NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- The Navy's newest and largest simulator, USS Trayer (BST 21), was commissioned here June 18.
Trayer is a 210-foot Arleigh Burke-class destroyer simulator that is ready to embark and train more than 40,000 recruits each year as the centerpiece for Battle Stations 21 at the only Recruit Training Command (RTC) in the Navy.
Battle Stations 21 began in 1997, as part of a 10-year, $763 million recapitalization of recruit training facilities. The Navy is hoping Trayer and Battle Stations 21 will now set new standards in training by using the latest in simulation technology -- video screens, smells, vibrations and sound effects.
Commissioning ceremony keynote speakers praised the simulator and the work done by its builders and current facilitators.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Patrick M. Walsh called Trayer a quantum leap in technology and capabilities in casualty training.
"This vision [Trayer and Battle Stations 21] has resulted in a multi-sensory simulator incorporating the best special technology from industry. If I did not know better, I would think I was standing on a pier in Norfolk, instead of inside a building in Illinois," Walsh said.
The commander of Navy Education and Training, Rear Adm. Gary R. Jones, said it was a vital need for the Navy and America.
"America needs a combat-ready naval force capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, preserving the freedom of the seas, and promoting peace and security," he said. "[Thanks to facilities like Trayer and those who work here], we are and will remain a warfighting, seagoing service."
Local U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk called it the best training facility on the planet.
The more than 250 people in attendance looked on in awe as Trayer was brought to life and commissioned at RTC.
The commissioning ceremony for Trayer was as real as any held in San Diego, Norfolk or anywhere else in the Navy. But this commissioning was unique because this new "Tin Can" is dry-docked inside the USS Iowa complex at RTC in Great Lakes. The entire Iowa complex cost $82.5 million including the high-tech simulator.
Jones called Trayer and Battle Stations 21 an invaluable tool in training and testing each recruit.
"This is a very special day to be a Sailor and a great day to be a member of the Navy and Marine Corps team. It's a special day because today is a chance to honor the recruits that will use this great facility to become Sailors," Jones said. "These Sailors are what today is about. They are part of America's new 'Greatest Generation' -- a generation that sees the atrocities being done in the world, steps up and says, 'Not on my watch!'"
Trayer is the Navy's latest training tool and part of Battle Stations 21, a culmination of basic training and a recruit's last evolution in boot camp.
Before recruits graduate from boot camp, they spend an entire night on board Trayer loading stores, getting underway, handling mooring lines, manning general quarter stations, stopping floods and combating shipboard fires. It is as close to being underway as a recruit can get before they receive orders to their first ship. It is also considered the final evaluation of a recruit's reactions in tight situations and a chance for the recruit to see how far they have come in their training.
One of the Trayer's facilitators, Chief Aviation Electronics Technician (AW/NAC) Tim McKinley called it a rite of passage from recruit to Sailor. McKinley said Trayer tests recruits on teamwork and basic skills needed when they report to their first ship.
"It's 12 hours of anything that can happen aboard a ship at sea from missile attacks that can cause fires to flooding caused by exploding undersea mines," said McKinley.
Battle Stations 21 also uses lessons learned from actual events, attacks and mishaps at sea. The 2000 terrorist attack on USS Cole (DDG 67) in Yemen, mine damage to USS Tripoli (LPH 10) in Desert Storm in 1990, and the missile attack to USS Stark (FFG 31) in the Persian Gulf in 1987 have all been incorporated into the training curriculum. The training also incorporates past and historic at-sea accidents, like the fire on board USS Forrestal (CV 59) during the Vietnam War in 1967.
"I feel obviously very proud to be part of this ceremony and having a hand in seeing Trayer and Battle Stations 21 come to fruition," said the former command master chief (CMC) of Cole, retired Command Master Chief James Parlier.
Drawing on his own experience and the experiences of his former crew, Parlier was instrumental in putting together the training syllabus for Battle Stations 21 and helping design Trayer while he was the CMC of Naval Station Great Lakes.
"The designers and McHugh contractors and engineers of Trayer were very keen to listen to what I had to say about Cole and how Trayer should be built with similar scenarios and simulations," said Parlier. "Hopefully there will never again be a Cole incident or similar attack of one of our ships. If there is, the training received here on Trayer will make one heck of a difference."
The destroyer simulator was designed by award-winning Hollywood set designers and has state-of-the-art special effects technology. There are scenes and flats on the pier that can be changed to make it look like the ship has pulled into a new port.
Trayer also sits in a pool of more than 90,000 gallons of water and there is a lighting system to make it look day or night on the pier. All this scenery and Hollywood-style setting is the first thing the more than 80 recruits from each division see before boarding the destroyer for their "underway" time.
"You actually feel like you're coming down a pier, walking across the brow and boarding a ship. Then you feel like the ship is under attack and you have to fight the ship, stop the fires and flooding, to save the ship," McKinley said.
Trayer is outfitted inside and out with salvaged gauges, pipes and electrical gear from decommissioned ships. Inside, compartments are outfitted with berthing spaces, control rooms and the bridge. There are also special controlled areas where magazine spaces flood and compartments are engulfed in flames.
"It's so real that it stops me in my tracks," said Lt. Andrew Bond, officer in charge of Battle Stations 21. "If she had another side, she'd be ready for sea."
For the faux destroyer's facilitators, or ship's crew, the ceremony was exciting and as close to a real commissioning many of them have experienced.
"I felt very privileged and honored to be part of the ceremony," said BST 21 facilitator, Ship's Serviceman 2nd (SW) Class Tanesha Reece. "It's absolutely amazing to see how this has actually come to life. I've been here since it was just a bunch of wooden boxes [in 2004] wondering how they were going to turn all that into something we can see today. It's also pretty amazing knowing that we can now use Trayer to give and teach recruits a basic knowledge of seeing and working on a real ship."
Many of the facilitators and Trayer "plankowners" said Battle Stations 21 in the destroyer will now train recruits with more real life shipboard scenarios.
"We'll now be able to give these new Sailors a chance to see what real battle damage, real flooding and a real on board fire can do and what it takes to fix it, stop it or put it out," said Senior Chief Quartermaster (SW) Anthony A. Kachinsky, who raised the ship's commissioning pennant from the quarterdeck.
"It meant a lot to me to be part of this ceremony. I felt honored hoisting the commissioning pennant, but no less honored knowing that I play a part in teaching the Navy's newest Sailors. Trayer and Battle Stations 21 is the best way I can give each recruit the needed tools to help them handle a hazardous situation at sea," Kachinsky said.
Following the same sequence of events as any commissioning, the ceremony included manning the ship by the facilitators of Battle Stations 21, setting the watch and bringing the simulated destroyer to life.
Walsh summed up the event and the simulator by quoting Adm. Arleigh Burke.
"He said, 'This ship is built to fight. You had better know how.' USS Trayer may never fight a real battle on the seven seas, but an essential part of her mission is to put into operation, for every future Sailor, how to fight as a team with honor, courage, and commitment to each other," Walsh said.
For more news from Naval Service Training Command/Navy Region Midwest/Naval Station Great Lakes, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/greatlakes/.