ABOARD USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea (NNS) -- The Navy has selected Senior Chief Damage Controlman (SW/AW) James Osborne, fire marshall aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), as the Military Fire Officer of the Year. Osborne will represent the Navy in the competition for the Department of Defense Military Fire Officer of the Year award to be announced at a banquet Aug. 27 in Dallas.
The selection of Osborne recognizes the shifting focus of fire officers and marshalls throughout the fleet to increasing preparedness for potential weapons of mass destruction (WMD), such as chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) attacks.
"I think it's a different mindset now. You'll always have to be prepared for fire and flooding, but we've shifted our focus to deal with the increase in chemical and biological threats," said Osborne. "We've fleeted up the knowledge and training to deal with that."
The result for Bonhomme Richard was an intense training cycle that not only qualified the ship in combating main space fires, but also in responding to CBR attacks.
"The crew completed over 450 training and enabling objectives in four weeks vice the typical 20-week cycle... an unprecedented task," said Capt. Jon F. Berg-Johnsen, the ship's commanding officer. "The rushed training cycle was due to an accelerated deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We deployed 15 months early, and the damage control organization didn't skip a beat."
To ready for deployment to the Arabian Gulf, Osborne had to plan for all conceivable threats. Just one week before deploying, Osborne and two members of his damage control team attended the newly developed Shipboard Biological Warfare Response Course to learn how to detect, sample and decontaminate weapons of mass destruction.
"We got so much out of that one-week school," said Osborne. They learned how to conduct bio-sampling at sea - a first for Bonhomme Richard - and came back with extensive knowledge on various weapons of mass destruction and potential delivery methods.
That knowledge helped the damage control team cross-train with the embarked Marines, Assault Craft Unit and Explosive Ordnance Disposal detachment. "I can't believe how much cross-training we did," he said. The teams worked on scenarios from Anthrax contaminated mail, to direct chemical or biological attacks on the ship, to contaminated aircraft or landing craft returning to the ship.
"Making sure we had a good plan of attack was most important to us," he said. "The damage controlmen are our frontlines of defense in this type of environment." While damage controlmen are at the frontline of defense against weapons of mass destruction, it still takes an entire ship to combat a WMD attack, survive and continue with its mission.
To train the crew, Osborne and his damage control organization conducted intense general quarters drills where all hands went through each step of the ship's CBR plan. Additionally, Osborne produced local CBR videos to educate the crew about the threat, protective measures, medical response in self-aid and buddy-aid, and personal decontamination procedures. The videos aired continuously during Bonhomme Richard's transit to the Arabian Gulf.
In addition to preparing Bonhomme Richard for the WMD threat, Osborne and the damage control team continued to train and enhance the crew's proficiency level in firefighting and flooding casualties. This training proved invaluable during the deployment, as watchstanders and the ship's damage control flying squad responded to 22 emergencies during the deployment.
"His command and control actions prevented these emergencies from spreading and endangering mission readiness and our most valuable assets - our Sailors and Marines," said Berg-Johnsen.
Osborne said his diverse career path helped him prepare for the challenges of being fire marshall on a big-deck amphib.
The 16-year Navy veteran was a petty officer 3rd class aboard USS Constellation (CV 64) Aug. 2, 1988, when a major main space fire erupted while the ship was exiting the San Diego channel. A member of the ship's flying squad, Osborne initially responded to the fire that caused three major explosions and swept through 17 of the 18 decks aboard the carrier. It took 36 hours to fight. "It was one of the worst peacetime fires with no deaths in the Navy," said Osborne. "That was a big wake-up call, and I've never experienced anything like that since, nor would I want to."
After a five-year tour aboard Connie, Osborne completed a tour in Antarctica with Operation Deep Freeze, served as a damage control instructor with the Afloat Training Group in San Diego and was part of the pre-commissioning crew of USS Ross (DDG 71). Prior to reporting to Bonhomme Richard, Osborne simultaneously served as the fire chief and the Readiness and Electronic Security Department leading chief petty officer at Camp David.
His diverse background and a host of fire fighting, inspection and instructor courses and certificates, qualified him to compete in the DoD Fire and Emergency Services Award program. Osborne said he feels lucky to have won the Navy's Fire Officer award, but it's an award that really belongs to the ship.
"The ship did all this. It was the crew that trained and succeeded," Osborne said. "I just helped them along the way."
For related news, visit the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/lhd6.