MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NNS) -- The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stout (DDG 55) has completed multiple division tactics (DIVTACS) exercises during her current deployment in the Mediterranean.
These exercises give junior officers on board a chance to learn a variety of skills, in an environment that they may not normally experience.
DIVTACS are a series of tactical shipboard movements directed by a designated junior officer, in the position of commanding officer. Multiple ships are involved and they operate in close proximity to one another. This does not happen on a regular basis due to the time, cost, and planning that goes into it.
"DIVTACS teaches you a lot about preparation, patience, ship handling, and being confident with your decision making," said Lt.j.g Gerald Sellars. "As an officer, decision making is such a huge part of your job. In these scenarios, we have a few multi-ton ships that are regularly changing course and you have to know that you are making the right choices, knowing that you have 280 people on your ship and their lives are in your hands."
DIVTACS are a valuable training evolution. These exercises are beneficial for junior officers throughout the fleet. Some of them have only learned ship handling in a classroom, and others have never even been to a school. They are learning how to be Surface Warfare Officers through first hand experience, and opportunities like like this allow them to grow.
"No matter how many times we go through DIVTACS, each time is different so you walk out learning something," said Ensign Chelsey Sellers. "There are always different variables, language barriers, different bridge positions, and different people on your bridge team, so you have to remain flexible and teachable."
Junior Officers can now go to Basic Division Officer Couse (BDOC), which is a two month long school that covers damage control, combat systems, engineering, ship handling, deck seamanship, and 3M (maintenance). The school gives the officers a chance to perform DIVTACS through a virtual simulation. They can actually practice a variety of maneuvers and discover the outcome.
"The surface warfare training pipeline has gone through many alterations. My school was only three weeks. Now junior officers are able to go through BDOC, which is longer and more intensive," said Ensign Julian Didonato. "Most of us come out of our commissioning source and have never even set foot on a ship. So when we practice in school, it is all basic simulation, they simply have you crawl; and when we do DIVTACS we are running. DIVTACS are more advanced ship handling. All of the main participants are junior officers in these exercises. The captain and the executive officer are mostly there for guidance and safety. "
The preparations for DIVTACS begin with an intelligence and operations brief. All of the main participants gather together to review the plan, execution, individual responsibilities, possible threats or concerns, and review the scenario as a whole. Then the bridge team gets together to review the ships movements. They will practice the evolution on paper, and they will familiarize themselves with the Allied Tactical Publication (ATP)-1 volume 2, which is a list of all the command codes and translations.
"Overall what I learned, is that you need to be prepared for these exercises," said Sellars. "You need to study the ATP-1 volume 2, you need to know what each of the formations will look like, and you need to know what the ranges are going to be between you and the other ships prior to the start of DIVTACS. If you aren't prepared, it could easily turn into a collision avoidance exercise."
All junior officers then gather on the bridge to prepare for the event. The entire evolution is in the hands of these young officers, some of whom have never attempted tactical maneuvering. The commanding officer, executive officer, and other experienced junior officers are standing by for assistance and guidance.
"We do DIVTACS to help teach the fundamentals of ship handling in a multi-ship environment," explained Stout Executive Officer, Cmdr. Andrew Fitzpatrick. "For these exercises we get all of the juniors officers up on the bridge so that they can familiarize themselves with how the event really occurs. It is a good way to practice application and communication in a real-world environment."
All junior officers on the Stout, from Supply Officers to Surface Warfare Officers, learn how to navigate and control the ship, in addition to managing their own divisions, collateral duties, and studying. This can be a very stressful task.
"For me, as a Supply Officer, I never thought that I would be on the bridge as much as I have been," said Ensign Adam Davidson. "And to be afforded this opportunity, to be able to participate in exercises like this and help out, is such an honor. I am learning so much on a regular basis."
USS Stout, homeported in Norfolk, Va., is on a scheduled deployment supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.