Press Briefings
Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) Phone Press Briefing

by USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) Public Affairs
24 January 2021 IKE Carrier Strike Group is currently at sea for a month-long, high-intensity, fast-paced exercise known as C2X - arguably our most challenging at sea training event.  The exercise covers every mission a Carrier Strike Group could be tasked to execute. From counter piracy and terrorism to freedom of navigation and high-end combat operations, I am proud to report the IKE team has done exceptionally well thus far. I assess their performance as above Fleet average. This crew rallies through normal material issues associated with any complex system-of-systems, which keeps IKE fully mission capable.
 
We understand how difficult it can be on a family anytime a Sailor deploys. It’s even more challenging when we ask them to do it in back-to-back succession. Add to that the impacts of the COVID environment, and the challenge becomes that much greater. Even still, when I walk the deckplates I can't help but marvel at the pride and toughness that each Sailor demonstrates; they are all truly amazing.
 
We operate in an inherently dangerous environment. Every day, warfighters balance risk with mission requirements. It is my job to ensure that IKE Carrier Strike Group leaders understand the appropriate level of risk and ensure Sailors are safe at sea, especially for training.

(Admiral Robertson) Hey I’ll be very brief here. And first of all please speak up if you can. we’re all kind of huddled around while still trying to socially distance here with the mic. Also we are still launching planes. So it may be a little tough to hear. So please speak up. Hey I certainly seen the questions. We all have seen the questions here. And just looking for a thirty second, what is the desired end state here especially Geoff, what are we looking at for in your mind, that you are trying to achieve? Over.
 
(Geoff) Well, you know we’ve been contacted by Sailor’s families throughout the fleet in 2020 who are understandably stressed and concerned both for the men and women who served but also for the platform. You know we have received tips about the material condition of the Ike as it gets ready for its double pump. You know these are things we’ve written about and things that have existed in the Navy that came to light startling and tragically in 2017 and so we are going to give voice to these things and we feel that our main question for you guys today and again we realize your taking on a mission, you are not making the call to double pump the Ike or to send everybody out again. Just know that we realize that. We’re hearing these questions about the condition about some aspects of the ship and the quality of life. And it raises questions especially as you’re about to go on this second deployment. So again we  know you guys are very busy and we are really grateful that you are taking time to speak with us. We basically have a handful of questions along those lines. I know your guys’ schedule is busy. If you want to follow up with us in any capacity within the next 24 hours. We are glad to hear that out as well.
 
Hey, that was perfect. I really appreciate that. I think you really set the foundation at least from my perspective for a good dialogue here. With that we are ready for your questions.

(Geoff) Okay. And again if any of these things are things you can’t discuss I understand and espect that. But from our end we need to ask that. My first question is pretty basic. Was one of the reactors down during the COMTUEX time? And tied to that is a general question: is it normal to have a reactor to be down for any reason right before deployment.
 
Hey so this is Capt. Campagna. Again as a Navy policy we generally don’t discuss at sea operations. And I’m going to have to refer you to the N9 statement on that.
 
(Geoff) Okay, totally understood. Hey did you want to tag team these questions. Or can I keep running my mouth.
 
(Dave) Yea keep going. Go ahead.

(Admiral Robertson) Hey Geoff. I will add one short statement to that though. I would like to point that Naval Reactor Safety Record is exceptional for a reason. They take no chances and no workarounds. So I’ll just leave it at that.
 
(Geoff) Got ya. Hey guys going forward. When you answer a question. May you let me know real quick who I am hearing that will make sure we’re not putting words in other people’s mouths and stuff like that.
 
(Admiral Robertson) That last sentence was Admiral Robertson.
 
(Geoff) Yes Sir, Okay.
 
(Admiral Robertson) Okay
 
(Geoff) We’ve heard from several Sailors and given an internal email by the ship’s supply officers dated January 16 that laid out some issues going on with potable water, laundry service and this afloat mount trash more that seems to have resulted from sculleries not being able to wash dishes and stuff like that. Can you kind of take us through the issues that the ship has been experiencing with water. Kind of where it stands and you know anything you want folks to know about that.
 
This is Capt. Campagna, the ship’s commanding officer. What I’ll tell you is that we’ve come through all those issues and we’re no longer in any kind of water restrictions underway. In the course of being out here in this caustic environment. You know we do scheduled maintenance all the time to make sure our systems are up and sometimes we have to do some unscheduled maintenance and this case we had to do a little bit but we quickly got back up on step. And I’ll just tell you that I’m really proud of the Sailors who took that onboard, worked so hard to get those systems fixed and just a great accomplishment all the way around. So we were able to burn through our backups and get back up on stat.
 
(Dave) Yes just on that captain This is David (inaudible) real quick. Just on that, I understand, and I know that your there onboard as well. (inaudible). I understand that there were some issues with water hours on the last deployment  as well and  I think part of the concern that we have is that we are hearing some recurring issues. I think that may have been one of the reasons it triggered some response from your crew members who are reaching out. (inaudible). I guess the question is how fixed do you believe it is. I’m not asking you guarantee that every mechanical piece on there on your ship is fixed for life but how fixed is it. Is it stuck with crazy glue or do you have a very good solution in place to make sure that you know (inaudible) that water issues are behind you.
 
Hi this is Commander Master Chief Jason Reynolds. I was here for the last deployment. We had a couple of days on the last deployment where we had some unscheduled maintenance issues as well so we went into a similar condition on the ship with how we utilized our water properly to continue executing the mission. I think the concern here was the timeliness of when it happened in conjunction of when we left the pier. So there was a little bit of concern about what was going on but ultimately it was a very quick turnaround time and were back to full mission capability right now.
 
(Geoff) Roger thank you guys. How long were the water shortages in place in terms of ‘hey shipmates top of your water bottles in the ten minutes at the top of the hour.’ How long was that situation. Again we seen the January 16th email. Can you give us a time frame of how long this has been going on?
 
Hey so this is Capt. Campagna. We did it for about a day and a half and then started to work our way through it. We came back down for about 24 hours and have been out of it ever since.
 
(Geoff) Just so we understand. You know the trash pile up was a result of not having water to wash dishes. Am I understanding that connection there correctly?
 
(Capt. Campagna) Yes sir. Because we eat on paper plates and use plastic utensils and we have to process that through our plastic recycling where we press the plastic into pucks and get those ashore. So we are good stewards of the environment. And then we have to bring all the paper through the proper processing. So that creates a little bit of a back up when you are feeding 5000 people three meals a day. Again, we’ve come through it and I’m really proud of everyone.
 
 (Geoff) Okay. Kind of ties all of this, you guys are not brand new to the Navy. You all have been on, I don’t know how many cruises in your careers. Is it normal to have things like this breaking down an issue like this even before you start a deployment. You know I think the layperson’s sense is a ship goes out on deployment and everything is squared away, everything is pardon the cliché is ship shape. Is it normal at this COMTUEX pre-deployment time to be dealing with these issues and does it give you any concern about the material readiness of the ship that just got home months ago.
 
Yea, Hey Admiral Robertson here. Probably with the most sea time of this group and I would say it’s kind of normal operations. These are complex ships with so many systems and sub-systems out there that there are things that do break. We wind up with a transistor here a pump seal there and I wouldn’t say that’s anything that should cause extreme alarm here. That’s why we have such a fantastic technicians and well trained Sailors and why we stock our store room’s with the right parts. That’s why we have a great logistics system to be able to get the connectors in place to be able to get these systems restored quickly and so no, in all the time I have been in , I’m not, I haven’t detected any type of increase here, in us being able to not maintain our systems. This is kind of just you know, again these are complex systems with so many intricate parts and in interrelated systems and these things happen. And I bet you  if you talk to David he’s got his own experience at sea, engineering casualties, combat system causalities, so things do break, again that’s why we rely on our Sailors so much.

Break---

I do want to highlight though is the fact that we have been out here operating in high end Combat conditions here during our training and every system has been available for us and if we do have a temporary break in that it’s quickly getting repaired by our Sailors. So we’re doing a fantastic job in a very stressful environment with our C2X and I’m proud to say that I think Ike Strike Group is performing above average compared to most strike groups here even with the few casualties we’ve had here. Kind of along response to your question Geoff.
Standing by for counter-fire, over.
 
Yea, we are never suggesting that the men and women of Ike are doing anything less than their very best. Please again, I can’t stress this enough.  We’re not on this call in an accusatory nature to the ship or the command, or the crew. It’s just again, these are very realistic issues. I guess it’s kind of a follow up question is though. Do you think the carrier would be experiencing lots of these breaks (inaudible) if you’ve had the proper OFRP cycle and wasn’t double pumped. Is any of these things breaking down connected to the double pump and not going through the standard readiness cycle if that makes sense.
 
So yea this is Capt. Campagna the ship’s CO.  I have an aviation background and one thing we always talk about with airplanes is that they don’t like to sit, they like to be operated and my FMC rates are always higher when I’m out operating the equipment. And I think I’m seeing the same thing here on Ike. Is it, we have some things that we work through but generally the equipment works better when it’s being operated. And a lot of times. That light off process and getting things back up from when they haven’t been operating for a long time, they do tend to have issues. Over.
 
(Inaudible) I have a couple of quick questions to close. (Inaudible) Admiral Robertson made reference to, I’ve gone underway I’ve gone on deployment so that I never really did what your crew is doing. I’ve never done ROM periods. I’ve never gone a whole deployment without a port visit. They are going through a lot more then I ever had to and I thought I had it hard so I guess the question is. (Inaudible) First of all, what resources do you have in place and set through Sailors  to talk and frustrate their frustrations, struggles something (inaudible)  Mental health professional, chaplains, as a part of that question is that (inaudible) that you had during the first deployment.

Hey this is Command Master Chief Jason Reynolds again. Having lived through this for the last 18 months. I’ll tell you that the state of readiness of this crew is higher than I would have ever expected it to be. With that the amount of resiliency that we built into these Sailors through the accomplishments that we’ve been able to achieve through-out this demanding operational commitment has really demonstrated to each one of us what we really are capable of not only as Sailors but as human beings much of that success was done through transparency from the leadership at the top down. To let everyone know why we’re here and what were doing and what we have ahead of us. And in conjunction with that, using our resiliency team onboard to get after it has been at the core of that and you know we have a great command resiliency team here that starts with our medical professionals, our talk boss, our chaplain core, and through that we’ve done some specialized training with crew members that are assigned each of the departments on this ship as well to  have a really great extension of that resiliency effort down to the deck plates. So that way they have Sailors they can relate with and talk to and gain additional perspectives while we push to execute the mission at the highest extent possible. It has been very challenging but through that we have gained plenty of qualifications, professional knowledge, and the readiness has come a very long way. So I’m very proud of the crew and where we’re at. I know that we are ready to execute the mission. It is a heavy toll on many of these sailors are still new to the Navy. But they are learning a lot about themselves and they are really proud to be apart of this crew and what they’ve accomplished. Over.
 
(Dave) (inaudible)Master Chief is what you had the last deployment or is about the same level as last deployment. Do you think that is adequate?

(CMDCM Reynolds) No I would say that it’s the same level because we knew what we were getting into from the beginning of this. Capt. Higgins myself and part of the triad team we really were briefed on this in advance. We have a very long road ahead of us very high off tempo to sustain and here’s what we’re going to do to get after it. We made some tweaks along the way and I’ll tell you because just from the beginning we’ve been committed to the cause so the TYCOM efforts to make sure we’re setup for success was there as they identified the demand that was going to be placed on us. So I wouldn’t say there has been much change. What’s really changed is the resiliency levels on the ships. So all of the new Sailors that have come onboard that are joining this amazing team are just falling in-sync with what we’re doing and getting the job done. Over.
 
(Admiral Robertson) Hey David, before you respond, there’s one thing that is different is all the crew DEZ is going to be deploying with resiliency counselors. That was a lesson learned because previously, because while the Ike has a pretty good footprint and it was utilized by the crew DEZ units. Them having their own onboard to build that trust with the crew. To be there to help with the counseling was recognized as a need. So the TYCOMM responded to that through fleet and family support center. So they are deploying with their own resiliency councilors onboard as another resource. Over.
 
(Geoff) Let me piggy back on David’s question there and just ask you know, again, dumb ass civilian here, I’ve never served, I won’t pretend like I know what it is. From what I understand port calls are vital pressure relief valves for everybody. You guys down to Seaman Timmy or whatever. What are you guys doing to give these men and women a break and some,I know you can’t replicate a port call, is there anything you are planning to kind of, halt, kind of with that pressure relief valve so to speak. Over.
 
(CMDMC Reynolds) So I’ll tell you that this has been Master chief again. We’re a little early in that planning process because we still don’t know what’s ahead of us. We know what the Nimitz was able to do on their deployment and actually achieve a few port calls. Where as apposed to us not getting any. We did have some really creative ideas that we brought forth with the command to exercise while we’re out to sea last deployment. And we plan on using some of that stuff this deployment. Utilizing some of the hangar bay space to do some recreational activities with the crew is one of the things we get after. Our fun boss has brought all kinds of resources with him to provide activities in the evening for our Sailors to decompress  and feel like they are living some kind of life other than the grind of standing watch and executing the mission. So we have some robust plans in place that are executing on a daily basis and then we’re going to have some bigger features that we get after as we move forward with the hope that we do get some liberty ashore or some kind of pier-side liberty  throughout the deployment ahead of us so that’s where  we’re at right now. Over.
 
(Dave) Any Sailors on the line that they made the last deployment (inaudible).
 
Yes Sir, this is HM2 Pacheco.
 
(Dave) Thanks for (inaudible) can you tell me a little bit about how {inaudible} division department kind of managed the one long continuous underway and what were you able to kind of do to allow your people to decompress in-between the cycle. You could also describe what the (inaudible) ROM movement what that does for you and your people. (inaudible) questions you see where I’m going with it.
 
(HM2 Pacheco) Yes Sir. (Inaudible) What we have done in our department is that we have been looking out for Sailors and making sure that we are taking care of one another and we always try to get them the means of any help or any ideas that they have, we try to build comradery and moral throughout our department so that we’re not having Sailors walking around with their heads down so we want to make sure that we are taking care of our crew. And what we have done in our department down in dental is that we try to do Navy PT once a week or once a month. Or we do a group, a game night type of thing, just to boost morale, and try to relieve the stress.
 
(PAO) Dave and Geoff we’re running out of time here. So we can, I don’t want to cut you guys off. I’m sure you have more questions but if we could speed it up just a little bit.
 
(Geoff) Yea, yea, yea. This is kind of the last big question that I have. I know you guys have had some COVID cases on this ship and I’ve heard that COVID positive Sailors are being flown off. How does that impact the ability to get the mission done. Can you talk about how. Again, big Navy says we wont discuss COVID numbers so frankly I don’t know how to frame it. Is it two kids who got it or is it a 100 Sailors? I know this is above everybody’s paygrade on this call but from our position we can’t characterize these things accurately if we can’t even get that basic information so rant over, but  can you talk about how the COVID cases are affecting the ability to get the job done or kind of what it means when people have to be flown off and all of sudden a department or division is short a man or two.
 
Okay yea, Admiral Robertson here. Happy to answer the question. Obviously, I won’t give you the numbers, but going back to one of my previous comments here. We’re out here doing high off tempo operations right now. In fact, today we’re launching 90 airplanes, or 90 Sorties today to meet the exercise requirements against our simulated adversaries. And so our policy is to get folks off and we’ve had no mission impact. Enough redundancy to be able to work through it and I think that’s the beauty here of the way we kind of recovered  a lot of our manning and I know we kind of went through some bleak years across the spectrum. Right now, our ships are manned appropriately so we’re able to absorb those small losses that we do have. So that’s the answer here. The proofs in the pudding. We’re out here doing our most complex exercise that we have in the United States Navy as a Strike Group and we’re performing exceedingly well.

(PAO) This is the Ike and CSG-2. You guys still there?
 
**Call is disconnected**
 
(Lt. Walsh) Hi this is Lt. Walsh. (Inaudible) the two jumped off they only had one more question and they are fine getting  a written response. The question was in regard to gym hours. Whenever a COVID case is flown off it resets  the clock for gym hours, is there hope that this will change (inaudible). I said we could get them a written response and are there any closing comments from your leadership if you want to include that in the written response as well.
 
(PAO) Okay. Alright. I’ll take that question and provide a written response today.
 
(Lt. Walsh) Okay great. Thank you, let us know if you need anything from us.
 
 (Admiral Robertson) Hey just to make sure are you looking for a closing comment from each of us?
 
 (Lt. Walsh) No not looking for it. But I know it’s sometimes, you know, people like to, (inaudible), if that’s something we’re looking to do, I’m sure that Dave and Geoff will appreciate it.
 
 (Admiral Robertson) Okay I may have one, also I funnel it through Sean.
 
FOLLOW UP Q&A
Q1. Whenever a COVID case is flown off it resets the clock for gym hours, is there hope that this will change?
A1. Our Sailors are enforcing social distancing, minimizing group gatherings, wearing PPE (face coverings), and cleaning/sanitizing extensively. Sailors work and live in close quarters and reducing possible infection vectors supports readiness of the whole unit. Currently there is no restriction on gym hours and we do not reset a clock. IKE gyms opened within a few days of getting underway after our plan for cleaning and sanitizing was put in place.
 
 
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