U.S. Navy Aviation Electrician™s Mate 3rd Class Kyle Hernandez, from Denton, Texas, assigned to the Tomcatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31, disinfects a berthing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) with a multi-surface sanitizer April 12, 2020. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kaylianna Genier/US Navy
Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) are pushing hard and making progress toward keeping their fellow sailors safe and returning their ship to sea.
Following routine naval operations in the South China Sea the sailors of USS Theodore Roosevelt are face-to-face with a new, silent and invisible enemy, the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). They are fighting back, and the crew is now winning.
In the beginning, fighting the virus resembled a damage control scenario, similar to fighting a fire or flood. Capt. Dan Keeler, executive officer aboard Theodore Roosevelt, established a command center akin to damage control central in a ship casualty, in the executive officer's conference room. Cmdr. Jennifer Huck, Theodore Roosevelt's combat directions center officer, was appointed as the initial officer in charge.
"We have two tasks, taking care of sailors and cleaning the ship," said Huck. "We are focused on taking care of the Sailor's health and ensuring the ship's crew is following all centers for disease control and prevention guidelines to include personal protective equipment. Our medical department is doing great work testing, isolating and treating sailors. We are going to thoroughly clean the ship. We have already started and are about finished."
Sanitizing the ship has become an all hands effort, including a roving cleaning team that is constantly transiting the ship, cleaning along the way. Each day begins and ends with what the crew now refers to as "bleach-a-palooza."
"I have been here since day one of bleach-a-palooza," said one of the Sailors responsible for controlling, mixing and issuing cleaning solution to the crew. "It's an all hands effort and everyone is trying their best. Supply and medical work hand-in-hand to monitor every department on the ship to make sure they're cleaning twice a day. If they want to clean after hours we support that as well." Theodore Roosevelt's supply department has worked tirelessly to ensure the crew has all the tools they need to fight this new enemy. "We supply gloves, rags, bleach, buckets and any other items needed to support the mission," said the sailor. "It's important to make sure every department gets what they need while also supporting the cleaning task force who clean all day."
The cleaning task force is led by Cmdr. Chad Hollinger, Theodore Roosevelt's weapon's officer, who the crew has taken to calling "Mr. Clean," and Master Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Patrick Maxie, Theodore Roosevelt's weapons department leading chief petty officer.
"The team's mission is to fully sanitize the ship," said Hollinger. "To complete the mission we are going to clean this ship from top-to-bottom and forward-to-aft to create a clean zone for everyone coming back to the ship, so we can get back to business."
Hollinger and Maxie's primary mission when the ship is out to sea is leading teams of Sailors in the delivery of ordnance and ammunition used to fight an enemy that can be seen with the naked eye. While the enemy may have changed, their mission remains the same, to eliminate the enemy.
"We hit the virus with chemicals we know will kill it, and after that space is clean, we seal it off," said Maxie. "Along with cleaning solution and disinfectant, we use a number of things to complete the mission. Most important on the list is PPE. The safety of our Sailors is our top priority. To protect them from the cleaning solution and the virus, our teams are required to wear goggles, gloves, face shields, and coveralls while cleaning. Once they enter a space they go through with tough wipes, rags and cleaning spray and then go back through with a disinfectant or bleach solution."
According to Hollinger, the most helpful tools in completing the mission are large area sprayers. The team uses the sprayers in spaces without large machinery or electrical equipment. With this equipment, the team can cover a large space, such as a berthing or mess deck, in a third of the time it would take to do by hand.
"We have cleaned over 2,000 spaces so far and have cleaned over 80 percent of the ship," said Hollinger. "I couldn't be more proud to take on the task of leading this team and I couldn't have asked for a better team to get this done. It hasn't been easy; it's hard work, but we are fighting through it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we are going to get there."
While the crew cleans the ship, the first round of Sailors that left after testing positive for the virus are completing their own recovery said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, Theodore Roosevelt's commanding officer.
"It's a journey, but supporting each other is how we get through this," said Sardiello. "We are extremely thankful for the overwhelming support from the local government here on Guam, in cooperation with Joint Region Marianas in the fight against Covid-19.
"I look forward to giving the conning officer permission to order, all ahead 2/3, out the breakwater of Apra Harbor to the Pacific Ocean. There is a saying, no ship sails on yesterday's wind. We move forward by what we do here and now."