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March 16, 2018 / iDriveWarships

St. Patrick’s Day and the U.S. Navy: The Story of USS The Sullivans


The five Sullivan brothers onboard Juneau (CL 52) at the time of its commissioning ceremonies at the New York Navy Yard, Feb. 14, 1942. All were lost with the ship following the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The brothers are (from left to right): Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George Sullivan. George survived Juneau’s sinking on 14 November, but died in the waters off San Cristobel Island five days later. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

St. Patrick’s Day is a time to celebrate Irish heritage. One Navy ship, USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), has a unique tie to Irish America, carrying with it a legacy that has lasted through generations.

There is no doubt that Irish ancestry plays a significant part of the makeup of the American population, where nearly 10% of Americans identify as Irish-American. Irish-Americans played an important role in the development and growth of the early United States, and U.S. Navy as well. Nine signatories of the Declaration of Independence were Irish, 253 Irish-born men have received the Medal of Honor, and one of the Fathers of the American Navy (John Barry) was of Irish descent.


Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan from then-President Roosevelt in regards to their sons.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy lost the five Irish-American Sullivan brothers – Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George – when their ship USS Juneau sank following the Battle of Guadalcanal. Upon enlisting, the brothers had insisted upon serving together, keeping true to their motto “We Stick Together.” The deaths of the Sullivan brothers is considered to be the greatest loss by any one family in World War II, and cemented a legacy of service that would connect the family to the U.S. Navy for generations to come.

The nation poured out condolences. Hollywood produced a feature film entitled “The Fighting Sullivans.” Shipmates who survived the sinking of USS Juneau came forward to share their stories about the boys’ final moments.

In honor of their sacrifice, then-President Roosevelt directed DD 537 to be assigned the name USS The Sullivans. Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, the mother of the five brothers, commissioned the ship on Sept. 30, 1943, nearly a year after the loss of her sons. The Sullivans was the first ship ever commissioned to honor more than one person.

The Sullivans served the Navy until decommissioning in 1965, where it was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, to serve as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park. However, the story of the Sullivan family did not stop with just the ship.


Alleta Sullivan, left, mother of the five Sullivan brothers who lost their lives in the sinking of the cruiser USS Juneau, works alongside actress Marlene Dietrich as they serve servicemen in the USO Hollywood Canteen, Calif., Feb. 9, 1944.

The Sullivan family, who hail from Waterloo, Iowa, but whose family emigrated from Cork County, Ireland, in 1850, maintain close ties with the Navy and the ship named after their family.

In the years following her sons’ deaths, Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, a grieving mother, visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards to offer encouragement to employees working to support the war effort.  She spoke to more than a million workers in 65 cities, reached millions more over the radio, and was overall an important part of the war effort.

Long after the war ended, Alleta would receive house calls from Sailors who either knew her sons or wished to stop by and extend their condolences. She would often cook them a hot meal and offer them a place to stay for the evening or the weekend.

“Helping others in sorrow helps your own sorrow,” she said.

Albert’s widow, Katherine, went on to raise their son Jim, and remarried to a U.S. Marine who served in the Pacific during the war. Jim’s daughter, Kelly Sullivan Loughren, continued the family legacy of support and connection to the U.S. Navy.

Untitled.pngIn 1995, the second USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) was commissioned at Staten Island, New York. The ship’s crest highlights its connection to the Irish ancestry of the Sullivan family, featuring the traditional green shamrock, and the ship’s motto is “We Stick Together.” The destroyer is sponsored by Kelly, whose grandfather, Albert, was the only Sullivan brother to marry and have a child before the brothers deployed to the Pacific in support of World War II.

Kelly, a third grade teacher in Waterloo, considers her connections with the crew of The Sullivans to be an important part of her life. Her students are pen pals with Sailors from The Sullivans.

In 2003, under the command of then-Cmdr. Richard Brown, the ship visited Ireland to pay respects to the ancestral lands of the Sullivan family. Kelly was there to meet them. Brown, an Irish Catholic from Boston, was a perfect fit for The Sullivans and has since promoted to the rank of vice admiral in charge of Naval Surface Forces.

“In 2003, I was honored to be assigned as the commanding officer of USS The Sullivans, named after the five Sullivan brothers George, Frank, Joe, Matt, and Al, from Waterloo, Iowa,” said Brown during a recent visit to the ship in Mayport, Fla. “I was the fifth commanding officer of a ship named for five brothers. My mother’s maiden name is Sullivan. Her mother’s maiden name is Sullivan. I was the first Irish commanding officer of the ship, and the first to take the ship to Ireland. It seems like I was destined to command that ship.”

USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) in Ireland at anchor

USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) in Ireland at anchor

Brown said that his memories on The Sullivans are some of his most cherished.

In a blog post from November, Kelly said, “I always wondered what it would be like to have the big Irish Catholic family that I would have had if even one of the boys had survived. But, I also know that my life is incredibly blessed with my fantastic Navy family.”

Every St. Patrick’s Day, members of the Waterloo community gather at Sullivan Park to honor its five namesake Waterloo brothers killed together during World War II. Last year, Kelly read a letter from The Sullivans’ commanding officer, Cmdr. S.F. De Castro.

“As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, remember our Irish heritage and tradition, it is appropriate that we also remember the selfless sacrifice of the fighting Sullivan brothers and their family,” wrote De Castro. “The story of the Sullivan brothers is as much about their devotion to family as it is service to country.”

March 9, 2018 / iDriveWarships

The Gator Navy is Getting a Stronger Bite – Increased Lethality and Tactical Proficiency in the Amphibious Navy

Historic First: F-35B deploys with USS Wasp (LHD 1)

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 touches down on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), marking the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific. VMFA-121, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will remain embarked aboard the Wasp for a regional patrol meant to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina) 180305-N-VK310-0070

Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) recently departed Naval Base San Diego for a first for the Navy’s Surface Warfare community – an ARG Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise.

During this dedicated at-sea training period, participants will focus on watch team, unit, Air Defense Command, and Surface Combat Commander training – before integrating the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC)-led exercise is focused on advanced tactical training at sea in order to improve warfighting proficiency, lethality, and ship interoperability before further training in the ARG’s deployment cycle.

Completing this training will help the ARG’s units and warfare commanders “learn to work together as teams before moving along in the training cycle,” said Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of SMWDC.

SMWDC’s mission is to increase the lethality and tactical proficiency of the Surface Force across all domains, and it does that through four lines of operation – one of which is providing advanced tactical training to the Surface Fleet.

USS Essex (LHD 2) ARG Underway for First ARG Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) Exercise

SAN DIEGO (Mar. 5, 2018) The amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) transits under the Coronado Bridge on its way to participate in the Navy’s first full-length Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise. SWATT is led by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center and is designed to increase warfighting proficiency, lethality, and interoperability of participating units. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Matthew A. Stroup/Released) 180305-N-LR347-001

The SMWDC-delivered training during the ARG SWATT prepares ships for the high-end, integrated scenarios they will see during future training scenarios in the ship’s training cycle, which ultimately prepare the ARG for deployment and assimilation into an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG).

The long-term goal is that all surface ships will undergo a SWATT event prior to completion of the pre-deployment training cycle.

“This is something we have to do as a community to maintain a competitive advantage against the peer and near-peer threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy,” said Wade.

The training the units receive from SWMDC during the ARG SWATT consists of several levels of exercises and evaluations. The embarked SMWDC training team consists of post-major command commanders, Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs), and technical community experts and uses the Plan, Brief, Execute, and Debrief (PBED) process to evaluate ships throughout the entirety of the exercise.

Upon completion, the WTIs and other trainers use the results of the evaluation to provide same day, directly observed performance feedback to the shipboard teams. This process allows them to receive in-person feedback in a timely manner.

Using data replay tools throughout the event (as part of the PBED Process) breaks down barriers within watch teams by removing the possible human perspective error of what really happened during the training scenarios. Ground truth provides watch teams and personnel – regardless of rank – the humility needed to grow together effectively as a team in an expedited manner.

“SWATT represents the first opportunity that the Essex ARG ships and staff have had to train together as a team. This training will bridge the gap between unit level training our ships recently completed and the advanced fleet training, which will prepare us for our next deployment,” said Capt. Gerald Olin, commander of PHIBRON 1.

Furthermore, data gathered during each SWATT exercise – whether an ARG or a Carrier Strike Group (CSG)-based cruiser-destroyer (CRUDES) SWATT – are cataloged, analyzed, and reviewed by a Data Analysis Working Group (DAWG) approximately 4-6 weeks after the conclusion of the exercise. The DAWG identify combat systems, tactics, and human performance strengths and weaknesses that get fed back into the Surface Warfare Enterprise for rapid organizational learning and development.


180307-N-PH222-0028 PACIFIC OCEAN (March 7, 2018) The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) fires a surface-to-air RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT). Essex ARG is completing the Navy’s first ARG SWATT. SWATT is led by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) and is designed to increase warfighting proficiency, lethality, and interoperability of participating units. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan M. Breeden/Released)

The Essex ARG SWATT, however, is just one example of how the Navy’s amphibious fleet is increasing its lethality and warfighting proficiency.

Within the U.S. Seventh Fleet area of operations, currently deployed USS Wasp (LHD 1) will connect with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Dewey (DDG 105) and USS Sterett (DDG 104) as part of a new “up-gunned ESG” concept.

Adding a destroyer to the strike group means adding the ability to strike inland targets with Tomahawk missiles, to conduct robust air defense using the Aegis Combat System, to hunt and find submarines, and to provide naval surface gunfire support.

“These are all capabilities that aren’t normally part of an amphibious readiness group, but they are now,” said Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of ESG 7. “We bring extra capability to the warfighting element of what we’re doing here in theater.”

Sterett and Dewey’s presence as part of the Wasp ARG reinforces the need for SWATT training. Typically, cruisers and destroyers deploy as part of either a Surface Action Group (SAG) or a Carrier Strike Group (CSG), supplementing the air warfare capabilities of the carrier. As members of an ESG, the destroyers will have a unique responsibility to Wasp that requires training and coordination among the strike group.

Another new addition to the Wasp ESG is the integration of the F-35B Lighting II fighter jet into the strike group. Wasp recently embarked a detachment of F-35B Lighting IIs with the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, 31st MEU, marking the F-35B’s first operational deployment of F-35B’s with a MEU.

“This is a historic deployment,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31 st MEU Commanding Officer. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground. It brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that make us a more lethal and effective Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”

Historic First: F-35B deploys with Amphibious Assault Ship

U.S. Navy Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) John Jacob directs an F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) in the East China Sea March 5, 2018, marking the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific. VMFA-121, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will remain embarked aboard Wasp for a regional patrol meant to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina)

The recent integration of destroyers and F-35Bs into the ARG makes surface ship advanced tactical training – optimally placed between basic phase training at the unit level and integrated phase training with the MEU – all the more important.

“Providing watch teams and warfare commanders the reps-and- sets they need to exercise and build their combat muscle is critical,” said Wade.

The SMWDC-led ARG SWATT is crucial to providing the training time needed to produce a cohesive group of surface combatants prepared to support the MEU, and ultimately fleet and combatant commanders.

The amphibious Navy is better prepared for operational commitments across the board by flexing their warfighting capabilities during ARG SWATT exercises. Improved watch team cohesion, increased tactical proficiency, top-of- the-line technology, and a WDC capable of driving high-speed learning throughout the Surface Warfare enterprise enable the Navy-Marine  Corps team to maintain the competitive edge against the nation’s peer and near peer threats.

March 2, 2018 / iDriveWarships

Lenah Higbee: A Continuing Legacy and Trailblazer for Navy Women

L.S. Higbee

Naval History and Heritage Command photo of Mrs. L.S. Higbee at her desk, photograph by Harris & Ewing, 1918.

Women’s History Month provides the opportunity to highlight the achievements of many women that were trailblazers in their respective fields. Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, one of the original ‘Sacred Twenty’ women to join the newly established Navy Nurse Corps in 1908, was one such trailblazer.

Higbee was the first woman to receive the Navy Cross.

Facing continual stalwart resistance and institutionalized discrimination from the male-dominated medical community, Higbee rose from her position as a rankless nurse paid considerably less than her male peers to become the second superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps. She grew the NNC from 160 to over 1300 nurses, served on multiple healthcare committees to prepare the Red Cross for the impacts of World War I, began training hospital corpsmen, and survived the Spanish flu epidemic. She also lobbied for expanded healthcare for military dependents, and formalized Navy nursing uniforms bearing the oak leaf and acorn over an anchor. Her efforts in shaping the NNC caused one paper to conclude “the most needed woman was the war nurse,” and defined her as “a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill.”

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 2.34.52 PM

The sun. (New York [N.Y.]), 09 June 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. (

“Every qualified nurse released for military duty brings upon her community the honor of having given another soldier to the defence of the country. She may be the only woman from her community who will face the actual dangers of war and is entitled to distinction as such.” – The Sun, 9 Jun 1918

Higbee passed away in 1941 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery beside her husband, Lt. Col. John Henley Higbee (USMC). Her impact on both the Navy Nurse Corps and the Surface Navy continues to be seen today.

In 1945, the Navy commissioned USS Higbee (DDR 806 and later reclassified DD 806), homeported in San Diego, Calif. USS Higbee was the first combat warship to be named for a female member of the U.S. Navy. In keeping with its namesake, the ship earned one battle star in World War II and seven battle stars in the Korean War. The “Leaping Lenah” screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland. Higbee also helped clear Japanese mine fields. Following World War II, Higbee made two peacetime Western Pacific cruises and continued to participate in fleet training exercises.

In 1950, Higbee continued its carrier screening duties off the coast of Korea as part of the Fast Carrier Task Force 77, as well as supported the shore bombardment at Inchon. Although the ship returned to San Diego in 1951, Higbee completed two more deployments to Korea to support carrier operations and shore bombardment.

USS Higbee (DD-806)

Naval History and Heritage Command photo of the first USS Higbee (DD 806) at anchor, circa 1945-1948. Higbee is configured as a radar picket ship, and was redesignated DDR 806 in March 1949. This image was received by the Naval Photographic Center in December 1959, but was taken at least a decade earlier. Official U.S. Navy. Catalog #: USN 1045968

Higbee also supported carrier duties in Vietnam, becoming the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War in 1972.

By the time she was decommissioned in 1979, USS Higbee held the record for highest score for Naval Gunfire Support of any ship in the US Navy and was featured in the Surface Warfare magazine.

In 2016, the spirit of Lenah Higbee reared up once more to impact the U.S. Navy. Then Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced plans for USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123). In November, the new Higbee’s keel was laid at Huntington Ingalls Shipyard. The new warship will be configured as a Flight IIA destroyer, equipped with the Navy’s Aegis Combat System. DDG 123 is planned to commission in 2024.

Future USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123)

160609-N-LV331-001 WASHINGTON (June 9, 2016) A graphic representation of the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123). Higbee served as the superintendent of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps during World War I and was the first female recipient of the Navy Cross. (U.S. Navy graphic by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Armando Gonzales/Released)

February 23, 2018 / iDriveWarships

The Navy’s Golden Anchors: A Focus on Retention Excellence

Painting the USS Makin Island

150101-N-UK333-032 The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) displays the freshly painted gold anchor for retention during a port visit to Duqm, Oman. Makin Island received the Retention Excellence Award for fiscal year 2014. The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit are deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ronald Gutridge/Released)

Commands in the U.S. Navy compete for a variety of different awards and recognition, to include excellence in warfare, engineering, command and control, health and wellness, logistics management, safety, efficiency, and career management.

Commands with high levels of retention and an outstanding career management and progression program are awarded the Retention Excellence Award, formerly known as the Golden Anchor award.

Although primarily managed by the command’s career counselor, the privilege to paint the ship’s anchors gold rests with every person assigned to the command. The award, presented annually, recognizes superior accomplishment in executing programs and policies that best enable our Sailors to succeed in their Navy careers. Eligibility depends on the command’s Command Information Program Review (CIPR) score, a low aggregate attrition rate, reenlistment benchmarks, and timely reports.


161028-N-SD120-003 NAVAL BASE VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. (Jan. 26, 2016) Chief Navy Counselor William Karstens raises a retention excellence pennant on Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5’s flagpole after the command was presented with the retention award by Capt. Christopher Kurgan, commodore, Naval Construction Group (NCG) 1. The award, commonly referred to as the “Golden Anchor” award, is given annually to Navy commands that sustain superior levels of military retention during the previous fiscal year. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John P. Curtis/Released)

Attrition can be significantly affected by the command’s climate, which starts with the Commanding Officer and continues down the chain of command to the most junior Sailor onboard.

A Sailor who enjoys the environment in which they work is more likely to reenlist than a Sailor who works in a hostile environment. Standards of conduct, engaged and committed leadership, clear policies, and support of Navy quality of life programs have a direct and positive impact on Sailor behavior and retention. Thus, the command climate is a critical factor of low attrition rates, and a reasonably good indicator of a successful command.

Yet even though the Commanding Officer and command career counselor significantly impact a ship’s eligibility for the Retention Excellence award, the onus still lies on each Sailor to seek counsel and complete their requisite paperwork, under the guidance and mentorship of the command’s career counselor and leadership. In this way, timely reports and reenlistment benchmarks are met at the lowest level possible.

In addition to painting the ship’s anchors gold, commands are also authorized to fly the Retention Excellence pennant until the release of the following fiscal year’s awardees.

Retention is critical for building a successful force, and the Retention Excellence award is a method used to recognize those commands with superior performance in managing this program. The award is also a method used to track changes in retention behavior and fleet readiness, enabling effective execution of personnel programs and policies.

February 16, 2018 / iDriveWarships

OOD Competency Checks: Obtaining a Fix on Fleet Navigation, Seamanship and Shiphandling


SAN DIEGO (Jan. 31, 2018) Officer of the Deck, Ens. Zachary David Hirsch, checks a monitor from the bridge in a navigation, seamanship and ship-handling trainer during a simulated evolution to evaluate the proficiency of the officer of the deck. These competency checks are designed to inform Commander, Naval Surface Forces, and Surface Warfare Officers School, on where training gaps lie between classroom and real world application at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lenny LaCrosse/Released)

By Capt. Scott Robertson
Commanding officer, Surface Warfare Officers School Command

In the wake of the 2017 fatal collisions involving USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), now is the time to assess surface warfare officers’ individual training and certifications to ensure we have it right, adjust as necessary and identify areas that will make us better surface warriors. As the surface warfare community works diligently to implement the recommendations from the Strategic Readiness Review and Comprehensive Review, Surface Warfare Officers School is reviewing how we train our officers and collecting information on their navigation, seamanship and shiphandling skills sets. One way we are gathering this data is through the officer of the deck (OOD) competency checks.

Two weeks ago in San Diego, Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet partnered with Surface Warfare Officer School and Navigation, Seamanship and Ship Handling Training (NSST) San Diego to carry out the first set of OOD checks. A SWOS post-command assessor conducted checks on 40 officers representing 10 different ships and four ship classes. The checks focused on OOD-qualified first tour division officers, randomly selected from ships in port. Over the next couple months, SWOS will continue to work with the type commanders and NSSTs to conduct checks in other fleet concentration areas.

Let me attempt to answer a couple questions that came up during a discussion I had with major commanders in San Diego:


SAN DIEGO (Jan. 31, 2018) Cmdr. Patrick H. Mahoney, Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS), Command at Sea Department Head, debriefs Ens. Brian Yousef, after a simulated evolution in a navigation, seamanship and ship-handling trainer to evaluate the proficiency of the Officer of the Deck. These competency checks are designed to inform Commander, Naval Surface Forces, and Surface Warfare Officers School, on where training gaps lie between classroom and real-world application at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lenny LaCrosse/Released)

What do these checks provide for the SWO community?
First and foremost, the OOD checks will give us a sizeable dataset (~200 officers) by assessing mariner skills proficiency across all fleet concentration areas and multiple ship classes. The dataset, which is roughly 10 percent of the fleet’s inventory of OODs, will allow us to identify fleet-wide strengths and weaknesses in watch standing performance and in mariner skills training. We believe the data will identify community-wide training effectiveness and isolate how we can deliver better training to future SWOs. These competency checks will give our community the line of position and, when coupled with the results of the Bridge Resource Management workshops, Ready for Sea Assessments and several other ongoing initiatives will inform course changes for our community in 2018 and beyond.

While collecting this data, I would be remiss if I did not inform the individual officer and their ship’s commanding officer of personal and ship-wide respective performance. Each officer is provided an on-station debrief at the conclusion of the scenario, and the ship’s CO is provided an end-of-day report that details their officers’ performance during the checks. I expect the results will help COs to focus their wardroom navigation, seamanship and shiphandling training as well as target individual training. With just one week of experience under our belt, the overwhelming feedback from the first tour DIVOs who have executed the competency check has been that the process is extremely valuable in helping identify their personal strengths and weaknesses as an OOD.

What do the OOD checks look like?
The OOD checks consist of an experience survey, a written test and a simulator scenario. The scenario places the officer in a realistic low-traffic density environment with two dedicated bridge watchstanders (a conning officer and a junior officer of the deck) as part of their team. The scenario is markedly different from shiphandling scenarios SWOS has used in the past as it incorporates intra-scenario knowledge checks and the collection of multiple objective data points that cover several skill sets. The unique scenario gives us the opportunity to collect data related to practical application of Rules of the Road, internal and external communications, bridge team management, resource employment and expertise, in addition to several other skill sets in a scenario that spans, on average, about 35 minutes. The OOD check scenario is not a cake walk. It is a challenging, yet realistic scenario that provides a candid snapshot of an officer’s abilities. The checks have inherent rigor, but I feel strongly that our community has a growing appetite for rigor in the wake of the recent mishaps. An openness to rigorous and accurate assessment must become ingrained in our culture as we move forward.

What happens if an officer does not do well on the OOD competency check?
This is a non-punitive process with no “Pass/Fail” grading criteria like we have with other SWOS assessments such as the Command Qualification Shiphandling Assessment. The three outcomes of the checks delivered to ship CO are: 1) completed no concerns, 2) completed with some concerns (areas of concern provided), or 3) significant problems (areas of concern provided). What a CO does with the results of the OOD checks are at his/her discretion – I trust our commanding officers to implement change where needed. Again, these checks are designed to help us chart a path to more consistently build competent and confident mariners.

Capt. Robertson

Current Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) Commanding Officer Capt. Scott Robertson, then former commanding officer of Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), speaks with a Sailor while underway. SWOS is reviewing how they train Officers and is collecting information on navigation, seamanship and shiphandling skills sets by conducting officer of the deck competency checks across fleet concentration areas. (U.S. Navy courtesy photo/Released)

Less than two years ago, I had the privilege of commanding a cruiser, so I get it—as SWOs, new initiatives like the OOD competency checks test the outer boundaries of our comfort zone and add to an already overflowing requirements list. The idea of an unknown entity running “my” junior officers through an unknown scenario with unknown ramifications is bound to meet some initial resistance. To that concern, I would say SWOS is not an unknown and I am hoping this blog will clear up some of the ambiguity and start a healthy dialogue about the competency checks and where we, as a community, go from here. I encourage every SWO out there to consider the potential end result of these checks:

  1. Individual officers becoming more aware of their bridge watchstanding strengths and weaknesses.
  2. COs being provided an outside set of eyes on their ship’s OODs to aid in training and risk management.
  3. Our community, as a whole, is better informed on shortfalls and gaps – helping us adjust our training, as necessary.

These competency checks are new, something we have never done before in the surface fleet. The time is right to collect the data, identify the trends (performance-to-training and experience-based), and take action. This is all about making us better as an entire community in competency, confidence and culture.

None of us should fool ourselves in thinking that the mistakes which lead to the collisions rest solely with OODs in the SWO community. We owe it to the Navy and the Sailors we command to be proactive and diligent in assessing how best to train all of our surface warriors.

Sail safe, sail boldly – Robertson out.


**This article first appeared on Navy Live Blog.**

February 9, 2018 / iDriveWarships

A Hero Among Us: The Story of William Pinckney

Mr. PinckneyAfrican American History Month provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the achievements African Americans played in our Nation’s history. For USS Pinckney (DDG 91) Sailors, February brings to mind the courageous acts of Navy Cook 1st Class William Pinckney, whom the ship is named after.

The date was October 26, 1942. USS Enterprise (CV 6), USS Hornet (CV 8), and their supporting strike group consisting of battleship USS South Dakota (BB 57), six cruisers and fourteen destroyers, patrolled the waters near the Santa Cruz Islands in the South Pacific. Opposing them were four Imperial Japanese Navy carriers.

Shortly after 7 a.m., Japanese and United States aircraft were in the sky, and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was in full effect. By 9 a.m., Hornet was dead in the water and the focus turned to Enterprise, where Japanese dive bombers hit the ‘Big E’ twice.

For the crew of the Enterprise, the battle was hardly over. Under the command of Capt. Osborne Hardison, who had assumed his role just five days prior, the carrier dodged nine torpedoes while damage control efforts from the dive bombers were still ongoing.

In a munitions magazine below decks, a five-inch shell exploded, knocking Pinckney unconscious. Four Sailors died in the explosion, but as Pinckney came to, flames raging around him, he discovered Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class James Bagwell – alive.

UntitledPinckney proceeded to carry Bagwell through an escape hatch; despite the fact Bagwell outweighed him by 20 pounds and Pinckney had third degree burns covering his arm, leg and back. An electrical cable brushed against Pinckney, again knocking him unconscious. He came to, successfully moved Bagwell to the hangar bay and returned to the magazine to check for additional survivors.

“When the first guy seemed to be surviving pretty good, I went below to see if I could help someone else, but they were all killed and I couldn’t help anyone,” recalled Pinckney, whose trademark modesty was well known among his shipmates.

At the end of the battle, the Hornet had sunk, the battered Enterprise lost 44 sailors and 16 aircraft, while the Japanese forces lost 145 experienced pilots and crew. The damage control team of ‘Big E’ made repairs as necessary, and in just two short weeks, the Pacific Fleet’s single attack carrier was back in action.

For his actions, Pinckney was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart. He passed away in his home on July 21, 1976, and is survived by his wife Henrietta.

USS Pinckney“William Pinckney is more than just a namesake to the Sailors aboard USS Pinckney,” said Cdr. Benjamin Oakes, the ship’s current commanding officer. “He is a constant reminder to strive for greatness in the face of adversity, and to give back even when we have been given little.”

“Men like William Pinckney paved the way for the talented men and women of color on board today to succeed as Sailors, chiefs, and officers, and we could not be more proud of that heritage. So many great black men and women from history will never be recognized for how they contributed to America’s greatness, but William Pinckney will always provide inspiration and serve as a reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have left to go,” said Oakes. Today, 20 percent of the ship’s crew is African American.

Pinckney said only that he was “proud to serve,” when awarded the Navy Cross, making him the second of four African Americans to receive the honor. That statement later became Pinckney’s motto.

“We are proud to serve on board the finest ship on the waterfront, and proud of our heritage, and proud to model ourselves after one of America’s greatest heroes,” said Oakes.

February 2, 2018 / iDriveWarships

Celebrating the Future USS Omaha

The future USS Omaha (LCS 12) will be formally commissioned and officially join the U.S. Navy’s fleet of warships during a noon ceremony at San Diego’s Broadway Pier tomorrow, Feb. 3. To help celebrate we’ve gathered up some cool facts about the ship and the city it’s named for.

Blank Omaha Ship FactOmaha Ship Facts:

1. Ship construction began Feb. 18, 2015. It launched Nov. 20, 2015, christened ‘Omaha’ Dec. 19, 2015, and accepted by the U.S. Navy during a ceremony in Mobile, Alabama on Sept. 15, 2017. It will be commissioned, Feb. 3, 2018.

2. Omaha is the 10th Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to be delivered to the U.S. Navy and the 6th Independence-variant of the LCS class to join the flee, it is noted for its unique trimaran hull, ability to operate at high speeds, and its large flight deck.

3. The Independence-variant team led by Austal USA, in Mobile, Alabama, built Omaha. The ship is 419 feet in length with a waterline beam of 103 feet, a displacement of approximately 3,000 tons, and top speeds in excess of 40 knots.

4. Following commissioning, Omaha will be homeported in San Diego with fellow Independence-variant ships: USS Freedom, Independence, Fort Worth, Coronado, Jackson, Montgomery and Gabrielle Giffords.

5. The ship’s sponsor, Susan “Susie” Buffett, is well known in Omaha for her philanthropic efforts involving children, education and families. As the ship’s sponsor Susie, daughter of Warren Buffett, will serve as a permanent link between the ship and its namesake city Omaha, Nebraska.

Blank City FactOmaha Namesake Facts:

1. Omaha was founded in 1854 and has always been a dynamic, energetic city continually transforming itself.

2. Named after a Native American tribe, Omaha means “Those going against the wind or current.”

3. Currently the 42nd largest city in the U.S, and the largest city in the state of Nebraska, Omaha’s metropolitan area is home to over 950,000 people.

4. The future USS Omaha is the fourth Navy vessel to bear the name in honor of the patriotic, hard-working citizens of Omaha, and the state of Nebraska for their support of and contributions to the military.

5. Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus named a number of ships after landlocked cities in the U.S. interior because he felt it was a way to connect the nation to the ship’s of the U.S. Navy.“The name ‘Omaha’ will be carried throughout the world for decades,” the former secretary said.


Welcome to the fleet!

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