This is the first crew swap of its kind, taking place on a deployed LCS, but will be standard operating procedure as the Navy heads toward a growing fleet of LCS's.
"We are the first ones to deploy in an LCS to Seventh Fleet," said CMDCM Kenny Jablecki, Gold Team command master chief. "We are setting the example and the standard for everyone else."
It was a year in the making for this first ever deployment to Southeast Asia, said Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, Gold Team executive officer.
"We are making history here and the crew is handling it well," said Wilke. "We've been thrown a lot of curve balls and tasking, and there are a lot of lessons learned to develop, but they have done a fantastic job."
"My experience on the LCS is nothing like anything I've ever experienced," said GM1 James Poole. "My job as a GM has always been very focused. But now I am also a fire controlman and I also do flight quarters. It takes a lot of training, which I view as a good thing. The more training, the more in control of the experience you are."
The LCS has a core crew of only 53 Sailors on each team, and each LCS has two teams - Gold and Blue. Additional Sailors are brought on to augment the ship during a deployment bringing the total up to 91 per team.
"Our crew is so small, therefore the need for us to work as a team becomes even more important," said BM1 Joyce Fynn. "No one can do just one job. One person does three or four jobs. I'm qualified throughout the deck plates, operations department and engineering. It takes a special kind of Sailor to do this duty. You have to be open minded to other rates and be willing to do different jobs."
For some Sailors, this opportunity is the reason they chose LCS duty.
"I've had the opportunity to work far out of my rate on a wider variety of things than I normally would," said FCC (Sel) Yusuf Kezala. "And with such a senior crew and so much talent onboard, sometimes your opinion on things doesn't matter - you just have to trust your people."
Another benefit to the job is the amount of training you are guaranteed to receive.
"I was able to get NEC's and training I would probably not ever be able to get on any other platform," said GM1 Michael Davis, who joined the LCS program in 2007. "There is a lot to gain, but you've got to be ready to work for it. I would only recommend this duty to highly motivated Sailors who have been briefed on exactly what this duty will require of them."
Right now each ship has two crews. However, the plan is to eventually have three crews for every two LCS ships, with one ship training "off hull," while the other prepares to relieve the third forward-deployed crew.
As it is now, immediately upon return, crews begin another rigorous round of training to prepare for the next deployment.
"Our training plan entails basic level training, GMT training as well as small arms training," said Wilke. "Then we step up to team training, firefighting exercises and flight deck firefighting drills. Then we roll into synthetic training using navigation and combat information synthetic trainers. Then we enter a more integrated phase where we bring the combat watch center and bridge watch team together to conduct exercises - all preparing for the next time we take the hull.
"It hasn't been easy by any stretch of the imagination," said Wilke. "But if it was easy someone else would be doing it, and not the U.S. Navy."