around it. Saratoga Springs is a nice little town with a lot to do.
During the summer, when I was there, there are the horse races at the track that are fun to watch. We went to Albany a few times, and we played a lot of paintball at the various parks in the area. The base MWR even sponsored a trip down to NYC once. It cost us $10 to take a bus ride down there for the day--way cheaper than paying for gas and parking to go ourselves.
There's a Six Flags about 20 minutes north of Saratoga, and Lake George is the site of the famed Americade ( http://www.tourexpo.com/ ).


With all that said, when your son/daughter get to work, it's all business. This school can be the most stressful, or the easiest for the student, depending on how well they can adapt to the difference in how this school and Charleston are run. There are very few lectures here, and only a couple tests. There is no homework, no paper assignments (for the most part), and students are allowed to work on nearly whatever they want to, whenever they want.


During the spring and summer, there are a lot of parades, and I marched in a few of them, it was really really cool.
Unfortunately, it's this freedom that causes a lot of students to have trouble here. Since there is so little structure for most of the students, a lot of them have trouble keeping up with the required pace of them. Each rate is required to make a certain amount of progress each day, and if at the end of the week, the students haven't made this progress, they have the put in extra time to make it up.


Making progress consists of getting what are called "checkouts. " Checkouts are basically like self-paced learning. The students are given a big book--called a qual card (or qual standard)--full of spots for the instructors to sign off for checkouts, for standing a satisfactory watch, or for doing "prac facs," doing things that each watchstation does on watch.
A checkout is a pretty simple concept. In the qual card, there is a subject of the checkout, how many points it is worth, a spot for an instructor to sign, and a barcode.
The student researches the subject, and then when he can get in with one of the instructors qualified to give the checkout, he goes into the office and writes up what he can remember about the subject on the whiteboard. The instructor will ask questions, the student will answer them. If he knows enough, the checkout is complete and then the instructor will sign off in the qual card that the checkout is done, and then use a scanner that is located in every one of the offices to scan the checkout's barcode. This tells the qualification computer that the student has completed the checkout. If the student can't answer all the questions that the instructor has about the subject, he is sent off to get lookups--the answers to those questions. Usually, lookups are for important things that the student was weak on but needs to know, but sometimes they are random, off-the-wall pieces of information that the instructor decided to ask about because he was feeling wily--hey, they're people too, and they get bored sometimes :P
Checkouts can be on anything from systems that are in the plant to operation of said systems to what we do in the case of a casualty. There are a ton of casualty procedures that each student needs to understand, and most instructors that were there when I was wouldn't even let you get one at a time, you had to get 5 or 6 casualties at once or they wouldn't waste their time with a checkout.


There are only a few tests during the prototype experience, with the majority of each day consisting of getting checkouts. There is one test early on, called the RadWorker exam. This is basic information that all of the students need to know before they are issued a Thermo-luminescent dosimeter (TLD). A TLD is a device that everyone associated with a reactor in the navy has to wear to determine how much radiation they absorb while at work. It's kind of funny, all of my readings have been higher when I'm in port and the reactor is shut down than when I'm at sea and the reactor is running at high power. Yes, it's true, you do get more exposure from the sun and elements in the ground than from a nuclear reactor.


The next test that is taken is about a month into prototype, called the Off-Crew Exam. When students first get to prototype, they enter a study group called the off-crew. This group works from 0800 to 2000 (or 1600 I think it is for people that are enough ahead, but I never was), Monday to Friday. They get checkouts on a certain list so that they will be prepared for this exam when it comes up.


The next exam is the 50% exam. As the name implies, it's at about the 3 month point in the program, and it encompasses all of the systems in the plant, with very little about operation or casualties.


The 100% exam is about everything the students have studied in the last 6 months, and depending on when they are considered ready, the student might take it anywhere from week 18 to 24 of the school.


After Off-Crew, the students are put into a section. Each of 5 sections will be at work during a different schedule. I don't remember all the days exactly as they lined up, but I remember the hours. Day shift was from 0730 to 1930, with section muster about an hour before that. Staff and qualified students could leave at 1530 during day shift. Swing Shift was from 1130 to 2330, staff and qualified students didn't show up until 1530 those days. Midshift was from 1930 to 0730 the next day, staff and qualified students didn't muster until 2330. Each of these was 7 days long, with a couple days between to shift schedule. Often we would just stay up as long as we could after the end of day 7 to adjust as much as possible.
Denny's, the movies, then the mall were good after-day-seven activities. We also had bbq's a couple times, my landlord was very cool about letting us have people over and he reimbursed me for when I bought a grill and stuff for it.


There was another week that I'd left out earlier because it was different. And it was undeniably the student and staff's favorite week. It was called T-week, or training week. This was when the staff of each section would go to class and do continuous training about the stuff in the plant. T-week is from Monday to Thursday, from 0730 to 1930, usually we got out early on Thursday, though. Thursday was also for field day, where we spent a good 4 hours or so cleaning the training building. After T-week, we had a 4 day weekend. It was amazing. A lot of people went camping, had a party, played paintball, went to the city and hung out, some just slept. I drove home to NH, since it was only about 3 hours away, and hung out with my family.


Really, that's prototype. There are a bunch of cool places to go in the Saratoga region. I lived in an area called Geyser Crest, which was about 10 minutes from the base. It was a decent area to live, most of the houses were built in the 70's or so, and there were a ton of nukes that lived there. I went to the coffee shop downtown a lot with my friend, the place was called Uncommon Grounds, and it was really cool.
 

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