Multimission ship multipurpose crew.
Freedom, a littoral combat ship (LCS), is the lead ship in the Navy's newest class of ships. LCS is a fast, maneuverable and networked surface modular warship primarily designed to complement the Navy's larger multimission surface combatants in select warfare mission areas such as combating threats in littoral areas to include submarines, mines and fast-attack craft.
"Freedom is not an evolutionary but revolutionary step in the next generation of warships," said Commanding Officer (Gold Crew) Cmdr. Michael P. Doran. "Forty percent of the ship is open and available to complete whatever mission is available at the moment. We simply need the mission package, not an entire new ship."
A cornerstone of Freedom's versatility is its manning. Two rotating crews, with 40 Sailors each, extend the ship's operational availability, on-station time and help mitigate unplanned losses. Beyond that, Freedom employs a relatively new, creative and highly interactive concept that produces Sailors with multiple skill sets- the Train-to-Qualify (T2Q) Sailor.
The T2Q pipeline starts at the LCS Academy in San Diego. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Academy was designed to be a centralized training source for Sailors. The purpose of T2Q and the LCS Academy is to create Sailors with the ability to function at multiple levels throughout the command.
"The LCS Academy allows us to get people qualified for different shipboard operations all in one shot," said Command Master Chief (CMC) Anthony Decker. "We don't have the luxury of doing under-instruction watches for new Sailors. When a Sailor reports to this platform, they must be ready to go."
The best way to operate the LCS platform is by training and ensuring every Sailor is equally qualified in a wide range of jobs including maintenance, operational skills, leadership, search and rescue, small arms, security tactics, force protection, firefighting and damage control.
"Everyone on board should be a part of every evolution including those involving aircraft," said Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW) Clifford Smith. "All of us are qualified to work on the flight deck as well."
Information Technician 1st Class (SW) Zachary Lee Weichert is a recent arrival to Freedom. After completing the LCS Academy, he attended an additional eight weeks of advanced training. The training gave him the practice and knowledge to be a lookout, identify classes of ships, use small arms and oleoresin capsicum pepper spray.
"I'm still in shock after being here a month," said Weichert.
Weichert completed his deck watch qualifications upon arrival through the T2Q program.
"As an [information systems technician] on a [destroyer], I did not have much experience with deck watches," said Weichert. "On this ship, all of us stand deck watches, including the engineers."
Weichert is currently perfecting his use of the hand-held radio, a visible feature on the uniform of a LCS Sailor.
"Through the T2Q program, I can receive training from anyone at anytime," said Weichert. "On a legacy ship, radios were for those within high levels of the command. Here, everyone has a radio due to our need to be in constant communication with each other. I'm currently learning to use the radio and diversify my portfolio. If we all learn more, it helps everybody."
The example of the LCS Sailor starts at the top with Decker. He enlisted in the Navy 26 years ago as a boiler technician. Today, he is the junior officer of the deck (JOOD) helping to navigate Freedom.
"Excuse me sir," said Decker. "We're on a course of 180 at six knots. I have a radar contact up on starboard beam at 4,500 yards."
In comparison to other Navy vessels, Doran believes Freedom is not different in terms of responsibility, accountability and authority. The difference comes in the daily operations. Doran views Decker as an example of that difference.
"Right now, Master Chief Decker is navigating the ship using electronic navigation, radar and communication," said Doran. "The JOOD watch is just as vital as the officer of the deck. This was a guy lighting fires to boilers doing all the steam engine stuff. Now he is on an LCS navigating the fastest [surface combatant] in the Navy."
Decker's primary job is as CMC, but along with being the JOOD underway, he also serves as the command career counselor; material/maintenance/management (3M) liaison; and fantail supervisor for the sea and anchor detail.
"The LCS concept has forced all of us to expand what we see as our job," said Doran. "We are no longer in our narrow stove-pipe union mentality. These Sailors are not just in their individual jobs; they are LCS Sailors. People see themselves as a part of a larger crew rather than part of a department or division."
Smith is a prime example of the LCS concept. Freedom's Sailor of the Year, Smith is primarily involved with the weapon and radar systems. Nevertheless, Smith engages in many jobs on an average day using knowledge from other rates throughout the Navy.
"This morning I stood watch on the bridge and upon completion disarmed the watch team. That would be the job of a duty gunner's mate," said Smith. "I then engaged the sea and anchor detail with the knowledge of a boatswain's mate. Afterwards we had chow, and all of us are mess deck master-at-arms because no one cleans your dish after a meal. After chow, I proceeded to mission control serving as the defensive systems operator in charge of all radar and weapon systems."
Camaraderie and accountability are essential to mission accomplishment aboard Freedom.
"We're a special group of people. Most of us have been together for the last three years," said Smith. "No one here lets the load slack. Everyone carries his or her own weight, from the commanding officer on down."
Of the 40 Sailors aboard Freedom, 23 are E-7 and above. The ship is comprised of eight officers, 15 chief petty officers, 15 first class petty officers and two second class petty officers.
"Aboard an LCS, there are far less people so everyone has to pitch in," said Doran. "We are less able to delegate to others. We can't expect the second classes to clean the ship and take out all the trash; we simply can't do it. Everyone must carry his or her own weight here. We're more like a Marine company; everyone is carrying their own pack. No-one cleans my cabin for me."
Decker believes the lack of luxury on the ship helps build unit cohesion and morale.
"Morale is enhanced by everyone working side-by-side with the ship leadership," said Decker. "We demonstrate daily we can get down and dirty with the rest of them. I handle mooring lines along with having a sponge, broom and swab in my hands daily."
As the sole independent duty corpsman (IDC) aboard Freedom, Chief Hospital Corpsman Joseph Dennis' job is ensuring the health and welfare of everyone.
"As the only medical person I really can't be strapped to another role on the ship," said Dennis. "If I were in another role and a medical emergency takes place, I would have to respond to it."
Dennis' job consists of maintaining medical supplies, safety, checking the potable water system, sanitation and the ship's habitability along with managing sick call.
"Everything related to the maintenance of the crew including immunizations and health status would fall under me," said Dennis. "Everyone is a qualified stretcher bearer and [knows] advanced first aid."
There is a contrast between Dennis' role as an IDC and a medical department on a larger vessel.
"The major difference between myself and a medical department on a ship is the capacity I have," said Dennis. "On an aircraft carrier for example, if a Sailor's appendix becomes infected, they roll [the Sailor] to medical and take it out. On this platform, we don't have that type of capability, so I would do everything to stabilize the Sailor before we medevac the patient off the ship for surgery."
Nevertheless, Dennis finds himself involved in most evolutions throughout the ship.
"I've been trained in many different aspects of the ship," said Dennis. "This morning, for sea and anchor, I was up in the forecastle and down in the windlass supervising the evolution on the safety aspect."
Freedom is helping to train Sailors for future LCS ships. The Navy is slated to build a total of 55 littoral combat ships. USS Independence (LCS 2), based in Mobile, Ala., will be commissioned before long. Culinary Specialist 1st Class (SW) Nicholas Young, attached to Independence, is aboard Freedom to receive preliminary training during this underway. Young is helping ensure meals are prepared on time while Freedom culinary specialists are engaged in mandatory evolutions.
"I'm here to obtain an idea of the watches and scenarios affecting the ship's ability to have a meal," said Young.
A Sailor for almost 10 years, Young is preparing to take on new responsibilities aboard Independence to include using crew-served weapons, mounting a .50 caliber gun, being a barber and helping connect his ship for vertical replenishment (VERTREP) at sea.
"Based on what I've learned, I'll be extra careful during VERTREP," said Young.
Doran is honored to command the Navy's first littoral combat ship.
"This is an opportunity you get once in a career," said Doran. "I'm very fortunate to have been chosen to do this. I can't believe my good fortune to have this crew [and] commanding the most capable ship in the fleet."
Decker believes this current duty does not compare to any other command he's been lead during his entire career.
"This is the hardest I've worked, but [it's] the most rewarding time [since I was] an E-3 and E-4," Decker added.
Story by MC2(AW) Jonathan Hutto Sr., photos by MC2 (SW/AW) Jhi Scott
Hutto and Scott are assigned to Defense Media Activity-Anacostia, Washington, D.C.
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|Title Annotation:||USS Freedom; USS Freedom (LCS 1)|
|Author:||Hutto, Jonathan, Sr.|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2009|
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