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PCU Ronald Reagan (CVN 76): Navy's newest carrier--just add water.

The standard issue ball cap with "Navy" across the brow attracts attention in Newport News, Va., location of the Precommissioning Unit (PCU) of the Navy's newest carrier, Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). In approximately 25 blocks of the city, more than 1,700 PCU Sailors work in uniform. The "Navy" ball cap is worn by prospective crew members, and it signals PCU personnel to help integrate the newcomers into the command.

Sailors later exchange their "Navy" ball caps for Ronald Reagan plank owner caps--emblazoned with a symbolic horse and rider over the carrier's flight deck (above)--after attending a mandatory indoctrination course that assists Sailors in a school-to-ship transition. Developed by PCU senior enlisted personnel, the training includes ship familiarization, basic damage control, CPR training, military knowledge, and the history of Ronald Reagan the man and the carrier's shipbuilding process.

Commanding Officer Captain J. W. Goodwin gives the course introduction. He talks about what it means to be part of the team and what he looks for in Sailors. Next, he directs the youngest Sailor in the room to read from an overhead projector the CO's "four things I don't like": drugs, sexual harassment, alcohol abuse and lack of integrity. Each topic is thoroughly discussed by the skipper. He reiterates that Sailors reporting to the PCU are hand picked for outstanding qualities and are expected to perform at that level.

Capt. Goodwin started out in Attack Squadron 66, flying the A-7E Corsair II and then became a flight instructor, training students in the TA-4J Sky hawk. Several years and assignments later he transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet in Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 25. His first command came in 1992 at VFA-94. In 1996 he served as Executive Officer of Carl Vinson (CVN 70), in 1998 became skipper of Rainier (AOE 7), and took command of PCU Ronald Reagan in 2000.

He firmly believes in teamwork. "This is the crew's ship, not my ship," Goodwin said. "If you tell me what your job is here, I will tell you exactly how it effects the rest of the crew. The way a precommissioning unit comes together is by teamwork; we get a high quality cut of Sailors. Some have done this before and some are brand new, but they are all highly motivated. I feel like a player-coach. I get to play a little bit and I get to coach a lot."

After indoctrination, Sailors are up to speed on the command and the ship, and wearing their command ball caps they become part of a unit whose mission is to get the ship and personnel ready. They become watch qualified. Working out of shipyard offices while the ship is under construction, they make weekly familiarization visits to their prospective spaces on board Ronald Reagan and witness the evolution from bare steel and wires to finished bulkheads.

Command Master Chief R. T. Conklin came to PCU Ronald Reagan from VFA-15. With more than 30 years in the Navy, Conklin is no stranger to large commands.

He was Command Master Chief on board Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and former Force Master Chief Naval Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet.

Conklin said his priorities are to support the CO, be the advocate for the crew, and lead the chief's mess. One of his responsibilities is to ensure that undesignated Sailors attend an "A" school. Next comes specialized training needed to run a new carrier with new equipment. This could mean traveling to training at different bases, bringing equipment to Newport News, going directly to the manufacturer to train, or going on temporary additional duty (TAD) aboard another ship, which is a big help to new Sailors. "When we send them out to ships they are going to come back and measure Ronald Reagan against that frame of reference, so we set our standards high," Conklin said. "From the chief's mess to the very junior Sailors, we maintain exceptional standards. That helps our Sailors feel proud to be part of the team and keeps them setting goals to accomplish."

Petty officers like Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) First Class (ABF1) (MV) Raymond Grey take action. "As leading petty officer, I'm responsible for getting the junior guys certified for watch stations in the department. I organize detachments for cruises, firefighting school and crew certification. Sailors learn a lot by coming here."

The response to the TAD assignments is outstanding. Sailors aboard other ships are more than accommodating to their adopted brethren. Even amidst action like Operation Enduring Freedom, they understand the mission of the Ronald Reagan Sailors under their wing. The PCU's goal of training, training and more training gets accomplished, and the TAD Sailors become more well rounded.

"I just came off shore duty and wanted to get my requals," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Electronics) First Class (AW) Rafael Corral. "I went with 14 guys from the PCU to Carl Vinson. Everyone was excited about going to sea and seeing the ports, but when the September 11th incident happened, port calls were cancelled. But that was okay. The whole crew came together, worked incredibly hard and got the experience we needed to bring back to our ship."

Deploying Sailors to different ships around the world greatly benefits the ones back in Newport News. The TAD Sailors work with real equipment in real sea conditions. "A brand new Sailor has nothing to really base his school training on," Corral said. "When they go on TAD they get to see how their training applies to almost everything they do. Then they come back to the PCU and teach the Sailors here what to expect."

Training provides a full work day for PCU crew members, while evenings can be spent at area movie theaters and nearby shopping malls. The PCU is also close to Virginia Beach, Fort Story, Little Creek, Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and Norfolk. For married Sailors, good housing and schools are nearby. While there is no mess hall at the command, there are many restaurants within walking distance. A popular diner is Eddie's, familiar to anyone who has been stationed at Newport News. During lunch, Sailors fill the tables while barked kitchen orders provide "background" for conversation.

A favorite event happens once a month when the ship's mess crew calls for volunteers to critique potential menu items. The word travels fast around the command and a line forms outside of the host building. The days of black-and-white labels on generic food are over. Now, first-rate entrees, desserts, salads and beverages are served for all to sample as the vendors vie for a slot on the Navy menu.

For many Ronald Reagan Sailors, this is not their first PCU. Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Hydraulics) First Class (AW/SW) Kenneth W. Letexier, who served during the final weeks of PCU Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), said it is interesting to be part of the beginning this time. "You see the putting together of the whole command, and lay down all of the guidelines and administrative tools. It becomes the groundwork for how the ship will be run in the future. The example you set today will be the standard that future crews go by."

For PCU Ronald Reagan personnel, "setting the example" seems to be the motto, and many of the Sailors expressed an interest in extending their tour for the first deployment. "I came here and saw the ship basically in pieces," ABF2 (AW) Edric Kidd said. "Then I learned what was going on and saw parts of the ship coming together, our spaces coming together, the crew coming together, and it makes me want to be there for the first deployment. I want to see what all of our work accomplished, and really be part of a brand-new ship."
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Title Annotation:Precommissioning Unit, U.S.
Author:Ball, Dan
Publication:Naval Aviation News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Previous Article:Super Hornet highlights. (Airscoop).
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