The air rattles and screams with the sound of grinders and needle guns. The smell of paint, metal and fuel permeates the air and every deck is a flurry of activity. The scaffolding is coming down and the shipyard trailers in the hangar bays are beginning to clear out. USS Nimitz (CVN 68) is coming together.
One of the biggest milestones in getting the ship ready to return to the fight is getting the ship in shape enough for the crew to eat and sleep on board.
Nimitz officially began its crew move aboard May 1, and it will be a new, eye opening experience for the many Sailors who will be living in the ship’s berthing for the first time. With the move comes the operability of the laundry, galleys, bathrooms and other services.
For the past 16 months, Nimitz has been undergoing an Extended Planned Incremental Availability Period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, where extensive maintenance has been done throughout the ship. For the majority of that time the ship has been uninhabitable.
The berthings and many work spaces inside the ship and have been substituted with spaces on a barge, which was moored at the end of the pier dwarfed by the massive carrier.
Over the last 16 months, Nimitz Sailors moved in and out of the barge galleys, classrooms and offices. The constant flow of traffic up and down the main ladderwells and the racks filled with belongings are now gone.
“[During] crew aboard there will be a transitioning phase where we will be moving the ship’s store and laundry services from the barge to the ship,” said Lt. Dave Couchman, sales officer for Supply Department’s 3rd Division. “I fully expect these services to be operating right on schedule.”
Getting all of the amenities ready for Sailors aboard the ship is taking the full working strength of all hands on board.
Throughout the ship, sweat drips from the brows of Sailors who are hoisting dryers into laundry rooms or gripping wrenches as an oven is bolted down.
“Supply Department is firing on all cylinders with all of our divisions actively engaged in rehabilitating our spaces,” said Lt. Cmdr. Josh Andrew Ellston, Nimitz’ assistant supply officer. “We are looking to add three new gyms, each fully equipped with brand new exercise equipment. There will be new crew laundry spaces and machines, as well as new equipment in the main ship’s laundry spaces.”
Supply Department isn’t the only one going all out on the rehabilitation of Nimitz. From one end of the ship to another, the Repair Division is tracing the endless maze of pipes strung throughout Nimitz, working out the kinks and pumping renewed life into her.
Repair division worked in tandem with shipyard workers to keep every possible head open as they were cleared while in the yard period for minimal crew impact, said Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class Nicholas Qualls, Repair division leading petty officer. Now that the work is done, potable water, steam and the ship’s systems are back online.
Now that the ship’s systems are up and running, the progress will only increase from here. Qauls referred to this point as a milestone, as it is the moment the crew will officially be able to move onto the ship.
“The biggest benefit of the crew move aboard [is] that duty sections will be aboard the ship in case of an emergency,” said Qualls. “It can be very difficult to respond to emergencies when everyone is on the barge and something happens in the middle of the night.”
Chief Personnel Specialist Alex Diaz explained that with more hands on board to combat an emergency, the risks of shipboard life would be reduced.
“Things such as people being on time, cleaning and eating meals aboard the ship should go more smoothly once the move aboard happens,” said Diaz, Personnel Department’s leading chief petty officer.
Diaz also explained that having Sailors living on the ship together will allow the crew to become more cohesive and develop the camaraderie and teamwork necessary to successfully complete the missions that come their way.
With the ship becoming habitable, Nimitz is moving a couple of steps closer to going out to sea and getting back to the fight. The scream of grinders will soon be swallowed by the roaring of jets passing overhead and the buzzing of needle guns will go unnoticed when the ship shakes as yet another jet is brought to a shuttering stop on the flight deck.
Story and photos by MCSN Colby Comery