Makin Island Chiefs Guide Sailors through COVID-19

by Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Gordon
01 April 2020 SAN DIEGO – Amidst the growing COVID-19 global pandemic, Sailors across the fleet are struggling to cope with balancing the Navy’s mission with concerns for the health of themselves and family. As issues arise, Sailors have to rely on their senior enlisted leadership for guidance and problem solving.

Things like planning for the Navy Chief birthday have faded to the background, but the work for Chiefs assigned to USS Makin Island (LHD 8) has only increased since the crew was sequestered aboard the amphibious assault ship March 26 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“As soon as we found out we were going to be sequestered, I had to let my Sailors know what to be prepared for,” said Fire Controlman Master Chief Joan Buccat, the leading chief petty officer of the ship’s C5 department. “I also needed to take a look at all my Sailors and try to anticipate and identify who was going to have issues right away like single parents, leave dates, scheduled training and medical appointments. I wanted to be able to provide my Sailors with as many solutions and options as I could at the time for all their questions and concerns.”

Chiefs have been on the front line of the Navy’s enlisted community since 1893, and dealing with time-sensitive issues isn’t new. Since the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group has been sequestered, many Sailors have been dealing with major disruptions in their lives that they weren’t prepared for, and while the crew’s health is a priority, the ship’s mission remains.

"As Sailors, we all freely took an oath and agreed that we would be ready and execute the mission no matter what was happening in the world, but we all have fears and concerns that can often make it difficult to focus on the mission at hand," said Makin Island Command Master Chief Neal Olds. "Chiefs are the first line of defense against fear and concern derailing a mission. We are the people a Sailor can turn to and understand that we are going to do our best to address the issues and reduce the stress and worry a Sailor may be dealing with to ensure that the mission is accomplished."

The issues Sailors are encountering range from child care, loss of income from spouses, pets, medical appointments, and PCS moves to name a few, and often, the first person to hear about these issues is a Sailor’s Chief.

“I have a lot going on at home,” said Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Brian Higgs, who has been stationed aboard Makin Island for 2 years. “I have a wife and two young children that I am worried about. It is comforting to be able to talk to my Chief about my concerns and know that he will do what he can, with the help of my command, to overcome some of the issues I am facing.”

Chiefs are charged with mentoring, upholding standards, leading by example and training the next generation of Sailors to replace them, but this doesn’t mean they are immune to the same difficulties that affect the Sailors they are charged to lead.

“I’m worried about the state of the world and what I have going on at home too,” said Cryptologic Technician Collection Chief Dustin Hoesly, the ship's signals exploitation space leading chief petty officer. “These are difficult times for everyone but I know my Sailors are counting on me to be there for them.”

As the response to the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves, Makin Island’s Chiefs Mess is actively working to provide guidance and create solutions aboard the ship that allows them to protect and take care of their Sailors and also meet mission requirements.

“At a command level, the Chiefs, along with the ship’s leadership, are trying our best to meet mission readiness requirements with our Sailors well-being in mind,” said Electronics Technician Chief Devin McDonald, who leads the 30-person equipment repair division as its leading chief petty officer. “Policies and instructions are changing every day and it’s our job as Chiefs to communicate this information to our Sailors and keep them informed as this situation develops.”           
 
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