Touchdowns To Warships ... Driving U.S. Navy Forward
At 6 A.M., the sun is just making its way over the horizon, giving light to the USS Rafael Peralta as it sails the East China Sea. At this time, Lt. Demond Brown, from Annapolis, Maryland takes command of the bridge as Officer of the Deck (OOD).
“Attention in the Pilot House this is Lt. Brown. I have the deck,” says Brown every morning.
As OOD, Lt. Brown’s first order of business is to check his surroundings. He confirms several surface contacts within view – including merchant, fishing, and foreign military vessels.
"Since arriving in 7th fleet, Navigating international waters has been challenging, yet satisfying as a SWO (Surface Warfare Officer) standing OOD," said Brown. "We are sailing international waters that are open to everyone. As OOD, part of my job is to safely navigate Rafael Peralta through crowded waters to ensure the safety of our ship and for the safety of those around us. Our mission out here is to maintain the freedom of the seas, and I get to see that first hand every time I stand watch."
Brown, an Annapolis native, graduated from Old Mill High school and joined the U.S. Naval Academy in 2012 on a scholarship to play football. He is now a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) aboard the Arleigh-Burke guided-missile destroyer USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115) and stands watch as OOD.
Being surrounded by foreign contacts is nothing new for Brown. A quick internet search of his name alongside the phrase “Navy Football” and the first image is of him, alone, with the football in hand, surrounded by the Air force football team as he breaks a 38-yard touchdown run during the third quarter of a game on Oct. 5, 2013. He played Academy football for 4 years as a slot back and graduated May 27, 2016.
Four years later, he stands watch as OOD, and navigating the East China Sea on USS Rafael Peralta’s maiden deployment reminds him of his days playing football at the Naval Academy.
“For Navy Football you need the situational awareness to play,” said Brown, “in the same instance if a contact maneuvers not according to the rules of the road you will have to adjust quickly to keep the ship and crew safe. In football it is keeping the quarterback or the other running back safe from the corner that is blitzing, like keeping our ship and crew safe from a ship that is not navigating safely and in accordance to the rules of the road.”
As OOD, Brown and other qualified Surface Warfare Officers (SWO) are entrusted with the responsibility for the safety and navigation of the Rafael Peralta and its crew.
“As OOD I need to know all the inner workings of the ship,” said Brown. “If I am calling the Captain for permission to authorize certain events, I should have the total picture in my mind. I need to know that combat [information center] is having a scenario or that engineering is doing maintenance or has a casualty, if there are Sailors aloft or maintenance being done on weapons systems. All of these factors, and more, play a part in how we navigate our ship as OOD.”
There are times as OOD where Brown can enjoy and appreciate all of the effort needed to complete an evolution, such as replenishment-at-seas (RAS).
“It was a few RAS’s ago and we were doing an underway replenishment with an oiler, and everything was going well,” said Brown. “Station eight was connected, phone and distance line was connected and had good spacing, the helo was up doing a VERTREP (vertical replenishment) and I took a brief second to think ‘Ah man this is really cool!’. Because sometimes we get so wrapped up in things that we forget what it is we are doing during the day-to-day on deployment. We are doing some really great things out here with helo ops dropping pallets of supplies while we are running alongside an oiler with 180 feet distance between us receiving fuel. It is really cool, but also pretty stressful.”
Becoming an OOD is no easy feat, but it is a necessary qualification on the path to becoming a fully-qualified SWO. Even with multiple qualifications and supervised events needed before someone can qualify as OOD, there is one more hurdle still needed.
“Once you get all these qualifications done, you then run different scenarios under supervision, such as sea and anchor, anchoring, and underway replenishments,” said Brown. “As your level of knowledge and skill grows hopefully the Captain’s trust in you grows as well. Because ultimately that is what it comes down to in determining if you can stand as OOD, the trust of the Captain.”
The Captain’s trust is the most critical part of earning the title and qualification of OOD on any Navy ship.
“The Captain entrusts us with managing a billion dollar warship and the lives of 330-plus Sailors 24/7,” said Brown.
Rafael Peralta is underway conducting operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific while assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, the Navy's largest forward-deployed DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet's principal surface force.