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Around The Fleet

Comstock Departs the Yards on Schedule

A team effort that led to completion

Amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45) gently rocked off the coast of Southern California as the ship's crew crowded onto the mess decks.

Members of the ship's various committees had spent the evening preparing the space for a celebration; streamers, balloons and signs adorned the bulkheads. The cake was ready to be cut and ice cream ready to be scooped.

Comstock had every reason to be celebrating - from the looks of her, most would not guess she was celebrating her 26th year in the fleet and that she is the oldest amphibious ship on the West Coast, a title previously held by the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) before she decommissioned in March 2015.

Comstock and her crew had just completed a long and arduous yard period, and as a result of the right attitude, communication and a maintained sense of ownership, Comstock emerged from the yards looking better than when she went in.

Before Comstock shifted from Naval Base San Diego for its nine-month stay beneath the Coronado Bay Bridge at Continental Maritime San Diego shipyard, the ship's commanding officer, Cmdr. Gervy Alota, clearly outlined the ship's goals. Number one on that list: Production Completion Date (PCD) on time. Alota designated a clear goal for the ship to work toward. The captain's goals became goals of the crew members and the contractors alike. The goals were posted throughout the ship as a reminder of where Comstock's long-term focus should be.

Standard practice when a ship enters the yards is to hand it off to the contractors who physically complete the work the ship requires. Although Comstock might have turned over many physical spaces to outside entities, in spirit, the ship's crew maintained ownership over the deck plates. Before the crew handed over the ship's spaces to any outside entity, the crew chose to maintain a questioning attitude and thoroughly walk their spaces for documentation purposes. The comstock crew continued to inspect these spaces daily throughout the maintenance period. Knowledge of the ship and all its spaces did not stop at a divisional level; work continued on weekends and holidays, leaving duty sections to oversee maintenance shipwide. Command duty officers were held accountable for all jobs scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays, even if they did not fall under their departmental jurisdiction.

Lt. Cmdr. Laura Santiago, comstock's chief engineer, expressed how impressed she was with the crew's ability to work together throughout the maintenance phase and even work out of their comfort zones to ensure mission success.

"[At the beginning of the yard period, for example,] the ship's First Lieutenant, Lt. Alan Cabiling, did not know anything about the engineering yard package, but he became knowledgeable because he had to track down updates ... for the commanding officer on a weekend," said Santiago. "As an engineer, I had to track foc'sle [and topside] work, and the deck in the combat information center. [This experience] made us all a part of the project and ... take ownership."

In order for the crew to keep the contractors accountable, they themselves had to know what was expected to be done. Weekly captain's calls became essential in order to communicate across the board what had already been accomplished and what work was on the horizon. Alota maintained a steady flow of information, and as a result, crew members from the rank of commander to seaman knew what work to look for on the ship. Crew members were free to ask questions about the availability period and ship's schedule either through the commanding officer's suggestion box located on the mess decks or in person at a captain's call. Alota answered the questions honestly and openly, always maintaining a positive attitude about how much the crew had accomplished. As a result, captain's call became as valuable as any other meeting scheduled on in the ship's daily schedule.

Comstock's exit from the yards marked another impressive event in its lifetime - the ship was able to dead stick back to Naval Base San Diego on its own electrical power, a rare occurrence for any ship. As contractor work was beginning to wind down, the ship's crew began preparing to take Comstock back out to sea for the first time in a year. The first step was passing a Light-Off Assessment (LOA), which encompasses a series of main space and engineering fire drills.

Unwilling to settle for less than perfection, Sailors came into work at 4:30 a.m. during the weeks leading up to the formal assessment. When the assessment day came, it was clear that practice had paid off. Comstock executed a near perfect main space fire drill and engineering department completed 87 percent of their material maintenance checks.

The crew also took their efforts topside and took every opportunity to train. While Comstock might not have gotten underway in months, many of its crew members had. Sailors and officers were welcomed to embark other amphibious ships on the San Diego waterfront. These embark opportunities provided invaluable underway experience, especially for the junior officers training for their surface warfare qualification. Comstock's Navigator, Lt. j.g. Elaina Ponchione, worked to facilitate over 175 hours of simulator time for bridge watchstanders. As a result, Comstock had a fully qualified and comfortable four section watch team for its first underway of Contractor Sea Trials.

A stint in the yards is a part of all ships' life-cycles and can be seen as an opportunity to improve not just a ship's physical characteristics, but its morale and sense of teamwork as well.

According to Alota, Comstock dominated its yard period by going in with a clear set of goals, disseminating those goals to the crew and contractors, and creating habits early on to engage the crew and contractors.

"Team Comstock was engaged from day one," said Alota. "Despite Comstock being the oldest amphibious ship on the West Coast, Comstock successfully PCD'd on time and left the yards triumphant thanks to the work of all hands. Comstock met all original goal dates, a feat yet unaccomplished by any LSD. It cannot be denied: Comstock's crew of hardworking Sailors and Marines had more than earned their fair share of cake and ice cream."

Comstock is currently in port San Diego beginning the basic phase to certify for their upcoming deployment later this year. Basic phase focuses on team training, unit level exercises, unit inspections, assessments and qualifications.
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