Pacific Ocean - Fifty Sailors aboard the USS Spruance (DDG 111) became the first to receive an Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist (EAWS) designation on a guided missile destroyer, earlier this month.
During the ceremony, the Sailors symbolically stood next to one of the two MH-60R helicopters currently embarked as part of the San Diego-based Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 49 detachment, the "Devilfish." In the same ceremony, nine members of the "Scorpions" detachment received their own designation as Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialists (ESWS).
Spruance's selection to implement the EAWS program was a historic mark for their deployment. Never before has there been an EAWS program on the Cruiser/Destroyer (CRUDES) classes of ships.
"The real value of the EAWS pilot program goes beyond a mere qualification," said Cmdr. Manuel Hernandez, Spruance's commanding officer. "This provides the surface warfare community and the aviation community the opportunity to exponentially increase their proficiency and interoperability, ultimately resulting in better war fighting capability."
The program required that Sailors learn all aspects of the aviation community with amplified focus on the capabilities of the MH-60R "Seahawk," a multi-mission helicopter used for surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue missions. The Sailors of Spruance had the opportunity to learn and work alongside the Sailors that maintain and fly these highly capable air assets.
The start of the EAWS program began in the months leading up to the deployment. In the past, the EAWS policy did not allow for the establishment of the program on a CRUDES ship. The discussions started at the commanding officer and command master chief level between Spruance and HSM-49.
"From the beginning, the aviation community was very receptive, but understandably there were some concerns...we were attempting to change something that has been done a certain way for decades" said Spruance's Command Master Chief Raul Delacruz. "The implementation of the program immediately started a new dynamic between the two communities".
Delacruz said this program has far-reaching potential if offered to other CRUDES ships in the fleet.
"With the recent addition of the USS Zumwalt, that's about 65 commissioned CRUDES that embark air detachments, and over 15,000 Sailors that may have this opportunity now," Delacruz said. "Every Sailor that works toward and earns their EAWS enhances the relationship with their aviation counterparts, and increases the understanding of their own job in relation to overall mission accomplishment".
The lessons learned from this pilot program went beyond the tangible data. The program aided in changing the way the two communities can view and appreciate one other. Tactical air controllers and flight deck personnel aboard Spruance now fully understand the assets that they serve and the lives that are in their hands. The highlight of this program was the partnership formed between the members of the "Devilfish" and the Spruance.
"The largest benefit for this opportunity is the teamwork and collaboration between both the air and surface departments bringing us together as one Spruance team," said Lt. Cmdr. Scott French, officer in charge for HSM 49's "Devilfish" detachment aboard Spruance. "In the long run, this is a great program for further development across all CRUDES platforms for our Sailors' professional development and cross-community appreciation."
During the pinning ceremony, the newly qualified Sailors received their air pins from their HSM 49 counterparts. Many of these Sailors never thought they would have this opportunity due to limitations in the duty assignments associated with their Navy occupational specialty (NOS).
"As an Aegis technician, we just don't get the chance to earn our air pin because we only serve on CRUDES ships," said Petty Officer 1st Class Ronald Reyes. "This is a historic occasion and the entire CRUDES side of the fleet will be patiently awaiting the results to see if they can offer the same opportunity to their Sailors."
The pilot program is another example of the desire for Sailors to seek opportunities to evolve in the effort to better develop their capabilities in support of the war fighting mission.
"This pilot EAWS program responds to two things," Hernandez said. "It responds to leadership's role to ensure the continued development of our Sailors at sea, and by so doing, it responds directly to the holistic war fighting imperative of our Navy".
The Spruance crew are currently on their way home to San Diego following their participation in the inaugural Pacific Surface Action Group (PAC SAG) deployment. They served alongside fellow Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Momsen (DDG 92), home ported in Bremerton, and USS Decatur (DDG 73), from San Diego. In addition to the "Devlifish," HSM-49 also deployed the air detachment, the "Warbirds." During the deployment, the PAC SAG was under the direction of Destroyer Squadron (CDS) 31, homeported in Pearl Harbor.
Under the operational control of 3rd Fleet, the PAC SAG conducted routine patrols, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation activities with allies and partners to enhance regional security and stability throughout their deployment. Since departing in April, the PAC SAG conducted several multilateral exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Republic of Korea, Australia and France, and also conducted joint exercises with U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps assets.
Momsen and Spruance spent part of the deployment participating in the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI). OMSI is a SECDEF program utilizing Department of Defense assets transiting the region to increase the Coast Guard's maritime domain awareness, ultimately supporting its maritime law enforcement operations in Oceania.
U.S. 3rd Fleet leads naval forces in the Pacific and provides the realistic, relevant training necessary for an effective global Navy. U.S. 3rd Fleet works constantly with U.S. 7th Fleet. The forces of both fleets complement one another across the spectrum of military operations in the Pacific.