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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Engineering Department Keeps Shreveport Running

22 May 2007
By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Seth Clarke

USS SHREVEPORT, At Sea – In the main machinery rooms of USS Shreveport (LPD 12), an Austin-class amphibious docking ship, earplugs are mandatory. The spaces are loud and hot, and without the continued attention of the crew, the ship simply would not go anywhere.

The Sailors on the bridge may run the ship, but they perform their jobs thanks to their shipmates several decks below—the Sailors that make the ship run.

The engineering department on board maintains the boilers, desalinizes seawater into potable drinking water, controls electricity generators, and speeds up or slows down the throttle of the ship.

“The main spaces are basically the heart of the ship,” said Master Chief Machinist Mate Donald N. Duffy, Shreveport’s engineering department leading chief petty officer. “If they don’t work, we don’t go anywhere. We don’t have heat, air conditioning or water. We have no way to cook food, no lights to see with and no electricity to run equipment on the ship.”

Sailors working in the belly of Shreveport pull more than their own weight. A lean crew, the engineering staff sometimes stand six-and-six watches: Six hours on, six off, and six on again. That makes for plenty of long workdays.

Duffy said the hard work continues when the ship pulls into port, and most of the crew departs for liberty.

“When we’re in different ports, no matter where we go in the world, one of the plants has to stay up so we can have electricity and air conditioning,” said Duffy. “Other divisions and other departments can secure their equipment, and everybody can go on liberty. We have to maintain a full watchbill.”

In Main Machinery Rooms One and Two, full watchbills include the names not only of junior enlisted crew members, but also warrant officers and chiefs. When temperatures in the main spaces climb upward of 130 degrees—sometimes as hot as 170 in areas with no forced ventilation—no one is exempt, junior or senior, everyone pulls duty.

“I think it's easier, because when you're on watch and something goes wrong, you know about it,” said Chief Machinist Mate Jeffrey M. Wunsch. “It keeps you abreast of what's going on down in the space with your equipment and your people.”

Wunsch first served aboard Shreveport between 1997 and 2001 as a second class petty officer and left as a first class petty officer. He returned as a chief petty officer in 2005 for a second stint, this time in a slightly different role.

“I'm doing more troubleshooting, guidance and maintenance now,” he said. “Obviously, I have control over more things, so I can improve the way they’re done.”

Being aboard once before helped prepare Wunsch for his second stint.

“I got a chance on my first tour here to find out what the problem areas were,” he said.

His shipmates in the machinery rooms appreciate his ability to relate to what they experience working below decks.

“He's talked about working here when he was a second class—he always has old ship stories,” said Machinist Mate 3rd Class Junior Liverpool. “He keeps everybody upbeat. He's keeping morale up in the main spaces.

Fireman Antonio Martinez agreed.

“He realizes that we're all standing long watches down in the hot engine room. It makes it easier to talk to him. On watch, we respect him as a chief, but he speaks to us as equals,” Martinez said.

Wunsch deflected the credit for the atmosphere in the main spaces.

“We have a lot of good people in this engineering department, and we’re successful because of them,” he said. “We have a lot of Sailors in this department that are khaki material.”

The Sailors working in the heart of the Shreveport work from the time they light off, three days prior to getting underway for deployment, and they continue working beyond the end of the deployment until everything gets shut down and all the equipment is properly secured.

“It’s a thankless job a lot of times,” Duffy said. “We get recognition from leadership, but it’s easy to take it for granted when you get up in the morning, flip your light on at your workstation, turn on your A/C, and you’ve got cool air. There’s somebody down there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the entire six months making sure that happens.”

“And that’s a normal day in engineering. You work from the time you get up until the time you go to bed, and the next day you start all over again.”

Photo: Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Junior Liverpool stands watch below decks in main machinery room one aboard USS Shreveport (LPD 12).

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