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All Hands On Deck
by U.S. Navy Seaman Juel Foster
December 5, 2020

“Man the waterborne mission zone, man the waterborne mission zone,” says, the Boatswain Mate of the watch, over the ship’s loudspeaker.

It is zero dark thirty, as the USS Sioux City (LCS 11) crew secures from flight quarters after launching an MH-60S helicopter after conducting a counter-narcotics mission. Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Alex Heineman just took off his landing signalman enlisted (LSE) vest but quickly rushes to the man the boat deck to prepare to conduct small boat operations.

November 19, 2020 - Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Brad Adkins signals an MH-60S Seahawk, assigned to the "Sea Knights" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, on the flight deck of the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11). Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South's mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Juel Foster)
November 19, 2020 - Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Brad Adkins signals an MH-60S Seahawk, assigned to the "Sea Knights" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, on the flight deck of the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11). Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South's mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Juel Foster)

“It’s all a part of the job,” said Heineman, when asked to reflect on moments such as these. “Boatswain’s Mates are always on the move, because we’re always needed, especially on littoral combat ships.”

The deck department is an integral part of many shipboard evolutions including flight deck operations, small boat operations, mooring, anchoring, and underway replenishments. “We’re everywhere, all of the time,” said Heineman. “There isn’t a single evolution that takes place on the ship that a Boatswain’s Mate is not a part of.”

Often, many of these events occur simultaneously or back-to-back and Boatswain’s Mates are expected and trained to transition from one evolution to the next within minutes. “Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready,” said Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Hector Cortes. “We are always prepared for the next call or evolution, even if it’s not scheduled.”

The most involved evolution for Boatswain’s Mates is sea and anchor. Like other littoral combat and legacy ships, Boatswain’s Mates run the sea and anchor “show” on the forecastle and fantail. They are also responsible for leading the other line handlers, Sailors who are not a part of the deck department, to complete a successful sea and anchor evolution. “Sea and anchor is a great evolution for training purposes, but it can be very dangerous,” said Cortes. “Everyone on the ship is engaged, but it’s truly the time that the Boatswain’s Mates have to implement their training and make sure everything goes smoothly.”

When the Boatswain’s Mates are not leading the ship through a sea and anchor evolution, they play vital roles in the ship’s flight deck and waterborne mission zone teams. During flight quarters, Boatswain’s Mates are responsible for the visual signaling to the helicopter, chock and chain handling, refueling and the overall safety of the flight deck. For small boat operations in the waterborne mission zone and boat deck the deck department is responsible for the safe launch and recovery of the rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB).

In addition to leading evolutions, Boatswain’s Mates are constantly working hard to preserve and maintain the ship. During a normal workday, you can find a Boatswain’s Mate standing lookout, junior officer of the deck watch, or boatswain mate of the watch—roles that are crucial to the safe navigation of the ship.

“No matter how you look at it, we’re always busy,” said Chief Boatswain’s Mate Ezra McFadden. “As long as the ship is moving, there’s always something for the Boatswain’s Mates to do.”

Whether they are manning the rails, launching small boats, signaling helicopters, completing daily maintenance, or standing watch, the Boatswain’s Mates are always present around the ship. They are jacks of all trades, masters of many roles. Sailors on board never have to wonder where the Boatswain’s Mates are when they need them. All they have to do is yell, “Boats!” and one of the Boatswain’s Mates will tap them on the shoulder, with their protective gear donned, and respond with a single phrase: “I’m always ready.”

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U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command’s joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American region. For more news from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet.

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