Earlier this week, we arrived at BAE Shipyard for a maintenance availability. This will be the longest GONZALEZ has been pierside since I took command a year ago last February, and I know that by the end of our shipyard period I will certainly be ready to take her to sea again. With that in mind, I asked my two Assistant Public Affairs Officers to put together a short piece on what life onboard GONZALEZ was like over the last two months leading up to our maintenance period. Their article speaks volumes about the resiliency of Navy Sailors and offers a snapshot of two months in and out of homeport onboard a DDG. And as you will read, even though the two months of December and January encompassed a short holiday leave and upkeep period, a Day in the Life of a DDG Sailor is never short of tasking...
On the morning of 10 December, USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) sailed from Norfolk into the unforgiving winter Virginia Capes Operating Area. Gonzalez was not sailing for deployment nor conducting a homeland security or humanitarian assistance mission though. The men and women of the Arleigh Burke class aegis destroyer were sailing on a series of training missions under the observant eye of the Afloat Training Group to complete the Unit Level Training and Readiness Assessment Certification (ULTRA-C). Following two days of preparation, drills, and admin review in port, Gonzalez Sailors were heading out to sea to demonstrate their war fighting prowess. Over the course of an intense three days, the crew worked long days and nights to fight fires, flooding, fend off simulated sea based and terrorist attacks on the ship, and even take on fuel before returning home. Through high seas and chilling winds, the crew pushed on, excelling drill after drill. Each and every Gonzalez Sailor worked as a team, from Engineers to Hospital Corpsman and Food Service Attendants, burning the midnight oil. Culinary Specialist Senior Chief Ken Stallard, who checked onboard only one day before ULTRA-C said, “This is a well oiled machine. I couldn’t have picked a better ship to retire on. The crew works well together and holds pride and professionalism to the highest level. I wanted to go out of the Navy on a positive note and I feel I can certainly do that onboard Gonzalez.” Impressed with the Sailors he met during each training evolution, he stood back and watched with pride as enthusiasm and training carried the day toward an extremely successful ULTRA-C by the end of the week.
Two days later on the morning of 12 December Gonzalez returned pierside ready for Command Master Chief Keith Thomas’ popular “Liberty Call! Liberty Call!” ready for the next set of evolutions, the Command Holiday Party and the Gonzalez Children’s Holiday Party. Fresh on the heels of ULTRA-C the ship hosted the annual Holiday Party at the Lesner Inn the Saturday after returning from sea. With door prizes ranging from a big screen television to a laptop computer and much more, Gonzalez Sailors kicked back and enjoyed an outstanding meal and live entertainment which included a dance contest. During an exciting dance off, the three dance contest finalists brought out their best moves. LTJG Chris Edwards showed his best moves and seemed to be the front runner, until GM2 Miquel Vargas won the crowd over with his combination of footwork and dark sunglasses. Neither finalist could ultimately compete with ENS Kurt Bogart who broke out an 80s old school move called “The Worm.” While he enjoyed the fun of the Holiday Party and dance off, GM1 Lamarcus Hopson said his highlight of the evening was simply, “enjoying the camaraderie amongst the crew. It was nice to see smiling faces, relax and enjoy some good conversation.” While the Holiday Party was full of laughter and fun, there was still something missing: the amazing children of the moms and dads who serve on Gonzalez. The very next day, after breaking down from the Holiday Party, the ship’s MWR Committee set up and entertained more than 65 children ranging in age from a one-month to twelve year old pre-teens at a special Children’s Holiday Part at Liberty Lanes Bowling Center. Each child received a special gift from Santa and had fun bowling, playing games, and eating as much pizza as their hearts desired. The MWR committee wrapped over 70 presents decorated the bowling hall and threw an amazing party which everyone, moms and dads included, enjoyed.
The week of ULTRA-C and Gonzalez holiday’s parties was only one week in the life of DDG Sailors. After a short holiday leave and upkeep period, Gonzalez was back underway again for two weeks from 5-18 January supporting the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group’s Composition Two Exercise as an Opposing Force (OPFOR) ship in the Jacksonville Operating Area. Two days after returning from sea, Gonzalez plunged right into two major inspections, the Supply Management Certification and the Maintenance, Material and Management Inspection. The very next week Gonzalez sailed up the York River, spending a week at the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station Offloading all primary weapons from the ship before arriving at BAE shipyard this week for a maintenance availability.
Every week brings new challenges and new opportunities, but don’t expect to find a tired or weary crew when you cross the Gonzalez Quarterdeck. In fact, what you will find instead is the most resilient group of men and women on the waterfront, Sailors ready to defend their country, ready to greet guests with a smile or a kind gesture, and always ready to go “Beyond the Call.” - IT2 (SW/AW) Donaldson and CS2 (SW) Clark