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Business Leaders See Ship With Unique Military, Civilian Crew

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USS MOUNT WHITNEY, Oct. 21, 2005 – Business leaders participating in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference today got to visit a one-of-a-kind Navy ship and sail off the coast of Naples, Italy.

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Members of the "vessel-boarding search-and-seizure" team ride a rigid-hull inflatable boat during a demonstration of maritime interdiction operations aboard the USS Mount Whitney, off the coast of Naples, Italy, Oct. 21 during the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference visit to the ship. Photo by Staff Sgt. Suzanne Day, USAF

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The USS Mount Whitney, the flagship for the 6th Fleet, is the only Navy ship with a hybrid crew of civilian and military personnel. About 60 percent of the crew are Navy personnel, and 40 percent are civilian mariners from the Military Sealift Command.

The USS Mount Whitney is being used as a test platform for the hybrid crew model, said Navy Capt. Tadd Wheeler, commanding officer of the USS Mount Whitney. So far, he said, the results have been very satisfactory.

"We all work together very hard in the team effort that any other crew on a Navy ship does," Wheeler said.

The Whitney began merging its crew in August 2004 and deployed here in January 2005, Wheeler said. There have been very few challenges in merging the military and civilian work force, he said, probably due to leadership on all levels putting extra effort in to make sure the transition was smooth.

The conference participants who visited the ship said they were impressed by the crew -- military and civilian alike.

"It's very well-managed," said Thomas Manders, director of MarketSphere Consulting, in Dallas. "Folks are well-trained. They have all of the assets they need to do their jobs properly and to provide the measure of security that we're looking for."

Manders noted that not just the crew was changing, but also the technology, making the workings of the ship more efficient and less labor-intensive.

"Obviously, the technology's allowed us to be much more effective," he said.

The civilian mariners who work on the Whitney have to go through training and meet the same standards as the Coast Guard, Wheeler said. They are very competent, he said. The only difference between them and the sailors is the average age. While the sailors average in the low 20s, the civilians' median age is 49, and there are crew members as old as 79.

The conference participants were given a full day of activities, including a demonstration of a maritime interdiction operation, a tour of the ship, lunch with sailors, and static displays of equipment. For some of the participants, just being around Navy people lifted their spirits.

"When I got off the plane and saw those guys, it felt like home," said Elena Salsitz, chief of protocol for the city of San Diego, who said that she's used to being in a Navy town.

Wheeler said the visit by the civilian professionals was much appreciated, because the ship is forward deployed and it's easy for the sailors to feel isolated.

"Sometimes 'out of sight, out of mind' can affect production, maybe morale," he said. "It's a great opportunity when you have this class of individuals from the United States come out and visit. As you look around, you can see that the sailors are 'all-hands-on-deck,' having a good time either just chatting about things or trying to catch up on what's going on back home."

The goal for today's visit was for the civilians to understand the ship's mission and to see a representation of the whole Navy, Wheeler said. Manders said that goal was achieved.

"We got to meet folks at all levels of the Navy -- from admiral on down, as well as the civilian staff," he said. "We got a chance to really understand what they do."

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Related Sites:
USS Mount Whitney
Joint Civilian Orientation Conference

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn explosives ordnance detachment sailor uses a breaching torch to cut through steel during a demonstration for Joint Civilian Orientation Conference participants aboard the USS Mount Whitney, off the coast of Naples, Italy, Oct. 21. Photo by Staff Sgt. Suzanne Day, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDave Hoxeng, owner of ADX Communications, in Pensacola, Fla., gets lunch in the mess line aboard the USS Mount Whitney off the coast of Naples, Italy, during the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference's Oct. 21 visit to the ship. Photo by Staff Sgt. Suzanne Day, USAF  
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