PASCAGOULA, Miss. – Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) completed its final anti-terrorism force protection Afloat Training Group (ATG) assessment, June 20.
The assessment is a four-part comprehensive inspection of personnel weapons qualification records, instructional training and drill assessments.
“Everything went really well during the assessment,” said Lt. Timothy Sheptock, America’s security officer. “We scored 100 percent on the administrative portion, 100 percent on the final evaluation and an overall score of 99 percent.”
Sheptock explained that America Sailors have been preparing for this evolution since personnel began arriving at the command in 2012.
“The success of this assessment is really an all-hands effort. We began training for this evolution as personnel first began checking into the command more than 18 months ago,” said Sheptock. “Most of the crew received basic security reaction force training through schoolhouses in San Diego and Norfolk, and we also qualified personnel through our ‘Between the Lifelines’ course here in Pascagoula, Miss. All of this training served as the baseline as we took possession of the ship and began running drills.”
America began running security drills after the ship was delivered and officially accepted by the U.S. Navy during a custody transfer ceremony, April 10. It was then that the security teams began learning the ship and training together as a team.
“We run drills, so we are able to respond to our most likely threats,” said Sheptock. “Based on how we perform during different drill packages is how ATG certifies that we are ready to leave port and protect and defend ourselves should we need to.”
Weapons Department’s security division was tasked to train the crew, with specialized training for the security reaction force teams.
“I’m extremely proud of all of our teams,” said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Raul Caban, security reaction force team trainer. “Everyone did extremely well. It was evident that everyone had the proper security mindset while we conducted the assessment. The teams conducted each drill with precision, and followed the protocols to the letter.”
As a Pre-Commissioning Unit, America’s top priority is training and preparing for future operations. Sheptock said he believes the crew has done a good job preparing for what lies ahead.
“I think we have taken advantage of the training opportunities that we’ve had,” said Sheptock. “We have conducted training every duty day, and that is important, especially at a PCU. This is a brand new crew, and many of our Sailors have never been on a ship before. Even some of our master-at-arms have not been on a ship before, so there is a learning curve for everyone; we have to train to overcome that.”
The assessment’s overall success was also due to the personal commitment made by each member of the reaction force. Caban said the reaction force teams made the commitment to train to reach perfection, normally practicing different scenarios well past the allotted time for training.
According to Caban, each team trained for at least two hours every week for the last four months preparing.
“Our team has a saying:’Don’t train until you get it right; train until you can’t get it wrong,’” said Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class (AW) Javier Keyser, a reaction force team member. He said his team usually ends up training for longer than the allotted time to ensure every member of the team is comfortable performing in each position for every scenario.
The reaction force teams’ hard work was evident during the assessment. Sheptock said each team ATG assessed did very well. From those teams, one was selected for the final assessment. “[ATG] also said that the reaction force team that was assessed was one of the best they had ever seen,” Sheptock added.
America is the newest breed of amphibious assault ships and is the first America-class ship replacing the Tarawa-class. The ship’s construction is complete and is now undergoing its final assessments to certify that crew is ready to get underway. America is scheduled to be commissioned Oct. 11, 2014 in San Francis