By Tanya King, Naval Forces Japan Public Affairs
Volunteers in Yokosuka organize donated items for USS Fitzgerald, June 19. (U.S. Navy/Daniel A. Taylor) >>
YOKOSUKA, Japan - Sailors and community members from Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY), are rallying around the crew and families of USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) following the June 17 collision with a merchant vessel 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka that resulted in the death of seven Sailors.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer sustained serious damage on her forward starboard side, including flooding in two berthing spaces, a machinery space and a radio room and returned to port 16 hours after the collision.
"The actions taken by the Fitzgerald crew after the collision enabled the ship's return to Yokosuka," said Rear Adm. Greg Fenton, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces/Navy Region Japan. "They truly shined when it counted most. Collectively, we mourn the loss of our seven shipmates."
"Once we received the call about the collision we got in touch with our port ops crews to man up our [Ocean-going Tugs]," said Chief Warrant Officer Galo Moriera, CFAY's harbor movements officer.
CFAY has three Valiant-class tugboats manned by U.S. Navy Sailors, the only Navy base in the world with this type of manning. Moriera said the two tugs were underway within an hour of receiving the distress call.
"When the boats arrived on scene, they provided the Fitzgerald an additional P-100 Dewatering pump and hoses to assist in the effort," said Moriera, whose team provided much-needed damage control support to help Fitzgerald make it back to CFAY.
Upon arrival of USS Fitzgerald, Sailors from USS Stethem (DDG 63), USS Antietam (CG 54), USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), and USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USS Benfold (DDG 65), along with 7th Fleet and CFAY Ship Repair Facility staff jumped into action to continue damage control efforts and stand watches, allowing Fitzgerald Sailors to recover after spending the day containing flooding, stabilizing the ship, and steaming back to base under very difficult circumstances.
"Right now, ships on the waterfront are providing support by manning some of the watches that would normally be manned by Fitzgerald," said Cmdr. Douglas Pegher, USS Stethem commanding officer. "This is going to be a long process and that crew is going to be intimately involved in the recovery and repair efforts for getting Fitzgerald back to sea again."
While port operations personnel were doing their part to sustain the fleet, Sailors and community members assembled on shore to support the families. Within hours of the collision, CFAY stood up an Emergency Family Assistance Center for Fitzgerald families.
More than 50 people manned the EFAC around the clock, manning a phone bank, and meeting individually with Fitzgerald family members.
"We had volunteers and Sailors from the Family Assistance Support Team answering phones and counselors from our Chapel, Fleet and Family Support Center standing by to help," said Cmdr. Chad Spencer, CFAY's chief of staff officer and EFAC coordinator.
"I was very proud of the job these CFAY community members did. A lot of very distraught and worried family members from across both the United States and Japan called in seeking information during this tragic event," he said, adding that the call center handled more than 500 calls during the initial hours of event.
"It was a total team effort," said Spencer. "The FFSC stands for Fleet and Family Service Center and this weekend we lived up to this virtue and the motto of 'Service to the Fleet'."
While Fitzgerald families were receiving briefings from Navy leadership prior to the ship's arrival, CFAY's Childcare Development Center provided free childcare.
"The entire community at Fleet Activities Yokosuka has come together over this past weekend in support of our Navy team," said Capt. Jeffrey Kim, Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka. "From our Chaplains and Fleet and Family Support counselors helping Sailors and families cope, to our many volunteers providing meals and other necessities, we all have been working together to ensure the USS Fitzgerald crew and their families are taken care of."
CFAY Chaplains are providing emotional, religious and spiritual support for community members. In addition, a special team of counselors will be available soon specifically to serve USS Fitzgerald Sailors. Additionally, the FFSC offers non-medical counseling services.
"Navy Region Japan is 100 percent behind Fitzgerald, her sailors and her families, and will provide around-the-clock physical, emotional and spiritual support during this most difficult time," said Fenton.