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NEWS | March 4, 2022

Naval Oceanography Sailor Spends Time Aboard UK’s Aircraft Carrier

By Jonathan B. Holloway, U.S. Naval Meteorology & Oceanography Command

Stennis Space Center, Miss. —— A common practice amongst militaries of allying countries are personnel exchanges, where service-members of respective countries participate in different military cultures and observe varying defense operations.

Slidell, Louisiana-native, U.S. Navy Aerographer’s Mate Chief (AGC) David Bernhard joined the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy aboard one of its aircraft carriers—the HMS Queen Elizabeth (RO 8).
Bernhard is accompanied by his wife, Sarah Bernhard and three children: 9-year old Murph; 6-year old Max; and 3-year old Rosie. With over 20-years enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and a novel of sea stories that follow, Bernhard recounted his time aboard the Queen Elizabeth (QE) with the British, and here is what he had to say.

How did you find out about the opportunity to go on QE and / or how were you selected to go?

I heard that U.S. Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command was looking for potential candidates to deploy with a British-carrier and thought it would be a great experience. I also heard they needed a Chief with both 7th Fleet and Carrier experience to be an advisor and liaison for an upcoming Royal Navy deployment. Days later my command mentioned needing a name for that list. Seeing as I had done two 7th Fleet deployments and two aircraft carrier deployments, I knew I met the requirements, so I was added to the list. A month prior to the departure date I was selected—I made the cut! I was shocked and also super excited for this once in a lifetime opportunity to work with our brothers and sisters in the Royal Navy.

What was your first impression when you got on board?

I met the ship in-port Guam. I had a sponsor assigned to me prior to my trip, who made sure I had everything I needed before I showed up. He and two British Army guys picked me up at Guam’s airport. My first impression of the ship was a feeling of surprise and a bit of shock at the amount of space they have. The P-ways and ladder-wells were much wider than what I was accustom to. The ship only carries about 1,600 personnel onboard, compared to 5,000 personnel on our U.S. Carriers, so there is much more room to work with. Everyone I met was very friendly and welcoming. The crew immediately put me at ease and I knew we would get along nicely. The ship was very nice, new and clean. My accommodations were unbelievable! I felt lucky and grateful. All of the crew’s senior enlisted personnel (E6-E9) have the privilege to live in two-person cabins, with a desk, sink, TV, phone, and plenty of storage. The lounging area for senior enlisted is very impressive, styled as a massive pub, hangout, sports bar, and lounge, it’s stocked well with most of your spirits of choice. There is also Wi-Fi available 24/7.

The crew eats in a separate space called the Dining Hall. The food was pretty good for most of the trip. I did have to get used to some of their norms. They eat lots of potatoes and lots of curry. Baked beans are a staple breakfast item for them. I learned to enjoy beans with my eggs and toast. One night for dinner, we were served one of the best tomahawk steaks I’ve ever had, with a side of Yorkshire pudding and peppercorn sauce. That was a meal! Overall the food was great.

British culture really seems to prioritize fitness, which I thought was great. The ship had three massive fitness gyms, one gym even had a legitimate boxing ring to suit its boxing club onboard. Plenty of weights and rowers were available to anyone interested. On no-fly days we were allowed to go run and workout on the flight deck or just hang out and get some sunshine.

How big was the team you worked with and where you the only American?  Where their other nationalities that you worked with?

I was assigned directly to UK Carrier Strike Group-21, but primarily worked out of the ship’s weather (MET) office the entire time. The weather team onboard consisted of 17 meteorology professionals, a team similar to our Strike Group Oceanography Team (SGOT), but with a slightly different leadership structure and responsibility from senior to junior personnel.
I wasn’t the only American onboard. My cabin mate was also a U.S. Navy Chief. U.S. Marine Corps, Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-211 was also there to support the joint and allied F-35B operations.
So, from the UK’s Royal Navy we had English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, and even Fijians (British Colony) onboard. We also had the Dutch working with us. Outside of that there was a French Navy Sailor onboard, with many visitors from Japan, South Korea, Singapore and India along the way.

What was day-to-day life like on the Carrier? Briefings you went to and work you did?

Day-to-day life on the ship was very similar any other Navy ship in that you get into a routine or some variation.
My job was to ensure that the QE weather team could operate effectively in the 7th Fleet theatre, including visits to Guam, S. Korea, Japan, and Singapore. We supported a few major interoperability exercises, including multi-carrier operations with two U.S. carriers and one Japanese carrier—a multi-national, four carrier strike group team working together. That’s a lot of muscle!
Most of my days I would start by checking in with the weather office for the day’s operations and weather updates. Next, I would work on relaying any incoming information or impacts, to ensure we were on the same page with all of the other strike groups and fleet meteorology offices working with us. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined to get each weather team from multiple ships to operate in unison. We are all well trained professionals that understand a unified mission and goal—one team, one fight!

What did you learn about how the Royal Navy does METOC work that surprised you or that you learned from? Could we consider doing things different as a community based off what you experienced?

Even though the Brits do things differently, I quickly realized they still do the job extremely well. They are definitely experts at aviation and navigation forecasting! They are still in the early stages of a fully integrated IW Navy team, but are headed in the right direction. One thing I would consider as an improvement for US METOC operations, is the MET office owns and operates their own XBT (Expendable Bathythermograph) system onboard. They are able to quickly setup and launch their own BTs to take sub-surface temperature readings, then quickly receive the data to calculate in-situ acoustic conditions for their location. It’s very easy to use and feeds right into their office systems. It’s a highly effective tool especially when operating in an anti-submarine warfare environment.

What will you miss about being on the QE?

I will miss my quiet, two-person cabin as well as the social events and sea chanties in our Senior Rates Mess, but most of all I will miss the people I worked closely with and the lifelong friends I made along the way. Now I’ll always have a place to stay if I’m ever in the U.K.
I will miss my times as Royal Guard for King Neptune’s Court as we conducted our crossing the line ceremony and celebrating my 21st Navy Birthday at sea!

Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command | 1100 Balch Blvd. | Stennis Space Center, Mississippi 39529