PACIFIC OCEAN - Guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) is slated to return to its homeport of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Jan. 31 from a six-day underway.
Halsey left for the underway to take part in Koa Kai 14-1, a semiannual exercise that prepares independent deployers in multiple warfare areas, while also providing training in a multi-ship environment.
"In the last three months we've had about three or four opportunities to do week-long evolutions," said Cmdr. Gary L. Cave, commanding officer of Halsey. "But that doesn't always allow someone to get into the rhythm of doing their job or get used to the sleep cycle. So, it's a great opportunity for these guys who have never been out to sea to see what their job is and, more importantly, getting around and seeing what everyone else is doing on the ship."
During the underway Halsey conducted flight operations, anti surface and anti-submarine training and dynamic ship maneuvers, but most importantly, Cmdr. Linda Seymour, executive officer of Halsey, said, it allowed many of the new Sailors aboard Halsey a chance to perform their job at sea.
"We've had a big turnover in our crew just from the last year alone, so we have a lot of new faces," said Seymour. "The last deployment this crew did was almost two years ago. So, a lot of Sailors just haven't been on deployment and gotten used to how much better it is to be at out at sea working on their rates and doing their job."
While ships in port routinely run scenario based exercises to maintain the crew's warfighting readiness, according to Seymour, the experience of Sailors doing their job at sea in a multi-ship exercise like Koa Kai is invaluable in preparing them to perform their rate.
"Koa Kai gives us the opportunity to work with a lot of other ships at the same time," said Seymour. "During the inter-deployment training cycle we don't have the opportunity to. We'll go out and work on whatever specific certification we're working on, whether it's engineering drills or navigation certifications. Also, in the Hawaiian operational area there just isn't a lot of other traffic around, and our bridge watch standers don't really get that experience in really seeing all those different lights out on the horizon and reporting them in. It just builds their confidence up a lot better than any simulation can."
According to Capt. Chris Bushnell, commander of Destroyer Squadron 31, exercises like Koa Kai are geared toward building the confidence of the crew by certifying the crew in a multitude of different warfighting scenarios.
"Our ships are nothing without the people," said Bushnell. "Koa Kai is used to certify the crew by familiarizing the watch standers, operation specialists, fire controlmen, or gunner's mates on the types of events and procedures they will have to do when preparing to take their ship away from their homeport, whether to go perform theatre security operations, disaster response, or just patrolling on the scene in 5th or 7th fleet areas of operation."
Bushnell also said Koa Kai helps expose a Sailor to life at sea, allowing them to gain an understanding and mentally prepare for the daily routine one might encounter during longer periods of operation.
"Exercises like Koa Kai can also just be exposure to any day of the life of a Sailor on a ship underway," said Bushnell. "And that means getting used to routine. Starting with the boatswains whistles, reveille in the morning, to 'Hey what time do meals start and stop?' And then all the various things that happen like morning quarters. They have to learn whether they're going to get sea sick, or if they're a father, a mother, a sister, or a brother they have to learn how to keep in touch with those loved ones, what do they need to bring with them so they have a little piece of 'home' with them. To some of our junior Sailors that's very new and that routine is not something they normally do. So, a lot of it can be summed up as conditioning and practice, like an athlete training for a race. This is practice so they can be ready to go do the race, the competition, the deployment."
According to Master Chief Kenneth Nist, command master chief of Halsey, time spent at sea also helps bring the crew together and build the cohesion and community necessary for the ship to accomplish its mission successfully.
"Whenever a new Sailor checks aboard the ship, I always tell them what they do is just as important as what everyone else does, regardless of what rank they are, regardless of what rate they are," said Nist. "On this type of platform we all rely on each other. It's not just 'our rate' or 'our job,' we're expected to do many other things and participating in exercises like Koa Kai lets the Sailors experience that. It's all intertwined and each Sailor here brings a piece of that success."
It's an experience that many Sailors are anxious for and find exciting, said Seaman Marczon Estrella.
"Being underway is more engaging with our ratings," said Estrella. "We get more practice and we actually get to do what we have to, instead of reading what we have to do on powerpoints. It's a lot more fun when we actually get to go hands-on and do our job."
According to Aviation Electrician 2nd Class Michelle Robbins, a Sailor attached to Halsey from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37 (HSM 37) at Marine Corp Base Kaneohe, Hawaii, being aboard Halsey for Koa Kai has helped the crew of HSM 37 gain insight into life on a ship and what it takes to perform their job at sea.
"My team is fairly new and fairly young with going to sea," said Robbins. "So, just the exercise itself has taught us a lot about the ship and working together in a different environment, in more ways than one. Like knowing how to work together and communicate in berthing to out on the flight deck. We also now have a better understanding of what extra tools and parts we'll need for the aircraft when we get attached to a ship for deployments and what personal items you're going to need for the long term."
Cave said opportunities to go on underway allow for the crew to build the bonds and relationships necessary to be successful during longer times at sea.
"It's where the heart of a ship comes in," said Cave. "I talk a lot to my crew about life aboard a ship as being family oriented. Right now we're sitting at about 290 Sailors and especially when you do a deployment, you're going to depend on every one of them and it does become very family like. And like any family you're going to butt heads with some and others you're going to become tight with others. And having these chances to get underway for time allows you to see how that interaction will be like and to build those bonds."