Q&A with the Master aboard USNS Joshua Humphreys

Gerald Hickey is lifelong civil service mariner (CIVMAR) and one of the few people in the community to have served their entire professional career with our Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC). For nearly 33 years, he has sailed on over 20 MSC ships in positions ranging from Third Officer to Master. Hickey was promoted to the position of Master (Captain) in April 2012 and is currently assigned as Master of USNS Joshua Humphreys (T-AO 188). USNS Joshua Humphreys is a Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler, specifically built for MSC. In addition to ship and aircraft fuel,  Humphreys provides our Navy and other coalition partners with military cargo and supplies. The following is an interview conducted by Lt. j.g. Paul Williams, a Navy reservist who visited MSC in 5th Fleet during May 2013.

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MSC:  What are the biggest challenges you face as Master on an MSC ship like USNS Joshua Humphreys?
Hickey:  The biggest challenge is coordinating and executing underway replenishments (UNREP). Performing an UNREP is always stressful for the crew providing fuel and/or cargo as well as the receiving ship.  We always have to be prepared for situations that arise. Sometimes we receive requests for unscheduled UNREPs and that is a challenge to meet the emergent need along with the ships with already planned commitments, but we find a way to get it done. It’s also an ongoing challenge as Master to meet the needs of the entire crew. Before my promotion to Master, my primary responsibility as a First Officer was handling deck-related duties and associated personnel. Dealing with the entire crew requires becoming familiar with all issues related to the ship, including addressing all problems as they arise. It also takes time to get to know the crew, their personalities and individual capabilities.

MSC:  Based on your experience, what are essential qualities that every CIVMAR should possess?
Hickey:  It’s essential that they have the ability to be away from home for extended periods of time. We are typically at sea for eight months a year and occasionally we have a new crew member who decides that they don’t like to be away from home so much. I have been away, save a weekend or day or two here and there, for the past 18 months serving with four ships. It also goes without saying that every crew member needs to understand that this is hard work (which in my experience nearly everyone understands) and that we are about meeting the needs of our mission which is to ensure our Navy ships get what they need in terms of fuel and cargo.

MSC:  What are some of the most significant and impactful changes you have witnessed with MSC since you began your service in 1979?
Hickey:  The changes and advances in technology have been significant.  As an example, at the beginning of my career, we used celestial navigation as our primary method of navigation. Then as satellite technology began to be implemented on MSC ships along with other electronic navigational tools, celestial navigation became a complementary rather than a primary way for a ship’s crew to navigate. There are many ways in total where technology has made our duties and the functions we perform on MSC ships easier and more efficient.There have also been a number of very positive changes that have impacted our MSC employees from a personnel standpoint. These programs and policies have resulted in greater crew continuity which often translates to better operational efficiency.

MSC:  What is the most rewarding part of your service with MSC?
Hickey:  Being able to serve U.S. Navy ships and warfighters, and help keep them on station doing their very important work. That’s our primary mission and we take it very seriously. The entire crew of the Humphreys are very proud to serve 5th Fleet and meet their operational needs.

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