NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) has been working diligently to ensure the safety and health needs of 10,000 plus employees are met during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Shipyard Commander Capt. Kai Torkelson, people are at the heart of accomplishing NNSY’s mission of getting ships back to the fleet on time and at cost.
“During this challenging time shipyard leadership is doing everything in its power to ensure a safe work environment, protecting the safety and health of our co-workers, ship’s force and all those within America’s Shipyard,” said Torkelson.
The employees of America’s Shipyard aren’t just located in Portsmouth, Va. NNSY has several satellite locations on the East Coast with a total of approximately 2,000 civilians and Sailors. For NNSY, safety and health takes priority for all employees regardless if they are located in Portsmouth, Va., Kings Bay, Ga., Philadelphia, Ballston Spa, NY or anywhere in between.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put a stress on our people, our Navy and our nation that is unprecedented,” said NNSY’s Operations Officer, Capt. Jip Mosman. “The workforce at NNSY has been affected in many ways, regardless of the location where they work, but we have risen to the challenge of continuing our mission despite the invisible enemy virus. Efforts such as social distancing, wearing sewn or paper masks, and making our own hand sanitizer and cleaning solutions are just a few of the ways we are ensuring our employees remain safe and healthy.”
Communication between NNSY and its satellite locations has amped up since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Communication has always been important, even before the pandemic, but now it’s vital to talk to each other to ensure the proper precautions are being taken,” said Naval Foundry and Propeller Center Director, Bill Craig. “The guidance and support that NNSY has given us ensures that everyone is on the same page It helps us take the actions required to successfully continue to achieve our mission requirements, which in our case is manufacturing propulsors for the Columbia and Virginia class new submarine construction programs.”
For some satellite locations, a melting pot of agencies share the same facilities. Kenneth A. Kesselring Site, West Milton, NY, had the challenge to ensure that all agencies were following the most current guidelines at the same time.
“It’s been a challenge to integrate the most up-to-date polices and guidance between the various agencies here,” said NNSY’s Kenneth A. Kesselring Site Superintendent Terri Makely. “Naval Nuclear Laboratory assigned a senior leader as a single point of contact to collaborate with all organizations and align policies and procedures. In addition, Code 2301 Division Head, Stephanie Walz, was a liaison between us and Saratoga County Department of Health, to ensure we had the latest guidance for our employees for the local area.”
Nuclear Regional Maintenance Department Kings Bay (NRMD-KB), a satellite location of NNSY located in Kings Bay, Ga., had a ship arrive for emergent repair work when the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic broke out in March. The NRMD-KB crew members stepped up to the challenge and overcame any obstacles that came their way during the repair work in order to get the ship back to the fleet on time.
“We are required to wear face masks when onboard a ship,” said NRMD-KB Director, David “Chip” Gaskins. “Until we received face masks that NNSY made for us, we took the Surgeon General’s suggestion and made our own face masks using coffee filters, rubber bands and lint free cloth.”
The number of employees at the sites has decreased due to teleworking and high-risk employees on leave. In some cases, more than facemasks and hand sanitizer are needed to get the job done.
“NNSY was willing and able to change its plans for Fleet Maintenance Submarines (FMB) and send us material and personnel to accommodate our work, all in an effort to put submarines back to their ‘Blue Days’ (underway days),” said FMB Deputy Project Superintendent Tim Cox.
Those who are working the front lines against an invisible enemy at NNSY and its satellite locations need to take extra precautions and make a solid plan for any work that needs to be done.
“The object is not to be heroes to get the ships back out to sea,” said Nuclear Regional Maintenance Department Norfolk Director, Ollie Smith. “The object is to take any necessary steps needed to ensure the safety and well-being of our crews while they do what needs to be done to return the ships.”
During this time in uncharted waters where one needs to remain fluid, FMB is looking at these times as an opportunity.
“Working here at FMB during this time of uncertainty has opened my eyes to the capabilities we have as a NNSY community,” said Cox. “There is untapped potential here and the repair officer and I plan to explore it, mine it and utilize it.“
An example that Cox provided was Shop 67HS, the mast and antennas group at FMB. Almost every submarine availability that comes through FMB has sail work. Shop 67HS is comprised of 95 percent military and led by Lt. j.g. Benjamin Abercrombie. It is a multi-rate shop made up of Sailors from electronic technicians, A-Gang, internal communication members, and a few civilians.
“They are a template of what can be done here at FMB,” said Cox. “We are working to fan their flames and have them spread to the other applicable shops. Our plan involves a lot of Code 900T and shop training, but it is certainly executable. It has the great potential of a win-win situation. Win 1 would be returning some civilians in select shops to the shipyard to support those availabilities in execution there. Win 2 would be using FMB as a ‘surge capacity’ if NNSY is in need of short-term qualified mechanics when FMB has capacity for loans.”
Although it is unknown when the COVID-19 pandemic will become a thing of the past, NNSY’s Off Yard Carrier Deputy Project Superintendent, James Scruggs believes that one thing is certain.
“The shipyard is coming together as one unit during this national crisis and because of that, America’s Shipyard will come out stronger.”