NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain – Standing on the forecastle of the Arleigh-burke guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), Sailors waits for a signal from a Boatswain’s Mate to start heaving a line. Regardless of their time out to sea, every Sailor loves to hear the sound from their commanding officer, “liberty call, liberty call.” Everyone except the lucky personnel selected for duty.
As Sailors nearly jump off the ship to greet family members or run to their cars in civilian clothes, they have to cross the brow. Saluting the ensign and walking across the catwalk, they probably don’t notice a handful of Sailors operating the crane that just secured their walk to liberty.
All U.S. Naval ships that pull into port at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota receive support from Seabees, host nationals and civilians stationed at the Public Works Department (PWD) Rota aboard NAVSTA Rota. A handful of Seabees are trained to operate cranes that on load missiles, administrative supplies, food, drinks and much more – even though most of these Seabees have never spent a day at sea in their career.
"I don't know of anywhere else that blends local national and military into one crane crew," said Jason McShea, weight handling equipment manager aboard PWD Rota. "The focus has been essential in making our crew mission ready and by extension ensuring that when we get a call for crane support, day or night, we can deliver. Our crew has earned their pride in knowing that we are here to support at a moment's notice."
Not only does the team support the waterfront, but they are the crane operators for day to day maintenance and the airfield.
“Each building and each asset has their own benefit to the AOR (area of responsibility),” said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Alexander Randolph from Socastee, South Carolina, crane crew member at PWD Rota. “It may seem small what we’re doing, but it impacts the mission. If it’s an A.C. unit to make their job more comfortable or a propeller we are putting on an airplane that’s conducting missions down in Africa, it’s really cool what we’re doing affecting the AOR.”
Although the mission tasking is diverse, so are the challenges, said Equipment Operator 1st Class Christopher Lindsay, of Phoenix, Arizona, the lead petty officer (LPO) of the Seabees crane crew. Integrating the Seabees with the host national crane operators was a slow process at first because of the time commitment for proper training. However, the benefit for the Seabees is significant.
“We have over 221 years of experience as far as everyone’s years that are not in the military,” said Lindsay. “I did this to show my guys we can learn a lot here and take it back to the Seabee country.”
From how to control a crane envelope to rigging items faster, the vast knowledge is valuable, said Lindsay. The next large step is to get a job qualification record (JQR) standardized for the department like the Utilities and Energy Management (UEM) shop.
Fleet units are authorized to develop local qualification standards modeled after a Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS). However, the JQR allow the command greater flexibility to tailoring the format, content and use for better localized training.
“I wanted something to hold these guys (Seabees) accountable but also have feedback and input from the Spanish,” said Construction Electrician 1st Class Christopher Arlen, LPO of UEM. “It’s a way for the Spanish to see the motivation and teach them to sign off on it, and they’re both learning from each other.”
Not only does a JQR require a new Seabee to meet everyone in the UEM shop, but it enables on the job and hands-on training in each facet of the shop, said Arlen. From frequency converter plan to motor generators, there is no other location for this type of training.
“The most important part in my mind is the military and local nationals are really able to put a face to each person and actually build a small community within UEM,” said Arlen. “It gives our guys the ability to work in each realm and learn a bit and meet everyone in UEM.”
There are 54 personnel in the UEM shop. Part of this team maintains frequency converters and that convert power coming into the base from Spain into U.S. standardized 60hrz.
“An effective JQR program ensures that our Seabees are fully qualified to carry out these essential PWD missions,” said Master Chief Utilitiesman Travis Canaday, Command Senior Enlisted Advisor, Naval Facilities Engineering System Command (NAVFAC) Europe Africa Central (EURAFCENT). “Having the civilian workforce as an integral part of the process gives them buy in and confidence that the military working alongside them can perform their tasks safely and in line with policy.”
The Seabees stationed at NAVFAC’s overseas PWD locations have a unique opportunity to work alongside trade professionals, said Canaday. The real world skills they acquire here are invaluable, not only for the individual, but also for the Naval Construction Force. This is especially true for the troops arriving here directly from A-school.
In fiscal year 2020, the crane operations crew conducted 13,377 lifts which supported the homeport shift for the USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) and USS Carney (DDG 64), a port visit by the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Indiana (SSN 789), a missile on-loading for USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), and a port visit by the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60).
Within 12 months the team supported three different types of ships while maintain safety measures against COVID-19.
“It’s incredible to see our team in Rota integrate and then document the quality training they receive in supporting the Fleet,” said Capt. Jeffrey J. Kilian, commanding officer NAVFAC EURAFCENT. “The daily tasking our crane operators do impacts missions from the U.S. Army operating in Africa to the U.S. Navy operating with NATO allies in the Baltic. NAVFAC is supporting this warfighter with every port stop, missile re-load or propeller change in Rota.”
This training and knowledge is one example of what sets us apart from other NAVFACs, said Kilian. In Europe, Africa and Central Asia, the warfighter is live.