Below Iron Nickel’s Waterline 
Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alex Van’tLeven  
U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY – In a world far below the waterline, with a reputation as one of “the most inhospitable environments” aboard amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5), work a hardened group of Sailors known as machinist’s mates.

“The entire Navy and Marine Expeditionary Unit team with Peleliu form a war fighting system. The very essence of Peleliu starts below on the seventh deck,” said Lt. Cmdr. Terrance Patterson, the ship’s main propulsion assistant. “Twenty-four hours per day, engineers man the engine rooms and auxiliary spaces, providing the heartbeat of Peleliu, steam for her propulsion main steam turbines, and electricity for every piece of machinery, combat systems equipment and habitability.”

Nearly 70,000 gallons of potable water are produced from one evaporator. Forty-five hundred amps and 2,500 kilowatts of electricity are constantly being generated by one of four generators. Machinist’s mates face many variables on a daily basis, including high pressure steam, high voltage, and the constant threat of fire or fuel leak.

“An engineer’s job is never done; both in port and underway. Underway, they work 12 hours per day under extreme environmental conditions, living in heavy and hot flame retardant coveralls, surrounded by high humidity, and temperatures ranging from 83 to 103 degrees,” said Patterson.

Every two weeks, the plant is required to perform a boiler bottom blow which removes the sludge left inside the boiler after steam production. This bottom blow helps prevent buildup that would render the boiler inoperative. Engineers light fires in Peleliu’s main propulsion boilers, creating a hot and steamy environment, with dangers of possible flash steam at a moment’s notice. The engineers don heavy steam-resistant clothing, and occasionally leather, to help defend against the space’s highly flammable fluids and 700 pounds per square inch steam boilers.

While on deployment, as the crew goes about their daily routines, the plant operators work to provide power and hot water for prepared meals, hot showers and laundry. “A lot of people tend to not realize how important our rating is, but it is really vital.” said Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Joseph D. Edwards.

Dozens of checks and operating procedures need to be followed in order to bring the engineering plants alive. Even in port where the ship needs to be ready for departure at any time, the machinist’s mates’ mission continues.

“A lot of people forget that we will always be the first on and last off the ship,” said Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Derek Peel, forward main machinery room leading petty officer. “The spaces are always in operation at every port we pull into.”

An engineer’s work can be long and difficult due to the hard conditions that they face as they work in the plant. At times, the operators will go with limited liberty and even sunlight to provide Peleliu the power, water and drive to carry out its mission.

For some of the engineers, the motivation to push forward comes from other sources.

“With this job you rarely get recognized for your everyday struggles so it takes a lot of self-pride and motivation,” said Peel.

Another driving force is the relationships that are tempered in the relentless “pit.”

“As a main space engineer, all you have are your shipmates that you work with. We are like a family down here. You will never make it as an individual,” added Peel. “You never know when the men and women you stand watch with might save your life during a casualty.”

Although shipmates build bonds in the pits, the working environment can test the links these Sailors share.

“Who you are outside of work is not who you are inside of work. I believe that’s with any rate, but [in] engineering, specifically, you have to think about the conditions you face in the pit; it’s hot, it’s loud and people are tired,” said Edwards.

The engineers continue to be masters of their machinery and persevere under all conditions to enable mission accomplishment.

“Around the clock, they answer the bell [and] generate electricity. Water flows [to ship’s spaces] to accommodate life for the crew aboard without a second thought,” said Peleliu’s Chief Engineer Cmdr. Aaron Washington. “The hard work they perform day in and day out keeps the heartbeat of Peleliu alive.”

Peleliu is the flag ship for the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

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