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Around The Fleet

USS Sampson: Replenishment at Sea

What it takes to keep our Navy going

There are two ships running side-by-side. A fast-moving river of deep blue water rushes and churns between them. The moving ships maintain synchronized speeds and courses because pallets - stacked 5 feet high and carrying hundreds of pounds of supplies - are traveling across cables from one ship to another.

This is replenishment at sea, and it is how Navy ships resupply and refuel without pulling into port. It is a high-wire act that requires the coordination of dozens of people on both ships.

"This is one of the most dangerous evolutions that we do. There are so many things that could go wrong, so many things that could happen," said Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Marian Byrd, a Utah native assigned to USS Sampson (DDG 102). Byrd is the "rig captain" of this evolution.

"I am overall in charge of the station," said Byrd. "I'm focused on getting the pallets over safely, and making sure my riggers get the load over safely."

Byrd yells a variety of commands and uses a series of hand signals to orchestrate the movements of pallets, line handlers and a signalman. Her signalman uses colored paddles to signal the supply ship. As the pallets zip across the wires from the supply ship toward Sampson, Byrd spreads her arms wide and slowly brings them closer together to signal the operator on the other ship as to how close the pallets are to the unloading zone. Once the pallets get to the unloading zone, the riggers unsling the pallets from the wire.

"As soon as the slings are removed, we have a gunner's mate, he comes in with a pallet jack and moves the pallets over to Supply [Division] where they offload them," said Byrd. "Deck Division runs the evolution, but a lot of other departments are involved in the evolution."

As tens of thousands of dollars worth of fuel and supplies pass over the sea under Byrd's supervision, she is not alone in keeping an eye on all the moving parts. Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Kendall Burrnett stands a few feet away from Byrd and periodically leans over to her and points out details he thinks Byrd should be aware of.

"BM1's role is actually the safety officer. He is going to tell us if somebody is doing something they're not supposed to be doing," said Byrd. "He's like the teacher. That's his biggest roll ... to still be a teacher and teach us what we need to know, so someday we can teach somebody else."

When all the fuel and supplies have been delivered, the two ships disconnect from each other and go off on separate courses. Sailors from all divisions are lined up passing cases of soda and boxes of printer paper from the deck to their proper places in the ship.

"[Replenishment at sea] is one of my most favorite evolutions to do, because it kind of boosts ship's morale," said Byrd. "So being rig captain, I enjoy knowing that I'm helping boost that morale."