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Challenging Experiences Key to Competitive Success for Naval Surface Force’s 2009 Junior Officer Shiphandler of the Year
By LTJG Jan Shultis, Naval Surface Forces Public Affairs

– He has piloted a ship through the Panama Canal and “held the conn” through the Suez, but the title of Surface Force’s “Junior Officer Shiphandler of the Year” eluded Lt. Sam Train until this year.

After advancing through fleet qualifying rounds, Lt. Train was named the “Surface Forces Atlantic” champion and flown to Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, Rhode Island, to meet the “Surface Forces Pacific” champion for a two-day simulator competition for the overall title.

Train entered the contest once before, representing Carrier Strike Group Twelve in 2006. This year he competed on behalf of USS Nicholas (FFG 47) and Destroyer Squadron Two. He credits “greater maturity and more challenging shipboard work” for his 2009 win.
“This is a great honor,” says Train, “one entirely due to the experiences I had at previous commands. This award is a reflection of the trust and confidence my commanding officers had in allowing me to act as officer of the deck during challenging evolutions.”

In addition to transits of the Panama and Suez Canals, Train has handled ships during underway replenishment operations, towing exercises, and flight operations. These and other similarly challenging evolutions allowed him to build a level of experience and confidence that left this shiphandler primed for competition.

“Shiphandling proficiency is an essential skill in our Surface Warfare Officers,” says Capt. Scott Jones, Commanding Officer of the Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) at the time of the competition.

Train and the Pacific Forces champion, Lt.j.g. Pat Kiefer from USS McCampbell (DDG 85) and Destroyer Squadron Fifteen, proved their mettle on several occasions prior to their arrival in Newport for the one-on-one showdown. Each advanced through a series of run-offs in their respective fleets in order to earn their spot in the simulator finals.

To test them, Jones assembled a panel of expert judges from around the country. Representatives from Navigation, Seamanship, and Shiphandling Trainer (NSST) San Diego, NSST Mayport, Florida, and Massachusetts Maritime Academy spent two full days observing the action in the SWOS simulators.

Train and Kiefer hit the virtual seas to pilot ships of their own class through a variety of exercises designed to measure their ability to get underway, conduct man-overboard and underway replenishment drills. Each competitor was graded on “rules of the road” application, proper use of standard commands, coordination of engine and helm orders, development and execution of a plan, and their ability to adapt their plan to unforeseen circumstances.

“I was taught at SWOS that shiphandling is both a science and an art,” adds Train in a parting thought, quoting Capt. Bud Weeks, SWOS Director of Navigation and Seamanship. “Once you understand the science, you can learn the art. I believe that.”
Vice Adm. D.C. Curtis, Commander, Naval Surface Forces/Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, will present “The Admiral’s Trophy” to Train at the Surface Navy Association National Symposium in Washington, D.C. in January, as well as a runner-up award to Kiefer.

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