NORFOLK (NNS) -- Since the birth of the U.S. Navy, every ship, from frigates, sloops of war and ships of the line to modern day ships like the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), has had boatswain’s mates tying knots, swabbing decks and dropping anchors.
Officially named under the Naval Act of 1794, boatswain’s mate is considered the most traditional rate because of its long life span, dating back to the American Revolutionary War. The duties of a boatswain’s mate have remained consistent since America first set sail. Those responsibilities include the preservation and appearance of spaces, steering of the ship and rescue craft like rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), moving cargo during underway replenishments, piping announcements and mooring and unmooring Abraham Lincoln.
“The appearance of the ship is the pride of a boatswain’s mate,” said Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Raiona Briscoe, a Sailor aboard Abraham Lincoln. “We make it a priority to ensure Abraham Lincoln always looks her best, and that dedication is why she is the best-looking ship on the waterfront.”
Deck department, which is made up of both boatswain’s mates and undesignated Sailors alike, is divided into three different divisions. First division oversees the preservation of forward spaces from the forecastle to the port boat deck. Second division maintains spaces from mid-ship to the fantail, including the starboard boat deck. Third division is responsible for overall maintenance.
These Sailors work under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln’s First Lieutenant, Lt. Cmdr. Reza Chegini, Assistant First Lieutenant (AFL) Lt. Justin Lacy, divisional officer Lt. Riza Surbiben and the Boatswain Chief Warrant Officer 2 Stevie Smith, as well as the chiefs and petty officers beneath them. Chief Boatswain’s Mate Ronnie Davis, leading chief petty officer of first division, was part of the “pilot class” of Boatswain’s Mate “A” school back in 2005.
“I enjoy the customs and being a ‘traditional’ Sailor,” said Davis. “I actually came in as an undesignated Sailor and got thrown into the program, and I’m so thankful for it. There are pros and cons to every rate, but I couldn’t see myself spending the last 13 years doing anything else.”
Deck Department personnel have unique watches to perform while out to sea. They stand as lookouts, performing surveillance, for sea life, foreign vessels and Sailors who might have fallen overboard. As helmsmen, Deck Department Sailors are responsible for steering the ship, while lee helmsmen control the speed of the ship.
Those with a high aptitude for steering can work to become “Master Helmsmen.” They earn this qualification by steering during critical events such as underway replenishments, anchoring, transiting in and out of channels, general quarters and pulling in and out of port. These Sailors must be very skilled at maneuvering a ship with a very small margin for error. They are given a special blue cover and a letter of recommendation, which are signs of the commanding officer’s trust in the Master Helmsman. One of those Sailors is Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Addison Mila, who was the first to notice a steering casualty as Abraham Lincoln was starting an underway replenishment. He reported it to the other watchstanders, and the ship was able to pull away to troubleshoot the issue. Thanks to Mila, Abraham Lincoln was able to safely continue operations.
“I’m honored to personally have the trust of the commanding officer,” said Mila. “I’m proud I was able to save this ship and to wear my blue cover when we go out sea.”
Out to sea, the Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch (BMOW) assumes duties of the petty officer of the watch (POOW), including ringing bells, piping personnel aboard and ashore, and making other shipwide announcements.
There is a separate set of qualifications deck Sailors must earn to perform the multiple duties of an underway replenishment such as rig captain, signalman and rigger. The rig captain supervises the overall execution of the operation. Signalman are responsible for communicating with the opposite ship using colored signs, and the riggers apply and remove the slings used during the transportation of cargo. Additionally, Deck Department Sailors can be selected for Coxswain school, where they learn to drive the RHIBs during man-over-board scenarios.
While the flight deck may be considered one of the most hazardous areas on an aircraft carrier, Deck Department faces their own sets of danger during line-handling evolutions that happen across the ship.
“I’m very grateful that during my 22 years of service, none of my Sailors have been hurt during an evolution,” said Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Gary Scott Simpson, leading chief petty officer aboard Abraham Lincoln. “I’ve heard horror stories about Sailor injuries because of a lack of awareness, so I take safety very seriously, briefing my Sailors thoroughly before any evolution and training them to always stay alert.”
Deck Department embodies the quintessential U.S. Navy Sailor, preserving customs and traditions while always improving themselves through hard work. These Sailors and the crew aboard Abraham Lincoln are part of the Carrier Strike Group 12 team and are committed to upholding operational excellence across every element of the warfighting spectrum.
For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.