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The amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) pulls into Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a scheduled port visit.

SASEBO, NAGASAKI, Japan

In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Navy to reevaluate how it trains and educates its Sailors to fulfill complex missions in competitive environments.

USS America (LHA 6) found an inventive way to do it.

For the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious ready group (ARG), the best way to save time, money and resources was to think outside the box: instead of sending Sailors to school in the continental U.S., America brought the school to the Sailors.

“Overcoming layered challenges is part and parcel of being a forward-deployed naval force. It’s what we do, and that’s just what we’ve done here,” said Capt. Greg Baker, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 Commodore. “We found a way to get maritime warfighters from multiple FDNF ships the specialized training they need to stay lethal, resilient and ready to fight tonight – right here in theatre – and I couldn’t be prouder of the team on USS America who spearheaded the effort.”

America coordinated with a regional training center to convene critical schools in March right here on the Sasebo waterfront for 19 Sailors assigned to America, USS New Orleans (LPD 18), USS Green Bay (LPD 20), and the PHIBRON 11 staff.

“Being able to bring the trainers to us was a huge readiness win,” said Capt. Ken Ward, America’s commanding officer.

“Our team is an adaptive, capable and flexible force, ready to respond rapidly to any threat throughout the region,” said Ward. “That means we have to train our Sailors in innovative ways to sharpen our edge while overcoming obstacles like time, distance and cost. We’re grateful for the chance we got to train our Sailors right here in Sasebo, on their own gear, on their own ships.”

The Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) Detachment Yokosuka, Japan, taught two courses March 16 to April 9, each offering a critical Navy Enlisted Classification, or NEC – Global Command and Control System Maritime (GCCS-M) and Multi-Tactical Data Coordinator (TDC) – using America and New Orleans as floating classrooms.

For the operations specialists aboard America and ships in company, GCCS-M (pronounced “Geeks”) and TDC are among the most important NECs they have to maintain.

“‘Geeks’ and TDC are imperative for commanders to make timely and accurate warfare decisions,” said Lt. Cmdr. Temi Jones, America’s assistant operations officer. “Both qualifications are the cornerstone of monitoring our adversaries in the world’s most dynamic maritime environment.”

The GCCS-M course trains Sailors to compile and maintain a database, creating an operational picture for fleet and task force commanders, said Lt. Ishmel Sam, CSCS Yokosuka’s assistant officer-in-charge. Sam said TDC teaches Sailors how to share operational data with other units in the same area of responsibility, aiding tactical decisions in real-time.

Jones said America spent months negotiating schedules to send Sailors to these critical schools, and that the conventional approach can take Sailors away from the ship for nearly two months, impacting duty sections, watches and work plans. Because the schools are primarily taught in San Diego and Dam Neck, Va., the cost of travel and lodging – which includes a required restriction-of-movement (ROM) period – is also a major factor.

“Those courses cost a significant amount of money, especially with ROM requirements due to COVID-19,” said Sam, “so we reached out to get those courses brought to the waterfront detachments, and we came from Yokosuka to Sasebo to teach those courses so we can improve lethality.”

According to Sam, a trip to California or Virginia for school means each Sailor would need lodging and per diem for the five-week course and two weeks’ ROM. He estimated these savings alone at $220,000 for the Sailors in this class – not including international airfare.

“Ultimately, the cost benefits of localized training assisted the Navy in saving funds that can be steered toward supporting operations,” said Jones.

Sam said this is the first time CSCS has offered GCCS-M and TDC in Sasebo, and it’s rarely even offered in Yokosuka. He said training Sailors locally rather than remotely adds essential layers of realism and practical application.

“One of the benefits of doing it here was actually allowing you to use your own system and training on your own system,” Sam said. “One of the great things about the course is not just learning what you see here in Sasebo, but learning about the capabilities of the other units such as the ones in Yokosuka or the ones you’re going to work with in the future.”

Among those Yokosuka-based units are AEGIS and Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) cruisers and destroyers. Some Sailors on amphibious platforms have not worked with these ships.

“I learned a lot about the America, and other platforms,” said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Angelica Durham, assigned to New Orleans. “This course helped me with BMD and AEGIS ships,” said Durham, who had only worked with amphibious ships until now. The course was an eye-opener and an opportunity she relished.

“I’ve been trying to get this course since pre-COVID. For me, I’m really glad they came here,” said Durham.

A key to success was leadership’s involvement and investment in the training, said Sam.

“It’s been very, very smooth,” said Sam. “We got here, we were able to start teaching, and the students were very eager to learn. I think the involvement from the entire chain of command, showing interest in where their Sailors are, has been phenomenal.

“That’s actually a first that I’ve ever had … so I think this is wonderful,” said Sam.

For America, the feeling is mutual.

“We reached out to CSCS to collaborate on a plan to maintain combat-ready Sailors while maintaining COVID-19 mitigations,” said Jones. “Having a ready and willing partner is the key to success.”

America and the forward-deployed ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 are operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility to enhance interoperability with allies and partners, and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

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