First Group of Ensigns Earn Initial SWO Qualification aboard USS Freedom
SAN DIEGO – Three ensigns, assigned to the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) Crew 102, became the first ensigns in the Navy to earn their surface warfare officer (SWO) qualification on board an LCS platform during a ceremony Jan. 15.
Ensign Dolph Eich, from Canton, Conn., Ensign Charles Hasenbank, from Houston, and Ensign Kelly Reightler, from Stafford, Va., received their gold SWO pins from the ship’s commanding officer during a ceremony that took place on the ship’s fo’c’sle.
“They put a lot of hard work and effort into their SWO qualifications,” said Cmdr. Tim Wilke, Freedom’s Crew 102 commanding officer. “It was not an easy effort and it’s a major milestone in the life of a surface warfare officer.”
Wilke said in addition to countless hours of on-the-job training and studying, the group underwent a three-phase qualification board which culminated in a complex final battle problem.
“In the past, when officers get qualified as surface warfare officers, the ceremony is usually done in front of the wardroom,” said Wilke. “But with Crew 102, with Freedom, and with all the things in LCS we do it as a team, so their success is all of our success.”
While earning a SWO pin is a major accomplishment for any junior officer, making history as part of the first group of ensigns to do it on board the LCS platform held a special meaning for the group.
“When I found out about the LCS program I did some research and decided this was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Eich, a 2012 graduate of The Citadel who served as Freedom’s weapons officer. “I’m really lucky to have gotten this billet.”
Eich said his advice to anyone interested in joining the LCS program is that it will be challenging but allow an individual to be very involved in every aspect of the ship’s operations.
“From the leadership point of view I think it’s a good program to start off in because you are heavily involved in what your division does,” said Eich.
Volunteering for the Navy’s LCS program was a chance to be a part of a new and growing program for the young officers.
“I wanted something hands on,” said Hasenbank, a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who worked as the ship’s auxiliaries officer. “I’m a SWO/EDO [engineering duty officer] option, so I do my two SWO tours and then move on to the EDO world.”
Hasenbank said one thing he really enjoys about LCS is the quality of the senior enlisted leadership, especially the engineering department, and their hands-on approach to learning the ship’s systems.
“LCS is a growing community,” said Hasenbank. “The concept of LCS is outstanding in regards to its capabilities in the littorals and we are a new program and we will only be growing.”
All three of the ensigns said it took a lot of hard work and long hours to earn the qualification.
“It’s not something you can just cram for a few hours or a few days before and get by,” said Reightler, a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who was assigned as the ship’s combat information center officer. “It’s a continual learning process and its having experience and asking questions all along during the process to develop that knowledge.”
Reightler said that the SWO qualification process is not just about knowing your job or ship really well, but knowing how the surface warfare community operates as a whole and how all the pieces come together.
“Everyone here on LCS puts in a lot of hard work and holds themselves to a very high standard,” said Reightler. “LCS is something you can take a lot of pride and ownership in as a member of the crew and it’s a great platform to be a part of.”
All three of the ensigns joined the LCS program at the squadron level in July 2012 to receive training prior to checking on board Freedom. After completing that part of the training pipeline, they reported to Crew 102 on March 1, 2013, the day the ship departed San Diego on its maiden deployment to the Asia-Pacific region.
For the majority of the deployment, Freedom worked out of Singapore, using it as a logistics and maintenance hub between April 18 and Nov. 16, during which she participated in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX), three phases of the bilateral naval exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) with Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and the multinational exercise Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT). During port visits, Freedom hosted thousands of visitors throughout Southeast Asia.
In August while in Singapore, Crew 102 conducted a crew swap with Crew 101, who then continued the deployment. Freedom returned to San Diego Dec. 23.
Fast, agile and mission-focused, littoral combat ships are designed to operate in near-shore environments and employ modular mission packages that can be configured for surface warfare, mine countermeasures, or anti-submarine warfare.