Onboard Isolation – Quarantining on a military ship

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j. g. Michael Marriott and Portuguese navy Lt. Miguel Dias Pinheiro use their scheduled exercise time in the Coast Guard Cutter Stone gym on Dec. 18, 2020.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower

How does one prepare for three-months at sea? These days, with two weeks in limited contact.

Very few events in recent memory have rocked us at the global scale of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has likely been affected somehow, and the U.S. Coast Guard is no exception. The crew of the soon-to-be-commissioned Coast Guard Cutter Stone (WMSL 758), the newest of the Coast Guard’s 418-foot Legend-class national security cutters, took no risks in preparing for their shakedown cruise in the face of the pandemic. The preparation process involved a two-week restriction of movement, or ROM, for the entire command and crew.

What’s unusual about the Stone’s ROM is that it was aboard the cutter itself. This action was necessary because they are away from homeport, so ROM at home is not possible. The ship’s Independent Duty Health Services Technician, Chief Petty Officer Patrick Coppo, established a strict cutter-wide schedule that involved two COVID-19 tests, which he also conducted.

Members were only allowed to leave their berthing rooms with their bunkmates during their scheduled mealtimes and physical fitness hours. When moving around the cutter or in the vicinity of anyone from a different berthing area, masks were required. Only those who prepared and served meals or stood watches were exempt from the schedule. The ship’s cooks arguably worked the hardest during the ROM, continuing to prepare and serve three full meals per day for the roughly 120-member team while wearing masks and gloves.

However, the cutter’s command did not leave the crew purely to their own devices—the voice of the commanding officer, Capt. Adam Morrison could be heard at least once a day in every space through the ship’s loudspeaker system. In the mornings, the captain challenged different members among the more experienced crew to solve groan-worthy “dad jokes” for all to hear. In the afternoons, all members were presented with trivia questions to call in and answer by phone. A nonstop stream of movies ran on one of the onboard channels of the TVs in every room, and several crew members set up and published simple but rigorous workout plans for anyone to follow. To follow these plans and keep physically fit, the crew often utilized and sanitized the ship’s gym and flight deck. Every member of the command and crew did their best to keep each other busy and upbeat during the difficult but necessary ROM process.

Members of the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) culinary crew serve fellow crewmates dinner in the cutter’s galley on Dec. 17, 2020, in port in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The Stone’s crew was restricted to a strict two-week schedule to mitigate COVID-19 risks before getting underway for their pre-commissioning cruise. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

Members of the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) culinary crew serve fellow crewmates dinner in the cutter’s galley on Dec. 17, 2020, in port in Pascagoula, Mississippi. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

“Coast Guard Cutter Stone’s pre-sail COVID-19 ROM is arguably the most dynamic and complex plan to execute when compared to our sister ships due to our pre-commissioning and away-from-homeport status,” said Morrison. “I am very proud of the planning and critical thinking efforts conducted by Chief Coppo to tailor Coast Guard-wide guidance and adapt those parameters to meet our unique circumstances. Finally, I am equally proud of my entire crew. These great men and women have approached this ROM period with a high degree of professionalism, which will enable the cutter Stone to go to sea safely.”

After completing the ROM and embarking on its nearly three-month voyage in support of counter Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported fishing in the Atlantic, the Stone will eventually arrive at its new homeport Charleston, South Carolina. There, it will officially commission and join the Coast Guard’s growing fleet of national security cutters.

Stone is named to honor U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Elmer “Archie” Fowler Stone, Coast Guard aviator number one, made history in 1919 for being one of two pilots in the four-person aircrew who completed the first trans-Atlantic flight in a Navy seaplane.

The Legend-class NSC is the most technologically advanced ship in the Coast Guard’s fleet, enabling it to meet the high demands required for maritime and homeland security, law enforcement, marine safety, environmental protection, and national defense missions.

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