By Ensign Eric Uhden, USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) public affairs
YOKOSUKA (NNS) – Junior officers from U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) recently gained valuable experience aboard USNS Walter S. Diehl (TA-O 193) as part of an effort to qualify watchstanders while Blue Ridge continues a vital maintenance and upkeep period pier-side in Yokosuka.
In total, six junior officers, including four who are seeking their Officer of the Deck (OOD) underway qualification, were temporarily, standing watches with licensed Military Sealift Command (MSC) bridge watch standers.
The MSC training opportunity was a unique one caused by necessity, according to Blue Ridge Commanding Officer Capt. Brett E. Crozier.
“While we have been able to send Junior Officers to other ships on the waterfront, the time underway on the Walter S. Diehl provided additional and invaluable training in underway operations. The Blue Ridge is completing a long EDSRA and will go to sea for the first time in over two years later this summer.”
Walter S. Diehl received the officers in two separate groups for several weeks each, with a qualified OOD assigned a pair of unqualified ensigns in each group.
“We have been able to take advantage of numerous bridge simulators and classroom work locally, but nothing compares to time underway preparing these Junior Officers to go to sea. MSC officers have tremendous experience in the region operating large ships like the Blue Ridge, and they provided exceptional training to our future watch standers.” Crozier said.
While underway, Walter S. Diehl ensured an experienced 2nd or 3rd Mate stood watch with their assigned counterparts to provide constant instruction and guidance.
“Training with U.S. Coast Guard licensed mariners was received very favorably from all and each wished they could spend more time honing their skills and gaining knowledge to take with them.” said Walter S. Diehl 3rd Mate Jim Anderson.
Under their supervision, the Blue Ridge ensigns witnessed multiple underway replenishments, managed radar contacts day and night, reinforced their Nautical Rules of the Road knowledge, and practiced basic seamanship.
“All individuals that I worked with were able to improve significantly in their understanding and implementation of bridge resource management, so they can look towards the 'bigger picture'. Working on a bridge that staffs three instead of eight-plus takes the individual off 'auto-pilot' mode and forces them to maintain mental connection with the vessel and its navigation responsibilities.” Anderson said.
Each junior officer seeking their OOD qualification was appreciative of the experience and look forward to further training.
“I was able to stand bridge watches for a few weeks on a destroyer, and have been to several bridge resource management courses, and have dozens of hours in the ship simulators,” said Ensign Peter Guo, from Berwyn, Pa. “Being on the bridge from the MSC ship further developed my understanding of ship handling and also how the Navy seamlessly operates with these supporting commands.”
Blue Ridge and her crew have now entered a final upkeep and training phase in preparation to become fully mission capable for operations following a 19 month Extended Dry-docked Selective Restricted Availability. Commissioned Nov. 14, 1970, Blue Ridge is the oldest operational ship in the Navy. After 47 years in service, 7th Fleet Flagship is scheduled to stay in active service for another 20-plus years.
As command ship for U.S. Seventh Fleet, Blue Ridge has been forward deployed to the Yokosuka, Japan, area of responsibility for 38 years, patrolling and fostering relationships within the Indo-Asia Pacific Region.
For more news from USS Blue Ridge, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/lcc19/