BATH, Maine — A 2001 Sidney High School graduate and Anna, Ohio, native is serving aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer that, while more than 600 feet long, looks as small as a fishing boat to enemy radar.
Petty Officer 1st Class Chad Gepfrey is a sonar technician (surface) aboard the Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer, USS Zumwalt, currently under construction at a shipyard in Bath, Maine.
A Navy sonar technician (surface) is responsible for detecting, tracking and hunting submarines.
“Using a sensor to detect things under water is interesting work. It’s like closing your eyes next to the Interstate highway and trying to figure out what’s going by is a semi-truck or a Prius just based on the sound,” said Gepfrey.
For the first time in 25 years, there is true competition for control of the seas, Navy officials assert. Zumwalt has been designed to combat the threats of today as well as those of coming decades.
Looking more like a space ship than a surface ship, Zumwalt has a unique wave-piercing inverted bow that increases speed and stability by cutting through the water. The ship was also built with an innovative design that dramatically reduces its radar signature, giving it the advantage of stealth, something generally associated with military aircraft, and not with Navy destroyers.
As the lead ship of its class, which will ultimately include three ships, Zumwalt has advanced technologies in every area including energy efficiency, main engines, weapons systems, shipboard electronics and sensors. When at sea, the ship will perform a variety of missions including attacking targets on land – it carries cruise missiles and features two advanced gun systems capable of firing long-range projectiles more than 70 miles — hunting and tracking submarines, airspace surveillance and providing support to special operations forces such as U.S. Navy SEALS.
“The sophisticated new technology incorporated aboard this ship, combined with its multi-mission capabilities, will ensure it is a relevant and integral part of our battle force for years to come,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, prior to the ship’s christening ceremony.
That the innovative new ship – indeed, the entire class of ships – is named for Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr., is no coincidence, the Navy says. Zumwalt was the Navy’s youngest Chief of Naval Operations and one of the most influential sailors of the 20th Century, radically changing the face of the Navy as both a surface warrior and a social reformer.
During World War II, he earned a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. After the war, Zumwalt served at a variety of commands, honing his expertise in surface warfare, including Commander of Naval Forces Vietnam, where he revolutionized the use of riverine forces.
As Chief of Naval Operations, Zumwalt was legendary for his Z-Grams, personal messages and directives sent directly to sailors. Z-Grams ushered in many monumental changes in the fleet, such as benefits for minorities and women, relaxed grooming standards, and better quality of life for the average Sailor. Z-66 promoted equal opportunity in the Navy, pushing the Navy forward in a racially divided military.
USS Zumwalt also helps the Navy be greener. It is the first U.S. Navy ship built with an innovative integrated power system, which provides power to virtually all ship’s needs, including the main engines, electrical and combat systems and other on-board equipment, according to Navy officials. This allows for significant energy savings and ensures that the ship can be outfitted in the future with high-energy weapons and sensors as they are developed.
“The USS Zumwalt is the most technologically advanced ship in the Navy and the sailors selected for duty are our nation’s finest,” said Capt. James A. Kirk, Zumwalt’s commanding officer. “Just as Admiral Zumwalt helped shape our nation’s Navy as chief of naval operations, this ship will lead change in the future surface Navy.”
With a crew of more than 150 sailors, jobs are highly specialized and keep each part of the destroyer running smoothly, according to Navy officials. The jobs range from caring for fellow crew members to maintaining engines and handling weaponry.
“We’re trying out new things with an optimized crew with all this new technology, and sometimes we have to think outside the box and write new manuals on how to do things,” Gepfrey said.
While the ship is undergoing construction, many sailors use this opportunity to improve upon their own personal and professional goals. The crews are highly motivated, and quickly adapt to challenging conditions. It is a busy life of specialized work, watches and drills.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff in the world,” said Gepfrey. “Being able to take the ship to where that bad stuff is so it doesn’t come to America and people can sleep safe at night is what it’s all about for me.”
This article was contributed by U.S. Navy Chief Mass Communication Specialist Bill Steele, Navy Office of Community Outreach Public Affairs.