NEWS | Aug. 17, 2019

Seabees Set the Precedent Aboard USNS Carson City

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sara Eshleman

They’ve assembled an organized network of hoses, vacuum tubes, strainers, high pressure pumps, chlorine injectors, and storage bladders in the ship’s 20,000 square-foot, reconfigurable mission bay. The team of seven has operated in nonstop 12-hour shifts aboard the ship while others come and go on a myriad of military engagements with counterparts from African partner countries in each port. They work in high temperatures and emerge from their working area for chow breaks coated in the talcum powder they apply to their water storage bladders in the face of the hot, humid conditions that are the pinnacle of a West African summer.

They are the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 Detachment Ivory Coast, who are deployed from Task Force 68. And on this mission, they are setting a precedent in naval operations while embarked aboard the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7) in support of its Africa Partnership Station (APS) deployment to the Gulf of Guinea.

The Seabees are supporting extended in-port periods of military engagements by operating three modular Lightweight Water Purification Systems (LWPS), providing additional potable water for the ship’s crew, which is comprised of more than 100 Sailors, U.S. Coast Guardsmen, U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets, civil service mariners, and international ship riders from Spain, Portugal and Italy.

“It’s an exciting adventure,” said Construction Electrician 1st Class James Madison. “Each day on deployment has different challenges. We get to write the playbook for when we need to do it again to accomplish the mission.”

Normally a land-based system designed to provide mobile sites and disaster relief areas with potable water, the Seabees spent two months working through and testing how to operate the LWPS aboard the U.S. naval ship.

The Seabees, with their “can-do” attitude, worked through many new challenges to come up with a working solution to take underway. Madison said the placement of the tanks was an early concern for the ship, to balance their weight. The team decided to use fittings to attach the LWPS to the ship’s firemain to provide the source water, since the ship sits so high out of the water. Adjustments were also made to the hoses: additional fasteners were utilized, and exhaust fans were positioned before the portable engines were fired up.

“With the team, we’re all very sound-minded when it comes to the equipment that we’re working with,” said Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Ty Reynolds. “If ever there is an issue, and there is only one person down there, that one person can troubleshoot. We’ve all been working together for about two months now, and we get along very well. We haven’t had any issues. We push each other every day to be more knowledgeable and better with the system, so I would say all members of our current team are the best they can be.”

The system is capable of producing 1.25 gallons of water per minute, and the advanced reverse osmosis (RO) membranes of the LWPS can process fresh water, saltwater, and even chemical, biological, and radiological-contaminated water, if necessary. The Seabees have operated them both in port and off the coast during the deployment to support the crew and the mission.

During Carson City’s deployment, U.S. military personnel have worked alongside U.S. partners in Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal to provide assistance based on host-nation requests during previous APS exercises and engagements. Mission personnel traveling aboard Carson City include a small boat maintenance and repair team, a medical team, United States Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement personnel, and the U.S. Naval Forces Europe band, who have held performances for local communities. For everyone aboard the ship, having enough potable water is a must.

“This mission will live and die on the use of water,” said MSC civilian mariner Galen A. Gouzoulis, chief engineer of Carson City. “The interaction with the Seabee detachment and civilian mariner crew has been very smooth and professional. From the early outset of the deployment, we established a procedure and sequence of events to ensure quality, safety and transfer of responsibility for replenishing water to the ship’s potable water tanks.”

Gouzoulis oversees the ship’s RO plant, which is how Carson City makes its water during normal operating conditions when MSC civilians are the main inhabitants of the ship. The ship houses two RO units, each of which can produce up to 4.4 gallons per minute. Gouzoulis implements both RO units on the ship to maintain water production equal to consumption. Under normal circumstances, Carson City houses approximately 26 civilian mariners who consume an average of 800 gallons of water per day. Add the military detachment of nearly 90 personnel for this mission, and that figure changes drastically to almost 3,000 gallons of water consumed daily.

“The difference [in having the Seabees and LWPS] has been night and day,” said Gouzoulis about working with the Seabees. “We have so much more flexibility in our ability to sustain the mission.”

The Seabees have produced enough additional water to prevent strict water management restrictions and maintain some luxuries aboard such as longer showers.

“The Seabees were an idea we discussed in part of the planning to add capability to Carson City’s mission to West Africa nations,” said MSC civilian mariner Capt. Jonathan Keffer, ship’s master of Carson City. “Previous vessels who have come here – the U.S. Coast Guard, MSC’s USNS Spearhead, and other U.S. Navy vessels representing U.S. 6th Fleet – have all encountered significant challenges with obtaining [large quantities of] potable drinking water.”

Keffer said he talked at length with the planning committee on the key topic of water management and how to address the concerns. In response, the ship received two 4,600-gallon supplementary tanks in the mission bay for water storage in addition to the team of Seabees and their three modular LWPS.

It was also during this planning phase of the mission that Keffer recounted instances of EPF ships in Asia using different forms of military water-making systems on the piers to produce potable water to transport from the pier to the ship. Having a purification system even more advanced than the ship’s RO, and more importantly, one that could operate in port, led the way to test the feasibility of embarking LWPS onboard.

“They’ve significantly contributed to the mission not only with the capability to make water, but with the three 3,000-gallon bladders, we’ve been able to get ahead of production while maintaining consumption,” said Keffer.

Throughout the deployment, the Seabees continually filled the supplementary tanks with water from each of the three systems – two affectionately named “Marco” and “Polo” by the Seabees and the third named “X-men” by the MSC engineering department – to keep the ship’s supply where it needed to be.

“We’ve produced more than 66,000 gallons of potable water while working more than 1,200 man hours,” said Madison when asked about total production throughout the six-week deployment.

Once the water bladders are full, a hospital corpsman tests the water in each for the presence of bacteria and specified amounts of chlorine. If the water passes these tests, it must then sit for a 24-hour period before the hospital corpsman can perform a second test. After the second test is cleared, the treated, tested clean water can be transferred from Marco, Polo and X-men to the giant 4,600-gallon potable water tanks that will send the water to the ship for distribution.

“We all learned something from one another,” said Gouzoulis. “This mission deployment proved the concept of the LWPS to extend the mission capability of this platform and its adaptability to remain longer on station if mission requirements changed.”

“That’s what has been the closer,” said Keffer. –”Their capability to make water safely in port with their advanced systems has been able to keep us ahead of significant water concerns.”

The Seabees took on the challenging task, worked long hours, and had sacrificed time on liberty to ensure the ship and crew had enough potable water to support the mission in its entirety. It is no easy task to ensure the ship has enough potable water to keep the crew hydrated.

“It’s definitely really nice to know that through this we’re also supporting the overall mission, which is pretty big,” said Reynolds. “I would not have expected to be able to provide support to such an overall big picture around the Ivory Coast and the west side of Africa to further our connections with other nations, but it is definitely very cool.”

APS is U.S. Naval Forces Africa’s flagship maritime security cooperation program focusing on maritime safety and security through increased maritime awareness, response capabilities, and infrastructure. It consists of the various exercises and operations conducted by U.S., European, and African partners and allies throughout the U.S. Africa Command area of operations.

Carson City is deployed to the Gulf of Guinea to demonstrate progress through partnerships and U.S. commitment to West African countries through small boat maintenance assistance, maritime law enforcement engagement, and medical and community relations outreach.