Story by PO2 Marlan Sawyer on 08/26/2019NEWPORT NEWS, VA. (Aug. 26, 2019) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) has reached the halfway point of the ship's force work package (SFWP) in its mid-life refueling complex overhaul (RCOH) at Newport News Shipyard. George Washington's RCOH started approximately two years ago, becoming the 6th Nimitz-class carrier to undergo the unprecedented and unequaled four-year long overhaul period.
During George Washington's time in the shipyard, she will overhaul and upgrade the combat systems and other warfighting capabilities, improve the ship's material condition, and refuel the reactors. The work put in for the SFWP during RCOH, with additional work completed by Newport News Shipyard, ensures that George Washington will leave the shipyard as the world's most technologically-advanced capital warship, a validation of the type of work that can only be accomplished at one shipyard in the entire nation.
Every department has chipped away at reaching significant milestones the last two years, and their combined efforts have played a critical role in the ship reaching the halfway point.
"We have the opportunity to do two things everyday: solve interesting problems and lead," said Capt. Daryle Cardone, executive officer of George Washington. "That's what our Sailors do each and every day they come into the shipyard and aboard our ship. It's the energy and motivation they bring to each challenge that has enabled us to reach this momentous halfway point in the ship's force work package and it's what will drive us to the finish line."
Some Sailors been on board since RCOH began and the task of its completion seemed daunting at first.
"It's huge [reaching the halfway point]," said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Kade Gibbs, a Sailor assigned to the combat systems department aboard George Washington. "When I first got here, it felt like we weren't even close to being done. But nowwe're halfway."
Gibbs checked aboard George Washington in October 2016, and has since seen a huge shift in personnel, equipment, and the ship itself. It is certainly true that an RCOH tour is an unconventional one, and Gibbs has seen that firsthand.
"I'm really excited to see my equipment onboard," said Gibbs. "Maybe even see it alive. Light up. I have a little more than three years to go on this ship. I feel like it'll be an experience to at least see [the ship] up and moving and not a skeleton in a dry dock."
Despite the obstacles and challenges these Sailors face, their initiative and toughness enable them to push forward and complete the important mission of returning George Washington to operational status.
"As far as getting the ship out of the shipyard, for the next half: just keep on the grind and keep pushing forward," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Eric Lee, the work center supervisor of production management (PM) 13 team, also known as deck team. "When you meet an obstacle and require help, seek help, and make it over the obstacle. Don't stop. Find a solution. Treat every day as a different day. Don't carry the weight of yesterday into today."
In the coming months, the dry dock in which George Washington is currently being worked will be flooded, marking another major milestone in the ship's life cycle. Flooding the dry dock will require the collaboration between many of the key stakeholders at Newport News Shipyard, and George Washington's deck department will be at the forefront of the effort, just as they will be when the ship enters and leaves ports the world over.
"The biggest challenge for us [so far] was coordinating with the shipyard and working together to get the anchors put on in a timely manner," said Chief Boatswain's Mate Myren Fripp, a leading chief petty officer in deck department aboard George Washington. "Making sure all of the equipment needed for this evolution was up and running and making sure we had all of the right people in the right places at the right times definitely helped the process run smoothly."
The work accomplished during the first half of the SFWP, marking the notional halfway point of the ship's life cycle, will enable George Washington to sail the high seas for another 25 years. Although each department is responsible for restoring their respective equipment back to operational capability, completing the overhaul of these systems requires cooperation between all departments.
"If not for PM teams, every department would be tasked with their everyday duties as well as getting their spaces completed for RCOH, and that's a lot to ask from a ship that's already undermanned," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class Todd Brockett, the leading petty officer of PM 13. "Knowing that the epoxy decks we lay and the hard work we've put into every space we've touched is a great feeling. The spaces we are working in now will be walked on the rest of the ship's remaining 25 years."
The current RCOH environment has also encouraged departments and Sailors to find unique ways to gain in-rate experience while ensuring critical maintenance and ship's force work is accomplished.
Machinist's Mate 1st Class Larissa Pruitt, auxiliary division's leading petty officer, said the shipyard period has presented certain challenges and opportunities for her division.
"Transitioning from normal operations to RCOH has given us the opportunity to completely disassemble our equipment and learn the proper way to rebuild it, in order to restore it to an operational state," said Pruitt. "I wouldn't do anything differently as this shipyard period has made us better machinist's mates and a stronger family."
Pruitt added that while the department has had to overcome obstacles along the way, meeting certain checkpoints by predetermined dates has assisted in reaching projected milestones.
"Effectively communicating with Newport News Shipyard contractors on a daily basis ensures project milestones are completed on or before the requested due date," said Pruitt.
The efforts of each Sailor play a critical role in returning George Washington to its place as the Navy's premier and always ready aircraft carrier, regardless of where she will be called upon in defense of her nation. As milestones are accomplished through the next two years of George Washington's RCOH period, Sailors will be at the ready to propel the ship and her crew past the finish line and ultimately back out to the fleet as the most advanced capital warship in the world.