Standing Up America (Part II)
The fleet’s newest amphibious assault ship is quickly nearing completion in Pascagoula, Miss., and Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) Sailors are getting closer to moving aboard. But before they can sail-off to their homeport of San Diego, they must ensure they have all the qualifications required to head out to sea.
To meet these requirements, America is hard-at-work every day, training to battle fires and combating the flooding of compartments if the ship would incur damage. Sailors are also learning to prevent possible breaches in security and to save the lives of injured shipmates. Every department on America is doing its part to prepare the crew.
“This is the first time we are all operating together as a crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Rank, America’s training officer. “Typically you get to a ship and the crew is already established, but at a PCU everyone is starting from square one.”
Keeping the Ship Afloat
A Navy ship must always be ready to control and repair damage resulting from fires, collision or other causes. Damage control (DC) is the action taken to limit the damaging effects of these events, and America’s DC team teaches just that, every weekday morning.
A typical day for DC training starts early in the morning, often before the sun even rises. With coffee cups in hand, the motivated Sailors prepare to take on the day’s DC exercises.
“Our DC team’s number one goal is to get the crew qualified in all things DC,” said Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class Jason Hoff, assigned to America. “It takes a lot of work to administer 20 to 40 hours a week of training and get the crew ready to take custody of the ship.”
Hoff is one of the instructors whose training is conducted at a unique facility known as the “wet-trainer.” It is designed to give Sailors under instruction a realistic feel of the ship they will soon be calling home.
The cold exterior of the gray training compound mimics that of a Navy vessel. The inside, almost identical to what the Sailors will soon inhabit, is divided into different compartments, just like a ship, for various training exercises.
Training can be difficult, and as the name would suggest…wet. However, Hoff said he believes the best way to train for any situation is repetitiveness; the wet-trainer provides a controlled environment to simulate shipboard emergency evolutions, so properly responding becomes second-nature to the crew.
“There is never a perfect situation when it comes to damage control,” said Hoff. “If we constantly train it becomes muscle memory, so if an actual casualty happens we will be prepared to react.”
Hoff said the crew is doing well, and he is confident, with the hard work and dedication America Sailors demonstrate during training, that the ship will stay afloat.
America’s hospital corpsmen (HM), like the DC team, provide daily training to the crew, utilizing the same medical equipment that will be found on board the ship. Each day they provide training on the most frequent shipboard wounds and injuries, including fractures, amputations, electric shock and smoke inhalation.
“We train the duty sections every day on eight basic battle wounds,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Adam Reynolds, assigned to America. “Not only because these are the most common injuries on board a ship, but because it’s important to know what to do in an emergency situation.”
Corpsmen visit the duty sections every day, fake wounds and body parts in-hand, to test the crew’s knowledge on how to treat their pretend victims.
“You can never train too much,” said Reynolds. “No accident is foreseen: that’s why it’s called an accident. We train hard so everybody will be prepared to save lives if it comes to it.”
In addition to daily force protection training, the ship’s security force, comprised of master-at-arms (MA), gunner’s mates and aviation ordnancemen, train America’s Sailors during a course called “Between the Lifelines”.
This course molds the crew into vigilant sentries by putting them into scenarios to teach anti-terrorism and force protection techniques. Sailors also learn how to properly stand a watch and how to defend each other, and the ship, in the event of an attack. Most Sailors associate “Between the Lifelines” with the infamous oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, an evolution where Sailors are sprayed with OC and must then complete a force protection obstacle course.
“We provide all the ship’s anti-terrorism, force protection and law enforcement training,” said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Christopher Somma, assigned to America. “We provide training in a classroom setting that we try to make as engaging and easy to retain as possible. Then there is hands-on training where we get into team movements and set up a mock pier and ECP, [entry control point].”
The mock pier and ECP evolutions test America Sailors against security threats and other situations that may occur while in port.
Somma is passionate about training and believes it should be taken seriously because one never knows when a disaster might strike or when the ship might fall under attack. After all the training the crew has endured, “we are not going to let that happen,” he said.
This rigorous training schedule America has established barely scratches the surface of what it means to be a part of a PCU.
“It can be hard sometimes,” said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Tyler Parent, assigned to America. “Especially when you have a job to finish, but also need to get to training.”
In between their day-to-day jobs and preparing to take custody of the ship, America Sailors continue to train hard, ensuring they will be mission ready once the Navy takes delivery of the ship.
“Asking for help is what helped guide me through the process,” said Parent. “Our leadership has been very understanding. They realize that, while we still have a job to do, training is just as important.”
The U.S. Navy will officially accept the delivery of America from Huntington Ingalls Industries during a ship custody transfer ceremony in Pascagoula, Miss. on April 10. The America crew will then continue training and adapting to shipboard life.