"It's a different job than most others in the Navy because we take everything into consideration. We do the work of gunner's mates on deck and operations specialists up in the Combat Information Center," said Mineman 3rd Class Craig Dahl. "I think we may work a little bit harder in most cases since we need to do so many things at once."
Because hard work comes naturally to this crew, it should come as no surprise that they earned the inaugural Vice Adm. Thomas H. Copeman III Material Readiness Excellence Award in the 15 year and older category.
As Commander Naval Surface Forces and Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, said in the award citation, "Champion's superb performance during last year's inspection reflected their strong commitment to establishing and maintaining a shipboard culture of material readiness, their steady-strain approach, pride in ownership, and self-sufficiency, ensured their ship was kept consistently material fit to fight."
They are not only fit to fight but they are excited to do their job. Mineman 1st Class Garrett Coates says there is nothing better than sweeping for mines.
"The double O sweep is by far my favorite part of this underway," he said. "It's the first time we've put one out on this hull and now we know we're ready for that sweep anytime we need to be."
The double O sweep is a proven technique against moored mines. The ship tows their cables known as sweep wires deep into the ocean with cutters strategically placed to cut the anchor lines and chains of potential mines. Multi-plane kites, bridles and tensiometers are terms that might confuse even the most educated Sailor, but to these hardened Sea Warriors; they are the backbone of their jobs, used to ensure the safest and most accurate mine hunting evolutions.
Sometimes, even the most well thought out plans and preparations are still met with challenges. Laying mines is typically done via aircraft but this crew stepped up to the challenge.
Having already successfully laid two moored mines and a test floor mine this underway, they moved next to lay the never before attempted Versatile Exercise Mine (VEM) Mk 74. The VEM mine shapes however could not be released as the lowering line would foul on itself so at the risk of losing the valuable test shapes, the decision was made to continue on course and mission with the others in play.
"You will get a great opportunity to see the fruits of your labor," said Champion's Commanding Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Christopher W. Petro. "This is why we are here." Aboard a U.S. Navy minesweeper there are a variety of mine detection options available, including a remote operated underwater vehicle and a shipboard mine hunting sonar capable of searching for mines at variable depths from the keel to the ocean floor.
While underway this past week, the crew met with many challenges during each evolution but they persevered. They fixed the sonar when it blew a fuse, rebuilt a tensiometer and quickly changed out O-rings to prevent leaks. They also successfully and safely recovered every mine they laid, putting them securely on deck.
"Equipment problems seem to be our biggest challenge that we've needed to battle through," added Coates. Despite the often challenging task at hand, Petty Officer Dahl still finds a way to put a smile on his face.
"Sometimes we're out on deck for what seems like 18 hours, but at the end of the day we are all toughing it out together and since we all have each other's backs I stay positive."
There are so many moving parts on deck and a myriad of risks for each evolution so every Sailor must keep their head on a swivel to prevent injuries.
No matter what issue came up inside or outside the ship, the crew found a way to fix the issue or adjust to the temporary change for the duration. Each member of crew Dominant looked for ways to improve themselves and their contributions to the team. Once one of them would start, he would immediately inspire others to follow.
"One of my favorite things about this underway was being the Harnessman," said Dahl. "Being able to get into the middle of the action was awesome and being able to say I was actually part of the sweep was nice. I also loved learning about new stuff like figuring out that we can lay mines as well as recover them, it was really interesting."
Dahl and his fellow minemen of crew Dominant have one goal aboard Champion and that is as he says with proud grin, "Kill Mines!"