BY LT. CMDR. MICHAEL LABBE, SC, USN AND LT. J.G. CAROLINE MAIDER, SC, USN
Aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) departed Naval Base Coronado, California, on Sept. 8 for the 2015 Southern Seas deployment en route to Norfolk, Virginia, after serving seven years as the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier in Yokosuka, Japan. Travelling in the logistically challenging 4th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), the goal of this deployment was to enhance interoperability, increase regional stability and build relationships with countries throughout the region for multinational cooperation among nations. The ship participated in UNITAS Pacific and Atlantic, conducting bi-lateral exercises and theatre security cooperation engagements with 13 countries: Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, and South Africa.
“This was the largest and most capable U.S. force to participate in UNITAS in the more than 50-year history of the exercise,” said Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti, Commander, Carrier Strike Group NINE. “Though UNITAS was the major focus for our Southern Seas 2015 deployment, USS Washington and Carrier Air Wing 2 offered the unique opportunity to extend our engagements beyond UNITAS, with passage-at-sea exercises, three bi-lateral exercises with air forces in the region and 19 C-2 flights that brought distinguished visitors from nine countries out to the carrier for half day visits.”
While every department, division and individual onboard USS George Washington contributed to the overall success of the mission, the driving force was the ship’s supply department. The hard charging Sailors and leaders in the readiness and service divisions are responsible for more than $500 million in parts inventory and accountability, $80 million in financial oversight, crew feeding, ship’s store, vending, barbershop services, hotel services and morale programs for more than 5,000 Sailors, as well as collaborating with the embarked Carrier Strike Group NINE and USS George Washington’s escort ships. Furthermore, in just four months at sea, they supported a three carrier crew hull-swap, multiple maritime force exercises, 10 replenishments at sea (RAS) evolutions, four port calls, three big top receptions, and hosted distinguished visitors and guests including the Secretary of the Navy Honorable Ray Mabus.
Cmdr. Kerri Yarbrough, USS George Washington’s Supply Officer, credits the superb engagements by internal and external support agencies and her team’s diligent efforts leading up to the deployment for their success. “Frequent communication and significant pre-planning was critical to maximize our endurance and sustainment for the deployment,” said Yarbrough. “Initial logistics support planning began last year and there were numerous meetings with all key stakeholders to include weekly/monthly telecoms with TYCOM [Type Commander], Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Weapon Systems Support, Defense Logistics Agency, Commander Fourth Fleet, and NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Centers Jacksonville and Norfolk.”
On board an aircraft carrier, the Readiness Divisions consist of Stock Control (S-1), Aviation Support Division (S-6), Material Control (S-8), and hazardous materials (HAZMAT) (S-9). Affectionately called “Team Readiness,” these divisions also provide hands-on support during ship evolutions to include underway replenishments and vertical replenishments, during which the ship receives an average of 200 pallets, carrying food and logistical supplies via helicopter where they are transferred from the ship’s flight deck to their respective storage spaces throughout the ship. Their planning, coordination and execution for 10 RAS events allowed USS George Washington to successfully receive more than 3,000 pallets of food, cargo and mail to support operations with zero mishaps. Additionally, the Readiness Divisions supported more than 4,500 flying hours for 49 aircraft with a sortie rate of 96 percent, supplied more than 4,000 requisitions parts valued more than $40 million and provided more than 12,000 issues for consumables and HAZMAT items, which ensured ship’s force maintained maximum readiness.
The services divisions are comprised of Food Service (S-2), Retail Services (S-3), Disbursing (S-4), Hotel Services (S-5) and Morale Welfare Recreation (S-7). Their core function is to provide the highest standards for crew morale and comfort. The service divisions work together as one team to keep Sailors well fed, groomed, wearing clean uniforms, physically fit, and entertained. “The Supply department is pretty much the lifeline of the ship,” said GW’s Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Lawanna Arnold. “Every department is in some way, shape or form, directly tied to them. They are responsible for providing us everything from food to tools to small things like hair products. They are essential to the wellness of the ship’s company and ultimately the morale.”
For example, the Hotel Services Division (S-5) hosted more than 100 distinguished visitors ranging from foreign high-ranking military officials, country presidents and ambassadors, as well as processing more than 200,000 pounds of laundry for more than 5,000 personnel. Retail Operations (S-3) sales generated more than $350,000 monthly in sales and provided $200,000 to fund Morale, Welfare, and Recreation’s (MWR’s) future events. The MWR Division (S-7) provided the USS George Washington crew with numerous opportunities during port calls for unique cultural trips such as Machu Pichu, Peru, Casablanca Valley, Chile, and day trips to the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During the ship’s underway periods, they hosted more than 50 social events, including bingo, strong man competitions, karaoke and fun runs on the flight deck.
Additionally, the Food Service Division (S-2) provided more than 20,000 daily meals and hosted three big top receptions, which included distinguished visitors from Peru, the opening UNITAS Pacific Ceremony in Chile and the closing UNITAS Atlantic Ceremony in Brazil. The largest division in the Supply Department, Team Food Service, had a number of logistical challenges due to the unique planning and coordination challenges of the 4th Fleet. During the initial planning phases, they were able to procure and strategically preposition provisions via 38 containerized shipments valued more than $2 million in Panama, Chile and Brazil so the crew always had a variety of nutritious meals.
Highlighting the professionalism displayed by the Supply Department throughout the 2015 Southern Seas deployment were the abundance of professional milestones achieved by its personnel while at sea; more than 60 enlisted personnel earned warfare pins in Surface, Air, and Information Dominance, one officer earned the Surface Warfare Supply Corps Officer designation and three officers earned the Navy Aviation Supply Officer designation. In addition, there were 20 reenlistments, including five by SECNAV, five chief petty officer pinnings, two Supply officer promotions and one Supply Corps limited duty officer commissioning. For many Sailors, this deployment is the start of their time in the Navy, while for others, it caps off many years of hard work. Regardless of where Sailors were in their career progression, this deployment was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with many new professional experiences and personal memories! Going forward, the crew of USS George Washington will focus attention on local operations in 2016 as the ship will serve as the training platform for the qualification of student naval aviators heading to fleet squadrons. In 2017, the ship will return to Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia, for a mid-life overhaul as part of a maintenance plan to sustain the carrier’s life span.