Carrier Truman preps for hastened deployment

By Lance M. Bacon, Staff writer

ABOARD THE CARRIER HARRY S. TRUMAN — This flattop crew was hit late last year with news of an expedited deployment, shortened availability and accelerated training.

Give ’em hell … and they will give it right back.

The crew has jumped through countless hoops and hit deadlines to get the ship upgraded, repaired and ready for its fall deployment. This required some creative scheduling and “coloring outside of the lines,” said Lt. Cmdr. Randy Harmon, Truman’s training officer.

Indeed, many training events have been shortened or rescheduled. The 30-day gap between Command Assessment of Readiness and Training II and the in-port portion of the Tailored Ship’s Training Availability was eliminated, and both events were completed in advance of flight deck certification. While a typical carrier has 154 training days between flight deck certification and final evaluation, Truman will have fewer than 40.

Creative, sure, but the skipper has not asked for any waivers. The motivated crew is working at breakneck speed and scoring equal to (and sometimes better than) other flattops. But Truman is not out of the woods yet. The bulk of June will be spent conducting the ship’s Final Evaluation Problem, a rigorous assessment that that’s been cut from 25 days to 21 and must be completed with a passing grade before the ship’s upcoming seven-month cruise.

Working together

Navy officials in October announced that Truman would deploy in fall 2015, half a year ahead of schedule. It took the place of the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, which remains in the yard after back-to-back deployments in 2012-’13 that led to more maintenance issues than expected.

The skipper mustered Truman’s crew on the flight deck to break the news and encourage them to meet the challenge. Some responded with applause, others with stunned silence.

“I was like, ‘But we just finished a nine-month deployment!’ ” said Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class (SW/AW) Hilary Martin. “Of course, nobody wants to hear that news, but we understand the needs of the Navy. It is our mission to be at sea.”

Many among the crew credit the command triad and chief’s mess with keeping morale high and the sailors focused.

“We try to ensure that we have family care plans in order, and we keep a careful eye on one another,” said Martin, who has two girls, ages 6 and 3, and a husband on shore duty.

A little more than half of the crew reported aboard since the last float, and sea trials in late May marked the first time at sea for roughly 500 crew members. But the challenge of an expedited deployment has melded the crew into a cohesive team, crewmembers said.

“We’ve got a really tight-knit group of individuals, very knowledgeable,” saidElectronics Technician 3rd Class Caleb McCray, a technician for the Automatic Carrier Landing System. “Yeah, a lot of us are young. Half of us are new to the ship, but overall we work really well together.”

There are more new-joins to come, and this integration is trickier. Carrier Air Wing 3 has been Truman’s air wing since the ship sailed on its maiden deployment in 2000. This time, it will set sail with CAG-7 and a different strike group staff. The skipper likened the union to a marriage.

“Between us and the air wing, we are going to have our own little individual ways we want to do things, our own quirks,” said Capt. Ryan Scholl, who took command in February. “So we have to agree to compromise on those that don’t really matter and we both have to see the light on things that really do matter, and then we have to function to do all of those things very well. If we get over into theater and we don’t like each other … well, there is no divorce! To date, [the assimilation] has been fantastic.”

Challenging times

Truman in November entered a curtailed incremental availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the first performed there. The availability was expected to last 15 weeks and require 78,000 man-days, but nearly doubled to more than 28 weeks and 135,000 man-days for additional work, said Colleen O’Rourke, spokesperson for Naval Sea Systems Command, who was unable to provide an explanation for the additional work.

“Challenge is a good word” to describe the expedited avail and deployment, said Chief Electronic Technician (SW/AW) Hall Dunn, a division leading chief petty officer. Upgrades to the SPN-46 Automatic Carrier Landing System were a major project for his division. The previous system was getting old, and with age comes issues of reliability and parts availability. Like many other upgrades throughout the ship, this one came down to the wire. Similarly, upgrades to the Distributed Common Ground System-Navy — the primary system for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting — wrapped up just as the ship left the yard May 22.

Martin’s team replaced the “old, degraded” phone system. In this four-month process, the sailors had to validate and mark 1,500 lines, rip everything out, replace it with the new, then verify each of the 1,500 lines.

Truman’s propulsion plant and main engine also were modernized. A nuclear ship alteration that removed, repaired and reinstalled more than 20 pumps was completed ahead of schedule. The catapults saw nose gear launch systems, water breaks and jet blast deflectors overhauled. Crew members, with the help of the Voyage Repair Team, also tore out the catapult to realign the track. Each one averaged 50 to 60 shots daily during flight deck certs.

“So far, everything is working very well,” said Aviation Boatswains Mate 2nd Class(AW) Christopher Conary, work center supervisor for Catapult 1. He should know. The five-year vet was on the carrier Abraham Lincoln’s last deployment, in which a catapult water break was so worn it actually twisted. Conary then reported to Truman for its nine-month pump in 2013. He knows the catapults inside and out, and is pleased with the end product.

“All of our hard work is done,” he said. “Now we are ready to do what we do best: Get out there and launch and recover aircraft. We are ready to go.”

Despite the extension, some work remained undone. The Truman didn’t receive the new computer network, known as Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services, which typically comes with Wi-Fi installed in some work spaces. But the time required to install CANES “would have put us at risk and our availability to get out and still be able to meet our deployment time frame,” the skipper said.

“We didn’t get a few upgrades on some of our systems [but] we are only an 18-year-old aircraft carrier, which in dog years, is very young. We are not old iron, we are not tired iron. With the relatively new design and some new equipment on here, we have a lot of the latest and greatest devices and weapon systems and radars.”

NAVSEA officials would not specify the other systems whose installations or upgrades were deferred.

‘The best crew’

Scholl said it is not enough to have a combat-ready ship — it must be manned by a combat-ready crew, or “it is just 90,000 tons of inanimate steel.”

The expedited workups left Truman with about half the training days allotted to carrier crews, according to the training officer. Everything was cut to the bone. Even flight deck certification, which normally runs from one week to 10 days, was given only three days.

“We don’t have time to do it over, so we have to get it right the first time,” said Harmon, whose training schedule is so full that general quarters drills are more common at 4 a.m. than 4 p.m.

Pressing maintenance demands didn’t help. More time in the yard meant fewer days at sea. But Truman is 98-percent manned, a rarity in recent years, and that helps.

With the assistance of the Afloat Training Group, Truman used its shipyard availability to knock out the bulk of sailor certifications normally completed after sea trials. Hundreds of evaluations remain, which the crew will complete over 85 at-sea training days prior to deploying in the fall. Some days will see upward of 100 shots and traps, while others will see a variety of attacks and propulsion casualties.

“My baby is beautiful,” Scholl said. “Harry S. Truman is the most awesome and powerful warship in the United States Navy. I believe that. But I have to listen to the assessment of the folks who are looking at all of the other aircraft carriers who say, ‘You are strong in this area, keep that up. You are weak in this area, you need to function on that.’ Some of the weaknesses are because we haven’t been pushing the [engineering] plants, we haven’t been operating at sea, or we haven’t had the sets and reps required to do what we need to do.”

The TRAINO is confident the ship could pass 80 percent of those remaining tests right now, and said they will soon conquer the 20 percent that remains. The reason, is simple.

“In my 23 years, this has been by far the best crew that I’ve ever been associated with,” he said. “I sometimes wonder if there is some sort of screening process for the people coming to the Truman, and we just don’t realize it.”

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