Story by MC2 Patrick Dille
The pulsing General Quarters alarm blares over John C. Stennis’ 1MC. Sailors spill out of offices and dart out of hatches like ants out of a hill, and scurry to any one of ten repair lockers scattered throughout the hulking Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Stennis, but the necessary rhythm is off.
Ship-wide damage control drills were somewhat rare during Stennis’ six-month planned incremental availability, and the majority of Sailors manning repair lockers have never served as firefighters, or pipe patchers, or any of the other dozens of critical jobs during general quarters. So, like drill sergeants in a crowd of new recruits, damage control training team members bring order and understanding where there is chaos.
“A great damage controlman once told me that every Marine is a rifleman and every Sailor is a firefighter,” said Personnel Specialist 1st Class Marianogerard Zamora, part of the training team known as DCTT (said “dee-set”) in repair locker 1-Bravo charged with helping each Sailor gain the same sort of precision in emergency situations, like fires and flooding, that Marines have on the battle field.
“The whole reason we have GQs is so that people can get into the muscle memory of things,” said Zamora.
As the carrier deployment cycle unfolds, many Sailors will spend several months under the careful instruction of DCTT members and seasoned locker leaders, learning skills and qualifying for repair locker positions.
They will practice damage control procedures repetitively until their reactions are second nature, and DCTT will ensure they encounter as many different scenarios as possible.
“This way they can better attune their skills for when an actual casualty happens,” said Zamora.
Despite lockers having only had a handful of drills since getting underway last Tuesday, DCTT members already notice a measureable difference in skill level.
“In the beginning the lockers needed a lot of work,” said Personnel Specialist 1st Class James Coburn. “In a short time they’ve gone from a group that’s struggling to a locker that functions as a team.”
While receiving on-the-job training from DCTT members on fighting casualties, members of the locker must simultaneously work on qualifications to broaden their abilities.
“I see most people bringing their PQS to GQ,” said Coburn, “but that’s not enough. Everyone needs to be constantly working on that next step. Fires and flooding don’t stop for people that don’t know what they’re doing.”
All the successes of a fully functioning damage control team can be suddenly and unexpectedly thwarted due to small mistakes made in a hurry. Going against traffic when general quarters is called could potentially injure, or at the very least slow down, multiple individuals. Sailors also need to be aware of the dangers of traveling too hastily.
“People run, but they can’t do any good if they fall down and get hurt on the way there,” said Chief Personnel Specialist Leonard Hartford. “Everybody needs to walk, but walk quickly.”
As Stennis finished up sea trials and entered the holiday season, Sailors took with them a knowledge of damage control to protect their floating home away from home.
“When we are sick, we are here. When we are sad, we are here. When we are happy, we are here,” said Hartford. “We have to defend it and make it safe.”