Sailors begin to move aboard aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford
By PETER DUJARDIN | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: August 4, 2015
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Hundreds of sailors assigned to the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier have now begun to live on the ship as the carrier enters its final stages of construction at Newport News Shipbuilding.
About 240 mostly "junior sailors" moved aboard the Ford on Monday "and will be living full time on the ship," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sean Robertson, the ship's public affairs officer.
Another 80-100 sailors will be on the Ford each night, as the crew works rotating 24-hour "duty" shifts aboard the ship, Robertson said.
With the carrier docked pierside at the Newport News yard, the crew also ate its first prepared meal aboard the ship on Monday. The ship's sponsor — Susan Ford Bales, the former president's daughter — helped to serve the meal.
Prime rib, crab legs, shrimp and salmon were on the menu, while a seven-foot-long cake in the shape of an aircraft carrier was also cut and served in the celebratory event, the shipyard said in a news release.
The carrier's commanding officer, Capt. John F. Meier, called Monday's move-in "the tipping point for the Ford."
"The ship we are building will be their home and will serve the Navy and the nation's need in defense of our country for the next 50 years," added Rolf Bartschi, the shipyard's vice president of the Ford construction project, in a written statement.
About 1,600 Navy sailors are now assigned to the $13 billion warship, the first in a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The crew will be ramped up to more than 2,600 by the time the Ford is delivered to the Navy next spring.
While most of the carrier's crew will still go home at night, any Ford sailor who wants to live aboard the ship can do so, Robertson said. "Every sailor has a rack (bed) on board the ship," he said.
The 1,600 sailors now assigned to the Ford have been going to the ship each day, working to ramp up its various departments, Robertson said. "Our sailors are involved in bringing the ship to life," he said. "The sailors are preparing their departments and their equipment to get the ship to delivery."
The medical area is up and running with doctors, nurses and corpsmen, while the galley is now making meals. The combat systems department is getting its information technology up and running.
The Ford's kitchen and eating spaces have been redesigned on the carrier, which the shipyard said provides shorter waits at chow time for sailors.
The living quarters on the Ford are an improvement over the Nimitz-class carriers, the yard and Navy said. Each living unit will sleep a maximum of 86 sailors, down from the 200 sailors on the Nimitz-class berthing areas. Sailors will also have access to separate recreation areas, multiple gymnasiums and improved air conditioning.
One of the Ford's key improvements is its newly designed nuclear reactors, which can pump out more than 2.5 times the electricity of the previous Nimitz-class reactors. That will allow the ship to use more electric-based components — including in its aircraft launching system — rather than the previous steam-driven parts.
"Since the first Sailor checked aboard in 2013, we've been focused on crew move aboard," Donnie Novak, the Ford's command master chief, said in a written statement. "I couldn't be more proud of what our Sailors and the shipyard workers have accomplished. They've built the foundation that will allow every Ford sailor in the next 50-plus years to call this ship home."
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Capt. John F. Meier, Susan Ford Bales and Rolf Bartschi cut a 7-foot-long cake during a ceremony commemorating the crew’s move aboard the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford. Meier is the ship’s commanding officer; Bales is the ship’s sponsor and daughter of the ship’s namesake; and Bartschi is Newport News Shipbuilding's vice president of CVN 78 carrier construction.
CHRIS OXLEY/HUNTINGTON INGALLS