the U.S. Navy's amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) returned to Naval Station Norfolk Friday morning following a brief underway as part of the ship's Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV).
Sailors aboard Mesa Verde have spent months preparing for the upcoming deployment and those preparations have included extensive and exhaustive checks, equipment testing and, of course, cleaning.
The ship's inspection falls after completing both Amphibious Ready Group Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercises (ARGMEUEX) and Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) earlier in 2013, as well as the ship's recent involvement in assisting with the recovery of the Navy MH-53E helicopter that crashed off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., Jan. 8.
Established 130 years ago, INSURV's primary purpose is to fulfill Title 10 responsibilities to examine the material readiness of U.S. Navy vessels and report the findings to the Secretary of the Navy.
Changes were implemented last year regarding the frequency and grading method of the INSURV program in order to improve the readiness of Navy ships and crews and to provide Navy and congressional leaders with an accurate reflection of that readiness.
"We shouldn't necessarily get ready for INSURV; INSURV is just one reflection of a ship's readiness," said Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, INSURV president. "So we are trying to schedule INSURVs in a way that the ships will take them in stride. The whole point of doing an INSURV inspection every six years and a mid-cycle assessment every three years is to encourage a steady strain of overall readiness, readiness for operational availability and readiness for deployment, instead of just readiness for INSURV."
Before the changes, INSURV teams conducted exhaustive inspections and surveys of ships every five years and reported their material readiness to Congress. Now ships are inspected about every 30 months to better integrate with other pre-deployment workups.
As part of Mesa Verde's Fleet Response Plan (FRP) cycle, soon to be transitioned to the new Optimized Fleet Response Plan (O-FRP) according to Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Rear Adm. Bill Gortney announcement, Jan. 15, the material inspection timing aims to help streamline pre-deployment inspection requirements and increase readiness by putting all the members of a strike group on the same maintenance and deployment schedule.
"In the end, it's easier on the crew that we maintain a steady strain as we go along," Harley said. "I think the fleet has seen a change in culture that is driving us toward maintaining that steady strain under the great leadership of the different TYCOMs and fleet commanders and this makes us better as a force, and more ready to do our nation's bidding."
Along with changing the inspection timeline for ships, Harley said INSURV has also made changes for better risk management, including getting underway with daylight at times like 7 a.m. rather than previous departures of 4 a.m. and finishing exercises earlier in the night.
Even with that in mind, the inspections are labor intensive for the whole ship, said Gunner's Mate 1st Class (SW) Joseph Pluchta.
"It's been pretty challenging around here, especially with all the inspections, trying to keep up with everything, but we do what we can," Pluchta said.
Pluchta said because of the nature of what his department does, the checks fit well with the mindset his Sailors already have for adhering to high standards. With magazines and ammunition in their spaces, he said his department knows how important staying ready and preventative maintenance is to ship safety.
"What they're looking at is things that are pretty important," Pluchta said. "The ship's leaving on deployment soon, so it's pretty important that all these things are taken care of."
Commanding Officer Capt. Kenneth J. Reynard congratulated the crew on their professionalism throughout the checks and thanked them for "showing their Mesa Verde pride, showing off their equipment, showing the inspectors what the ship is all about."
Undergoing INSURV is part of Mesa Verde's final preparations for deployment as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).