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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!

February 1, 2018 / iDriveWarships

Stories of Ship Selection: The Start of a Career


Now Lt. j.g. Theo Miller, United States Naval Academy Class of 2015 graduate, holds up the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) nameplate after choosing it during his Ship Selection event. Courtesy photo.

Last Thursday, approximately 250 midshipmen from the United States Naval Academy chose their first duty station at Ship Selection night. The duty stations available range from exotic locations abroad in Spain and Japan and even Hawaii, to homeports on both the east and west coasts.

For many, this will be the only chance they have to choose where they will go with any degree of certainty. For all, this is the start of their career as a Surface Warfare Officer. And whether these midshipmen continue to serve for five years or 20, there is no doubt that a junior officer’s first ship has a significant impact on their career.


United States Naval Academy midshipmen cheer and take photos during the Class of 2018 graduate Ship Selection event. Courtesy photo.

This is the ship that will mold them from a newbie Ensign to a competent and qualified officer of the deck and eventually a Surface Warfare Officer. This ship will teach them the practical applications of fundamentals they learned in an academic environment. The lessons that a first tour junior officer learns on their first ship stay with them throughout their career.

Rightfully so, Ship Selection is a big deal for Naval Academy seniors, or “firsties” as they are called at the academy. The ships of our Navy each carry unique personalities based upon their histories, mission sets, namesakes, command leadership, and of course, location. It is not uncommon for midshipmen to spend the weeks prior to Ship Selection narrowing their choices down to a handful of options from the list of available ships.

And on the last Thursday of January, hundreds of midshipmen and their friends, family, mentors, and professors, along with representatives from some of the available ships and key members of the Surface Warfare community, gather to determine where the year’s graduating class of SWOs will scatter to throughout the Fleet.

Meet some members of our Surface Fleet and see how they chose their first ship:

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PEARL HARBOR (June 16, 2014) The guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam from a four-month deployment to the western Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/Released) 140616-N-WF272-030

Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Schaeffer, class of 2004, and currently stationed at U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters in Hawaii, remembers feeling the pressure to choose his first ship was largely based on location.

“I had simple, yet specific instructions from my girlfriend: Hawaii,” he confided.

Schaeffer chose USS Lake Erie (CG 70), then homeported in Pearl Harbor. To future SWOs, he offers this advice:

“At the end of the day, a ship is a ship to a certain degree.  Yes, it is true that some wardrooms are better than others, but your job on your first ship is largely the same wherever you go, listen (to your Chief), learn (from EVERYONE) and get qualified.  If you assume that is true, then you are just picking where you want to spend what little free time you may have.”


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Now Lt. James Deal, a United States Naval Academy Class of 2012 graduate, selects USS Monterey (CG 61) during his Ship Selection event. Courtesy photo.

Lt. James Deal, class of 2012, was “that guy who was sitting near the end of the last row of people to pick.”  As he watched his classmates pick ship after ship, the last in Hawaii and San Diego were taken off the board, leaving only Norfolk.

“I looked at the board at the names and platform types for anything, even a shred of what to do because everything I had wanted was gone. With just Norfolk left, all I remember is seeing the ship that I had done my youngster summer cruise on – USS Monterey (CG 61) – and I thought ‘hey, I know that ship and I had a good time on there,’” said Deal.

“I had a positive experience on the Monterey. Who knew I was picking a flagship of the fleet with a ridiculously solid crew? I couldn’t have picked a better ship for myself, now knowing what I know,” he added.



Now Lt. j.g. Theo Miller, shown as an Ensign on board his first ship, USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51). Courtesy photo.

Lt. j.g. Theo Miller, class of 2015, chose USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), homeported in Norfolk, VA. He remembers feeling as though ship selection was the “NFL draft of the Navy, because we had family, friends, and admirals come to observe us pick our first ship. At no other time in your career will you have 100% control to pick your homeport and ship.”

Miller, now stationed in Bahrain, said “your first tour as a Division Officer will set up how you view your time in the Navy. Having a great command as I did on Arleigh Burke made my time on the ship fly by, gave me great memories, and made me realize that I want to make a career out of the Navy.”


caitlyn vernon ship selection

Midshipman Caitlyn Vernon, right, smiles after making her selection during the Naval Academy’s Ship Selection. (Photo by: Steve Ruark / For The Capital Gazette)

For Midn. 1/C Caitlyn Vernon, her choice last Thursday was defined by a bit of family history. Vernon’s father sent letters to every living Medal of Honor recipient a few years ago, and received a reply from a Mr. Thomas Hudner.

The letter Vernon’s father received said “to Officer Wayne Vernon and your children, best of luck.” The future USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) will be commissioned later this year, and then head to its homeport of Mayport, Florida.

“Once I saw he got a reply from Hudner, I was like, I have to get that ship. It was meant to be,” said Vernon.


Congratulations to all ship selectees and we look forward to seeing you in the fleet!

January 26, 2018 / iDriveWarships

Two Precommissioning Navy Ships Transit the Panama Canal Together

Panama Canal Transit

PANAMA CANAL (Jan. 9, 2018) The future amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) transits the Panama Canal while the future littoral combat ship USS Omaha (LCS 12) follows astern. Portland is currently transiting from its building site in Pascagoula, Miss. to its new homeport in San Diego. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Britney Odom/Released) 180109-N-UK053-052

A unique event took place last week when the future USS Portland (LPD 27) and future USS Omaha (LCS 12) transited the Panama Canal together.

The two ships were on their way to their new homeport of San Diego, Calif. and will soon be commissioned into the surface fleet. Omaha arrived in San Diego Jan. 19, completing her maiden voyage just a couple of weeks ahead of her commissioning ceremony on Feb. 3. Portland arrived Jan. 22 and will be commissioned into service this spring.

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USS Omaha (CL-4) and another, unnamed, battleship, circa 1925-1926

Since 1914, when the USS Jupiter (AC-3) became the first U.S. Navy ship to transit the Panama Canal, the narrow waterway bridging the Atlantic and Pacific oceans has been key in connecting our Atlantic and Pacific Fleets.  Jupiter was later converted into the Navy’s first aircraft carrier and renamed USS Langley (CV-1).

Made up of 12 locks, six of which are used by transiting ships, the Panama Canal enables ships to be transported through more than 50 miles of mountainous terrain from one ocean to the other. Successfully completing the evolution requires precise rudder control and safe speeds, and saves ships an 8,000-mile journey around South America.

NH 97833

USS Portland (CA-33) transits the Panama Canal in 1935

This was not the first times Navy ships bearing the names Omaha and Portland have made the trip through the canal.

The transit of Omaha and Portland echoed a similar journey made by U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Omaha (CL-4) and another, unnamed, battleship, circa 1925-1926.

The heavy cruiser USS Portland (CA-33) transited the Panama Canal in 1935 while carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt from San Diego, Calif., to Charleston,S.C..

Transits through the Panama Canal were more common in the first half of the 20th century. However, as ships designs became larger, and strategy necessitated ships remain in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, the opportunity to navigate the Panama Canal became more rare. Now, a Panama Canal transit is considered to be a highlight among 21st century Sailors.


SAN DIEGO (Jan. 22, 2018) – The future USS Portland (LPD 27), transits San Diego Bay en route to her new homeport in San Diego. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lenny LaCrosse/Released) 180122-N-CU914-060

Portland arrived at its San Diego homeport Jan. 22. The ship departed the Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) Shipbuilding site in Pascagoula, Miss. on Dec. 14, 2017. Portland is the 11th San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship. It will be commissioned in April in its namesake city of Portland, Ore. and is the third ship to bear this name, following USS Portland (CA-33) and USS Portland (LSD-37). Portland was christened in 2016.

Omaha is the sixth Independence-class littoral combat ship. It will be commissioned in February in San Diego and is the fourth Navy vessel to bear the name, following USS Omaha (a screw sloop), USS Omaha (CL-4), and USS Omaha (SSN-692). Omaha was christened in 2015 by sponsor Susan Alice Buffett (daughter of Warren Buffett).


​SAN DIEGO (Jan. 19, 2018) The littoral combat ship the future USS Omaha (LCS 12) arrives at its new homeport, Naval Base San Diego. Omaha will be commissioned in San Diego next month and is the sixth ship in the LCS Independence-variant class.(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Molly DiServio/Released)

December 29, 2017 / iDriveWarships

Hello, 2018!

new year

Wishing all of you the best with your goals in 2018! Here’s to a safe, happy, and healthy new year!

December 22, 2017 / iDriveWarships

A Grinch Underway


From all of us at Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Happy Holidays!


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