Spotting the mission: Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s Atlas

 

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Ford prepares for a small boat mission Sept. 9, 2016 on deck. Underway for its second mission, Coast Guard Cutter Healy embarked a team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC-San Diego, and the Office of Naval Research who are deploying an array of acoustic bottom moorings to collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher M. Yaw.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Ford prepares for a small boat mission Sept. 9, 2016 on deck. Underway for its second mission, Coast Guard Cutter Healy embarked a team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC-San Diego, and the Office of Naval Research who are deploying an array of acoustic bottom moorings to collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher M. Yaw.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Yaw

The music thunders through his earphones as he takes a deep breath and wipes a river of sweat from his brow. One more set, he thinks. The massive man adds another plate to the bar, chalks his hands, takes one more breath and shoulders the load. The burden of weight is immense.

One to go, he thinks, you can do this. His legs feel like a tire fire – rubbery and burning. He slowly begins to rise, but meets trouble half way up. He fights with every fiber to reach the top, but to no avail. Just when panic has begun to set in, a teammate appears. Like a shot of power left in reserve for when tougher ice conditions arise, his spotter steps in, helping to bear the burden and restoring strength. With a final effort and the help of a spotter, he finishes the set and racks the weight.

Sometimes, just like a weightlifter, even the best Coast Guard crew can use a spotter. Even the optimally crewed Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the largest in the U.S. fleet, needs a hand sometimes – but not necessarily in the areas one may expect.

It takes quite a bit to keep a behemoth like the 16,000-ton, 420-foot Healy running; especially when it comes to its complex engineering systems.

That’s where Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Ford, a machinery technician, and his shipmates Chief Petty Officer Corey Malloy, Petty Officers 2nd Class Kenny Bishop and Mika Cornelius, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Ariel Durham from Coast Guard Base Seattle’s Naval Engineering Division (NED), a shore-based group of mechanics engineers, come in.

The main focus for personnel attached to the NED is depot-level maintenance. They tackle large scale overhauls and other projects onboard Healy while it’s in port. To help prepare for these maintenance periods, folks like Ford are sent underway – but that isn’t all they do.

“It gets really busy underway, especially for big projects where lots of people are needed,” said Ford. “When I was aboard, it seemed like they rarely assigned people to [temporary attached duty] in support of the mission. With the watch schedule, people breaking in and qualifying, and working, it all gets extremely hectic. The NED helps take the strain off of everyone.”

Ford explained how NED personnel also help where they are needed if there isn’t a specific project to prepare for, for example standing response duty, acting as a small boat engineer, or qualifying on the cutter’s ice rescue team.

“It’s a good barrier between the watch schedule and everything else [the crew] have going on,” says Ford.
He also thinks it helps the support crews out as well, as many are likely to transfer from the NED to crew Healy in the future; it gives them a chance to familiarize themselves with the equipment. Ford himself was attached to Healy for four years as a crewmember, before recently transferring to the NED.

The engineering officer aboard Healy, Lt. Cmdr. Eileen Beck, completely agrees.

“NED personnel make a huge impact on how we operate,” she says. “They get qualified in numerous underway watch billets and help supplement the crew.”

Beck also mentioned that NED personnel help maintain mission readiness with regards to engineering maintenance and repairs.

“Malloy and Ford helped put the number three [generator] back together,” Beck says, referencing vital propulsion repairs made earlier this summer. “So we really do depend on the NED to help out due to their vast experience and knowledge.”

General Electric technician Clive Reed works on generator system updates Sept. 3, 2016, from a computer in main control. Underway for its second mission, Coast Guard Cutter Healy embarked a team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC-San Diego, and the Office of Naval Research who are deploying an array of acoustic bottom moorings to collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher M. Yaw.

General Electric technician Clive Reed works on generator system updates Sept. 3, 2016, from a computer in main control. Underway for its second mission, Coast Guard Cutter Healy embarked a team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC-San Diego, and the Office of Naval Research who are deploying an array of acoustic bottom moorings to collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher M. Yaw.

The native of Federal Way, Washington, also mentions Clive Reed and other civilian contract technicians who keep Healy running. Most Coast Guard assets do not get underway with civilian personnel embarked, but Healy is unique in that regard. Clive’s immense knowledge base and specialization towards Healy’s engineering plant is a tremendous resource to have aboard.

Reed stays busy training crewmembers throughout the day. When he isn’t doing that, he works to make the current system better or starts designing the next one.

“We don’t have the extensive knowledge base he does, and crewmembers rotate through too quickly to become that familiar with our software system,” Beck says regarding Reed and the other technicians that have been aboard. “There are sometimes changes that need to be made to the system, and we may not have permission or access to do that. Clive is integral.”

Healy doesn’t just receive augmentation for engineering, though. The research side of the mission requires its own bit of assistance.

Science requires technology. Aboard to support that technology is Jeff Hardwick, a Seattle-native who has worked on and off as a Coast Guard civil servant for the last 14 years.

Originally working with the Coast Guard’s centralized service desk, Hardwick joined the C4IT team supporting Healy’s science missions four years ago. Working in a rotating three person team, Hardwick and his fellow technicians’ primary function is to provide the embarked science teams a dependable network infrastructure for internet and general web access – not a simple task when operating near the top of the world.

Jeff Hardwick monitors connectivity for the science research network Sept. 3, 2016, at his desk. Underway for its second mission, Coast Guard Cutter Healy embarked a team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC-San Diego, and the Office of Naval Research who are deploying an array of acoustic bottom moorings to collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher M. Yaw.

Jeff Hardwick monitors connectivity for the science research network Sept. 3, 2016, at his desk. Underway for its second mission, Coast Guard Cutter Healy embarked a team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC-San Diego, and the Office of Naval Research who are deploying an array of acoustic bottom moorings to collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher M. Yaw.

“In order to meet their needs, we have to run a totally independent network,” says Hardwick. “It can be a 24/7 job, depending on the mission.”

While running such a network is not above the capabilities of Healy’s information technology team, Hardwick mentions that it would be an extra challenge on top of operational constraints. Many of the specific needs of the science members exceed the allowable capabilities that can be done on the Coast Guard network such as using flash drives and teleconferencing.

“It makes it pretty tough for them to do their job without it,” said Hardwick with a sigh – referring to the science team. “For them, it’s pretty much a lifeblood. They have to be able to communicate back and forth with their institutions.”

As with many tasks, teamwork makes the dream work. Operating at the literal end of the Earth often presents many challenges to overcome, just like a tough workout in the gym. The crew of Healy knows how to get the job done, but doesn’t shy away from a little support from their spotter either.

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