BY LT. JUAN “TONY” A. LUEVANO, SC, USN
COMMANDER, NAVAL SURFACE FORCE ATLANTIC
Life as a department head afloat aboard USS Anzio (CG 68) was both a difficult and rewarding experience. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and that you are part of the best officer community in the Navy. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
The foundation for a successful department head tour starts well before reporting for duty. Working and establishing lines of communication with fleet subject matter experts (SMEs), such as the Navy Supply Corps School, NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Centers (FLCs), type commanders (TYCOMs), and the Afloat Training Group (ATG) were invaluable throughout my tour. For instance, I learned who the key players in each area of my operation were during my Supply Officer Department Head Course and Intermediate Stop (I-Stop) at my TYCOM – Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic. Those experts shared invaluable information with me regarding current issues in the fleet and ways to overcome them. The return on investment, for meeting face-to-face with SMEs and proactively ensuring all stakeholders are informed of problems you encounter during your tour, is well worth the time and effort.
Learning from and working with SMEs is just the beginning. An equally valuable next step is to learn with and from your peers. Work with your fellow department heads, immediate-superior-in-command (ISIC) and other ships in your battle group. Communication with all these players is critical to mission success. For example, engineering and operations departments will help support you with scheduling, upkeep of equipment, and other areas which have a direct impact on your day-to-day operations. Your ISIC and fellow Supply Officers (SUPPOS) on other ships are also able to harness resources to meet emergent needs, whether it is for provisions or transfer of a high priority part. During your tour, it is likely you will face unique scenarios and questions that are not easily found in instructions. Don’t be afraid to contact your TYCOM or nearby Supply Corps officers – probably the same people you met during your I-Stop. They are ready to support you or might have worked through the same issue.
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LS2 Christopher Towle and IS3 Kyle Perez receiving a shipment.
Deployment and long periods of time away from homeport can be demanding. I strongly recommend your supply team identifies problems and makes note of hard- to-get items as early as possible. For me, it was coffee creamer, hazardous material (HAZMAT) and compressed gasses. Coffee creamer shortages were resolved by adding it to our “always order” list since re-supply was occasionally hit or miss. Long-term planning with my fellow department heads allowed us to get ahead of HAZMAT requirements and manage the shipment limitations and long lead times.
Additionally, with endless meetings and emergent daily tasks, to support sustained operations while on deployment, it is easy to neglect administrative requirements. Despite the fast-paced requirements at sea, you must maintain and groom your operation in accordance with TYCOM directives on a daily basis; this will build muscle memory for procedural compliance. Performing afloat self-assessments, regardless of where you are in the Optimized Fleet Response Plan cycle, is critical to ensure standards are sustained.
During Anzio’s 2016 deployment, external support from the supply team aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75); the combat logistics officer, Commander, Task Force (CTF) 53/CTF63; and other ships enabled my team to be successful despite many obstacles. Early communication of our requirements to the respective fleet was critical, particularly in the planning of our port visits. The old adage that change is the only constant proved to be true with the newly implemented off ship bill pay (OSBP) and husbanding service provider (HSP) programs. We had to ensure our entire team was aware of this new process. Proactive and frequent communication with the TYCOM and respective fleet representatives proved to be critical. The newly revamped OSBP and HSP programs met all the needs of our crew with great results and no negative impact to our operations.
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Ensign Gregory Schwarga, Lt. Tony Luevano, Ensign Lauren Kandt
Post-deployment operations and sustainment phase presented different dilemmas. It is a challenge to keep your crew focused on administrative requirements, particularly while in homeport. However, you must continue to enforce and maintain high standards. Continue to monitor your operation and ensure your personnel obtain the training they need from ATG, NAVSUP FLC, and the TYCOM. This is the time to recharge your batteries in your personal and professional lives, but, for us, sustainment phase and the Board of Inspection and Survey preparations occupied much of our time. There never seemed to be enough time to get everything accomplished, but, with the help of my fellow department heads and crew, we were able to overcome and complete all milestones ahead of schedule. The key to our success was hard work, prioritization and constant communication.
My take away for other SUPPOs and future SUPPOs is two-fold – develop your Sailors and officers and own your department.
- Develop your Sailors. Seek out mentoring opportunities for your junior officers whenever possible. Encourage attendance at OP roadshows and capitalize on meetings, formal and informal, like office calls with senior Supply Corps officers. They are both great opportunities to grow professionally. Train your personnel to do things by the book and discourage them from doing something because “this is how we have always done it.” Looking up references will allow you and your Sailors to cultivate a questioning attitude and develop their level of knowledge.
- Own your department. Stay on top of things. Anticipate questions. Know your department, the policies, procedures, and how to operate to stay ahead of issues. Develop solutions and present a way forward before briefing your commanding officer (CO) and executive officer (XO). This requires all your resources; don’t forget to involve your division officers, chiefs and leading petty officers. If you don’t have a plan, your CO and XO will make a plan for you. It is better for you to be prepared. Having a plan ahead of time takes the pressure off your CO and XO and also shows that you are being proactive.
You have a strong community of professionals to help you each step of the way, but you must drive your own destiny. Be the expert, stay positive, and ensure that you, your crew, and leadership are taken care of to the best of your ability.