Faces of MSC: Perspectives from the “Desert Cat” part 2

Fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 68) has been forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet for the past 14 years, providing missions as diverse as support for training Iraqi security forces. Other missions range from conducting towing, salvage and rescue operations to serving as a platform for Navy divers, or transporting cargo.

Catawba’s story is as diverse as the civil service mariners who crew the ship. This is the second blog post in a two-part series where CIVMARs give their perspectives from the “Desert Cat.”

Medical Service Officer Lenard Leavell (U.S. Navy photo by Kim E. Dixon)

Health Systems Specialist/Medical Service Officer Lenard Leavell: My billet is actually at Ship Support Unit Bahrain, but for the small ships that don’t have MSOs, I help them with technical visits. Right now, I’m helping Catawba get prepared for an upcoming SMART [ship material assessment and readiness testing]. On a regular basis, I got their NAVOSH [Navy Occupational Safety and Health] medical program going, I do medical training as requested, such as basic first aid, required safety training, stuff like that. Like a majority of the MSOs, I just enjoy helping people. The greatest accomplishment during my MSC career was being named MSO of the Year.

Yeoman Storekeeper “SUPPO” Efren Apostol: I manage the logistics requirements for the ship, and also serve as the personnel officer on board. For that, I arrange flights, cut orders; meet people – incoming crew or shipriders – assist the ship’s captain with the purser job, do all the orders, control the budget, do MWR, work as ship’s store officer, get the gym equipment, issue bedding. Pretty much, I like keeping busy. Everyone is so busy, so I assist. When I left the Navy, I went to college in the Philippines and earned a degree in psychology. Now, a lot of people come to me with problems and I help them a lot. I want to retire, but all the captains come and ask me to stay. My son keeps telling me to retire, but even at 61 years old, I’m still capable and strong. I do a lot of exercise and walking. I joined MSC because in my heart, I felt like the Navy still needed my service. I enjoy sea life, being at sea, and being overseas, forward-deployed. The highlight was being named the 2011 Oscar Chappell [The Navy League of the United States’ Able Seaman Oscar Chappell Award for Outstanding Maritime Stewardship] award winner.

Yeoman Storekeeper Efren Apostol (right) speaks with MSC Command Master Chief Miguel-Juan Reyes during an October visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Kim E. Dixon)

Able Bodied Seaman Watch/Maintenance Thomas Hobbs: Cat is a good boat. I like the tug class because we’re doing different things all the time. We rotate day work and watch. We are always doing maintenance on the tow – pulling wires out, maintaining the equipment, pulling nasty dirty grease off, putting brand new fresh grease on. There’s plenty of stuff to do on a tug; especially an old one like this. You do everything you can to make the ship look as good as you can. Of course, everything you do on a tug is heavy. There’s nothing light for some reason. We’re not just doing maintenance all the time – we get to go out and retrieve stuff off the bottom of the ocean; drop REMUS off the side. We were the ones who retrieved the Harrier from the USS Boxer from the ocean floor. What is way different on this ship than most is the four-hour call back. You can’t go too far away in case something happens and you gotta be back. About three years ago, we had decided to have a social event off the ship. But, we got a call, got back in within four hours, loaded divers, then went to Somalia where we stayed for four months.

Able Seaman Watch/Maintenance Thomas Hobbs (far left)takes a break with his crewmates on USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168)

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