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Story Number: NNS081104-16
By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) W. Scott Mishley and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiffani Paredes, Pre-Commissioning Unit Makin Island Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Makin Island (LHD 8) is currently under construction and preparing for delivery, but that did not prevent the command from qualifying its first surface warfare officer (SWO) Oct. 21.

After 15 months of training and studying, Ensign Ebony Miller, of Makin Island's deck department, became the first officer to earn a SWO pin at the command.

"I feel honored to be the first qualified SWO on Makin Island," Miller said. "I appreciate the fact that I was given the opportunity to become a part of this elite warfare community on a brand new ship."

The ship's crew is currently split between a detachment in San Diego and a unit at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, in Pascagoula, Miss. Despite the different locations, the primary focus for every Sailor is to train and reach maximum qualification standards in order to be ready to fully operate the ship upon the scheduled delivery in March 2009.

Sailors prepare themselves through on-the-job training while observing equipment testing on Makin Island; in classrooms; firefighting and damage control schools; and possibly most importantly, by spending time on other vessels throughout the fleet enhancing their skills underway and inport.

"I first deployed on USS Tarawa (LHA 1) for seven months and qualified in several different areas," said Miller "I then came back to Makin Island and dove into studying by asking questions and gaining knowledge from already qualified SWOs on board Makin Island."

Ensign Darren Morgan, assigned to Makin Island's combat systems department, sees Miller's accomplishment resulting from a blend of Miller's personal drive and the support of fellow ships.

"There is a reason this is a first, and that is because there was never a more perfect combination of a hard-charging junior officer and an accommodating ship that allowed this to happen," said Morgan, who was at sea with Miller while also working on SWO qualifications. "It's a testament to Ensign Miller's determination and Tarawa's sense of teamwork."

Miller's peers are not the only people who recognize her accomplishment. As Makin Island's commanding officer, Capt. Bob Kopas not only understands the added importance of training during this stage in the ship's development, he appreciates the milestone this qualification represents in both Miller's career and the foundation of Makin Island's crew.

"Soon after Ensign Miller reported on board, a delay in our ship's construction was announced by the shipbuilder," Kopas said. "To keep her and our other crew members on track, we have partnered with other ships in the fleet so our crew could achieve required qualifications and not be punished by a delay that was out of their control.

"Miller's outstanding drive and perseverance has been a model for our crew and other prospective SWOs and most importantly, shows that when you apply yourself you can overcome all obstacles."

"Having the (SWO) pin on, I would say people look at you differently," said Miller, who hails from Los Angeles. "They look at you thinking, 'Okay, she has to know something.' Not to say that people who don't have it on don't know anything, it's more that they expect you to know certain things if you wear a pin. With that, I feel pride and yes, I worked really hard, and I'm just ready for more things to come."

Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter officially authorized Makin Island's commissioning to be held Oct. 24, 2009 in San Diego.

Until that time, Morgan believes Miller is a perfect person to emulate as the entire crew continues its professional development.

"She is a shining example of how a Sailor who, while attached to a PCU, can take advantage of the training offered by other ships on the waterfront and knock out tough qualifications," said Morgan.

"As the first officer to qualify as a surface warfare officer on Makin Island, Ensign Miller has truly distinguished herself," said Kopas. "The go-getter attitude and thorough knowledge she demonstrated during her qualification board reaffirmed my belief that our future generation of surface warfare officers will be prepared for the challenges that the high seas and advanced ships like LCS, DDG-1000 and America (LHA-6) will have to offer."

For more news from Pre-Commissioning Unit Makin Island, visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd8/.

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