PHILIPPINE SEA (NNS) -- For Quartermaster 3rd Class Miguel Medrano, the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan’s (CVN 76) fueling-at-sea with USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) marked a steering end to a three and a half-year master helmsman stint.
Master helmsmen drive the ship during special evolutions such as replenishments-at-sea (RAS), formation exercises and while entering and leaving port — the times when the risk of the ship running aground or colliding with ships steaming alongside increases drastically.
Only the most experienced and capable helmsmen are allowed to take the helm during special evolutions said the Dallas native. “As master helmsman, we have to make sure we carry out every helm order exactly and do it safely.”
Before he enlisted, Medrano saw a Navy recruiting commercial featuring an aircraft carrier. That advertisement made him want to drive carriers. Coincidentally, the featured ship on his TV screen that day was none other than the Ronald Reagan.
“Everything just happened to fall into place,” said Medrano. “There were two Sailors in my department that were master helmsman when I checked onboard. It was natural to replace them.”
For the next four months, Medrano balanced working on his in-rate training as a quartermaster with the long and tedious qualifications required of a master helmsman — lookout, bridge phone talker, helmsman, lee helmsman, aft steering helmsman and, finally, master helmsman.
“Starting off was really challenging,” said Medrano. “After a long work day standing watch and doing things for my workcenter, I had to drive the ship from 2000 to 2200 to get qualified. There were only three master helmsmen aboard, and two of them were leaving, so I had to learn quickly from them and get good. That pressure made me better at my job and at driving.”
Ronald Reagan’s homeport shift to Yokosuka, Japan from San Diego in 2015 made the qualification especially difficult on a quartermaster team unfamiliar to the area of operation and the forward-deployed routine of the Pacific Fleet.
“Everything was new then — new seas, new straits and new ports,” said Medrano. “I was only able to qualify because my team had my back, they held the watches down and they understood the ship needed me.”
Medrano has since trained 11 other master helmsmen while driving the ship in over 100 RAS evolutions, strait transits, port transits and formation exercises steaming alongside counterparts in the Australian, UK, Indian, South Korean, Thai, Filipino and Japanese navies all throughout the Pacific Fleet area of responsibility. “Sometimes I think training other helmsman has made me a better master helmsman. Teaching made me think more in depth about how we actually drive the ship.”
In order to be considered for the ship’s Master Helmsman Incentive Program, Sailor candidates must complete the entire program once enrolling into the training pipeline. Sailors must also have at least one year left aboard after obtaining the final qualification earlier than the estimated completion times on the personnel qualification standard.
“Being a master helmsman is something you do on your own free will,” said Medrano. “It’s something you have to desire. You choose to give your time and effort to getting these extra qualifications. Once you get this qualification, there’s no backing out. You have to drive. You have to give briefs in front of the Captain, [Executive Officer], [Command Master Chief] and the whole wardroom team. You drive during special evolutions and during all our restricted water transits. You make mistakes. You get over that. You get better and more efficient but you can never give up.”
Including Medrano, six Sailors out of the entire complement of the crew and attached carrier air wing currently hold the title Master Helmsman – Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class David Dravininkas, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Janweb Lagazo, Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Thomas Payne, Ship’s Serviceman 2nd Class Cameron Stiff and Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Marcus Guy.
Medrano said that it’s a process that demands confidence and grit. “Not every Sailor can do it because the spotlight is always on you. Everyone on that bridge is paying attention and you have to prove yourself to the Captain. When he’s comfortable with you and when he trusts you, only then will you be qualified.”
Upon successful completion of the program, each Master Helmsman receives a head of the line pass for all Ronald Reagan lines, VIP ship’s laundry service and a special command ball cap while the experience and qualifications are reflected on evaluations and selection boards.
“At the end of the day, it’s something to be proud of,” said Medrano. “You’re able to say that ‘I drove that ship during difficult evolutions’ and that the entire ship trusts you to do so is something special. The Master Helmsman Program might seem difficult and it takes a lot of time and effort but it’s worth it. It’s been a special ride.”
Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
For more news from USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.