BY LT KYLE O’NEILL, SC, USN
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USS Freedom (LCS 1)
I was 18 months into my first tour division officer orders when the opportunity to screen for USS Freedom’s 3100 Supply Officer (SUPPO)/maiden South China Sea deployment presented itself. My department head aboard USS Essex (LHD 2), Cmdr. Jerome White, asked me, “So, do you think you could be SUPPO?” Confidently/arrogantly I replied, “Yes Sir… but I don’t think I want your job just yet.” Relieved to find out I wasn’t going to be a Lt.j.g. big deck SUPPO, but applying for these bat-mobile looking littoral combat ship (LCS) things, I gladly interviewed with our TYCOM SUPPO and Deputy. I was picked for the job and shortly thereafter I went TAD to LCS CREW 101 for the next year and change.
I was immediately enrolled in a dozen or so schools, some LCS specific, some traditional, and logging ample simulator hours standing Junior Officer of the Deck in the USS Freedom bridge simulator. Helicopter Control Officer and Contracting Officer Representative certifications were more traditional Supply qualifications that LCS offered and proved valuable. All the training was sound and with fire hose affect in standard Navy fashion. Aside from the damage control training (which still had some LCS specific intricacies), everything was very new, interesting and pretty high speed.
It was imperative that I get hot with the unique operation that is LCS logistics. Nearly all logistical coordination and OPTAR management is executed remotely through the LCS Logistics Support Team (LST). Simplified: the ship identifies a requirement and communicates it to the LST. LST locates, procures, expedites and delivers. This essentially was the process for allthings - Stock Control, HAZMAT and Food Service. On paper this appears to be a relatively easy process (and more often than not it was); however, in reality, it could get messy quick. Communication had to be abundantly clear, frequent and persistent across every entity: Ship’s Certificate of Competency, LST, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron, Lockheed Martin, Fincantieri Marine, Logistics Support Representatives, husbanding service providers and Destroyer Squadron 7. The difficulty of this is compounded when you are in opposing time zones on the first of class ship, forward operating first time in theater. Despite consistent challenges, all parties rose to the occasion and proved the successful ability of remote-based logistical support. The lessons learned were valuable and the process has and will only improve.
Overnight, I became the supply ambassador at daily department head meetings. I was clearly junior ranking and the youngest in the room by 10-plus years in age and naval service. I went from managing my LHD divisions of 20-plus personnel (mostly junior Sailors) to leading a department of six [Chief Logistics Specialist (LSC), Culinary Specialist Chief Petty Officer, Culinary Specialist Petty Officer 1st Class, Culinary Specialist Petty Officer 3rd Class, Culinary Specialist Seaman (CSSN) and Hospital Corpsman Petty Officer 1st Class] hot running, highly motivated, self-sufficient rock star Sailors. This is pretty much the standard caliber of Sailor within the LCS program, which is good, but also tough. It is a hyper-competitive atmosphere and if you are not pulling your weight, it is quickly seen and not tolerated. With a minimally manned ship, there are fewer early promotes to be earned among a highly concentrated talent pool. Being the junior guy at ranking meetings was honestly a good time. It was the perfect forum to get justifiably loud with officers senior to me in rank but equals as department heads. I didn’t always get my way, but I like to think that the supply department did well respectively (this was 110 percent earned by my Sailors and their performance, only reiterated by me at the meetings). I believe having the 3100 presence on board was highly valuable to the department, the Commanding Officer (CO) and Executive Officer (XO), and the watch teams; and I am certain all parties would defend this claim.
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USS Stockdale (DDG 106) taken from USS Freedom's flight deck at sunset at Changi Naval Base in Singapore.
Just about everything was interesting and new with USS Freedom. Probably fair to say that everything was challenging and at times frustrating with USS Freedom, too. There are a lot of growing pains with a new ship, a lot of USS Freedom specific parts, one-of-one parts and sole sourcing. It can be a little chaotic when you’ve been in country three weeks and you’re getting underway in two days. Underway both LSC and I stood bridge watch and helicopter control officer, making the onboard logistics operation a one-man job for 18-19 hours of every day. The job demands an attitude of ‘Be a part of the solution, not the problem’ (as does just about anything in the Navy if you plan to be successful), but it was refreshing and contagious with CREW 101. Everyone subscribes to that attitude, sometimes out of necessity, but mostly by choice. There were no food service assistants; the CO and XO cleaned their own dishes and spaces the exact same as my CSSN and I cleaned our dishes and spaces. We were able to do some pretty cool stuff on deployment. We hosted a plethora of receptions. Being as fast as we were, we were able to sneak up on a handful of foreign Navy’s and boldly show the flag. We were able to see a night time F1 Race in the streets of Singapore. We traveled the Surigao Strait in the Phillipines and the hallowed waters of the Battle of Leyte Gulf awesomely depicted in the book “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour.” We worked our butts off, but everyone did, so it never seemed that bad.