By Coleen R. San Nicolas-Perez
Commander, Navy Installations Command Public Affairs
WASHINGTON – People first and mission always. For the port operations teams across the Navy’s shore enterprise, their strong commitment to mission accomplishment is unwavering – even during a pandemic.
As many communities face the challenges brought upon by COVID-19, the more than 1,800 port operations personnel at Navy installations worldwide continue to support vessels as they pull into port or get underway.
“Their quick reactions to mitigate the threat has allowed them to continue seamless support to the fleet,” said James Risley, director of port operations for Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC). “As long as the Navy has ships and submarines, the port operations teams at our bases will always be ready to support no matter what challenges we may face.”
According to Risley, the port operations teams across the enterprise quickly adapted to the new environment by implementing requirements to minimize the spread of the disease, such as completing self-questioners, donning face coverings, sanitizing workspaces and equipment, and practicing physical distancing.
CNIC provides a range of port operations services for visiting Navy vessels as well as those homeported at the many installations. Support provided include harbor pilot services, fleet mooring services, ship movement planning for both surface vessels and submarines, utilities and fuel hookup, tug services, oil spill response, and ship waste removal to name a few.
“All of these services are necessary to keep our ships and boats sailing and ready to surge at a moment’s notice,” Risley said. “Our teams – made up of military, civilians and contractors – are all committed to ensuring the fleet is provided the services needed for the Navy to maintain maritime dominance.”
‘Hard Work and Non-stop Dedication’
Although both military and civilian personnel at the waterfronts have had to adjust to a new normal way of executing operations, they have remained diligent, which according to Risley, is not surprising.
“We have always been proud of the high level of dedication and commitment that our region and installation teams display,” he said. “Our teams continue to provide phenomenal logistical services to our waterfront customers with the same high level of professionalism and expertise previously provided. Their hard work and non-stop dedication is an inspiration to everyone.”
Naval Base Guam is one example of a team stepping up to support the fleet amidst a COVID-19 environment. USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) arrived at the island’s Navy base on March 27 and recently went underway on May 20. The carrier moored in Guam after several Sailors displayed COVID-19 symptoms and later tested positive.
“Our port operations team has demonstrated U.S. Naval Base Guam's warfighting mettle by effectively flexing every capability to meet the ever-changing demands and challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us,” said Capt. Jeffrey Grimes, the installation’s commanding officer. “The port operations team's enduring support of Theodore Roosevelt demonstrated the pride, dedication and professionalism of this elite group of individuals.”
While supporting the aircraft carrier, the installation also brought in USNS Dahl (T-AKR 312), which was critical to the Navy’s response to the pandemic. The cargo ship carried the necessary equipment to stand up the Expeditionary Medical Facility in support of Theodore Roosevelt and Guam. The base’s port operations team developed a solution to moor the ship in a never before utilized configuration that permitted the safe and efficient offload of the equipment, according to Grimes.
"That's just one more example of the port ops team's innovation and ingenuity that has allowed them to accomplish so much given the circumstances,” Grimes said. “As this pandemic unfolds, the port ops team continues to recognize the importance of maintaining this essential fleet capability. It's been truly amazing."
On the other side of the world, Naval Station Norfolk, which is the Navy’s largest installation, has continued port services for all ships under naval control in coordination with Atlantic Fleet commanders despite a pandemic. Recently, the base successfully supported the departure and return of the Norfolk-based USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). The Navy hospital ship was at New York City for approximately a month providing relief to a healthcare system stressed by the surge of COVID-19 patients.
“I could not be more proud of our port operations team, our NAVFAC ship to shore personnel and all others involved in supporting the USNS Comfort’s return following their latest mission to New York City,” said Capt. Vince Baker, Naval Station Norfolk’s commanding officer. “There are lots of moving parts involved with these evolutions from tug operations to hooking up shore power and much more. The daily work that our waterfront personnel conduct often goes unnoticed, but without this group of professionals, we could not meet our mission. They are the backbone of the waterfront.”
Further south, Naval Station Mayport also lived up to its commitment of supporting the fleet. Since the pandemic hit the East Coast, the base’s port operations team has supported more than 130 ship movements. The base’s recent accomplishment in a COVID-19 environment was the USS Roosevelt’s (DDG 80) change of homeport. On March 21, the destroyer departed Mayport for its new homeport Naval Station Rota in Spain.
“COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge, causing our Navy to alter our methods of doing business, however, our commitment and ability to protect America has not changed. Here at Naval Station Mayport, there is no better example of this than the outstanding response from port operations,” said Capt. Jason Canfield, the installation’s commanding officer. “Our port operations department continues to provide ‘The Finest Service to the Finest Fleet’ despite the new norm of working in a COVID-19 environment … We’ve adjusted to a new way of doing business and we are doing it safely in all aspects of our operations.”
Commander, Navy Installations Command’s area of operations encompasses the globe, across 10 regions and 71 bases with more than 53,000 employees that sustains the fleet, enables the fighter, and supports the family.