Students in the first San Diego class of the Basic Division Officer Course tour the destroyer Higgins. (Navy)
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NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. Know your ship. Ask questions. Don't miss a single detail. It's a core message of the Navy's new Basic Division Officer Course, but it's being driven home outside the classroom.
Eighteen ensigns and lieutenants junior grade part of the new eight-week program's first graduating class walked the decks of the destroyer Higgins for three hours last month, learning firsthand from multiple instructors about what their responsibilities will be as new division officers when they return to their ships.
"It's a nice little gut check," said Lt. Cmdr. Derek Waisanen, the course's officer-in-charge here.
One example: When the morning duty section finds a wet deck from a rainy night or condensation from fog, they should watch where water can accumulate even when swept off.
"If there's moisture that gets under there, it can go everywhere," said Lt. Gavin Veeder, emphasizing the word "everywhere" to those taking part in the Nov. 20 waterfront field trip.
Veeder, an instructor, pointed out some splotches of rust.
"Likely, water has gotten underneath this plate, and all the way out here, there is rust," he said, telling them that as division officers, "you're going to brief your department head as to what you are going to do to counteract that."
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"You need to get on it early and often. If you own a topside space, this is your responsibility," Veeder told the students. "When you're underway for deployment, it's very easy not to go topside. You need to put that on your priority list. Look at the lifelines. Look at the deck. Get a hold of it before it gets out of proportion."
The ship visit is a key part of the eight-week course, taking place here and in Norfolk, Va., that replaced the shorter surface warfare officer introduction and advanced shiphandling and tactics courses offered previously. The first San Diego class had 96 graduates; the next sessions start in January, and school officials expect full classes throughout the year.
Everyone can learn
Even for those with prior enlisted experience at sea, the course taught them things they didn't know about ships and what they need to know as DIVOs.
"It really kind of ties it all together, getting to see it hands-on," said Ensign Anthony Hustedt, 28, a former submarine electronics technician.
Hustedt spent two weeks on the frigate Thach before coming to San Diego, "and I was just lost. I had no idea," he said. "Everything is completely different than it was on a submarine.
"Now I feel like I actually know what's going on, and I can at least function intelligently and lead my guys properly," he said.
Ensign Daniel Kelly, the Higgins' first lieutenant, served as the group's escort. He gathered students at the replenishment-at-sea station, telling them to watch their fingers and beware of swinging pallets. He offered pointers at a refueling station, advising, "You want to be sure you are done pumping before you release the probe."
Spilled fuel not only fouls the deck, he said, it can "get your captain a big ol' fine."
Students checked out two rigid-hull inflatable boats, which the ship uses for port security, ship-boarding missions and safety navigation.
"Do your prep work. Make sure you have plenty of comms prior to getting onboard," Kelly said.
"A RHIB can run aground just as easily as anything else," Waisanen said. "Get a brief, know the RHIB."
Chief Gunner's Mate (SW) Norman Mingo led a short session at the ship's forward vertical launch system, and he pointed out the ship's high-speed multiband radar, noting, "We can shoot within seconds."
The junior officers got a peek into a VLS tube opened for maintenance.
"You can fire numerous missiles," Mingo told them, explaining the different types and how exhaust and gases flow when a missile leaves its cell.
Missions at sea include rescues, and the ship's hoist enables the crew to rescue and recover someone who fell overboard or is stranded at sea.
Kelly quizzed the students: What's the sea-state level to do a man-overboard recovery? Do you put a RHIB in the water or send in the rescue swimmer? How do you recover them?
And when you're done, don't forget about the lines, he said. "Coil 'em up. It's just good seamanship."