Outgoing USS Billings commander talks ship safety to fight COVID-19

Posted at 9:13 AM, Apr 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-04 11:13:10-04

Staying safe is on everyone’s minds right now, including the men and women who are charged with keeping our country safe.

This week, the captain of the U.S.S. Roosevelt was removed from his job after writing an urgent letter warning the coronavirus was spreading through the aircraft carrier. The Navy said the stress of dealing with the outbreak had overwhelmed Capt. Brett Crozier’s professional judgment.

Safety is a major concern right now, according to the outgoing commander of the Navy ship named after Montana’s largest city— the USS Billings.

“It’s been a challenge because there is still an expectation that we are able to operate and do the nation’s business,” said Commander Nathan Rowan.

Special precautions are being taken to keep the ship spotless, but social distancing isn’t easy.

“It can be challenging, especially when you are out and operating because different consoles where people sit to operate are really not within six feet. So, again, taking those measures like sanitizing oneself helps some, but we do have some challenges just like any other ship would with trying to adhere to those rules,” said Rowan.

Since its commissioning last summer in Key West, Fla. , the crew of the USS Billings has been busy getting the ship ready for its eventual deployment. The ship’s major inspection, which crew members had been preparing for, has been postponed for now because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think that if we had gone forward with the inspection as scheduled, I think we would have set the highest score that the LCS community has seen and will continue to have seen. That’s my personal assessment of how well that ship is doing,” said Rowan.

Friday was Rowan’s last day as commander. He’s taking a new job in the Pentagon—a move he says is bittersweet since he will miss the crew of the USS Billings.

"The legacy that I leave for the ship is one, what they do matters. Two, they need to be postured to protect the country. And know that they are representing the namesake of the ship,” said Rowan.

Commander Aaron Helgerson is now in charge of the USS Billings. The ship is expected to deploy sometime next year.