USS Harpers Ferry
"First In Freedom"
SAN DIEGO (June 1, 2017) Electronics Technician 1st Class Courtney Campodonica conducts Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) training in the mess decks of dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49). There are currently 133 personnel enrolled in the ESWS qualification program. Harpers Ferry, part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit team, is operating in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Valentine Mulango/Released)
Sailors Quest For ESWS Insignia On Board Harpers Ferry

SAN DIEGO – Obtaining the Navy’s Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) qualification is time consuming and often a nerve racking experience under the best of circumstances, but when a ship is in the ship yards for a maintenance period, it becomes even more challenging.

This did not stop a group of Sailors assigned to dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), who are braving the odds to earn the coveted insignia.

The qualification insignia, also known as the ESWS pin, is authorized for wear by any enlisted member of the United States Navy who is permanently stationed aboard a navy afloat command and completes the enlisted surface warfare qualification program and personal qualification standards.

The yard period is a time during which a ship undergoes extensive maintenance, but it also affords an opportunity for crew members to attend technical schools, be assigned temporary additional duty to other commands, or to take leave. These absences make it hard for Sailors seeking ESWS qualification to receive training, unlike when the ship is on deployment and qualified personnel are readily available on board the ship to provide training.

“The ESWS training is being held in the mess decks,” is a regular message passed through the ship’s general announcing system at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, and ESWS pin seekers, comprised mostly of junior Sailors, are regularly in attendance. Among the group qualifying during Harpers Ferry’s maintenance period are Operations Specialist Seaman Briauna Fredrick and Seaman Robert Miller, who have had their eyes on the pin since boot camp.

“While in "A" school (advanced or technical training most a Sailors attend after finishing boot camp) all of my instructors told my class about how fast they got their pins so I wanted to compete against their times,” said Fredrick.

“Earning the ESWS qualification will make me an asset on the ship because I can be more useful to most departments,” said Miller. “The challenge I’ve encountered so far is getting the training; but I have come to understand that if you are motivated and persistent, the training is there,” he added.

In order to assist Sailors like Miller and Fredrick to reach their goals, Harpers Ferry organizes a bi-weekly ESWS training, led by qualified ESWS personnel.

“The enthusiasm on the boat I believe is pretty high. I believe the Sailors are all surprised that they are still able to receive training and complete the qualification while we are still here in the yard,” said Logistics Specialist First Class Jaron Rice, Harpers Ferry’s assistant ESWS coordinator.

“My biggest tip is making time, at least an hour a day, and just focus on gaining the knowledge necessary,” said Rice. “It's normal for Sailors to ask for training and help. We also have training every Tuesday and Thursday in specific sections that makes the process very helpful.”

According to Master Chief Petty Officer Vince Vanterpool, Harpers Ferry’s command master chief, formal designation as an ESWS signifies an individual has acquired specific skills, knowledge and military experience that result in a unique qualification for service on surface ships.

“ESWS qualification recognizes the efforts of enlisted individuals trained in surface ship operations,” said Vanterpool. “It also provides Sailors with basic knowledge of warfare areas specific to each ship. ESWS designation identifies a sense of pride and accomplishment upon completion.”

There are currently 133 personnel enrolled in the ESWS program and Harpers Ferry has registered six completed qualifications since moving into the yard last December. Over 200 Sailors qualified and requalified during the ship’s 2016 seven-month Western Pacific deployment in support of exercise Bold Alligator and Maritime Security Operations.

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