The East Coast's busiest ship is also its best.
The cruiser Gettysburg earned this year's Battenberg Cup for the ship with the best all-around crew achievement in the Atlantic Fleet, now known as Fleet Forces Command. The Gettysburg earned the honor for qualifying 99 percent of its petty officers as enlisted surface warfare specialists, as well as all its junior officers as underway officers of the deck. The ship set the goal of having all the petty officers second class ESWS qualified, said Capt. Brad Cooper, the cruiser's skipper, in a May 15 phone interview.
'Well, we blew past that in about the first month and a half, and we just kept on going,' he said.
For junior officers, the ship set up a deliberate training program combining both under-instruction watches and formal classroom training to get all its officers qualified.
'We had great alignment between the wardroom, chief's mess and the crew,' Cooper said.
The Gettysburg, based in Mayport, Florida, has been ridden hard during the past three years. Since Jan. 1, 2011, the Gettysburg has spent more than 650 days underway, making it the busiest surface combatant on the East Coast, according to Navy figures provided to Navy Times.
The Gettysburg spent nearly all of 2011 underway, between its deployment workups in February and a seven-month deployment with the carrier George H.W. Bush. The following year, the ship spent 120 days underway, followed by another 222 days underway in 2013. The ship's scheduled February deployment that year with the carrier Truman was pushed back to July because of the sequester uncertainty.
The ship has also taken the brunt of budget woes and faces one again. The Navy plans to park it pierside and cut the crew size until the cruiser goes through its modernization overhaul. It is unclear how long the lay-up would last or whether it will ever take effect; some lawmakers are moving to block the plan.
Despite their stressful schedule, the ship earned the Golden Anchor for retention with the lowest attrition rate in the Atlantic Fleet and nearly doubled the advancement rate during last fall's cycle.
Cooper said the high operational tempo was a challenge, but something the ship has to work through.
'It took a recognition by the entire chain that the situation existed in the first place,' he said. 'We made a focused effort that we are going to make people the priority.'
Cooper pointed to the ESWS program and other shipboard programs as the recipe for success.
'We made very specific goals for people,' he said. 'Everybody has goals, and they are marching toward that goal. And when they achieve them, we recognize them.'
Cooper said virtually the whole crew has been advanced, recognized with an award, or earned their ESWS pin.
'And if they haven't been, they're new,' added Cooper, a 1989 Naval Academy graduate who took command of the Gettysburg in March 2013.
Now the ship is one of 14 the Navy plans to lay-up, allowing officials to move the crew to fill open billets in other ships. The Gettysburg could be sidelined for months or years until it enters its midlife overhaul, if the plan moves forward.
Cooper said he had not received much guidance on what that would mean for the crew, noting that the planning was with top leaders.
'The ship still has a lot of life left in it, and the crew knows it,' he said. 'But like any ship, over time things come up that need to be fixed or modernized. From our standpoint, we've got a schedule to execute and we're going to do it.'