GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- "Everything we do in NDT is written in blood," said Chief Hull Maintenance Technician (SW/AW) Harmon Hazelwood, lead petty officer for the Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) course at Surface Warfare Officers School Unit (SWOSU) Great Lakes, during the graduation ceremony May 4.
NDT inspections allow Sailors to inspect mission-critical welds and parts without affecting the integrity of the ship's systems.
"We are a vital asset to the Navy to ensure systems are functioning as they are designed to and to prevent them from catastrophically failing before their time is due."
In total, there are approximately 300 NDT-qualified Sailors on active duty. At the highest positions, there are almost as many unfilled openings as there are people filling the available billets.
"A lot of people are moving on to the next chapter in their life," said Senior Chief Hull Maintenance Technician (SW) Sean Huston, senior NDT instructor. "So we're kind of undermanned right now."
To help meet the future needs of the fleet, instructors and leaders at the NDT course are pushing for more students to sign up for the course. There are some pre-requisites that must be achieved prior to enrolling.
The Sailor must be in the HT rating and have a combined Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) score of 165 in either of the following combinations of three scored areas: paragraph comprehension (PC), mathematics knowledge (MK) and mechanical comprehension (MC), verbal expression (VE), MK and MC; or word knowledge (WK), MK and MC.
Each Sailor who meets these pre-requisites is first enrolled in the nine-week core class that instructs them on the basics needed for visual (VT), liquid penetrant (PT), and magnetic particle (MT) testing for the vital parts of a ship. From there, Sailors move onto either ultrasonic testing (UT) or radiographic testing (RT) which are seven and 11 weeks respectively.
At this point, the Sailors are considered Level II certifiable in NDT. Upon arrival at their next command, the NDT examiner there will establish their certification. Then, they are able to calibrate the equipment, interpret and evaluate the results of testing and organize and report the results.
Sailors in the course have a lot of a late nights and a heavy workload, but it's something they are able to see the value in from the first day of lessons.
"It's very challenging. When they get to core, they can expect to have their eyes opened up to the standards we use in the Navy for repair," Hazelwood said.
The staff is strict when it comes to details and they ensure the students grasp the fundamentals of the program to ensure they are able to properly explain what work needs to be performed again and why it needs a second pass.
"We train them to get the standards and procedures so they can show in black and white why this valve and ball joint is no good," Hazelwood said.
"Our NDT courses are extremely challenging yet very rewarding for the Sailors who graduate from our courses," said Cmdr. Dave Dwyer, commanding officer at Surface Warfare Officers School Unit (SWOSU) Great Lakes. "NDT is a skill set that has unfortunately been under-utilized in recent years by our Sailors on ships as work has been sent out to civilian contracted repair facilities. We are working hard at SWOSU to revive NDT in the fleet by working closely with the Regional Maintenance Centers (RMC) and Immediate Maintenance Facilities (IMF) to help identify candidates that have the potential to excel in the NDT field of expertise."
Once the Sailors complete UT or RT, they return to the fleet where they are responsible for the quality assurance/quality control checks of weld-work that is completed on a ship.
"We do a lot of thickness inspections. We can determine a materials' thickness without actually knowing it. We can use sound waves and bounce through the material and can calibrate that thickness," said Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) Brian Padley, an instructor and one of three qualified NDT examiners at SWOSU Great Lakes.
These measurements let the inspectors know if a pipe needs to be replaced before it is too late and causes a serious injury or death.
Once the Sailors have been in the fleet for at least one year in core or UT or three years in RT, they are eligible to earn their examiner certification. Examiner qualification consists of more than 25 tests in a one-week span.
"What they'll be able to do as non-nuke examiners is write and approve the test procedures the inspectors use. They act as a technical point of contact for the chain of command on use and welding. They're pretty much the pinnacle of their community," Huston said.
Welding is a vital part of the Navy's sustainability. It allows all types of ships, boats and anything else in the Navy arsenal to remain afloat and fully functioning. NDT is the process by which those welds are checked and the serviceability of parts used constantly remains up to code.
"QA is a double-edged sword. When it's performed properly it tends to create more work. In the long run, that peace of mind knowing that when the inspections were performed properly, knowing that the crew of those tended units, whenever they're submerged they're going to come back to the surface, that's where the job satisfaction comes at the end of the day," Huston said.
NDT training is available to Navy civilians working at shipyards and in other NDT roles. They are enrolled in a two-week course that teaches them the RT process.
The Navy is at a critical time for NDT. There are many opportunities to excel for qualified Sailors who are up for the challenge of a position that is vital to maintaining the mission readiness of the fleet.
Upcoming class dates are as follows:
NDT Core (9 weeks): July 13 to Sept. 14; Oct. 13 to Dec. 17; March 7, 2016 to May 6, 2016 and July 11, 2016 to Sept. 12, 2016.
Ultrasonic Testing (11 weeks): Sept. 15 to Nov 1; Jan 11, 2016 to March 1, 2016; May 9, 2016 to June 27, 2016; Sept. 13, 2016 to Nov. 1, 2016.
Radiographic Testing (7 weeks): Sept. 15 to Nov. 30; Jan. 11, 2016 to March 23, 2016; May 9, 2016 to July 20, 2016; Sept 13, 2016 to Nov. 23, 2016.
PRT (2 weeks): August 8 to 21; Dec. 7 to 18; April 11 to 22, 2016 and July 25, 2016 to August 5, 2016.
For more news from Training Support Center, Great Lakes, visit www.navy.mil/local/tscgl/.