What’s on the horizon for 2013? Plenty!

Editor’s note: At press time, the continuing budget resolution and sequestration issues had not been resolved. Some subjects below may be subject to rapid change.

As big Navy’s trust in MSC grows, so does our involvement in missions around the world. We play a critical role in Africa Partnership Station and Southern Partnership Station, building cooperative relationships with allies and neighbors. We also carry a message of hope and good will to people in need of medical and civic assistance in both hemispheres during Continuing Promise and Pacific Partnership missions.

MINDELO, Cape Verde, (Jan. 11, 2013) Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Nicholas Heidingsfelder, a maritime civil affairs instructor, observes Cape Verdian Coast Guard Cpl. Gil Lima practicing field tactical movement during boarding team operations training aboard the High-Speed Vessel Swift (HSV 2) as part of Africa Partnership Station (APS). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Felicito Rustique/Released)

We continue to provide the Navy with 100 percent of the Fleetís combat logistics services, as well as undersea surveillance data; hydrographic surveys; rescue, salvage and towing services; afloat forward staging base capabilities and a command platform.

Sealift, prepositioning and special missions will continue to be part of our MSC story throughout 2013, too. The good news is that we’ve been given some new hardware to help us.

New ships

USNS Spearhead, JHSV 1, is operating out of Little Creek, Va., conducting trials and will become operational this year, replacing MSC-chartered HSV Swift on future Africa and Southern Partnership Station missions and providing a high-speed, austere ports and waterways capability that will no doubt generate new ideas about using this amazing class of ships.

Interim afloat forward staging base USS Ponce will remain deployed and hard at work in the Middle East supporting missions in and around U.S. Central Command. That will continue throughout 2013. When I think that just 12 months ago Ponce was almost a ghost before we began to resurrect this valuable asset, I am once again reminded of the incredible work that my MSC shipmates are capable of performing.

ARABIAN GULF (Jan. 8, 2013) An SH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter takes off from the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15). Formerly designated as an amphibious transport dock (LPD), Ponce was recently converted and reclassified to fulfill a longstanding U.S. Central Command request for an Afloat Forward Staging Base to be forward deployed to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Dawn Stankus/Released)

The fourteenth dry cargo/ammunition ship, USNS Cesar Chavez, will become operational this spring, completing the MSC family of multi-product ships that are the mainstay of our Combat Logistics Force and also support the Prepositioning Program.

Meanwhile, high-speed transport USNS Guam, a former Hawaiian superferry, will complete its modifications and upgrades and replace MSC-chartered Westpac Express as the primary transport for U.S. Marines and their equipment in the Western Pacific Ocean.

Finally, MSC is scheduled to accept delivery of Mobile Landing Platform 1, USNS Montford Point, in June. This is another new-mission/new-ship opportunity for MSC as we provide this “floating pier” capability for Navy, Marine Corps and other U.S. forces. Shortly after Montford Point joins MSC, the second MLP, USNS John Glenn, will be christened and launched in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO (Jan. 31, 2013) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert visits USNS Montford Point (T-MLP-1) at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego to tour the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

In addition to new hardware, we will continue to push ahead in the people department, too.

New uniforms

I’ve authorized a pilot program to test new flame resistant CIVMAR uniforms aboard two of our ships, USS Ponce and USNS Pecos. Weíll gather data from shipmates aboard these two ships, one East Coast and one West Coast, one operating in a predominantly warm climate and the other in colder temperatures, for about 60 days to see if the new uniforms will achieve the results we intended. We want to know if the uniforms communicate professionalism to our customers, foster teamwork and pride among our shipmates and help identify MSC crew members quickly in emergency situations.

Each CIVMAR aboard the two ships will be provided clothing items to be worn during the pilot program at no cost to the individual. At the end of the 60 days, surveys will be distributed to those of you participating in the program to gather your feedback. I need your honest answers to the survey so we can see the way ahead.

The pilot program kicks off this month. When weíve got the results, Iíll let you know what they are.

Reduced overdue reliefs

As you read this, your purser and master have begun using a new process to handle relief requests. The CIVMAR Placement Division at MSC Norfolk worked hard to develop this new set of procedures that should make for timely reliefs and vastly reduce overdue reliefs.

Despite the average number of relief requests increasing from 295 per month to 374 per month, the placement team was able to relieve more than 700 shipmates in the six weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday. For all of 2012, we sustained a 98 percent fill rate, crewed USS Ponce, sent out weekly community reports with relief information, posted “available for assignment” data in the pools and achieved an all-time low of 51 overdue reliefs for 51 ships in March.

We’re getting better at serving your need for timely relief. The new process will help even more. Give it a while to take effect, then let me know how itís working. Your feedback will help us make it better.

Rescue swimmer program

Right now we have 56 qualified rescue swimmers in the fleet. We need closer to 100, so we are actively canvassing the fleet for new candidates and volunteers. Shipmates who are interested will be interviewed in person or by phone to determine whether they can meet the visual, mental, physical training and swim test requirements for entry into the program. If you are accepted, your application is submitted and coordinated with CIVMAR Placement to begin medical screening and capability testing. If you’re recommended for continuation, you will begin training daily and will be tested once a week to monitor your progress. Once youíre ready, youíll be set up for a four-week Surface Rescue Swimmer School class in either San Diego or Jacksonville, Fla.

If you’re interested in the program, let your supervisor know or contact CIVMAR training at michael.carlson@navy.mil.

Leadership program

I’m happy to announce the return of the highly acclaimed Three-Day Leadership Program for our 2nd Officers, 3rd Officers, 2nd Assistant Engineers, 3rd Assistant Engineers, Supply Officers, Junior Supply Officers, Senior Communications Officers, Chief Radio Technicians, Pursers, Medical Service Officers, Bosuns, Chief Electricians, Unlicensed Junior Engineers, Chief Stewards, Steward Cooks and Yeoman Storekeepers.

The program will address the unique challenges faced by our middle managers and includes general leadership and supervisory principles, building effective communication, critical thinking and team skills, innovation and strategy, career and performance coaching, communication in all media (face-to-face, telephone, email), conflict resolution and managing team-based customer service.

The courses will be run on both the East and West coasts. If you’re interested, contact nedra.johnson@navy.mil for information on requirements and available class dates.

MILDEPT drawdown

We began the process to draw down our seagoing military departments in October 2012. Right now, four of our fleet ocean tugs, all four rescue and salvage ships, 11 dry cargo/ammunition ships and 14 fleet replenishment oilers have military departments. The drawdown means Navy officer and enlisted personnel will no longer embark as crew in MSC ships.

The drawdown assists the Navy in achieving its manpower reduction goals and has the additional positive effect of providing our CIVMAR shipmates with additional Navy operations experience.

Ops officer/Ops chief

As part of the military department draw-down, MSC is expanding the CIVMAR Operations Officer/Operations Chief program aboard dry cargo/ammunition ships and fleet replenishment oilers. The three active-duty Navy operations specialists aboard each of the ships have been the link between MSC crews and their active duty counterparts aboard Navy combatant ships, making sure requirements, meeting locations and timing were understood by all parties.

We are replacing the operations specialists by adding a 3rd Mate watch stander, which will allow the 2nd Mate Navigator to move to day work and assume duties as Operations Officer/Navigator. At the same time, an unlicensed deck department position of Operations Chief will be established. This is a new position aboard MSC ships and will be filled with CIVMARs knowledgeable and skilled in Navy operations.

Training procedures are in place aboard all ships. The Operations Officers have been selected, and placement and shipboard training are underway. The changeover will take place aboard each ship during scheduled maintenance periods to reduce the impact of the changes.

Communication on ARS/ATF

At the same time, we’re replacing our active duty communicators aboard the rescue and salvage ships and ocean-going tugs with CIVMARs. The move will return three to four active-duty billets per ship to the Fleet, while adding two CIVMAR billets – a Chief Radio/Electronics Technician and a Radio/Electronics Technician – to each ship. The moves are scheduled to happen during maintenance periods between now and September.

Bright future

Despite the current turmoil with budgets and funding, the need for a strong defense capability remains. As long as there is a fleet, there will be an MSC, and I’m positive MSC will remain a critical part of our nation’s defense team because we’ve proven, over and over, that when the call goes out, MSC delivers!

Until next month, sail safe and yours aye,

Mark H. “Buz” Buzby                                                                                                         Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy                                                                                       Commander, Military Sealift Command


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