Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Captain Luther's Message to Family and Friends

This was posted on the USS George HW Bush Facebook site.

Dear Families and Friends,

It has come to my attention that a blogger has posted about our Vacuum Collection Marine Sanitation (VCHT) system…our heads (i.e., restroom facilities). The blogger provided her blog as a “media release” to various news outlets. Unfortunately, the blogger has never once contacted us for information and the blog has since been quoted in multiple outlets as undisputed fact. The blog casts the ship in a very poor light. It paints a picture of heads frequently out of order, out of order for 24 hours or for 8 days at a time. Further, the blog states that only ship’s company heads worked, operating heads are locked so Sailors cannot use them, or that medical issues have developed as a result of the heads. Lastly, the blog claims that heads are even affecting morale and military readiness. Had this blogger contacted the ship I could have provided some facts about each and every one of her claims.

All individuals embarked – whether permanently assigned to CVN 77 or one of its embarked units – are responsible for the cleanliness, stocking of supplies, and upkeep of their assigned spaces to include heads. If a system or piece of equipment is malfunctioning, the individual unit is required to place a trouble call (request for maintenance) with the CVN 77 engineering department. The engineering department dispatches repairmen on a job priority basis. Additionally, there are no individuals assigned to USS George H. W. Bush – or any other naval vessel – whose sole job is monitoring of commodes.

It is true that the USS George H. W. Bush has a VCHT system that is unique amongst aircraft carriers but it is not unique to naval vessels. It uses a vacuum to draw waste from the commodes into the temporary holding tanks. The system divides the ship’s heads into two independent loops. The system is maintained by Hull Technicians (HTs) who respond to trouble calls associated with the ship’s VCHT system. These Sailors are also responsible for welding, brazing, and sundry other duties commonly associated with plumbing and pipe fitting. I’d like to share a little information my engineering department has reconstructed using the ship’s trouble call log over the last year.

• In the 12 month period from 15 November 2010 through 15 November 2011, 4054 trouble calls have been placed throughout the entire ship (electrical outlets, doors, leaks, etc.)

• During the same 12 month period, 2,036 of those trouble calls have been associated with heads (i.e., restroom facilities).

• Of the 2,036 trouble calls, 976 have been for commodes and 280 for urinals. The rest are for lighting, ventilation, etc.

• Trouble calls for the heads have been split 51% on the forward loop and 49% on the aft loop.

• Trouble calls for the head mentioned by the blogger include: one (1) each in July, August, and October – all three calls were resolved in less than 24 hours. There were zero (0) trouble calls in September and November. The blogger started commenting on November 7th when every commode in that head was working.

• In each instance, the individual trouble calls were for a single commode within the head. The head has 6 total commodes and 2 urinals. At no time has there been a trouble call for more than a single commode out of service in that particular head.

The HTs maintain the overall system and problems vary from loss of vacuum within a loop to clogs in system piping. Loss of vacuum is most often caused by damage to individual flushing mechanisms but can also be caused by a clog in the loop. I mentioned earlier that there were two loops in the system. A loss of vacuum momentarily affects all heads on the same loop.

• The most common loss of vacuum is a failure/disconnect of the vacuum valve connected to the individual commode. The average time to return the loop to full service is typically less than 15 minutes. The follow-on repair to the individual commode/head in question depends on the malfunction but is typically complete in less than 30 minutes.

• Severe clogs can also cause a loss of vacuum in a single loop. The average time to isolate, locate, and repair significant clogs is less than three hours.

• The single longest loss of service to an entire head occurred in June due to a massive clog while the ship was in port. It took three days to repair because a section of pipe had to be removed and re-welded into place. The three day repair affected a single head on the starboard side of the aft loop. That berthing had a second head in the same area on the port side of its berthing that was functional the entire time of the repair.

• Inappropriate items that have been flushed down the commode and caused clogs during deployment include feminine hygiene products and their applicators, mop heads, t-shirts, underwear, towels, socks, hard boiled eggs, and eating utensils.

• There have been ZERO (0) clogs caused by toilet paper and human waste.

• There have been six (6) instances of both loops of the VCHT system being simultaneously unavailable during deployment. The longest dual (i.e., whole ship) outage was 15 minutes.

I have addressed the crew multiple times during the deployment about the system and damage caused by inappropriate items being flushed down the commodes. The indifferent, inconsiderate and irresponsible actions of a few Sailors were adversely affecting everyone onboard. To address the abuse of heads and commodes, I made the decision to allow departments and squadrons to install cipher locks on all heads. This would limit access to heads to members of the berthing assigned and foster a sense of ownership amongst berthing inhabitants. It would also allow better forensics into the source of the vandalism because the number of people allowed in a particular head would be known. It worked… during the roughly 50 hours that some heads were locked, trouble calls dropped by 67% and Sailors reported their heads were noticeably cleaner.

• Eight (8) heads were identified as public heads which would not be locked. They included two (2) head each for both sexes on the port and starboard sides for each loop.

• Lock installation began on 3 November 2011 with 4 of the 18 departments assigned to CVN 77 because they had submitted trouble calls requesting locks and had ordered locks from Supply.

• The total number of heads locked was 23 of the 93 heads associated with junior enlisted berthing.

The blogger asserts Sailors are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. Not true. I have an electronic CO’s Suggestion Box which allows anyone onboard USS George H. W. Bush to email me with questions, suggestions and comments. Because comments are emailed, each and every comment has the Sailor’s name on it. I received one email on the first day of installation, 18 on the second day and 15 on the third day. The comments ranged from understanding why the locks were being installed to complaints about the inconvenience associated with leaving their work center and walking to their berthing to use a head. On the third day, I was made aware there were insufficient locks available through purchase or reallocation to provide every head with a lock in a timely fashion. Accordingly, I directed that every cipher lock be reprogrammed to a common code. However, I briefed the crew that this would remain only as long as clogs did not return. Since all locks have been recoded, there has not been a single clog.

Based on blogger comments the media has reported increased health issues, such as dehydration, and increased urinary tract infections. Again, not true. In fact, for deployment, 91.5% of all personnel onboard this ship have not been to medical. There have been 60 total cases of urinary tract infection during deployment with two major spikes occurring immediately following port visits. This represents approximately 1.3% of the crew. During the period of the blogger’s comments, potential urinary tract infections have declined each month from September through November.

I understand the concern for your friends and loved ones and their living conditions onboard the world’s newest aircraft carrier. While I disagree with the blogger’s comments, I will defend with my life her right to make them. However, she presents the unsubstantiated comments of a single Sailor as fact and, in doing so, denigrates the efforts and sacrifices of the other 4,800 members of the entire strike group team who during the last six months supported ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. During this time we also have hosted ambassadors, members of foreign governments, foreign nationals, members of the foreign media, coalition partners, entertainers, folks from home and, without fail, they have left singing the praises of the Sailors and their ship.

I can assure you the ship has, and continues, to perform admirably. While we have a ways to go yet, your Sailors are healthy, happy and excited to be heading home. I am proud of each and every one of them and look forward to bringing them safely home to you soon.

Warm Regards,

Brian Luther