By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Brian P. Biller, USS Boxer Public Affairs
USS BOXER, At Sea - Amphibious assault ships USS Boxer (LHD 4) and USS Makin Island (LHD 8) conducted an ammunition transfer at sea Oct. 15-17.
Transferring ammunition is always a delicate maneuver, but conducting it at sea, via helicopter and landing craft utility (LCU) requires painstaking coordination and attention to detail.
The load, consisting of 712 palettes, with a net explosive weight of 209,000 pounds made its way across the two ships safely and efficiently through the coordination of all hands.
"It's really the biggest evolution that we do," said Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Raul Velez, weapons quality assurance leading chief petty officer Velez said that the on load consisted of a large compliment of the ammunition for both the ship, as well as ammo for Marines when they embark. "This is what everything comes down to for us, and this is how we provide for the ship's security," he added.
The ship-to-ship cross-deck is a new experience for Velez, and he said that the addition of the LCUs decreased the amount of vertical replenishments needed, which sped up the overall evolution. Both on the flight deck and in the well deck, safety is of the utmost concern.
"You don't want any of the crew to get hurt, and you don't want to damage the LCUs, so we try to take things nice and slow," said Chief Boatswain's Mate (SW/AW) Billy Spikes, well deck control officer. Spikes added that communication is key.
Spikes communicates up and down the chain of command, keeps in touch with the debark control officer on the bridge, letting him know the status in the well deck so he can notify the commanding officer (CO), and also communicates with well deck personnel, making sure they're prepared in case an LCU surges.
"Safety in an evolution like this, especially due to the fact that it is ammo, is paramount," said LCU 1665 Craftmaster, Quartermaster 1st Class (SW) David J. Struve Jr. "It's critical that everything be done according to the SOPs (standard operating procedures) and just make sure that everybody onboard the craft knows that no one's too junior to point out a safety hazard or a hazardous situation," he said. "Well deck operations are basically one of the hardest things that we do, you're going into a well, sometimes it's calm like it was earlier today, sometimes it's pretty rough," Struve added.
With all the coordination hammered out, risks mitigated and safety in the forefront, the end result is a smooth evolution and a ready ship.
"The main thing is the training and making our personnel aware of everything that's going on," said Velez. "Like the CO said at the brief last night- It's really us coming out and stretching our legs...it's our way for us to get our people trained and up to par for when we go on deployment," he added. "You don't want to train on deployment, you want to be ready once you get there."
"The work that we do with other departments and how we mesh...helps out a lot," Velez said. "I really think that it comes down to the whole ship, and it's kind of amazing when you look back at everybody working together...it really makes you understand the big picture, how one person's main job and priority is really affected by the whole command and it's nice to see everybody coming together to get that done. It's always a beautiful thing."
An aviation ordnanceman to the core, Velez shared his favorite part.
"Just seeing ammunition finally hit the deck, that's the biggest thing for me...being able to have ammunition onboard and be able to say 'we're ready, we're ready to go at any time' it's a good feeling," he said.