By Meghann Myers, Navy Times, 8 Jun 16
ABOARD THE CARRIER GEORGE WASHINGTON, OFF THE NORTH CAROLINA COAST – A year ago, the carrier Theodore Roosevelt took off for a nine-month deployment to the Middle East. Now, 1,700 members of its crew are back in Norfolk aboard this flattop, which came back from seven years in Japan in January, part of an unprecedented swap that sent TR to San Diego and the carrier Ronald Reagan to Japan.
It had been a very long year, crew members told Navy Times during a short underway in April, and many of them were looking forward to the down time as the carrier prepared to start its mid-life refueling in the fall. “From my standpoint, I try to be as hard-charging as possible when we’re operational,” Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class (SW/AW/IDW) Alejandro Lazo said. “Going into the yards, for the air department, is like a much-needed vacation.”
The three-carrier swap began in March 2015 with TR’s deployment from Norfolk to 5th Fleet. That summer, Reagan made the move from San Diego to Yokosuka, Japan, swapping much of their crews while the commanding officers stayed with the ships.
GW then headed to San Diego, where Roosevelt was completing its deployment and homeport shift to the West Coast. GW then swapped a chunk of its crew again, with TR, before heading down around South America and to Norfolk.
In the end, most sailors ended up staying in their original homeports, unless they volunteered to move or were due for new orders. The transition wasn’t necessarily welcome, Electrician’s Mate (Nuclear) 1st Class (SW) Justin Burk told Navy Times, who moved his wife to Norfolk before GW left Japan. “The deployment around South America was really long,” he said. “It was really hard throwing her to Virginia and having her on her own.” But he reports to electrician’s mate ‘A’ school to be an instructor in July, so he was due to come back stateside anyway, he added.
While sailors and their families are settling in, GW leadership is gearing up for the multi-year availability at Newport News Shipbuilding. “Our focus will shift from the warfighting mentality to maintenance,” training officer Lt. Cmdr. Shaina Hogan said. “Our ship is old. Let’s pause on the big mission and take care of her.” Hogan’s focus will be taking care of her sailors in the professional sense, making sure that they stay proficient in their jobs while they spend the next few years out of the deployment cycle. That includes sending some of them on temporary active duty to other ships to work on qualifications, she said, and if they can swing it, sending them on deployment.
“We also intend on letting a lot of sailors focus on college and other off-duty schools,” she said.
Staying on track – Many of the crew are preparing for their first experience in the yards, but some who transferred from TR are doing back-to-back periods, as that carrier came out of its refueling and complex overhaul in late 2013. “Coming back from the yards is kind of a difficult time, because you’re not doing your job for a long time,” said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SW) Nichole Lowery. “As far as this time, I already know what to expect.”
To keep the crew focused and out of trouble for the next few years, Command Master Chief (SW/AW/NAC/IDW) James Tocorzic said he’s focusing on “sailorization” programs – like sponsoring, petty officer associations and Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions – during his first experience with an overhaul. “We’ve got to find a way to keep people positively engaged in their professional and personal growth, and not to let that shipyard mentality – where they feel like they’re not part of the Navy – creep in,” he said.
Though leaders at every level are concentrating on keeping their sailors proficient, the other piece of getting through a yard period is keeping everyone out of trouble with more free time on their hands. That would be important for any transition, Tocorzic said, but he is particularly concerned because his crew has been through so much upheaval in the past year. “When you do a swap of this magnitude, those things are going to drop off,” he said. “We identify that. I know it’s taken place.”
The CMC is dealing with a mash-up of sailors, who are trying to meld the established workflow and routines from two carriers into one crew. “The legacy GW sailors – it’s probably more difficult for them, because they’re the stakeholders for George Washington, and then suddenly two-thirds of the people they know are gone,” he said. On the other side, the cohort of TR sailors checked in all at once. “For any sailor, when they PCS from one command to another, there’s an anxiety – there’s an unknown,” Tocorzic said. “So now you have to take that and multiply it by 1,700 sailors that came over with me from the Theodore Roosevelt.”
Rather than make them all go to their individual departments to check in, the command’s leadership tried to make things more personal and convenient. “We set it up with tables in the hangar bay, so the sailors who transferred over only have to make one stop,” he said, and at the end of check-in, Tocorzic and executive officer Capt. Kenneth Strong were there to shake sailors’ hands and give them their GW ball caps.
Tocorzic also took on GW’s CSADD program, which was top-rated. “It’s a group of sailors between 18 to 25 years old – which are the ones that always concerns me – not necessarily as a disciplinary thing, because those are the future leaders,” he said. His hope is that with enough mentorship and training opportunities, his sailors will stay busy and productive.
He also has a pet project, inspired by a recent data call that included answers from female sailors on why they choose to stay in or leave the Navy.
“I’m looking at trying to start something up with our female senior officers and enlisted,” he said. “I want to try to find a way – and this is all in my head right now – to show our junior female sailors that you can manage a family and be a professional sailor at the same time.” Statistically, women in the Navy get out at twice the rate of men, particularly before they reach senior ranks. The classic answer, Tocorzic said, is that they’re getting out to devote more time to their marriages and children, but he wants to encourage them to reconsider staying in. “You don’t have to stop that professional growth to go start a family,” he said. “You can do both.”