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    Low Visibility, High Importance

    Low Visibility, High Importance
    Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Liz Thompson

    In the early hours of the morning, 0300 to be exact, the ship’s whistle blows while eight lookouts are stationed at four different catwalk locations around USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck. The fog is so dense and thick it made it difficult for Logistics Specialist Seaman Alexis Hernandez to see her own hand in front of her face. At this point, she and the other lookouts rely on sounds to keep the ship safe while navigating the open waters. This group of lookouts is known as Ford’s low visibility detail.

    “We have 16 Sailors qualified to stand this watch,” said Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Brian Woolf, a member of the low visibility detail. “The qualification process took place while the ship was at the Newport News Shipyard. These Sailors have stood the watch since the ship’s first underway.”

    Low visibility detail members must respond to all low visibility calls on the ship’s 1MC. If visibility falls between seven and ten nautical miles a call goes out to muster the detail. Members only have ten minutes to respond and muster, and if visibility continues to deteriorate, the detail is called to man their stations at a visibility of five nautical miles or less.

    “When we report, we get told what team is going out,” said Hernandez. “They call out the names [who are to assume the watch] and we go to the ready room and get dressed out to go on station.”

    In the ready room members dress out in foul weather gear, if needed. In cold weather, team members have the option of wearing what they call a “pumpkin suit”; in rain members wear a rain jacket and trousers. No matter the weather, each team always goes out with binoculars, a sound-powered telephone, float coats, and cranial helmets if the ship is running flight operations.

    “Each team member is looking for any type of surface, air, or sea life contact in their AOR (area of responsibility)” said Hernandez. “Any contacts that we see are reported to the bridge through the sound-powered phone.”

    Communication with the bridge is necessary so that all contacts are tracked and verified.

    “The bridge along with the people steering the ship have to know what is out there since it is difficult for them to see,” said Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Francisco Cervantes, a member of the low visibility detail. “The bridge is counting on us to inform them correctly of what’s out there to keep us on course and to keep the rest of the ship safe from an actual disaster or any contact we might encounter. At that point we are literally the eyes and ears of the ship.”

    Some people might wonder how the low visibility team is able to recognize contacts in such low visibility conditions.

    “You learn so much from the PQS (personnel qualification standard), but you learn so much more going out there and standing watch,” said Woolf. “You learn to recognize ships or other contacts by sounds, horns, or you can sometimes see the color of the lights and the mast depending on the visibility.”

    When weather and visibility conditions are poor the low visibility detail members practice forceful watch team backup, one of the Navy’s watch-standing principles.

    “We have watch team backup no matter where you are on the catwalks, the fantail, or the bridge,” said Woolf. “You cover your AOR and if you radio something in other lookouts are going to ask at what degree you saw the contact. Everyone backs each other up by looking for that contact and confirming it.”

    Inclement weather can deter some people from going outside, but the members of the low visibility detail stay on the ready to keep both the ship and their shipmates safe regardless of the weather.

    “As a team we have always been attentive and aware of what we are there for, despite the weather or the time of day,” said Cervantes. “We stand this watch, and we take it personally, to make sure disasters don’t happen to our ship and our friends on board.”



    Date Taken: 01.20.2018
    Date Posted: 12.19.2018 15:30
    Story ID: 304426
    Location: AT SEA

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