NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Since their arrival at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) earlier this month, the immediate goal was to get SurgeMain Navy Reserve Sailors to hit the ground running—or rather, to hit the deckplates turning wrenches to deliver ships back to the fleet.
As part of the first phase of Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) deployment of SurgeMain reservists across the four naval shipyards, 127 have now onboarded NNSY to leverage their skillsets to reduce the maintenance backlog due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These reservists have the technical and trade backgrounds necessary to provide quick benefits managing NNSY’s workload, which currently includes two aircraft carriers, an Ohio-class ballistic submarine, and a submarine undergoing conversion into a Moored Training Ship.
NNSY’s SurgeMain support will culminate in more than 480 reservists supporting work on all these projects and more through September 2021. “This arrangement will provide a ‘win-win’ both for these Sailors and America’s Shipyard,” said Shipyard Commander Captain Kai Torkelson. “While the reservists get valuable hands-on experience across our nation’s shipyards, we get a large number of personnel ready to provide immediate impact on the deckplates with some of the biggest projects we have on our waterfront.”
“Wherever the work is, that’s where SurgeMain goes,” said Lt. Cmdr. Emmanuel “Manny” Sayoc, NNSY’s SurgeMain Program Manager. “They’re going to the projects and all through the shops, even codes, wherever they are needed. Some are in Code 109 (IT Department), Code 700 (Lifting and Handling), and Code 300’s Ship Safety Office.”
With reservists onboarding the same week USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) arrived at NNSY for an Extended Carrier Incremental Availability, Sayoc said several supported establishing temporary services such as lighting, ventilation and scaffolding to facilitate the carrier’s overhaul. NNSY’s Inside Machine Shop has already been tapping into the skillsets of these Sailors for assistance in machining of various components, with Sayoc adding he is anticipating many more requests for production support in the weeks and months ahead.
With COVID-19 causing schedule impacts on many of the ships undergoing maintenance across the four shipyards, having an experienced reserve workforce was one of the biggest priorities during the SurgeMain mobilization. Sayoc described “a very detailed interviewed process” where reservists are asked about their civilian background, Navy experiences, training opportunities and current certifications. “In Shop 56 for example, the Air Conditioning and Refrigerant Shop, my shop lead is looking for those who have been to AC and R school, have the Environmental Protection Agency certification, and have several years of relevant experience out in the civilian world or in the Navy,” he said.
In addition to SurgeMain leaders evaluating Sailors for their shop assignments, they provide basic training in conjunction with shipyard instruction, then the shops validate skillsets and provide any additional training needed. This system was designed to help get the reservists supporting fleet delivery from day one, or as close to it as possible. “One reservist might have 30 years of relevant experience working in the civilian world, another might have a combined 20 years working as active duty or a reservist in the Navy with civilian service,” said Sayoc. “To give you an idea of the level of experience, almost half of our SurgeMain workforce so far is a First Class or above. This was by design to bring our military leadership onboard early on to provide the deckplate leadership to care for and feed our Sailors. We rely on our civilian leadership to lead production and direct us to the work. Together, with military and civilian leaders, we help prepare and transition the Sailors in the shops and projects.”
Beyond ensuring the Sailors are ideally matched to shipyard shops and projects based on experience and skill, they are also prepared for effective integration into the NNSY workforce and community at large. The SurgeMain leadership team coordinates logistics such as living arrangements, transit, and adhering to all COVID-19 requirements, while still overseeing military matters such as career development, evaluation and awards. And while production support is the driving goal, Sayoc said it is equally important for SurgeMain to have the Sailors fully incorporated into the teams at America’s Shipyard delivering vital assets back to the Navy. “In addition to turning wrenches, one of SurgeMain’s main roles is to spearhead the civilian and military integration,” said Sayoc. “We have to value and appreciate the civilian workforce—the mobilization won’t be successful without it. We want our civilian and military to learn about one another, and be comfortable working with one another, in addition to the reservists helping get us caught up on the work. Our legacy will primarily be the relationships we built.”
“This domestic mobilization of a Navy Reserve force for non-humanitarian purposes is unprecedented,” said Capt. Rich Sussman, NAVSEA’s Director of Military and Reserve Programs. “Sending our team to the shipyards where a majority of our Sailors have served as qualified hull, mechanical, and electrical skilled tradespeople to augment the naval shipyards’ civilian workforce to assist in reducing the maintenance backlog due to COVID-19 is exactly what our team is designed to do. For the past 15 years, since the SurgeMain program’s debut, our Sailors have been training for this moment . . . this is what the SurgeMain program is about.”