My First Year in the Fleet

BY ENSIGN JESSICA GOTTAL, SC, USN,
SALES/DISBURSING OFFICER USS LASSEN (DDG 82)

Ensign Jessica Gottal

I have had a very different experience since entering the fleet back in April 2016. Toward the end of my time at Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS), I had already begun down a path that felt a little unwieldy. Experiencing approximately five separate orders modifications within my last few weeks there, I finally ended up with orders to Mayport, Florida. It was my top pick, and I couldn’t be more grateful to the leadership and staff at NSCS who helped make that dream a reality. Excitedly, I received those orders with just 10 days of travel time to report to the transient personnel unit in Mayport, as my new ship, USS Lassen (DDG 82), was in the midst of a homeport shift and 4th Fleet deployment on her way home from Yokosuka, Japan. I would meet the ship in Panama less than 15 days after graduating from NSCS.

With the time constraints to get from Newport, Rhode Island to Mayport, Florida, my husband, two dogs, and I rushed to throw together a plan that would successfully move us and all of our things South. Since there was not enough time to take house hunting leave, my husband and I decided to take turns driving the 1,100 miles in just a day and a half in order to have time to get my family as settled as possible before I left for the remaining two months of deployment.

Upon arrival, I was immediately introduced to the fast-paced work tempo of a ship on deployment and jumped right in. I had been expecting this and was excited to get started. There were already two other supply officers – my new supply officer (SUPPO) and the disbursing officer (DISBO) I was relieving. The DISBO did everything he could to make me feel welcome and help me get my bearings. NSCS had done a good job of giving me a baseline of understanding that I could apply to the work I was doing, but there were many new things to learn about the disbursing operation afloat, particularly how to function while on deployment in an area of operation that did not have prime vendor support throughout much of it. The DISBO and I completed our turnover within the first month. By May 2016, I was running the operation.

After nearly two months underway, I had gotten my wits about me and shifted my focus to qualifying for my Surface Warfare Supply Corps Officer (SWSCO) pin, the major qualification for a first tour supply officer. As we got closer to the end of our deployment/homeport shift, we were busy preparing for Lassen’s tiger cruise. Two weeks out, we received an email from our commodore requesting a volunteer to be DISBO on USS The Sullivans (DDG 68).

Though I only had two months of experience, SUPPO and the captain believed that I was capable of executing the shift and highly recommended that I take the opportunity. Before I knew it, I had received orders to 5th Fleet to join up with The Sullivans. Lucky for us, Lassen’s DISBO was going to be onboard for a few more months, so we swiftly turned the operation back over to him. That settled the operational side of things.

I had to quickly balance my other responsibilities, as well. My family and I were surprised, to say the least. My two–month underway had suddenly become at least four months, and now on the other side of the planet. We had been expecting a wonderful reunion with my family, the celebration of a successful deployment, and some much needed downtime during the ship’s leave period. However, I was determined not only to succeed as The Sullivans’ DISBO and help finish out their deployment, but to absorb as much knowledge as possible and improve my skills as a supply officer. I was fortunate to have such a considerate chain of command and was able to communicate all of my personal preferences during the transition process.

As Lassen pulled into Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to pick up family and friends for the tiger cruise, I left the ship as soon as the brow was in place. I spent a brief six hours with my husband in the states before getting on a plane heading to Bahrain. I gained a vast amount of knowledge as I performed yet another turnover and accepted the disbursing operation aboard The Sullivans. Most of my time was dedicated to getting up to speed with their disbursing operation. I was even able to improve some of the established processes, making sure that everything was well within Navy standards and ready to go for when The Sullivans’ permanent DISBO would arrive a month and a half later. I spent time working on qualifications and focused on helping their SUPPO solve any issues that came up in supply. It felt great to conquer adversity in support of my fellow supply officers.

When the ship pulled in to Rota, Spain, the permanent DISBO arrived. I had successfully balanced the disbursing operation and was ready to turn it all over to him. We were working with a very limited amount of time as I had to get back to Jacksonville in order to attend Helicopter Control Officer (HCO) School. I spent every waking hour with him showing him the ropes. The next day and a half was completely dedicated to disbursing and making sure that the new DISBO would be well-versed and confident enough to take over successfully. Having completed a third turnover and running a disbursing operation on multiple ships, I was more confident than ever and happy to finally be getting back to Jacksonville, Lassen, and my family.

Ensign Gottal standing safety officer during an underway replenishment on the USS Lassen (DDG 82).

 

Upon my return to Florida, I was able to get some much needed rest before heading to Norfolk to attend HCO School. Soon after graduating and returning to Lassen, we were off on several underways, participating in war games and helping other units certify for deployment. Feeling eager to support my ship in any way possible and armed with the experience I had gained from deployment and NSCS, I humbly re-assumed my duties. Being back in my homeport and finished with turnover allowed me to finally free up enough time to knock out the rest of my qualifications. Funny enough, I felt like I knew supply like the back of my hand. It was weapons and combat systems I found myself up at all hours of the night studying. After just five months of being back, I found myself standing in front of our commanding officer as he awarded me my SWSCO pin.

In less than a year out in the fleet, I have experienced many challenges and unexpected twists and turns. Spending so much time at sea during deployment and then being constantly underway was often difficult for my family and me. However, I am proud to say that the curriculum, leadership, and mentorship at the NSCS Basic Qualification Course and the experience of both deployments gave me the fundamental knowledge and the confidence to earn my pin in only 10 months. In the midst of substantial adversity, I was able to persevere. I am happy to say that the supply officers and chiefs I met along the way were there to guide and support me. Balancing work and life in the Navy is no easy task, but nothing worth having is.

May/June 2017