SOUTH CHINA SEA -- Aboard the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8), Culinary Specialist Seaman Dustin Fontenot’s fingerprints are everywhere. Fontenot can be found in the galley preparing the crew’s dinner, walking through the passageways with black bags full of trash slung over his shoulder, or even in the helicopter control tower scanning the horizon for other ships and aircraft while standing lookout.
Fontenot has made himself a vital part of Montgomery’s crew, albeit a unique one. Fontenot is the only seaman in a crew of more than 90 Sailors. All around Fontenot are Sailors who have years of experience in the Navy; Fontenot has been in for less than a year.
“When I first checked into the ship, I remember being overwhelmed,” said Fontenot. “I would look around, and the first thing I noticed was that there was no one else like me. I was surrounded by petty officers, chiefs and officers. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just wanted to come in and get to work.”
Fontenot was raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, along with four older siblings. He was used to being the youngest, and surrounded by those older and more experienced than him. Growing up like this taught him his work ethic and drive that would help him aboard Montgomery.
“The first thing I noticed about him was how fast he wanted to get to work,” said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Jeffery Smith, Fontenot’s supervisor aboard Montgomery. “He came in and wanted to go 100 miles an hour, always volunteering for any assignment.”
Montgomery has one of the smaller crews of any ship in the Navy, so everyone on board is required to do a little extra. Fontenot’s work ethic allowed for a seamless transition from civilian, to an important part of the crew on a deployed ship.
Fontenot checked into Montgomery a week before departing San Diego, California, for a five-month deployment. He had gone from a civilian, to boot camp, to ‘A’ school, to deploy in less than a year.
“I had no idea what to expect,” said Fontenot, about going on deployment. “I didn’t even learn my job yet, and now I was going out to sea.”
“It was interesting seeing how he adjusted to life out to sea,” said Smith. “While out to sea, you have more responsibilities than just your job. The first time we had a damage control drill, he looked completely lost.”
Many of the Sailors deployed with Fontenot had years of experience being underway and deployed. They made an effort to train Fontenot in what it takes to become a Sailor, not just a culinary specialist.
“Nobody saw me as a Seaman, they saw me as part of the crew,” said Fontenot. “I knew everyone on the ship had to play a part, so I would constantly learn, observe and ask questions during evolutions and drills. I knew my work ethic would not just be enough, I wanted to get qualified so I could help every way I could.”
“The amount of effort he put into learning what it takes to become a Sailor was far beyond what I saw from seaman in the past,” said Smith. “LCS crews require everyone to be fully engaged to run smoothly. He understood that, and put the time and effort into being part of this more-senior crew. The amount of progress he has made is truly incredible.”
Fontenot credits the Sailors around him for continuing to push himself every day. He understands the uniqueness of an LCS crew, and the unique position he finds himself in. It’s not an easy situation to be the only seaman on a ship, but Fontenot’s work ethic and drive to better himself are the factors contributing to his success.
“Where I came from instilled that work ethic and drive in me,” said Fontenot. “I just want to make my family, and everyone around me, proud.”
Montgomery is on a rotational deployment to USINDOPACOM, conducting operations, exercises and port visits throughout the region and working hull-to-hull with allied and partner navies to provide maritime security and stability, key pillars of a free and open Indo-Pacific.