USS GERMANTOWN, At Sea —
“His job as a Marine takes obvious priority,” said Lance Cpl. Jose J. Aguinada, AAV operator with Co. G., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Bronx, N.Y. “All day, he’s in the well deck with us and the vehicles, but after-hours and during his personal time, he’s cross-training on the bridge.”
Becoming a helmsman is not an occupation itself; it is a requirement in becoming a boatswain’s mate, a position which encompasses multiple aspects of a ship’s bridge. A helmsman must have extensive knowledge of ship operations, including procedures during emergencies and unknown contacts. It takes approximately three months to learn the knowledge expected of a helmsman.
For Burkhart, it has only taken one week of solid instruction to be ready to test before a board of boatswain’s mates.
“It’s crazy, he learns something once and can relay it back a week later with no refreshment of the knowledge,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael D. Matthews, boatswain’s mate with the USS Germantown and a native of Bedford, Ind. “We’ve even thrown trick questions at him, but he’s answered the way an experienced helmsman would answer with correct procedures.”
Burkhart only needs more practice piloting the ship before being tested out and proven qualified. It is his hope that before the patrol of USS Germantown is over, he will be one of the few, if not the only, Marine helmsman for Navy ships.
“It’s invigorating being on the bridge and taking control of the ship,” Burkhart said. “Not only am I pursuing a personal interest, (but) I’m gaining a better understanding in the full spectrum of Marine/Navy amphibious operations and how we work together.”
The 31st MEU is embarked aboard the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group, currently conducting exercise Talisman Saber 2013, a biennial training exercise with the Australian military designed to enhance multilateral collaboration in support of future combined operations, natural disaster, humanitarian and emergency response.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia Pacific region and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.