A Day In The Life: Supporting an Aircraft Carrier Visit During COVID-19 Pandemic

NSA Souda Bay supports the Fleet – it’s the installation’s
mission. Supporting an aircraft carrier visit is not a
new task for Team Souda, as aircraft carriers deployed
in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations make scheduled port
visits to Souda Bay due to its strategic location in the Eastern
Mediterranean and deep-water port. But when Nimitz-class
aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) arrived
in Souda Bay on March 20, it became the first aircraft carrier
to visit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Greece had been
in a nation-wide lockdown since November 2020.

“I am proud of how Team Souda pulled together in these
unprecedented times,” said Navy Capt. Rafael C. Facundo,
commanding officer, NSA Souda Bay. “You created a festivallike atmosphere for the Eisenhower, giving them a small
taste of Greek culture during their sandbox liberty. This was
supporting the Fleet at its finest. It took the entire Team to
execute the plan, and at the end of the day, the Ike left here
well rested and ready to execute its mission. Bravo Zulu to the
entire Team.”

Developing a plan and executing it to deliver a successful
port visit required expertise from many of Team Souda’s
departments and tenant commands, including Port
Operations; Air Operations; Security; Navy Criminal
Investigative Services; Morale, Welfare, and Recreation; Navy
Exchange; Contracting; Protocol; Supply; Safety; Emergency
Operations; Fire and Emergency Services, and Public Works


Cmdr. Ryan Salcido, operations officer, said he initially heard in January that the installation might have an aircraft carrier visit. He said as the OpsO, his role was to communicate Capt. Facundo’s vision and connect people during the planning process.

Salcido, an EA-18G Growler pilot, said planning for this aircraft carrier visit was similar to planning for a large-force exercise that incorporates multiple types of aircraft and various missions to achieve a common objective.

“You have different silos and specialties of information, but they all have to coordinate with each other so they all show up at the right space and time and they all understand the whole grand scheme,”
said Salcido. “In this situation, it’s NEX, it’s MWR, it’s Port Operations, but then ultimately you need to have some person who is making sure that everyone is talking across silos and communicating the grand

Team Souda’s department heads and tenant commands held several planning meetings leading up to Eisenhower’s arrival. Salcido said there was an initial planning meeting, a mid-planning conference, an in-progress review and a final planning conference.

“We had all of these battle rhythm events to help march forward and ultimately achieve the objective,” said Salcido. “And all I did was make sure that everyone was tracking the same way and that we had the same
planning assumptions going into it.”

In the early stages, the planning assumptions included different courses
of action for how NSA Souda Bay would support the aircraft carrier while it was in port. The course of action directed by Capt. Facundo was to keep the Eisenhower’s crew on the pier at the Marathi NATO Pier Facility in order to protect their COVID bubble. The team had to create a Fleet Landing Event in the area that encompassed the Argonaut and athletic
fields, providing a festival-like environment with food, shopping and games.


Robert DeAngelis, supervisory contracting specialist, said the Contracting office was involved in the planning process to bid out a contract to a vendor to provide the items that would be difficult for the installation to

According to DeAngelis, there were unique requests in order to hold a Fleet Landing Event on the pier, and there were no historical records of such an event being held within the European Command.

To accommodate 5,000+ people on the pier, the vendor needed to provide items such as tents with heaters, ice coolers, portable electric generators, chairs, tables, Wi-Fi signal and lighting carts to keep
the pier lit at night. X-ray machines were needed to provide security at access points into the event.

An increase in cargo and mail is also expected during an aircraft carrier visit.

Lt. Cmdr. Dale Lessner, supply officer, said any time a ship makes a port visit in Souda Bay, NSA Souda Bay’s Post Office receives their mail from another ship or a cargo plane. When that ship is an aircraft carrier, the Supply Department must plan for the increased volume.

Lessner said the Supply Department prepared by ensuring their storage was weather-proofed in case it had to be stored outdoors, shifted its cargo deliveries around to accommodate the Eisenhower’s liberty in port, and prepared to offload its industrial waste.


The Port Operations Department regularly brings ships into port, but accommodating an aircraft carrier requires more line handlers than usual because it’s a bigger ship, said George Drikakis, port operations manager.

Sailors from other departments volunteered to augment the Sailors and Greek local nationals who work in Port Operations, he said.

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Passion Richmond, acting port operations officer, said the first thing they did was perform a risk management assessment in using the volunteers to help moor the ship, and then provided training to mitigate the risk.

“We took them down to the boathouse and we busted out the (Personal Protective Equipment) which included the life jackets and the hard hats and the chin straps. We showed them how to properly don it and made sure it fit properly,” said Richmond. “Then we went over a safety brief – that’s no watches, no rings, have nothing hanging from your pants loops, make sure sleeves are down, your pants legs are bloused.”

Richmond said they demonstrated the proper way to handle a line when heaving around on it, how to properly place it on a bollard and discussed the different things the Sailors could expect when the carrier came in.


To provide the necessary security for the Eisenhower’s arrival, Ens. Christopher Gibbs, security officer, said Security Forces coordinated with their Hellenic military security counterparts prior to the ship’s arrival to develop a plan that both forces agreed to and that allowed them to work
smoothly alongside one another.

Gibbs said the planning was also an opportunity for NSA Souda Bay’s Harbor Security to train with the Hellenic Navy and Hellenic Coast Guard.

“We performed a combined drill with the Greek Navy to go over our preflight responses and our escalation of force,” said Gibbs. “It gave us an idea of what they do and what their capabilities and limitations are.”

Gibbs said Security Forces added personnel and set up a new commercial
vehicle inspection station and a new entry control point to provide the ship with a security bubble. Inside that bubble, the ship maintained its own security in accordance its standards.

“The ship has a significant security force that is more than capable doing their own policing,” he said.

Assisting the Security Forces with securing the pier was the Public Works Department.

Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Fairfield, public works officer, said that Seabees from the Transportation Department moved a lot of security barriers with a forklift to set up the entry control points and reconfigure the security perimeter at the pier.

NSA Souda Bay’s Emergency Operations Center was activated March 19 and in “watch status” to be ready to respond, if needed.


On the morning of March 20, Drikakis and a harbor pilot, docking pilot and a trainee from the Hellenic Navy, flew in a helicopter from the NSA Souda Bay airfield to the aircraft carrier in what is commonly referred
to as “the pilot pickup.”

Drikakis, who is the U.S. Navy’s operational liaison to the Hellenic Navy,
said they landed onboard the Eisenhower, “went up to the bridge, met the captain, the navigator, the conning officer, the OOD (officer of the deck) and got familiarized with how the evolution was going to work.”

Meanwhile, NSA Souda Bay’s Harbor Patrol boats, along with boats from the Hellenic Navy and Hellenic Coast Guard, met the ship and provided a security escort into Souda Bay.

Drikakis said as the aircraft carrier entered Souda Bay the harbor pilot and the docking pilot provided the captain with the approach to the pier. He said his role was to mediate and make the captain feel very comfortable.

“The pilot who is actually doing the work, the harbor pilot, he will tell the conning officer an instruction. So, ‘All back 1/3’,” said Drikakis. “The captain is there, he just listens, and if he doesn’t like something, because he is the ultimate commanding officer of the vessel, he steps in and he says something. And then the pilot can adjust or give feedback to the captain to make him feel comfortable that ‘what I’m doing is the recommended way to do it.’”

On the pier, Richmond and the line handlers reviewed their training and safety instructions and walked along the pier to have “eyes on” the area where they would be working.

“I brought pictures of the previous (aircraft carrier visit) to show them what they could expect,” said Richmond. “But it is a different feeling and understanding when you actually take this group of personnel that is not experienced and show them, ‘Okay, this is the bollard we talked about. This is where the storm line is going to go. This is where you can expect the bow to be parked. This is where the stern is going to stick out.’”

NSA Souda Bay’s Security Forces had already secured the pier; the Argonaut restaurant and Fleet Landing Area to prevent unauthorized intrusions; inspected the pier and tug boats using explosive ordnance device divers; and conducted sweeps with military working dog handlers.

“Once the ship pulled in and was pier side, their security forces disembarked and began to setup their perimeter,” said Gibbs. “When they manned the entry control points, we fell back and they took over the
security of their asset.”


Sam Maropis, MWR business manager, said the MWR management team was prepared for an aircraft carrier visit as they have worked together for many years and have learned from previous aircraft carrier visits, but there were many new things to consider for this visit due to the liberty
policy that restricted Eisenhower’s crew to the pier, he said.

“In the past there were buses shuttling people not only to NSA (Souda Bay) but also to downtown (Chania),” said Maropis. “There were trips throughout places on the island and even to Athens … and then the
softball fields were just used for softball, so that was going to be different this time.”

During past port visits, visiting Sailors would go to NSA Souda Bay’s Navy
Exchange to shop. Jennifer Sullivan, NEX general manager, said the NEX increased inventory of the items that Sailors normally purchase during a port visit, such as electronics, home goods, tobacco and Greek souvenirs.

For the Eisenhower’s port visit, NSA Souda Bay created a festival-like environment on the softball fields behind the pier, bringing a
Cretan experience to the Eisenhower crew.

Local vendors were contracted to sell a variety Greek and international food, leather products, and T-shirts. A photo booth was available so the crew could memorialize their port visit.

MWR provided equipment for playing horseshoes, corn bag toss, basketball and football; music played from two DJs stands; and live performances featured Cretan music, belly dancers and puzzle dancing
(a combination of dances including the Charleston, Zumba, contemporary disco, and tribal African.)

Maropis said the entire MWR workforce was needed to set up and work during the festival.

“We pulled people from Liberty Center, Community Recreation, the Gym, the Anchor, business office – everybody,” said Maropis. “Our IT guy was selling beers and he was being assisted by our recreation manager and our procurement and payroll person. It was a whole team effort.”

The cooks at The Anchor, NSA Souda Bay’s All-hands club, also supported the festival by baking 80 pizzas per hour and shuttling them down to the pier, said Maropis.

Maropis said MWR also received support from outside their organization to help with the increased demand. He said the Navy Exchange provided beer to help meet daily demand.

“The goal was to provide a really nice, pleasurable experience for these hard working young men and women that we owe so much to,” said Maropis. “That’s really what we wanted to achieve.”

NSA Souda Bay’s Navy Exchange created a store and commissary out of two CONEX boxes and several large umbrellas that sold sports nutrition products; electronics; home goods such as towels, pillows and blankets; uniform items; art and jewelry from local vendors; and Cretan products such as olive oil, honey and candy.

Jennifer Sullivan, NEX general manager, said the items in high demand changed over the four-day event. Apple AirPods, cell phones, and Greek souvenir sales were high the first two days, but on the third and fourth days Sailors were purchasing necessities such as pillows and blankets
and lining up to get haircuts, she said.

But there was one high-demand item she didn’t anticipate. “We blew through everything we had of straw hats,” Sullivan said.

Wi-Fi was another in-demand item during the festival.

In order to provide enough bandwidth to accommodate up to an estimated 4,800 simultaneous users, DeAngelis said the contracted vendor provided a connection that could transmit a significant amount of

“On the first day of service they transmitted into the terabytes of data and on the second day a second terabyte of data,” DeAngelis said.


While the Eisenhower crew was relaxing, Team Souda was busy making sure the carrier would be ready to leave on time.

According to Fairfield, three Public Works Department personnel were instrumental in allowing the Eisenhower to offload its wastewater during its port visit: Manolis Mavromatakis, who spent a significant amount of time preparing the wastewater treatment plant to receive what amounted
to about a million gallons of wastewater from the Eisenhower; and Utilities Constructionman Salmon and Utilities Constructionman Sanders, who caught a blockage that would have prevented the Eisenhower to discharge the wastewater.

The Supply Department was ensuring the Eisenhower would receive food and other supplies on schedule.

Pallets of food and items for the Eisenhower ship’s store had to be received by the local customs office and delivered to the pier for loading on to fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8), which would deliver to the Eisenhower during a replenish-at-sea once it departed Souda Bay, said Lessner.

“And that was all getting loaded on the Arctic, but they pulled in right after the carrier pulled out and they were in port during a (Greek) national holiday,” he said. “So, we worked with Greek customs to get
all those trucks in on the 24th and then got those trucks down to the pier the day before the customs house was going to shut down for the Greek national holiday on March 25.”

Lessner said the Supply Department also received cargo from Eisenhower’s beach detachment, Fleet Logistics Squadron (VRC) 40, which is the ship’s carrier onboard delivery (COD) squadron that flies the C-2 Greyhound aircraft, delivering people and supplies to and from the
ship on a daily basis. Ens. Christafer Sobbing, air operations officer, said the Air Operations Department made sure those people got where they needed to go, whether they were joining the ship or leaving it to head back home.


Leaders from across the Fleet recognized Team Souda for successfully organizing and executing the port visit, noting it provided a necessary boost to the Eisenhower crew’s morale.

Rear Adm. Scott F. Robertson, commander, Carrier Strike Group TWO, sent his thanks in a message to Team Souda.

Vice Adm. Eugene Black III, commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, visited NSA Souda Bay on March 26 following the port visit, and gave special recognition to Sailors who provided outstanding support.

Capt. Facundo also recognized Team Souda members for their accomplishments during the visit during an awards ceremony on March 30.

Command Master Chief Brian McDonough congratulated Team Souda saying, “Congratulations on a job well done, executing the first sandbox liberty in the 6th Fleet Area of Responsibility! We are here to support the Fleet and your tremendous efforts for the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) means the 5,000+ Sailors in that Crew are now well rested
and ready to execute operations and project power in support of our Nation and Allies.”

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