Photo: Robert Johnson
When we visited the USS Barry, the ship and its crew were feverishly preparing for a huge inspection, and an upcoming overseas deployment.Short-staffed and overworked, the crew pulled the 20-year-old ship together beautifully — but the work it entailed was mindblowing.
When the Barry sailed for its European deployment earlier this month it was amid rumours it might not go at all, and if not for her crew, that may have been the case.
As well as they did, unfortunately the crew’s workload has just increased dramatically. The major inspections that ships undergo every five years, has just been halved to 30 months. Getting ready for those tests is a lot of work as the following slides show.
This is a tough time to be a U.S. Navy sailor.
The annual five-year inspection is called INSURV — Inspection/ Survey — and as the Navy's fleet ages the inspections become more vital and more time-consuming.
Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers were expected to serve 20 years. The Barry is 20 now — and keeping her shipshape is no small effort.
Preparing for INSURV is demanding to everyone, and though no one knew it then, it was about to get worse.
But late last year, nobody knew that and it was business as usual. The mess hall is the only space on the ship where hats must be removed because during conflict it serves as a medical ward with bodies laid on the tables. Removing caps shows respect for the dead.
The Engineering Officer oversees the Barry's full array of power systems. He says that until just this year that panel of monitors to his right was a bank of dials, knobs, and buttons — one of the many system upgrades as the vessel's life is extended.
In Engineering I meet Chief Francis, 35, who joined the Navy 18 years ago and says the only thing he doesn't love about it is missing his family.
Chief Francis says he'll miss the camaraderie and fraternal environment of the Chief's Mess where senior NCOs share meals, advice, and determination. They'll need all that more than ever now.
After the Chief's Mess I met Petty Officer 1st Class Carr who's in the middle of an intense six-week program leading up to the promotion of Chief. Chiefs are the backbone of the Navy's enlisted force and the burden of the doubled-up INSURV and slashed staff will fall largely to them.
When lunch rolls around I see it's different up here for officers than for the rest of the crew —the white cards are the menu and officers circle what they want to eat and an enlisted steward makes sure they get it.
Even at the five year schedule, the Captain rarely makes it to meals — doesn't often make it to bed either — catching maybe four or five hours of sleep a night.
Every part of the ship is tested for INSURV, like the several thousand pounds of anchor here. There is an entire community of online documents and checklists for helping the crew prepare.
Once the anchor is back in the hold, the crew tests the CIWS Gatling gun — the last line of defence against incoming threats — which can shoot 4,500 rounds per minute.
As the Barry conducts its mission now as part of the Euro defence Shield, the CIWS will be a reassuring element of its defenses.
Once the CIWS quiets down, the weapons officer prepares the 20mm cannon for testing. First it is fired remotely with a joystick and camera here on the bridge.
Then manually down on deck. The weapons crew work very hard, but to a sailor they all truly seemed to love their job.
While waiting for the 5-inch gun test, I notice the telling signs of wear that will only get more difficult and time consuming to address.
The Barry is at the end of her expected service life and with fewer crew members, less money, and increased inspections, life onboard the destroyer will be more demanding than ever.
The 5-inch gun's targeting system can be fickle, but when it does lock onto its imaginary target and fires, the sound is deafening.
With several different types of rounds, the 5-inch is as versatile as it is effective — with upcoming budget concerns even testing the weapons may be done less often.
While the 5-inch packs quite a punch — what makes it so lethal lies behind this door in the Combat Information centre (CIC).
When weapons firing concluded, the ship's flag was changed and the crew braced for another part of the pre-inspection test.
But as part of the sea trials, the destroyer was driven to her top speed of almost 38 mph and this is the wake then.
The chop brought by the ship's new speed was immense — this blast caught me far above the waterline outside the bridge.
The final test threw the ship in reverse — this is the bow trailing a wake as the ship sailed backward.
With tests done for the day, crew got busy cleaning the weapons. The red jacketed rounds are live but had not been fired.
All of this activity and testing will grind to a halt if the potential budget cuts do take effect, according to the Navy's social media announcements.
Rear Adm. John Kirby last week tweeted the deployments of 10 destroyers like the Barry will be cancelled if cuts occur as planned.
This is not an environment in which you can afford to cut corners. Here's a simple reminder to crew of the Barry's mission: In a chemical/biological/radiological (CBR) environment, not even the toilet can be used.
Even in this main passageway, a bright yellow sticker reminds crew that the ship could go down at any point .
But none of the Barry's sailors need to be reminded; almost all of them pull watch, looking for contact on the horizon and for fellow sailors who have fallen into the water.
There are not many places to go to wind down, but out here during a break in routine sailors meet to grab a smoke.
Right here is where defence cuts will hit the hardest. The enlisted crew will likely work more, earn less, and receive fewer promotions. Movie nights like this with ice cream may become a sacrificed luxury.
But when you have to climb down here to the tiny bunk-space sailors call home — budget cuts feel like a gaping lack of appreciation.
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