There is a lot that goes into maintaining a ship the size of USS Boxer (LHD 4), with hundreds of spaces and thousands of pieces of damage control equipment that are essential to maintaining the material integrity and survivability of the ship. One division aboard Boxer, known as equipment repair, or ER09, is dedicated to maintaining and repairing that equipment.
Comprised of personnel handpicked by their respective departments, approximately 30 Sailors serve as damage control petty officers, or damage control subject matter experts to keep Boxer in the fight.
“ER09’s mission is to keep the ship at its war fighting readiness, point blank,” said Damage Controlman 1st Class Taquisha Sims, ER09’s leading petty officer. “We are here to ensure the highest level of readiness in the event of any casualty. That includes the need of firefighting agents, flooding preventive measures such as providing sound water tight integrity throughout the ship. We are here to assist the ship’s flying squad as qualified basic and advanced damage control petty officers.”
Being deployed can be the most challenging time in any Sailor’s career. That is especially true for those deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations due to the hot climate and the real potential for combat.
“Being in the 5th Fleet adds an enormous amount of stress to the job,” said Sims. “We are constantly verifying the setting of Boxer’s material condition to prevent occurrences such as those that happened on USS Cole [DDG 67]. ER09 personnel have to get used to the heat and as a part of engineering department they have to get used to the extended work days and demanding work hours. It’s a job that has to get done so we overcome and prevail.”
The sheer volume of equipment ER09 personnel must account for presents challenges in and of itself. Each piece of equipment requires varying levels of preventive or corrective maintenance.
“I would say the biggest challenge is that there is such a massive amount of equipment all over the ship,” said Chief Damage Controlman Christopher Brennan, ER09’s leading chief petty officer. “Also ensuring all of the equipment gets the correct level of maintenance, that there is maintenance assigned and it gets the correct level of attention. We also organize the consolidated ship’s maintenance plan, making sure everything is annotated correctly and coordinate the efforts to rectify each piece of equipment.”
ER09 is responsible for approximately 10,000 pieces of equipment, a sizable amount considering the number of personnel assigned to complete maintenance and ensure the operability of each piece of equipment.
“ER09 takes care of every quick acting water tight door, individually dogging water tight doors, hatches, scuttles, portable and relay battle lanterns, portable CO2 bottles, portable AFFF and PKP bottles,” said Sims. “ER09 encompasses a large variety of jobs and personnel with the knowledge to get those jobs completed.”
According to Damage Controlman 2nd Class William Burdette, who serves as a subject matter expert assigned to ER09, team work is an important component of mission success.
“I remember when [Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jose] Jaen checked in, he was a bit intimidated and overwhelmed at first, but his determination to learn and get the job done correctly was unparalleled,” said Burdette. “He would call or email me constantly to ensure he was getting the job done right, in this job that type of drive and attitude is absolutely necessary considering how serious it is to accomplish proper maintenance all the time.”
Many people seemingly underestimate the importance of an assignment to ER09. A maintenance check as simple as a CO2 bottle check, if not performed, correctly could potentially result in a fire casualty spiraling out of control and causing severe damage to the ship and the unnecessary loss of life could occur.
Most professional organizations utilize quality assurance measures to ensure procedural compliance; in ER09, every damage control petty officer has to perform a weekly spot check. Spot checks are conducted by senior leadership to verify that the person performing the maintenance is a qualified damage control petty officer and that they have correctly completed the maintenance. This ensures the program correctly adheres to Boxer’s safety standards.
Serious consequences await those who deliberately cut corners to complete a maintenance check, or even worse, fail to perform the check but report it as complete.
“Depending on the gravity of the situation, I will usually begin with a verbal counseling then write a counseling chit,” said Brennan. “If a second offense is committed by the individual then a disciplinary review board will be held and eventually captain’s mast.”
Maintaining Boxer’s material condition provides crewmembers with the added benefit of preserving the ship’s habitability. This is an endless battle pitting crewmembers against the unforgiving elements while operating on the ocean.
“The personnel assigned to ER09 are rated above the rest, certified to maintain shipboard material condition and ensure the water tight integrity that helps the crew sleep well knowing in the event of a missile attack they can count on the dependability of the ship’s water tight fittings and closures to keep them above water,” said Sims.
Many Sailors assigned to ER09 express pride in their performance, fully aware of how their efforts keep Boxer in, and always ready for the fight.
“You know when a ship is in harm’s way like the Boxer has been, and is right now or possibly could be, water tight integrity and structural integrity is the cornerstone of what every ship has to do,” said Brennen. “So if scuttles, doors and hatches aren’t maintained at all, you know the ship’s survivability is drastically decreased, especially doors below the water line. If you read the stories of ships that were attacked, the main reason they were able to get underway on their own power is because water tight integrity was able to withstand the damage. Going on the big scale, that is what the mission is for ER09. We maintain water tight integrity and at the same time maintain all of the equipment for mission success.”