By Cmdr. Shannon Walker, Supply Officer, USS Abraham Lincoln
Fresh off the longest aircraft carrier deployment since the Cold War, the supply team aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is familiar operating under times of adversity. After an unprecedented four extensions and only four-port calls over 296-days, three of which were in a logistically tricky port, the team had to consistently find creative solutions to atypical problems. Therefore, when COVID-19 began to take hold of the nation and alter operations aboard ships, Lincoln’s supply team led the fight in keeping the crew healthy, fed, and fit.
After a recent underway in early March, Lincoln once again found itself in familiar territory – operating in an environment without standard operating procedures. The ship's TRIAD quickly decided to drop manning levels to maximize social distancing efforts. While initial triaging from the supply department resulted in taping "X”s on the decks and bulkheads in commonly queued areas, the team collaborated with the media department and the mass communication specialists aboard to develop professionally printed, branded Lincoln social distancing markers. Now, Sailors in lines in the mess decks, Jittery Abe's coffee mess, and the ship's store had a clear visual representation of six feet.
As the number of cases around the country and the Navy began to rise rapidly in April and May, the Lincoln team needed to return to sea for a vital ammunition offload and carrier qualification event. Despite minimizing the number of people underway, the supply team needed to develop a method to safely, efficiently, and with the quality
of service customary of Lincoln, serve over 147,000 meals to 2,450 Sailors. In order to maximize social distancing on the mess decks and in the wardrooms, both the fore and aft mess decks, along with all three wardrooms, were open and serving four meals a day. Meal hours were extended from 1000-1900 to encourage Sailors to space out their
meal hours and minimize queuing, and Sailors were limited to specific seats at tables to further maximize distancing.
Other best practices in food service were changing from a self-serve line format, to the culinary specialists and food service attendants plating all meals, individually packaging desserts for grab-and-go, and replacing salad bars with pre-made and individually packaged salads. The results were overwhelmingly successful.
Another massive effort during the underway came in facilitating the physical mission aboard Lincoln. While it is nearly impossible to socially distance the nine gyms aboard the nation’s largest warships, the supply team worked tirelessly to move an entire gym
setup into the hangar bay's open air for Sailors over the 13-day underway period. The hangar bay gym featured 12 spots to workout with row machines, elliptical machines, fitness boxes, and padded mats. Open 23 hours a day, with power hour being the 24th, the gym was staffed by 40 volunteers who provided guidance and oversight for social distancing and sanitation compliance.
While operating in port, Lincoln and the supply team continue to utilize many of these best practices daily, with a heavy focus on safety in food service, social distancing, and maintaining an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and disinfectant. Just as the team experienced the unknown on the historic deployment, the unknowns of the current mission – keeping the crew safe, healthy, and well supplied during a global crisis – is just one more opportunity for creative thinking and problem solving in the supply department.