USS Gonzalez Sailor Wins Shiphandling Award

A USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) Sailor won the inaugural Enlisted Shiphandling Competition sponsored by the Hampton Roads Surface Navy Association (SNA).

Operations Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Dennis Denk was one of 13 Sailors who participated in the competition held in Suface Forces Atlantic’s (SURFLANT) simulators and involved getting underway from a pier and maneuvering during a man-overboard on board a guided-missile destroyer, followed by a pier landing and a replenishment at sea on an amphibious transport dock.

Despite being the most junior Sailor in the competition, Denk’s shiphandling landed him the inaugural first place finish. Of course, he had one ace up his sleeve, he was one of the few competitors with an actual officer of the deck (OOD) letter.

On Sept. 17, the SNA recognized his achievement at their monthly luncheon by presenting him with a specially engraved clock, SNA coin, and certificate.

Capt. Bob Oldani, chief of staff for Commander Naval Surface Forces Atlantic, and former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Bob Walker, who was also an operations specialist, presented the award.

Denk reported to Gonzalez in February 2004 as a seaman recruit, and rapidly qualified both master helmsman and Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist as a seaman.

However, Denk had his sights on a much bigger goal. He wanted to qualify as OOD underway which meant that he was going to have to work on his lofty qualification goals on his own time.

At the half-way day of Gonzalez’ 2008 Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 deployment, Denk had completed all of the prerequisite qualification requirements for OOD and started standing rotational watch as conning officer.

From the beginning, his chain of command supported his qualification goals. Denk’s departmental leading chief, Senior Chief Operations Specialist (SW) Michael Celebre praised Denk.

“In my 22 years in the world’s finest Navy, Petty Officer Denk is one of the most intelligent and highly motivated operations specialist I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” said Celebre. “His dedication and drive set him apart from his contemporaries, and I have no doubt you’ll be seeing great things from this fine young man for years to come.”

Prior to the ship’s last port visit to Rota, Spain, Denk qualified OOD in dramatic fashion.

“It was probably the best qualification board we had seen all deployment. He didn’t miss a single question,” said Operations Officer, Lt. Derek Cedars. “He demonstrated a great range of knowledge and the ability to really think through a host of challenges faced by an officer of the deck.”

“The experience from obtaining my OOD qualification to winning the shiphandling competition has been my most rewarding achievement in the Navy,” said Denk. “I could not have done any of it without the trust and support of my chain of command, who supported me throughout my officer of the deck qualification.”

Monika Hess (NNS)

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