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Commanding Officer of USS Carl Vinson, Currently Off the Coast of Haiti

I spent an hour writing a great post about this blogger's roundtable... and the computer ate it.

Short version:  It was a fascinating roundtable, Captain Bruce Lindsey sounds like a leader who loves and respects his sailors, the logistics of what is going on are impressive, and Americans should be very proud of their U.S. Navy personnel.  Oh, and "Twiddah" made an appearance.

Seriously, take the time to listen to this or read the transcript.  It starts off a bit slow, but combined with the earlier roundtable discussing the
relief efforts being run out of Guantanamo Bay, it gives a great overview of what's happening from the ship point of view in Haiti.

I was able to recover my previously-lost post, so here it is... 

I sat in on a DoD Blogger’s Roundtable this weekend with Captain Bruce H. Lindsey, commanding officer, USS Carl Vinson, currently operating off the coast of Haiti.

The ship has a very high operational tempo, as would be expected—aircraft arrivals and departures could be heard as the captain spoke.  He reported they were currently conducting vertical replenishments for USNS Comfort, had two helos being loaded/unloaded on deck and two C-2s planes (COD—carrier onboard delivery) arriving in the next 30 minutes—what he called “typical.” He was very gracious and spent longer than the usual 20-30 minutes with the bloggers despite the late start.

When the earthquake happened, Vinson had just gotten underway, headed to San Diego after a 4-year repair/maintenance. The jets that had been scheduled to conduct carrier qualification landings hadn’t even arrived yet. The ship stopped and loaded personnel and helicopters (14 additional helos joined the 5 already on deck) via Naval Station Mayport without actually pulling in, then traveled to Haiti at the rather high speed of over 30 knots the entire time, arriving in Port au Prince early Friday morning (January 15). Currently, the ship is operating within the Bay of Haiti, with USS Nassau and her Marines on one side, and USS Bataan with her Marines on the other.

Captain Lindsey said they started flight operations immediately after arrival, and he was very pleased with the speed and flexibility of the tailoring of the flight deck (which was accommodating just C-2s and helos without the usual contingent of jets). Aircraft associated with force protection and communications are usually part of a carrier’s deck-based air wing, but in order to create maximum flexibility and space for relief efforts, all such aircraft are being flown out of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

Before USNS Comfort arrived mid-week, Vinson was spending a lot of time on medical missions, triaging everyone right on the flight deck. Now that Comfort, Bataan, and Nassau are on-scene, there are what the captain called “four floating medical facilities” accepting medevac flights. In addition, the Joint Taskforce Commander’s surgeon is ashore, allowing triage to occur there and the helos to pick up patients while already knowing how they should be handled. The worst cases go to Comfort, but since the ship can only handle two helos at a time, there is still some spillover. In fact, the roundable was delayed due to a couple of urgent medical landings just as it was to begin.

While he maintained a very professional demeanor, it was obvious how concerned Captain Lindsey was about the human suffering going on around him. “You just can’t imagine,” he said, “the number of people that have been injured…”

CAPT Lindsey particularly praised the helicopter pilots and mechanics, noting that the helos are doing roughly 60 sorties per day, with each relief helicopter often conducting 3-6 landings on the island before returning to ship (transporting relief personnel around the island, dropping off supplies, delivering wounded to land-based hospitals, etc., before bringing the worst cases back to the ships).  The transcript includes more detailed information about the aircraft conducting operations in association with Vinson, and the management of so many helicopters while still needing space for landing C-2s filled with supplies.

Coordianting medical relief and naval operations with 43 different countries is a challenge, but CAPT Lindsay noted that the liaison officers were smoothing things out, including Coast Guard and Canadian officers currently aboard Vinson.  He described entrance and exit of the harbor, controlled by the Coast Guard, as “very coordinated.”

Captain Lindsey’s pride in his sailors came through several times, particularly when he discussed what he called a “water tree” system of hoses and faucets that allows the ship to send water in 5-gallon collapsible jugs to the shore. In five days, they have sent 20,000 gallons of water to shore, placing about 32 jugs on each helicopter that goes out, which then leaves the water at the landing zones, along with MREs and relief food provided by the World Food Program. He was pleased to note that sailors were volunteering to fill the water jugs by hand, as well as load the helos (these tasks are in addition to their regular responsibilities).

Pride in CAPT Lindsey’s sailors came up again when he was asked what lessons he’d learned so far. He said each natural disaster is different, though in his mind there are two general types: hurricanes and things like the earthquake. The earthquake injuries are much more severe than in hurricanes, which presents a special challenge (the numbers are so huge that there has been no reduction in the amount of patients taken aboard each day since the ship arrived). He said his advice to others in his situation would be to think about that difference between each disaster, but “we rely on the ingenuity of our sailors. Be flexible and believe in your sailors because they will be the ones that have the solutions to the problems you face immediately upon arrival.” He returned to the water tree as an example, noting that the sailors had gone online and discovered that USS Lincoln had developed the concept in their relief mission after the Indonesian tsunami and his sailors then tweaked the design to make it even more effective.

Discussion of the professionalism and drive of the sailors on Vinson was recurring. CAPT Lindsey reported that he currently had sailors ashore as well—120 sailors in groups of 10 went through training during transit and were ready to move before they even arrived in Haiti. They helped distribute water and supplies from helos for further transport and worked on coordination. The effort to train/prep sailors for ground missions is being expanded now, due to a developing need for those who can work on infrastructure, clear rubble, etc. Regarding the enthusiasm of his sailors, CAPT Lindsey said, “Every one of them wants to go ashore to help,” even though some must be held back because they are needed to continue the ship’s basic operations. “It’s great to see such an outpouring from such sailors,” he enthused. “They’re great human beings.”

He also spoke warmly of the sailors of Haitian descent who know the local languages and volunteered to be translators “as soon as they knew we were headed to Haiti.” They work with the medevacs, which “has been critical for our patients.” A US aircraft carrier is a foreign country for the injured Haitians, so having someone who speaks their language be there when they arrive can be very powerful. “There is somebody who can talk to them and explain what’s going on...that reassures them,” Captain Lindsey said.

Captain Lindsey briefly touched on the topic of coordination between the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the military. He didn’t address problems directly, but admitted it wasn’t perfect while still praising the effort. “I’ve been in the Navy for 27 years now,” he said, “And this is a pretty good model (not perfect) of cooperation between government and NGOs.” He said the coordination and collaboration is improving each day. “The goal is more and more each day…We have to. That’s just what we have to do.”

Mp3 of the roundtable here.





2 Comments

There is nothing wrong with GODNAVBLOGSTRIFOR having one Sailor relay her well wishes to another Sailor.

 

Great post.  And kudos to the crew of Vinson for what they are doing.

"...then traveled to Haiti at the rather high speed of over 30 knots the entire time,"

Which is the best argument in the world for a nuclear-powered surface fleet.  When your ships have to move NOW, you simply bend on 30 knots and make sure you don't run up on any of the shallow spots.  No worries about fuel state, just GO.