USS GERMANTOWN, At Sea — He spoke at length on plotting courses and directing a ship in the event of unknown contact. He stressed the importance of factoring in distance, weather and sea state. He spoke knowledgeably and without error as only a trained nautical expert could.
But the individual giving the speech was not a navigator; he wasn’t even a sailor.
Staff Sgt. Michael W. Burkhart, an amphibious assault vehicle section leader with Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is using spare time on ship to learn how to be a qualified helmsman for Navy vessels.
“With this qualification by the master helmsman of (USS) Germantown, I’ll be able to pilot most types of Navy ships,” Burkhart said. “I would have to spend a bit of time learning each ship’s unique procedures, but I would be able to take the helm.”
Growing up on the shores of Lake Thunderbird in Norman, Burkhart cultivated a passion for the water. Swimming and boating took up much of his adolescence, greatly influencing his decision to join the Marine Corps over the other branches.
Burkhart became an AAV operator to keep close to the waters, working nearly a decade to earn his present rank and billet. Now attached to the 31st MEU and embarked on a Navy ship, he’s taking his amphibious interests a step further.
“I wanted to know how everything worked with the ship, how it operated and what they had to do to accommodate our AAVs,” Burkhart said. “Through talking with the sailors on the bridge, I started picking up a lot of knowledge about the ship. At the rate I was going, I could be a certified helmsman before the deployment ended, so that’s what I started working toward.”
But Burkhart does not let his nautical interests interfere with his responsibilities. His Marines do not question his dedication to them or the vehicles.