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LHD 8: a new hybrid era for the amphibious Navy.

Engineman 2nd Class (SW) Rebecca Lucero is making history. The things she's doing today will set the stage for thousands of Sailors in the future. And she knows it. "I feel like an asset to the Navy," said Lucero, work center supervisor for Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Makin Island's (LHD 8) auxiliaries division's (A-Div) elevators and hydraulics shop. "It's something to be proud of because I am a part of the history of bringing a ship to life."




Lucero has nine years in the Navy and LHD 8 is her third shipboard tour. This assignment is characterized by the development of each Sailor on board as well as the bringing to life of a new chapter in the history of the amphibious Navy.

Makin Island is the eighth and final Wasp-Class amphibious assault ship to be built. At the same time it's also the first U.S. Navy ship to house a hybrid gas turbine-electric drive propulsion system (MCS). For engineers, that's the type of on-the-job experience that increases the stakes of being a plankowner.

"As engineers [aboard Makin Island] we are required to have a working knowledge of all areas within the department," said Lucero. "We not only hold training within our own divisions, but we also must have a basic understanding of the machinery control system (MCS), mainspaces and other engineering spaces, and equipment throughout the ship."

And there's more.

Lucero spends around 50 percent of her time on board the ship performing quality assurance (QA) checks and all associated administrative paperwork. The other half of her typical 10-12 hour work day is divided amongst firefighting training, crew familiarization (CREWFAM) courses and other in-rate and general military training (GMT).

"Regardless of rate or rank, the 1,100 Sailors that will make up Makin Island's crew will all be proficient in general shipboard firefighting, aircraft firefighting, basic damage control (DC) and 3M [maintenance and material management] by the time the ship is delivered to the Navy," said Senior Chief Navy Counselor (SW/AW) Steve Cullen.

Throughout the construction process, Makin Island's crew was divided into two groups of Sailors: one group attending formal schools at the fleet concentration area at Naval Base San Diego and the other comprising a ship-specific training unit at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding), Gulf Coast, in Pascagoula, Miss. Despite the thousands of miles that separated the two halves, the command as a whole was able to train and evolve as a cohesive team.

In December, more than 100 Makin Island Sailors from both units experienced what most of them called the most significant training they received since reporting on board. These crewmembers were able to go to sea with the ship when the shipbuilder got Makin Island underway for the first phase of Builder's Trials.

NGSB personnel used the trials to test the vessel's propulsion, communications, navigation and mission systems, as well as all related support systems. At the same time, Makin Island Sailors used the opportunity to gain insight to how LHD 8's transformational systems operate at sea.

"Builder's Trials are the best training platform you can have prior to taking custody of the ship," said Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 1st Class (SW) William Toten, main propulsion division leading petty officer. "I learned so much those couple of days because I finally got to see everything work together."

The trials, by design, also accomplished the job of identifying discrepancies and areas requiring further attention before the ship is delivered to the Navy. Although some engineering phases of the trials were moved to a second underway period, ship's company learned some significant lessons about their future warship and advanced systems.

"On the bridge we were observing the plant status on the machinery control console when we had to reduce speed on one shaft," said Capt. Robert Kopas, prospective commanding officer. "This gave us the opportunity to learn one of the unique features of MCS in that the system automatically brought the other shaft up to compensate and keep the ordered speed. On most other ships you would have to manually order that to happen."

After completion of all Builder's Trials evolutions, the shipyard, along with the supervisor of shipbuilding (SUPSHIP) and the Makin Island crew, worked in preparation for a one-week evaluation of the ship by the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) called Acceptance Trials.

Simultaneously, the crew continues work on qualifications and ensuring the ship is fully manned, and that all personnel are ready and trained in preparation for the delivery of Makin Island to the U.S. Navy.

While monitoring the construction and testing of the ship is important, Kopas is quick to point out that it is only part of the pre-commissioning crew's job."

There are four pillars of pre-commissioning," he said. "They are manning, equipping, training and production. The pre-commissioning crew has to develop all four pillars for the ship to be ready to join the fleet."

"The crew of Makin Island has truly been a valued team member with the SUPSHIP Gulf Coast LHD project office during all facets of Makin Island's construction and testing," said Fred Hoffmeyer, Deputy LHD Project Manager. "They have shown a willingness to get involved, which demonstrates they have an accelerated mindset to be ready to accept ownership of Makin Island and all her systems. This hands-on approach by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic crew has substantially helped in getting Makin Island ready for sea."

"It's rewarding to know I was part of this experience ... the extra knowledge I gained in my job and about the Navy," Lucero said, reflecting on everything it took to bring a warship from the planning stages to commissioning. "No future engineers will probably ever know as much about this ship as we do."

Lucero and her shipmates aboard LHD 8 have experienced something that few other Sailors in the Navy ever will. On commissioning day, the hundreds of hours of training, CREWFAMs, drills, QA inspections and underway periods will give each crewmember of USS Makin Island the right to call themselves 'Plankowner.'


Story and photos by MC2 Justin Webb

Webb is assigned to PCU Makin island (LHD 8).
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Author:Webb, Justin
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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