DECEMBER 14, 2016, ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) – Face shield on! Gloves on! All tools on deck! Now it’s time to make a spark! Two Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), lived that life during the rigorous, 14-week, Advanced Welding School, which boasts a 60 percent failure rate.
However, that challenge inspired Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Wheat and Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Ruch to complete the school three weeks early.
“We finished the course around the 11th week,” said Ruch. “But we didn’t officially receive the results until graduation day.”
The first week of the school students go over manuals, such as the Naval Ship’s Technical Manual, ranging from safety to qualification procedures. The manuals were inside two large books which pages summed up to 4,000.
“These manuals were all summed in the first week,” said Wheat. “It was just crazy on how much was covered in the first week alone.”
After that, the following weeks consisted of 13 projects that had to be completed by the end of the 13-week course.
“All of the projects had to be done by the end of the school,” said Ruch. “Everything was self-paced. You had to manage your time, but still carefully complete your projects.”
The two forms of welding they learned were Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), which uses filler material coated in flux that is struck on the base metal and creates an arc which fuses metal together, and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), which uses an electrode with an inert gas around it to melt and fuse metal. Seven projects had students use SMAW and the other six had them use GTAW.
Failure of a project occurred whenever there were any impurities found in the X-ray of the student’s projects.
“In my opinion, SMAW is the harder of the two,” said Wheat. “The flux coating on the filler material leaves slag, which if not cleaned up, scores you an instant failure. It felt like a smack to the mouth whenever you turned in something you were proud of and the instructors treated it like a grenade just went off.”
However, Ruch and Wheat excelled past the higher standard the school required of them.
“You can’t let defeat get to you and leave you moaning about your loss,” said Wheat. “At the end of the day, it’s your efforts that get you through it. People tried to get me ready for the course before it happened, but it didn’t help. What did help was remembering that it’s nobody’s fault on what happens. If I fail, it’s because I failed. If I pass, it’s because I passed.”
As Ruch and Wheat continue to support the command with their skills and due diligence to the mission at hand, George Washington now has two new advanced welders to assist with the ship’s upcoming refueling complex overhaul (RCOH) maintenance, which will surely test their newly acquired welding talents.
By By Seaman Oscar Albert Moreno Jr. USS George Washington Public Affairs