Maintaining the communications systems aboard a ship in the Navy is a critically important responsibility. For a ship as large as the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), it may seem like the most daunting task in the fleet, but for Boxer’s interior communications electricians (IC), it’s just another day in the Navy.
ICs install, maintain and repair the internal communications equipment aboard U.S. Navy ships and shore commands. The equipment they work on is essential to the dissemination of information to all hands, including everything from reveille and evening prayer, to the communication systems used during general quarters and mass casualty drills.
“I don’t think people realize how much equipment we work on,” said Lt. j.g. Veronica Del Rosario, Communications Interior division officer. “Most of the time the complaints we get are about their cable [television], which, in comparison to everything else we have, is the smallest of our troubles.”
The communication systems ICs work on include public address systems like the 1MC, interior telephone systems used in every work center, and cordless phones carried by most officers and chiefs to enable instant communication throughout the ship. They also make sure the alarm systems all over the ship are ready at all times in case of an emergency.
“IC-men,” as they are often referred to, also act as sound technicians, by setting up and managing audio equipment, such as speakers and microphones for special events. The most frequently used of any sound equipment on board is the 1MC, the ship’s public address system.
“Our biggest challenge is the amount of equipment we have on the ship,” said Chief Interior Communications Electrician Kevin Kevicki. “It’s an extraordinary amount of equipment. There are more than 30,000 pieces of gear that we’re responsible for.”
Nearly every space on the ship has equipment maintained by an IC that is essential to safe shipboard operation.
“We cover equipment from the very bottom deck of the ship all the way up to the top of the mast,” said Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class Bradley Gleaves. “We’re one of the few rates that can be down on the 7th deck and be up on the mast working on the same day.”
The Vertical Short Takeoff and Landing (VSTOL) communication system used for landing Harrier jets and helicopters is another important interior communication system on Boxer.
“We maintain all the flight deck cameras and the ‘wind birds,’ that are vital for flight operations,” said Kevicki. “If any of our equipment on the flight deck doesn’t work, the ship can’t perform aviation operations.”
In addition to the public addressing and telephone systems the ICs are also responsible for the Gyro compass, engine order telegraph, and rudder angle indicator.
The gyro compass, an essential tool for keeping Boxer on course, uses Earth's rotation to find true north, which is different from, and much more useful for navigating than magnetic north. The engine order telegraph (EOT) is used to send engine speed orders from the pilot house to the engineers in the engine room and the rudder angle indicator shows the helmsman the current position of a ship’s rudders. All of these systems are essential to the safe navigation of the ship, especially during restricted maneuvering operations.
When the communication equipment on the ship goes down, an IC is often there in a matter of minutes, ready to jump into action and solve the problem.
“We deal with a lot of the customer service items, like phones or television,” said Gleaves. “We’re constantly getting calls about television service requests or televisions not working.”
Adding to their massive count of equipment, ICs work on a large variety of ship surveillance equipment along with audio and visual equipment for the ship’s television entertainment systems, known as Shipboard Information, Training, and Education television (SITE TV). Operated by Mass Communication Specialists, SITE TV is used to deliver liberty, safety, or command briefs, and various forms of entertainment including movies, news, and sports. It’s one of the many examples that demonstrate how IC’s contribute to the mission readiness of the other departments on the ship.
“The Interior Communications Electricians are a vital asset for maintaining and repairing essential equipment for supporting our mission, which is to deliver information and entertainment to the crew via SITE TV,” said Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael T. Eckelbecker.
Without the eighteen ICs aboard Boxer ensuring essential equipment is maintained and ready to go at all times, day to day operations would be nearly impossible.
“In my eyes, I think we are the most vital rate on board the ship,” said Kevicki. “Nothing could get done without us and our equipment.”