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Representing the University of Arizona Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program in Sea Trials 2021 was not an honor she was expecting to receive, but she accepted it wholeheartedly, because it was a ten-day opportunity she would not have otherwise while attending her otherwise “land-locked” university. Johnson, as well as 74 fellow midshipmen from 25 colleges across the country, accepted the same challenge, and as they entered Jacksonville University’s Reid Auditorium for their indoctrination, their thoughts begged the same question: How much can a midshipman learn about the Navy in 10 days?
“When I arrived, I just expected a super hard 10 days, and then I’d go home.” said Johnson. “At the end of the day, though, I’ve been able to do things that I never thought I’d be able to do.”
From June 19 to June 28, 2021, these 75 midshipmen performed various training evolutions, completed multiple qualifications, and collaborated with people from diverse backgrounds to overcome challenges in demanding, high-stress situations.
“They were tested on the five major warfare areas, to include seamanship, navigation, damage control, firefighting, and marksmanship,” said Capt. Dan Gillen, commanding officer of the NROTC unit at Jacksonville University and the officer-in-charge. “We tested their leadership and overall resiliency to perform in stressful environments.”
The first major training evolution the midshipmen completed was the Shipboard Firefighting Course at the Surface Warfare School Command Engineering Learning Site Mayport, located at Naval Station Mayport. During the course, they received classroom instruction from expert trainers on fire safety, the chemical make-up of fires, and how to extinguish different kinds of fires. Secondly, they learned how to properly put firefighting personal protective equipment (PPE) and assemble a hose team with each midshipman rotating through the various hose team roles. Lastly, as fire alarms blared throughout the training structure, the midshipmen dressed out in less than three minutes, entered the dark, smoke-filled space, and combatted raging, live fires.
“I’d never fought a fire before and never donned firefighting gear,” said Midshipman 2nd Class Patrick Close, from Texas A&M University. “I didn’t know how big the flame was going to be when I went in there, or what really to expect, because I’d never been in that situation. Now that I have done it, I feel confident enough to take on any potential situation.”
Following the firefighting trainer, the midshipmen were then challenged with completing the Shipboard Damage Control course, commonly referred to as the “Wet Trainer,” which prepares Sailors to combat flooding situations that may arise on a ship. After receiving classroom instruction, where they learned about different types of patches, plugs, and shoring techniques, the midshipmen donned flooding PPE and put their skills to the test in the training structure. By the end of the evolution, they overcame busted pipes, bulging bulkheads, and blasts of water spraying their faces and filling the room around them.
NROTC midshipmen also received qualification experience in marksmanship and swimming. The midshipmen qualified with 9-mm pistols at the gun range on Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and earned their second-class swim qualifications at the Naval Station Mayport Fitness Center, both of which are qualifications they will use in their future Navy careers.
“I was afraid of certain parts of the qualifications,” said Johnson. “I used some of the concepts in the Warrior Toughness training, like holding yourself up high and gaining confidence before you do something scary, and then, from there, I felt comfortable doing everything else.”
In between firing weapons, fighting fires, and swimming through flooded spaces, the group participated in various classes that educated them on the remaining two warfare areas: seamanship and navigation. After taking a knowledge exam at the start of Sea Trials, the midshipmen expanded their knowledge of seamanship, navigation, and Naval procedures through class time and virtual training. The Conning Officer Virtual Environment, known as the COVE trainer, allowed the midshipmen to experience ship handling in a secure training environment. As a result of their Sea Trials experience, the midshipmen’s average knowledge exam score increase from 35% to 70% by the conclusion of the 10-day experience.
While the midshipmen gained experience in the five naval warfare areas, they also became well acquainted with two additional components of fleet readiness: knowledge of Naval procedures and physical training (PT). Whether they were up before the sun completing morning PT or testing their strength in the NROTC obstacle course, these midshipmen pushed their physical limits and gained an immense amount of strength from their Sea Trials experience.
“We did a physical readiness test when they came and when they exited, and same with the level of knowledge exam. For their physical readiness, it increased by five percent in 10 days, and, with the level of knowledge exam, our average scores doubled.” said Gillen. “I take this training very seriously. I’ll be retiring in the next year, and these are my watch reliefs. They’re taking the watch, and it’s going to be their job to stand the watch, defend our country, and pursue our national interests. We need to make sure the next generation is ready, because we have some pretty steep challenges ahead of us.”
From fighting raging fires and securing flooded rooms, to completing virtual navigation training and becoming qualified marksmen and swimmers, this year’s Sea Trials proved to be a pivotal experience for the participating midshipmen. Even though they were placed in intense environments most hadn’t previously experienced, the midshipmen exhibited great resilience and leadership skills, both of which were molded by their experience at Sea Trials 2021, Jacksonville.
“Before this, I really didn’t know anything other than how to wear the uniform,” said Close. “I didn’t know what it was like to set foot on a destroyer. I didn’t know about what it was like to sit in a P-8 cockpit and learn about anti-submarine warfare, or basic ship handling and navigation. I got to actually see what I-and other people-will be doing on the ship and how everything fits together.”
Gillen reiterated the importance of Sea Trials and how it will prepare the midshipmen for their careers as Naval officers.
“I look forward to all of these future officers serving two years from now,” said Gillen. “We have some pretty big challenges out there, and I’d like to think that this basic level training and these certifications will enable us to bring it up another level as they go to their schools and learn some of our tactics and procedures. It’s good that they got to learn some of the basics before they go.”
A combination of the Marine Corps “Crucible” and the Navy Recruit Training Command’s “Battle Stations,” Sea Trials mentally and physically challenges NROTC Midshipmen to withstand intensive training and perplexing tasks, all while testing their knowledge of seamanship, leadership, and teamwork, thus ensuring they are prepared for the immense responsibility that comes with being an officer in the U.S. Navy.
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