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Team Jackpot: Reinforcing a Culture of Performance and Safety

06 January 2023

From USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) Public Affairs

ADRIATIC SEA – USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 – Team Jackpot (77+7) made strides in a performance campaign to drive warfighting readiness and reinforce a culture of self-assessment and improvement with safety and procedural compliance at the core while deployed in the Naval Forces Europe-Africa area of operations.

The 2nd Quarter Performance Campaign Plan - started during the second quarter of the ship’s regularly scheduled deployment- is a sports analogy that references the need to make critical, in-game assessments of performance that further enable planning, briefing and operational execution. The best teams are those that rapidly assess, learn, adapt and grow as a team more quickly than their opponents. Leadership recognized that there was no requirement to wait for an artificial deadline like halftime, and so the team started the concerted effort started in the second quarter of the deployment.

“The best teams in any competition are able to critically self-assess in stride to make the small changes required to excel in the second half of the game,” said Capt. Dave Pollard, commanding officer of George H.W. Bush. “Our combined teams perform at a higher level than any World Cup or Super Bowl winning team, and to keep our warfighting edges sharp, this ongoing effort is essential.”

The performance campaign plan is led by Cmdr. Dylan Beyer, the ship’s safety officer, and Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Landerholm, the air wing safety officer. Although more than 70% of the carrier’s crew is comprised of first term Sailors, the leadership team embarked aboard the ship recognized that Sailors are adapting well to deployment routines. Steady routines in complex aircraft carrier operations, maintenance, and safety can morph into complacency, increasing risk and degrading readiness. The aim of the performance campaign plan is not only to keep individual Sailors focused, but to develop a culture where Sailors do not normalize deviation from established standards and procedures, while completing continuous and rigorous self and team assessment.

Complacency commonly shows up in the adoption of shortcuts and workarounds that deviate—apparently harmlessly—from safe practices and procedures. These micro-deviations, lined up across multiple Sailors’ routines and create what is often termed the Swiss-cheese model, whereby a series of seemingly small deviations lead to a mishap.

“The work Sailors do below decks, in the hangar, on the roof, and in our work centers around the ship, all have an impact on safety and operations,” said Beyer. “We’re taking a critical look at processes and procedures that span the air wing and ship teams to make sure we have the rigor, data, and information we need to drive safety, and ultimately, the warfighting capability our nation needs to deter and defend against our adversaries.”

Landerholm, the air wing safety officer and landing signal officer agreed.

“We work in a dangerous environment and profession,” he said. “Team Jackpot is an outstanding team, and we want to ensure that all Sailors are mindful and vigilant while they are completing their assigned mission. It’s not hyperbole to say that the equipment and operations out here can cause serious injury or death when we are deviating from processes and procedures. We can’t afford injuries to Sailors simply because we weren’t willing to make the concerted effort to deliberately reinforce our culture of safety.”

The performance campaign took a holistic approach to looking at safety and readiness across Team Jackpot and leveraged a number of key initiatives to help reinforce a positive safety culture. An important aspect of the work was providing teams and units the latitude to do extensive assessment of their own programs in order to develop strategies to solve them. In some cases, the solutions were not as fruitful as they would have hoped, though in others cases, they were successful. This sort of organic team development, driven by a culture of information sharing, is a benefit to the entire carrier, air wing, and carrier strike group team.

"Many of our aviators throughout the air wing are TOPGUN graduates – a school that drives tactical proficiency across all warfare areas enabling our squadrons' mission to deliver decisive combat victories as part of the carrier strike group weapons system," said Capt. Tom Bodine, commander, CVW-7. "What we're doing is taking a similar approach across Team Jackpot to further develop our culture through rigorous self-assessment and qualitative and quantitative assessment."

First, a hotline was established in the ship’s safety department to provide an avenue for Sailors to voice concerns anonymously. All were encouraged to report normalized problems and what they thought the next mishap would look like. The Daily Avenger – the ship’s daily news publication - advertised the hotline and published call-in subjects and the steps taken to address issues. This extended throughout multiple ship-force departments, embarked staff, and CVW-7. For transparency, all solutions to the unresolved issues were clearly explained or defined.

Beyer and Landerholm also collaborated with the ship’s media department to create a video which was broadcasted to all-hands, explaining the concept of the normalization of deviation through case studies and literature. The normalization of deviation is a commonly used phrase in the Navy in recent years, essentially referring to accepting what was once unacceptable. This could involve shortcuts or workaround violations that come from overdependence on self-knowledge or a desire to finish tasks more quickly, which can lead to mishaps. The broadcast also included Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s Get Real, Get Better video.

George H.W. Bush heads of department were also required to temporarily pause under-instruction training for all watch stations, and provide the commanding officer with honest, constructive feedback to establish guidelines for training newly qualifying watch standers. This had immediate qualitative impact, led to fruitful discussion, and ensured that all personnel – from the most senior qualified to the most junior under instruction watch standers – were on the same page.

“The performance campaign gave us the latitude to pull back on the reigns, acknowledge our blind spots, and refocus on the basics - with excellent results,” said Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Whelan, assistant navigator on board George H.W. Bush. “It was energizing to hear both qualified and unqualified Sailors discuss their concerns so candidly and confidently with their chain of command. This enabled us to put controls in place that improved our processes and renewed consistency throughout our training pipelines.”

Hangar bay walk-downs schedules and processes were formalized and conducted four times each day led by the ship’s Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance (AIMD), Air, and Safety Departments along with khaki representatives from each of the squadrons within CVW-7. Their main objective was to detect safety deficiencies, provide on the spot correction, and further identify processes that lead to the normalization of deviation. Findings were reported immediately to squadron maintenance master chief petty officers and published daily on the air wing’s Safety Officer of the Day (SOOD) report for ship-wide stakeholder awareness.

"It's great to see Team Jackpot coming together and holding each other accountable for results from the formalized hangar bay walk downs,” said Lt. Sarah Huston, who was formerly the V-3 division officer within the ship’s air department, now serving as the V-1 division officer. “Khaki supervision increased in the hangar bays, and compliance deficiencies decreased immediately."

Additionally, khaki leaders from various departments and squadrons were selected as panel members for a live Sailor 360 event on the ship’s mess decks in November. Sailors asked questions, made comments, and heard from senior leaders about how normalizing deviations, the “Renter’s Mindset,” and Fighting Drift affects their shipmates, work centers, and departments and puts their effectiveness and safety at risk.

"Working in an up-tempo environment constantly, day in and day out, is extremely dangerous on all levels. Complacency can easily set in because every day feels like ground hog day on a deployment,” said event panelist Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Dequon Smith, who is also the V-2 division leading chief petty officer within the ship’s air department. “Leadership should continue to push to our troops that no two days are ever the same, and must continue to learn how to better communicate to junior troops.”

The goal of the Sailor 360 event was not only to achieve exceptional performance, but to showcase the leadership’s raw, honest self-assessment of the crew’s mindset in an effort to self-correct, problem solve, and prevent mishaps to the pursuit of achieving excellence among every Sailor.

Leaving no stone unturned, they also rallied the support of the Carrier Strike Group 10 Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) representative, Dr. Simca Bouma. Landerholm and Beyer worked with Bouma to review non-compliance events and code CVW-7 SOOD reports throughout deployment. Further, Bouma analyzed data from previously deploying aircraft carriers to compare data sets and look for trends and statistically significant data points to act on. After combing through the data, the picture around carrier air wing and aircraft carrier safety started to come in more clearly.

“Although it is possible to compare aviation mishaps to other CVN/CVW teams, the comparison gives rise to few actionable recommendations due to the infrequency of aviation mishaps: mishaps are 'the tip of the iceberg,' so to speak,” said Bouma. “However, collecting concrete instances of normalization of deviation from Safety Officer of the Day reports helps measure the rest of the proverbial iceberg, and we see that many of these instances can be rectified through on the spot training which decreases risk and fends off complacency.”

“Every time normalized deviation is recognized, elevated, discussed, and resolved before it contributes to a mishap, Team Jackpot wins both by shrinking the 'iceberg' and by reinforcing a safety culture where Sailors look out for each other and speak up when they see something amiss,” she continued.

The combined effort throughout the performance campaign led to a Team Jackpot safety council meeting in November where leaders across the aircraft carrier and carrier air wing team came together to discuss the qualitative and quantitative findings, and to bring up areas of concern that could be addressed through teamwork and leadership.

“We spend a lot of time talking about safety, processes, and procedural compliance to keep our Sailors safe and equipment in good condition,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jason Hosler, the ship’s aircraft handling officer. “The most important part of this is the communication between pilots, maintainers, air wing reps, and the ship’s crew. Humility on all sides is at the core. When issues arise, the better we can make corrections on the spot driven by critical feedback, the more successful we can be. I am incredibly proud of my team and the work they do to keep an open, safe deck for flight operations.”

The Team Jackpot 2nd Quarter Performance Campaign Plan’s immediate impact to daily operations aboard the ship, the renewed focus on the deliberate development of a culture of safety, and the identifications of areas for further growth and development in reporting reflect the teamwork that both Pollard and Bodine look favorably upon. The teams across the departments and divisions aboard George H.W. Bush and the squadrons of CVW-7 already collected data and will continue to do so throughout the remainder of deployment. This information will not only inform Team Jackpot’s self-assessment, but also provide insight for future carrier and carrier air wing teams to hold standards and increase performance across multiple organizations.

“In my entire time in the Navy, I’ve never seen a closer air wing and carrier team,” said Bodine. “It is a reflection on all of the leaders in this room and the effort you put into taking care of our Sailors with a focus on mission readiness that is the difference between us and our competitors.”


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