Sunday, May 15, 2016

TSTA, Week 2

To end the suspense I know you're all in -- last Friday's (6 May) MVP was HS2 TW. He was on duty that day, and when our shipmate collapsed in pain after tripping over first base, he rushed over to help with first aid and follow up medical care. He drove the guy to the onbase medical facility, sat with him and um, pressed for attention when most of the people in the clinic were not hopping to help on a lazy Friday afternoon. It wasn't necessarily TSTA-related, but it was definitely the attitude and actions we like to see from our crew.

After a wonderfully relaxing weekend, some time on beautiful beaches, and maybe a small amount of work on my part (truly, only about 2 hours over the whole weekend), Monday brought more medical and damage control (DC) drills. Monday morning we had a fight on the messdeck; some disagreement among the deckies about being told to clear off the messdeck so the mess cooks could clean. It was a raucous fight and we had crewmembers suffer from a sucking chest wound, a facial fracture, a compound fracture of the leg, a big long cut on the arm, an evisceration, and one guy passed out from all the blood. This was *of course* all simulated for our mass casualty drill, so the first responders had to triage all the different casualties and determine which were most life threatening and needed attending first. After the mass casualty drill, we ran a bunch more stand-alone medical casualties, and finished up all our required medical drills.

Monday afternoon, we were in a fast cruise environment, where we simulate being underway, with watches stood up on the bridge, in CIC and in Main Control, but with lines and shoreties still connected. Honestly, I don't remember exactly what drills we ran on Monday afternoon or all day Tuesday. They're a blur of training team briefs and debriefs, pipes, manned and ready reports, casualty reports, simulated damage all over the ship. Monday's MVP was FS1 DP for his response as the leader in BDS (Battle Dressing Station), responding to the mass casualty and all the individual medical drills. He directed efforts of all the first responders and other members of BDS.

Between Monday afternoon and Tuesday, we knocked out *a lot* of our DC drills, and had an ITT (Integrated Training Team) drill where an engineering casualty (run by ETT, the Engineering Training Team) cascaded into a main space fire (run by DCTT, the Damage Control Training Team). We have to do three-ish ITTs for ATG to show that our OBTTs (Onboard Training Teams) can work together to train for complex scenarios.

Tuesday's MVP was BM3 WF, earned for his energy in responding to casualties. BM3 is our boundaryman for casualties -- he goes to the area around the damage to make sure the boundaries are set and the damage does not spread. For fire, he breaks out a fire hose, charges it and pulls all combustible material away from the bulkhead shared by the space on fire. For flooding, he makes sure water tight closures are secured and bulkheads and overheads are not sagging or hogging, which could indicate potential failure of the watertight boundary. He was out, on scene almost before the pipe describing the damage was complete -- which is a huge help because we have 5 minutes to set the top boundary for a fire (heat rises, so it's important to get this set quickly) and 7 minutes for the horizontal boundaries (side by side to the damage). The time standards are so we get maximum points on the scored drill.

We got underway on Wednesday primarily to conduct our gunnery exercise (GUNEX), but also to do our BECCEs (basic engineering casualty control exercises), which simulate various types of damage to equipment in the engine room to which the watchstanders must respond. We did BECCEs on the way out to the firing range, and on the way back in. We had to redo one, a Class C fire in the switchboard, I think because the training team got a little ahead of themselves, and talked the watchstander into securing power before they really should have. But, by the end of the day, we'd finished up with BECCEs -- our second warfare area finished! With a 100% drill score average!! And our MVP from Wednesday was from the engine room watch team; MK2 GF responded to casualty after casualty in the sweltering engine room, quickly restoring functionality of the propulsion and power plant. This was another hard choice for MVPs, because MK2 wasn't down there by himself. EM2 TB and other engineers were also strong contenders.

The GUNEX almost wasn't. We got shot all the rounds we needed to from the .50 cal machine guns, training on warning shots, disabling fire and destructive fire for two gunners and loaders on each gun. But the 25 mm gun got cantankerous after drilling about 10 rounds down range. Our gunnersmates were pretty frustrated, having worked through electrical problems on the gun for months with out finding a smoking gun (ugh -- just couldn't help myself), other than the gun didn't work. The GM from ATG was able to look at it with a fresh set of eyes, and helped figure out a work around so we could get the remaining rounds shot. We all sighed a huge relief when the GUNEX was done -- this is one area that so many ship have troubles with that ATG gives a six-month waiver to reattempt the GUNEX as a matter of course. Finishing the GUNEX wrapped up our Combat Systems warfare area. I don't remember the drill score average, but I'm pretty sure it was above 95%.

We were underway again on Thursday, overnight into Friday, getting underway a little later in the day because we knew we had a late-ish night planned. We started off with rerunning our loss of gyro drill on the outbound transit, and finally passed it (I suspect running it for practice on the way outbound and inbound on Wednesday helped significantly with that). Then we moved right into towing and astern refueling. The tug that helped us get underway (don't ask -- the port we're in has compulsory pilot and tug requirements because one too many ships has bashed their piers trying to moor unassisted. I understand the necessity, but I still think *we* don't really need it) stayed on scene with us and acted as our "disabled vessel" that needed towing. We had a perfect day for it, with a light breeze from the southeast, no chop and the slightest of swells from the east.

WEPS made two beautiful approaches, both times getting within 75 feet (yes, feet; not yards) at a super slow speed to allow the fantail sufficient time to make a couple of attempts to get the heaving line across. SN JB heaved a spectacular throw, stretching the heaving line out its full length perfectly across the tug in front of the pilot house. And about 45 minutes later, after lengthening the tow to 400 feet, making a 30 degree turn with the tug in tow, shortening the tow and passing back a fueling hose, we broke the tow, and the tug headed back to port. Their comment to OPS on the radio just prior to departing was best approach and heaving line throw they'd seen in 12 years of playing TOWEX.

But the day was barely started for us. We attempted a loss of steering drill after the tow, but missed a few things on it. I agreed with OPS to try to rejigger the schedule to fit it in somewhere.

Next was our precision anchorage. Our bearing takers on either bridge wing shot continuous bearings to our head bearing and drop bearing, and our radar operator gave ranges to the drop range. We ended up about 67 yards off our planned drop point, so we lost 5 points for being more than 50 yards off. But we passed the precision anchorage with 80% -- something that ATG told us only 10% of ships are able to do on the first try.

I'm getting to the point where I feel like I'm bragging overly much about our prowess with all these different evolutions. But screw it! I'm gonna keep bragging. This crew works so well together, even when things aren't going well, with everyone so dedicated to the overall team effort. Do I think we're the best at what we do? Hell, yes! And it's always nice to hear an impartial, unbiased affirmation of that from outside sources.

We stayed anchored until just after dinner and some meeting or another, maybe a DCTT planning meeting. Then we got underway to try the loss of steering again, and wait for sunset to do our shipboard and small boat man overboard (MOB) drills at night. We passed all on the first try...though it did take a little longer than usual to recover all the life rings from the MOB shipboard pick up. It was getting late, and I think the darkness messed with folks' depth perception a little. ATG finished up with their debrief, and we small boated them back in at about 2130. Our small boat was back onboard, cradled and secured for sea by about 2215. Long ass day.

SN JB was Thursday's MVP for that epic heaving line throw that got our tow hooked up on the first try. It really was a thing of beauty.

ATG was back onboard by 0745 the next morning, brought out by our friendly tug. We had a day full of ITTs planned. Our first ITT was a General Quarters (GQ) drill. GQ1 is our highest state of readiness for when we find ourselves in a high threat environment. The make-believe scenario that drove the GQ state was that we were on patrol in JIATF-South's AOR and had been successful with multiple drug busts, and had large quantities of contraband stored onboard. The drug trafficking organization (DTO) wasn't too happy about that, and threatened to take back their drugs by any means necessary. They tried, including getting off an RPG hit and machine gun fire at us before we demolished their vessel. But the RPG hit and machine gun strafe did some damage that our repair lockers responded to. It was a fun drill, and we successfully fought and saved the ship.

Friday afternoon's drill was another main space fire, with other associated casualties from other training teams' warfare areas. DCTT was in evaluation mode, so we could only ask "leading questions" to get watchstanders to do what they were supposed to do, instead of directing them. But we got a 100% on the drill -- again something not many ships can do for a main space fire in eval mode.

EM3 JN was Friday's MVP, again selected from a robust pool of candidates. I don't remember what his specific job is for our various casualty scenarios, but he responded enthusiastically and correctly to whatever was thrown his way.

We moored outboard of another ship Friday afternoon, just before the skies opened up with a thunderous deluge of rain. And with that mooring, we finished all drills required for Navigation and Seamanship. Three warfare areas down. One to go.

We start next week with only three drills to go. I am strenuously optimistic that we'll be able to get through them, and make it look easy. However, in amusing and frustrating contrast to all the amazing feats of teamwork we saw throughout the week, we did have a couple less than stellar moments. Tuesday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk having changed out of my uniform into civilian clothes to work in comfort on the admin stuff I had neglected during a day full of drills.

DINGDINGARINGADINGARING. Now set General Emergency in accordance with the main space fire doctrine. There has been the report of a major fuel oil leak in the engineering vestibule. All hands respond in today's duty section respond from Repair III. Traffic pattern is up and forward on starboard, down and aft on port.

Right around the major fuel oil leak part of the pipe, I was on my way off the ship to muster on the pier with the rest of the folks who were onboard, but not in the duty section. They could call us to help from there if they needed it. Once EO came up to the flight deck, I got the full scoop. The Fuel Oil Water King was transferring fuel to the day tanks in preparation for our upcoming day underway on Wednesday. He didn't align all the valves exactly right, so he kept pumping fuel into a tank that was already full, and when he opening the sounding tube to sound the tank, fuel geysered out of the sounding tube. The duty section responded perfectly, and applied many of the lessons they had just learned during the previous week's inport drills. We got the mess cleaned up within about 90 minutes. Our mishap report is pending.

And, at this point having described all we did this past week, I simply can't muster the energy to bash the guys who brought us Yokohama fenders when we moored outboard that other ship on Wednesday. Their boat's number was BB-3, which quickly became known for the three bumbling bozos onboard. It took them nearly an hour to pass us two fenders, amidst the dropped lines, yards and yards of heaving lines jumbled into knots and general dip-shittedness. Circus music played in the background.

Seriously -- three more drills next week. I think we got this.

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