USS HIGGINS, At Sea (NNS) -- Guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76) completed a two-week assessment called Unit Level Training Assessment-Sustainment Plus (ULTRA-S Plus) Sept. 8-22.
ULTRA-S Plus appraised the ship's self-sustainability and extended its certification in 17 different mission areas through various drills simulating possible real-world scenarios.
Higgins, along with the other ships in the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG), pioneered a newer version of ULTRA-S, called ULTRA-S Plus.
The purpose of ULTRA-S is to periodically appraise and validate a ship's training teams' self-assessment proficiency to ensure command standards are in place, and to verify the completion of various Continuous Certification Requirements (CCR).
ULTRA-S Plus is much longer than its predecessor, lasting two weeks instead of three days, due to the numerous components in the assessment package. The new ULTRA also granted certification extension whereas the old version did not; in the case of the Nimitz CSG, certifications in the mission areas that met the requirements were extended until 2009.
The assessment team was made up of personnel from Afloat Training Group (ATG) San Diego, Commander Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23, which is the Immediate Superior in Charge (ISIC) for the Nimitz CSG, and personnel from the other ships.
For ULTRA-S Plus to grant certification extension, Commander Naval Surface Forces (CSNF), ATG, and DESRON 23, as well as the shipboard Operations Departments, had to work closely together to devise a plan to "upgrade" the already planned ULTRA-S so that certification could be extended, not just merely assessed. The criteria for ULTRA-S Plus required the assessment of two proficient watch teams, a 70 percent completion of CCRs, as well as an assessment of any warfare area that the ISIC requested to evaluate. Finally, it required mission areas assessing themselves at a Training Figure of Merit (TFOM) that was 80 percent or higher and was within 10 percent of ATG's assessed FOM for certificate extension.
The first week of ULTRA-S Plus included an extensive look at the ship's engineering plant and its watchstanders' proficiency in casualty control drills and evolutions. Higgins' Engineering Training Team was very critical in its self-assessment of the ship's proficiency, reporting a TFOM of 82.53 out of 100; ATG recognized that Higgins had set the bar high and, very pleased by their performance, assessed the ship at 95.52.
"The ship was extremely well prepared to conduct the assessment. Shipboard organization and preparation supported rapid completion of the required material checks, evolutions, and drills. Overall space cleanliness and preservation was above fleet average," said Lt. Cmdr. K. T. Regan, the senior engineering assessor.
In addition, Higgins performed exceptionally well in scenarios such as strike warfare and visit, board search and seizure (VBSS) teams.
Higgins Strike Team received praise for their flawless execution of one of the most challenging scenarios they have ever seen.
"USS Higgins has a team of professionals that is unrivaled in the Nimitz Strike Group. Her Tomahawk Strike Team is the shooter of choice for our strike group and was also for Commander 5th Fleet during deployment. I am proud to serve with such outstanding Sailors. This is what makes our Navy the strongest in the world," said Master Chief Petty Officer Fire Controlman (SW/AW) John Schwanke, one of the strike warfare assessors from Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CCSG) 11.
Lt.j.g. Douglas Ivey, the ISIC-designated VBSS assessor from the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91), said, "Higgins has an experienced and highly capable VBSS team and motivated training team. Best we've seen so far."
The remedial process is the same for both versions of ULTRA. The ship works with the ISIC and ATG to identify training deficiencies and develops a plan to correct them. The ISIC will reassess warfare areas that do not meet the certification criteria, as well as any unmet CCRs, and report results to commander, Naval Surface Forces (CNSF) within 90 days.
"The Nimitz Strike Group model of ULTRA-S Plus is appropriate for assessing ships between a regular deployment and surge deployment" said Cmdr. Winton Smith, Higgins' commanding officer. "Ours was conducted at the right time of the deployment - on the way home vice a separate underway period shortly after our return."
Smith went on to say, "I think the sequence of ULTRA phases contributed significantly to Higgins' success. Our most challenging phase comprised of engineering, 3M, and damage control, was scheduled upfront, taking into account the crew's motivation tapering off due to fatigue."
Higgins performed exceptionally well during the new ULTRA-S Plus. It was a demanding schedule of events that included ship-wide damage control drills, seamanship evolutions such as abandon ship and man overboard, and a Combat Systems Total Ship Survivability Exercise (TSSE).
Master Chief Petty Officer Boatswain's Mate (SW/AW) J. W. Kneeland, the seamanship inspector for ATG, was impressed by the ship's performance in the anchoring, abandon ship, man overboard, and replenishment at sea evolutions.
"Bravo Zulu to the whole deck force! Watchstanders displayed enthusiasm and alertness. They demonstrated high proficiency in all facets of seamanship evolutions," said Kneeland as he was debriefing the crew.
"We experienced a nice progression, a steady decline in complex events after the TSSE, permitting increased focus on homecoming preparations, maintenance, and topside preservation. If given the luxury of providing input to the ULTRA schedule, I strongly recommend a command's frontloading the most challenging mission areas," said Smith.
Higgins departed its homeport of San Diego on a regularly-scheduled deployment April 2 with the Nimitz CSG.
Commanded by Rear Adm. Terry Blake, the Nimitz CSG includes embarked DESRON 23 with guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), guided-missile destroyers USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), Higgins, USS Chafee (DDG 90) and Pinckney as well as the "Scorpions" of Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 49, "Easy Riders" of HSL-37 and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11, Det. 3.
The Nimitz CSG is returning home following a six-month deployment to promote peace, regional cooperation and stability in the Western Pacific and Middle East.
For more news from USS Higgins, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/ddg76/.