Story by SA Angel Jaskuloski on 08/30/2019NEWPORT NEWS, Va. Sailors crowd around a small platform suspended a foot above the deck in the ship's hangar bay. Standing in the center Capt. John J. Cummings, Ford's commanding officer, stands with a microphone ready to deliver his closing remarks during an all hands call. Rallying his crew together, he shouts out, motivating his Sailors; "We must, we will, We are Warship 78!"
On August 10, 2018, Capt. John J. Cummings took command of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) by relieving Capt. Richard C. McCormack, becoming the ship's third commanding officer. The Sharon, Massachusetts native made it clear that for the next two years his goal is to get the crew and the ship out of the yards and back to sea.
"We've got many underways next year and I'd like to leave on time and come back on time for every one of them," said Cummings.
Prior to Cummings' command of Ford, "Warship 78" had just been the ship's tactical call sign used while at sea. However, during his change of command ceremony, this call sign became a battle cry. Cummings declared that "the days of pre-commissioning unit, floating building 78, commissioning, and shakedown are over. That was the past, we need to focus on the future."
Now, after one year on board as commanding officer, Cummings reflected on his team and offered insights on how he has seen the Ford team grow.
"As I walk around the ship, it seems more and more of the folks are thinking about deployment and preparing for deployment," said Cummings. "It's that underway, hardened, resilient mentality that we need to be successful."
One Sailor in charge of transforming this mentality into a reality on the deck plate level is Command Master Chief De'Andre Beaufort, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
"Captain Cummings has really changed this ship from previous Captains because he is bringing in that 'We are Warship 78' type mentality," said Beaufort. "This is a warship and we're going to go out and do what we've got to do."
Beyond getting Ford ready for deployment, Cummings also focuses on maximizing mission readiness by improving the command's morale, one Sailor at a time. One of the ways he achieves this is by working closely with the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation department and encouraging Sailors to attend command events.
One command event that stands out in the Captain's memories was a Ford fun day at Ocean Breeze Water Park on June 3.
"To see about 2,000 friends and families of our Sailors just smiling at Ocean Breeze Water Park was great," Cummings said. "Anytime we come together as a group and show our spirit, our intensity, our enthusiasm, to me, it's inspiring."
Reflecting back on the start of his naval career as a hospital corpsman in the Navy Reserve, Cummings said that being prior enlisted helps him understand the lifestyle of a Sailor fresh to the fleet.
"I think being a junior Sailor and not ever really seeing my CO much I've learned from that," said Cummings. "I'm not going to be the CO who is nonexistent."
Despite his origins as an enlisted Sailor, when it comes to making decisions and policies, Cummings said he often refers to the Command Master Chief for the Sailor perspective to figure out what might be missed.
"Being part of that process is actually great because I get the opportunity to bring the Sailors' voice to the Captain," said Beaufort. "I'll bring something up about crew quality of life, or warfare programs and he's already like, 'Okay CMC.' We kind of click real fast with it and it makes things easier instead of trying to fight and bump heads."
Although there is much to be done before Ford can get out to sea, Cummings said his vision hasn't changed since he first took command.
"Simple: fly, steam, radiate, get underway, crush it. Get as much as we can out of this ship for the next year," said Cummings. "We're going to be super aggressive, super intense. Strength and ferocity. Two attributes associated with the wolverine. We're going to be strong and ferocious underway. That's the vision until I leave here."
Under Cummings' leadership, Ford recently received its completed propulsion plant from Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding and became the first ship to on-load 1 million gallons of jet fuel while pierside, allowing the ship to begin important in-deck fueling station testing. In preparation for its upcoming underways, the crew is set to move aboard by mid-September and a deployment readiness guide was developed for Ford families.
"Carrier COs have two-and-a-half years to make their mark before they leave. I will do my best to leave as positive of a mark as I can and pass on a great product to the next Captain," said Cummings. "I will continue to make the most of this next year-and-a-half and leave here exhausted, but with no regrets."
Gerald R. Ford is a first-in-class aircraft carrier and the first new aircraft carrier designed in more than 40 years. Ford is currently undergoing its post-shakedown availability at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding.
For more news from USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), visit www.dvidshub.net/unit/CVN78 or www.facebook.com/USSGeraldRFord.