Boatswain's Mate Seaman (SW) Ricky Jones, front, polishes the littoral combat ship Freedom's sign June 15 as it pulls into a Malaysian port. Jones is the first sailor to earn a surface warfare qual while deployed on an LCS. (MC1 Cassandra Thompson / Navy)
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When the littoral combat ship concept was designed, the ships weren’t expected to need a warfare qualification program.
It was thought that most sailors coming onboard would have already earned their surface warfare qual, and once underway, sailors would be too busy to earn it.
All that changed earlier this year as the Navy started bringing more junior sailors onboard LCSs. Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Ricky Jones arrived to the Freedom on Jan. 4, fresh from boot camp and “A” school. He was sent to help plus-up as the ship was preparing for its first Western Pacific deployment.
The deployment began March 1, and on July 15, just two weeks before the crew’s deployment was to end, Jones earned his SW. He’s the first to earn a qual on an LCS.
“It’s pretty much overwhelming,” he told Navy Times via phone.
Jones and the rest of Freedom’s gold crew are heading home. They completed their turnover with the blue crew Aug. 6. It’s the first such crew swap on a deployed LCS, but an event that’s going to become commonplace as the Navy grows its fleet of LCSs to 52 over the next decade.
Right now, each LCS has two crews apiece, but that, too, will change as the plan is to have three full crews for every two LCS ships, which will start when the Fort Worth, a sister ship to Freedom, deploys next year.
The idea is that one ship will be training “off hull,” while another crew is spinning up in the U.S., with the goal of heading overseas to swap with the third crew operating on a forward-deployed LCS.
The third crew will then head back home for rest and relaxation and begin training “off hull” to start the cycle over. Each period is slated to be four months long, though there have been discussions of stretching them to six months.
This turnover started July 31, when 10 members of blue’s advance crew arrived on the ship for a brief underway. The rest of the blue crew arrived onboard Freedom on Aug. 2, after the ship had just returned to Sembawang, Singapore.
Jones, whose job onboard Freedom was to maintain the ship’s deck equipment, turned over with a counterpart seaman in the blue crew. Though the physical turnover just happened, Jones said before the turnover that they had already been communicating.
“We talk over email all the time, sometimes daily, and especially when we change out a piece of gear or get something new,” Jones said. “I’m constantly bringing him up to speed on what’s going on.”
It’s a dynamic that was happening all over Freedom the week of July 29, according to Information Systems Technician 1st Class (SW) Scott Rodriguez, who administers Freedom’s computer networks, among other responsibilities.
“It’s absolutely critical that we keep the off-hull crew up to” date with what’s happening, he said. “It makes the time needed for turnover much less as there’s no surprises for the incoming crew. They already know what’s been going on — the good and the bad.”
Rodriguez is a 15-year Navy veteran who has been in the LCS program since 2010 and onboard Freedom since last October. He said he’s unsure what to make of the three-crew concept.
“Right now, I like the idea of the ownership of a single ship, getting to know that ship and all it has to offer,” he said. “We’ll deal with that concept when it gets here, and I’m sure we’ll adapt.”
Gunner’s Mate 1st Class (SW) Michael Davis and Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class (SW) Joyce Flynn are outgoing members of the ship’s maritime security mission module crews. As such, they served as Freedom’s visit, board, search and seizure team and operate its 30mm gun.
For Davis, the deployed crew swap is not a big deal.
“It’s really business as usual,” he said. “We’ve done this before; the only difference is that this time, it’s happening while we’re deployed, that’s all.”
But even as a member of the mission module crew, keeping his counterpart informed has been critical to the mission’s continuity, he said, especially while on deployment. “It cuts down on surprises,” he said.
But unlike the Freedom’s gold crew, Davis and Flynn aren’t guaranteed the next LCS they move onto will be the one they’ve just left.
And that’s OK with Flynn.
“That’s actually what I like about being a mission module sailor,” she said. “We’re not tied to just this ship. We’ll eventually get to spend time on both types of these ships and that’s exciting — I’m actually looking forward to spending time on the Independence class of LCS as well.”