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On 25 June 1946, seven officers, 24 enlisted, and 40 civilians became plank owners of the Medical Research Laboratory, a new and separate activity of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and what would later become the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory (NSMRL). Under the direction of CAPT Charles Shilling, MC, USN, the first Officer-in-Charge, the mission was three-fold: select personnel for training in the Naval Submarine School, instruct hospital corpsmen and medical officers in submarine medicine, and research medical aspects of submarine service and diving. The activity became part of the new Naval Submarine Medical Center in 1964, and since 1974 has functioned as a separate command under its present name, the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory.
NSMRL’s historical accomplishments and contributions to the Submarine Force and to our nation’s defense are far-reaching and start well before 1946. NSMRL can trace its roots to 1942, when the medical research section of the Submarine Base Dispensary was established. In March 1944, the medical research section separated from the dispensary and became the Medical Research Department of the Submarine Base.

NSMRL’s earliest research efforts focused on submarine sound and auditory acuity of submariners, night and color vision, human engineering, and personnel selection methods. Some of the initial sound work led to the development of tests and techniques to select Sailors for sound listening duties on submarines, which resulted in The Medical Research Laboratory’s first published report, “The Development of Methods for the Selection of Sound Listening Personnel.”

NSMRL’s early work on vision in submariners provided evidence that performance was not affected adversely when Sailors had visual acuity of less than 20/20, leading to a relaxation of the standard to 20/30.
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In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Project Genesis explored the feasibility of saturation diving. NSMRL installed a multi-person hyperbaric chamber that was the site of some of the Genesis experiments. These studies ultimately resulted in the landmark 1963 report which concluded that “that men could live/work in a hyperbaric chamber at 200 feet for two weeks with no untoward consequences,” and paved the way for the operational phase of this research: SeaLab I, a habitat located 200 feet in the open ocean near Bermuda.
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In 1960, NSMRL’s psychological research aboard USS TRITON as it circumnavigated the globe lead to the establishment of the mission duration for SSBNs. In the late 1960s, the lab initiated studies to determine the underwater hearing abilities of humans. Work in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in a modification to periscope eye guards to allow the insertion of a refractive correction into the periscope optics. This allowed a significant enlargement of the pool of potential submariners without compromising the submarine mission. NSMRL’s epidemiology work began in the 1970s with examination of medical conditions of the Polaris submarine patrol crews.

Also in the 1970s and 1980s, NSMRL developed in-air and underwater hearing conservation guidance and explored submariner work and rest schedules to optimize performance. These efforts continue today, and NSMRL’s work with sleep schedules contributed to the Navy’s adoption of a 24-hr based watchstanding schedule in 2015. In 1986, NSMRL implemented SUSBCREEN, a psychological assessment that became the primary method to screen prospective submariners for psychological suitability for submarine duty.

The Submarine Atmosphere Health Assessment Program (SAHAP) was established in the 1998 as a Program of Record that provides long-term, passive monitoring for defined atmospheric compounds of concern while underway and guidance on the effects of evolving technology that could affect the submarine environment.

In the 2000s, NSMRL studies on second-hand smoke exposure of submariners helped lead to the smoking ban on all U.S. Navy submarines, and in the 2010s, NSMRL researchers explored the integration of women into submarine crews.

Other NSMRL accomplishments that have had significant operational and scientific impacts include: demonstrating that submariners can tolerate and perform well in an atmosphere with elevated carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels, identification of International Orange color for visibility during air-sea rescues, development of the Farnsworth Color Lantern Color Vision screening test, studies of nitrogen narcosis, and development of many of the U.S. Navy saturation diving and decompression tables in use today.
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NSMRL Officers in Charge

CAPT Charles W. Shilling, MC, USN Jan 1942 - Sept 1947
CAPT Thomas L. Willmon, MC, USN Sept 1947 - Aug 1951
CDR Gerald J. Duffner, MC, USN Aug 1951 - Sept 1956
CAPT Joseph Vogel, MC, USN Sept 1956 - May 1959
CAPT George F. Bond, MC, USN May 1959 - June 1964
CDR Earl H. Ninow, MC, USN (Acting) July 1964 - Nov 1964
CAPT Walter F. Mazzone, MSC, USN (Acting) Dec 1964 - July 1965
LCDR Paul G. Linaweaver, MC, USN Oct 1965 - Feb 1966
CAPT Jack L. Kinsey, MC, USN (Ret) (Acting) Feb 1966 - July 1967
CAPT Charles F. Gell, MC, USN (Ret) (Acting) July 1967 - July 1968
CDR Joseph D. Bloom, MSC, USN Aug 1968 - July 1972
CAPT John H. Baker, MC, USN July 1972 - May 1973
CAPT Raymond L. Sphar, MC, USN (Acting) June 1973 - July 1973
CAPT Raymond L. Sphar, MC, USN July 1973 - Dec 1974

NSMRL Commanding Officers

CAPT Raymond L. Sphar, MC, USN Dec 1974 - June 1978
CAPT Robert A. Margulies, MC, USN June 1978 - Aug 1981
CAPT William C. Milroy, MC, USN Aug 1981 - Aug 1985
CAPT Claude C. Harvey, MC, USN Aug 1985 - Aug 1989
CAPT Robert G. Walter, DC, USN Aug 1989 - Oct 1992
CAPT Paul K. Weathersby, MSC, USN Oct 1992 - Aug 1994
CDR Stephen F. Blacke, MSC, USN Aug 1994 - July 1995
CAPT Robert G. Walter, DC, USN July 1995 - Aug 1997
CAPT Mark T. Wooster, MSC, USN Aug 1997 - July 1999
CAPT Michael D. Curley, MSC, USN July 1999 - July 2002
CAPT Garry A. Higgins, MSC, USN July 2002 - Oct 2004
CAPT J. Christopher Daniel, MC, USN Oct 2004 - Sept 2006
CAPT David G. Southerland, MC, USN Sept 2006 - Sept 2009
CAPT Paul C. Kelleher, MC, USN Sept 2009 - June 2012
CAPT Steven M. Wechsler, MC, USN June 2012 - May 2015
CAPT Frederick E. Yeo, MC, USN May 2015 - Aug 2018
CAPT Kim L. Lefebvre, MSC, USN Aug 2018 - Aug 2020
CAPT Katharine K. Shobe, MSC, USN Aug 2020 - Jul 2022
CAPT Matthew H. Jamerson, MSC, USN Jul 2022 - Present

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