Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Gregory Ott '85 blogs from his Arctic ice camp

Captain Gregory Ott '85

Update from the Arctic, March 29, 2009 -- I will be leaving the Ice Camp tomorrow. It has been a very busy two weeks. We completed all of our submarine weapons, sonar and combat system testing. The first submarine left yesterday to head back to San Diego, Calif. The second submarine will depart tomorrow after completing an overnight tour for some media.

As for my time here, it was very exciting and I would definitely do it again! It was a thrill being able to camp on the ice for more than two weeks. As I said in earlier emails, I was able to go on numerous trips out on the ice to participate in submarine operations and torpedo recoveries. There is no place on Earth like the polar ice pack and I wouldn't have missed the experience.

That all being said, I am looking forward to heading back to Virginia to thaw out, get a shower and use a real restroom!

Warm Regards,



Some of Ott’s crew hauls a torpedo to the surface of the ice.

Update from the Arctic, March 25, 2009 --Since we started the testing, I've spend some more time out on the ice with the weapons recovery teams.

It only takes us about an hour or so to set up and conduct a weapons test, but four to six hours or even more to recover the torpedo. Once the torpedo has stopped running, a locating team flies out to the spot on the ice where our tracking range last located the torpedo. The range is only accurate to a couple of hundred yards and the ice is always moving, so more accurate location is required.

The team (I went yesterday) augers six inch holes in the ice, which varies in thickness from two feet to as much as ten feet. A directional hydrophone is lowered through the ice and used to find the range and direction to the torpedo's locating device, called a pinger. The team moves to the new location, augers a new hole and lowers an underwater camera to look for the torpedo. The process is repeated until the torpedo is visually sighted, which could take some time depending on the smoothness of the bottom of the ice.

Once the torpedo is located, the "melter" is sent out to the ice to cut two three-foot holes in the ice – one for divers and one for extracting the torpedo. The melter circulates hot water through a ring of pipe and melts through the ice until the three-foot plug in the center is floating. The plug is lifted out with a winch and tripod. Once the holes are melted, divers arrive, move the torpedo to one of the holes and attach lifting gear. The torpedo is then lifted out of the water with a helicopter and flown back to the ice camp.

Although the majority of my time is spent in the Command Hut directing testing, I have spent a significant amount of time in the field supervising and helping with recoveries and submarine surfacing.



Ott (far right) observes a torpedo run.

Update from the Arctic, March 22, 2009—Been very busy up here. Since I arrived more than a week ago, the two submarines in the exercise, USS Annapolis and USS Helena, arrived and we have completed a significant amount of testing.

In the middle of last week, USS Annapolis, an improved Los Angeles Class submarine, arrived at camp. Since the camp moved more than 90 miles since it was constructed, we had to provide them continuous updates of our position so that the submarine could find us. Once they got here, we found a suitable location for them to surface a couple miles from the camp, where the ice was not too thick (generally we want less than four feet). I suited up in my arctic gear and headed by helicopter out onto the ice to observe the surfacing and greet the ship. I spent about seven hours out on the ice, keeping warm in many layers of clothing. I've also found that chemical hand and foot warmers are indispensable! The submarine made a spectacular surfing through about two feet of ice in the middle of a refrozen ice lead. The refrozen lead resembles a "lake" of ice surrounded by older ice and ice rubble. The following day, USS Helena, the second submarine arrived and we commenced our testing and exercises.

One of the most important parts of submarine exercises is our ability to reconstruct the events to determine if tactics and weapons are successful. For ICEX, we construct an acoustic tracking range by suspending several hydrophones from the ice canopy to track the participating submarines and torpedoes. The tracking range is installed and operated by scientists from the Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington. The range provides us with precise positions of each submarine and torpedo during the exercise. Additionally, it helps us find the torpedo once it stops running, so that it can be recovered. Recovery of the torpedo is a difficult and involved process which I will discuss in a later email.

That's all for now. Will send another update soon




A polar bear wanders by the North Pole. The USS Annapolis is visible in the background

Update from the Arctic, March 21, 2009 —As promised, I am dropping you an email with some of my adventures during the first week of the 2009 ICEX. It's been quite an experience thus far.

Since we last spoke, I made my way here via Dead Horse/Prudhoe Bay. It was quite a trek from Norfolk. I left early Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and flew as far as Fairbanks Saturday evening, arriving at 5 p.m. Alaska time (a four-hour time difference). It was a long travel day and obviously much colder in Fairbanks than Virginia. I stayed overnight in Fairbanks in a Marriott Suites hotel, which was the last time I had a shower/real bathroom.

From Fairbanks, I flew to Dead Horse on the north slope coastline of Alaska. When I left Fairbanks, I thought it was cold at -20 F. However, when I arrived in Dead Horse and stepped out the door of the plane, the cold took my breath away. It was -45 F with a wind chill of -70 F.

From there, I dressed out in Arctic gear for the 210 nm flight on a nine-passenger Cessna Caravan out to the ice camp. Passengers have to dress in full Arctic gear in case there is a problem with the plane and it goes down on the ice.

The current location of the camp is about 90-nautical miles west of where it started because it is actually on an ic master’s degree in business and administration.

He has served as an officer on four ships, a ballistic missile submarine, two fast-attack submarines and guided missile submarine, on which he achieved the rank of the commanding officer. Currently, Ott is the Submarine Force Deputy Director for Operations and Operations Officer at Submarine Force Headquarters in Norfolk, Va. He oversees 55 nuclear fast attack submarines, 18 nuclear ballistic missile submarines and four nuclear guided missile submarines.

Ott is frequently deployed for six months at a time. He seems to enjoy his time at sea but expresses some regret at being away from home.

While recently celebrating the 20th anniversary of their wedding, he and his wife calculated that they only spent 15 years in each others’ presence. The months of longing make his homecoming more precious, Otts says, and occasionally, his wife will fly to meet him when he is stationed at foreign ports along the Mediterranean, and in Norway, Singapore, Japan, Thailand and several other countries.

Ott estimates that he spends as much time with his children, Jessica and Michael, as an ambitious businessperson does. When at home, he can devote himself to his family more than the most career-driven people, but “when I’m away, I’m away,” he says.
Since the advent of email and satellite communication, Ott has more contact with his family than he did at the beginning of his career.

On this trip, Ott will not only be emailing his immediate family, he will also provide short snippets from camp to his Lehigh family, which will be posted on this Web page as they arrive.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Friday, March 27, 2009

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