Warship rust is a perennial point of debate among active-duty and veteran surface fleet sailors.
Some argue that a bit of rust following a long underway reflects the hard work that the vessel and its crew undertook, while others think rusty gray hulls are “unsat” by their very nature and project a shabby version of U.S. military might.
Out in the West Pacific waters of U.S. 7th Fleet, the Japan-based guided-missile destroyer Benfold has taken a novel approach to the problem by standing up a team of sailors devoted exclusively to busting rust, priming and painting the ship six-days-a-week, even as it operates in some of the globe’s hottest waters.
The Benfold Restoration Team was started roughly two years ago, and today, team members protect the ship from the rusting ravages of saltwater to keep the destroyer looking good and to ensure it can serve for years to come, according to a recent Navy release.
As a result of these efforts, “we have the best-preserved and best-looking ship in all of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet,” Benfold’s corrosion control officer, Lt. Geoffrey Polinder, said in the release.
Standing up the restoration team allows sailors to continuously preserve and maintain the ship while deploying and operating.
“Shipboard preservation never stops,” Benfold’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Marcus Seeger, said in a statement to Navy Times. “Our crews devote considerable time and effort to preserving and maintaining the interior-exterior areas of ships while balancing operational requirements and adhering to Navy shipboard procedures.”
The idea for a fully focused restoration team akin to damage control petty officer and engineering repair divisions came to the command triad after Benfold left the yards in 2020, according to Benfold Command Master Chief Andrew Thomasson.
While deployed sailors are well-known for working long hours and getting by on little sleep, officials say that the focus on Benfold’s restoration does not add to crew workload, and that the restoration work essentially becomes a crew member’s full-time gig if they are tapped for the duty.
The restoration is conducted by crew members tapped for the temporary assigned duty, or TAD, according to Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, a Naval Surface Forces spokesman.
Keeping Benfold looking good becomes their main job.
“Under this construct, the preservation is not an added burden, but is the Sailor’s primary duty and does not necessarily add to the tasks or length of workday,” Abrahamson said in an email. “Additionally, they still stand their normal inport or underway watch.”
Sailors are already assigned TAD within the ship for such jobs as damage control maintenance or food service support, Abrahamson told Navy Times.
Benfold Commander Master Chief Andrew Thomasson said in the Navy release that divisional leadership initially resisted having their sailors taken away for the restoration gig.
“However, well into its second year of existence…the Benfold Control Division, now known as the Benfold Restoration Team, has become accepted and popular among both leadership and off-ship support entities,” Thomasson said.
Benfold’s effort to stay fresh and clean shows that ships can be “shipshape and seaworthy” with a bit of effort, direction and ownership, Thomasson said.
“My Sailors openly brag how their 26-year-old destroyer with two years out of the (yards)…is the best-looking ship on the Yokosuka waterfront,” he said in the release.
Despite the restoration team’s focus, individual departments are still required to conduct their own corrosion control and daily topside preservation, according to the Navy.
Thomasson likened the team to a dentist performing root canals, while division or department efforts are akin to daily teeth brushing, which helps limit the need for more extreme work.
Thomasson also said in the release that Benfold’s efforts help save lives.
“When a ship looks pristine, new and looking her best, our enemies hesitate to mess with us because when we’re looking our best, we obviously must be performing at our best,” Thomasson said. “And just the opposite when we look dirty and rusty. So, in short, when a ship is looking her best, just look at it as saving lives.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.