SOUTH CHINA SEA — Fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194) is currently at sea preparing for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf where she will be supporting the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet. Preparations include both equipment and personnel readiness exercises as the Master readies the ship and his crew for the arduous work of fleet support.
USNS John Ericsson recently completed a comprehensive 56-day Regular Overhaul (ROH) in Sembawang Shipyard, Singapore on April 25, which also included a drydocking of the ship.
A ROH is a demanding period for any ship and especially for the mariners who crew it, because this is the opportunity to perform required maintenance, repair, refurbishment, inspections, etc.
Since the ROH takes a much needed ship offline for an extended period, the schedule is always tight and demanding. The crew is required to put in long hours, seven-day weeks in order to meet the schedule.
An ROH is also a period in which many of the crew rotate to other ships that need their skills or rotate ashore for earned leave or required training, so that upon completion of the ROH almost half the crew on board will be new faces to those who remained.
Each crew member will have the required credentials and training to fill their position on the ship and will have performed their duties aboard similar ships. However, the Ericsson’s Master faces the sizable challenge of developing this group of individual specialists into a cohesive, efficient, and safely operating professional team, even as the ship rapidly approaches the deadline to be full mission ready for tasking in support of the fleet.
Captain Anthony Boudouin, Ericsson’s Master, points out that getting it right as a team is critical to avoid getting someone hurt, “Incoming mariners are seasoned veterans; however, crew cohesion and teamwork can make the difference during an emergency situation—something a new crew will still need to foster.”
Crew training began immediately after the completion of the ROH and was accomplished within the allotted ten-day period required by MSC policy, which calls for shipboard training that supports attainment of ship readiness to perform assigned missions.
The shipboard training focused on team responses in firefighting, equipment casualties, damage control, medical casualty response, helicopter firefighting, and chemical, biological, and radiological defence (CBR-D). Drills in main space and zone fires, collision and flooding, CBR-D, abandon ship, etc., focused on team responses.
The MSC Afloat Training Team (ATT) is tasked with the support mission to provide quality shipboard training to assist a ship’s Master in attaining mission readiness. Team members from ATT’s west coast team from San Diego came aboard Ericsson to conduct the rigorous ten-day training package to build the crew’s readiness and foster the camaraderie that takes form when teams train together.
“The basic ATT (package) on large ships is a ten-day package that consists of critical drills,” said Dale Krabbenschmidt, team leader from ATT West. “On this particular ship the drills include main engine room fire, pump room fire, berthing space fire in the house, fixed system training, and steering casualty drills.”
By the end of the ten-day period, Ericsson’s crew had proved to ATT and the Master that they were prepared to quickly and safely mitigate fire, flooding, or casualty damage and promptly resume vital fleet operations should the situation arise.
The training was completed at the Sembawang shipyard; however, the ATT team also got underway aboard Ericsson to conduct additional training at the Master’s request. “We completed the ATT [training package] in Singapore and the ship’s captain asked us to take a ride in order to do some additional training,” said Krabbenschmidt, who has been with MSC for 52 years. “One thing the captain wanted to get done was small arms training for his security team. They’re due for their annual requalification.”
The five-man ATT team established a small arms firing qualification course on the aft part of the ship, firing from the helicopter landing zone and conducted the firing range while in open seas.
Captain Boudouin, who has been sailing for more than 42 years, emphasized the importance of having a fully qualified small arms team aboard, “It allows me to man up a full pirate and reaction team…It’s very difficult for the captain and the chief mate to put all this training together.”
According to Krabbenschmidt, the ATT team also conducted training in fall protection and rescue from heights; explosive forklift operator relicensing; food handling safety; and other training that the captain requested, for example, a briefing on the V-22 Osprey helicopter operations.
“With the V-22, there’s a lot more safety features and safety hazards than any other aircraft,” said Mel Fai, a Damage Control Officer instructor with the ATT West team. “When it comes to helicopters, in general, we’ll teach a certain way to fight fires, but the V-22 is a little bit different.”
For the crew of the Ericsson, the ATT training they received has abated many of the challenges the crew faced prior to their important mission and provided a sense of accomplishment and professional satisfaction. “The ATT has been instrumental [to attaining mission readiness] and eased an enormous amount of pressure off of us,” said Boudouin. “I couldn’t have done this as proficiently without them. It would have taken me months to do what they did in 10 days.”