NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic announced March 27 the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) was one of four East Coast carriers to earn the medical Blue "M" award.
The award recognizes the command for medical achievements during the 2017 calendar year and marks the fifth consecutive year the carrier received the distinction.
"The medical Blue "M" is awarded for outstanding medical readiness sustained over a year period," said Lt. Travis Kelley, the medical administration officer aboard George Washington. "CNAL (Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic) looks at our overall average readiness, and essentially it needs to be above 90 percent. There are other criteria, but that's pretty much the gist of it. Different things factor into our scores such as the training that the MTT (Medical Training Team) does, the mass casualty drills and the dual medical responses. We do those on a regular basis, and that contributes, as well as the overall health of our crew. The fact that we have our fifth consecutive is a pretty big accomplishment."
George Washington is currently undergoing refueling complex overhaul (RCOH) at Newport News Shipyard, which has presented challenges in maintaining medical readiness.
"Sustaining medical readiness above 90 percent is always a challenge historically with all of the carriers that have come to the shipyard," said Kelley. "We however, have been able to maintain it above 90. That hasn't been without challenges, but we've done it. That's a testament to the medical department and also to all the other departments supporting us and getting their Sailors down here so we can do that."
Kelly attributes the difficulties in keeping medical readiness up to standards in part to the various locations off ship where Sailors work to support RCOH.
"Underway we have a captive audience," said Kelley. "Being here in the shipyard people are so dispersed. We have people at Huntington Hall, we have people at LIFAC (Light Industrial Facility), the GE (General Electric) warehouse, and all those places are scattered about. People go TAD (temporarily additional duty) more often, or they may deploy with another unit. All of those things factor into the challenges to keep our readiness above 90 percent."
In order to help maintain the readiness requirement, the medical staff works around the clock to meet the needs of the crew.
"One of the things we do to try and encourage readiness is offer a medical staff here 24 hours a day," said Kelley. "That certainly contributes to crew readiness. The big factors that contribute to our readiness are our [Hospital] Corpsmen here, number one, because they're the ones that are doing all of the work to make sure that people come in and get their birth month recall and PHAs (Periodic Health Assessment). Without them doing that, and the support from the departments, this wouldn't be possible."
CNAL is able to track the medical readiness of naval vessels, squadrons and shore commands through quality assurance (QA) reports. The contents of these QA reports allow CNAL to determine which units are eligible to receive the Blue "M" award.
"One of the things that we do every month is the quality assurance report," said Lt. Stephanie Horigan, the ship's nurse. "That is a report that I am primarily responsible for writing. We collect all of that data about medical readiness and all of the hit lists that we send out. That affects this award, so not only is it important to your health, but it actually shows that the ship is ready and qualified. Every month the QA report goes up to CNAL. It has data from everything from how many water samples we did, to how many drills we did, to how many IET (In port Emergency Team) trainings; all of that is in there."
Unlike an individual achievement, an accolade that is awarded to an entire ship is a tribute to teamwork and solidarity among the crew. This is evident anytime a unit award is earned.
"For myself and the rest of the medical department, we're very proud that we have earned this award," said Horigan. "This is a big deal. The Blue "M" contributes directly to the Battle E (Battle Efficiency Award), so we are so proud to be able to contribute to a big award like that. Even though we're not eligible for the Battle E now that we're in the yards, it's still an awesome feeling to have done something that would've contributed to that. It's a huge honor for us to have done the work, and to work with the crew to earn this."
The Blue "M" indicates that George Washington's medical team, along with support from the ship's other departments, has not only met, but exceeded the medical readiness standards set by the fleet. George Washington is authorized to paint a blue star above the Blue "M" to highlight its fifth consecutive award.