USNS Washington Chambers: Always training

By Edward Baxter, MSC Far East Public Affairs

Civil service master Capt. Mike Flanagan and the crew of USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE 11) take every opportunity to train for the next evolution.

“Even if we don’t have customers on the immediate schedule, we never sit idle while underway,” said Flanagan. “We have to make sure we are ready whenever U.S. 7th Fleet calls upon us.”

USNS Washington Chambers practices an underway replenishment with sister ship USNS Matthew Perry. (U.S. Navy photo by Ed Baxter)

USNS Washington Chambers practices an underway replenishment with sister ship USNS Matthew Perry. (U.S. Navy photo by Ed Baxter)


The ship’s primary mission is to provide fuel, ammunition and other supplies to U.S. 7th Fleet or coalition ships at sea.

Underway in the South China Sea March 6, and with little shipping traffic on the horizon, Flanagan and Chief Engineer Tim Nesbitt decided to put the Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ship through its paces.

Nesbitt spun up all four engines reaching a near-top speed of 21.8 knots and then took dramatic 360 degree turns to port and starboard directions.

“Having recently completed repairs to its engines in January, it was a great opportunity to test the engines’ capabilities and test the ship’s maneuverability,” said Nesbitt.

Chambers is able to cruise at slower speeds on just one engine.

The ship maintained its speed for just under an hour. What happened next was quite amazing: The ship slammed on the brakes. Engines were put in ‘reverse’ as propellers oscillated in the opposite direction.

Chambers shuddered as it slowed to as little as seven knots in a matter of minutes.

Afterward, crew members quickly donned life jackets and survival suits, mustering at life boats for an abandon ship drill. A drill leader took a roll call at each of the four stations, radioing the captain that all personnel were accounted for.

UNREP practice

Training continued the following morning, as Chambers rendezvoused with USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE 9), operating close by. Perry, scheduled for an underway replenishment operation with USS Shoup (DDG 86) that morning, invited Chambers to come along the starboard side, training in maneuvering and sending dry cargo pallets to and from each ship.

As Shoup came alongside Perry, Chambers approached carefully at a speed of about 13 knots. Once parallel, and as Perry began passing fuel over to Shoup, Chambers shot a messenger line over to waiting civil service mariners aboard Perry.

Next, as lines were secured at a distance of about 181 feet, empty metal ammunition cargo pallets were passed back and forth.

Throughout the one hour evolution, Able Seaman Andre Griffin at Chambers’ helm maintained the ship’s course within a half of a degree.

“Great work,” Flanagan said to Griffin, who responded with a nod and a smile. “It’s not easy to do and it takes a seasoned helmsman with experience.”

Refueling complete, Shoup quickly gained speed and sailed away from Perry. A short time later, Chambers disconnected lines from Perry. Perry then sailed away as she gained speed.

Chambers practiced one more approach from Perry’s stern before calling it a day.

“Really appreciate the help,” Flanagan said to Capt. Bill Baldwin, Perry’s civil service master, as the two captains spoke by radio. “This is the way it should be. We need to seek every opportunity to train with each other.”

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