USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea -- USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Weapons Department completed the historic carrier's final ammunition offload Oct. 24-26.
During the offload, 3,348,000 pounds of ordnance and ammunition were transferred from Enterprise to Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ships USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE 9) and USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2).
Because Enterprise is scheduled to be inactivated later this year, all ammunition and ordnance - other than small arms used for security purposes - had to be transferred off of the ship.
"The planning was a major challenge," said Lt. Cmdr. Thomas L. Hinnant, the ordnance handling officer aboard Enterprise. "We have been talking to the Sacagawea for about a year. There are so many entities involved in an evolution of this size that it takes a lot of coordination."
"The evolution was extremely difficult because we faced so many challenges planning for such an event," said Senior Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Steven J. Black, the leading chief petty officer of Enterprise's aviation ordnance control center. "As in any situation, plans change and the Weapons department had to be flexible and adapt to whatever changes were thrown at us. Once we finally got the go ahead, we were ready and our people pulled it off flawlessly."
The process of dismantling over 1,600 tons of ordnance was undoubtedly a daunting one. The process began one month ago, shortly after Enterprise flew its final sortie in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Soon thereafter, the ship's Weapons department began dismantling and repacking all of the ship's ordnance. Once the ammunition was dismantled and repacked, Sailors in the Weapons department began staging the ordnance so that it would be ready to be removed from the ship.
"This was a big undertaking," said Hinnant. "The staging process on this ship is more challenging than any other ship in the Navy."
After the ordnance was staged in Enterprise's hangar bay and on the flight deck, a task accomplished with the help of the "Big E's" Air department, the Weapons department relied on the Dragonslayers of Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron (HS) 11 to transport much of the ordnance from Enterprise to Sacagawea via vertical replenishment.
"Our job was to assist Enterprise and Sacagawea with the vertical replenishment," said Lt. Marcus A. Torres, a pilot with HS-11 who assisted with the vertical replenishment. "Our main focus was to effectively [and safely] assist both ships with the ammo offload to help facilitate an expeditious return home."
However, what may sound like a routine vertical replenishment was no easy task. Enterprise, Sacagawea and HS-11 faced rough seas and inauspicious weather conditions, which played a major role in making this vertical replenishment more difficult than it may have been under normal conditions.
"This was definitely one of the more challenging vertical replenishments," said Torres, "especially when you take into account the sea state and the wind conditions, but we pulled it off without any major issues."
During the offload, the Weapons department also worked closely with Enterprise's Deck department to successfully transport the ammunition that was staged in the hangar bay.
"The main priority of the Deck department was to move the barrels of ammunition from the hangar bay to the Sacagawea using the sliding pad-eye from stations 5 and 13," said Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Timothy W. Lumpkin, the leading petty officer of Deck department's 2nd division.
Much like HS-11, the Sailors of the Deck department faced the challenges of the elements.
"The heavy seas and high winds were definitely a challenge for us," said Lumpkin. "The heavy seas caused the ships to surge - causing the ships to come closer together, rather than further apart - while we were moving ammo. After doing this for three days, fatigue was also an issue. But we weathered the storm and completed the job as we always do."
After nearly three days of intense coordination and hard work of Enterprise's entire crew, all of "Big E's" ammunition and ordnance was successfully removed from the ship without any major issues. During the evolution, the crew conducted 314 connected replenishment lifts and 946 vertical replenishment lifts, for a total of 1,260 lifts.
While the Big E may have offloaded the last piece of ordnance it will ever hold in its weapons magazines, the ammunition will be used elsewhere.
"All of the ordnance had to be offloaded as part of our [inactivation] process," said Black. "But, the assets will be distributed as needed throughout the Fleet to support the Navy's mission."
As the ship finishes the last leg of its 25th and final deployment, the Weapons department aboard Enterprise can breathe a brief sigh of relief knowing that such a massive undertaking is behind them.
"I could not have asked for a better group of people to have the privilege of being their ordnance handling officer," said Hinnant. "They have done an amazing job the last three years of keeping us above board on all ordnance matters."
Many of the Sailors who make up the ranks of the ship's Weapons department used the evolution as an opportunity to show that hard work is what they do best.
"It is a great feeling to be a part of such a great team," said Black. "There were many times throughout the offload when I would look around and see junior Sailors pulling double shifts, working the extra hours, doing whatever was necessary to get this job done. These guys knew it was their time to shine; they rose to the occasion and knocked it out of the park."
After completing its final deployment, Enterprise is scheduled to be inactivated Dec. 1, in a ceremony to be held at Naval Station Norfolk, bringing to a close more than 51 years of distinguished service. The inactivation ceremony will be the last official public event for the ship and will serve as a celebration of life for the ship and the more than 100,000 Sailors who have served aboard.