USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (NNS) -- USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is raising the standard when it comes to the Ship's Self-Defense Force (SSDF). Feb. 9 marked the beginning of a revolution in training, and TR is leading the way with an SSDF Academy.
SSDF consists of a group of Sailors whose duty is to protect the ship. As part of the security force, their primary purpose is being the first line of defense against anti-terrorism/force protection (AT/FP) threats, but that role is expanding.
"The end result will be a highly-trained, more professional security force," said TR Security Officer Lt. Gordon Johnson. "SSDF has been doing a great job up to this point; we're just raising the bar."
New SSDF personnel will earn their right to wear camouflage uniforms by attending a two week academy that focuses on topics like the fundamentals of force protection conditions and threat levels, post duties and responsibilities, communication procedures, weapons handling procedures, response procedures and tactics, bomb threat/improvised explosive device and search procedures, and less-than-lethal weapons.
"The change in the SSDF training and procedures has already had a great, positive impact in the force protection and security of this national asset and its invaluable crew," said TR Commanding Officer Capt. Turk Green. "These dedicated Sailors are committed to protecting the best ship in the fleet. These highly trained and motivated men and women are what stands between their shipmates and the enemy, and these outstanding Sailors are stepping up to that challenge."
The instructors, who only had 12 days notice to get the academy up and running, use their experiences to teach students about the responsibilities they now have to defend the ship.
"I think it's much better," said Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Terrance Britt, the second academy class leader. Britt was also a member of the old SSDF, and likes the new organization better. "They don't just throw us out there on watch. We actually know how to take care of any situation that could come up."
The intense training includes things SSDF previously wasn't required to be knowledgeable in, such as all the weapons they may stand watch with (9 mm pistol, M-16 rifle, 12-gauge shotgun and M-60 machine gun), baton use, flexi-cuffs and oleoresin capsicum spray, which is stronger than pepper spray.
"It's like boot camp all over again," said Simmons, as one of the classes shouted, "train to fight, fight to win," in the background. "We're training Sailors from other rates and those with no rates about AT/FP. It's extremely challenging, but we pull together and we're succeeding."
Part of that training includes using a portable small arms shooting simulator, which provides several weapons handling and proficiency applications, such as simulation of the Navy qualification course. Although a Sailor cannot obtain a qualification on the simulator, it makes a big difference in experience and proficiency when Sailors use it before going to the live range.
"In the 18 years of my naval career, I've never seen 32 Sailors go to a range, and have all 32 of them qualify in four different weapons," said Chief Master-at-Arms S. Ray Robinson, TR security's AT/FP training chief, who referred to the first academy class having a 100 percent qualification rate. "Each time we use the simulator, it saves the ship thousands of dollars and increases the proficiency of each Sailor who trains with it."
At the conclusion of all three academies, the overall qualification rate was more than 98 percent, a statistic far higher than ever before seen on TR, according to Johnson.
With the increased knowledge comes increased responsibility. SSDF will now also be required to perform baggage checks and access control. They will patrol along with the rest of the security force. The only thing the masters-at-arms will do that SSDF will not is law enforcement.
After successfully completing the academy, two-thirds of the Sailors will be assigned to security while in port. The other Sailors who attend the academy will be sent back to their parent divisions in a stand-by role until threat conditions require increasing the security level on the ship. Those Sailors sent back to their divisions will stand watches to keep their SSDF skills proficient. This means TR can man all new watches immediately, without lag time due to lack of training or missing qualifications.
Because the other two-thirds of the classes are becoming part of security, keeping track of their training and qualifications becomes much easier than tracking a rotating force of Sailors who were only involved with SSDF on their duty days.
"Having the SSDF team assigned to security saves about 100 man-hours worth of work a month when it comes to training," said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Roger Braithwaite, who serves as an academy instructor and security's training petty officer. "I don't have to pull them from their work centers and interrupt their usual work. AT/FP is their job now, and the training goes right along with it."
The SSDF turnover has been completed, and the Sailors who stand the watch aboard TR are aware they are what protects the ship. Even after the intense academy they all went through, the learning process is far from over. Training will become a part of the routine, so these Sailors can continue to function as the first line of defense.
"They've been taught the basics now, but they still need to learn the advanced topics," said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Robert Files, an academy instructor. "There will be sustainment training, which will go more in depth with everything from baton use to response procedures and tactics. They will drill almost once a day on different aspects of AT/FP so they will continue to be ready for anything."
For related news, visit the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn71.