Every now and then a moment comes along that challenges the training, experience and ability of a Coast Guardsman to perform under extraordinary circumstances.
That moment presented itself to then Ensign Steven Lewis, an underway officer of the deck on Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, one of many Coast Guard assets that was on scene to aid Carnival Splendor.
An engine room fire on November 8, left Carnival Splendor unable to operate its engines 250 miles southwest of San Diego, Calif. and its 4,400 passengers and crew were in need of food and supplies. Lewis would play a crucial part in supplying the ship when on the morning of November 9, after Morgenthau had arrived on scene Lewis was tasked to go aboard the cruise ship to conduct helicopter vertical replenishment (VERTREP) operations.
While Lewis’ primary job aboard Morgenthau is ship driving, he is also a qualified landing signals officer (LSO). An LSO is a specially trained member of the crew responsible for the safety of aircraft as they take off and land from the ship. As an LSO, Lewis had previously performed VERTREPs in challenging environments, such as the strong winds and seas on the Bering Sea. But, off the coast of Mexico, he was presented with his most challenging VERTREP operation yet.
Lewis found himself on the decks of the 952-foot cruise ship with his team of seven Coast Guard members and five Navy sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan. Together, the team met with the cruise ship’s officers and assessed the decks to find an area to perform VERTREP operations. After the Lido deck was identified as a safe place for the operation, the team focused their attention on identifying hazards on the deck and all exposed decks below it.
Landing a U.S. Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter on a Panamanian-flagged cruise ship presented unique challenges. Adding to the complexities of the operation was the need to communicate with multiple entities including the aircraft commander, supply chief and on scene commander. Lewis used his training and experience to assure the team that it could be done safely – besides, the Lido deck was at least twice the size of the VERTREP area on Morgenthau.
By early afternoon, after clearing all tables, chairs and securing all equipment on the exposed weather decks, Lewis, knowing time would be key in the operations, requested 50 personnel from the cruise ship to assist with cargo handling to ensure the safe and quick removal of all supplies dropped. After the careful planning of the operation, all unnecessary crew and passengers were directed into the skin of the ship and operations commenced.
Each VERTREP brought in a helicopter that was directed over the Lido deck in a hover of about ten to 15 feet above the deck. From there, the helicopter dropped supplies through a cargo net and then took off for more supplies.
All together, Lewis and his team delivered 70,000 pounds of supplies through 20 VERTREPs. Each VERTREP was successfully performed supplying 60 palettes of food and water to the passengers and crew of Carnival Splendor.
“Ensign Steven Lewis personified the adaptive nature of the Coast Guard, handling an uncharted, stressful situation with confidence and professionalism,” said Capt. Anthony Gentilella, commanding officer of Morgenthau. “His exceptional actions and leadership are prime examples of the qualities that our junior officers possess – a testament that our young shipmates continue the long tradition of living up to the Coast Guard’s motto – Semper Paratus.”
This past Saturday, Lewis was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. Congratulations on your promotion, LTJG Lewis and Bravo Zulu for your performance as LSO ensuring vital supplies were delivered to the Carnival Splendor!
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