NORFOLK, Va. —
When the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) crew asked for Reserve support during a Carrier Incremental Availability in November 2019, 26 Reserve Sailors in various engineering ratings and ranks from 18 different Reserve units across the nation answered the call, providing over 365 man-days of maintenance support.
“Mighty IKE” leadership later asked for additional support during an underway exercise in January 2020, and a four-man Reserve Sailor team formed and went underway with the ship’s crew within 72 hours.
In March, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) authorized leave for shipyard personnel who fell under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “high risk” category tied to the COVID-19 virus. With up to 25% of the production workforce unable to report to work, shipyards incurred a backlog that could result in delays in returning ships to the fleet. To help clear the backlog, the Navy is mobilizing nearly 1,600 Reservists to support aircraft carrier and submarine maintenance starting in July.
All of the Reservists mentioned above are part of the Navy’s Surge Maintenance, or SurgeMain, program. Established in 2005, SurgeMain has 2,440 Reserve Sailors across 75 units. Created to augment the Navy’s organic civilian shipyard workforce in times of need, these Sailors have technical and trade backgrounds that allow them to have an immediate impact.
In fiscal year 2019 alone, SurgeMain Sailors cumulatively devoted approximately 15,000 days of focused support to naval shipyards. These Sailors are ready to mobilize anywhere, at any time, to provide direct support to the fleet by supporting Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) mission priority: On-time delivery of ships and submarines.
“Our Sailors are electricians, pipe fitters, sheet metal workers, plumbers, hydraulic technicians, mechanics, machinists, carpenters, welders and more,” said Capt. Michael P. MacLellan, SurgeMain’s national director. “By far, SurgeMain is NAVSEA’s largest and most successful Reserve program and has gone from an unfunded pilot to one of the largest programs in the Navy Reserve.”
SurgeMain was the brainchild of retired Capt. Chuck Fidler, former NAVSEA Navy Reserve Engineering Duty program manager, and was originally created to help mitigate the decline of shipyard maintenance infrastructure.
“The objective of the program was to provide depot-level skilled workers during peak workload periods without impacting Naval Shipyard mission funding,” said Fidler. “Ultimately, the success of SurgeMain not only resulted in the Navy gaining a valuable and flexible ship maintenance capability, as reflected in our motto, ‘Right Skills, Right Time, Right Place,’ but also saved the officer and enlisted Reserve engineering communities from near extinction and instead enabled a solid career path for both.”
Rear Adm. Alma Grocki, SurgeMain’s first national director, former Director of Fleet Maintenance, U.S. Pacific Fleet and NAVSEA Deputy Chief of Staff for Reserve Affairs, had many legal and logistical hurdles during the program’s creation. One such hurdle involved the labor unions’ initial concerns.
“They wanted to know if Reservists would be taking their jobs and doing work they should be paid to do,” she said. “This was a very valid concern, so we had to structure the program so SurgeMain Sailors were only coming into shops that were maxed out in utilization of their own shop folks, maxed out in overtime, and couldn’t get the work done any other way.”
Initially, only journeyman-level Sailors were allowed into the shipyards, using skillsets learned in their civilian jobs.
“The program is now much more inclusive of different skill levels and skillsets than it was when we first started,” said Grocki.
This effort eventually evolved into post-apprentice opportunities and eventually, as the shipyard program managers realized how valuable these Sailors had become, evolved into today’s SurgeMain program, which includes the SurgeMain Training Candidate (STC) program.
SurgeMain candidates are Sailors within the engineering ratings who are allowed to work as apprentices within the shipyards, typically while on Annual Training (AT). This allows them to gain valuable in-rating experience and get qualifications signed off by program managers so they can eventually become journeymen.
“SurgeMain Sailors often bring new perspectives to problem solving as well as best practices from their civilian experience at a significant cost savings,” said Vice Adm. Robin Braun, former Chief of Navy Reserve, in a statement before the Senate Subcommittee on Defense in 2016. “The value SurgeMain Sailors add to the ability of Navy shipyards to improve fleet readiness has prompted (the) Navy to increase its investment to RC (Reserve Component) SurgeMain manpower.”
The most recent mobilization to support Naval shipyards will be the first time SurgeMain has activated such a large cadre of personnel at one time — a testament to how far the program has come since 2005.
“We’re excited to mobilize and execute the mission for which we’ve been training,” said MacLellan. “This deployment presents a valuable opportunity for our Sailors to hone their skills, contribute to our national defense and allow us to gain valuable lessons you can only learn during mass mobilization.”
SurgeMain Reservists started arriving at their respective shipyards in phases in early July, with most of the Sailors scheduled to be on-site by early Fall. Sailors will be on one-year mobilization orders which may be extended or curtailed should circumstances change. The Reserve support will be provided to maintenance facilities across the country including Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine; Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia; Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington; and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
“We have been methodical in how we planned this mobilization,” said Vice Adm. Tom Moore, NAVSEA’s commander. “We did not mobilize anyone who already works in the ship maintenance or construction field, and we worked to place people into shipyards where they have previously drilled so there was a built-in comfort factor for both the Reservist and the shipyard personnel.”
Once at their designated shipyard, Sailors will abide by all COVID-19 specific policies. These include conducting a daily self-screening and undergoing a temperature check prior to accessing the shipyard, wearing all required personal protective equipment (PPE) and following the same social distancing measures as the rest of the shipyard workforce.
“We are laser-focused minimizing the spread while maximizing the mission,” said MacLellan. “This mobilization will strengthen the partnership between the shipyard workforce and Reserve community and help deliver combat-ready ships back to the fleet.”
It can be a herculean task to maintain a ship as big as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Take the Nimitz-class as an example: with an overall length of 1,092 ft and a full-load displacement of over 100,000 tons, the Nimitz-class ships were the largest warships built until 2017, when the Ford-class entered the fleet. Many times, the task calls for more skilled hands than the ship has on board, which could mean a return from sea, an unplanned dock in port, and lost time protecting the world’s oceans. That’s when the Navy calls on a team of Sailors it has come to call on more and more ever since its inception 15 years ago, SurgeMain.
Case in point: The USS Eisenhower, nicknamed “Mighty Ike,” recently asked for additional support during an underway exercise in January 2020. A SurgeMain Production Team on Ike, called SPIKE, was expeditiously formed and four SurgeMain Sailors went underway with the ship’s crew within 72 hours. SPIKE is a pilot program implemented to test how fast SurgeMain can push orders for Reservists to support not only the Ike’s engineering team, but the strike group repairs as well.
“I am ecstatic that our SPIKE team was able to recently provide valuable support to the ship while underway,” said Capt. Michael Monaghan, Deputy National Director for the SurgeMain program. “This is truly a testament to the cooperation of our Sailors, their families, our NAVSEA Military Programs Office, Navy Operational Support Centers, and all others involved who made this evolution happen on short notice.”
Last November, Cmdr. Frank Gasperetti, Ike’s Chief Engineer (CHENG), requested SurgeMain Sailors come aboard while the ship went underway. This experiment was founded on the ability to surge Sailors through the Battle Force Individual Mobilization Augmentee program to other ships in order to knock down the Casualty Report (CASREP) repair items on other ships. Just as importantly, the team also transferred those skillsets to Ike’s organic crew.
“These four SurgeMain Sailors are not only supporting the heavy workloads in my divisions by helping with engineering trouble calls and supporting maintenance, but they also bring industrial standards to the deck plates and teach trade skills to my Sailors,” said Gasperetti. “These four SurgeMain Sailors provided 555 total man-hours of support, and 135 man-hours of on-the-job training and mentoring during their two weeks aboard.”
These four SurgeMain Sailors have provided 555 total man-hours of support, and 135 man-hours of on-the-job training and mentoring during their two weeks aboard.
Lt. Nathalie Behn served as the SPIKE detachment officer in charge during the evolution, while Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Misael PerrezCarrion, from SurgeMain Puerto Rico supported the Ike’s electrical division.
PerrezCarrion enlisted in the active duty Navy in 2000 and transferred to the Navy Reserve in 2004. He was mobilized for one year with the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Group in Kuwait and was a part of the Expeditionary Training Group unit for several years, transferring to the SurgeMain Puerto Rico unit in 2015. He was also aboard Ike in November 2019 for three weeks, supporting the ship’s Carrier Incremental Availability and then again during its exercise in January 2020, where he worked on daily troubleshooting activities to support the heavy workload of the electrical division. His work at rewinding electrical motor coils of a ventilation motor for the pump room kept Ike from returning to port. This motor removes JP-5 and refrigerant fumes out of the compartment making it safe for personnel to enter, work and take readings in the space.
Chief Hull Technician Sean Moore, from SurgeMain Green Bay, assisted the repair division during the ship’s Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), a rehearsal each Carrier Strike Group performs before departing for deployment. Moore joined the Navy in 1986 as a Hull Maintenance Technicians. During his 10 years on active duty, he served on Ike from 1990-1996 as a repair lead petty officer and locksmith.
After a 10-year break in service, Moore rejoined as a Reservist and member of SurgeMain Green Bay. He brings 30 years of welding and Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) experience to the table, filling a technical need that is currently not available on board. In his civilian life, he is a master welder and Level 2 NDT examiner.
“I wish I could go on deployment with them and get a chance to increase overall shop knowledge to handle any job at any time,” said Moore. “Training them as much as possible while answering the call for their daily mission requirements was a great reward and I’d do it again, anytime.”
Moore trained Sailors on metallurgy, aluminum and other welding techniques. He troubleshot and repaired multiple equipment issues, including a plasma cutter and a band saw, while also supervising the repair of ladders leading to the flight deck. All of this increased shop operations and helped maintain a safe work environment for Sailors. Moore is currently conducting daily weld training for junior Hull Technicians as well as cross-rating training for Machinery Repairmen within the repair division who wish to learn how to stick weld.
The fourth Reservist on-board, Engineman 1st Class Dawayne Schell, was assigned to Ike’s Auxiliary Division. Currently with SurgeMain Manchester, he joined the Navy Reserve in 2002 as an Aviation Support Mechanic before joining the SurgeMain community in 2010. He brings more than 20 years of industrial and heavy equipment experience and out of the box trouble shooting skills to the deck plates. In his civilian life, Schell works as a lead mechanic for crane maintenance at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
“I truly enjoy working with my shipmates in A-Division,” said Schell. “This is my first time underway on a naval ship since I joined the Navy and I truly appreciate this experience and would like to support A-Division during deployment.”
During his time aboard, he worked on various trouble calls replacing heaters, pressure valves on dishwashers in aft scullery, supported zone inspections, and mentored Sailors on identifying dry-well sockets, safety wire installations and operation on solenoid valves.
As of this writing, Behn is still in her Engineering Duty Qualification Program (EDQP) and on track to become a qualified EDO. Originally from Heidelberg, Germany, she joined the NAVSEA SurgeMain Program in 2016 as a Direct Commission Officer, holding a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She is part of one of the largest of the 77 SurgeMain units, SurgeMain Norfolk. There she serves as the Command Fitness Leader, Shipyard Project Officer, and the only qualified Shipyard Surface Ship Fire Safety Officer in the NAVSEA Reserve program. On drill weekends, she takes Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) during dry-docking periods for fire safety prevention inspections.
With her unique background, Behn brought a fresh look to Ike’s daily engineering department tasks. She performed daily walk-throughs in the engineering spaces — accompanying Gasperetti or the Engineering Division Master Chief to check Material Condition Zebra settings during General Quarters with the ship’s Fire Marshall. She also helped standardized Ike’s Repair Locker Zebra cards.
Behn was delighted to reunite with one of Ike’s crew, Machinist Mate 1st Class Xavier Sanchez, formally a Reserve SurgeMain Norfolk Sailor. Behn personally managed his Reserve-to-active duty transfer package. “It was great seeing him again and watch him excel in the Navy,”
Overall, Ike benefited immensely from the SPIKE team’s contributions, which helped the aircraft carrier maintain its operational readiness. The ship is currently underway on deployment, and the efforts of the SPIKE team were truly a win for the “Mighty Ike.”
“As the SPIKE team officer-in-charge truly appreciated this opportunity to learn from some of the best Sailors in the fleet and bring the SurgeMain program to support their maintenance needs,” Behn said. “That was my second time underway with the Ike and knowing we were a part of a team whose mission it is to launch and recover airplanes at sea, is truly amazing to think about. I would deploy with them anytime!”