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APRA HARBOR, Guam - If you were told you would be spending two weeks in Guam, images of the beach might come to mind. You’d probably picture yourself relaxing in the sand, soaking up the sun, and then eventually, heading back to your cozy beach-front hotel room to rest and recharge for another day of the same.
However, when Sailors stationed on board the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) found out they’d be arriving in Guam, a previously scheduled port call, they knew it wasn’t the visit they’d anticipated. Days before the port call, Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer announced to the crew that Sailors aboard the ship had tested positive for COVID-19.
As Sailors departed the ship for either isolation or quarantine, they were moved to various locations on Naval Base Guam and select hotels on the island. Theodore Roosevelt Sailors were evaluated medically and those not assigned to stand vital watches were systematically sent off first.
For the Sailors still aboard, leadership still had the ability to communicate through normal channels.
The requirement to socially distance made 1MC announcements, electronic flyers, distanced face-to-face interactions the main source of daily communication. The flow of information on ship between departmental leading chief petty officers and their Sailors remained relatively unabated.
But for Sailors ashore, new techniques were employed to maintain communication with the majority of the 5,000 Sailors dispersed in many hotels and military lodging across Guam. Theodore Roosevelt’s crew, also known as the Rough Riders, needed an innovative plan to share information, stay connected emotionally and socially, and most importantly to remain a team.
“It was an idea that came up rather quickly,” said Capt. Dan Keeler, executive officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). ”We have Sailors on base, in hotels, and on the ship. During my conversations with our public affairs team onboard, we thought of ways to solve both the communication and potential community problems. We needed a surrogate communication environment which was safe, informative, supportive and effective at establishing two way communication in both a military hierarchical structure but also a flat collaborative we-are-all-in-this-together manner. For us the first step was a closed Facebook page.”
USS Theodore Roosevelt Commanding Officer Capt. Carlos Sardiello and Keeler created the “TR Alone Together” Facebook page in April as a way to keep the Rough Riders off the ship informed and connected virtually while quarantined alone in individual rooms across the island.
“In order to keep people on and off the ship up-to-date and on the same page with the latest happenings and for the command to receive real time feedback from all our Sailors,” Sardiello said. “We needed a creative way of communicating with everyone. It is also just lonely in a hotel room by yourself. I wanted our Sailors to feel connected to their fellow shipmates during their quarantine. Being a late arrival to this mission, I took inspiration from my kids sequestered at home connecting with their friends and school classrooms leveraging similar online collaborative technologies.
Sardiello added, “The unprecedented complexity and scope of communication barriers that have become a harsh reality in this crisis demand innovative solutions. Effective communication is key to any operation or a team’s professional and social cohesion, and 'TR Alone Together' gave us an immediate avenue to maintain the connection not only with our most vital asset, our Sailors, but also expand the scope of the USS Theodore Roosevelt community to selected role models, senior leaders including many of the ship’s former commanding officers and command master chiefs. With all that information exchange and feedback on our communication, we have now layered in supportive comments from our friends and family. All of these voices in a collaborative virtual portal reinforce positive connections across our team no matter where they were laying their head."
Although Theodore Roosevelt has actively used Facebook as a way of creating a sense of community within the ship, it’s never used Facebook as an official way to relay information with its crew before. “TR Alone Together” allowed the ship to combine official unclassified communication with fun crew engagement.
“The initial goal was to make sure everyone has the most current and relevant information,” Keeler said. “As a parallel benefit, all our Sailors feel connected to their friends that are going through the same experience. Although they are alone in a room, they are together virtually. 'TR Alone Together' gives them a renewed sense of community and engagement.”
The Facebook page allows them to interact with their fellow shipmates who, like them, are experiencing the same process and who can relate to each other’s stories.
“Seeing other people’s experiences has helped pass the time,” said Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Vincent Crow, a Theodore Roosevelt Sailor who is currently off the ship in quarantine. “I feel like it’s a good way to connect and share common experiences with people you wouldn’t normally make contact with on the ship.”
The Facebook page has been used in a variety of ways; from sharing dad jokes to statements from the ship’s commanding officer. Sailors have been very active and have taken full advantage of this new page and all it has to offer.
“I’m really impressed by everyone’s continued contributions to the page,” Keeler said. “Our Sailors have been really positive, respectful, and demonstrate on a daily basis what it is to be ‘TR Strong’.”
Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership has been especially active on the page. On April 14, the ship’s Command Master Chief, Michael Mashburn posted a light-hearted and respectable spoof of MTV’s show “MTV Cribs”, from the room in which he is currently quarantined.
“It’s nice seeing posts from senior leaders ensuring our wellbeing, motivating us and even posting things to make us smile,” said Chief Boatswain Mate Nicholas Broders, leading chief petty officer of Theodore Roosevelt’s deck department. “Hopefully it helps others in the same way it helps me.”
The Commanding Officer also commented, “The carrier is a floating city and when we can speed communication and solutions to its citizens it is a significant win.”
Keeler hopes this new connection between Theodore Roosevelt Sailors and their leadership continues to boost morale and looks forward to the future of “TR Alone Together.”
“I hope we can continue this page long past the current pandemic we’re dealing with,” Keeler said. “It’s another way to share information outside of ship-based means, and I along with Sailors actively engaged within our community, can see its continued importance for the long term.”
Although it has not been easy, Theodore Roosevelt Sailors found a way to stay connected despite the physical distance between them. They’ve used “TR Alone Together” to take comfort in knowing they’re not alone, they are always a team and as such, can persevere through any challenging times.
“These times are unprecedented but our Sailors are up to the task. Sailors are tough and resilient problem solvers. Disperse the crew, ok not ideal, let’s find ways reach out to everyone and ensure they feel that continued sense of belonging to our team, remain informed on the way ahead and return the vital feedback we need to succeed. The Rough Rider team has added virtual connectedness to our repertoire in our fight against the global pandemic,” said Sardiello. “We shall get through this alone together because we are TR Strong.”