Standing Up America (Part I)
Congratulations, you have orders to Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6). The ship is currently under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. You will be assigned a sponsor to assist you in your transition from your current command. More than 900 Sailors have read this in their America welcome aboard packages.
Building a ship begins with the building of its crew. Not just anyone can get orders to a PCU. Sailors must first go through multiple special screening processes and evaluations before being assigned to the command, proving they meet the high standards required of a future plankowner.
With screenings complete and orders in hand, the worthy Sailors head to either Norfolk or San Diego for additional training and qualifications at an America pre-commissioning detachment.
“One of the challenges of a pre-commissioning unit is that we have personnel dispersed to multiple geographical locations, accomplishing different missions,” said PCU America Commanding Officer Capt. Robert A. Hall, Jr. “Understanding those missions and effective communications between the sites is key to our success. We’re fortunate to have a lot of great leadership at each location who understand the mission and understand what their objectives are.”
Having multiple detachments creates a whirlwind of paperwork that could easily become overwhelming, but America’s executive department helps ensure each member’s transition is seamless.
“We’re the first stop for incoming Sailors checking in,” said Yeoman 2nd Class Brian Ferrin. “We’ll set them up with a check-in sheet, ombudsmen letter and update them on the command’s policies. After that, we’ll send them to personnel to get their records up-to-date and double check that they’re getting the correct pay.”
Chief Personnel Specialist Daniel Peters, educational services officer, PCU America, helps track Sailors’ various entitlements and pay based upon their location.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” he said. “From a personnel perspective, it requires a lot of oversight and advisement in various entitlements and pay. With our Sailors’ time spread so thin, we have to make the transition as easy as possible so they can focus on their training.”
A vigorous training schedule comes with the territory of a PCU. All Sailors attached need to earn certain qualifications and complete specific training. Navy Counselor 1st Class Robert Wetzel, command training team member, does what he can to set up all America Sailors for success.
“It’s a new environment with new sets of challenges for most Sailors arriving,” said Wetzel. “We put together various trainings and presentations needed for them to acclimate.”
The training gives those fresh to the fleet important tools to help ensure their success and provides a refresher for seasoned Sailors.
“It was tough moving from place to place [due to all the training and qualification requirements],” said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Tyler J. Parent, a new PCU America Sailor. “[Before coming here,] I heard that it can be really nerve-racking to report to a new command, especially a precom. People here are very helpful though, and they go out of their way for you. To me, the whole atmosphere of this command is a good one for a first-term Sailor, [like me].”
Sailors meet with the commanding officer as part of their check-in process and learn his command expectations. Capt. Hall’s command philosophy of “Stay focused, stay safe, do great things” is ingrained into the culture of the crew within their first week.
“This opportunity, to serve on a ship named after our great country, comes up once a generation,” said Hall. “It’s a tremendous honor but also a great responsibility for us to make sure we uphold the values of our country, and the crew is looking forward to it.”
Once a Sailor’s check-in is complete, the newly assigned Sailors are officially assigned to the PCU to begin training, divisional responsibilities, watchstanding and a plethora of necessary duties required of the pre-commissioning Sailor. With a Sailor’s efforts now fully shifted to their role in bringing the new ship to life, they can help set the standard for their country’s namesake.
PCU America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships. The ship was christened Oct. 20, 2012 and is currently undergoing construction in Pascagoula, Miss. America is scheduled to be commissioned late 2014 in San Francisco.