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Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) established a new program known as the Benfold Restoration Team (BRT) to maintain the exterior presentation of the ship against natural corrosion, even while conducting missions at sea.
Preservation is a priority for the Surface Force, and its importance is consistently emphasized by leadership. Cmdr. Marcus Seeger, commanding officer of USS Benfold and a native of Taylor Lake Village, Texas, developed the BRT to balance the needs of deployments and operations with the need to continuously preserve and maintain the ship.
“Topside [external] preservation demands command-wide ownership and triad [leadership]-level attention,” said Seeger. “The hull and superstructure are equipment. Like any piece of equipment they require care, maintenance, focused attention and you have to prioritize it.”
The BRT’s mission is to protect Benfold from what the team calls “her worst enemy:” the salt water in which she sails daily, as well as to extend Benfold's lifespan by keeping her seaworthy and ensuring that taxpayers’ investments in her longevity pay off.
“We take great pride in our work here at the Benfold Restoration Team,” said Lt. Geoffrey Polinder, the ship’s corrosion control officer and a native of Lowell, Michigan. “We have the best-preserved and best-looking ship in all of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many ships deployed for longer durations without the benefit of frequent port visits to accomplish more comprehensive shipboard preservation efforts. It was during this time that the ideas behind BRT were developed.
“Back in 2020, shortly after Benfold exited the [ship]yards to begin the basic [readiness, training, and certification] phase, the idea of standing a Benfold Control Division in line with engineering repair division and damage control petty officer division came into being,” said Benfold Command Master Chief Andrew Thomasson and a native of Haysville, Kansas. “At first, there was resistance from divisional leadership regarding additional TAD [temporary assigned duty] personnel requirements for standing up this division. However, well into its second year of existence, the Benfold Control Division, now known as the Benfold Restoration Team, has become accepted and popular among both leadership and off-ship support entities.”
Although BRT has additional responsibilities, the team does not eliminate the need for individual departments to conduct their own daily topside preservation and corrosion control.
“Think of BRT as a dentist who performs root canals or fillings,” said Thomasson. “Whereas the divisions are individuals responsible for brushing their teeth daily, thus minimizing their need to go to the dentist.”
Shipboard preservation never stops, and Sailors wage a constant battle against the elements.
“We conduct shipboard preservation daily. Every week we conduct a job review board and discuss upcoming jobs, job requests from other work centers, and we conduct job space walkthroughs to review the job before accepting it into the Benfold queue,” said Operations Specialist 1st Class Alexander Polk from the BRT and a native of Nashville, Tennessee. “The team is hands-on busting rust, priming, or painting every day except Sunday.”
Some Sailors also believe that having ships with some rust isn’t a sign that they’re in worse physical condition. Rather, they believe it’s a sign that the ship is well-traveled and works hard. U.S. Navy ships deploy for longer periods and more frequently than any other Navy in the world. As a result, its ships incur greater maintenance and preservation challenges.
“I believe an ugly, rust-coated ship returning home shows the wear and tear of the job and is an outward reflection of how many Sailors feel coming home to their families after many months away,” said Polk. “A lot of people take pride in battle scars like that, but at the same time, we take pride in the work it takes to clean up those battle scars. I agree with many in that a rust-coated ship is an eye sore and can leave a negative opinion on us.”
While some Sailors see rust as a sign of accomplishment, a well maintained and preserved ship benefits combat readiness and sends a message to competitors at sea.
“When a ship looks pristine, new, and looking her best, our enemies hesitate to mess with us because when we're looking our best, we obviously must be performing at our best,” said Thomasson. “And just the opposite when we look dirty and rusty! So, in short, when a ship is looking her best, just look at it as saving lives.”
In order to combat rust and corrosion, every member of BRT must be knowledgeable in the chemical processes at work behind them.
“Rust and corrosion results from the degradation of metal and poor protection from the elements, such as the sea water's salt crystals that embed in the metal and ignite a chemical oxidation that destroys metal,” said Polk.
Knowing how ships are naturally weak to these elements directly assists in making ships resilient against them.
“Restoration is the process of first removing existing salt from a corroded metal surface on the ship's weather decks and then grinding or needle-gunning the surface down to bare metal with a slightly rough surface, called a profile, and then applying the necessary coats of primer and paint to ensure that the surface is protected against corrosion for the long-term,” said Polinder. “Topside preservation and restoration, properly done, ensures long-lasting protection against salt water and the elements.”
Benfold’s crew believes that BRT’s success demonstrates their pride in every facet of the U.S. Navy’s mission.
“Finally, my Sailors openly brag how their 26-year-old destroyer with two years out of the [ship] yards, … is the best-looking ship on the Yokosuka waterfront,” said Thomasson. “Bottom line, ‘shipshape and seaworthy’ can be done and sustained with dedicated effort, direction and ownership.”
Benfold is assigned to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 71/Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, the Navy’s largest forward-deployed DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force.
U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability, and prevent conflict.