By Seaman Daniel Schumacher, John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group Public Affairs
U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY – With one final turn of the wrench, the clean out cap on a waste drain-line filled with sewage pops off from the pressure in the line as chunky brown fluids pour out. Most of it lands in the trash can but not all, and the space is filled with a putrid stench. Using a water auger, a tool that travels through a line to grab clogged debris, a hull maintenance technician (HT) yanks a cable on the water auger to pull out the source of the problem, a wad of brown paper towels.
The same way a hospital corpsman needs to be comfortable caring for the sick and wounded, an HT needs to push past their comfort zone and get the job done no matter how tough and dirty it is.
The HTs aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) maintain, construct, rebuild, and repair almost anything made out of metal on the ship. This includes the complex plumbing system that stretches from every corner of the ship, and transports anything from clean potable water to sewage.
“If someone would get as dirty as we do, it may be one of the worst days of their life,” said Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Jeremy Witt, from Resxeville, Mich. “But for us, it’s just a typical Tuesday. We don’t enjoy working on some of the nastier plumbing, but we’re not bothered by it the way we used to be.”
In addition to long hours of physically demanding work, the life of an HT involves potential health hazards, so on-site medical supervision is required for certain jobs to reduce the probability of injury of illness and Stennis HTs receive yearly check-ups with Medical Department’s preventative medicine chief, Chief Hospital Corpsman Karin Harnishfeger.
“I see them often enough that we share some of our personal information with each other,” said Harnishfeger. “The last time [Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class] Lenhardt stopped by for a checkup, I started off with how his baby was doing.”
For every risk factor, the Navy provides personal protective equipment to minimize risk: Face masks are used to prevent structural debris from accidentally being inhaled, noise-canceling headphones to prevent hearing loss, welding goggles to protect eyesight, and waterproof suits to prevent exposure to waste particles while working on plumbing.
“There’s some parts of our job that we never enjoy, but we all learn to not be so bothered by it after a while, and make sure everyone gets their hands dirty once in a while,” said Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class Lorenzo Castro, from New York. “You become mentally prepared to get dirty and choose to focus on the job instead.”
The life of an HT may be hard at times but some wouldn’t trade it for any other rating.
“I chose HT to become better at welding and hopefully get a welding job out in the civilian world. I don’t regret my choice one bit,” said Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Eric Taylor, from Mansfield, Ohio.
At the end of Stennis’ 2011/2012 deployment, a group of HTs spent more than 36 hours welding a plate over an approximate five-inch crack in a distillery tank containing potable water.
“It was extremely tiring but I learned a lot and had fun working on such a big welding project,” said Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Cody Eitnier, from Fruitport, Mich.
The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, consisting of Stennis, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21 and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet to strengthen regional partnerships, sustain maritime security, and support combatant commander requirements for assets in the area.